Spirit and matter are woven out of the same substance. The important thing in the practice of magic is to identify the thread which links everything and unites all creation in a chain of cosmic union.
In the quest for understanding the source of birthstones it’s time to move from ancient Mesopotamia to an equally ancient civilisation, and one that used even more crystals as a home for its deities: Egypt. Once again portions of this blog are couched in academic language, but do persevere. It’s worth it. I’ve included some of my sources if you want to follow it up yourself but the remainder are in the essay which is available on http://www.astrozero.co.uk/ together with others from my M.A. It was part of a search for the roots of astrological correspondence, but it sidetracked into information relevant to birthstones from time to time. As did my dissertation on the stone horoscope (available on my website). We’ll be meeting a rather intriguing magician, Hermes Trismegistus, otherwise known as Thoth the god of moon, magic and writing, who, way back in the mists of time, said:
That which is above is like to that which is below, and that which is below is like to that which is above, to accomplish the miracles of (the) one thing.
[Trans. Robert Steele and Dorothy Singer, 1928]
Which for astrologers, alchemists and those of a magical persuasion came to be known as the maxim: ‘as above, so below, as within, so without.’ In the magical papyri of ancient Egypt, Thoth-Hermes is the god who knows ‘all that is hidden under the heavenly vault, and beneath the earth’ and who ‘conveyed to mankind knowledge of the arts, the sciences and all the professions…’ ‘Thoth-Hermes was regarded as the great initiate teacher who brought holy wisdom to the Egyptians. He was credited with the invention of the hieroglyphic script … he was also believed to have left behind him hidden records pertaining to knowledge.’
Hermes Trismegistus, otherwise known as Thoth, metamorphoses into the Roman god and planet Mercury, which has more than a touch of the magical about it. In esoteric circles and the myths of ancient Egypt, it was Hermes Trismegistus who recorded the principles by which the universe functioned:
True it is, without falsehood, certain and most true.
That which is above is like to that which is below, and that which is below is like to that which is above, to accomplish the miracles of the one thing.
And as all things were by contemplation of the One, so all things arose from this one thing by a single act of adaptation.
The father thereof is the sun, the mother the moon: the wind carried it in its womb: the Earth is the nurse thereof.
It is the father of all the works of wonder throughout the whole world.
The power thereof is perfect, if it be cast on to earth.
It will separate the element of earth from that of fire, the subtle from the gross, gently and with great sagacity.
It doth ascend from earth to heaven; again it doth descend to earth and united in itself the forces from things superior and things inferior.
Thus thou will possess the glory of the brightness of the whole world, and all obscurity will fly far from thee.
This thing is the strongest of all powers, the force of all forces, for it overcometh every subtle thing and doth penetrate every solid substance.
Thus was the world created.
Hence there will be marvellous adaptations achieved, of which the manner is this.
For this reason I am called Hermes Trismegistus, because I hold three parts of the wisdom of the world.
Tabula Smaragdina, (The Emerald Tablet)1
The Emerald Tablet is an adjunct to the Corpus Hermetica, a group of texts attributed to Hermes Trismegistus, an Egyptian sage reputed to have lived around 3000 BCE. Occultists, alchemists, esoteric astrologers and translators of The Hermetica such as G.R.S.Mead, a Theosophist, have tended towards the belief that The Emerald Tablet is ‘very ancient’, historians to the view that it may well date to between the 2nd and 8th centuries A.C.E. The earliest extant copies of the Emerald Tablet are preserved in 8th and 9th century Arabic texts but Project Hindsight has recently announced that, during, the translation of Hellenistic astrology texts dating to the second century B.C.E. ‘the lineage recorded by Firmicus Maternus credits one Hermes Trismegistus with the founding of the Hellenistic astrological tradition’, and many earlier sources refer to Hermes Trismegistus.
The 4th century Roman historian Ammianus Marcellinus observed of Egypt
‘Here they still carefully preserve the elements of sacred rites as handed down in their secret volumes…. And fountains of such wisdom survive in Alexandria…. ‘But if anyone in the earnestness of his intellect wishes to apply himself to the various branches of divine knowledge, or to the examination of metaphysics, he will find that the whole world owes this kind of learning to Egypt.’
The fundamental tenets of the Emerald Tablet beyond the ‘as above, as below’ maxim are that ‘all phenomena, in the divine and material realms alike, are linked together by ‘sympathetic’ powers or energies into one pleroma’ (the Gnostic supreme being who fills the universe and all its emanations). Within this pleroma, there is an infinite continuum and a continuum of alikeness. An active participation mystique is visible in Hermetic thought, and ‘the One’ is the strongest and most perfect of all powers, being indestructible, and lying behind the creation of the world: ‘all things arose from this one thing… thus was the world created’ and yet being in reciprocal relationship. As Baigent and Leigh point out:
‘For Hermeticism… reality in all its aspects was embraced as a single all-pervasive, all-encompassing totality, a single whole in which all dichotomies, all distinction between body and soul, spirit and matter, were accommodated and harmoniously integrated. Everything, in its own way, was valid. Everything was incorporated in the comprehensive design….
And for the Hermeticist, as opposed to the dualist, ‘gnosis’ entailed direct apprehension of, and integration with, the all-inclusive harmony….
Within the harmony, everything was interconnected with everything else through a mesh of interlocking relationships. Such relationships rested on the principle of analogy. Things echoed other things, reflected other things, mirrored other things, paralleled other things, corresponded to other things. Reality comprised an intricate, incessantly vibrating and living web of correspondences…..
In other words, what happens in the abode of the gods is reflected in what occurs on earth, and vice versa. The opening of The Emerald Tablet of Hermes Trismegistus, has been adopted as a maxim by modern astrologers and is a crucial tenet of alchemy.
“ Thou must know that so great is the power of natural things, that they not only work upon all things that are near them, by their virtue, but also besides this they infuse into them a like power.”
Henry Cornelius Agrippa, c.1500 CE.
The Emerald Tablet is claimed to be a direct transmission of the wisdom teachings of ancient Egypt and it is said that Pythagoras and Plato obtained much of their wisdom from Egypt. The influence of the Emerald Tablet can be traced through time reaching into the distant past and forward into the magical and alchemical practices of the medieval world, 19th century Theosophy and esotericism; and 20th century astrology. It may also underlie the whole notion of birthstones.
But, as usual, there are one or two myths to clear up first. Despite tradition and what you read, the tablet was unlikely to have been an emerald as this crystal was largely unknown in the early Egyptian world. It’s more likely to have been incised on a slab of Green Aventurine, which was a common stone for such artefacts. If indeed it was on stone at all. But it is the idea behind the words rather than the material that is significant.
Large maybe, but still far too small to have a long text engraved upon it.
According to Erica Reiner (a specialist in early magic), lists exist from both Mesopotamia and Hellenistic Egypt that unite zodiac signs with gods and stones, the first stone book going back to the origins of cuneiform writing. These draw together age-old magical practices, lapidarial compendiums [stonebooks], hemerological traditions [calendric timing], astrological timing and ‘ritualistic restrictions’, but full details have proved extremely difficult to obtain particularly from those in foreign languages. (Zweilein-Diehl, Erika, ed., Magische Amulette und andere Gemmen des Instituts fur Alterumskunde der Universidt zu Koln for example would have been extremely useful as it contains a list of stone attributes ‘natural and supernatural’ but which could only be accessed via a review article which gave no details.) However, they provide the link between stones and stars and planets – and gods.
The Egyptians believed that the bodies of the gods were comprised of metals and gems, and that the precious metals and gems were themselves efflux from the gods. In the Primaeval Ocean text, stones and mineral belong to a pair of divine serpents, whose bodies are living stone, and gems and minerals are said to be ‘the perspiration of their flesh’.
Lapis lazuli was particularly prized in ancient Egypt where it was a symbol of resurrection and rebirth. In the fifth dynasty Pyramid Texts, the oldest extant corpus of religious and funerary literature, it is said that:
The King is the Bull with radiance in the midst of his eye, the King’s mouth is hale through the fiery blast and the King’s head through the horns of the Lord of Upper Egypt, the King controls the god, the King has power over the Ennead, the King makes lapis-lazuli grow, … The King has united the heavens…’. Utterance 319 (Davies, ‘The Temple of Hibis in El Khargeh Oasis’ cited in Primaeval Ocean p. 139)
And in the Hibis hymn to Amun, the Ogdoad recite that: ‘his bones are silver, his skin gold, his hair is real lapis lazuli’. Whilst in the Songs of Isis and Nephthys, the two goddesses address their brother Osiris in similar fashion: ‘your hair is of lapis lazuli… your vertebrae … being made of turquoise.’ The ancient Egyptians, whilst poetic in utterance, were also literal. This is correspondence in action: the god in the heavens is made of lapis, and the stone carries the qualities of the god on earth.
The Emerald tablet reiterates a sentiment that is as old as ancient Egypt itself: that the gods can inhabit ‘above’ or ‘below’. Their form may change but their essence does not.
If I live or pass on, I am Osiris.
I enter in and reappear through you.
I decay in you, I grow in you,
I fall down in you….
The gods are living in me for I live and grow in the corn that sustains the Honoured Ones.
Coffin Text 330 c.1759 B.C.E.
He [Ptah] gave birth to the gods,
He made the cities
He established the provincial divisions,
He put the gods in their places of worship,
He fixed their offerings,
He established their shrines,
He made their bodies according to the wishes of their hearts
And so the gods entered into their bodies
Of every kind of wood
Of every kind of stone
Of every kind of clay
Of every kind of thing which grows upon high,
In which they have taken form.
In the ancient world there was a powerful sense of cosmic orientation which is lacking from the modern world. Time and navigation were conducted by the stars and the luminaries, rituals and daily life were ordered by the movement of the sun and the moon. Without modern light pollution, the sky would have been seen as immensely more powerful. Ancient man would have had a sense of ‘wholeness within a great system’ and there would have been a ‘partnership with natural and divine forces’ and, as Rosemary Clark has postulated, ‘one’s role in maintaining [the sense of cosmic orientation] was viewed as true spiritual work.’
Translations can remain garbled at best due, it can be argued, to a lack of understanding of the context on the part of the translator and a misuse of theological language or titles belonging to other cultures. A 1904 translation of The Leyden Papyrus was rendered by serious scholars:
The great god Barzan Boubarzan Narzazouzan Barzabouzah, the sun; send up to me this night thy archangel Zebourthauen; answer with truth, truthfully, without falsehood, without ambiguity [a reflection of the formulaic opening of The Emerald Tablet], for I conjure thee by him who is seated in the flaming vesture on the silver(?) head of the Agathodaemon, the almighty four-faced daemon, the highest darkling and soul-bringing(?) Phox; do not disregard me, but send up speedily in this night an injunction(?) of the god…
Then he speaks with you with his mouth opposite your mouth in truth concerning everything that you wish. When he has finished, and goes away again, you place a tablet of reading(?) the hours upon the bricks and you place the stars upon it and write your purpose(?) on a new roll and place it on the tablet; then he(?) makes your stars appear which are favourable for your purpose(?).
The resulting gobbledegook could, where the second paragraph is concerned, easily be interpreted as an astrological reading or an act of divination – this being one of the so-called ‘magical papyri’ – but could equally well apply to something entirely different.
Astronomy, astrology and heka (magic) were very much one and the same in ancient Egypt. You couldn’t have one without the other. In a book on Egyptian magic, Wallis Budge, gives a list of astrological stones and colours. Given his encyclopaedic knowledge of the wisdom of ancient Egypt, he must have created it from extant lists but, frustratingly, he doesn’t give the source. It’s interesting when we look at this list with modern attributions of birthstones in mind as, even though the stones don’t necessarily correspond, the colour may well do:
|Sun||yellowish or gold-coloured stones|
|Moon||whitish stones, diamond|
|Mercury||stones of neutral tints such as agate|
|Venus||green stones, emerald and some kinds of sapphires|
|Mars||stones of reddish hue, hematite|
|Saturn||black stones, obsidian|
Of this list, only the Moon, Venus and Mars correspond to those in the Alexander Romance, which we’ll be looking at a little later, and the Sun, Saturn and Mars to an intriguing demotic papyrus boringly labelled PGM CX.
In an early Greek lapidary, unfortunately only available in archaic French (Lapidaries Grecs: ‘Damigeron-Evax’ p. 232, translation by Hayley Maund amended by my own suggestions), seven powerful zodiac stones are used as phylacteries for protection. The names are difficult to translate but Aries corresponds to hematite, an ancient Mars’ stone as the planet rules Aries, which correlates with the Mars stone in the Alexander Romance and PGM CX. Interestingly, Aries is the rising sign in the most often postulated chart for Alexander the Great although, unfortunately, no one can be quite certain as to his date or time of birth although there are hints as to the time in the Romance.
|Lapidaries Grecs list|
|Leo||chrysolith [probably Peridot]|
|Virgo||‘Arabic’ (‘like an ivory fossil’] [possibly magnestite)|
|Capricorn||ostracite [possibly onyx]|
The stones for the Seven Circles (celestial orbs) are given as:
|Sun||heliotrope [possibly Bloodstone]|
|Moon||crysolith [possibly peridot]|
|Venus||‘Egyptilla’ (possibly lapis lazuli)|
|Mars||sard (Carnelian, deep blood-red quartz)|
As each planet ‘ruled’ an astrological sign, a connection can be established between the planetary stones and the months. Red, for instance, is both Mars and Aries and Carnelian is one of the traditional Aries birthstones. But there is a red Amethyst, see pic above. Whether, of course, it was known in ancient Egypt is another matter.
Astrological consultations in ancient Egypt
Reading the PGM CX papyrus always sends a shiver down my back. In the Packman translation:
…a voice comes to you speaking. Let the stars be set upon the board (as they are) by nature except for the sun and the moon. And let the sun be golden, the moon silver, Saturn of obsidian, Mars of reddish onyx, Venus lapislazuli veined with gold, Mercury turquoise; let Jupiter be of (whitish?) stone, crystalline (?); and the horoscope, (as it is) by (nature?) … let it lie …
Suggesting that this incomplete papyrus is likely to be a magical spell, Kotansky was of the opinion that it contains instructions for a special kind of astrological divination in which ‘the client participates in an auditory revelation of a god’. It could, however, as James Evans postulates, be the astrologer ‘who is guided by a divine voice in a tropological or anagogic experience that could be facilitated by the use of stones as potent symbols or metaphors for the planets and the divine forces that lay behind or within them depending on how deeply the astrologer and his client penetrated the experience.’ In other words, this is a ritual reading of a horoscope in which the gods descend and make themselves known through the crystals that are laid out on the chart and the astrologer speaks for them. (More of that when we get to the Alexander Romance.) As Evans surmised:
‘An astrological consultation … must have been a psychologically powerful experience. One entered a dark chamber of the temple, illuminated by a flickering lamp… In the small circle of light lay the astrologer’s board… The priest was austere and impressive with the golden seven-rayed star of Serapis on his diadem. He lay aside the sheaf of papyrus planetary tables he has previously consulted, retaining only the sheet on which he had summarized the results of his computations. Then he took out a small amulet casket… Opening it he poured out the coloured stones, engraved with magical signs and the names and images of the planetary gods.
We know that the priests of Serapis used both precious metals and stones in their temple to represent planets as they were astrologers and astronomers. The destruction of the temple in Alexandria was carried out by Christians in 391CE:Writing in AD 402, Rufinus, who may have been witness to some of the events he describes, says that the Serapeum was elevated on an enormous platform, a hundred or more steps high. “In it there was a statue of Serapis so large that its right hand touched one wall and its left the other [built to house only the statue, the temple itself was not very large]; this monster is said to have been made of every kind of metal and wood. The interior walls of the shrine were believed to have been covered with plates of gold overlaid with silver and then bronze, the last a protection for the more precious metals” (Ecclesiastical History, XI.23). On the day that an image of the sun was to be carried into the Serapeum, a small window allowed a ray of sunlight to fall on the lips of the statue in a kiss of renewal. Hidden magnets suspended the image in the air, and the walls were believed to be covered with plates of gold overlaid with silver and then bronze. Clement of Alexandria says that the sculptor of the statue:
Prior to the destruction, consulting a priest in the Serapeum would have been profoundly mystical and anagogic [a mystical interpretation of a word, passage, or text, especially scriptural exegesis that detects allusions to heaven or the afterlife.] PCM CX could be the instructions for a ritual setting out of such a horoscope – which would accord with Packman’s translation. Packman renders the second sentence more literally than Kotansky: ‘Let the stars be set upon the board where (they belong) by nature’ and goes on to suggest that the planets and stars are to be arranged in their acknowledged order in their sphere of origin. Evans surmises that the ‘natural order’ refers to the connection between planet, or luminary, and stone. However, the suggestion could be made by an astrologer looking at the same text that the stars – although planets and luminaries are more appropriate terms – be set out according to their position in the heavens at the time of birth.
“employed in its execution a mixture of various materials. For he had filings of gold, and silver, and lead, and in addition, tin; and of Egyptian stones not one was wanting, and there were fragments of sapphire, and hematite, and emerald, and topaz. Having ground down and mixed together all these ingredients, he gave to the composition a blue colour, whence the darkish hue of the image.”
The piece of writing that has had the most profound effect of anything that I have read is to be found in the ‘biography’ of Alexander the Great, the so-called Alexander Romance. In it Nectanebo, former Pharaoh of Egypt, gives an astrological consultation to Alexander’s mother:
He placed his hand in a fold of his garment and took out an extraordinary little writing tablet, constructed from gold, ivory, ebony and silver, and engraved with three zones. On the first circle were the thirty-six decans, on the second the twelve signs of the zodiac, and on the inner one the Sun and Moon. He put it on a chair. Then he opened a small ivory box, revealing the seven stars and the ascendant made of eight precious stones, which lit up the pictured miniature heaven. The Sun was of crystal, the Moon of diamond, the Mars of haemetite, the Mercury of emerald, the Jupiter of air-stone, the Venus of sapphire, the Saturn of orphite and the pointer of white marble.
Olympias was full of wonder at the precious objects; she … sat down beside him and said: ‘Prophet, cast a nativity for myself and Philip.’… Nectanebo said to her: ‘Put down the hour of your birth, put down that of Philip.’ What else did Nectanebo do? He placed his own nativity next to that of Olympias; then he made some calculations and said to her…..’
You’ll have to attend one of my lectures on divination in ancient Egypt – there’s one coming up at the College of Psychic Studies and another in Bournemouth at the Wessex Ancient Egypt Society – or read the dissertation on my website to fully follow this ancient story of deception, intrigue, adultery, murder and much else besides. But what grabbed my attention was the use of crystals to represent the planets. Something that was clearly an established practice at the time – you can follow the evidence for yourself in my dissertation if you are so inclined.
That practice, together with the Egyptian attribution of stones to the months and days, most probably underlies birthstones. By the time of Pliny it was well established. His most intriguing reference is to Zachalias of Babylon, who wrote several volumes on stones, and who, according to Pliny, ‘attributes man’s destiny to the influence of precious stones’. Pliny, however, gives no further details although it sounds like birthstones to me. (Pliny 37 p.301. Zachalias work is now lost. Zachalias was probably a Jew living in Assyria sometime after the Greek conquest, see John E. Gilmore, ‘Babylonia under the Greeks and Parthians’, English Historical Review Vol. 7, No.25, 1892 p.4 and see John Pollini, ‘The Tazza Farnee: Augusto Imperatore “Redeunt Saturnia Regna!”’, American Journal of Archaeology¸ Vol. 96, No. 2 (April, 1992) pp.283-300.)
I’m too old now to undertake the PhD I promised myself to complete my research. My memory can’t hold all the evidence in one go. But it was a start and hopefully someone else will take it further one day. Someone with the linguistic skills to do their own translations. There is more to the idea of ‘above and below’ though. It has relevance to both crystal healing and the alchemy of personal spiritual development.
This portion is taken directly from my essay, but it says much that is relevant to us today – and links into my Junk DNA blog. At the end of the 20th century, Kutternick-Lewis discussed key relationships between the arts, the cosmos and ‘our place on earth,’ unfolding the interconnectedness between ‘the structures and rhythms in the human body and artistic form.’ In a section entitled As above, So Below’, she pointed out that:
‘man is a cosmos, so is a single cell, and so also is a solar system. The word ‘cosmos’ means order, and the micro- and macro-cosmic worlds obey the laws of harmonics, showing the ‘hand’ of Creative intelligence at work in life…From the apparent world to the sub-atomic, all forms are envelopes for geometric patterns, intervals and relationships.’
This would appear to be correspondence in action in the fullest sense of the Emerald Tablet, and the correspondence of form and harmony within the human body is graphically illustrated by the human genome. Brown, a contemporary astrologer working with the microcosm-macrocosm model, is of the opinion that ‘the emerging discoveries of genomics – the study of the complete set of human genes – are about to shake our personal idealities, much as Copernicus jostled astronomy and Freud shook the psyche.’ He states that the human genome has been defined by Ridley, a geneticist, as ‘coded messages’ and an ‘archive for the storage of evolutionary and hereditary information,’ asserting that a particular environment can act like a switch that turns on a gene just as one gene can activate another. Brown sees this as being like a planetary trigger and postulates that genes have astrological correspondences, there being, for example, a gene on chromosome 11 which, when one or two long copies occur, has ‘been experimentally connected to thrill-seeking, adventurous people who will try almost anything,’ which Brown equates to the fire element, with Aries, Mars or Uranus being strong in an astrological chart. Brown cites Ridley: ‘to leap from this epitome of digital simplicity [the genome] to the complexity of personality sounds impossible. Yet it can now, for the first time, be done. The changes in genetic sequence that lead to changes in character are being found.’ Here, in Brown’s assumption, the microcosm, the gene, affects the macrocosm and creates the human being, and genetic coding could reflect the sky at the moment of birth.
Did you know there’s a ‘running man’ way out in the cosmos too. I was introduced to him by Professor Greg Parker and he now hangs on my wall to inspire me:
The macrocosm – cosmic or human – can be described as a holograph, each tiny piece, the microcosm, reflecting the whole and, it has been postulated by Bohm and Pribam, as potentially reflecting a level of reality ‘so beyond our own it is literally beyond both space and time.’ This reflection between two levels of being is particularly noticeable in research which links both to Elliott and to Kutternick-Lewis in which scientists examining the machinery of a cell have established that molecules of myosin (a biomolecular motor transporting cargo within cells and converting chemical energy into mechanical motion, resulting in muscle contraction) ‘walk’ in a fashion much like a human being.
The macrocosm mimics the microcosm. As Selvin, professor of Physics at the University of Illinois, points out, ‘the cell is a busy place, much like a city where things are constantly moving around.’ The cell is both microcosm and macrocosm depending on the viewpoint.
As are we!
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