Every day, we are bombarded with phrases and mottos that just make language rich.
Some of these expressions can be pretty straightforward, such as “be the change you want to see in the world” and “insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.”
In fact, some of these mottos have become second nature to us to such a degree that we can just reference part of them while expecting the listener to understand exactly what we mean.
For instance, if your friend keeps trying to solve a problem with the same method yet to no avail, you can just tell them “well, you know what they say about insanity” and expect them to fully understand the gist of what you’re saying.
On the other hand, other mottos can be a bit esoteric. This can be due to the phrasing of the expression or due to its rich history. One such phrase is “as above, so below.”
What does “as above, so below” mean?
“As above, so below” has many interpretations, the simplest of which is that whatever happens on earth is reflected in the astral plane. Another interpretation is that the microcosm, such as the world of the individual, is affected by the macrocosm, such as society at large. In essence, the expression looks at any place there is a duality, one where half of the duality is deemed “above” while the other half is deemed “below,” and tries to establish a relation between the two.
The expression has ties to Hermeticism and can be traced back to the Emerald Tablet. It is also a core component of alchemy and has influenced several facets of our lives, including the Christain religion.
A closer investigation of the origins of “as above, so below”
To truly appreciate this expression, we need to cover a few main key points first.
What is Hermeticism?
Hermeticism is an ancient religion and philosophy.
The main writings of this esoteric tradition come from Hermes Trismegistus and have been very influential to western culture, particularly during the Renaissance and the Reformation.
Interestingly, Hermeticism can trace its origins to Prisca Theologia, a monotheistic doctrine.
So, who was Hermes Trismegistus?
Well, here is where things start to get tricky. He is the supposed author of the Hermetic Corpus, the texts that form the basis of Hermeticism, sort of like the Bible for Christianity.
On the one hand, some writers such as Giordano Bruno and Ralph Waldo Emerson believed Hermes to be a sage prophet who was able to foretell the rise of Christianity.
Moreover, Christians adopted a large part of Hermetic teachings, a big reason for which was to validate the teachings of the Prisca Theologia, so they considered Hermes to either be a contemporary of Moses or be another individual who predated Christianity.
Some may even go further and say that Hermes Trismegistus has relations to both the Greek God Hermes as well as the Egyptian God Thoth.
The idea was that the ancients realized that Hermes, the God of interpretive communication, was equivalent to Thoth, the Egyptian God of wisdom.
Ergo, the two gods were combined and worshiped as one.
On the other hand, when analyzing the Hermetic texts, a discrepancy arose.
According to a Swiss philologist named Isaac Casaubon, the Hermetic texts weren’t written in ancient times. Instead, they were written sometime around the second or third century C.E.
However, this was later disputed by Ralph Cudworth, who claimed that Casaubon’s analysis didn’t apply to all Hermetic texts.
Interestingly, one of the Hermetic texts whose origin is uncertain is the Emerald tablet.
And, what is the Emerald Tablet?
The Emerald Tablet, which also goes by the names Smaragdine Tablet and Tabula Smaragdina, is a part of the Hermetic texts.
It focuses on the prima materia, which was considered to be the necessary starting material for all other matter, making it a cornerstone of alchemy.
This is why the Emerald Tablet was so important for alchemists.
Now, no one knows the source of the Emerald Tablet. And, while Hermes Trismegistus is considered to be the author, the text first showed up in an Arabic text that had been written sometime between the sixth and eighth century.
In fact, the text wasn’t translated into Latin until the twelfth century. As a result, some historians believe that the Emerald Tablet was actually first composed in Arabic.
It is in the Emerald Tablet that we find our expression.
”As above, so below” in Hermeticism
If we were to look at one of the translations of the Emerald Tablet, the one done by Isaac Newton, we would find that the first few lines go as follows.
Ergo, as you can see, “as above, so below” is a paraphrase of the line bolded above.
So, what does “as above, so below” mean in the text?
Well, by now, we have enough context to explore this a bit. We already know that the Emerald Tablet was about alchemy and focused on the prima materia.
Ergo, one interpretation of the line can be that whatever happens in Nature, i.e. what is above or in the macrocosm, is mirrored in the alchemical lab, i.e. what is below or in the microcosm.
Other meanings of the expression “as above, so below”
However, this expression has developed other meanings. For example, while the “as above” part could refer to nature and the cosmos, the “so below” part could refer to what happens inside of us as human beings and creatures.
In other words, the Prima Materia could be considered to be the Anima Mundi, the latter of which is an expression denoting consciousness.
Astrologers have taken the expression to mean that what happens in the stars affects our everyday lives.
Others have chosen to see it as meaning that the human body, the microcosm, can act as a miniature version of the outside world, the macrocosm.
Ergo, they believe that the best way to understand the outside world would be to start by studying the human body. This is where arts such as palmistry and Tarot derive their main arguments.
Another group has chosen to see the universe as composed of two main components, the physical and the spiritual.
According to them, whatever happens in one component is bound to affect the other.
This is where the concepts of magic and the astral plane come from. It is also where the idea of doing good things in the physical world will reflect in the spiritual world, purifying the actor’s soul.
Others have chosen to toss away the mystic interpretations and to look at more concrete relations.
For instance, the human body contains patterns that can be seen reflected in the cosmos, bearing in mind the difference in scale.
The dendritic patterns drawn by our veins and nerve cells are very similar to the patterns seen in trees and rivers.
Another instance is how a number like Phi can be seen in different aspects of nature, including the human body. The proportions of the body seem to follow a very regular numerical pattern.
Hey fellow Linguaholics! It’s me, Marcel. I am the proud owner of linguaholic.com. Languages have always been my passion and I have studied Linguistics, Computational Linguistics and Sinology at the University of Zurich. It is my utmost pleasure to share with all of you guys what I know about languages and linguistics in general.