If you’re wondering what the word “Kybalion” really means, it’s likely a term cobbled together by the writer, or writers, of this book. It’s probably an amalgamation of the word Kabbalah, the ancient school of Hebrew mysticism, and Cybele, the Greek mother goddess.
So this is suggestive that the information is a mixture of wisdom that has come down through the centuries from more than one tradition. That’s fitting, as the authors say this information is timeless and universal, and remains fundamentally unchanged no matter what culture or historical period it is filtered through.
The authors also claim that this knowledge was given to the rest of humanity by one man,the ancient Egyptian, HERMES TRISMEGISTUS. Was he a real person? No one really knows, but it’s doubtful. At best, most scholars will say he is a “legendary” figure,or perhaps a name which represents a composite of real people who may have existed. The name Hermes Trismegistus is probably derived by combining the name of the Greek god Hermes with the Egyptian god Thoth. Trismegistus itself means "Thrice Knowledgeable." For millennia, Hermes Trismegistus has been associated with what is known as “hermetic knowledge” or the tradition of HERMETICISM.
But now let’s get back to who wrote THE KYBALION. We know it was published in 1912. The authors are only identified as "The Three Initiates." No one knows for absolute sure who the author or authors were, but I would hazard that there is some 95% certainty that it was mostly the work of one man: WILLIAM ATKINSON. He may have had help from a couple of other guys, Paul Case and Elias Gurwurz. (Thus the Three Initiates).
But the primary thrust behind The Kybalion is almost certainly Atkinson -- a shadowy, mercurial man who is known to have authored at least 100 books similar to this one. He was also an attorney and businessman who seemed to have an unending supply of ambition and energy, not only to produce a huge body of esoteric literature, but also worked robustly at a successful legal career. He was born in Baltimore, Maryland in 1862 and died in 1932.
Atkinson and his fellows were the New Agers of their day. They were at the vanguard of something called NEW THOUGHT – which is comparable to what New Age folks are talking about today – and mostly it’s a lot of the same stuff. This is the kind of information that has been around for centuries, and probably thousands of years, and it keeps re-emerging and getting recycled time again in a new package in every century and culture.
So does this mean that the information in The Kybalion represents genuine ancient wisdom that is universal, undying and something which we should take seriously? Can it have real application in our daily lives? Is it something we should pay attention to and strive to adopt as part of our own philosophies today? Or is is merely a cheapy pulp document -- one of dozens churned out by by an early 20th Century rascal who had a reputation as an "occultist?"
There’s no easy answer to these questions. In a general, my own view is that the information presented in The Kybalion is not necessarily false or useless – or even mere superstition – but at the same time, it does not hurt to approach it all with a certain level of healthy pragmatism, and to ask ourselves: “Okay, so what can I really do with this information, if anything?”
For example, one of the primary tenets of the wisdom of Hermes Trismegistus is that the universe we exist within is a “thought form,” or as they put it, “The Principle of Mentalism … The All Is Mind… The Universe Is Mental.”
That would be counter to the most common, scientific mainstream belief today which holds that the universe should be considered fundamentally material, made up of solid matter, and that “mental thoughts” are something less definite. Our mental thoughts are only ideas about or are a reflection that results from confronting all that solid material stuff out there.
True, even some of today’s most hardened scientists might come down somewhere in between pure materialism and a pure "Thought Universe" conception -- especially since the advent of quantum mechanics, which has shown that Isaac Newton’s world of classical physics – the billiard ball universe – is not quite as solid, hard or “dead” as we once may have thought it was.
But, anyway, what can we do with this principle today – the idea that we live in a universe that is fundamentally a “mental construct” of some kind?
Well, the implications are many. This idea of mental constructs has generated thousands of New Age books, or greater or lesser quality. Take the recent mega-bestseller “The Secret,” for example. This book suggests that anyone can have anything he or she wants – including fabulous wealth – if they only realize that everything is ultimately mental, and that we can shape our own reality with our thoughts.
No doubt, tens of thousands of people who read The Secret gave it their best shot – they tried to visualize and conjure up stacks of cash for themselves, maybe a Cadillac or a new Porsche, or a nice new home – only to find out that these material objects don’t seem to materialize quite as readily as the theory suggests they should.
The point is, even if we accept the idea that the universe is “mental” or just one big thought form – it clearly is not as easy as it seems to act on that knowledge in a way that will improve our lives, or change our lives, at least in terms of material wealth.
This doesn’t mean that the idea of purely Mental Universe is worthless – it might even be true! – it's just that, what can do we do with that knowledge, and how can it help us, or can it help us change our world for the better? These are tricky questions.
So the bottom line is, you can look upon the information in The Kybalion in a variety of different ways. The case can easily be made that this document is yet another clever New Age hack job put together by a shadowy figure like William Atkinson as a great way to make money in publishing – or you can make the case that this is truly timeless, universal wisdom that certainly has been reiterated for thousands of years.
The very fact that this kind of information has stood the test of time should not be taken lightly -- it suggests something about the universal mythologies human beings cling to, century after century. (And I use the term mythology loosely). That makes it important.
However: The actual application of this ancient wisdom in a way that can make a real difference in your life is not something that is easily done, even if you understand it intellectually.
Join Ken Korczak in: THE STRANGE UNIVERSE OF DR. 58