The Emerald Tablet
Thou shall separate the earth from the fire, the subtle from the gross, suavely, and with great ingenuity…
–From The Emerald Tablet of Hermes Trismegistus
The Emerald Tablet of Hermes, quoted in Lesson 8 of Tarot Interpretation, is one of the great classics of Ageless Wisdom. It is ascribed to Hermes Trismegistus, the Egyptian Master reputed to be the founder of alchemy and magic.
Who actually wrote this masterpiece of practical occultism we do not know. The oldest versions which have come to light are in Latin, though there may have been earlier ones in Greek. Scholars generally are agreed that, in its present form, the text belongs to the early centuries of the Christian Era, not to the literature of ancient Egypt.
Two thousand years ago, authors of occult treatises did not put their own names to what they wrote. Believing themselves to be inspired by gods, or by Masters of Wisdom, they would say, “This is a work of Hermes,” and so give honor to the source of their illumination. In this practice there was no taint of deception, nor any intent to invest a book with the authority of a great name. The modest geniuses of that day, free from personal vanity, sought only to indicate their sense of indebtedness to the higher powers whence their knowledge was derived.
Various traditions concerning The Emerald Tablet have come down to us. One says the thirteen sentences of this wonderful treatise were engraved by Hermes Trismegistus with a diamond stylus on a single large emerald. At his death, the emerald was hidden in his tomb in the Great Pyramid, where it was discovered by Alexander the Great, centuries later, and so given to the world.
This is obvious allegory. Emerald is the stone of Venus. Hermes is Mercury, the personification of human intellect. The implement used for engraving the emerald is made of diamond, a stone sacred to the sun. Thus the allegory intimates that the substance of this classic was inscribed on the subconsciousness of the human race (Venus, Key 3), as a result of man’s careful observation of the laws of nature (Mercury, Key 1), exercised in acts of concentration whereby the solar force was made sharp, like an engraver’s tool.
The Great Pyramid is “the tomb of Hermes” because its wonderful proportions sum up the whole body of science known to the human race in prehistoric times. The “death of Hermes” refers to the temporary loss of this ancient knowledge, or “Master’s Word,” during a period comparable to the Dark Ages which followed the destruction of Rome by Huns and Vandals.
Alexander the Great is not the Macedonian, but symbolizes the school of esoteric philosophy which flourished at Alexandria. Members of this occult brotherhood recovered the secrets of the Great Pyramid, and so “raised the body of the Grand Master Hermes” by bringing once more to light the hidden Hermetic Wisdom. Thus were revived the great truths which are summarized in The Emerald Tablet .
This priceless document, says Eliphas Levi, contains all magic in a single page. Its text, translated from an early Latin version, is already in your hands, for it was printed on the Tarot tableau you received with Introduction To Tarot.
It contains thirteen sentences in all. Five are in the first paragraph and eight in the second. Five, the proportional height of the Great Pyramid, if its base line be taken as eight. Five, the number of adaptation of the magical pentagram and special number of Man. Eight, the number of rhythm, the number of strength, the number of mastery. Five and eight, the determining numbers of that great magical pentacle, the Vault of Brother C. R., Founder of the Rosicrucian Order. Each side of this vault was a rectangle five feet wide and eight feet high. As you proceed in your work of realizing your heart’s desire, you will learn that these two numbers, together with their sum, 13, and their difference, 3, are keys to great secrets of occultism.
The final sentence of The Emerald Tablet makes clear the nature of the Great Work. “What I have to tell is completed, concerning the Operation of the Sun.” For us on earth, the various transformations of the radiant energy of the sun are active agencies in the process of adaptation whereby the illumined perception of things as they are is made to supplant the deluded acceptance of the outward appearances which surround us.
The Emerald Tablet of Hermes
True, without falsehood, certain and most true, that which is above is as that which is below, and that which is below is as that which is above, for the performance of the miracles of the One Thing. And as all things are from One, by the 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 carries it in its belly, its nurse is the Earth. This is the father of all perfection, or consummation of the whole world. Its power is integrating, if it be turned into earth.
Thou shalt separate the earth from the fire, the subtle from the gross, suavely, and with great ingenuity. It ascends from earth to heaven and descends again to earth, and receives the power of the superiors and of the inferiors. So thou hast the glory of the whole world; therefore let all obscurity flee before thee. This is the strong force of all forces, overcoming every subtle and penetrating every solid thing. So the world was created. Hence were all wonderful adaptations, of which this is the manner. Therefore am I called Hermes Trismegistus, having the three parts of the philosophy of the whole world. What I have to tell is completed, concerning the Operation of the Sun.