Like most pieces of scripture, the Emerald Tablet has seen many interpretations over time—shaped by different societies during different time periods. While initially viewed literally as a means to turn lead into gold, many now view the fourteen statements as a symbolic guide to the awakening of the human soul. Prominently among them, Dr. Matthew Barnes. WellWell recently spoke with the author of The Emerald Tablet 101: a modern, practical guide, plain and simple, on the true meaning of the text and all it has to offer.
What is the Emerald Tablet?
The Emerald Table is one of the three main works of the ancient Egyptian sage, Hermes Trismegistus, who reached enlightenment during an intense period of meditation. His story is very similar to the stories of Jesus and Buddha, who came later.
When were you first introduced to it?
I was introduced to the work while I was in college. I went through a period of depression at that time, what I refer to as my existential dilemma, and ended up seeking something more out of life. I just had this nagging feeling that I was looking at things the wrong way and missing out on something really important, something that was right under my nose. Several books, including the Emerald Tablet, altered the way I viewed the world, pulling me out of that depression. While I was reading these works, it felt more like I was remembering than learning, as if I already knew what was being explained, I just needed to be reminded. Discovering it was like coming home for me.
Of the fourteen statements of the Emerald Table, which has been most beneficial and impactful to you personally?
I find it very difficult to separate the statements, but if I had to choose, it would come down to two of them. One, “As above, so below,” and two, “All things were by the contemplations of the One, so all things arose from this one thing by a single act of adaption.” In Taoism, it is explained that in the beginning there was nothing but the One; a single, undivided whole. This undivided whole, what many refer to as God, is like some kind of potential energy, some kind of consciousness, that has an innate drive to expand and act and produce. As this potential energy built, as this One thought, its musings came to pass as the material world. Thus was the physical world born of the “contemplation of the One”, “by a single act of adaptation”.
This act of adaptation was the One splitting into two, the male and the female, the yang and the yin, the proton and the electron, out of which our world was created. “As above, so below” reminds me that all that exists is created out of the same substance. Each of us is a unique combination of atoms, which are unique combinations of protons and electrons, which are the two halves of the one whole we refer to as God. The only difference between me, you, the air above us, and the ground below us is the unique clumping and vibrational patterns of our atoms.
Have any of your interpretations of their meanings changed since you were first introduced to it? Is there one you’re still unsure of?
My views have absolutely changed. Actually, change would be too strong of a world. I would say that my views have deepened. I feel that, over time, with further exploration, as I evolve, they make even more sense. The core ideas do not seem to change for me, but the intricacies, the exact connotations, seem to become more vivid. There are not any I really am unsure of. That’s not to say that there aren’t other interpretations out there that are different, yet still valid. That is the beauty of this type of writing. It seems to speak to you at different levels. You find truth in it no matter the level you are at. It’s just that as you ripen and evolve in understanding, the meanings you get from these kinds of writings also shift. It doesn’t make previous interpretations wrong, it just makes them not current, at least to your current level of understanding, which is constantly changing.
Many of the statements relate to the role of truth and power. Be it on a human or spiritual level, how do these principals affect us mentally?
The idea of all spiritual philosophies, in a nutshell, is that we are born at a low level of consciousness. We live the earliest years of our existence under the power of the subconscious mind, which keeps us safe by telling us not to pick up snakes, jump off cliffs, and so on. It also tells us to fear strangers. As we age, our conscious minds take over. We develop the capacity to think for ourselves, not just react. We pull from our experiences and realize that not all snakes are venomous, for example, and that good people exist outside of our immediate family and friends. If we allow ourselves to evolve, we begin taking control of our actions and decisions instead of allowing the subconscious mind to dictate how we live.
Finally, as we enter old age, our minds begin to drift beyond the conscious mind and into the superconscious mind. We begin valuing relationships over fame and fortune. We begin to care not just about ourselves, or our immediate family, and friends, but about all that live and breathe upon the earth. We enter a higher level of consciousness, a higher level of compassion. Reach this point, and a new level of perception opens up. You begin to sense the presence of the Soul of the World, so to speak. This is a journey we all make, each in our own time, each in our own way. Not all who are in the later years of their lives have moved beyond the conscious mind, or even the subconscious mind. Some of us, according to spiritual teachings, take many lifetimes to reach this point. It doesn’t matter. All that matters is that we all get there, eventually. So how do these principles affect us mentally? If we understand the evolution our minds are meant to travel through, we can intentionally speed up its progression.
You’ve noted that the Emerald Tablet is a symbolic guide to the awakening of the human soul, how does it achieve this?
We are all awakening, slowly, over time. As a child you believed in Santa. As an adult you may have believed in the government. Once most of us reach 50, we’ve long since stopped believing in either. The problem is that progress is subtle, it is not always evident that that growth is occurring. We don’t realize we are drifting, and we do not realize what we are drifting towards. The Emerald Tablet, and works like it, bring this evolution we are going through to light, as well as pointing out the destination we are all drifting towards. Knowing our direction, and our destination, allows us to add our intent to the process. It allows us to knowingly begin paddling in the correct direction.
What’re the physical and mental benefits of awaking the human soul in this manner?
The benefits are both material and non-material, practical and spiritual. First, when you understand the journey you are here to make, you feel less lost. Things make sense. You are not just drifting around aimlessly. It gives your life purpose. It gives you something to focus on. You realize why bad things happen, and good things as well: all before you is nothing but a choice to grow beyond your current level of consciousness or remain where you are. Spiritually, as you move from the subconscious operating system of your mind into the conscious operating system, your perception of reality changes.
Most of us do not give much thought to it, but the adult operating system is an entirely different system than that of a child. The superconscious operating system is as different from the conscious operating system as the conscious operating system is form the subconscious one. Reach it, and your level of perception changes again. In a sense, it is subtle. But at the same time, it is anything but subtle. When you begin entering the superconscious operating system, you naturally stop fretting your way through life and start letting it be. You begin to feel a part of the flow of existence. You sense a greater purpose, and realize you are part of it. Lowered stress, along with a realization of your purpose, has beneficial effects on the body and mind.
About Dr. Matthew Barnes
Dr. Matthew Barnes attended the University of North Carolina State, obtaining degrees in Biochemistry and Chemistry before earning a doctorate degree in Chiropractic. Since graduation, he has also attained fellowship degrees in Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine, along with intense Naturopathic studies. He is the author of several books including The Emerald Tablet 101, The Tao Te Ching 101, and Jesus Christ, Zen Master.