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The Emerald Tablet of Hermes Trismegistus

The Emerald Tablet is a fragment attributed to Hermes Trismegistus, a possibly mythological figure who is supposed to also have written the Corpus Hermeticum. The Corpus Hermeticum dates back to Hellenic Egypt, and through its teachings, and through the Emerald Tablet, Hermes Trismegistus can be seen as the father of alchemy, hermeticism, and a wide number of other mystical and esoteric arts. It should be noted that the very word hermeticism originally meant “originated by Hermes Trismegistus or based on his teachings.” The dating of the Emerald Tablet is uncertain, however it is at least as old as Hellenic Egypt. It should be noted, however, that as far back as the reign of Ramses II, there were stories of a tablet or set of writings, penned by the god Thoth himself, that were reputed to explain the secret to immortality. A number of occultists through the years have maintained that the Emerald Tablet is nothing short of a fragment of this fabled text, copied and re-copied so that the ancient wisdom would not be lost.

I reproduce it here, first in the bad Latin of the version coming down to us, and then in translation because this has been one of the single most influential bits of writing in the history of Western occultism (this is where the concept of “As above, so below” first appeared), but also because I think the fragmented and miscopied text hints at its ancient origins in a most compelling way.

The Emerald Tablet

Verum, sine mendacio, certum, et verissimum:

Quod est inferius est sicut quod est superius, et quod est superius est sicut quod est inferius, ad perpetranda miracula rei unius.

Et sicut res omnes fuerunt ab uno, meditatione unius, sic omnes res natae ab hac una re, adaptatione.

Pater eius est sol; mater eius est luna. Portavit illud ventus in ventre suo; nutrix eius terra est.

Pater omnes telesmi totius mundi est hic.

Virtus eius integra est, si versa fuerit in terram.

Separabis terram ab igne, subtile ab spisso, suaviter, magno cum ingenio.

Ascendit a terra in coelum, iterunque descendit in terram, et recipit vim superiorum et inferiorum. Sic habebis gloriam totius mundi. Ideo fugiet a te omnes obscuritas.

Haec est totius fortitudinis fortitudo fortis, quia vincet omnem rem subtilem, omnemque solidam penetrabit.

Sic mundus creatus est.

Hinc erunt adaptationes mirabilies, quarum modus est hic.

Itaque vocatus sum Hermes Trismegistus, habens tres partes philosophiae totius mundi.

Completum est quod dixi de operatione solis.


Translation:

True it is, without falsehood, certain and most true:

That which is below is like that which is above, and that which is above is like that which is below, according to the wonder accomplished by the universe (or “the One”).

And just as all things have been from the one, by the design of the one, so all things have been born from this one thing, and adapted.

Its father is the sun; its mother is the moon. The wind carried it in its belly. Its wetnurse is the earth.

This is the father of all sacred ceremonies of all the world.

If it shall have been turned toward the earth, its virtue is uncompromised.

You will separate earth from fire, the subtle from the dense, sweetly, and with great ingenuity.

It ascends from earth to heaven, descends again to earth, and receives the force of things both above and below. Thus will you have the glory of all the world. Therefore all obscurity will flee before you.

This is the strength of all strength, because it will overcome all subtle things and penetrate all mysteries.

Thus the world is created.

Hence there will be wondrous adaptations, of which this is the method.

And for this reason, have I been called Hermes the Thrice-Greatest, for I have three parts of the philosophy of the whole world.

This completes what I have said about the working of the sun.