The Emerald Table (of Hermes)

views updated

The Emerald Table (of Hermes)

A brief document believed to be the earliest statement of the principles of spiritual alchemy, ascribed to Hermes Trismegistus, after whom alchemy has been named "the hermetic art."

Hermes Trismegistus is a shadowy figure, possibly mythical. The old alchemists believed him to have been an Egyptian living about the time of Moses; others have claimed him to have been a personification of Thoth, the Egyptian god of learning. There is a legend that the Emerald Table (also known as the Smaragdine Table) was discovered by Alexander the Great in the tomb of Hermes in a cave near Hebron.

The earliest printed version in Latin dates from an alchemical work of 1541, but a commentary on it was known three centuries earlier, and the table might well be ancient. The original was believed to have been inscribed on emerald (smaragdine) in Phoenician letters, later translated into Greek and Latin. It has been translated into English as follows:

"True, without error, 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 performing the miracles of the One Thing; and as all things were from one, by the mediation of one, so all things arose from this one by adaptation; the father of it is the Sun, the mother of it is the Moon; the wind carries it in its belly; the nurse thereof is the Earth. This is the father of all perfection, or consummation of the whole world. The power of it is integral, if it be turned into earth. Thou shalt separate the earth from the fire, the subtle from the gross, gently with much wisdom; it ascends from earth to heaven, and again descends to earth; and receives the strength of the superiors and of the inferiorsso thou hast the glory of the whole world; therefore let all obscurity flee before thee. This is the strong fortitude of all fortitudes, 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 'Thrice Great Hermes,' having the Three Parts of the philosophy of the whole world. That which I have written is consummated concerning the operation of the Sun."

This statement's theme of "as above, so below" became a keystone of occult philosophy.


Hauck, Dennis William. The Emerald Tablet: Alchemy for Personal Transformation. New York: Penguin/Arkana, 1999.

Mead, G. R. S., ed. Thrice-Greatest Hermes. 3 vols. London: J. M. Watkins, 1964.

About this article

The Emerald Table (of Hermes)

Updated About content Print Article


The Emerald Table (of Hermes)