The Legend of the Emerald Tablets

Sic Mundus Creatus Est – Thus The World Was Created

IN the modern world, technology advances from year to year. The arrow of progress drives ever forward. The past is a place of ignorance and squalor. A place without electricity, without light. But some profess a secret knowledge, hailing from a time when man knew the mysteries of the Universe and the hidden power of alchemy.

If any readers have witnessed the recent Netflix series Dark, they will have come across this ancient marvel. For upon the back of a mysterious priest, is written the words of the Emerald Tablet, also known as the Smaragdine Tablet. It is an old tale, passed down, into legend, into myth, and finally into fiction. But as with all old stories, some hold there is a grain of truth, hidden under the whispers of the years. 

The story tells of a god-man, Hermes Trismegistus, in the land of Hellenic Egypt. Here was a hybrid place—for the 4,000-year-old Egyptian culture had been conquered by the Greek Alexander the Great. Here the gods blended, with the Greek Hermes, herald of the gods, and the Egyptian Thoth, the god of wisdom, blurring into one – the thrice great – Hermes Trismegistus.

Hermes Trismegistus – Thoth, Mercury, & Hermes

It is said Trismegistus was the first to write the Hermetica, a book of powerful knowledge, that was destined to become the basis of Western alchemy. From this ancient book, a piece was taken, written cryptically in the old Phoenician alphabet: the language of Carthage and Canaan, from which our own alphabet is devised. Into these carved words, Hermes Trismegistus inscribed the secrets of the Universe.

It describes the Prima Materia, the first matter of creation out of which all else was born. Such material was essential in alchemy and was of the utmost importance for those who sought to create the philosophers’ stone. 

Jabir ibn Hayyan

The tablets were inevitably lost. Until, as legend has it, they were rediscovered in a caved tomb in Tyana, in the cold, dead hands of Hermes himself, sat upon a golden throne. In truth, the tablets were likely a fiction—the origins for a copied text, invented by a later author.

The work, now known as the Emerald Tablets, first appeared in the West in the book Secretum Secretorum, but it was derived from a much older text. The Kitab Sirr al-Asar was written in the 8th Century and attributed to Jabir ibn Hayyan.

Called the Father of Chemistry, Jabir’s writings contain the oldest known systematic classification of chemical substances, as well as the first written record of the Emerald Tablets.

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.

~ Jabir ibn Hayyan
Newton’s Text

However, the Hermetica itself does date to Ptolemaic Egypt. The text likely began in Arabic, traveling steadily into Europe, it was then translated into Latin, in the 12th century. From there, the secret knowledge trickled through the alchemy community, becoming a highly influential text. 

It was Isaac Newton, famed for his gravitational discoveries, but who had a penchant for the supernatural, who translated the text into English. The words are poetic and otherworldly. Newton speaks of a strange substance and process:

Whatever the truth, the origins of the Emerald Tablets remain hidden. And perhaps that’s what captures us most of all: an ancient mystery of unknown genesis awaiting our discovery.

Separate thou the Earth from the Fire, the subtle from the Gross. Sweetly with great industry, it ascends from Earth to Heaven, and again it descends to the Earth.

~ Sir Isaac Newton

For those interested: the various translations of The Emerald Tablets can be found online here.

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