As Above So Below

The Hermetic Principle

Few phrases have become as synonymous with occultism as “as above, so below” and various versions of the phrase. As a part of esoteric belief, there are many applications and specific interpretations of the phrase, but many general explanations can be given for the phrase.

Hermetic Origin

The phrase comes from a Hermetic text known as the Emerald Tablet. The Hermetic texts are almost 2000 years old and have been incredibly influential in occult, philosophical and religious views of the world throughout that period. In Western Europe, they gained prominence in the Renaissance, when large numbers of intellectual works were introduced and re-introduced to the area after the Middle Ages.

The Emerald Tablet

The oldest copy we have of the Emerald Tablet is in Arabic, and that copy claims to be a translation of Greek. To read it in English requires translation, and deep theological, philosophical and esoteric works are often difficult to translate. As such, different translations phrase the line differently. One such reads, “That which is below is as that which is above, and that which is above is as that which is below, to perform the miracles of the one thing.”

Microcosm and Macrocosm

The phrase expresses the concept of microcosm and macrocosm: that smaller systems – particularly the human body – are miniature versions of the larger universe. By understanding these smaller systems, you can understand the larger, and vice versa. Studies such as palmistry connected different part of the hand to different celestial bodies, and each celestial body has its own sphere of influences over things connected to it.

This also reflects the idea of the universe being composed of multiple realms (such as the physical and the spiritual) and that things that happen in one reflect upon the other. But doing various things in the physical world, you can purify the soul and become more spiritual. This is the belief behind high magic.

Eliphas Levi's Baphomet

There is a wide variety of symbols included in Levi's famous image of Baphomet, and much of it has to do with duality. The hands pointing up and down imply “as above, so below,” that in these two opposites there is still union. Other dualities include the light and dark moons, the male and female aspects of the figure, and the caduceus.

The Hexagram

Hexagrams, formed from the uniting of two triangles, is a common symbol of the unity of opposites. One triangle descends from above, bringing spirit to matter, while the other triangle stretches upward from below, matter elevating into the spiritual world.

Eliphas Levi's Symbol of Solomon

Here, Levi incorporated the hexagram into an entwined figure of two images of God: one of light, mercy and spirituality, and the other darkness, material and vengeance. It is further united by a servant clutching its own tail, the ouroboros. It is a symbol of infinity, and it encloses the entwined figures. God is everything, but to be everything he must be the light and the dark.

Robert Fludd's Universe as Reflection of God

Here, the created world, below, is depicted as a reflection of God, above. They are the same yet mirror opposites. By understanding the image in the mirror you can learn abut the original.


The practice of alchemy is rooted in Hermetic principles. Alchemists attempt to take common, coarse, material things and transform them into spiritual, pure and rarefied things. Allegorically, this was often described as turning lead into gold, but the actual purpose was spiritual transformation. This is the “miracles of the one thing” mentioned in the hermetic tablet: the great work or magnum opus, the full process of transformation that separates the physical from the spiritual and then reunites them into a fully harmonious whole.