Groups tend to have a uniform or dress code as a symbol of their membership. Sometimes this is such a powerful symbol of their group that they may even become known for this dress or named after their uniform. Because the clothing of a group is associated with the identity of the order, traditions like this tend to be very persistent. Just think of the saffron robes of the yogi for a good example of this. But with traditions like Hermeticism that have been forced to conceal themselves due to persecution all external signs of membership must be discarded.
Can such a tradition like this be restored if we look at historical sources for clues?
Raiments of Light
If we look at the contemporary writers from the time the Hermeticists and at the depictions made at the time then we can start to form a picture of the past. One very influential author who believes the Hermetic tradition to be genuine Greek translations of Egyptian teachings gives us a description of what Egyptian priests wore. Stating that they walked in lines clothed in simple white robes with shaved heads. He also goes on to state that they seldom laugh or even smile and that although they don’t tend to lift weights they are very fit and healthy.
This is exactly how we see Egyptian priests depicted on the walls of ancient Egyptian temples so the account seems reliable.
We do however also have a brief mention from a Christian writer of the time that stated that the Hermes followers in Egypt wear the white hooded robes of the Pythagoreans. So it seems that some groups remained faithful to the original Egyptian white robes and others decided to adopt the more heavy flowing white robes of the Pythagoreans.
But there’s more…
The Black of Isis
The dress described above is actually that of the standard pagan holy man but there does seems to be more that we can glean if we triangulate some other information.
We have accounts that the followers of Isis dressed the statues of the goddess in black over robes. This was a seasonal practice in which the followers were reenacting the story of Isis who after her husband Osiris was murdered went into a state of great mourning and she sought to bring him back to life.
Accounts vary as to what else is included in this uniform sometimes saying “covering clothing of many colours” or “over white togas beneath”.
One thing we do know is the black overcoat is always tied with a tyet of isis knot
If we look at the depictions of the priestesses and priests of Isis preserved in Pompeii and Herculaneum we can clearly see that the same uniform is worn by some of the followers themselves with only the high priest/esses all in white.
But what has all this got to do with the Hermeticists?
If we read the spell books of the Hermetic practitioners at the time we see that the black of Isis seemed very important to them. Often their rites involved wearing the Black of Isis which was taken from a statue of the goddess. It’s used to cover the eyes of the practitioner for deep meditation practices or long periods of focus on a specific task. I suspect that they believed that the black shawl or over cloak would gift them with divine perception just as Isis in her mourning was able to find the various parts of her husband’s scattered body after he was slain.
Could it be that the Hermeticists wore the same uniform as the followers of Isis and that the clothing was first blessed by being put on her statue?
The idea has a lot more weight when we consider the fragment of Hermetic writing called the Kore Kosmu in which Isis is depicted as the divine teacher guiding the student to enlightenment. A fragment that many believe could be a very early hermetic text.
If some hermeticists saw Isis as their divine teacher it would be understandable for them to wear her robe of mourning and perception as part of their uniform.