Tabula Smaragdina: The Emerald Tablet of Hermes Trismegistus
Translation and commentary by Prof. Wayne Shumaker, The Occult Sciences in the Renaissance: A Study in Intellectual Patterns (University of California Press, 1972), long and saddeningly out of print.
- I speak not fictious things, but what is true and most certain.
- What is below is like that which is above, and what is above is like that which is below, to accomplish the miracles of one thing.
I.e., there are ``corresponding planes'' in various levels of creation; hence it is safe to draw analogies between macrocosm and microcosm, the mineral kingdom and the human, animal and vegetable kingdoms, etc.
- And as all things were produced by the mediation of one Being, so all things were produced from this one thing by adaptation.
Since the God who created the universe was One, created objects must have been produced from a single - that is, undifferentiated - primal matter.
- Its father is the Sun, its mother the Moon; the wind carries it in its belly, its nurse is the earth.
This is an especially complex aphorism. [According to some scholars], the sun and the moon probably stand here for spirit and matter. This is possible, but since gold was associated with the sun and the moon with silver - the astrological symbols for sun and moon are identical with the alchemical symbols for gold and silver - the luminaries at least suggest the two most precious and dignified metals. If the moon is associated with water, as because of its ``moisture'' was usual, and the sun with fire, the prima materia is understood to have been generated by fire, born of water, brought down from the sky by wind, and nourished by the earth.
- It is the cause of all perfection throughout the whole world.
Naturally. Must not the source of everything good be something better still?
- Its power is perfect if it be changed into earth.
The ``nursing'' of prime matter by the earth leaves it something different from earth, as a wet-nurse is not the same as the child she feeds. But the prime matter, if it is to be used for human purposes, must be ``fixed'' in a stable substance capable of being handled.
- Separate the earth from the fire, the subtle from the gross, acting prudently and with judgement.
Since the volatile principle is fire - or, sometimes, air - stability is produced by its removal. Or, alternatively but less probably, the earth is impurity (``the gross'') and a purified fire (``the subtle'') is what is wanted.
- Ascend with the greatest sagacity from the earth to heaven, and then again descend to earth, and unite together the powers of things superior and things inferior. Thus you will obtain the glory of the whole world, and all obscurity will fly far away from you.
Separate the volatile part of the substance by vaporization but continue heating until the vapor reunites with the parent body, whereupon you will have obtained the Stone, which will bring you glory.
- This thing is the fortitude of all fortitude, because it overcomes all subtle things, and penetrates every solid thing.
The ``strong'' product of distillation and reunion will dominate less solid substances but because of its own subtlety it will ``penetrate,'' and hence dominate, other solid things less pure and quasi-spiritual than itself.
- Thus were all things created.
The alchemical operation is a paradigm of the creative process. We may note also the sexual overtones of what has preceeded: the sun as male, the moon as female, the ``union'' of the ``powers of things superior and things inferior,'' the suggestion that the earth is matrix or womb, the air as the transporter of seed.
- Thence proceed wonderful adaptations which are produced in this way.
From the product, the Stone or Elixir, or boh, transmutations or cures will flow.
- Therefore am I called Hermes Trismegistus, possessing the three parts of the philosophy of the whole world.
The ``three parts'' are obscure; one may be natural science, another divinity, but I am unable to identify the third. [Ethics? - CRS] The usual explanation of Trismegistus, or ``Thrice-Great,'' is that Hermes was the greatest philosopher, the greatest priest and the greatest king. In any event, this paragraph assures us that the Emerald Tablet
has unchallengable authority.
- That which I had to say concerning the operation of the Sun is completed.
``Sun'' here means God, fire, gold, and perhaps other things as well.