Print Friendly, PDF & Email

The Kybalion, a book allegedly outlining the principles of Hermetic philosophy, was as a foundational text in the New Thought movement and has influenced many spiritual and metaphysical thinkers and writers in the 20th century and beyond. However, its authenticity as a representation of Hermetic philosophy has been a matter of debate among scholars and practitioners alike. While some argue that the teachings in the book accurately reflect the principles of Hermeticism as they were passed down through the ages, others claim that the book is a 20th-century creation that only loosely draws on Hermeticism and other mystical traditions. It is important to note that there are some similarities between real Hermetic philosophy and the pseudo-Hermetic ideas presented in the Kybalion. Both emphasize the idea of correspondence, which is the belief that everything in the universe is interconnected and that there is a correspondence between different levels or planes of existence. Both also emphasize the idea that there is a connection between the microcosm (human beings) and the macrocosm (the universe as a whole). Additionally, both suggest that knowledge is key to achieving spiritual enlightenment. However, it is important to note that the relationship between real body of Hermetic philosophy and the ideas presented in the Kybalion is a matter of debate, as the latter text comes from a different historical and cultural context and is not necessarily reflective of the true traditions of Hermeticism.

Dubious Authorship

The Kybalion claims to be written by the “Three Initiates,” who are believed to have been invented by William Atkinson, a lawyer and prominent member of the New Thought movement in the early 20th century. It is unclear whether any of these individuals had any direct knowledge of ancient Hermetic teachings or if they (i.e. Atkinson) simply used Hermeticism as a framework to market their own spiritual ideas. Despite the debate around its authenticity, the Kybalion still had a significant impact on modern esoteric and spiritual movements and is widely regarded as a foundational text in the Western mystical tradition. One of the unique aspects of the Kybalion is its emphasis on the power of thought and mental transmutation. And it could be said that the book’s clear and simplified (even if somewhat oversimplified) presentation of Hermetic principles may serve as a framework for further study and contemplation. The book’s emphasis on the power of thought and the interconnectedness of the universe may also resonate with individuals interested in practical applications of metaphysical principles. However, it’s important to note that the Kybalion is not a comprehensive or authoritative representation of Hermeticism and students who delve deeper into Hermetic philosophy may find that the Kybalion’s interpretation of certain concepts falls short or misses important nuances. Therefore, the Kybalion can be seen as a starting point for exploration rather than a definitive source for learning about Hermeticism.

Assessing the Kybalion’s Relationship to Hermetic Philosophy

One key aspect of Hermetic philosophy the Kybalion touches on is the concept of correspondence. The Kybalion states that there is a harmony, agreement, and correspondence between the several planes of Manifestation, Life, and Being. This idea is echoed in the Asclepius, 4: “All earthly things are images, reflections, of their eternal forms within God, and in this sense, the world is an image of God.” Similarly, the Hermetic view of correspondence sees all aspects of existence as interconnected and in harmony with each other. This view holds that the microcosm reflects the macrocosm, that human beings are a reflection of the divine, and that the natural world is a reflection of the spiritual. The Hermetic emphasis on correspondence highlights the interconnectedness of all things and the importance of understanding these connections in order to achieve a deeper understanding of the universe and one’s place within it.

In terms of mentalism, the Kybalion also emphasizes the power of thought and the idea that everything in the universe is a mental construct. This view is similar to the Hermetic idea that the mind is a powerful tool and that mental states can have a significant impact on one’s experience of reality. The Hermetic view of mentalism suggests that the thoughts and beliefs of humans can shape their reality and that through the power of the mind, one can achieve spiritual growth and transformation. However, Hermetic philosophy also emphasizes the importance of attaining experiential knowledge of divinity. The central preoccupation of the Hermetica is to bring the reader to the praise and worship of the supreme God, who is “not visible [i.e. knowable], but evident within the visible.” The overarching concern of the Hermetists was “the ultimate cause of the universe, God, and therefore the aim of all their discussions on cosmology and creation was to bring the reader or listener through admiration of the cosmos to the adoration of and mystical union with the supreme God.” Hermetic philosophy is centered on the experiential knowledge of divinity, whereas the Kybalion is focused on the intellectual understanding of the principles of universal law and the practice of mental transmutation. The Kybalion’s emphasis on mental transmutation is at odds with the Hermetic emphasis on attaining gnosis through ecstatic union with the divine.

The Universe: Not So Black-and-White

Nick Farrell has written two articles on the topic of the Kybalion and the Hermetic principles. In the first article, Why the Kybalion Should Not Be Taken Seriously, Farrell argues that while the Kybalion has influenced many occultists’ thinking, its ideas are not absolute laws of the universe. Farrell notes that the New Thought movement was based on the idea that visualization and positive thinking can transform one’s existence. Farrell holds that this idea, along with the seven principles of the Kybalion, should not be taken at face value, and that the universe may use exceptions and “get out clauses” to bypass these rules. In the second article, Farrell provides his account of what the real Hermetic Principles are. He argues that these principles are far more than seven and cannot be found in the Kybalion. According to Farrell, the Hermetic principles include ideas such as the unity of God, the use of symbols and numbers to connect the universe, and the power of imagination as a tool to travel through all realms.

In The Kybalion’s New Clothes: An Early 20th Century Text’s Dubious Association with Hermeticism, published in the Journal of the Western Mystery Tradition in 2013, Nicholas Chapel explores the questionable association between the Kybalion and Hermeticism, arguing that the text is not a representation of genuine Hermetic philosophy but rather a mishmash of New Thought ideas mixed with the ancient Hermetica, and ultimately the product of marketing efforts by its anonymous author and subsequent publishers. After presenting a thorough case for Atkinson authorship, Chapel goes on to explore the differences and similarities between ancient Hermetic philosophy and the Kybalion.

Spiritual Transformation: Beyond Binary Oppositions

One example of a Hermetic teaching that is sometimes criticized in the Kybalion as being oversimplified is the principle of polarity. The Kybalion states that everything in the universe has two opposing poles, such as hot and cold or love and hate, which are actually just two extremes on the same continuum. It goes on to suggest that the “secret” of working with this principle is to “transmute” or change oneself from one pole to the other. However, some Hermeticists argue that this interpretation of polarity is overly simplistic and misses important subtleties. They point out that polarity is not just a matter of opposites on a spectrum but also involves complex interactions between multiple forces and dimensions.

Additionally, some argue that the idea of “transmuting” oneself from one pole to another oversimplifies the process of spiritual growth and transformation. Such a transformation is more complex than simply changing one’s thoughts or emotions and requires a comprehensive approach that involves all aspects of the self. Therefore, while the principle of polarity is an important aspect of Hermetic philosophy, some Hermeticists find that the Kybalion’s treatment of it as a straightforward principle can be limiting and fails to capture the full depth and complexity of the idea. In contrast, the Hermetic view of polarity is much more nuanced and multifaceted than the simplified version presented in the Kybalion. It is a fundamental principle that affects all aspects of existence and requires a more comprehensive understanding than the binary opposition between two extremes.

Reimagining Ancient Philosophy: Embracing Paradoxical Thinking?

On the other hand, esoteric author Mitch Horowitz argues that The Kybalion, even though it is not “real” Hermeticism or a commentary on ancient Hermetic philosophy, it is still valuable due to its combination of Hermetic philosophy with modern metaphysics. Horowitz also suggests that the rejection of the Kybalion as fraudulent or compromised was due to the Western habit of binary thinking and misunderstanding of how ideas get passed on through oral tradition. Instead, he suggests that we should view it as a valuable time capsule of a distant, ancient past, and that the ability to sustain paradox is a crucial marker of maturity on the spiritual or ethical path. He even suggests that we can benefit from parallel insights from ancient and modern ideas in spirituality, psychology, and the sciences, and that the distant voices of the ancients can help us on our path today.

All things considered, while the Kybalion may be a helpful and accessible introduction to the principles of Hermetic philosophy, it should be seen as a starting point for exploration rather than a definitive source for learning about Hermeticism. Serious students of Hermeticism should dive deeper into ancient texts like the Corpus Hermeticum to gain a comprehensive understanding of the philosophy. Considering the discrepancies between the two bodies of work, and with all the books and articles that have been written on the subject, perhaps the time has come to update and revise the Kybalion? By removing references to New Thought ideology, updating sections that diverge from Hermetic philosophy, and incorporating a more comprehensive understanding of Hermetic principles, an updated version of the text could possibly serve as a more accurate springboard for sincere lay-students of Hermetic philosophy. This could help to provide a more consistent and accessible representation of Hermetic philosophy for contemporary readers, while also honoring the rich and complex history of this ancient tradition.

2 Replies to “The Seven Laws of The Kybalion: Timeless Wisdom, or New Thought Nonsense?”

  1. Are you kidding me? Who are these “scholars and experts”?? I’ve studied that book for years, and it’s helped me understand so much about the universe and my place in it. Who cares who wrote it? The principles are universal and have helped countless people on their spiritual journey. You “scholars” can argue all you want, but to me, the Kybalion will always be a fountain of wisdom.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *