The Emerald Tablet is one of the most revered documents in the Western World, and its Egyptian author, Hermes Trismegistus, has become synonymous with ancient wisdom. His tablet contains an extremely succinct summary of what Aldous Huxley dubbed the “Perennial Philosophy,” a timeless science of soul that keeps popping up despite centuries of effort to suppress it. The basic idea is that there exists a divine or archetypal level of mind that determines physical reality, and individuals can access that realm through direct knowledge of God.
The teachings of Hermes — the Hermetic tradition — is one of the oldest spiritual traditions in the world, and while no direct evidence links the Emerald Tablet to Eastern religions, it shares uncanny similarities in concepts and terminology with Taoism, Hinduism, and Buddhism. In the West, the tablet found a home not only in the pagan tradition but also in all three of the orthodox Abrahamic religions (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam), and many of the most heretical beliefs of the Gnostics are also openly expressed in it. Like the authors of the tablet, the Gnostics believed that direct knowledge of reality could be attained through psychological discipline and meditative exercises. They also shared a common view of the universe in which “All Is One,” a pattern of creation and decay symbolized by the Ouroboros (the snake eating its own tail).
Without doubt, the Emerald Tablet was the inspiration behind many other esoteric traditions, including over 1,700 years of alchemy. Most medieval alchemists hung a copy of the tablet on their laboratory wall and constantly referred to the “secret formula” it contained. In fact, during the sixteenth century, Hermes Trismegistus was such a revered figure that there was a movement to have his teachings replace those of Aristotle in European schools.
Five hundred years later, the tablet’s words are still held in the highest regard. “The Emerald Tablet is the cryptic epitome of the alchemical opus,” noted Jungian analyst Dr. Edward Edinger, “a recipe for the second creation of the world.” Ethnobotanist and consciousness guru Terence McKenna agrees, calling the tablet “a formula for a holographic matrix” that is mirrored in the human mind and offers mankind its only hope for future survival. “Whatever one chooses to believe about it,” sums up John Matthews in The Western Way (Penguin 1997), “there is no getting away from the fact that the Emerald Tablet is one of the most profound and important documents to have come down to us. It has been said more than once that it contains the sum of all knowledge — for those able to understand it.”
However, there is one nagging problem with the Emerald Tablet: Nobody seems to know for sure where it came from, or who really wrote it.