The following article is a continuation of the Introduction to Alchemy article that I had recently published and will focus on the Emerald Tablet. By the conclusion of this article you will possess an improved understanding as to what the Emerald Tablet is, why the Emerald Tablet is important, and how the Emerald Tablet relates to the overarching field of alchemy.
This article will address the following topics as they relate to the Emerald Tablet:
-A reading of the Emerald Tablet
-The Emerald Tablet defined
-The Pillars of Hermes
-The Emerald Tablet
-The Treasures of Alexander
-The fate of the Emerald Tablet
-The earliest surviving translation of the Emerald Tablet
-Emerald Tablet timeline
Prior to discussing the Emerald Tablet I will first provide a brief summary of the previous Introduction to Alchemy article:
-Alchemy is creative transformation; the art of taking something imperfect and bringing it closer to perfection through a process of separation and recombination.
-Alchemy originated in Egypt approximately 10,000 years ago as communicated through Divine beings to Thoth.
-Thoth is considered the first alchemist and is known as the scribe of the Gods. Thoth is also known as Hermes within Greek tradition and Mercury within Roman tradition. However, Thoth appears across many other cultural and religious traditions.
-The work of alchemy occurs across three levels – the philosophical, theoretical, and practical. Transformation of matter within the laboratory is secondary to the spiritual changes that occur within the alchemist themselves.
-The perennial philosophy states that there is One Truth but there are many paths to this One Truth. There exist as many paths to the One Truth as there are individuals pursuing this One Truth.
-One becomes an alchemist through initiatory training across three levels – the philosophical, theoretical, and practical.
-One may seek training in alchemy by means of locating a trained alchemist through the International Alchemy Guild (IAG) or seeking out a formal curriculum such as those offered by the Alchemy Study Program (ASP) or individual classes such as those offered by AMORC San Jose.
You may read the full Introduction to Alchemy article here. With the present article we will begin by reading the Emerald Tablet.
A Reading of the Emerald Tablet
The text of the Emerald Tablet is as follows:
In truth, without deceit, certain, and most veritable.
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 Thing. And just as all things
Have come from this One thing, through the meditation of One
Mind, so do all created things originate from this One Thing,
Its father is the Sun; its mother is the Moon. The Wind carries it
in Its belly; its nurse is the Earth. It is the origin of All, the
consecration of the Universe; its inherent Strength is perfected, if
it is turned into Earth.
Separate the 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 combining within Itself the
powers of both the Above and the Below.
Thus will you obtain the Glory of the Whole Universe. All
Obscurity will be clear to you. This is the greatest Force of all
powers, because it overcomes every Subtle thing and penetrates
every Solid thing.
In this way was the Universe created. From this comes many
wondrous Applications, because this is the Pattern.
Therefore am I called Thrice Greatest Hermes, having all three
parts of the wisdom of the Whole Universe. Herein have I
completely explained the Operation of the Sun.
Now that you have read through the text of the Emerald Tablet in its entirety, we will define the Emerald Tablet.
The Emerald Tablet Defined
Within the previous article we learned that the Egyptian god Thoth was associated with the Emerald Tablet. Specifically, Thoth is said to be the author of the tablet, given his designation as scribe of the gods. The following passage from Quest for the Soul by John Nash describes the relationship between Thoth and the Emerald Tablet:
“Thoth-Hermes is also credited with the famous dictum: “That which is above is as that which is below; and that which is below is as that which is above.” This axiom, often abbreviated to “As above, so below,” underlies what came to be known as the Law of Correspondences. It appears on the Emerald Tablet, usually taken to be an alchemical treatise, which according to tradition was inscribed on a single, large emerald. Albertus Magnus (1193-1280 CE) taught that the Tablet was found in Hermes’ tomb by Alexander the Great.1”
Alchemical writings did not appear gradually over time, but appeared to emerge nearly instantaneously and simultaneously across various locations around the world. Within The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Alchemy, Dennis William Hauck explains the origins of alchemical documentation:
“The roots of alchemy are buried in legend and mystery; allegedly the earliest books on alchemy appeared all at once, as if they had been locked away for safekeeping and were suddenly released. At the beginning of the first millennium, all around the world alchemical principles exploded into human consciousness, and these same ideas continue to inspire us to this day.
However, alchemists point to the heavens—not books—for the origin of their craft, and ancient Egyptian writings seem to back them up. Three-thousand-year-old scrolls describe “visitors from the firmament” who came to Egypt and shared their knowledge of the universe, including the art of alchemy.
One document contains a succinct summary of that ancient wisdom. It was engraved on a green crystalline tablet that became known as the Emerald Tablet.2”
The Emerald Tablet is said to contain the proverbial keys to the universe. It provides the alchemist with instructions on how to work with the “One Thing” and how to transform the “One Thing” at will. Furthermore, it allows the alchemist to master creative transformation on all levels of reality to include the physical and spiritual planes. As you may recall from the previous article, the work of the alchemist must be performed on three levels simultaneously – the philosophical, theoretical, and the practical.
Zep Tepi – The Beginning of the Story
The story of the Emerald Tablet begins with Zep Tepi:
“Zep Tepi is an ancient Egyptian phrase, meaning First Time. It refers to an epoch over 12,000 years ago when divine beings arrived “through the Void” to settle in Egypt. The gods shared their wisdom and civilized the primitive humans3.”
One of the gods from Zep Tepi was Thoth who is described as follows:
“Thoth was one of the godlike beings who came to Egypt during the time of Zep Tepi. However, there is an important difference between Thoth and the other gods of Egypt. Thoth exists on all levels of time and space, in heaven and on Earth and in between. He has always existed and always will. He spoke the first Word of creation, and all he has to do is name a thing to bring it into existence. Thoth brought the very first gods into being, yet he is content to serve both the gods and mankind. Thoth is the divine intermediary between spirit and matter that makes alchemy possible.4”
According to the Emerald Tablet, the alchemist must master the work across all three levels – the philosophical, the theoretical, and the practical. Thoth, the first alchemist serves as this ideal and has mastered alchemy on all three levels. Beyond this mastery, Thoth exists in all levels of time and space, and has always existed and always will. In addition, he returns to earth in order to serve both gods and mankind.
This service is another key tenet of alchemy. One does not master alchemy simply for the sake of bettering themselves and becoming a master, but to be of greater service to others. This idea is sometimes represented as the ouroboros, or snake consuming itself, but with a second lower circle which in total forms a figure eight that represents the alchemist’s return to earth to render service to humanity.
The Pillars of Hermes – Capsule of the Emerald Tablet
Central to the story of the Emerald Tablet are the Pillars of Hermes. The Pillars of Hermes are described as follows:
“According to legend, Thoth preserved his canon of writings inside two great pillars just before the Great Flood inundated the world. Thousands of years later, the pillars were rediscovered. According to existing texts written by Egyptian priests, one of the pillars was discovered outside the city of Heliopolis, and the other was unearthed near Thebes. The massive columns were covered with sacred hieroglyphics. When first discovered, they were referred to as the “Pillars of the Gods of the Dawning Light.” The pillars were eventually moved to a secret temple dedicated to the First Gods. Some texts indicate that this location was the Temple of Amun in Siwa, which is the oldest temple in Egypt. Only priests and pharaohs were allowed to view the sacred objects and scrolls. Some evidence suggests the pillars really existed. Not only were they described in scrolls dating back to 1550 B.C.E., but they also were periodically put on public display and have been mentioned by credible sources throughout history. Solon, the Greek legislator and writer, studied them firsthand and noted that they memorialized the destruction of an ancient advanced civilization. The great historian Herodotus encountered the two pillars in a secret Egyptian temple he visited in 400 B.C.E. “One pillar was of pure gold,” said Herodotus, “and the other was as of emerald, which glowed at night with great brilliancy.” Because Hermes is the Greek name for Thoth, he named them the “Pillars of Hermes.”
The mysterious Pillars of Hermes were said to have been viewed by Alexander the Great, Achilles Tatius, Dio Chrysostom, and Laertius, and other Roman and Greek historians have described them in detail. In Iamblichus: On the Mysteries , Thomas Taylor quotes one ancient writer who noted that the two pillars were created before the Great Flood. The Alexandrian scribe Manetho recorded that the pillars contained 36,525 manuscripts written by Thoth, although it should be noted that this figure is the exact number of days in 100 years, which symbolized perfect completion to the Egyptians.5”
In essence, within the Pillars of Hermes were the comprehensive writings of Thoth. Although direct evidence does not exist today for the Pillars of Hermes, many credible and prominent historical sources have attested to their existence.
The Emerald Tablet
The artifact known as the Emerald Tablet existed within the Pillars of Hermes and was a succinct summary of the teachings of Thoth:
“When opened, Thoth’s pillars were said to contain not only many priceless manuscripts, but also a marvelous artifact that has become known as the Emerald Tablet. The green crystalline tablet carried a succinct summary of the Thothian writings and outlined a new philosophy of the Whole Universe.
The priests of Amun kept the tablet and other texts in hiding, but its philosophy filtered down into other writings. Phrases from the Emerald Tablet can be found in the Papyrus of Ani (1250 B.C.E.) and chapters from the Book of the Dead (1500 B.C.E.), the Berlin Papyrus No. 3024 (2000 B.C.E.), and other religious scrolls dating between 1000 and 300 B.C.E. One papyrus known as “An Invocation to Hermes,” which dates from Hellenic Egypt, actually refers to the tablet: “I know your names in the Egyptian tongue, and your true name as it is written on the Holy Tablet in the holy place at Hermopolis, where you did have your birth.” Not until Alexander the Great conquered Egypt and became its Pharaoh in 332 B.C.E. did knowledge of the tablet’s existence spread. Historical documents show that Alexander traveled to Siwa, where he retrieved the writings of Thoth and the tablet. He then took the items with him to Memphis and then on to Hermopolis.6”
The Emerald Tablet was encapsulated within the Pillars of Hermes and remained secret for a time. However, upon conquering Egypt, Alexander the Great made the tablet public, which eventually led to the global spread of its existence and contents. The Emerald Tablet contained a succinct summary of the complete teachings of Thoth. The following is a collection of artist renderings of what the Emerald Tablet may have looked like:
The Treasures of Alexander
The Pillars of Hermes were literally a treasure trove of information:
“The Pillars of Hermes were said to contain over 300 scrolls in addition to the Emerald Tablet, and reports indicate that Alexander moved them to the Temple of Heliopolis in 332 B.C.E. and put them on public display. Researcher Manly P. Hall found fragments of a letter from one traveler who had seen the Emerald Tablet in Heliopolis. “It is a precious stone, like an emerald,” wrote the man, “whereon these characters are represented in base-relief, not engraved into the stone. It is esteemed above 2,000 years old. Plainly, the matter of this emerald had once been in a fluid state like melted glass, and had been cast in a mold, and to this flux the artist had given the hardness of a natural and genuine emerald, by his art.” Hermetic scholars believe that Alexander built the great library at Alexandria primarily to house and study the Thothian materials, and the writings of a scribe from the Temple of Heliopolis confirmed that view. His name was Manetho, which means “Gift of Thoth,” and he was one of the first scribes allowed access to the contents of the pillars. He wrote that the writings were more than 9,000 years old and contained the sum of all knowledge. Unfortunately, only a few of Manetho’s works survived the burning of the great library at Alexandria. Some of his letters to Ptolemy II survived, as well as one of his books, called Sothis. In that book, Manetho wrote: “After the Great Flood, the hieroglyphic texts written by Thoth were translated from the sacred language into Greek and deposited in books in the sanctuaries of Egyptian temples.”
Manetho wrote that the magical Book of Thoth, written in the hand of Thoth himself, was kept in a locked gold box in the inner sanctuary of the Temple at Hermopolis, and only one priest at a time was entrusted with the key. According to some historians, an occult brotherhood known as the “Sons of Horus” was formed before the Arab invasion of Egypt to preserve Thoth’s book and his other teachings, as well as the complete works of Manetho. The alchemist Clement of Alexandria was given access to the secret documents around 170 C.E., but that is the last recorded reference to this original material.7”
It is astounding to consider that the Library of Alexandria was constructed to house the teachings of Thoth. Better yet, it is encouraging to hear to that Alexander the Great actually made such esoteric teachings available to the public. What an enlightened individual!
The Fate of the Emerald Tablet
The story of the Emerald Tablet continues with the departure of Alexander the Great from Egypt:
“When Alexander left Egypt in 331 B.C.E., he headed north to Cappadocia and Mesopotamia. According to some reports, he took the treasures from the Pillars of Hermes and stored them in an underground cavern in Cappadocia. Alexander went on to conquer all the remaining territory from Babylonia to India, but died on the return trip in 323 B.C.E. Alexander’s final wish was to be buried near the temple at Siwa in Egypt, but his tomb has never been found. The legend picks up again in Cappadocia in 32 C.E., when a young boy named Balinas was exploring caves outside the city of Tyana and discovered the ancient texts hidden by Alexander. The precocious lad took a five-year vow of silence as he absorbed the materials and then sought out teachers versed in Hermetic philosophy to complete his education. He became known as Apollonius of Tyana and was renowned for his magical skills and healing abilities. He is said to have returned the tablet to Alexandria around 70 C.E. and made the enlightened city his home. He wrote most of his books in Alexandria, though he continued to travel the world, inspiring everyone he met with his great wisdom. As for the Emerald Tablet, a few reports record it was buried for safe-keeping in a vault on the Giza plateau around 400 C.E., but no trace of it has ever been found. No one knows for sure if there is such an artifact as the Emerald Tablet, but several expeditions have been undertaken to search for it.8”
It is fascinating to consider that the Emerald Tablet made its way back to Alexandria despite the odds being against such an occurrence. It is also intriguing that the young Balinas took a five year vow of silence, which is similar to the Pythagorean tradition. It is also noteworthy that individuals such as Alexander and Apollonius made no secret of the alchemical teachings, despite the culture of secrecy which has since pervaded alchemy.
Earliest Surviving Translation of the Emerald Tablet
Although there are no reports of the physical representation of the Emerald Tablet itself, there are are many surviving translations:
“The earliest surviving translation of the Emerald Tablet is in the Arabic Book of Balinas the Wise on Causes, which was written around 700 C.E. Several Arabic translations made their way to Europe with the Moorish invasion of Spain in 771 C.E. The first Latin translation appeared in 1140 in a book by Johannes Hispalensis called Book of the Secrets of Creation. After the alchemist Albertus Magnus issued several more translations in the mid-1200s, the Emerald Tablet spread like wildfire. Most European alchemists had a copy and constantly referred to “the secret formula” it contained.9”
The knowledge contained within the Emerald Tablet arrived on Earth over 12,000 years ago and later permeated throughout the world to include the translation that you read at the beginning of this article.
Emerald Tablet Timeline
Based on existing writings we may piece together a timeline of alchemy documents to include The Emerald Tablet:
-Over 12,000 years ago: Alchemy received from the gods during Zep Tepi.
-2304 B.C.E.: Great Flood occurs.10
-2000 B.C.E.: Phrases from the Emerald Tablet discovered within Berlin Papyrus No. 3024.
-1550 B.C.E.: Pillars of Hermes described in scrolls.
-1500 B.C.E.: References to alchemical principles described in Egyptian scrolls.
-1500 B.C.E.: Phrases from the Emerald Tablet discovered within Book of the Dead.
-1250 B.C.E.: Phrases from the Emerald Tablet discovered within Papyrus of Ani.
-1000 B.C.E. – 300 B.C.E.: References to the Emerald Tablet discovered within various religious scrolls.
-400 B.C.E.: Herodotus encountered Pillars of Hermes in a secret Egyptian temple.
-332 B.C.E.: Alexander the Great conquers Egypt, knowledge of Emerald Tablet spreads. He places the Emerald Tablet and over 300 scrolls on public display.
-331 B.C.E.: Alexander the Great leaves Egypt and heads north to Cappadocia and Mesopotamia. Some reports state that he took the treasures from the Pillars of Hermes and stored them in an underground cavern in Cappadocia.
-Over 2,000 years ago: Alchemy books appeared nearly simultaneously in Egypt, Mesopotamia, India, and China.
-32 C.E.: A young boy named Balinas discovers treasures from the Pillars of Hermes in a cave in Cappadocia. Balinas took a five year vow of silence as he absorbed the materials and sought out teachers versed in Hermetic philosophy to complete his education. He subsequently became known as Apollonius of Tyana and was renowned for his magical skills and healing abilities.
-70 C.E.: Apollonius of Tyana returns the tablet to Alexandria.
-170 C.E.: Alchemist Clement given access to secret alchemy documents.
-300 C.E.: Principles of alchemy widely accepted worldwide.
-400 C.E.: Some reports state that the tablet is in a safe at the Giza plateau, but no trace of it has been found.
-700 C.E.: Earliest surviving translation of tablet included within the Arabic Book of Balinas the Wise on Causes.
-771 C.E.: Several Arabic translations migrate to Europe with Moorish invasion of Spain.
-1140 C.E.: First European translation of tablet appears in the Book of the Secrets of Creation by Johannes Hispalensis.
-1250 C.E. (approx.): Albertus Magnus issues several translations of tablet.
The following two images contain a visual representation of the preceding timeline:
Does the Emerald Tablet actually exist?
No one knows for sure if a specific artifact known as the Emerald Tablet actually exists, although there have been many expeditions in search of it. Of course there are also the many references to the tablet within the various writings referenced within this article.
Personally my intuitive working theory is that the Emerald Tablet does exist and is in the care of esoteric guardians, such as the Sons of Horus or another offshoot esoteric organization. However, this is simply conjecture on my part.
The following key points should be remembered when considering this brief article on the Emerald Tablet:
-The author of the Emerald Tablet is said to be the Egyptian god Thoth, who is also the first alchemist.
-Alchemical writings did not appear gradually over time, but appeared to emerge nearly instantaneously and simultaneously across various locations around the world.
-The Emerald Tablet provides the alchemist with instructions on how to work with the “One Thing” and how to transform the “One Thing” at will.
-The Emerald Tablet allows the alchemist to master creative transformation on all levels of reality to include the physical and spiritual planes.
-The story of alchemy begins approximately 12,000 years ago at Zep Tepi, or First Time.
-According to the Emerald Tablet, the alchemist must master the work across all three levels – the philosophical, the theoretical, and the practical.
-Thoth, the first alchemist serves as this ideal and has mastered alchemy on all three levels.
-Service to humanity is a key tenet of alchemy.
-The comprehensive writings of Thoth were contained within the Pillars of Hermes to include the Emerald Tablet.
-Upon conquering Egypt, Alexander the Great made the Emerald Tablet public, which eventually led to the global spread of its existence and contents.
-The Emerald Tablet contained a succinct summary of the complete teachings of Thoth.
-Balinas, who later became known as Appollonius, returned the Emerald Tablet to Alexandria after absorbing the teachings of the tablet.
-The earliest surviving translation of the Emerald Tablet is in the Arabic Book of Balinas the Wise on Causes, which was written around 700 C.E.
-Some reports state that the tablet is in a safe at the Giza plateau as of 400 CE, but no trace of it has been found.
-Although there is no direct evidence that the Emerald Tablet exists, or has ever existed, there are many credible sources who attest to its existence.
The following is a list of references that were used to develop this article on the Emerald Tablet:
1. Quest for the Soul by John Nash.
2. The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Alchemy by Dennis William Hauck.
9. Creation Ministries – The Date of Noah’s Flood: http://creation.com/the-date-of-noahs-flood