"As above, so below" is part of a declaration engraved on the Emerald Tablet of Hermes. While the origins of this tablet are lost to us, its ideas are said to have been derived from the Mystery-tradition of Thoth, the Egyptian god of wisdom whom the Greeks called Hermes Trismegistus, the "Thrice Greatest." Over the centuries these teachings have inspired the production of great works of art and science, and given the formula by which ordinary metal can be transmuted into gold and human nature into divinity.
While the statement "As above, so below" may seem obvious, its applications and the wisdom and wonders it involves are concealed within the full declaration:
It is true, no lie, certain, to be depended upon: 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 one thing. 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 subtle 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 subtle thing and penetrate every solid thing. By it the world was formed.
Here we are told that what is above and its reflections below are productions of one thing or being. Thus there is no essential difference between opposites such as what is superior and what is inferior, between heaven and earth, past and present, young and old. Each is part of one being, follows the same laws and patterns of behavior, and draws strength from the same source.
Reflecting upon these ideas from "below" (from the vehicular, material side of being), or from "above" (from the spiritual), we discover that at every state in the process of evolutionary unfoldment, the qualities within/above are expressed outwardly. And that every living being, ourselves included, is a "treasure-house" of potential virtue and wisdom which can be drawn upon in time of need - as we know! Under the pressure of disaster, acts of heroism, generosity, and creativity indicate the outflowing of inner potential. This is revealed throughout nature - all following the same law - as was evident after the torrential rains that transformed California's barren Death Valley desert into a colorful garden. The profusion of flowers and insects that had not been seen there for decades demonstrates the abundance that hibernates below the surface of all forms of life.
Acknowledging this inner potential, we gain incentive to seek solutions to otherwise "insurmountable" problems and to look for answers to life's "unanswerable" questions. For example, if we wonder what happens after death, we can examine what happens during sleep, death's twin brother. Or to know how this planet or galaxy came into being, we can examine how we came into being, for the same laws and patterns apply throughout. And how did we come into being? Turning to the ancient Mystery-tradition we learn that at each new birth, the spiritual self, returning from its journey in other states of being, comes bearing the freight of past sowings into the environmental conditions of former associations. Entering this earthly milieu it is drawn to its parents-to-be and upon conception builds, in a most marvelous manner, a body suitable for its present life's purpose. Upon physical birth its growth continues but now under more conscious direction until death frees it from its physical confinement. As we participate in and observe this procedure among flowers, birds, humans, planets, and galaxies, we can but conclude that Hermes was right: one pattern, one law, does prevail throughout.
Or perhaps we are thinking of the future - of what lies ahead for us and mankind. Once again Hermes' axiom sheds light on our questions, reminding us that the future (the greater and unknown) reflects and repeats the past and present (the smaller and known). The energy-seeds of the thoughts and acts we planted in the past will bring us their fruit today and tomorrow. Thus, if we would change our life or that of the earth, if we would create a brighter future and a pleasant after-death sojourn, we need but improve our thoughts here and now.
For those of an analytical mind, "As above, so below" is the law of analogy that has brought into our lives the phenomenal knowledge, progress, and convenience we enjoy today. For the mystical, the message encoded on the Emerald Tablet awakens their souls and leads to the discovery of the mysteries of life, the philosopher's stone, and the elixir of life. These centuries-old phrases hide and reveal esoteric wisdom and the transforming processes of spiritual training and experience which can guide us and help us become one with our inner divinity. This achievement may be referred to as attaining enlightenment, Shambhala, or the Kingdom of Heaven. Anyone who achieves this becomes, as Hermes Trismegistus implies, wise, loving, and joyous in the three worlds - the terrestrial, intellectual, and spiritual - where this great truth, so simple and clear, illumines the mysteries of life.
(From Sunrise magazine, April/May 2006; copyright (c) 2006 Theosophical University Press)