His life and his philosophy
It took me 15 years to reprocess the extensive written works of Paracelsus and also to make them pharmaceutically practicable with the help of Prof. Manfred Junius. After further five years of intensive laboratory and practical work my book “The Homunculus” came out. All subjects of the present article are theoretically and practically treated in depth in this book.
The written works of Theophrastus Phillipus “Aureolus” Bombastus von Hohenheim, named Paracelsus, contain considerably more than the essays of philologists and medical historians indicate. Paracelsus was not only a medical man but he was also a universal scholar as only very few were. Paracelsus lived from 1493 to 1541 and thus only reached the age of 48. He left a surprisingly compact knowledge on thousands of pages. A ten-volume edition of the complete works of Paracelsus was published from 1591 to 1598. As natural scientist, philosopher, mystic, prophet, astrologer, magician and alchemist, he seemed to let the segments merge into one another, – quite in contrast to today’s science where experts, due to their specialization, know increasingly more and more of permanently less and less until one day they will know everything of nothing.
The old masters made use of poems in which recipes were concealed; they made drawings whose symbolic value contained clear rules for the medicamental production. Again and again they had to hide their precious work. These encryptions of text and drawings were responsible for wrong tracks which often made the adept, the scholar of hermetics, lose his entire fortune.
Paracelsus’ view of the world was based on the teachings of Hermes Trismegistos who is considered to be the founder of hermetics. This thousands of years old teaching which stems from Egypt regards the ibis-headed god, Thot, as guardian of those searching for wisdom and as responsible for initiation. The aim is to bring man back into harmony with cosmic powers. This can, amongst others, take place by means of well thought-out and highly effective healing agents which are named Arkana – and thus: main healing agents. The god Thoth was named Hermes by the Greek and Mercury by the Romans. As messenger of the gods he brought mankind the knowledge of astrology, medicine, alchemy, music and poetry.
In order to decipher Paracelsus it is therefore of importance to study hermetics; otherwise, the translation code for his writings is missing, so to speak. For reasons of persecution by the church, amongst others, a vow of silence amongst the hermetics came into being. One of their masters was Harpocrates, the mystical god of silence. For this reason, “know, will, dare and be silent”, was one of the first theorems of hermetics.
Paracelsus lived in the days of the renaissance. It was the time between the middle ages and the emergence of modern time. Science changed under the influence of Byzantium. Greek knowledge of medicine and late antiquity writings reached into German-speaking countries. Beside Paracelsus, we find in this era contemporaries like Nicolaus Copernicus, Nostradamus, Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Albrecht Dürer, Agrippa von Nettesheim and of course the church revolutionary, Martin Luther.
The most important works of the Arabic medicine reached to Central Europe as Latin texts. Impulses for medicinal alchemy came from Italy. In these days many Jewish physicians conveyed the knowledge as they spread over the whole of Europe with trade caravans. In this era, we find in medicinal writings which were spread names like Geber – who was in fact Jabir ibn Hayyan –, Rhazes, Hippocrates, Dioscorides, Galen and Pliny. Especially the Benedictine Order made use of the knowledge already much earlier in their monasterial medicine. As letterpress was strongly progressing at that time, knowledge could easily be spread. Like today, a well assorted library was the prerequisite for successful research work at that time.
Paracelsus was born near Einsiedeln in Switzerland. His mother was a serf of the cloister there, his father belonged to Swabian nobility and worked as a physician. The birthplace was situated exactly at the St. James’ Way to Santiago di Compostela. The famous Black Madonna of the place already in those days attracted thousands of pilgrims. After his mother’s death, father and son moved to Villach in Kärnten in 1502. The father worked as a lecturer at the mountain school and also as a physicist in a medical practice. Through his father, Paracelsus learned medicine as well as mining and the dealings with minerals. With high probability, the mysterious abbot, Johannes Trithemius and Agrippa von Nettesheim were his teachers in alchemy. Sigmund Fugger, alchemist and owner of the greatest copper and silver mining enterprises in Austria and Hungary also served as teachers for Paracelsus. From 1509 to 1515, Paracelsus studied medicine at German, Italian and French universities. Amongst others, he stayed in Leipzig, like Hahnemann who stayed there a lot later. The longest time he spent studying was in Ferrara where he graduated in internal medicine and surgery. After that, until 1524, he was found throughout in Europe like a travelling journeyman. We find the following notation in his writings, “I have known more than eighty peasants who only compared herbs with diseases because of their form and anatomy, and right before my eyes they have helped wonderfully and well. Because if one looks at this by light, almost all the most secure arts reached us from the common man and from unnoticed people. Had we written all such experiences – unadulterated by recipes and the makers of recipes – in one single book I would have this rather than all commentaries of Gelenus and Avicenna.”
It was clear that this physician was incredibly unpopular amongst his medicinal colleagues and pharmacists as these only very rarely had extensive knowledge and craftsmanship. Envy for the success of the others has, after all, always been a human problem. Paracelsus created a great number of travel reports which contained historically founded statements. In 1542 Paracelsus worked as a physician in Salzburg where he conducted a laboratory in which he processed natural substances. The medications created this way and their connected production processes are called Iatrochemistry. Today, Paracelsus is regarded to be the founder of this science. Following this, he worked as lecturer in Tübingen and Freiburg and he wrote the “Herbarius“, and the “Archidoxis”, books about a long life and the Tartaric diseases. He was town physician and lecturer in Basel in 1527. In 1529 he created two books about syphilis in Nuremberg and finally, in 1530, his work “Paramirum” in Regensburg. In 1536 a publisher in Ulm printed the “The Great Miracle Medicine”. From 1537 to 1540 the “Philosophia Sagax” came into being in Kärnten. He then found his last resting place in Salzburg. In 1960, the human remains of Paracelsus were exhumed. The forensic scientists found a skull which was smashed during lifetime which proved a violent death or an accident – in any case not a natural death. I also evaluated the works of Jacob Böhme (1575 – 1624) and of Giordano Bruno (1548 – 1600) as both were scholars of the teachings of Paracelsus. They, too, were persecuted by the Catholic Church. In 1559 all writings of Paracelsus were put on the “Index librorum prohibitorum” and thus, from then on, the edition and the possession of Paracelsus’ works were forbidden on pain of death.
In 1585, the archbishop of Cologne ordered the physician, Johann Huse, to subsume and to publish the works of Paracelsus. Paracelsus was of the opinion that the human being is limited by three forces. These are old age, sickness and death. Especially the diseases raise awareness for human inadequacy and for the longing for health, harmony and security. Illness and bad luck are brother and sister, writes Paracelsus. The cause of diseases does not lie with the dysbalances of the juices (as almost all physicians of that time believed) but this unbalance of the juices is merely the effect of a disease. Only when the milieu of the patient has already weakened can it come to disharmonies of the juices or to an attack of causative organisms. This is also valid for plants. Only a tree which is already weakened is afflicted by the mistle, by aphids and bark beetles. As a rule one usually thinks that it is the parasite which makes the tree fall ill. Paracelsus, however, regards the causes of diseases metaphorically.
For a therapist, permanent learning is important, wrote Paracelsus. For this, he set the following rules: the first rule is the lifelong study because life is short and the art is long, as he writes. He who believes he has finished learning has not yet grasped the essential. The second rule is: respect for knowledge and experience of others. “That the physician does not learn or experience everything he has to be able to do and to know at the high schools; but he must also temporarily go to school with old wives, gypsies, necromancers, vagrants, old farming people and such more disregarded people and he must learn from them because they have more knowledge of such things than all high schools.”
Therefore it is required to go off on travels and to leave the cosy study. “… as nobody has a master growing in his own home and as no one has his teacher behind the hearth. Not all arts are kept locked up in one’s own mother country; they are rather spread over the whole world.” The third rule concerns the manner of living. This should be modest on the one hand but on the other it should be in harmony with cosmic law. Even if this cannot be carried out immediately or perfectly – this is not decisive. It is much more important, states Paracelsus, to strive towards it. In doing so one should avoid any one-sidedness and extreme kinds of behaviour. As a fourth rule he mentions experience because it is only the sum of experience of each individual physician which will one day make him master of his own field.
To be continued …
Taken from: Paracelsus Magazine 11/VII „Health & Healing”, September 2010
Prof.E.h. Iwailo Schmidt
01217 Dresden, Germany