Did Sir Isaac Newton's study of the Emerald Tablets influence his Laws of Motion and Universal Gravitation?
firstly, lets travel back in time to Ancient Egypt. You're in a hidden cave beneath the pyramid of Cheops.
Creeping through a dark narrow passage you find the entrance to a secret chamber. You crawl in and find an old corpse slumped on a magnificent golden throne clasping something in his arms. Getting up close, you blow away the dust and a blazing green glass tablet etched with mysterious symbols sparkles in the low light.
You have just relived the 7th century discovery of the legendary Emerald Tablet of Thoth. Said to be imbued with deeply transmutational and transformative esoteric powers, this glassy green Egyptian tablet is said to have featured highly detailed bas-relief lettering similar in structure to ancient Phoenician languages.
The cultural and historical importance of this iconic mystical artifact cannot be over stated. It is the bedrock upon which all systems of esoterica, alchemy, mysticism, gnosticism, hermeticism, astrology, black magic and witchcraft, were built.
Although the original author of the Emerald Tablet is debated almost every scholar agrees that alchemy originated in pre-pharaonic Egypt during the First-Time or Zep Tepi. Legends tell that the god Thoth gave to the people an advanced technology which let them transform matter at will - alchemy.
THE EMERALD TABLET and alchemy
Many, if not most modern authors claim the Emerald Tablet was created and written by Thoth, an Atlantean Priest-King who had manifested as Hermes Trismegistus around 36,000 B.C.E.
More in line with reality however, the Tablet is first mentioned in the 7th century Smaragdine Tablet which claimed the author was Hermes Trismegistus or "Hermes the Thrice-Greatest", a Hellenistic combination of the Greek god Hermes and the Egyptian god Thoth, father of Occult Wisdom, the founder of Astrology and the discoverer of Alchemy.
A volume of this work, the title of which translates to The Book of the Secret of Creation and the Art of Nature, is attributed to Balinas who lived around the eighth century and first claimed the Tablet contained ancient Hermetic wisdom. It is also he who allegedly discovered the chamber below a statue of Hermes in Tyana, with the corpse on a golden throne clutching the Emerald Tablet .Top ranking Jewish mystics firmly believe Seth, the son of the Biblical Adam, kept the texts and that they were passed onto Noah who took them aboard his ark.
After 40 days and nights the waters receded and Noah is said to have hidden the Emerald Tablets deep in a cave near Hebron, where they were later discovered by Abraham’s wife Sarah. Another faction of Jewish scholars claim Abraham’s son Hermes gave the tablets to Moses’s daughter Miriam, who in turn placed them in the Ark of the Covenant where they remain today. Thus, parallels are drawn between the commandments Moses placed in the Ark and the Emerald Tablet, raising questions as to whether the foundational structure of Christianity originated in part from this ancient esoteric Egyptian tablet.
The Tablet had such an impact on the minds of histories greatest philosophers, esotericists and mystical thinkers, that it became the esoteric industry standard for every medieval and later renaissance system of alchemy.
The fourteenth century alchemist Hortulanus wrote The Secret of Hermes in which he presented the Tablet as cryptic puzzle using deck-words (coded terms) describing ancient laboratory processes. It was in sixteenth century that Johannes Trithemius took a more literal approach, equating Hermes' one thing with the monad of pythagorean philosophy and this new method of interpretation opened up an untapped universe of magical potential. This particular alchemical work can be regarded as a catalyst in the rise of the esoteric age of the Tablet, and Hortulanus was regarded as having unlocking the inner, inner levels of esoterica contained within the Tablet.
Essentially, and not without a sense of irony, The Emerald Tablet transmuted itself from a mystical corpus on laboratory experimentation, to a Hermetic text which was later adopted and developed by members of the Alchemical Hall of fame such as John Dee, Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa and Gerhard Dorn. Building on the works of these medieval alchemists, endless commentaries and translations were later made by Roger Bacon, Trithemius, Michael Maier, Aleister Crowley, Albertus Magnus and of course Isaac Newton.
Incidentally, a future article is this series will be entitled Alchemical Hall of Fame, in which I have composed a timeline of esoteric thinkers and what their mystical thinking has added to practical sciences.
NEWTON AND THE EMERALD TABLET
The Emerald Tablet is said to hold the secret of the philosophers stone, with which transmutation can be instigated. To an alchemist, the philosophers stone was the secret chemical composition or catalyst which could successfully turn base metals, like lead, into gold. But on the flip side of alchemy, transmutation also occurs within the alchemist. After years of mind expanding esoteric thinking processes, they claimed to have undergone significant psychological changes, most often manifesting in positive spiritual growth and a deeper understanding of the nature of the universe.
To a casual observer the content of the Emerald Tablet is just more pre-scientific mystical gibberish, but to the trained scientific eye it is a coded chart of chemical information relating to the transformation of physical objects through laboratory processes. All of the hundreds of thousands of mystical alchemical symbols essentially represent the practical skills and trade knowledge required to extract metal oars from different types of stones, mixing amalgams and distilling spirits. The mystification of metallurgy, hands on alchemy, is similar to the way that the organisational structure of Freemasonry, and its rituals and symbols, are the mystification of ancient stonemasons craft secrets and building skills.
In prehistory, the processes of manipulating and transforming stones and metals were of great value and so that uninitiated people couldn't mimic these arts, they were symbolised and passed down from Master Alchemist to Adepts (students seeking a higher purpose). But these practical origins were to become corrupted in the middle ages when alchemy evolved into a greatly esoteric quest involving the search for the internal philosophers stone, and the ability to transmute base consciousness into gold.
A great example, in mythology, of the prehistoric secrets of extracting oars from stones and blending them to create new materials is found the Legend of King Arthur. These apparently magical, metallurgical processes, were deemed as so important that they were paralleled with the most sacred moment, at the appointing of a "rightful King."
Merlin was an alchemist who knew the secret of drawing metal from a rock. It could be said with the passing of time the age of the true Alchemists gave way to a new breed of magician - the charlatans.
An aspect of alchemy not often discussed is how the organisation had cleverly climbed its way to the highest social ranks, and in the 16th century every Royal Court in Europe had a team of alchemists on their payroll. If a king could learn the secret of producing gold he could threaten to flood the market with gold, effectively having the power to collapse nations.
On an esoteric level, so many people have spent a lifetime ruminating upon the powers of the Emerald Tablet. Now imagine a mind like Newton's pushing a solid 190 IQ, arguably the most intelligent mind ever born in the history if mankind. He must have found the Emerald Tablet extraordinarily stimulating as it offered him an infinite mind-scape of potential discoveries both in this world, and in all the other dimensions which he frequented.
It can be speculated that the Emerald Tablet greatly shaped Newton’s world/universal view, because of its direct association with the creation of the legendary philosophers stone, which Newton wrote about extensively in his unpublished works. Furthermore, the Tablet was associated with laboratory experimentation, phase transition, the alchemical magnum opus, the classical element system and the correspondence between macro and microcosm. Newton experimented with all of these concepts in both his university mathematics, physics and optics experiments, and during his extra curricular alchemical pursuits.
Newton wrote about the most celebrated of all the alchemical allegories - the quest of the Philosopher's Stone as the hunting of the Green Lion.
The green lion represents the First Matter of the Great Work. These are the raw materials required by laboratory alchemists to perform the transmutation of matter: salt, sulphur, and mercury in their crude states. In spiritual alchemy, it represents natural man in his wild wholeness and it is green because its hidden esoteric powers are yet undeveloped.
The lion represents strength, fierceness, and virility. Alchemists believed it was not by educating the lamb, but by hunting and taming the wild lion within, full of ardour and courage, exhibiting heroic qualities on the sensual plane, that the Great Work is achieved. The Great Work being both the production of gold from lead, and the penultimate level of spiritual existence. It means a lot more, but thats the drift.
As Newton matured he turned his back on the Catholic Church for their “blatant corruption of the Trinity” and the Tablet would have served as a perfect Biblical alternative, an esoteric fulcrum to focus both his cosmological outlook and developing universal models. The Tablet was a perfect platform for Newton to develop both his laboratory experimentation and his personal alchemical transmutation towards enlightenment. In Michael White’s excellent book Isaac Newton:The Last Sorcerer, 1997, he perfectly summarise Newton's alchemical otherworldly beliefs:
"Newton was motivated by a deep-rooted commitment to the notion that alchemical wisdom extended back to ancient times. The Hermetic tradition -- the body of alchemical knowledge -- was believed to have originated in the mists of time and to have been given to humanity through supernatural agents."
Last week I published an article about Newton's second-life as Europe’s leading Alchemist (opposite) in which I explained that he spent over 50 years seeking a date for armageddon within ancient Bibles, esoteric texts and within the measurements and proportions of Solomon’s Temple. During my research I made two side observations which have become the crux of his article. I'm sure you'll agree that even if they are slightly correct, I have identified the inspiration for Newton's Three Laws of Motion and Gravity.
This is Newton’s translation of the Emerald Tablet which was found among his alchemical papers that are currently housed in King's College Library, Cambridge University.
1. Tis true without error, certain & most true.
2. That which is below is like that which is above & that which is above is like that which is below to do the miracles of one only thing.
3. And as all things have been & arose from one by the mediation of one: so all things have their birth from this one thing by adaptation.
4. The Sun is its father, the moon its mother, the wind hath carried it in its belly, the earth is its nurse.
5. The father of all perfection in the whole world is here.
6. Its force or power is entire if it be converted into earth.
7. Separate thou the earth from the fire, the subtle from the gross sweetly with great industry.
8. It ascends from the earth to the heaven & again it descends to the earth & receives the force of things superior & inferior.
9. By this means you shall have the glory of the whole world
10. & thereby all obscurity shall fly from you.
11. Its force is above all force. For it vanquishes every subtle thing & penetrates every solid thing.
12. So was the world created.
13. From this are & do come admirable adaptations whereof the means (or process) is here in this. Hence I am called Hermes Trismegist, having the three parts of the philosophy of the whole world.
14. That which I have said of the operation of the Sun is accomplished & ended.
I am a sceptic by nature but I have no alternative than to offer subjective support to the claim that the Emerald Tablet has transformative properties. Over the last two decades I have witnessed my personal notions and interpretations transmute, transform and develop, as I myself have matured. However, I temper this with the thought that if I had set out to learn chess, after 20 years I would read infinitely deeper into the game than when I was first presented with the puzzle.
Exactly how words and sentences affect human psychological process has been written by wiser, and way better marketeers than I, and I fear such a course of enquiry will only distract us from the flow of this article. I must leave it to you, the reader, to decided whether to bite this forbidden fruit or to leave it alone. Lets now return to the story and look closer at two particular sentences in Newton’s translation of the Emerald Tablet:
LINE 10: “Its force is above all force. For it vanquishes every subtle thing and penetrates every solid thing.”
Pop culture tells us that Newton conceived the concept of gravity after an apple fell on his head. Last weeks article re-interpreted this story as a metaphor similar to Eve in the garden of Eden. Both Newton and Eve ate forbidden fruits from the tree of knowledge and gained forbidden esoteric knowledge. But two decades before he conceived gravity, he had spent many months carefully analysing and translating these fourteen magically imbued sentences.
Read the 10th line again, but this time think about the word gravity as you read. Do you see how clearly and simply every word describes and defines a concept, which evolved in Newton's mind, and after several decades of development he named this force - gravity? In addition to this observation Newton’s translation of the 12th line is no less revealing:
LINE 12: “Hence I am called Hermes Trismegist, having the three parts of the philosophy of the whole world.”
Having translated this sentence, and being convinced of the primal universal knowledge imbued within it, it becomes less of a mystery that later in his life Newton would find a three part solution to quantify the mechanical nature of the entire universe with his three Laws of Motion.
NEWTON'S universal SECRETs
Based upon this subjective evidence, I feel safe to speculate that Newton sensed the answers to the grand universal puzzle might be found in the Emerald Tablet. My working hypothesis finds support in a singular letter which Isaac Newton wrote to fellow alchemist Robert-Boyle urging him to keep "high silence" in publicly discussing the principles of alchemy:
“There are other things besides the transmutation of metals which none but they understand."
Newton seems to have been convinced that within the folds of alchemy, and the Emerald tablet in particular, the answers might be found to the big outstanding questions at that time. He answered all the big questions in science after translating the Emerald Tablet and transmuting his alchemical ideas into fixed physical Laws, by which we now navigate time and space. Further supporting my assertion that Newton drew inspiration for his scientific laws from the Emerald Tablets, B.J.T. Dobbs said in his best selling book The Foundations of Newton's Alchemy (Cambridge University Press, 1984):
"The fact that Newton never published a work on alchemy cannot be taken to mean that he knew he had failed [at the Great Work]. On the contrary, it probably means that he had enough success to think that he might be on the track of something of fundamental importance and so had good reason for keeping his 'high silence.'"
And again in his famous work Opticks Newton made a blatantly esoteric statement relating to alchemical transmutations that is enough to make modern scholars cringe:
ARE NOT GROSS BODIES AND LIGHT CONVERTIBLE INTO ONE ANOTHER; AND MAY NOT BODIES RECEIVE MUCH OF THEIR ACTIVITY FROM THE PARTICLES OF LIGHT WHICH ENTER INTO THEIR COMPOSITION? THE CHANGING OF BODIES INTO LIGHT, AND LIGHT INTO BODIES, IS VERY CONFORMABLE TO THE COURSE OF NATURE, WHICH SEEMS DELIGHTED WITH TRANSMUTATIONS.
It is highly probable that Sir Isaac Newton underwent the legendary transformative process the Emerald Tablet is said to instigate. After translating it, his mind, which must have previously been previously full of chaotic, shapeless, cosmic fantasies transmuted and yielded his universal dynamics and Laws of Motion and Gravity. It would appear that the mathematics and physics by which which we send rockets into space, measure time, speed and direction, and the way we reason with why we don't float up to the sky when we jump, are based on fourteen magical messages carved on a glassy green ancient Egyptian tablet.
For more reasons than I care to list, I really hope this is in fact the case.
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