Medieval alchemists followed the belief, “Quod est superius est sicut quod inferius, et quod inferius est sicut quod est superius. Meaning, “That which is above is like to that which is below, and that which is below is like to that which is above.” This belief is often shortened to, “as above, so below.”
Medieval alchemists—and mystics as well—believed in dualistic separations such as body/soul, earth/heaven, secular/eternal. The idea was that a minute study of this world and its properties revealed some—perhaps someday all—of the mysteries of the heavens above and the mind of god. This dualistic way of thinking also led to such dangerous and damaging distinctions as superior/inferior and male/female.
Yet for all their dualistic confusion, the alchemists and mystics of the age did advance the human understanding of nature.
In other words, they were right even though they were wrong. No, there is nothing that exists called “soul” or “heaven” except in metaphors. Yet, they were right: as above, so below. It really is the same all around, and there’s no above and no below. Only an . . . incredible, awesome cosmos to embrace in—as the poet William Blake put it,
To see a World in a Grain of Sand
And a Heaven in a Wild Flower
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand
And Eternity in an hour
Ralph Waldo Emerson asked: “Is it not better to intimate our astonishment as we pass through this world if it be only for a moment ere we are swallowed up in the yeast of the abyss? I will lift up my hands and say Kosmos.”
Yeast. Cosmos. Abyss. World: As above, so below. If you’re not amazed, you’re not watching.