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Tabula Smaragdina
the Emerald Table

the "emerald" of the philosophers
ten precepts on the operation of the Sun
short commentary on the secret word of Hermes

©  Wim van den Dungen

"Was he one or many, merging
Name and fame in one,
Like a stream, to which, converging,
Many streamlets run ?

Who shall call his dream fallacious ?
Who has searched or sought
All the unexplored and spacious
Universe of thought ?

Who in his own skill confiding,
Shall with rule and line
Mark the border-land dividing
Human and divine ?

Trismegistus ! Three times greatest !
How thy name sublime
Has descended to this latest
Progeny to time !"

Longfellow, H.W. : Hermes Trismegistus, 1882.


1 Introducing the Emerald Table.

  • 1.1 Legend & history of Hermes Trismegistus.

  • 1.2 Legend & writings of Apollonius of Tyana.

  • 1.3 The historical text part of the Jabirian corpus.

  • 1.4 The Emerald Table : a summary of Egypto-Alexandrian Hermetism ?

2 A variety of versions of the Emerald Table.

  • 2.1 Two Arabic versions : Jabir and Balinas.

  • 2.2 The Latin version of Kunrath.

  • 2.3 The Latin & English versions of Isaac Newton.

  • 2.4 The French version of Fulcanelli.

3 The Emerald Table : 

the Secret Word of Hermes

  • 3.1 Commentary.

  • 3.2 Concluding remarks.


1. Introducing the Emerald Table.

1.1 History and legend of Hermes Trismegistus.

Thoth was among the most diverse and popular deities of the Egyptian pantheon. He is attested in the Old Kingdom (ca.2670 - 2205 BC) and was regarded since the most primitive period as the god of the Moon. Hence, Thoth derived much of his authority from being the secretary and counsellor to the Sun god Re (the light of the Moon being the light of the Sun). He became the regulator of time and individual destinies (cf. the importance of the phases of the Moon in Egyptian national life). 

He also presided over the temple cults, in particular the sacred rituals, invented writing and was the lord of wisdom. His temple was erected in Hermopolis. His occult powers, dealing with healing and protection, were considerable (for his speech had creative power). Thoth owed his popularity with ordinary people, because of his role as guide of souls and divine scribe on the day of judgement.

This strong devotion continued throughout the Ptolemaic and Roman periods, i.e. when Egypt had entered its Late Period and was Hellenized. Both Jewish settlers as well as Greeks tried to establish some link with Thoth (the second-century BC romancer Artapanus assimilated Moses to Thoth !).

The Greeks, who started to settle in Egypt under Pharaoh Amasis (570 - 526 BC), associated Thoth with Hermes. The latter was also linked with the Moon, medicine, the realm of the dead, inventiveness, trickery and functioned as messenger of the gods. Hence, in the Hellenistic period, Thoth became the "word" or "logos", interpreting the divine will to humanity. The Lycaonians saw in him the apostle Paul and the Stoics regarded him both as "logos" and demiurge.

Thoth, god of writing, magic, healing & wisdom
after Champollion, J.F. : Panthéon Egyptien, planche 30C

Finally, the epithet "Trismegistus" (thrice greatest) acquired canonicity in the Roman period. For although, in the beginning, there was no doubt that the Greek god Hermes was equivalent to the Egyptian god Thoth, we read Cicero enumerate no less than five different historical individuals who had claimed the name "Hermes". Hence, the name "Hermes Trismegistus" invoked a relatively human Hermes distinct from the messenger of the deities, an association made foremost by people of Greek culture.

In the Greek magical papyri, we clearly discern an Egyptian Hermes Trismegistus, a cosmic deity with whom the magician (in Egyptian style - cf. the ritual assumption of god-forms) could identify. In the "Hermetica" (the Corpus Hermeticum, a total of seventeen treatises, written from the late first to the late third centuries AD), Trismegistus is usually invisaged as a sage who lived in a remote period, conversing with the deities, though they also speak of him as a divine being ... Apparently, Hermes Trismegistus was conceived as hovering between the divine and human world, which, being a mediator, was an advantage.

Arab tales invoke three persons called "Hermes". The first of them, Hermes Trismegistus, lived before the Flood and was the grandson of Adam. He wrote books, had knowledge about celestial and terrestial things, built the pyramids and was the patron of science and mathematics. The second Hermes was an inhabitant of Babylon who lived after the Flood. A scientist, medical doctor, philosopher and mathematician, he was the teacher of Pythagoras. Hermes the third lived in Egypt as a physician and a philosopher (Balinas ?). 

These myths were accepted by Muslim alchemists, and so they called their art the "Hermetic Art". The influence of the Egypto-Alexandrian hermetical doctrine on early Muslim astro-magical, philosophical and alchemical thought can be well explained, if we realize that when the "pagan" institutions and places of worship & learning (cf. the Platonic Academy, the temples & libraries of Alexandria & Philae) were closed by Christian authorities (Theodosius, Justinianus), the teachings & cult of the Moon-god Thoth-Hermes fled to Harran. In the 7th century AD, this late Egypto-Alexandrian hermetism submitted to the invading Muslim forces, to whom they showed their "holy" scriptures. In them, the unity of God was truly asserted.

"Syrian pagans from Harran were also widely employed in translation ; they were star-worshippers and diligent astrologers. These Sabians, as the Arabs called them, possessed exceptional skills as linguists, and the ease with which they acquired Arabic recommended them to the courts at Baghdad ..."
Holmyard, E.J. : Alchemy, Dover - New York, 1990, p.68.

1.2 Legend & writings of Apollonius of Tyana.

Ammianus Marcellinus mentions Trismegistus alongside Apollonius of Tyana and Plotinus as examples of humans endowed with a strong guardian spirit. According to Philostratus, Apollonius went to India, were he was told that the Greeks were a people who, while indeed poor, made of their poverty not a title of dignity, but just an excuse for stealing ...

Who was Apollonius of Tyana (also called "Balinas") ? His biography, the Life of Apollonius, was written by Flavius Philostratus at the behest of empress Julia Domna in the early third century.  

In it, we are told that he was born of a well-to-do family in the south-central Anatolian town of Tyana. He went to Tarsus to get his higher education (around the time Paul's Jewish parents, in Tarsus, sent him to Jeruzalem). 

He became a Pythagorean and after some years set out for Babylon were he studied with the magi, and then to India to find the Brahmans. He came back and formed a circle of disciples, and lived as an itinerant philosopher, holy man & miracle worker. He went from temple to temple along the coasts of northern Syria, Anatolia and Greece. In the last days of Nero, Apollonius went to Rome. After the former's suicide (68 AD) he returned to Sicily and Greece and also stayed in Alexandria. He returned to the eastern Mediterranean, where he continued his life until 93 AD. 

He was accused of human sacrifice and is reported to have vanished from the courtroom in Rome. He is said to have appeared after his death (some say, his ascent to heaven) to a young man who disbelieved his teachings. 

An image of Balinas, in Casaubon, M. : A True and Faithful Relation, London, 1659.

The Life of Apollonius is partly an apologetic work, defending its hero against the charge of practicing magic. 

About 230 AD, the emperor Alexander Severus is said to have had a statue of Apollonius in his private chapel. For Origin, writing after 245 AD, he was both a magus and a philosopher. Porphyry, in his Life of Pythagoras, cites Apollonius, who would have taught that Pythagoras was the natural son of the god Apollo. 

He compared Apollonius with Jesus Christ, a claim repeated by an imperial official, Sossianus Hierocles, who wrote an attack on Christianity. 

Indeed, Apollonius had done identical miracles as Jesus Christ, but he, contrary to Christ, had never claimed divinity for himself (this discussion continued to emerge in the writings of Eusebius of Caesarea and Lactantius).

Both the Nuctemeron, The Secret of Creation as other books were ascribed to Apollonius, but their attribution is questionable. However, the alchemist Jabir said that he is quoting from Apollonius when he introduced the Tabula Smaragdina (cf. infra). 

Legend has it that the Tabula was found in a cave by Apollonius in Egypt (near Alexandria ?) in the first century AD, inscribed on a plate of emerald, held by the corpse of Hermes Trismegistus. In other legends (told by Albertus Magnus), Alexander the Great found it (in the third century BC). In Jewish lore, it was Sara, the wife of Abraham, who found the Tabula near Hebron ! 

Balinas has been identified with Hermes Trismegistus himself, the "second" Hermes being Akhenaten and the "first" Thoth. In Islamic tradition, the antediluvian Thoth is associated with Idris ("exalted to a lofty station"), who lived between the eras of Adam and Noah and who wrote books that revealed the divine laws to humanity.

1.3 The historical text part of the Jabirian corpus.

Abu Musa Jabir ibn Hayyan ("Jabir" or Westernized as "Geber") was born at Tus in 721 or 722 AD (shortly before his father, a druggist, was beheaded & impaled by political adversaries, for he supported the Abbasids against the then ruling Ommayads). 

An idealized image of Geber from the Codex Ashburnham, Florenze, end 15th century.

Jabir belonged to the South Arabian Al-Azd tribe, which had settled down at Kufa, in Iraq. He studied the Koran, literature, history and became the friend of the Shiite religious leader and Sûfî mystic Ja'far al-Sadiq, who introduced him into things mystic & occult. This made him turn towards alchemy.

In middle life, he is well established as an alchemist at the court of the Abbasid caliph Harun al-Rashid (cf. Arabian Nights). Around 803 (with the downfall of his patrons), he retires at Kufa and is said to have survived until the accession of caliph Al-Ma'mun (from 813 AD). Another source has it that he died at Tus in 815 AD.

He wrote extensively, but in many cases books are ascribed to Jabir which cannot have been written by him.

 As late as 1923, Holmyard discovered the abridged Arabic text of the Tabula Smaragdina in Jabir's Second Book of the Element of the Foundation. Before this discovery, the text had only been known in medieval Latin.

The Emerald Table : a summary of Egypto-Alexandrian Hermetism ?

The confrontation between Egyptianism and Hellenism triggered the emergence of a Graeco-Egyptian consciousness, which would prove to be the foundation of Egypto-Alexandrian Hermetism, based in Alexandria, pre-Christian and influenced by native Egyptian religion, Greek & Jewish thought.

It was the Greeks who took the initiative to identify their deities with those of the Egyptian pantheon. And because educated Greek immigrants lived in isolation (only a small number of them, and this mostly to gain access to the temple libraries, learned Egyptian), one has to look for the genesis of this new consciousness in the educated native Egyptian milieu

"Greek immigrants, and the more urban and educated among their descendants, often persevered in Greek ways of thought and behaviour. They spoke their own language, keeping it free of loan-words, and exploiting its flexibility, consciously or not, to disguise the uniqueness of their adopted land, bequeathing us in the process 'pyramids', 'obelisks', 'sphinxes' and 'labyrinths'. They read their own literature, and stuck to the company and customs of their own kith and kin."
Fowden, G. : The Egyptian Hermes, Princeton University Press - Princeton, 1993, p.17.

Indeed, Graeco-Egyptian religion was asymmetrical and stressed the autochthonous. This also shows how Greek culture got assimilated by upperclass Egyptians. A minority of them could write books on the Egyptian religion in Greek and translate sacred priestly books for those unable to read Egyptian. But there was no shortage of priests who were called "unlettered", i.e. ignorant of Greek. True cultic syncretism came from the heavily Hellenized parts of the country, such as Alexandria and the Fayyum. In this way, ancient worship could continue elsewhere. The highest state priest of Egypt was the priest of Alexander. The latter was worshipped, under Ptolemy I Soter, with the status of a "Theos". Ptolemy I, was himself deified in 304 BC by the Rhodians, who erected the Ptolemaion, a sanctuary in his honour. 

The fact that the Tabula has been found in the Jabirian corpus is significant. The Arabic version, which is the oldest extant copy, was probably translated from Syriac (by Syrian pagans from Harran ?) and must have been ultimately based on a Greek original. The Alexandrian origin of this original is also very likely. This would explain the "Alexandrian connotations" incorporated in the legends of its discovery.

The Alexandrian origin of the Tabula Smaragdina (the Greeks and Egyptians used the word "emerald", for emeralds, green granites and green jasper) is suggested by (a) its legendary author (namely Hermes) and (b) by defining itself as "the work of the Sun". 

Indeed, the cult of Re (the Greek Apollo) had been the cornerstone of Ancient Egyptian religion since Dynasty III (the beginning of the Old Kingdom), and became a political tool in the hands of the Ptolemies. Its mythical, pre-rational and proto-rational "theology of the word" had partly assimilated Greek thought, which triggered the formation of the Egypto-Alexandrian model, culminating in Hermetism (Hermes as the mediator between heaven & earth). Both popular practices (cf. Greek magical papyri) as well as in learned teachings (cf. the Corpus Hermeticum) evidence this.

"La Table d'Emeraude prend ainsi le caractère d'un discours prononcé par le mercure des sages sur la manière dont s'élabore l'Oeuvre philosophale."
Fulcanelli : Les Demeures philosophales, Pauvert - Paris, 1965, p.247 : "Thus the Emerald Table takes on the caracter of a discourse, pronounced by the Mercury of the Wise, on the way the philosophical Work is elaborated."

Can we read the text of the Tabula as the synthesis of Egypto-Alexandrian Hermetism ? It is difficult to exactly establish when the Greek original was composed, but it seems likely that it was contemporary of the Corpus Hermeticum. The story of how Balinas found the Tabula, would situate it before the first century AD. In any case, the text found in the Jabirian corpus must have gone through several redactions and so only the gist of the Tabula has survived.

Regarding its alleged Pythagorean inspiration, one should take note that the precepts of the Tabula have been organized in ten categories (cf. the sacred number of Pythagoras, which had also been important in Ancient Egypt, namely as the Ennead + Pharaoh). Furthermore, the contents of each category corresponds with the meaning of the ten spheres of the Tree of Life in qabalah (the Sephiroth). Moreover, the notion "Tree of Life" is mentioned in Ancient Egyptian afterlife literature. The influence of Greek mantic procedures on Jewish qabalah (cf. gematria) has recently been demonstrated (Barry, 1999), which proves once more the extensive influence of Hellenism on all cultures it touched.

Indeed, the esoteric traditions of Jewish Gnosticism were current in Alexandria long before they are attested in Palestine ! Merkabah hymns first originated in the liberal quaters of Alexandria, and were afterwards taken over by the orthodox Pharisees of Palestine. When later some of them converted to Christianity, they adopted Jewish esoteric lore (stemming from Alexandria and its Hermetic Lodge) in Christian rituals, like in the "preface" of the Roman Mass and in the veneration of the Unknown God in the Greek liturgy (like that of John Chrysostom, who became patriarch of Constantinople in 398 AD.). 

The differences between Gnosticism and Hermetism are however very clear : the latter does not invoke an evil demiurg to explain the so-called "bad" visible word.

"... nowhere in the Hermetic texts do we find the idea that the cosmos is bad, or that it had been created by an evil demiurge. On the contrary, the cosmos is God's beautiful creation, his first son and his first image (man is his second). God is invisible, but we can know him through his creation."
van den Broek, R. : "Gnosticism and Hermetism in Antiquity", in : van den Broek, R. & Hanegraaff, J. (editors) : Gnosticism and Hermetism from Antiquity to Modern Times, State University of New York Press - New York, 1998, p.10.

2. A variety of versions of the Emerald Table.

2.1 Two Arabic versions : Jabir and Balinas.

The first version was found by Holmyard in 1923 in the Second Book of the Element of the Foundation, attributed to Jabir. It dates from the 8th century AD. 

"Balinas mentions the engraving on a table in the hand of Hermes, which says :

'Truth ! Certainty ! That in which there is no doubt ! That which is above is from that which is below, and that which is below is from that which is above, working the miracles of one. As all things were from one. Its father is the Sun and its mother the Moon. The Earth carried it in her belly, and the Wind nourished it in her belly, as Earth which shall become Fire. Feed the Earth from that which is subtle, with the greatest power. It ascends from the Earth to the heaven and becomes ruler over that which is above and that which is below.' 

And I have already explained the meaning of the whole of this in two of these books of mine."

Jabir (attributed to) : Second Book of the Element of the Foundation, middle 8th century AD.

Ruska discovered another longer Arabic version, said to have been dictated by Sergius of Nablus, in a book called Book of the Secret of Creation and the Art of Nature (Kitab Sirr al-Khaliqa wa San 'at al-Tabi'a which was also called : Kitab Balaniyus al-Hakim fi'l-'Ilal or Book of Balinas the wise on the Causes), written as early as 650 BC and definitely finished by the time of the caliphate of Al-Ma'mun (813 - 833). A Syriac source has been suggested, but none of these contain the Tabula.

"Here is that which the priest Sagijus of Nabulus has dictated concerning the entrance of Balinas into the hidden chamber.

'After my entrance into the chamber, where the talisman was set up, I came up to an old man sitting on a golden throne, who was holding an emerald table in one hand. And behold the following -in Syriac, the primordial language- was written thereon :

Here (is) a true explanation, concerning which there can be no doubt. It attests : the above from the below, and the below from the above - the work of the miracle of the One. And things have been from this primal substance through a single act. How wonderful is this work ! It is the main (principle) of the world and is its maintainer. Its father is the sun and its mother the moon. The wind has borne it in its body, and the earth has nourished it. The father of talismen and the protector of miracles whose powers are perfect, and whose lights are confirmed (?). A fire that becomes earth. Separate the earth from the fire, so you will attain the subtle as more inherent than the gross, with care and sagacity. It rises from earth to heaven, so as to draw the lights of the heights to itself, and descends to the earth ; thus within it are the forces of the above and the below ; because the light of lights within it, thus does the darkness flee before it. The force of forces, which overcomes every subtle thing and penetrates into everything gross. The structure of the microcosm is in accordance with the structure of the macrocosm. And accordingly proceed the knowledgeable.

And to this aspired Hermes, who was threefold graced with wisdom. And this is his last book, which he concealed in the chamber.

Apollonius of Tyana (attributed to) : Book of the Secret of Creation and the Art of Nature or Book of Balinas the wise on the Causes, ca. 650 - 813 AD.

2.2 The Latin version of Kunrath.

The Latin text probably first appeared in Europe in editions of the Secretum Secretorum, the Latin translation of the Book of Advice to Kings (Kitab Sirr al-Asar) by Johannes Hispalensis ca.1140 and by Philip of Tripoli in ca.1243. Other translations may have been made during the same period (by Plato of Tivoli, Hugh of Santalla and others). Albertus Magnus (Book of Minerals) mentions the Tabula. The version chosen here, was published by Kunrath in 1609.

"Verba Secretorum Hermetis.

Verum sine mendacio, certum et verissimum : quod est inferius est sicut quod est superius ; et quod est superius est sicunt quod est inferius, ad perpetranda miracula rei unius. Et sicut omnes res fuerunt ab uno, mediatione unius, sic omnes res natæ fuerunt ab hac una readaptione (var. per conjunctionem). Pater jeus est Sol ; mater ejus Luna, portavit illud Ventus in ventre suo ; nutrix ejus Terra est. Pater omnis telesmi totius mundi est hic. Vis ejus integra est, si versa fuerit in terram (var. si versa fuerit / si mutetur). Separabis terram ab igne, subtile a spisso, suaviter, cum magno ingenio. Ascendit a terra in coelum, interumque descendit in terram, et recepit vim superiorum et inferiorum. Sic habebis gloriam totius mundi. Ideo fugiet a te omnis obscuritas. Hic est totius fortitudinis fortitudo fortis ; quia vincet omnem rem subtilem, omnemque solidam penetrabit. Sic mundus creatus est. Hinc erunt adaptiones mirabiles, quarum modus est hic. 

Itaque vocatus sum Hermes Trismegistus, habens tres partes philosophiæ totius mundi. Completum est quod dixi de operatione Solis (var. de magisterio solis)."

Kunrath, H. : Amphitheatrum Sapientiæ Æternæ, Hanau, 1609, plate of the Emerald Table.

2.3 The Latin & English version of Isaac Newton.

Newton's interest in Hermetism lay in the antiquity of these texts. He believed strongly in the doctrine of "pisca sapienta", and considered the more ancient documents as less corrupted. Hermes was an "Authores optimi", who incarnated the knowledge of things ancient, arcane and prophetic.

Verum est sine mendacio, certum et verissimum. Quod est inferius est sicut id quod est superius et quod est superius est sicut id quod est inferius ad perpetranda miracula rei unius. Et sicut res omnes fuerunt ab uno meditatione et consilio unius : ita omnes res nascuntur ab hac una re adaptione. Pater ejus est sol, Mater ejus est Luna Portavit ilIum Ventus in ventre suo, Nutrix ejus est Terra. Pater omnis perfectionis totius mundi est hic. Vis ejus est integra si versa fuerit in terram. Separabis terram ab igne, subtile a spisso suaviter magno cum (diligentia) ingenio. Ascendit a terra in coelurn iterumque descendit in terram & recipit vim superiorurn & inferiorum. Sic habebis gloriam totius mundi et fugiet a te (tenebrae) omnis obscuritas. Haec est enim totius fortitudinis fortitudo fortis. Nam vincet omnem rem subtilem omnemque, solidam penetrabit. Sic Mundus creatus est. Hinc erunt adaptiones mirabiles quarum modus est hic. 

Itaque vocatus sum Hermes Trismegistus habens tres partes philosophiae totius mundi. Completum est quod dixi de opere solari."

(Newton found similar Latin version in the six-volume Theatrum chemicum which he purchased in 1669.)

"Tis true without lying, certain & most true. That wch is below is like that wch is above & that wch is above is like yt wch is below to do ye miracles of one only thing. And as all things have been & arose from one by ye mediation of one : so all things have their birth from this one thing by adaptation. The Sun is its father, the moon its mother, the wind hath carried it in its belly, the earth is its nourse. The father of all perfection in ye whole world is here. lts force or power is entire if it be converted into earth. Separate thou ye earth from ye fire, ye subtile from the gross sweetly wth great indoustry. It ascends from ye earth to ye heaven & again it descends to ye earth & receives ye force of things superior & inferior. By this means you shall have ye glory of ye whole world & thereby all obscurity shall fly from you. lts force is above all force. For it vanquishes every subtile thing & penetrates every solid thing. So was ye world created. From this are & do come admirable adaptations whereof ye means <arrow upward> (or process) <arrow downward> is here in this.

Hence I am called Hermes Trismegist, having the three parts of ye philosophy of ye whole world. That wch I have said of ye operation of ye Sun is accomplished & ended."

Newton, I. : Tabula Smaragdina Hermetis Trismegistri Philosophorum patris, published by Dobbs, B.J.T. : The Janus Face of Genius, Cambridge University Press - Cambridge, 1991, p.274-275.

2.4 The French version of Fulcanelli.

"Il est vrai, sans mensonge, certain et très véritable : ce qui est en bas est comme ce qui est en haut, et ce qui est en haut est comme ce qui est en bas ; par ces choses se font les miracles d'une seule chose. Et comme toutes les choses sont et proviennent d'UN, par la médiation d'UN, ainsi toutes les choses sont nées de cette chose unique par adaptation. Le Soleil en est le père, et la Lune la mère. Le vent l'a porté dans son ventre. La terre est sa nourrice et son réceptacle. Le Père de tout, le Thélème du monde universe est ici. Sa force ou puissance reste entière, si elle est convertie en terre. Tu sépareras la terre du feu, le subtil de l'épais, soucement, avec grande industrie. Il monte de la terre et descend au ciel, et reçoit la force des choses supérieures et des choses inférieures. Tu auras par ce moyen la gloire du monde, et toute obscurité s'enfuira de toi. C'est la force, forte de toute force, car elle vaincra toute chose subtile et pénétrera toute chose solide. Ainsi, le monde a été créé. De cela sortiront d'admirables adaptations, dequelles le moyen est ici donné.

C'est pourquoi j'ai été appelé Hermès Trigmégiste, ayant les trois parties de la philosophie universelle. Ce que j'ai dit de l'Oeuvre solaire est complet."

Fulcanelli : Les Demeures philosophales, Pauvert - Paris, 1965, pp.247-249 : 

3. The Secret Word of Hermes :

1. Truly, without deceit, certain and most veritable :
2. That which is Below corresponds to that which is Above, and that which is Above corresponds to that which is Below, to accomplish the miracles of the One Entity.
3. And just as all things come from the One Entity, through the mediation of its One Mind, so do all created things originate from this One Entity through transformation. 
4. Its father is the Sun. Its mother the Moon. The Wind carries it in its belly. Its nurse is the Earth. The origin of all the perfections of the world is here. Its force is entire, if it is converted into Earth. 
5. Separate Earth from Fire, the subtle from the gross, gently and with great ingenuity. It rises from Earth to Heaven and descends again to Earth, thereby receiving the force of both things superior & inferior. In this way, you shall obtain the glory of the whole world and thereby all obscurity shall fly away from you.
6. This is a force, strong with all forces, for it overcomes every subtle thing and penetrates every solid thing. 
7. In this way the world was created.
8. From this will come many admirable applications, the means of which is in this.
9. Therefore I am called Hermes Trismegistus, having the three parts of the philosophy of the whole world. 
10. What I have said of the operation of the Sun is finished."

3.1 Commentary.

1. Truly, without deceit, certain and most veritable :

Hermes affirms that the inscription on the Tabula is true. Why ? Are these teachings so extraordinary that one might conclude to have been deceived by them ? 

Compare Jabir's : "Truth ! Certainty ! That in which there is no doubt !" with the first verse of the second chapter of the Recital : "This is the book then in which there is no doubt, a guidance to the godfearing." (Koran, 2:1).

Why doubt ? This becomes clear in the following verses, which summarize the basic tenets of the Tabula, which are indeed formidable.

2. That which is Below corresponds to that which is Above, and that which is Above corresponds to that which is Below, to accomplish the miracles of the One Entity.

The expression "So above, so below. So below, so above." has rightly been called the "Hermetical postulate". It was part of Ancient Egyptian ontology, with its emphasis on the just unification of the dualities which characterize existence (cf. the rise & withdrawal of the Nile, the rise and setting of the Sun, chaos or "isefet" versus order or "maât", the sky versus the earth, the visible versus the invisible, the abode of destruction versus the heavens, the justified versus the damned, the Two Lands, the two crowns, the two staffs, etc.). Pharaon, the incarnation of the sky-god Horus and divine son of Atum-Re, the creator-god, was from "above" but existed "below". Because of his presence "below", the order of the world "below" was blessed by the gods & goddesses who existed as beings of light in the sky "above" but who accepted (only) Pharaoh's offerings from "below". Because of Pharaoh, the miracle of the One Egypt of the Two Lands was guaranteed "for millions of years" ...

The inherent conflicts between the elements were mediated by Pharaonic rule, i.e. the physical, divine manifestation on Earth of the celestial creator-god of the Sun, Re. Pharaoh was the son of Re, and he alone was ontologically able to address the deities directly and by doing so establish order, righteousness & truth in the Two Lands. In fact, all cult was done in his name. Hence, he unified the dualities and guaranteed that a relapse into Nun's primordial chaos (which was always lurking in the dark) would never happen. Left by itself, the world and humanity would surely destroy itself. Without Pharaoh, the order of being would return into the primordial chaos (the pre-creational ocean of Nun) out of which all sprang as the result of the self-creation of the Sun (cf. Atum-Re).

In the Tabula, the Pharaonic rule was replaced by the idea of a correspondence or natural sympathy between the terrestial and the celestial and vice versa. Hence, the binding factor of old (Pharaoh) is done with and replaced by Hermes and his "nous", the One Mind. That the world, with its divisions, variety and constant changes, does not seem to support such sympathetic reflections between macrocosmos and microcosmos, may well be the reason why Hermes affirms their verity and exhorts us not to doubt their possibility. For the force of forces (superforce) at hand, is invisible & subtle, not gross & material. 

Indeed, there is no longer an outer monolith of unity (like Pharaoh), for the correspondences are meant to accomplish something, namely the miracles of unity themselves. Miracles were the outcome of supernatural activity, and so Hermes explains that his Tabula is a tool to perform miracles. These lie dormant in the subtle, invisible order of things, but are manifested (accomplished) by the hermetist.

As the performance of miracles is a magical feat, we may well say that the ideas explained here are a "magical formula" of the highest order (cf. the higher mysteries). They are called "theurgical acts", for miracles (contrary to magical feats caused by an individual will) are Divine and thus escape the will of the hermetist as such (his total annihilation makes him do what has to be done).

Theurgy is "of the One Entity" or the "One Thing", called by Paracelsus an invisible box full of great force and power (Philosophia Sagax, 1537). The outside of this set is the essence of the Divine which for ever transcends all elements of the set. As an ever-escaping horizon, this Face of God is veiled, and remains veiled. The essence is only for God to be in. Nothing can be said about this, except eternal silence.

"Tat : What then, father, can be called real in the supreme degree ? Hermes : He alone, my son, and none but He, who is not made of matter, nor embodied ; who is colourless and formless ; who is changeless and unalterable ; who ever is." - Strobaei Hermetica : Discourses of Hermes to Tat, Stobaeus 3. 11. 31, vol.iii, § 15, in : Scott, W. (edit) : Hermetica, Shamballa - Boston, 1993, p.389.

But the alchemist may find the superforce a work in nature herself. As the One Thing is everywhere (all things are in it), it can be transformed all the time and everywhere. Hence, the true goal of the Tabula is to inform its reader how this may be done. The crucial factor being the First Intellect, which is nothing less than the eternal "nous" of the One Thing. This Intellect is not unbegotten, neither is it begotten. It is "cause sui", i.e. autocreative, called "the Self-Begotten One", and identified with the true inner being (or essence) of each human being who dares to see the Self.

The theology of the Emerald Table is pan-en-theistic (from the Greek "pan en theos", "all in God"). The absolute (God) is not exclusively outside the universe (as in theism stressing transcendence), nor is It exclusively inside the universe (as in pantheism stressing immanence), rather God is both the unmanifest & the manifest, the hidden & the outer, the remote & the near, the un-saying & revealed, etc. For the pan-en-theist, the absolute is qua essence (apophatic, God-for-God) outside (implicate in, veiled by) the order of creation, i.e. truly transcendent (qua nature a priori pre-spatiotemporal) AND qua existence (executive, God-for-us) inside (explicate as, manifest in) the order of creation, i.e. immanent (qua Will a posteriori spatiotemporal). Hence, insofar as the Divine Will decrees, Divine revelation, miracles and salvations are possible.

Pan-en-theism is revealed in the text from the Nag Hammadi Codex (NH, VI.6), called The Eight Reveals the Ninth or Discourse on the Eighth and Ninth. This title, instead of implying the pre-creational "Ogdoad" of Hermopolis and the "Ennead", or a family of Egyptian gods & goddesses, are in fact astrological. 

In the Alexandrian view, the universe was conceived as a sevenfold, each strand being ruled by a planet : Saturn, Moon, Mercury, Venus, Sun, Mars & Jupiter (this is the qabalistic sequence, from 10.Malkuth to 4.Chesed - note that Saturn is attributed to Malkuth). The planetary sequence varies, giving rise to many conflicting systems of correspondences (another planetary sequence is : Moon, Mars, Mercury, Jupiter, Venus, Saturn, Sun).

The "eighth" is the abode were "each one receives what is his" (NH, VI.55.18-19), and the beings who hymn the Father in the Poimandres (tract I of the Corpus Hermeticum), are identical with the souls and the angels of the "Eighth". It is the realm of the Begotten One who rules the inferior Hebdomad and stays above the Seven Ousiarchs. 

Above the Ogdoad, is the "kingdom of powers" of the Self-Begotten One. Finally, above the Ennead dwells the Unbegotten God, "who rules over the Kingdom of Power" (NH, VI.55.24-26). Hence, the Egypto-Alexandrian model was a tenfold (cf. the Pythagorean decad and the Ennead + Pharoah constellation of old). 

The Unbegotten One is out of reach, but the Self-Begotten One (First Intellect or Mind of the One Thing) is the essence of one's own true Self (and culmination of the white tincture - cf. infra).

Pan-en-theism is fundamental to understand the Egypto-Alexandrian heritage, neo-Platonism (Plotinus, Proclus), Jewish qabalah as well as Islamic Sufism (especially that of Ibn'Arabî). 

In the theology of Memphis, Ptah is the One Thing (Unbegotten One) who creates everything by uttering divine words in the form or image of Atum (the Self-Begotten One), who splits and creates the gods & goddesses (the powers ruling creation). In this scheme, the "Eighth" is absent.

With the advent of Christianity, pan-en-theism was rejected and replaced by a radical transcendent theism, with the result that the physical world (and with it, all things natural) was, as it were, driven out of the "divine plan" and its function attributed to an evil demiurge (as in Christian Gnosticism), to an eternal power of evil (as in Persian Manicheism) or to "the prince of the world" (as in Roman Catholicism). Hence, in these theologies of radical transcendence, no natural inquiry was possible without somehow offending God. This explains the reluctance with which the hermetic teachings were integrated in the theology of the Christian West, which oversimplified all matters theological (we find traces of it in the "symbolical" theology of ps.-Dionysius the Areopagite and we know that it influenced the Greek fathers of the church).

In the Sufism of Ibn'Arabî, we learn of "things" in two states : the thingness of fixity and "wujûd" (or "sheer being"). The word "thing", the most indefinite of the indefinites, may be applied to everything. But, as this word may also be used in reference to ALLAH, although Ibn'Arabî -not to be discourteous- rarely calls The God "The Thing". But, if ALLAH had named Himself "Thing" (a name He did not mention in the Koran as being one of the "Most Beautiful Names") he could have been called "The One Thing". 

The phrase "One Entity" ('ayn wâhida) is coined by him to refer to "wujûd" itself and to contrast the oneness of being with the multiplicity and manyness of the things. Although the cosmos is a multiplicity, it goes back to the "One Entity". Hence, "One Thing" or "One Entity" implies the absolute in its absoluteness, i.e. as the essential unity of sheer being, the "Face of ALLAH" ...

The "miracles" (plural) of the One Entity are hence the many manifestations of the One. Hermes turns matters around. Instead of focusing on manyness (so that the One Entity is the sole miracle), he starts with the fundamental unity of all being (called the "One Entity"). Hence, each and every thing is a miracle, for do they not seemingly suggest the manyness of existence instead of its fundamental unity ? How can manyness be something other than a miracle, if on a fundamental level unity is a fact ? Is this not the path to the paradoxical and wonderous perplexity of the "station of no station" to which Ibn'Arabî concluded ? The implicate unity of all in all contrasts with the explicate variety of all against all. The series of "independent" things are the miracles performed by the One Entity.

The Hermetical postulate makes us realize that fundamental unity (above) and superficial plurality (below) interact, for every individual thing is a miracle of the One Entity, which underlines them all, and the One Entity is expressed in every individual thing, which -as we learn- may realize this fundamental unity of being as the strongest force ever (the one superforce uniting & transcending all other forces).

3. And just as all things come from the One Entity, through the mediation of its One Mind, so do all created things originate from this One Entity through transformation. 

To understand what is implied here, three theologies are helpful : the theology of Memphis found on the Shabaka Stone, the "logos" as "second God" in the writings of Philo of Alexandria, and the Divine Names of ALLAH in Sufism, in particular, the philosophy of mysticism of Ibn'Arabî. 

In the Ancient Egyptian theology of the creative verb, Ptah created all things by thinking the divine words in his mind and uttering them through his tongue. Between Ptah-on-the-Great-Throne (i.e. the Great One Alone) and the created things stands the mind of Ptah. In this mind, divine words appear and when these are pronounced, the whole of creation unfolds. The major divine word Ptah thinks and utters is "Atum-Re", the creator-god, in whose "image" or "form" Ptah made everything.

Ancient Egyptian theology remained dependent on mythical & pre-rational thought (and thus never realized the rational form, except for a brief period under Akhenaten). In the Hellenized Judaism of Philo, we arrive at a rational exposition of the distinction between God and the "logos" or "word". The latter is conceived as a "second God", responsible for the creation of the universe. 

In neo-Platonism, this would trigger the ternary : being-for-itself (monos), being-in-relation (proodos) and being-in-return (epistrophe), which would influence the IVth century articulation of the Nicene dogma of the Trinity of Father, Son (Jesus Christ) and the Holy Spirit. 

In Hermetism, God is the Unbegotten One (being-for-itself), the One Mind of the Logos (cf. Plato's "world of ideas") is the Self-Begotten One, Enneadic "First Intellect"), thought to have created the universe (cf. the "Christos Pantokratos" in Byzantine theology) through his "holy word". The latter "... is the son of God coming from his Intellect" (Poimandres), i.e. the Begotten One. 

In Hermetism, the triad reads as :

  1. God, the Unbegotten One, the essence of being, the Decad ;

  2. the First Intellect, the Self-Begotten One, the Mind of God, the "Ninth" ;

  3. the holy word or son from the First Intellect, the Begotten One above the Seven Governors, the "Eighth".

In Sufism, ALLAH wants His hidden treasure to be known. The essential unity of being (Decad) and the oneness of existence ("Ninth") are distinguished (Ibn'Arabî calls this "the most holy emanation"). The former being the ineffable essence of the absolute, whereas the latter is associated with the 99 Divine Names, which are the attributes of the absolute qua absolute. Everything is rooted in them and emanates from them (the so-called "holy emanation"). This happens "in the cloud", which is nothing other than the "Eighth", containing the essence of the created world.

Taken together, these Divine Names constitute the all-comprehensive name "ALLAH", "The God". With this name, the ongoing createdness of the universe is affirmed. 

The One Entity is known to Its creation as the One Mind, which contains the "noetic" root of every individual thing that exists (cf. Plato, Spinoza). This Divine Mind (the attributes of the One Entity) allows all things to be transformations (adaptations, modi) of the One Entity :

  1. the One Thing, or the totality of all things (creation, world, universe) plus the essence of being, the One Thing as It Truly Is, which is ineffable (the principle of being) ;

  2. the One Mind, or the Oneness of the Divine Names which Self-express in many particular forms (the relationality of being) ;

  3. the many things, or the plurality of expressions of existence, locus of the continuous theophany under the ægis of the holy Begotten One (the return of all actual things to their root in the Self-Begotten One Mind of the Unbegotten).

In its neo-Platonic form, this structure was recuperated by the theologians of Constantine, to form the Nicene trinitarian concept of the "One God", which is still the cornerstone of the Catholic concept of God today :

  1. the Father : the good, heavenly and unique principle of absoluteness and transcendence ;

  2. the Son : the unique divine and human son of the heavenly Father (Christ), who, as "logos", creates the universe and, as Saviour, mediates between humanity & the Father ;

  3. the Holy Spirit : the love between Father & Son sets an example, is a comforter and a spiritual guide for Christians to return to the "house of the Father".

4. Its father is the Sun. Its mother the Moon. The Wind carries it in its belly. Its nurse is the Earth. The origin of all the perfections of the world is here. Its force is entire, if it is converted into Earth. 

The "enantia" or elemental "opposites" inherent in the created order figure as a paradigm in Empedocles (cf. De Generatione et Corruptione, 330a30). Antinomic reality is structured as four elements : Fire and Air were the active elements and both warm (Fire was dry and Air was moist), whereas Water and Earth were passive and both cold (Water was moist and Earth was dry). In Ionic philosophy, they were viewed as the "arche" of the universe (Water for Thales of Milete, Air for Anaximenes of Milete and Fire for Heraclitus of Ephese).

In Ancient Egypt, these four elements were explicit in the cosmogony of Memphis, as well as in astronomy & ritualism. The foundation of creation was the primordial water before creation (cf. "Nun"). Creation was initiated by the emergence of the primordial hill (earth out of water) struck by a beam of the Sun (fire), which petrified (cf. the "Benben"). This caused the division between heaven and earth (air separating the two). Moreover, the Sun (fire) was considered as the subtlest of the elements for responsible for light (cf. the word "pyramid", from the Greek "pyr" or "fire"). The four elements were placed at the cardinal points of the horizon around the sacred objects (temples, thrones, coffins). They played a central role in ritualism and were called the "Sons of Horus" (Air in the East, Fire in the South, Water in the West and Earth in the North). In Christian times, these associations were projected upon the four evangelists (Luke as the Angel of Air -Aquarius-, Mark as the Lion of Fire -Leo-, John as the Eagle of Water -Scorpio- and Matthew as the Bull of Earth -Taurus-, but other correspondences have been suggested).

In the Tabula, the elements are used to describe the process which allows one to operate the miracles of the One Entity. As everything is a transformation of this One, the spiritual process is described in terms of physical realities, which is the method of alchemy. Indeed, the transformation of lead (Saturn, Earth) into gold (Sun, Fire) is not to be understood as the making of gold out of the gross "prima materia" represented by coarse lead. Physical realities are used as physical means to append or affix processes of a psychological & spiritual nature. The alchemist is thus somebody who performs the miracles of the One Entity in his or hers own consciousness, but who describes this process in terms derived from chemical events. Indeed, as the miracles are at work everywhere, why not standardize certain physical things (like metals) and their co-relative events (purification, mortification, evaporation etc.) to create what seems the language of a physical science, but which actually is a means to describe (in physical terms) what happens in the subtle, psycho-spiritual (inner) world of the alchemist.

That alchemy (also translated as "al-chem", "from Egypt", the "black" land) was rooted in Ancient Egyptian magical practices should not surprise us. In the "Ritual of Opening the Mouth" (used in the Old Kingdom and later to give live to the mummy), the Egyptian priests infused life in a cult statue. Here we see the principle described in the Tabula at work : a physical object (of clay, wood or stone), representing a natural law (a deity), is given "life" by associating it with a complex set of mythical, pre-rational and proto-rational patterns of thought, emotion and actions. Object (the physicality of the statue) and subject (its meaning for those who worship it) are fused. Complex incantations and rituals guaranteed that the physical statue triggered a co-relative spiritual state of consciousness. Once done, the "ka" (double) or "ba" (soul) of the deity in question could come down from the sky to dwell in the statue and assist those who offered to it. If these offerings stopped, the double or soul withdrew and the statue was "abandoned" by its deity ... (in the short reign of Akhenaten, it was said that the deities had left Egypt as a whole, for Pharaoh had ordered to stop all offerings, except those to his sole god, the Aten).

Sun and Moon (called "the lights" in astrology) are essential symbols. They form a bi-polar unity. The former being the radiant, creative, active, fatherly, pure & noble side, the latter the reflective, assimilative, passive, motherly, sullied & common side. The Moon was seen (by Aristotle) as a barrier between the "harmony of the spheres" and the sublunar chaos (on Earth). The "mysterium coniunctionis" (cf. Jung), involved (a) the purification of the Lunar current (usually done by negating all things physical & emotional), (b) the liberation of the subtle kept captive by the Earth, and finally (c) the harmonization of the purified lower Lunar ego with the radiant Higher Solar Self.

The Sun is the father of the One Entity. At face value, this statement entails a contradiction, for the One Entity is bornless and hence fatherless as well as motherless. The level of consciousness symbolized by the Sun is the only one in which the One Entity is revealed (as One Mind). It represents the end of the alchemical process and can therefore be equated with the Hermetic Ennead, the Self-Begotten First Intellect. To enter into the "way of immortality" (NH VI.63.10-11), a rite of regeneration is necessary. Its central mystery being the vision of oneself. In the 13th tract of the Corpus Hermeticum (CH) we read : "Father I see the All and I see myself in the Intellect.", which, in the Discourse on the Eighth and Ninth, returns as : "I see myself." (NH VI.58.8). This Enneadic Vision "is rebirth" (CH, XIII.13).

"No doubt for the Hermetic writer this luminous power is nothing but the Divine Intellect. It consists in divine self-contemplation and manifestation of oneself to oneself. Whoever sees himself by the power of the Intellect tends to become himself and to get assimilated to the Self-Begotten man. Then he can also see the source of the Unbegotten One." - Mahé, J-P. : A Reading of The Ogdoad and the Ennead, in : van den Broek, R. & Hanegraaff, J. (editors) : Gnosticism and Hermetism from Antiquity to Modern Times, State University of New York Press - New York, 1998, p.84.

The accomplishment of the miracles of the One Entity (the true object of the Tabula)  is caused by the Sun, the Moon, the Wind and the Earth. Fire, Water, Air and Earth represent the creational sequence. This was also the case in Jewish mysticism, for in the qabalah (based on Greek number-symbolism), the four worlds are associated with the "Name" (YHVH) and with the four "cosmic elements" : Atziluth to Fire (Y, the father), Briah to Water (H, the mother), Yetzirah to Air (V, the son) and Assiah to Earth (H, the fallen daughter). To create anything, the One Entity, through mediation of its One Mind, moves from the subtle (Fire) to the gross (Earth). This is a downward movement, away from the essence of the One Entity towards its most gross transformations (cf. "exitus a Deo"). The most subtle (Fire) is thus converted into Earth. Then, and only then, is the miraculous force of unity entire, for only then does the One Entity, through mediation of the One Mind and a variety of transformations of its force, indeed prevail in everything, albeit in different forms, substances or existing things.

This is the affirmation of the omnipresence of the miracles of the One Entity. Indeed, if the (final) transformation of the One Entity into Earth were not, then the force of creation would not be everywhere and thus not be entire. It would be absent from the lowest plane of existence, which is exactely what both Manicheism as Christianity maintained. In contrast, the Egypto-Alexandrian model included all of existence in its concrete conceptualizations of the Divine, i.e. both the One Entity, Its One Mind and its myriads of elemental transformations according to the laws of Fire, Water, Air & Earth. In the theologies of Ancient Egypt (with the exception of Amarna religion), pre-creation itself was deified, for everything emerged out of the primordial chaotic ocean of Nun, the "father of the gods". Nowhere is the Divine absent, except as essence to its creation (cf. "Deus absconditus").

Sun and Moon represent the red and white tinctures respectively. These are stable stations of consciousness (rather than volatile states) accomplished by the alchemist, i.e. the person who executes the operation of the Sun and perfoms the "Magnum Opus". Sun and Moon are the two foci of the ellipse of initiated consciousness. Before initiation, the Moon eclipses the Sun, and consciousness exists in the illusion of its own circular solitude and isolation. The eclipse can only occur because of the Earth. Ignorance results when consciousness is exclusively informed by what enters via the senses, cut off from what comes down from the higher and hence more subtle transformations of the One Entity, called the "invisible", the "unseen", the "occult", i.e. the human soul & spirit.

The Tabula defines the formula given here as "the operation of the Sun", showing that the ultimate goal of Hermetism is the making of the Red tincture, the "stone of the philosophers", the "burning water" of incombustible Sulphur ... The white elixir is said to convey long life, health, beauty & peace (liberation or illumination), but not eternal life, creativity & wisdom (realization or deification). The white elixir being the culmination of the "lower mysteries" (witchcraft, magic), the red stone that of the "higher mysteries" (theurgy, or the synthesis of magic & mysticism).

The word "perfections" translates the Greek "telesma" or "rite" ("teleoo" means "to bring to an end" and "to initiate into the mysteries"), also found in the word "talisman", a physical object whose subtle vehicle (or etheric double) is a condensation of a spiritual state of consciousness. All these meanings are implied here :

  1. the superforce accomplishing the miracles of the One Entity, according to the laws of the operation of the Sun, brings everything to its natural end, i.e. towards its completion, i.e. its return to the One Entity ;

  2. the spiritual states of Sun and Moon can be fixated on the physical plane, enabling physical consciousness to rise more quickly above the gross vibrations of the lowest stratum of the universe ;

  3. the control of this telesmic superforce, goes hand in hand with initiated consciousness, Lunar as well as Solar. In the former case, the white elixir has been prepared, enabling consciousness to remain focused on the Sun while existing in the gross & heavy Saturnine transformations of the One Entity (the physical world). In the latter, the philosopher's stone has been found, and consciousness abides in a state which has a continuous spiritual openness, leading to the unshaken spirit of the Divine Presence (cf. the "Shekinah" in qabalah).

5. Separate Earth from Fire, the subtle from the gross, gently and with great ingenuity. It rises from Earth to Heaven and descends again to Earth, thereby receiving the force of both things superior & inferior. In this way, you shall obtain the glory of the whole world and thereby all obscurity shall fly away from you.

Here, the working-principle of the telesmic operation is described : the separation of the subtle (Fire) from the gross (Earth). 

To understand what is intended, one should realize that according to Hermetism, Earth (or Saturnine Salt), conscious identity (or Solar Sulphur) and cognition (or Mercury) are distinguished. Salt is related to the conditions of the physical plane (the body), with its gross and inert qualities. In this unpurified state, Salt pulls consciousness down, leading to materialism, spiritual poverty and overall unhappiness. The Solar element is eclipsed by the Lunar one. This type of consciousness is associated with "vulgar" Sulphur, for it burns quickly but leaves a dirty and unwholesome residue. When reflective activity is undertaken in this state, the sullied mind produces rational thought at the expense of all other modes of cognition (lower -instinctual- as well as higher -intuitive-). This is Mercury chained to the laws of Salt, which is the condition of the "homo normalis", an educated animal (bestial characteristics holding light captive and abusing it to serve the ends of the ego and the body).

The goal of Hermetism being the liberation of Mercury from Salt, i.e. the elimination from thought of everything which makes it gross, inert and materialistic. This is done by seeking the incombustible part of Sulphur, i.e. becoming conscious of the totality of one's being, which is represented by the Sun. Ultimately, this total consciousness liberates vulgar Mercury from Salt, realizing the "burning water" of "philosophical Mercury". This is firmly attained when the red tincture has been successfully prepared.

The two major steps feature in this process of separating the subtle out of the gross, namey the making of the white and red tinctures. The white tincture is preceded by the preparatory "black work" (black chaos), the putrefaction of the vulgar qualities of consciousness (the separation of the elements of the gross). The entanglement of Mercury with Salt being very strong, Hermes suggests to separate them gently and with great ingenuity. Why ? More than one initiate who tried to make the tinctures wrote that the alchemist has to fail and start the work all over again. This may happen several times.

Indeed, if traces of dirt are left without consciousness having noticed this (because not all shadow elements of one's personal unconscious have been thoroughly made conscious after the first putrefactions, which is nearly always the case), the inertness of Salt is such, that the whole operation of separation if cancelled, or worse, that consciousness -because of this drawback- abruptly aborts the operation and then falls back to a state which is even more wretched than before. Why ? Is physical life not more difficult to bear after one has failed to break its chains, and this especially when one has caught a few glimpses of true freedom ? Indeed, in the beginning, consciousness is often emersed by the flashes of light stemming from its own incombustible Sulphur. This may already happens after the first putrefactions. Mercury rises a little and joy is felt. But, many putrefactions are needed before all traces of dirt have been made conscious. Salt is not immediately purified and residual dirt causes Mercury to drop. He who experienced heaven, suffers more from its absence than he who thinks that the world stops at the end of the street. Thus violent putrefactions will likely cause a drawback, chaining consciousness to Salt in a way which opposes any further attempt to free Mercury. To separate Mercury from Salt gently & intelligently, will allow the aspirant to return to his putrefactions even after several failures. 

When the destructive components have burned long enough, so that thought (Air), will (Fire), affect (Water) & body (Earth) are purified, the "fifth element" or "quintessence" emerges. This is the reflection of the light of the Sun by Mercury, which produces the white tincture. The Moon (ego) does not eclipse the Sun (Self), and this distinction between ego and Self causes consciousness to break away from its particular, localized, circular apprehension of itself and the world. Heliocentricity leads to an elliptical awareness of body, ego-mind & Self, and to a universalizing consciousness.

Compared with vulgar Mercury, the white tincture gives freedom, power and strenght. In this station, the conditions of Salt do not influence consciousness fundamentally. The negatives of this world do not affect one's inner peace. This is a major attainment. However, the white elixir is unstable. Continuous attention is needed to produce it, and special conditions have to be implemented to succeed in doing so. The tincture is not a "stone", i.e. a stable spiritual state. Compared with vulgar Sulphur, the white elixir is extremely stable and powerful. But this is relative. Indeed, the absence of a totalizing consciousness (in the uninitiated) is replaced by a continuous alertness and an effective shielding from all possible sources of negativity (the unpurfied Salt still present in one's physical environment). Hence, those unable to make the red tincture, are forced to reduce the efforts needed to make the white elixir. At best they are hermits, but they may also become part of so-called "spiritual organizations", which offers them a framework to protect them from too much interactions with the sullied world. This problem increases with time, for the aging of the physical body calls for more and more controls to avoid unnecessary loss of energy and the stabilization of habits (albeit wholesome ones).

The red tincture is nothing less than the realization of the "Sun behind the Sun", i.e. the fact that in the heart of one's soul (in the core of who one really is) the spirit abides. This spirit is conceived as the unbreakable, self-sufficient unity of incombustible Sulphur, philosophical Mercury and purified Salt.

The last phase of the operation of the Sun touches upon the direct experience of the Divine, i.e. mysticism. The directness of this experiences implies that it is not mediated. No images or symbols of external things are used. The  "stone of the philosophers" is not a stone. It is nothing as "all possibility", i.e. the unlimited set of all virtualities. This is called "a stone", because this ultimate consciousness is stable, unborn and unchanging as such. One enters it as it enters in one. Once there (which is nowhere) it is never left. Hence, no special care to maintain this station is necessary.

The accomplished miracles encompass two movements : the already discussed downward movement from Fire to Earth ("exitus a Deo") and the upward movement from sullied to purified ("reditus in Deum"). The first is creational & universal, the second is anthropological and individual. In this way, the telemic force receives from all things (inferior as well as superior). Hence, it unites the division between "above" and "below", which enables one to obtain the glory of creation itself (cf. Pharaoh uniting the "Two Lands"). As all has been encompassed, no obscurity is left. Everything has been brought under the ægis of the Solar Light.

6. This is a force, strong with all forces, for it overcomes every subtle thing and penetrates every solid thing. 

Again, as the "telemic force" is at work in both the inferior (solid) and superior (subtle) strands of creation, nothing can rule it and it rules all. When it has ascended into heaven and descended into Earth, it becomes the strongest of all things. It is the superforce.

7. In this way the world was created.

The operation of the Sun is the paradigm of the creative process. All creative minds move through this sequence :

  1. isolate & name the gross, unclean traces of consciousness (the effect of impure Salt on Sulphur and Mercury) and separate its elements (the black work) ;

  2. purify body, consciousness and mind to allow Fire to escape Earth (breaking one's conscious identification with all forms of vulgarity) ;

  3. realize and maintain a liberated Mercury (aware of Salt but able to shield itself from it and reverse the past negative effects it had & has - the white work) ;

  4. realize a direct experience of the inner unity between one's innermost Self and the universal Divine Spirit which is hidden in its core (the red work).

8. From this will come many admirable applications, the means of which is in this.

All these principles can be used in a multiplicity of "words" or strands of creation. In the qabalah, four worlds are identified (corresponding with the four letters of the Name "YHVH"). The practical applications which ensue when the operation of the Sun is used in each of these worlds are called "admirable".

9. Therefore I am called Hermes Trismegistus, having the three parts of the philosophy of the whole world. 

The mineral, vegetal & animal kingdoms are the "natural" part of creation. With humanity, the "cultural" is introduced, implying choice & free will, cogitation & creativity (novelty, originality, ingenuity, intuitiveness). The author of the Tabula claims gigantic proportions for himself. Hermes is therefore the archetype of Hermetism. The use of the word "philosophy" is justified, for the teachings of the Tabula are clearly Alexandrian & neo-Platonic (Pythagorean).

10. What I have said of the operation of the Sun is finished."

To place the definition of the process dealt with in this Tabula at the end of the text, is more than just a literary device. For the essence of the telemic process is only revealed at its end (cf. "alpha et omega"). Perfection is a matter of finality. Because the end of the matter depends on the One Entity and its One Mind, one is perfected in the way of Hermes, by the presence of his stone, the "benben" of everlasting life or the "emerald" of the philosophers (for the Sûfî's, "emerald" symbolized the cosmic soul).

3.2 Concluding remarks.

Egypto-Alexandrian Hermetism, the art of Kemet, was the intellectual realization of the élite of Egypt, i.e. the native priesthood and the few Greeks who seriously investigated the Egyptian mysteries, teachings & temple ritualism (men like Pythagoras, Democritos and Plato). In the House of Life of more than one medium to large temple-complex, ancient manuscripts could be found, and although the rich spiritual literature of the Middle & New Kingdoms was available, the forms of the Old Kingdom were revered and copied. 

Under the Ptolemies, funerary practices were kept in place and the syncretic bull-god Serapis, created during the early Ptolemaic period, became the state god. He existed as "Osorapis" (Osiris + Apis) prior to Ptolemy I Soter coming to the throne, and represented the synthesis of the two major aspects of Ancient Egyptian religion, namely (a) perpetual existence thanks to rituals, embodied by Osiris and (b) a Pharaoh to offer Maât to his father Re, embodied by the Apis bull of Ptah of Memphis, the mythical place of origin of the Dynasties (cf. Menes), Residence and place of coronation of Pharaoh. For Ptolemy I Soter, "Osorapis", now called "Serapis", was the quintessence of the Ancient Egyptian pantheon. Moreover, he could easily be fused with the major Greek gods such as Zeus, Helios, Dionysos, Hades (Pluto) and Aesculapius or Hermes.

Hermetism linked with protection (cf. the old definition of "heka" or "magic"), the funerary rituals, healing & wisdom. Later, "Hermes Trismegistos" became the archetype of those initiated in the new syncretic teaching, which contained a Egypto-Alexandian grand philosophy (i.e. total picture of being) and a myriad of rituals and magical procedures to make nature bow to the telemic will of the adept (as it had done for Pharaoh). All kinds of practical techniques were incorporated. These teachers understood the importance of conveying information through activity & movement. Hence the use of dialogue to conceptualize the intellectual message (the use of dialogue as a literary device was used for the first time in the Middle Kingdom, namely in the dialogue between a desperate man and his soul). Plato's choice for the exclusive use of this literary device may well be the result of his study of the earliest form of Egypto-Alexandrian thought.

Another important feature of this early Egyptian form of Hermetism was its ability to internationalize the deities by the notion of "correspondence". The concrete contexts in which he deities functioned were compared, and similarities were sought and found. In this syncretism, the mythical and pre-rational background (which had made Amarna fail) is weakened, if not absent. The absent relapse into the geosentimentality of the nomes and their "tribal" temple, allowed a broader proto-rational perspective to emerge. This is not yet a universal religion based on rational principles (for polytheism is not superceded), but it surely (and this more than had been the case in the New Kingdom) called for an imperial concept of the deities, albeit limited by concrete factors, such as the deification of the "Basileus", and the cultic worship of the Hellenistic political rulers ... 

This limitation was the last remnant of the "old world". It explains why the religions of the "old Mediterranean" never fully realized the rational stage of cognitive thought. Even Akhenaten, who realized that there can only be One Sole God, and who stood at the treshold of reason, had allowed his own deification to limit his "natural philosophy". Early Hermetism is not a rational philosophy yet. The divine Hermes, as well as the projection of subjective states & stations on physical objects & their properties, point to proto-rational thought.

Nevertheless, the basic categories of mysticism are found in the Tabula. We know that the Corpus Hermeticum influenced the Greek Fathers (cf. the "Orientale Lumen") and their conceptualization of the "scala perfectionis". The stages of the telemic process also form a triad : purification (the black work), illumination (the white work) & deification (the red work). In Jewish, Christian & Sûfî mysticism, the latter is not an ontological change from human to Divine (as had been the case in the "old world"), but rather a Divine spiritual unity which exists in one's innermost consciousness, calling for an enhanced ethical awareness, vivid compassion & unconditional charity towards all beings.

The Seven Steps of Transformation of the One Entity
Solve et Coagula

Visita Interiora
Terra Rectificanto
Inveniens Occultum Lapidem

Valentine, Basil : L'Azoth des Philosophes, Paris, 1659.

1. Saturn / black crow perching on top of a skull / Visita = Putrefaction ;
2. Jupiter / black crow watching itself dissolving / Interiora = Dissolution ;

3.Mars / two white soul birds retrieving the remains / Terra = Separation ;
4. Sun / ascending soul & spirit birds leave Earth and lift the five-spiked crown / Rectificanto = Conjunction ;

5. Venus / soul & spirit birds nest in a tree and brood over their egg / Inveniens = Fermentation ;
6. Mercury / unicorn lying in front of a rose bush / Occultum = Distillation ;
7. Moon / androgynous youth emerging from an open grave / Lapidem = Coagulation.

The telemic process is subdivided in different phases. In general, a sevenfold was chosen, corresponding with the seven planets known in antiquity. Various other sevenfold classifications were used : the days of the week, the seven "Artes Liberales", the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit, the seven deadly sins, the seven ways of holy love, the seven heavens, the seven hells, etc. The habit of publishing bogus correspondences, assisted the occultation of Hermetism, but served well as a protection device. It was Jung who, in the previous century, showed that the discipline is psychological & spiritual, rather than physical or technological. As a spiritual discipline, alchemy differs from the other traditions. Its use of physical objects & their properties, to convey spiritual & philosophical teachings is unique for the Egypto-Alexandrian model, rooted it the Hermetical postulate, and indeed leading to admirable practical realizations.

"If it really did dawn on the alchemists that their work was somehow connected with the human psyche and its functions, then it seems to me probable that the passage from the Rosarium is no mere misprint. It agrees too well with the statements of the other authors. They insist throughout upon careful study and meditation of the books." - Jung, C.G. : Collected Works, Bollingen, 1968, volume12, § 362, my italics.


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initiated : 15 II 2002 - last update : 25 XI 2005 - version n°1