Netflix’s German-language time-travel series Dark was a huge hit across the globe after it premiered on the streaming video service in December 2017. With its intricate storyline and exploration of characters in multiple timelines, Dark has been hailed as a modern science fiction masterpiece. But, if we take a closer look at the themes in the show, it becomes apparent that the plotline of Dark may have a more esoteric, occult core.
Spoilers for Dark follow
Certainly, a more supernatural feel developed late in the series, with the growing role of the mysterious priest ‘Noah’, who talks in Biblical terms about beginnings and ends and how he is creating a new ‘ark’ for humanity. But there were earlier clues that this wasn’t just a straight up science fiction series – and a number of the most important of those are references to an iconic occult text.
There is an early, subtle reference to the text in question when Ulrich is in his room playing a heavy metal album by a band named Tabula Smaragdina. Those with an interest in Hermeticism and alchemy would have recognized the name of the band as the Latin name for the famous ‘Emerald Tablet‘, a key source for esotericists for centuries (for example: it is the origin of the well-known phrase, ‘As above, so below’).
The Emerald Tablet is an enigmatic piece of text that is reputed to contain the secrets of alchemy, and as such, over the years it has been studied closely by nearly all with an interest in Hermeticism, alchemy and the occult – one of whom was the genius scientist with a deep interest in esoteric texts, Isaac Newton, who translated it himself from Latin:
Tis true without lying, certain and most true.
That which is below is like that which is above, and that which is above is like that which is below to do the miracles of one only thing.
And as all things have been and arose from one by the mediation of one: so all things have their birth from this one thing by adaptation.
The Sun is its father, the moon its mother, the wind hath carried it in its belly, the earth is its nurse.
The father of all perfection in the whole world is here.
Its force or power is entire if it be converted into earth.
Separate thou the earth from the fire, the subtle from the gross sweetly with great industry.
It ascends from the earth to the heaven and again it descends to the earth and receives the force of things superior and inferior.
By this means you shall have the glory of the whole world
and thereby all obscurity shall fly from you.
Its force is above all force. For it vanquishes every subtle thing and penetrates every solid thing.
So was the world created.
From this are and do come admirable adaptations whereof the means (or process) is here in this. Hence I am called Hermes Trismegist, having the three parts of the philosophy of the whole world.
That which I have said of the operation of the Sun is accomplished and ended.
Though it has long been claimed to be a slice of ancient wisdom, written in the depths of time by the legendary figure Hermes Trismegistus (“Hermes the Thrice-Greatest”), scholars believe the version we have today comes from a source that was written in Arabic a little under 1500 years ago.
That this was more than just a passing mention becomes clear in later episodes of Dark, as references to the Emerald Tablet continue: the time travel portal doors that Jonas discovers in the cave during the sixth episode feature a phrase taken from the Emerald Tablet, “Sic mundus creatus est” (“So was the world created”, or “Thus the world is created”). In fact, the sixth episode of the series uses that Latin phrase as its title.
And, more importantly, during the series a particular image that is intimately linked to the Emerald Tablet – a depiction of it by Heinrich Khunrath in 1606 – is seen in multiple places: on the Tabula Smaragdina heavy metal album cover; in a frame on the wall of the hospital (with the addition of the triquetra symbol that is also on the portal door); Mikkel is later seen looking at this framed image on his hospital bed; and finally, the priest Noah is seen to have a full-back tattoo of Khunrath’s depiction of the Tablet and text (again with the triquetra added).
Even phrases within the dialogue in Dark evoke some of the language in the Emerald Tablet. For example, the statement “The beginning is the end, and the end is the beginning” seems to echo Isaac Newton’s translation of the Tablet’s famous line: “That which is below is like that which is above, and that which is above is like that which is below”. And the use of the 33-year Sun and Moon cycle in Dark might possibly have arisen from a line of text in the Emerald Tablet, “The Sun is its father, the moon its mother”.
There are some interesting origin myths linked to the Emerald Tablet that could also have contributed to the plot of Dark. One myth about the origin of the Emerald Tablet says that it was discovered hidden in a cave in Sri Lanka; another says that it was actually written by the Biblical Seth (Adam’s son), and that Noah took it aboard his ark during the Great Flood before hiding the Emerald Tablet deep within a cave near Hebron, where it was later discovered by Abraham’s wife, Sarah.
In these myths about the Emerald Tablet we see the recurrence of the cave motif which also plays a central role in Dark. And we also observe the appearance of an important name: Noah. Is this esoteric origin myth the reason for the mysterious antagonist’s name in the Netflix series, rather than simply being a Biblical reference? (It might be worth pointing out that the name of the album young Ulrich is listening to early in the series, by the band Tabula Smaragdina, is titled ‘Fist of Hebron’ – perhaps a reference to the location of the Noah cave myth above?)
It also seems likely, though, that Dark mixes some themes from the ‘authentic’ Emerald Tablet with a similarly named esoteric text known as the ‘Emerald Tablets of Thoth the Atlantean‘. This text, which only surfaced in the 20th century, is claimed to be an ancient commentary expanding on the short text of the ‘genuine’ Emerald Tablet, It was allegedly found in the form of twelve green tablets within an ancient temple in the Americas by a mysterious ‘Dr. Doreal’, and published by an esoteric group known as the “Brotherhood of the White Temple” – who were no less than an instrument of enlightened ‘Secret Masters’ known collectively as the Great White Lodge!
When Dr. Doreal completed his studies with the Great Ones of Tibet, he was given special specific assignments. One of those was retrieving the lost Emerald Tablets of Thoth-the-Atlantean. The Tablets had resided in an ancient Temple of the Sun God in the jugles of Yucatan. Doreal was instructed to recover and return these Tablets to the Great Pyramid in Egypt. He carried out this mission successfully in 1925, and was given permission to translate and retain a copy of the wisdom engraved on the Tablets. He suffered many trials, hardships, and tribulations in retrieving these great Tablets, but the wisdom they contain is a shining Light unto the world.
The Emerald Tablets of Thoth-the-Atlantean, the translation of which you, the reader, now hold within this Volume, is without a doubt the most stupendous collection of the Ancient Wisdom available to mankind.
As with any sudden appearances of mystical Atlantean text from hidden masters written on tablets that nobody has ever seen, it’s definitely worth taking the claims behind the ‘Emerald Tablet of Thoth the Atlantean’ with a grain of salt. But regardless of that, this dubious 20th century text is often confused with the original Emerald Tablet by many modern neophytes – and perhaps that happened also with the writers of Dark?
I say this because, while the origins of the Emerald Tablets of Thoth the Atlantean (EToTtA) might be a bit shady, the content of the text does cover a number of themes that can be directly linked to the plotline of Dark – perhaps the most obvious and important of which is the issue of time travel. For example, ‘Tablet 10’ of the EToTtA is literally titled “The Key of Time” and appears to talk about time travel (of some kind):
Then sought I to solve the mystery of time.
Found I that time moves through strange angles.
Yet only by curves could I hope to attain the key
that would give me access to the time-space.
Found I that only by moving upward
and yet again by moving to right-ward
could I be free from the time of the movement.
Forth I came from out of my body,
moved in the movements that changed me in time.
Strange were the sights I saw in my journeys,
many the mysteries that opened to view.
Aye, saw I man’s beginning,
learned from the past that nothing is new.
Seek ye, O man, to learn the pathway
that leads through the spaces
that are formed forth in time.
Furthermore, ‘Tablet 12’ of the EToTtA also discusses “the law of cause and effect”, which is an important theme explored in Dark as a result of the time travel of certain characters:
Know ye, O man,
that all of the future is an open book
to him who can read.
All effect shall bring forth its causes
as all effects grew from the first cause.
Know ye the future is not fixed or
stable but varies as cause brings forth an effect.
Look in the cause thou shalt bring into being,
and surely thou shalt see that all is effect.
So, O man, be sure the effects that ye bring
forth are ever causes of more perfect effects.
Other than the topics of time travel and cause and effect, sections of the EToTtA also mirror another theme in Dark: that there are opposing forces of light and darkness. Remember, in the final episode of the first series, Noah makes a speech in which he says “There are two groups out there fighting to control time travel. Light and shadow…we belong to the light, don’t forget that.” The EToTtA makes a number of references to just such a conflict between between forces of light and darkness – for example, in ‘Tablet 12’ we find:
Know ye, O man, before ye attain this that many the dark shadows shall fall on your Light striving to quench with the shadows of darkness the Light of the Soul that strives to be free.
Great is the struggle between Light and darkness, age old and yet ever new. Yet, know in a time, far in the future, Light shall be all and darkness shall fall.
So it seems likely that these ‘Emerald Tablets’, both old and new, were used as inspiration for the plotline of Dark. I for one really enjoyed this splicing of science fiction trope (time travel) with the forbidden science of ages past. It will be interesting to see if the second season of the show incorporates and explores esoteric and occult themes further.