Ancient Verses; The Emerald Tablet of Hermes

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This translation of the Emerald Tablet comes from Marce Tully, and is used with his permission. You can reach him on Minds.com at https://www.minds.com/Marce_Tully. If you are not familiar with Minds, you may want to check it out. Unlike Facebook and Twitter, it has a high standard of free speech and offers a much more diverse collection of ideas. Enjoy this new translation and annotation of a great classic of Western civilization and even late to modern occultism.


Ancient Verses; The Emerald Tablet of Hermes Part 1

This is the first part in a new series that I’ve called, Ancient Verses which is a bit of an occult spin off of Sargon of Akkad’s Ancient Recitations, except in written form, and largely to do with the occult, philosophy, and ancient spirituality. I will be translating, and annotating each text for content and rhetorical style. This is the first half of the Emerald Tablet attributed to Hermes Trismegistus. Additional commentaries and translations can be found at the link below.

http://www.sacred-texts.com/alc/emerald.htm

The Emerald Tablet was extremely popular with alchemists throughout the mediaeval and early modern periods in the west, and is even considered as almost a mission statement of alchemy. It’s a short text, only about a paragraph, and it is grounded in platonic thought, just like the Corpus Hermeticum, the original writings attributed to Hermes. The Tablet made its way to the west after the crusades brought back knowledge from the east, that had long since been lost in the west. The Emerald Tablet however, has no antique pedigree, and likely was a product of 10th century middle-eastern alchemy, which was translated from Arabic into Latin in the Middle Ages. Nevertheless, it belongs to the neo-platonic mysticism of Plotinus philosophically, and thus is an authentic piece within the alchemical/hermetic tradition.  Philosophically the tablet is syncretic, meaning that various philosophical schools and ideas are brought up and all of them are asserted to be compatible and true in a spiritual sense. In the emerald tablet, references to Platonism, Pythagoreanism and even Shamanism can be found.

Since this is only my second time writing on an esoteric subject, I will remind you that I merely analyze these works and translate them, I do not consider them to be works to be believed in. They are in my mind the lost books of philosophy that I am reclaiming for historical reasons, since these kinds of texts are in danger of being unreadable both because the knowledge required to interpret them is not widespread, and it is narrowed even further by intentional obfuscation by the writer. I have translated each verse with care and tried to separate the subtle from the coarse without crossing the line into a new age bogus interpretation, even though I present how such an interpretation could be made in places.

Tabula Smaragdina:

  1. Verum, sine mendacio, certum et verissimum:

T1. [This is] true, without lies, certain and most real:

 

Notes: This is the preface, so there is only grammar to address. No verb is used, [this is] is implied to form a sentence. Sine mendacio is a dative of separation thus literally “separate from lies”. Finally verissimum is the superlative of verum, which began the sentence. Using the same word to begin and end the sentence is called epanalepsis, another example of this would be “The king is dead, long live the king.” In essence the writer is trying to impress upon the reader, just how true the rest of the work is.

 

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

T2. That which is below is just as that which is above, and that which is above is just as that which is below, for the sake of miracles of one thing to be accomplished.

 

Notes: I’ve been told that a priest in the Middle Ages wrote a 3,000-page essay on all the ways in which this phrase is borne out, but I will just add a small note instead. It’s important to keep in mind the fact that all the potential origin points for the Emerald Tablet had highly stratified hierarchical societies. So an easy way to interpret this as a parable relating to everyone being human no matter his or her station in life. Kings put on their pants one leg at a time too is perhaps the general sentiment, but also that God pertains to the world and the world pertains to God. This is the foundation for the principle of correspondence in later occultism. On a grammar note the unnecessary recurrence of the verb est is a telltale sign that this is not classical Latin or even street-Latin of the imperial period, and is definitely Mediaeval. Only a translator would bother repeat the verb to be, which is often merely implied in spoken Latin.

 

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

T3. And just as all things are from the One, by the meditation of the One, thus all things are born therefrom by adaptation.

 

Notes: This is a pythagorean inspired concept of the monad that is being referenced. Namely that the primodial One or monad, meditated and willed itself to become two, and three, etc. until the whole universe unfolded from mathematics. On the side of grammar it is important to note that adaptatione and meditatione are both cases of ablative of means, while natae is a genetive of material, all things are born from the material of the One according to the author.

 

  1. Pater eius est Sol, Mater eius est Luna, portavit illud Ventus in ventre suo, nutrix eius terra est.

T4. Its father is the Sun, its mother is the Moon, the Wind carried it in her belly, its nurse is the Earth.

 

Notes: This is everything to do with the 4 classical elements or στοιχεῖον.  The sun represents fire; the moon represents water because the moon influences the tides. In fact, Shakespeare called the moon “the moist star” in Hamlet (Act 1, Scene 1, line 117), and since he was contemporary to alchemy, he was clearly alluding to the alchemical concept. It’s immediately confusing also that we have gone from a highly abstract notion of God in verse 3, to a brief cosmogony of how the One came to exist, and now we learn that the one was nurtured by the 4 elements. The relationship between the One and the 4 elements is seen as closely interlinked, with the elements nurturing the One, and presumably with the One in turn setting the elements into order. This may be an attempt to unify the classical elements or στοιχεῖον with the Pythagorean Monad. Thus, that which is above corresponds to the One, and that which is below corresponds to the 4 elements, potentially.

 

  1. Pater omnis telesmi totius mundi est hic.

T5. The father of all [is telesmi?], the whole world is this.

 

Note: Telesmi is of uncertain origin, it could be a word designed for use in ceremonial magic, perhaps a secret name of God or a God. It was thought that the Gods never gave up their true name because if you knew their name you could control them through magic. Thus it might mean just about anything and be from nearly any language Greek, Egyptian, Arabic, etc. But as you know, if you can’t find anything, only then can you use a Wikipedia footnote.  Wikipedia suggests that telesmi could mean consecrated, or a woven cloth. Both are unlikely sounding to me, unless you think that telesmi is a woven cloth and the author had an Einsteinian conception of space-time in the early Middle Ages, which sounds too new age for me.

 

  1. Virtus eius integra est si versa fuerit in terram.

T6. The strength of it is complete [even] if it will be turned into earth.

 

Notes: “Into earth” does not mean that the universal monad (the one) should, or can be turned into literal dirt. Instead it implies motion. A less literal translation which would get the sense of it would be; “This [philosophy] is no less strong when placed/used upon the earth.”

 

 

I’ll close here since this has already gone up to 1,200 words and there are still 8 more verses left to cover. So far the principle of correspondence, or as above so below (and by extension as within, so without) has been established, as well as the relationship of the elements to the One, which is essentially totally overlaped in the ordered cosmos. We’ve also learned a magic name, or about the fabric of space-time, depending on your interpretation. Finally we’ve been told in verse 6 that this tablet is applicable to mortal affairs even though it is expounding a largely spiritual philosophy. Next time we will learn how it is even possible that a spiritual thing could have power upon the earth.

 

Ancient Verses; The Emerald Tablet Part 2

In part 1 we learned that the author of the Emerald Tablet believes that the Pythagorean One or Monad ordered the cosmos, which is made up of the elements, but that the One and the elements are are still mutually connected, such that that which is above (the One) is like to that which is below (the elements). Importantly another facet of as above so below, is as within so without because the soul shares in the primordial One, while the body is composed of the 4 elements. Now we will learn the significance of this cosmogony, and how it is useful to the alchemist.

 

  1. thumbProxySeparabis terram ab igne, subtile ab spisso, suaviter, magno cum ingenio.

T7. Separate earth from fire, subtle from coarse, gently, with great ingenuity.

 

Notes: Fire equates to the soul and so do subtle things, the earth equates to material things and the body. The alchemists believed that part of the workings of nature were directly spiritual as part of their dualistic conception of the universe and thus attempted to separate the coarse matter from the subtle, heavenly matter. As a result certain elements such as mercury, possess different grades in practical alchemy; there was believed to be, for instance, common mercury, bodily mercury and the mercury of the philosophers. It’s often unclear what was meant by all this jargon in a chemical sense, but alchemists believed in the mystical properties of substances, and equated them with other substances on this basis. Thus philosophical mercury was probably either a different substance entirely than the common mercury that is notated on the periodic table, or a spiritual metaphor.

 

  1. Ascendit a terra in coelum, iterumque descendit in terram, et recipit vim superiorum et inferiorum.

T8. Ascend from the earth into the heavens, and again return to earth, and receive the strength of [that which is] above and [that which is] below.

 

Notes: There are a few ways to ascend to heaven, which are known to man, but I’m not Aldous Huxley and I don’t know anything about psychotropic or entheogenic drugs. I would suggest meditating for safety’s sake, but at any rate, the author of the tablet is essentially endorsing altered states of consciousness in order to gain otherwise inaccessible wisdom. This is a central concept in shamanism and it is also a widely shared occult concept. It’s just one of those things that seems to work and is attested to all around the world. Another way this might be achieved is even just by writing out your thoughts in a journal. As Dr. Jordan Peterson said “There’s nothing particularly magic about writing, but there is something magic about thinking, and there is something particularly magic about thinking accurately and precisely about important things.” Writing your thoughts helps you to think accurately and precisely, and comes highly recommended.

 

  1. Sic habebis Gloriam totius mundi.

T9. Thus you will have the glory of the whole world.

 

  1. Ideo fugiet a te omnis obscuritas.

T10. Therefore all obscurity will flee from you.

 

Notes: The Emerald Tablet author is proposing that all uncertainty will be banished by the use of altered states of consiousness to unify the above and below, and the within and without. Indeed people have reported that, using certain substances or meditating does in fact strip away spiritual uncertainty, through a revelatory experience, thus leaving one mentally and spiritually strengthened.

 

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

T11. This is all strength beyond strength, which conquers all subtle things and penetrates all solid things.

 

Notes: Certainty will be achieved and the realm of ideas will be conquered if this principle is applied, and all ideological impediments will yield as a result. The phrase fortitudinis fortitudo fortis is a case of rhetorical repetition and tricolon diminuendo, meaning that each time the word is repeated; it gets shorter by a syllable for stylistic effect. The strength of this thing as a lot, and the author wants you to know it, so he draws a great deal of attention to it here.

 

  1. Sic mundus creatus est.

T12. So, the universe is ordained.

 

  1. Hinc erunt adaptationes mirabiles, quarum modus est hic. Itaque vocatus sum Hermes Trismegistus, habens tres partes philosophiae totius mundi.

T13. These are marvelous adaptations, of which this is the means. And so I am called Hermes Trismegistus, having the three parts of the philosophy of the whole world.

 

Notes: The 3 concepts have been discussed in the tablet are correspondence, alchemical cosmogony, and related spiritual practices. The phrase as above so below is carried full circle if we interpret it as also meaning as within so without. What this means is that whatever you believe about yourself and the world around you will shape your destiny. In verse 7 we were told to separate the earth from the fire to discover ourselves, and in verse 8 we were told to go to heaven to learn how to refine ourselves, and then to return to earth, and that thus we will receive the glory of the whole world. Through this tripartite process the soul is turned into the true philosopher’s stone, and will thus be able to turn into alchemical gold anything that it touches by virtue of its self-knowledge.

 

  1. Completum est quod dixi de operatione Solis.

T14. What I have said about the operation of the Sun is complete.

 

The sun corresponds to the rational soul and the perfection of the soul via the operation of the philosopher’s stone. Calling the emerald tablet a series of sayings about the operation of the sun is an inside joke.

***The End