The Caretakers of the Cosmos

The Caretakers of the Cosmos: Living Responsibly in an Unfinished World • By Gary Lachman

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Why are we here? Human beings have asked themselves this question for centuries. Modern science largely argues that human beings are chance products of a purposeless universe, but other traditions believe humanity has an essential role and responsibility in creation. Lachman brings together many strands of esoteric, spiritual and philosophical thought to form a counter-argument to the nihilism that permeates the twenty-first century. Offering a radical alternative to postmodern apathy, he argues that we humans are the caretakers of the universe, entrusted with a daunting task: that of healing and repairing creation itself. This is an important book from a key thinker of our time, addressing some of the most urgent questions facing humanity.

Episode Transcript

 This book has a bold title, and it may be a good idea to begin by trying to explain it. While working on an earlier book, The Quest for Hermes Trismegistus (2011), about the influence of Hermeticism and its mythical founder, the ‘thrice greatest Hermes’, on western consciousness, I touched on the idea of human beings as ‘cosmic caretakers,’ as individuals given the responsibility of ‘taking care of the cosmos’ – no mean task, as I’m sure readers will agree. Although for centuries Hermes Trismegistus was believed to have been a real person who lived at ‘the dawn of time’, and who received a primordial ‘divine revelation’ – the ‘perennial philosophy’ that is at the heart of much of western spiritual thought – he is now thought to have been a fictional figure, devised by the authors of the Hermetic writings, who lived in Alexandria in Egypt in the first few centuries after Christ. In the Asclepius, one of the books making up what is known as the Corpus Hermeticum, the body of mystical writings on which Hermeticism is based, Hermes Trismegistus tells his student Asclepius that man is a creature of two natures, of, indeed, two worlds. Man is, according to Hermes, a creature of the natural world, of the body and the senses, and as such is subject to all the laws and limitations that come with ‘living in the material world’. But he is also an inhabitant of another world, that of mind, spirit, the soul, consciousness, which, in essence, is free from the limitations of his other nature. 

How this came about is told in the Hermetic creation myth.1 In the Poimandres, perhaps the best known of the Hermetic books, Nous, or the Universal Mind, explains that after the creation of the world, he thought it good to create a being like himself who could enjoy his work. So he created man. For a long time, the idea that Hermetic man was created in the image of his creator suggested that the Hermetic books borrowed elements from the Judeo-Christian tradition. In that tradition, too, man is created in the image of God. Recent scholarship, however, argues that the author of the Poimandres, who remains unknown, came to the idea independently. Whatever the case, in two powerful spiritual traditions that have had an enormous influence on western consciousness, the same idea, that man is made in the image of the divine plays a central role. 

Unlike in the Judeo-Christian tradition, but similar to the Platonic and Gnostic creation accounts, in the Hermetic account the actual work of making the cosmos was undertaken by a ‘second Nous’, a demiurge or ‘craftsman’, created by the first Nous to carry out the job. When man saw what the craftsman had forged, he marvelled at its beauty, and quite understandably, wanted to be a creator himself. Nous, his Father, loving man, agreed. The craftsman did as well, and happy to share in his work, he gave man some of his power. He gave him a share of the ‘seven spheres’ which encircle the earth, the seven spheres being the orbits of the seven ancient planets, Moon, Sun, Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn. These seven spheres govern what takes place on earth; in Hermeticism, as in astrology, they are the source of our ‘destiny’ and ‘fate’. Readers familiar with the history of astronomy will know that they are the seven planetary spheres that pre-Copernican astronomers believed encircled our earth, and they will also know that the ancient astronomers believed that the earth itself was at the centre of the cosmos.