What does Kybaleon mean?
The Kybalion first appeared in 1908, published by the Yogi Publication Society, in Chicago, Illinois. The authors called themselves simply “Three Initiates”, yet one of them (or the sole author) is generally believed to have been William Walker Atkinson (1862-1932). He worked as an attorney and a merchant and became of the leaders of the rather occultist New Thought movement. Fittingly enough for a book like this, it is not exactly clear what the word “Kybalion” or κυμβάλειον in Greek is supposed to mean: it may be an adaptation of “Kabbalah”, another form of ancient occult wisdom; however, it is more likely related to κύμβαλον, cembalo, a word which came to design several musical instruments. Since vibration is such an important part of the Hermetic doctrine, it may be the most plausible version.
Who was Hermes Trismegistus?
The Kybalion claims to put to writing for the first time in many centuries the body of Hermetic philosophy, which descended from the teachings of Hermes Trismegistus, an ancient Greek mythical figure, a combination of the Greek god Hermes, the protector of merchants and travellers, and the Egyptian god Thoth, the patron of wisdom and writing.
The body of Hermetic philosophy, the Hermetica, enjoyed respect throughout the centuries, especially within the practitioners of alchemy. Many of these manuscripts were in reality apocriphes. In fact the authors of the The Kybalion do not seem to refer to any particular written source, stressing that Hermetic wisdom has been passed orally within a narrow circle of initiates for centuries (presumably to avoid persecution), although they do not mentioned how and where they were initiative to Hermetic wisdom.
The Age of Science
We live in the age of science and scepticism, where it seems to be difficult to appreciate the occult. The authors say Hermes Trismegistus lived for several centuries and all ancient wisdom, from India and Egypt to Greece, comes from his teachings.
However, it would be wrong to dismiss a book like The Kybalion as an expression of unscientific and hence unworthy of study antiquate mysticism. Certainly many of the principles exposed in this little book are bound to leave baffled a person who has learned to see the world within the boundaries of what is today’s scientific consensus. Yet these boundaries constantly move. And for a number of reasons, mainly practical ones, science cannot give all the answers people need. And sometimes there are just no answers.
Some of the principles expressed in the book do not appear to be in conflict with our contemporary scientific and factual understanding of the world. For other ones, it may be just a matter of interpretations. Some may be more controversial. But in the end, much of the wisdom explained in this book does not seem to depart radically from a more mainstream philosophical tradition. And as experience has shown, the main value of the Kybalion may lie in its power to make people believe that change is everything and that it is possible to change oneself and the world – for the better. And its strength as a motivational and inspiration book is undeniable.