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The alchemists attempted to perfect the One Thing of Hermes, which they called the First Matter, by using specific physical, psychological, and spiritual techniques that they described in chemical terms and demonstrated in laboratory experiments.
However, while the alchemistic philosophers spoke in terms of chemicals, furnaces, flasks, and beakers, they were really talking about the changes taking place within their own bodies, minds and souls.
Thought in their public writings the alchemists always scrambled the order of the steps of transformation, the Emerald Tablet presents them in their original order. The tablet, which seemed to contain a recipe for the perfection of anything; was the cookbook that guided the alchemists through their experiments.
As the first chemists, the alchemists believed they could harness the forces described in the tablet and actually transmute lead into gold in their laboratories. But there was one big difference between the alchemists and modern chemists:The alchemists believed their own state of consciousness would somehow affect the final outcome of their experiments, that the purity of their own souls was a factor in perfecting the metals. For that reason, they worked as much on themselves as they did with their chemicals.
As the first psychologists, the alchemists identified a mixture of seven metals, or mental traits, that were responsible for an individual's "temperament".The transmutation of these base metals into gold was the perfection of their personalities, and, as mystics, they meditated frequently, exposing their very souls to the processes of alchemy.
Actually, the alchemists always had two laboratories in which they worked. One was the laboratory of beakers and smelly chemicals in which they sought physical perfection. The other was an inner laboratory, a quiet place the alchemist created within himself, a place of no confusion where the Work could proceed on his soul.
So alchemy was never just an intellectual exercise or an artificial discipline. Alchemists were intimately involved in their experiments and believed their thoughts and feelings were actual forces that could influence the results. It is a view of the power of consciousness, the crucial relationship between observer and experiment, which some quantum physicists have only recently accepted.
The Emerald Tablet is a Rosetta Stone for deciphering the alchemists' secret manuscripts. Their entire art was based on the principles it contained, and they followed the operations it described with religious zeal. In fact, in the so-called "Grail" layouts of the Emerald Tablet, in which the words were arranged in the shape of a chalice, the place where one grasps the Holy Chalice contains all seven steps. These seven operations are truly at the heart of both the tablet and the discipline of alchemy.
From the Nag Hammadi scrolls, discovered in 1945; it was learned that the followers of Hermes were practicing the Seven Steps of Transformation in their initiation ceremonies well before the third century. The probationary period began with the Lesser Mysteries, which were public lessons in the Hermetic texts and correct behavior in light of them. If the initiate progressed to the Greater Mysteries, he began an experiential journey through the seven planets.
By applying the operations of the alchemists, the initiate was able to overcome each of the planetary restrictions to return to the stars and be reborn as the true Self hidden in the soul, which is part of the Signature of God in each of us. Having conquered the planetary archetypes, the initiate became the adept, one who is skilled in the operations of alchemy. Next were oral teachings in a one-on-one setting in which the adept experience a profound alteration of consciousness and beheld the Hermetic truths directly. At this point, the adept became the Master.
From the Book "The Emerald Tablet"
The Emerald Tablet: Alchemy for Personal Transformation
by Dennis William Hauck
The Emerald Tablet--an ancient document that contains the essence of the alchemical teachings--has had an important influence on many Western spiritual and religious traditions. Ostensibly concerned with turning base metals into gold, alchemy was in fact dedicated to transforming the lead of self into the gold of spirit.