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Tabula Smaragdina.


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Lecture VII 20th December, 1940

I read you the text of the “Tabula Smaragdina” at the end of the last lecture.

Its importance can hardly be over-estimated, for it had an enormous influence on medieval alchemy.

Even the most modern alchemists (if one can use such an expression when speaking of about two hundred years ago) were under its fascination, and we find it quoted, in part or as a whole, in many alchemical

Its origin is unknown, and we do not know if it was originally Greek, though there are certain indications pointing to this conclusion; and Prof. E. J. Holmyard, one of the authorities on the “Tabula Smaragdina”, was convinced that it was of Greek origin.

The Greek word “telesmos”, in the Latin text, has perhaps remained unchanged from the original form.

Most probably the Latin version is a translation from the Arabic.

There are Arabic texts still in existence, which contain different versions of the “Tabula Smaragdina”.

One of these texts is in the “Staatsbibliothek” in Berlin, RUSKA publishes it in his book on the “Tabula Smaragdina”.

This text is not itself very old, about twelfth century, there is inner evidence that it could not be much older.

It contains important variations from the Latin version.

The text is embedded in a much longer manuscript, the so-called “Treasure of Alexander”.

It begins with a long and rather phantastic story, of how the treasure of Hermes was found embedded in a pyramid.

The book was written on gold leaves, each half a finger thick.

Hermes had hidden it in, under or by the sea.

The Arabic word used is indefinite, but it is certain that this treasure was found in the neighborhood of the sea by a wise man, BALINAS of TYANA.

We know of him as APOLLONIUS OF TYANA, the old miracle worker.

This description of the “Tabula Smaragdina”, which comes in the fourth part of the manuscript, is as follows:

“Concerning that which the priest Sagijiis of Nabulus dictated on his (Bolinas) entry into the dark chamber.

He says : “I found the following words of wisdom at the end of the book of Balinas the Wise. As I entered the chamber, above which the talisman was hung, I came upon an old man, sitting on a throne of gold,
who had an emerald tablet in his hand. And behold, it was written upon in Syriac, in the original language.

1 . In this (is) a true explanation, which one cannot doubt.
2. It announces : The highest (comes) from the lowest, and the lowest from the highest, the work of the miracles of one.
3. And the things have (formed) themselves from this basic material through a single process. How marvellous indeed is its world It is the chief (principle) of the world and its preserver.
4. Its father is the sun and its mother the moon; the wind has carried it in its body, and the earth has nourished it.
5. (It is) the father of the talisman and preserver of the miracles.
6 . Whose powers are complete, whose lights are established.
7. A fire, which becomes earth. Take the earth away from the fire, and the subtle will adhere to you more than the coarse, with care and wisdom.
8 . It rises from earth to heaven, to grasp all the lights of the height to itself, and comes down (again) on to the earth, in that all the strength of the highest and of the lowest is in it, for the light of lights (is) with it,
so that the darkness flees from it.
9. (It is) the force of forces, which overcomes every subtle thing and penetrates into every coarse thing.
10. In agreement with the edifice of the great world is the edifice of the small world.
11. And the philosophers work according to this.
12. And it was to this that Hermes pointed, that thrice blessed with wisdom.
13. And this is his last book, which he concealed in the chamber.”

This is a comparatively recent version of the text, but there is also an older Arabic text, which goes back to DJABIR IBN HAYYAN.

He was a famous alchemist of the eighth century A. D. and has left a great many writings in Arabic.

Among these texts a fragment was discovered, which is undoubtedly the Tabula Smaragdina.

It runs: “BaliInas mentions the engraving of the Table in the hand of Hermes which says:

  1. ‘Truth ! Certainty ! That in which there is no doubt!
  2. 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 (thing) .
  3. As all things were from One . . . .
  4. Its father is the Sun and its mother the Moon. The Earth carried it in their belly, and the Wind nourished it in her belly, as Earth which shall become Fire.
  5. Feed the Earth from that which is subtle, with the greatest power.
  6. It ascends from the Earth to the Heaven and becomes ruler over that which is above and that which is below.”

The fragment ends here, so as you see it is unfortunately incomplete.

Perhaps it was incompletely preserved, we do not know.

But in any case our Latin text is very much more significant, both in meaning and formulation, than these Arabic versions.

In order to do it justice, and because of its great importance, we will study the Latin text in more detail, and I shall endeavour to elucidate it to a certain extent; not with the expectation, however, that you will fully understand this very obscure document.

If we were to deal thoroughly with such a text, we should have to approach the matter very differently; quite apart from the fact that it is really impossible to examine such a text in all its roots.

Many things enter into these, some are unknown and some very difficult to explain.

The first, or rather the second, paragraph runs: “That which is below is like that which is above.”

This sentence is quoted very often.

We can see without difficulty that it refers to the relation between the microcosm and the macrocosm.

Man was understood, already in antiquity, as a small mirror image of the whole of the world.

As nature receives its quality from heaven, so does man.

This is an idea which came originally from astrology, which assumed that man was really formed by the stars .

The soul descended, according to this conception, from the highest heaven, through the seven spheres of the planets.

Each planet imprinted its quality upon him, and his individual character depended on the amount, and way in which, he was caught by each planet. T

his is so to speak, the manuscript with which each of us comes to earth, and it is these inexorable astral influences which form the Heimarmene.

It is the goal of the various mysteries to free man from this compulsion.

The text tells us that the similarity between above and below exists “in order that the miracle of the one thing may come to pass”.

This is very mysterious.

What are we to understand by this one thing?

It becomes clearer later, but the thought here evidently is, that the miracle of the one thing first comes into existence through the syntheses of above and below.

The third paragraph begins: “And so, as all things proceeded from one, through the meditation of the one.”

The one is evidently the origin.

Now the origin of all things is the Deity, the Creator. The “resuna”, the one thing, in alchemy is actually the Deity, we know that positively.

There is a very old text, which comes to us through the Arabs (an Arabic manuscript is still in existence): “the liber quartorum” (the Book of the Tetrad.), which was apparently written by the Arabs.

Only these Arabs are not really Arabs, but so-called Sabians; they flourished up till 1050 A. D. in Bagdad, Basra and those regions of Mesopotamia.

They belonged to an old philosophical Gnostic sect.

One of its chief lights was THABIT IBN QURRA who lived in the ninth century.

He is mentioned in this Arabic text, and it is expressly stated that the “one thing” is the Deity.

So we may assume that the “basic material” is the Deity.

We know that Djabir ibn Hayyan’s version (eighth century) was already in existence in the time of Thabit ibn Qurra.

To return to our Latin version of the Tabula Smaragdina, and the sentence: “all things proceeded from one, through the meditation of the one.”

One could think that this meant through meditation about the one, and that everything originated through this meditation, as the Spirit of God moving upon the face of the waters in the Beginning.

But it could also mean that “the one” meditated actively, that one person meditated the world into existence.

This would make sense, but it is an Indian idea, and we can hardly suspect Indian influence here.

But that “the One” should meditate, and that the world should be produced by the spirit in its creative role, is a conception which goes directly back to the philosophy about the Nous in antiquity.

Then we come to the curious statement that all things came from this one thing “through adaptation”.

The Latin is “adaptatio”, though it is sometimes read as “adoptio”.

This rendering is not generally accepted, however, though ” adaptatio” is a very curious idea.

Yet it corresponds to one of the oldest primitive conceptions of mankind about the way the world came into existence.

There are Central Australian myths of the primordial ancestors, who created things by transforming themselves into them.

They adapted themselves, as it were, to things, although the things were not yet in existence.

In the case of the first parents of the bow and arrow, for instance, the man transformed himself into the wooden part of the bow, the woman clung round his neck as the bow string, and the fluffy ends of the string were her hair.

This primordial ancestral pair transformed themselves into this weapon, and at any time they might re-transform into their original shapes.

That is a true adaptio.

Now we come to the fourth paragraph:

“Its father is the sun, its mother the moon.”

This again is very peculiar.

Sun and moon are usually regarded as emanations or adaptations of the deity, and not as if they were its parents.

But here it seems to be a matter of another form of deity, a god who is yet to be born, who should proceed from the one; that goes, so to speak, through all things and is born again from them.

The subject of this sentence in Latin is “illud”, a neuter pronoun, although there was no neuter before but a “resuna”, a feminine.

So we see here quite clearly that the one thing which is meant is a mysterious thing, whose parents are the sun and moon, and which originates in a sense in the union of those two.

“The wind has carried it in its belly, the earth nourishes it”.

Here we have the four elements, the sun is fire, the moon water, the wind air and the earth.

So the original one has divided itself into the four elements through adaptation, and through the coming together of the four, it app ears again as a united product. This is a thoroughly Egyptian idea, and we find a very interesting parallel in a publication of the American Egyptologist, BREASTED, on an inscription belonging to the eighth century B. C. which is in London.

This inscription speaks of a dividing up of the creative god, Ptah.

He was originally the god of craftsmen, of those who create things.

Ptah created the world, and the inscription describes how he split himself into the elements, into the multiplicity of things.

He did this by dividing himself into eight basic forms, the so-called Ogdoas.

This octagon is the highest council, so to speak, and with the original Ptah makes nine, the Egyptian company of gods.

But it is a matter of one whole god, who has split himself up into eight under gods, and yet each of these gods is a Ptah, a whole god.

We can recognise a forerunner of the Christian Trinity here, the Holy Trinity is also a God that is three, without losing His unity, a Tri-unitas.

When the four in our text, or the eight Ptahs, are reunited, the original one god appears again.

He can therefore, as it were, give forth this creation, mirror himself eightfold, and draw the whole back again into himself.

The fifth paragraph is: “The father of all the completion of the whole world is here” [or is this).

We suddenly meet a masculine here.

The Latin “hie” can be the masculine nominative singular of “this”, or the adverb “here .

It is difficult to be sure which, but the father of completion is evidently the god that arises from the union of the four, which have, so to speak, come together in order that the one should be conceived, that one from which they originally sprang.

The sun, the father, has begotten it, the moon conceived it, the wind carried it and the earth nourishes it.

We must draw the conclusion here, that this god has become his ·own son.

One could perhaps suspect Christian influence here but as we have already seen in the Egyptian parallel, these ideas existed in antiquity, long before the Christian era.

We are, therefore, rather bound to draw the conclusion, that the Christian conception originated in these much older ideas, or at least that it found the possibility of arising in such soil.

The one thing, which is born from the functional cooperation of the four elements, is a real son god.

Perhaps it was on account of his understanding of this text, that a later alchemist – HENRICUS KHUNRATH, a German doctor and philosopher of the sixteenth century – said, that the purpose of alchemy was to produce the “filius macrocosmi”.

Certainly the “one” produced in the “Tabula Smaragdina” is a real “filius macrocosm”.

Khunrath said that Christ was the “filius microcosmi”, because he was only for the world of man, whereas the “filius macrocosmi” of alchemy was for the whole world.

The idea lies concealed here that Christianity is only concerned with the problem of the salvation of man, whereas alchemy is concerned with that of the whole of nature.

The next sentence of the Tabula Smaragdina bears this out: “Its strength is perfect when it has turned towards the earth.”

This turning itself towards the earth is strictly opposed to the Christian conception.

According to the latter, strength would be perfected through the spirit, for the spirit and in the spirit.

But here it is expressly the physis; the strength of this “filius” becomes perfect when it turns towards the earth.

Translators are fond of slipping in the little word “again” but it is not in the text.

It is clear that this son does not – like the redeemer figures in Christianity and Gnosticism – turn towards the realm of heaven and the spirit.

These redeemers come from heaven, go down to earth and return again to heaven.

But this son is born from the physis, from nature, and it is when “it” turns to the earth that “it” reaches perfection.

This is not at all a Christian idea.

In the seventh paragraph we find a prescription for the art: “Separate the earth from the fire, the subtle from the dense, gently, with great mental ingenuity.

“The addition” gently, with great mental ingenuity “points out that it is a matter of a tremendous creative effort of the mind. The texts often use the word ” ingenium”, where it is a case of a particular creative effort in the curious transformation which alchemy strives to produce.

The injunction here refers to a typical alchemistic procedure: the separatio.

One could also call this the analysis, during which the mixed up elements, of which every living being – man, animal, plant and mineral – consists, are separated. This corresponds, as you will perhaps remember, to the analysis which was undertaken in the Shri-Chakra-Sambhara Tantra.

In the eighth paragraph it is said: “It rises from the earth to the sky and descends again on to the earth and receives the power of above and below into itself.”

Here again we find the curious process of development which is opposed to the other conceptions, where the redeemers almost invariably come down from heaven, and, when they have accomplished their work on earth, ascend there again.

But here the movement goes from nature up into the spiritual realm of heaven, and descends again on to the earth, gathering the strength of both into, itself.

We find a similar idea als o in the Gnostic systems, where the redeemer figures rob the Archons [archontes), the rulers of the s even spheres of Heaven, of their powers.

They are de-potentiated by the fact, that the redeemer goes through the spheres of heaven, without being affected by them.

If, for instance, the redeemer can deceive the Archons, so that they do not notice that the highest son of god is passing through their realm, he can reach the earth without being molested by them.

When he has accomplished his work on earth, he goes back in full glory and de-potentiates the Archons, who are the rulers of human destiny.

This dissolves the Heimarmene.

In our text the movement is reversed.

The eighth paragraph continues: Thus thou wilt have the glory of the whole world. Therefore all darkness will flee from thee.”

Here it is apparently a matter of enlightenment, all darkness is removed from the one who accomplishes the art.

This is a promise which can be compared to the promises always made by redeemers.

But their promises are different, in that they promise that man shall be freed from the corruption of the body, and reach the kingdom of the pure spirit.

The ninth paragraph is: “Here is the strong power of the whole strength [Hie est totius fortitudinis fortitudo fortis): for it overcomes every subtle thing and penetrates every solid thing.”

This is a kind of play on words, a heaping up of the epithets of strength, meaning that the one which shall be produced has most extraordinary power.

One must always keep in mind in such cases that the real thing may be weak, and that therefore its strength is over emphasized.

The tenth paragraph is: “Thus the world has been created.”

So this process corresponds exactly to the creation of the world.

The Deity divided itself in the beginning into the four [or eight), and, through the reversal of this process, the “filius macrocosmi” came into being.

The world is created again, but a different world, the world of the son.

When we speak of the world, we really only speak of an impression of the world.

The world is an image to us, even when we have a scientific conception of it and assert: “This is so and so”, it is still only an image.

We begin to realize, that the more firmly we believe something, the more likely it is to change in a few decades.

Our image of the world has changed to an incredible extent during our life time.

We live now in a totally different world to the one we grew up in.

We must understand this as a change in point of view about the world, as the birth of a different “Weltanschauung”.

There was no “Weltanschauung” in the ancient world, everything was projected into space.

Man at that time was bound to say: “The world is such and such”, no one could say: “I think such and such about the world ”

We find the first signs of a “Weltanschauung “in the Greek Philosophers, but the majority of men, even in the time of our own fathers, lived in a world which they were quite certain of.

Our parents knew that the world was governed by a benevolent Father, and they were absolutely sure of eternal salvation, if they behaved at all decently.

All this has changed in our lifetime.

The eleventh paragraph is: “Therefore the marvellous adaptations will come, whose manner this is.”

The marvellous adaptations are the creation of nature, which come forth from this one thing, through its spiritual activity.

The manner of these adaptations is represented here, and is undoubtedly a psychical process.

Then its direction is reversed, the elements are re-united and a new world comes into being.

The end of the text is: “So I am called Hermes Trismegistus, for I possess the three parts of the philosophy of the universe. What I have said about the operation of the sun is finished.”

The sun is another word in alchemistic language for gold, so presumably Hermes has been describing the art of gold making or alchemy, the two terms are synonymous.

But the sun could be understood differently, as the light of day, a symbol of consciousness.

The sun also represents the Nous in man, the spirit in man which originates in the divine spirit; that is, in the Deity, thought of as a light which illuminates everything, as we read in the CORPUS HERMETICUM, which is also attributed to Hermes; though this attribution is mythical.

The light of the beginning is called there the “archetyponphs” (the archetypal light).

It is , so to speak, a primeval consciousness, related to “the One” of the beginning.

And through “adaptation”, the consciousness of each individual arises from this primeval consciousness.

Our consciousness is thus understood as a splitting up of the archetypal consciousness.

This all embracing light, or consciousness, is attributed to the Deity.

So the “operatio solis”, the transformation of the gold, could also mean the transformation of that light which we have received through “adaptation” from the Deity; in other words the transformation of our consciousness.

I will let this remain as a hypothesis.

I have brought all these texts to your notice, with the intention of giving you some idea of the peculiar composition of the older foundations of alchemy.

They give us certain hints as to the meaning of contents, to which we should usually attribute no such significance.

In the next lecture we shall begin with alchemy itself. ~Carl Jung, Modern Psychology, Pages 57-63.