As above, so below - Part I
Dear Member of Blavatsky Net,
First, a correction. I will NOT be speaking at the IONS conference in California in August. The correct information on that event can be found from a link on the home page of www.blavatsky.net.
More than a month ago I was planning on this July newsletter discussing the hermetic maxim "as above, so below". Then, coincidentally, just over a week ago on the BN-study talk list, Angelo asked:
Can somebody explain to me theosophically the meaning of this Hermetic
axiom. "As below so above, as above so below". How does it relate to our
With this kind of synchronicity, the topic for this month is settled - the topic is "as above, so below".
The full context of the "as above, so below" maxim is well established and interesting for Theosophists. It occurs on the so-called "emerald tablet". One legend tells us the tablet was found in a caved tomb in the hands of the corpse of Hermes Trismegistus. Sarah, the wife of Abraham is said to have found the tablet. Apollonius of Tyana did the finding according to another legend. Yet another legend claims the tablet was found by Alexander the Great at Hebron - again in the tomb of Hermes
Exoterically, it is agreed that originally there were 42 books representing the hermetic philosophy. Some of them have disappeared supposedly in the burning of the Alexandrian Library. Now 16 books remain in the collection called the Corpus Hermeticum. These 16 books are dialogues, the first being with Poimander, sometimes called God. (His name is also spelled "Pymander" and in that first dialogue he refers to himself as "The Divine Mind of the Sovereignity, the Shepherd of Men".) The emerald tablet consists of the second major component of Hermeticism. Hermeticism also includes The Book of Thoth. Today some people also cite the Kybalion, published in 1912 or 1909, as a fourth significant component of Hermeticism since it influenced numerous movements. It was published anonymously by "three initiates". However, with a publishing date more than two decades after Blavatsky's Secret Doctrine, it appears to this student as a rather late addition.
As for translations, there were originally Arabic translations of the tablet followed by a Latin translation around 1140 AD. For authenticity, we can note that some of the Hermetic dialogues were found at the Nag Hammadi site in 1945 in Coptic. Still earlier references to Hermes are in the classical writers.
The dramatic opening lines on the Emerald tablet:
True, without falsehood, certain and most true, that which is above is the
same as that which is below, and that which is below is the same as that
which is above, for the performance of miracles of the One Thing. And as all
things are from the One, by the meditation 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 carries it in its belly, its nurse is the Earth. This is the Father of all
perfection, or consummation of the whole world. Its power is integrating, if it
be turned into earth.
It may come as a surprise to some students to learn that Blavatsky has given her own translation. This is not found if you simply enter "as above, so below' into the Theosophical search engine. She wrote it way back in 1877 in her book Isis Unveiled - less studied that her Secret Doctrine.
You shall separate the earth from the fire, the subtle from the gross, suavely,
and with great ingenuity and skill. Your skillful work ascends from earth to
heaven and descends to earth again, and receives the power of the superiors
and of the inferiors. So thou hast the glory of the whole world--therefore let all
obscurity flee from thee. This is the strong force of all forces, overcoming every
subtle and penetrating every solid thing. So the world was created. Hence all
were wonderful adaptations, of which this is the manner. Therefore I am called
Hermes Trismegistus having the three parts of the philosophy of the whole world
What I have to tell is completed concerning the Operation of the Sun.
Tradition declares that on the dead body of Hermes, at Hebron, was found by
an Isarim, an initiate, the tablet known as the Smaragdine [emerald. RC].
It contains, in a few sentences, the essence of the Hermetic wisdom. To
those who read but with their bodily eyes, the precepts will suggest nothing
new or extraordinary, for it merely begins by saying that it speaks not fictitious
things, but that which is true and most certain.
“What is below is like that which is above, and what is above
is similar to that which is below to accomplish the wonders of
“As all things were produced by the mediation of one being, so
all things were produced from this one by adaptation.
“Its father is the sun, its mother is the moon.
“It is the cause of all perfection throughout the whole earth.
“Its power is perfect if it is changed into earth.
“Separate the earth from the fire, the subtile from the gross,
acting prudently and with judgment.
“Ascend with the greatest sagacity from the earth to heaven,
and then descend again to earth, and unite together the power
of things inferior and superior; thus you will possess the light
of the whole world, and all obscurity will fly away from you.
“This thing has more fortitude than fortitude itself, because it will
overcome every subtile thing and penetrate every solid thing.
“By it the world was formed.”
Then she immediately adds a comment to this translation adding some of her own knowledge.
This mysterious thing is the universal, magical agent, the astral
light, which in the correlations of its forces furnishes the alkahest,
the philosopher’s stone, and the elixir of life. Hermetic philosophy
names it Azoth, the soul of the world, the celestial virgin, the great
Magnes, etc., etc. Physical science knows it as “heat, light,
electricity, and magnetism”; but ignoring its spiritual properties
and the occult potency contained in ether, rejects everything it
ignores. It explains and depicts the crystalline forms of the
snow-flakes, their modifications of an hexagonal prism which
shoot out an infinity of delicate needles. It has studied them so
perfectly that it has even calculated, with the most wondrous
mathematical precision, that all these needles diverge from each
other at an angle of 60°. Can it tell us as well the cause of this
“endless variety of the most exquisite forms,”* each of which
is a most perfect geometrical figure in itself? These frozen,
starlike and flower-like blossoms, may be, for all materialistic
science knows, a shower of messages snowed by spiritual
hands from the worlds above for spiritual eyes below to read.
Next is perhaps the best general explanation of the philosophy of this maxim.
Everything in the Universe follows analogy. “As above, so
below;” Man is the microcosm of the Universe. That which
takes place on the spiritual plane repeats itself on the
Cosmic plane. Concretion follows the lines of abstraction;
corresponding to the highest must be the lowest; the material
to the spiritual. (SDi177)
The ways this principle is applied in Theosophy can at times be quite metaphysical. In this case she immediately follows the above with this application.
Thus, corresponding to the Sephirothal Crown (or upper triad)
there are the three elemental Kingdoms, which precede the
Mineral (see diagram on p. 277 in Five Years of Theosophy),
and which, using the language of the Kabalists, answer in the
Cosmic differentiation to the worlds of Form and Matter from the
Super-Spiritual to the Archetypal. (SDi177)
Here is another rather abstruse application of the principle.
Now the first, the second, third or primordial seven or Lipika, are
all one. When they emanate from one plane to another, it is a
repetition of — “as above, so below.” They are all differentiated
in matter or density, not in qualities; the same qualities descend
onto the last plane, our own, where man is endowed with the
same potentiality, if he but knew how to develop it, as the highest
Dhyan-Chohans. (Transactions of the Blavatsky Lodge)
It becomes clear that a serious study of the use of this principle would take us quite far afield.
Here are a number of quotation from Blavatsky on this principle. It may be surprising how many such quotations there are and how forcefully she confirms her support for this principle.
“As above, so below”; harmony is the great law of nature.
(Whoops. Could she actually have said that? What are the implications? If there is here around us survival of the fittest where some non-survivors get eaten then what is above? If there is war on earth what is in heaven? Is there an ongoing "war in heaven?" It reminds me of the occult saying "Nature spits out the lukewarm." Also it is worth noting that on the BN-study list we are starting to discuss the "bad" as well as the "good" of this issue of analogy.)
Such are the questions often put to us, and they have to be
considered from every aspect. To the first of the two queries
the answer is: — We believe it because the first law in nature
is uniformity in diversity, and the second — analogy. “As
above, so below.” (SDii699)
“As above so below”; this apparent dualism is quite in keeping
with all esoteric systems. —“Daemon est Deus inversus.”
(BCW Vol 13)
Always argue on analogy and apply the old occult axiom “as
above so below.” (Transactions of Blavatsky Lodge)
As above so below. Sidereal phenomena, and the behaviour
of the celestial bodies in the heavens, were taken as a model,
and the plan was carried out below, on earth. Thus, space,
in its abstract sense, was called “the realm of divine
knowledge,” and by the Chaldees or Initiates Ab Soo, the
habitat (or Father, i.e., the source) of knowledge, because it
is in space that dwell the intelligent Powers which invisibly
rule the Universe.” (SDii502)
How analogous this theory is to the law of planetary motion,
which causes the individual orbs to rotate on their axes; the
several systems to move around their respective suns; and
the whole stellar host to follow a common path around a
common centre! Life and death, light and darkness, day and
night on the planet, as it turns about its axis and traverses
the zodiacal circle representing the lesser and the greater
cycles.* Remember the Hermetic axiom: — “As above, so
below; as in heaven, so on earth.” (IUi294)
The fact that the terms of the alchemists, such as salt,
sulphur, and mercury are transformed by Swedenborg into
ens, cause, and effect, does not affect the underlying idea
of solving the problems of the Mosaic books by the only
possible method — that used by the Hermetists — that of
correspondences. His doctrine of correspondence, or Hermetic
symbolism, is that of Pythagoras and of the kabalists — “as
above, so below.” It is also that of the Buddhist philosophers,
who, in their still more abstract metaphysics, inverting the
usual mode of definition given by our erudite scholars, call
the invisible types the only reality, and everything else the
effects of the causes, or visible prototypes — illusions.
However contradictory their various elucidations of the
Pentateuch may appear on their surface, every one of them
tends to show that the sacred literature of every country,
the Bible as much as the Vedas or the Buddhist Scriptures,
can only be understood and thoroughly sifted by the light of
Hermetic philosophy. The great sages of antiquity, those of
the medićval ages, and the mystical writers of our more
modern times also, were all Hermetists. Whether the light of
truth had illuminated them through their faculty of intuition, or
as a consequence of study and regular initiation, virtually,
they had accepted the method and followed the path traced
to them by such men as Moses, Gautama-Buddha, and Jesus.
Space fails us to present the speculative views of certain
ancient and medićval occultists upon this subject. Suffice it
that they antedated Darwin, embraced more or less all his
theories on natural selection and the evolution of species,
and largely extended the chain at both ends. Moreover, these
philosophers were explorers as daring in psychology as in
physiology and anthropology. They never turned aside from the
double parallel-path traced for them by their great master
Hermes. “As above, so below,” was ever their axiom; and their
physical evolution was traced out simultaneously with the
spiritual one. (IUi427)
No comprehensive idea of nature can be obtained except by
applying the law of harmony and analogy in the spiritual as well
as in the physical world. “As above, so below,” is the old
Hermetic axiom. If Spiritualists would apply this to the subject
of their own researches, they would see the philosophical
necessity of there being in the world of spirit as well as in the
world of matter, a law of the survival of the fittest. (article by
HPB: Kabbalist Views on Spirits)
The talk list suggested some further quotes of interest.
Occultism teaches that no form can be given to anything, either
by nature or by man, whose ideal type does not already exist
on the subjective plane. More than this; that no such form or
shape can possibly enter man's consciousness, or evolve in his
imagination, which does not exist in prototype, at least as an
approximation. (SD 1:282fn)
The hermetic maxim of "so above, so below" was also given very prominent notice when she placed it as a footnote as early as page 2 in her introductiory "Key to Theosophy."
Spirit is matter on the seventh plane; matter is Spirit—on the lowest point of its
cyclic activity; and both—are MAYA. (SDi633)
From Gods to men, from Worlds to atoms, from a star to a
rush-light, from the Sun to the vital heat of the meanest organic
being -- the world of Form and Existence is an immense chain,
whose links are all connected. The law of Analogy is the first
key to the world-problem, and these links have to be studied
coordinately in their occult relations to each other. (SDi604)
The Universe is worked and guided from within outwards. As
above so it is below, as in heaven so on earth; and man --
the microcosm and miniature copy of the macrocosm -- is
the living witness to this Universal Law, and to the mode of
its action. We see that every external motion, act, gesture,
whether voluntary or mechanical, organic or mental, is
produced and preceded by internal feeling or emotion, will
or volition, and thought or mind. (SDi274)
Occultism teaches that no form can be given to anything,
either by nature or by man, whose ideal type does not
already exist on the subjective plane. More than this; that
no such form or shape can possibly enter man's
consciousness, or evolve in his imagination, which does
not exist in prototype, at least as anapproximation.
Spirit is matter on the seventh plane; matter is Spirit — on
the lowest point of its cyclic activity; and both—are MAYA.
THEOSOPHIST. It [the name "Theosophy"] comes to us from the
Alexandrian philosophers, called lovers of truth,
Philaletheians, from phil "loving," and aletheia "truth." The
name Theosophy dates from the third century of our era,
and began with Ammonius Saccas and his disciples
[footnote here], who started the Eclectic Theosophical system.
The footnote reads:
Also called Analogeticists. As explained by Prof. Alex. Wilder,
F. T. S., in his "Eclectic Philosophy," they were called so
because of their practice of interpreting all sacred legends
and narratives, myths and mysteries, by a rule or principle of
analogy and correspondence: so that events which were
related as having occurred in the external world were regarded
as expressing operations and experiences of the human soul.
They were also denominated Neo-Platonists. Though
Theosophy, or the Eclectic Theosophical system, is generally
attributed to the third century, yet, if Diogenes Laertius is to
be credited, its origin is much earlier, as he attributed the
system to an Egyptian priest, Pot-Amun, who lived in the
early days of the Ptolemaic dynasty. The same author tells
us that the name is Coptic, and signifies one consecrated
to Amun, the God of Wisdom. Theosophy is the equivalent
of Brahm-Vidya, divine knowledge."
Variations of that reference also occur in the Theosophical Glossary and in the glossary at the back of her Key to Theosophy under "analogeticists."
There were still more references to "as above, so below" and they are not exhausted by this list.
Yet after all this, Angelo's full question has not been addressed. He wanted to know how this applies to daily life.
In my view, how to live "daily life" is not the major specific topic of Theosophy. (Maybe people will disagree with that.) Most of the written material of Theosophy has to do with what is true. Another large part of the written material has to do with proof and supporting argument for her claims of what is true. From this we must often reach our own conclusions and meanings for how a knowledge of this truth affects our daily living.
This line of thought leaves questions like: how would our life be different if we routinely went about our affairs with a consciousness of our place in the universe? Wouldn't our feelings and our deeds be different than otherwise?
On the talk list Dorothy directly addressed this question of daily living and expressed the matter so well that I asked her permission to quote her words below.
Everything is filled with Divine Spirit.
You are an aspect of Divine Spirit.
Remember that always that Divine Spirit is you.
Blavatsky would agree with Dorothy. Here are Blavatsky's words.
All thoughts are a reflection of Divine Thought.
All your thoughts come from Divine Mind.
Be sure your thoughts are worthy of the Divine Mind in you.
All desires are a manifestation of Divine Desire.
All your desires are driven by Divine Desire to experience the
life given you.
Learn to make every desire reflect your highest goals.
Everything is composed of Divine Substance.
You are made of Divine Substance.
Treat every thing with the reverence due Divine Substance.
As in the Microcosm, MAN, so in the Macrocosm, or the
Universe. Every "organ" in it is a sentient entity, and every
particle of matter or substance, from the physical molecule
up to the spiritual atom, is a cell, a nerve centre, which
communicates ... with the brain-stuff or that substance on the
plane of divine Thought in which the prime ideation is
produced. Therefore, was man produced in the image of God
-- or Divine Nature. Every cell in the human organism
mysteriously corresponds with a like "cell" in the divine
organism of the manifested universe; only the latter "cell"
assumes in the macrocosm the gigantic proportions of an
intelligent unity in this or that "Hierarchy" of Beings. This,
so far as the differentiated, divine Mind is concerned, on its
plane of ideation. This eternal or ABSOLUTE THOUGHT --
lies beyond and is, to us, inscrutable (H. P. Blavatsky,
"Problems of Life").
This subject will be continued in next month's newsletter.
REFERENCES MADE ABOVE:
The Secret Doctrine
www.seekerbooks.com/book/9780938998006.htm - Blavatsky's Magnum Opus
Thesophical Classics www.seekerbooks.com/media/9780835619509.htm - Blavatsky on a CD with search engine.
www.seekerbooks.com/book/9780938998013.htm - Blavatsky's other major book
MORE: PART II of "As Above So Below" newsletter http://www.blavatsky.net/newsletters/2007/as_above_so_below_part2.htm
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