Fragments of the Ancient Wisdom Religion have come down to us from the remotest past, through many channels, and in various forms.
The study of philology alone will be inadequate to discover the true meaning of ancient sacred writings, though it may very greatly assist the labors of those who have already gained a clue to the Secret Doctrine. The Theosophist and the Antiquarian differ very widely, and though the former has sometimes been accused of searching out obsolete doctrines and magnifying the achievements of the past, but little observation will be required to reveal the fact, that that for which they search may be very old because it is valuable, but never valuable merely because it is old. In short that of which they are in search may truly be said to never fade, and ne’er grow old, though it is often lost sight of. Occultism is not a new craze as some suppose, it is not simply a line of the marvelous, it is rather the profoundest of all sciences, conforming in its methods of research and the character of its results to those of all sciences. The naturalist does not hesitate to construct from a single tooth or a few fragments of bone, the entire animal and assign to it its proper place, declare its habits, modes of life, size, &c., &c., even though he fixed its era centuries ago, and no one nowadays questions the general correctness of the result; the study of comparative anatomy and the science of biology testify all this. In like manner and by similar methods may one familiar with the science of occultism, which deals with the operation of uniform laws in the higher realms of nature, arrive at exact data from very small beginnings, and with this advantage, viz., that he has the means at hand to verify his conclusions, which the naturalist has not, for in this realm there are no extinct species, the elements of human nature, and the laws which underlie their unfoldment and manifestation are the same now, as thousands of years ago.
It is the custom of many who are entirely ignorant of this higher science, to deny its existence and ridicule its cultivators. Just as an uneducated and conceited boor would ridicule an Agassiz for attempting to reconstruct an animal from its thigh bone. When, therefore, one entirely ignorant not only of the principles but of the existence of such a thing as occult science, examines ancient records in which it is concealed, he will arise from his task possibly better satisfied with his own possessions as contrasted with the “ignorance” of past ages, but seldom wiser for his endeavor. Few persons nowadays are ignorant of the form of most ancient hierarchic writings, as consisting of, or containing a double meaning under the garb of allegory or parable. It is moreover becoming quite generally known that many of these ancient records are of vital importance to us of the present day, as containing the very knowledge of which we stand most in need, and the amount of attention they are receiving may be determined by observing the interest in, and almost unprecedented sales of, such works as Arnold’s Light of Asia, while the labors of men like Max Muller in rendering the ancient scriptures into English have made it possible for everyone to gain some familiarity with the religious casts of antiquity. Bearing in mind these general observations, let us briefly examine one of the most ancient, most famous, and yet least comprehended sources of ancient wisdom. As to the questions who was Hermes? which Hermes? when did he write? we have these points for the philologists and historians, quoting here the remark of Iamblichus in his treatise on the Mysteries: “Hermes, the God who presides over language, was formerly very properly considered as common to all priests; and the power who presides over the true science concerning the Gods is one and the same in the whole of things. Hence our ancestors dedicated the inventions of their wisdom to this deity, inscribing all their own writings with the name of Hermes,” and “the late learned Divine Doctor Everard” in the preface to his translation of the Divine Pymander 1650, contends that Hermes Trismegistus lived a long time before Moses, that he had “perfect and exact knowledge of all things contained in the world,” ** “that he was the first that invented the art of communicating knowledge to the world by writing, that he was King of Egypt, that he styled himself the son of Saturn, and that he was believed to have come from heaven, and not to have been born on earth.”1
The above writer goes on to say that Hermes did excel in the right understanding of, because he attained to, the knowledge of the quintessence of the whole universe, otherwise called the Elixir of the philosophers, which secret many ignorantly deny, many have sought after, and some have found. A description of this great Treasure is said to have been found engraved upon a Smaragdine Tablet in the valley of Hebron after the flood.2
To the modern reader, all this sounds very queer, a bundle of contradictions and vagaries, taxing reason and even credulity. But suppose we are told that it was designed for exactly that purpose, that only they who were determined to find the truth, and who therefore had faith that it existed somewhere, were expected to walk around or dig under this stumbling-block. If we turn now to Isis Unveiled p. 507, Vol. I, we shall find the inscription said to have been found on the tablet.
The inscription said to have been found on the Smaragdine Tablet and to which reference was made in a former article, and which Dr. Everard refers to as containing the “Elixir of the philosophers,” is further explained by the author of Isis, where it is also said “It is for the Hermetic student to watch its motions, to catch its subtile currents, to guide and direct them with the help of the Athanor, the Archimedean lever of the Alchemist.”3 It is further stated in plain words that this mysterious agent “is the universal magical agent, the astral light, which in the correlation of its forces furnishes the Alkahest, the philosophers’ stone, and the elixir of life.”4 Now one great advantage to the student who follows carefully these hints is, that he soon discovers certain basic principles which reach far and wide, and in Hermetic language enable him to ascend from Earth to Heaven, and descend from Heaven to Earth, not in a vague, fanciful way, but as applicable to physical phenomena as to philosophical synthesis. These basic principles are not hypothesis, they are the first principles of Nature, as manifested in the phenomenal universe, a thread or clue to the labyrinth of phenomena.
There is a vast difference between modern and ancient science in regard to the Ether: The former hypothecates it to bridge a gap in phenomena and at once, as if ashamed of its weakness, turns its back upon it. Not so our ancient Hermetic brethren. Modern speculation regarding a fourth dimension of space apprehends the necessity for something beyond the old conception, as does physical science. And yet the latter reaches no solid ground, though the problem lies in the rubbish derived from analytical science, and the necessity which has compelled it to pay tribute. There is a logical, uniform, invariable antithesis in all manifested nature, which at once suggests the unmanifested. Sometimes the change of a letter or an accent in a word or its division into syllables produces wonderful results, e.g., atonement, at-one-ment. So here in the phenomenal universe, nothing and no-thing are not synonymous. To say that the ether tills all space, penetrates the densest matter, and gives rise by emanation to the whole phenomenal universe, and yet that it is nothing is nonsense, but that it is no-thing is perfectly true. The ether is to the phenomenal universe what the 0 is to the mathematician, nothing in itself and yet from association, implication or involution, it enters into even form and quantity. Oken has shown5 that there are really two zeros, or that zero exists as 0+ and 0–, and even here begins the science of symbolism in the ancient Mathesis. It is in this shoreless ocean of ether that suns and solar systems are suspended. It is the alkahest or universal solvent from which all forms and qualities of matter and life proceeds, and into which they return. It is luminous, and yet the abode of darkness, the Unmoved Mover of Plato.
Take now the three dimensions of space, and we find the idea of length, breadth and thickness are associated with objects. Where there is no object upon which the eye can rest, we have then no length, no breadth, no thickness, i.e., Ether, the antithesis of objective forms in which occur all phenomena. This ether is called the Mirror of Isis, because in it are impressed or mirrored all forms. When these forms are clothed upon then occurs, first, a positing; second, motion; third, the “picture” in the ether is involved and the outer material shape evolved. Nay, there is no first, second, third about it, for all occurs coincidently. The last analysis of physics is matter, force and motion; and these three, inseparable on the physical visual plane, resolve back into the ocean of ether, which contains them all potentially, and which sends them out as an indissoluble trinity. Compared with matter then, the ether is transcendental, and yet we cannot say it is nothing, as has already been pointed out. Now all life, all matter, all forms, are in their essence cyclic. This is readily seen in the colloidal forms incident to organic life, but even in crystalline forms, though often overlooked, it is none the less apparent.
In relation to objective manifestation, preserving the idea of cyclic form, the ether is spoken of as the center which is everywhere, and the circumference which is nowhere.
Proceeding now with the idea of center and circumference (as yet only an idea) let us imagine a globule of protoplasm to spring instantly into visual existence. The act of positing was geometrical, i.e., “position without extension.” Let this positing represent force, and extension represent matter, typically, (in all directions) but this tension and extension begets motion, all together; creation, from the hitherto “without form and void” i.e., the ether.
What was the immediate coefficient of the positing? a picture, a Divine idea, an essential form, projected in the ether. This idea is now being clothed upon, or involved in matter, and coincidently the outer material shape and structure is being evolved. Here is an equation being solved, and from this on, it is easy to trace what occurs even under a good microscope. We are, however, interested in principles rather than processes, therefore we will preserve our typical sphere with its center and circumference.
We shall presently come back to the Smaragdine inscription, and then be able to see what a revelation it contains, and what a magical key it affords to unlock the doors of knowledge.
“The music of the spheres” is not a mere figure of speech, but an actuality.
The Soul of the World has its central Sun whose life throbs pulsate throughout immensity. If we study the phenomena and conditions of either crystallization or organization we shall find that every atom in the vast universe is set to music. There is the pean of life, and the dirge of death, the major and the minor key. The rhythm is the same whether in the ebb or flow of life, but the serried columns march in opposite directions. The Unity lies back of all phenomena in the infinite ocean, the universal solvent, as the crystal lies latent, potential, unmanifested, in the solution of salt. So all things exist potentially in the ether. The real form of everything is perfect, essential, divine. Only the effigy appears with ebb and flow; with swell and cadence like martial music. Only in the Garden of the Gods can the perfect flower and fruit appear. There is but one approximation to perfect form to be apprehended by mortals—the Sphere—and even this is ideal or geometrical, not actual. The dimensions of space pertain to objects: objects exist in time, and the essence of time is motion.6 Imagine the intelligence of man posited in an ocean of Ether, a thinking principle, without form or extension, and the fallacy of space as generally conceived becomes manifest, and disappears. Matter, space, time, and motion, these pertain to outwardly manifested existence. Read backward the genesis of crystal, plant, animal or man, and one plan, one basis is discovered in all.
“Out from the shore of the great unknown” come trooping these effigies of diviner being, these shapes of diviner forms. In the beginning was the Word, the Fiat has gone forth. Listen O! man to the music of Bath Col the voice of thine own soul. Adonai speaks. If thou art conscious, His voice is conscience. It is the memory of the voice of God in fields elysian, thy former divine abode. Thou mayest involve in thy life on earth thine Augoeides, “being of light,” a “gleaming brightness.” This is thy holy mission, the meaning of thy human shape, thy manly powers, thy subtle intellect, thy holy intuitions. These are but the seed of larger life, the bird of promise. The unfolded flower shall be thy highest aspiration, thy holiest wish, and its ripened fruit shall bear thee to the garden of the gods, with knowledge and power as thy servants. Ask but thine own soul, counsel with thy better self, and if thou findest not within the silence the answering voice, then return to thy wallowing in the mire, and the husks which the swine do eat, rather than to thy father’s house which thou hast made, and will henceforth continue to make a den of thieves, at best, a whited sepulchre.
Now let us read the Tablet of Hermes, bearing in mind the fact that man is an epitome of the universe, thus actually or potentially containing all that is, and if he knows how to read and to unfold his own nature, powers and possibilities, he may read thereby the universe, unfold its laws, comprehend its plan, and if he be master of himself, thus revealed to his understanding, his powers shall be co-extensive with knowledge. He shall possess the MASTERS’ WORD.
This tablet is printed in full in September Path, at p. 167.
The reader is referred to Isis Unveiled for explanation of the Azoth to which, on the physical plane, the tablet refers,7 and I might say in passing, that those who complain that the Brothers closely guard occult secrets, will do well, even at this late day, to read Isis Unveiled, There are several matters contained in those two volumes which the careless reader, and complaining “theosophist” has possibly overlooked. In fact there is less concealment in all occult matters than the ignorant and time-serving suppose. There can be no better safe-guards to Royal Secrets, than ignorance and defective vision, for which defects there is no surgery or remedy outside ourselves.
“God saith, Let the man endued with a mind, mark, consider, and know himself well. ** And before they give up their bodies to the death of them, they hate their senses, knowing their works and operations.
“Rather, I, that am the mind itself, will not suffer the operations or works, which belong to the body, to be finished and brought to perfection in them, but being the Porter and Doorkeeper I will shut up the entrances of evil, and cut off the thoughtful desires of filthy works.
“But to the foolish, and evil, and wicked, and envious, and covetous, and profane, I am far off, giving place to the revenging demon **
“For the sleep of the body is the sober watchfulness of the mind, and the shutting of my eyes, the true sight, and my silence great with child; and full of good, and the pronouncing of my words the blossoms and fruits of good things.”8
“Wherefore we must be bold to say that an earthly man is a mortal god, and that the heavenly God is an immortal Man.“9
Compare with this the following from the writings of Plato:
“He who has not even a knowledge of common things, is a brute among men; he who has an accurate knowledge of human concerns alone, is a man among brutes; but he who knows all that can be known by intelligent inquiry is a god among men.”
In these brief and imperfect outlines enough has been given to show the thoughtful student, the agreement of the Hermetic doctrines with the teachings of Theosophy, indeed, any real progress in the comprehension of the one, may be taken as a key to the other. These, together with the teachings of the Kabbala, are but different forms of the Secret Doctrine; none of them are to be fully apprehended by the intellect alone; but only when the mind is illuminated by the light of understanding, and the process by which this illumination is to he achieved, through diligent inquiry, unselfish work, and repression of the senses, appetites and passion, has been often pointed out, and is found repeated and reiterated in all these writings. If any, therefore, are disposed to complain that they are left to grope in darkness, they have no one to blame but themselves. To the conscientious student, the constant wonder is at the richness of the feast spread out on every hand.
Like a beautiful landscape to the blind, or music to the deaf, are the pages of wisdom to the ignorant and selfish. Eyes have they but they see not, ears have they but they hear not, and so long as they are joined to their idols they may as well be let alone. But to the earnest disciple, to the true seeker of The Path these are the everlasting verities: let them run and not be weary, walk and not faint, seek, and they shall surely find, desire, and they shall attain, knock, and the door of knowledge shall open, obey, and they shall in turn command, labor, and they shall obtain rest.
“Rest is not quitting
The busy career,
Rest is the fitting
Of self to one’s sphere.
‘Tis the brook’s motion,
Clear, without strife,
Fleeting to ocean
After this life.
‘Tis living and serving
The highest and best,
‘Tis onward unswerving,
And this is true rest.”
1. See Introduction to The Divine Pymander p. VI et. seq. Edition 1650.
3. Isis Unveiled, p. 507, vol. I.
6. “We take no notice of time save by its loss” i.e. its passage or motion.
7. Isis Unveiled, vol. 1, p. 507, et seq.
8. Pymander, p. 33, et seq, edition of 1650.
9. IV Book, p 60.