(In case you are like me and had to look up the word 'Hermetic', here is a definition: It is a set of beliefs and practices whose aim is the influencing of the world through contact with the heavenly forces.)
Nibley startes out the essay with defining the word 'atonement' and what it really means. He says:
It is a bringing together of God and man.
Those humans, spirits, or angels, who are "at one" with God
are naturally at one with each other
and with all his creatures.
Nibley goes on to say,
"In each dispensation the world went bad while the prophets united in futile protest, as in the days of Samuel, Hezekiah, Isaiah, and Jeremiah. In the powerful phrase of Ether, "the prophets mourned and withdrew from among the people" (Ether 11:13). The prophets always tended to form societies of their own for mutual comfort and security, for they usually appear in numbers in time of crisis: "And in that same year there came many prophets, prophesying unto the people that they must repent" (1 Nephi 1:4).
They were not well received. When not preaching it was their custom to keep a low profile, or simply to depart from the scene ..., a pattern we find repeated over and over again in the Book of Mormon. The holy outcasts would form with their followers a community of saints, a church, waiting and working for Zion. Zion itself is a model of such a retreat from the world: "And from thence went forth the saying, ZION IS FLED" (Moses 7:69).
In their retreat the righteous refugees take particular pains to preserve the sacred records—we think of Moses, of John, of Ether, of Moroni, etc., preserving, studying, and editing the sacred writings by special command. Without that protective care, the malice and envy of the wicked or the carelessness of the stupid would soon distort and mock the holy books. The righteous recluse—sometimes appointed by God to survival, escaping the persecution, wars, and natural disasters—is a standard fixture of history: "Come out of her, my people, that ye be not partakers of her sins, and that ye receive not of her plagues" (Revelation 18:4).