Alchemy is a source of great mysteries. Despite it being considered a form of science, more people link it to magic than they link it to anything rational and explicable. Being a form of science that takes one object and turns it into another, there’s no wonder that people started wondering if it could do more. The discovery of a certain object known as the Emerald Tablet only ended up solidifying the fact that alchemy is a domain we know so little about.
Read below to find out more about the incredible reveals of the Emerald Tablet, how it ties in alchemy with the number three, and what Isaac Newton has to do with all of this.
Alchemy has its roots in antiquity, being strongly tied to the city of Alexandria from Hellenistic Egypt. It’s a practice that could be observed in several countries from Europe, Asia, and Africa. This protoscientific tradition’s main goal was the one of turning base metals (such as lead) into noble ones (such as gold). Despite that, it’s also a practice linked to several other… crazier goals. Alchemists infamously sought out the key to immortality and attempted to use their methods to create an elixir for eternal life.
But even more famous is the so-called philosopher’s stone, which you may have heard of through various forms of media. The stone was every alchemist’s ultimate goal, as it was believed to be able to turn mercury into gold and make the owner immortal.
Aside from these goals, alchemists notably attempted to create the panacea, the remedy to every existing disease, and the alkahest, a universal solvent.
There have been many famous alchemists through history, but the name we’re looking at in this current context is Hermes Trismegistus. He was a mythological alchemical figure, named after Thoth, the Egyptian God of Wisdom, and Hermes, his Greek counterpart.
Some believe that Trismegistus was the author behind the Hermetica, a piece of writing which many regard as the foundation thesis for Western alchemy philosophy. However, the most important part is that there are others who also associate him with the writings on the so-called Emerald Tablet, alchemy’s greatest mystery and reason for fascination.
The Emerald Tablet
The Emerald Tablet, also known as the Smaragdine Table and Tabula Smaragdina, is a green-colored (possibly made from emerald) stone tablet which many believe contains the greatest secrets of the universe.
It’s not precisely known what the origin of this mysterious tablet is, though some scientists believe it may have been discovered somewhere in the Great Pyramids thousands of years ago. Some offer further descriptions, theorizing that the tablet rested inside of a caved tomb below the statue of Hermes in Tyana. It was allegedly clutched by Trismegistus’ corpse.
There are other theories, however, which one may take with a grain of salt. For instance, some people believe that the “copyrights” should go to Seth, Adam and Eve’s third son. Maybe the tablet was fostered within the Ark of the Covenant. We can go even further: another theory suggests that the tablet’s homeland is no other than the fabled lost city of Atlantis.
It’s pretty difficult to sustain a theory as plausible as the one with the Great Pyramids when this is the competition, isn’t it?
But the Emerald Tablet itself isn’t what fascinated alchemists for so long. Rather, it’s the inscriptions found on it. Several pieces of evidence have hinted at the possibility of the tablet not being from Antiquity as some may have thought, but rather it dates to a time period between the 8th century and 6th century AD.
A man called Pseudo-Apollonius of Tyana or simply “Balinas” wrote the first piece of documentation regarding the Emerald Tablet. Titled the Kitab sirr al-haliqi (Book of the Secret of Creation and the Art of Nature), this writing details how Balinas was allegedly the one to discover the Emerald Tablet in the caved tomb.
In the same document, Balinas suggests that the Emerald Tablet was written in Greek. Whether that’s true or not, the fact that the tablet has been translated in several different languages over the course of the years still stands. One of the earliest instances of tablet translations could be found in the work Kitab Ustuqus al-Uss al-Thani (Second Book of the Elements of the Foundation), written by Jabir ibn Hayyan.
Despite that, the tablet wasn’t available to a wide variety of people, particularly those in the European area who used Latin as their means of communications. It took several centuries, specifically until 12th century A.D., before the tablet was made available to Europeans by being translated to Latin.
The Truth In The Writings
Even though many people attempted to translate the Emerald Tablet (with some succeeding) it seems like its whole meaning remains a great mystery. During the time when its influence was the strongest, during the Renaissance (also a peaking time period for alchemy in general) many alchemists attempted to decipher its symbolism. The tablet even held the interest of the famous Aleister Crowley for a long time.
What is clear is that the tablet talks about alchemy, introducing pieces of knowledge that haven’t been known up until its discovery. One particular interpretation suggests that the tablet describes seven stages of alchemic transmutation: calcination, dissolution, separation, conjunction, fermentation, distillation and coagulation.
Isaac Newton’s Interpretation
An unexpected translator of the tablet was Sir Isaac Newton, who also bore a fiery passion for the more occult things aside from science. The translated text was found among several other of his works in the fields of mathematics, astronomy, and science.
From the pieces that he translated, one particular section stood out: “Three is the great mystery, come from the great one.” Many interpreted this as a meaning that the number three is one of those cosmic truths that people claim the Emerald Tablet possesses.
Newton’s translation is fostered at King’s College Library from Cambridge University. You can find an extract of the translation below.
- Tis true without lying, certain & most true.
- That which is below is like that which is above & that which is above is like that which is below to do the miracles of one only thing
- And as all things have been & arose from one by the mediation of one: so all things have their birth from this one thing by adaptation.
- The Sun is its father, the moon its mother, the wind hath carried it in its belly, the earth is its nurse.
- The father of all perfection in the whole world is here.
- Its force or power is entire if it is converted into earth.
- Separate thou the earth from the fire, the subtle from the gross sweetly with great industry.
- It ascends from the earth to the heaven & again it descends to the earth & receives the force of things superior & inferior.
- By this means, you shall have the glory of the whole world
- & thereby all obscurity shall fly from you.
- Its force is above all force. For it vanquishes every subtle thing & penetrates every solid thing.
- So was the world created.
- From this are & do come admirable adaptations whereof the means (or process) is here in this. Hence I am called Hermes Trismegist, having the three parts of the philosophy of the whole world
- That which I have said of the operation of the Sun is accomplished & ended.