Lieutenant Colonel Fielding Garrison, M,D, was a serious student of medical history, and devoted many year to the accumulation and arrangement of the Surgeon General’s Library. His work titled An Introduction to History of Medicine is an outstanding book in its field. Garrison says of Paracelsus that he “was the precursor of chemical pharmacology and therapeutics, and the most original medical thinker of the 16th century.” The same author states that his early Swiss physician was far ahead of his time in noting the geographic differences of disease, and was almost the only asepsist between Mondevill and Lister. It has also been customary to regard Paracelsus as the outstanding reformer of medical practice, standing between the old procedures and the rise of the modern scientific method. He is referred to as “the Luther of physicians,” and shares honors with Vesalius in anatomy and Pare in surgery.
As this series of articles unfolds, it will be obvious why Paracelsus has become the central figure in a heated controversy involving both the theory and practice of the healing arts. Historians applauding his progress and originality, at the same time bewail his mystical speculations and his excursions into the fields of animal magnetism and electromagnetic therapy, He has come to be regarded as a most complex man, combining a high degree of skilled observation with a variety of superstitious beliefs. Some have attempted to excuse his intellectual eccentricities on the ground that he was a product of a time in which there was no clear division between religion and sciences, and a large part of knowledge was still inseparable from astrology, alchemy, cabalism, and the Hermetic arts. It is obvious, however, that Paracelsus was aware of the impending struggle between medicine and magic. He warned his contemporaries that to divide therapy from religion was a grave error of judgment that to divide therapy from religion was a grave error of judgement. To him, the advancement of practical therapy depended upon a continuous exploration of the invisible side of nature–a search for causes– and the realization that man was not simple a physical creature, but a living soul whose internal attitudes could profoundly affect his health.
The findings of Paracelsus included his discovery of hydrogen and nitrogen. He successfully developed methods for the administration of mercury in the treatment of certain diseases. He established a correlation between cretinism and endemic goiter, and introduced the use of mineral baths. The German philosopher Lessing is outspoken in his praise of Paracelsus, and his remarks summarize the attitude of many who have investigated the Paracelsian corpus. “Those who imagine that the medicine of Paracelsus is a system of superstitions which we have fortunately outgrown, will, if they once learn to know its principles, be surprised to find that it is based on a superior kind of knowledge which we have not yet attained, but into which we may hope to grow.”
Paracelsus, known in his own day as the “Swiss Hermes,” was born about 1490 in the Canton of Schwyz. He was burdened with a most formidable name, and at the height of his career, preferred to be referred to as Philippus Aureolus Theophrastus Bombastus Paracelsus von Hohenheim. This was rather too much for ordinary usage, and he is remembered simply as Paracelsus. His brief and troublous life terminated about his fifty-first year. The exact circumstances of his death are unknown. His enemies insisted that he perished as a result of his dissolute habits, but his friends stoutly contented that we was pushed off a cliff by hired assassins in the employ of the medical fraternity. From the feeling of the time, it is quite certain that many of his fellow physicians rejoiced in his decease and were of a spirit to contributed to its speedy consummation.
“The Hohenheimer,” as he was often called, was a complete and rugged individualist. From his earliest life, he declined completely to conform with any traditional procedure. Though he lectured at the University of Basel, he held the faculty in open contempt, declaring that the soft down on the back of his neck knew more about the practice of medicine than all the professors of Bases put together. Obviously, this endeared him to his contemporaries.
In a day that was largely dominated by traditional forms, built upon the writings of Galen and Avicenna, Paracelsus departed from practically every recognized landmark of medicine. His father was an army physician, and his mother, the superintendent of a hospital. Thus he was led early to the contemplation of medicine as a profession. Gradually, however his religious instinct deepened, and he sought guidance in the advancement of his studies in theology and philosophy. He associated himself with Trithemius, abbot of Spontheim, and Solomon Trismosin, who introduced him to the alchemistical speculations that later influenced his researches in chemistry. After leaving Sponheim, Paracelsus went to the Tirol, where he worked for some time in the mines and laboratories of the Fuggers. It was here that he was developed his interest in mineral waters and became father of the now fashionable concept of spas. He discovered that the most satisfactory way to learn in his rather benighted day was to observe, and later, under suitable conditions, to experiment practically with the information which he had accumulated. He had a prodigious memory and an insatiable curiosity, and these contributed to make him one of the outstanding empiricists in the field of the sciences.
Although a devout student of the Bible, Paracelsus instinctively adopted the broad patterns of essential learning, as these had been clarified by Pythagoras of Samos and Plato of Athens. Being by nature a mystic as well as scientists, he also revealed a deep regard for the Neoplatonic philosophy as expounded by Plotinus, Iamblichus, and Proclus. Neopatonism is therefore an invaluable aid to the interpretation of the Paracelsian doctrine.
Paracelsus held that true knowledge is attained in two ways, or rather that the pursuit of knowledge is advanced by a two-fold method, the elements of which are completely interdependent. In our present terminology, we can say that these two parts of method are intuition and experience. To Paracelsus, these could never be divided from each other.
The purpose of intuition is to reveal certain basic ideas which must be then be tested and proven by experience. Experience, in turn, not only justifies intuition, but contributes certain additional knowledge by which the impulse to further growth is strengthened ad developed. Paracelsus regarded the separation of intuition and experience to be a disaster, leading inevitably to greater error and further disaster. Intuition without experience allows the mind to fall into an abyss of speculation without adequate censorship by practical means. Experience without intuition could never be fruitful because fruitfulness comes not merely from the doings of things, but from the overtones which stimulate creative thought. Further, experience is meaningless unless there is within man the power capable of evaluating happenings and occurrences. The absence of this evaluating factor allows the individual to pass through many kinds of experiences, either misinterpreting them or not interpreting them at all. So Paracelsus attempted to explain intuition and how man is able to apprehend that which is not obvious or apparent. Is it possible to prove beyond doubt that the human being is capable of an inward realization of truths or facts without the assistance of the so-called rational faculty?
According to Paracelsus, intuition was possible because of the existence in nature of mysterious substance or essence–a universal life force. He gave this many names, but for our purposes, the simplest term will be appropriate. He compared it to light, further reasoning that there are two kinds of light: a visible radiance, which he called brightness and an invisible radiance, which he called darkness. There is no essential difference between light and darkness. There is a dark light, which appears luminous to the soul but cannot be sensed by the body. There is a visible radiance which seems bright to the senses, but many appear dark to the soul. We must recognize that Paracelsus considered light as pertaining to the nature of being, the total existence from which all separate existence arise. Light not only contains the energy needed to support visible creatures, and the whole broad expanse of creation, but the invisible part of light supports the secret powers and functions of man, particularly intuition. Intuition, therefore, relates to the capacity of the individual to become attuned to the hidden side of life.
By light, then, Paracelsus implies much more than the radiance that comes from the sun, a lantern, or a candle. To him, light is the perfect symbol, emblem, or figure of total well-being. Light is the cause of health. Invisible light, no less real if unseen, is the cause of wisdom. As the light of the body gives strength and energy, sustaining growth and development, so the light of the soul bestows understanding, the light of the mind makes wisdom possible, and the light of the spirit confers truth. Therefore, truth, wisdom, understanding, and health are all manifestations or revelations of one virtue to the soul, wisdom to the mind, and reality to the spirit. This total content of living values is contained in every ray of visible light. This ray is only manifestation upon one level or plane of the total mystery of life. Therefore, when we look at a thing, we either see its objective, physical form, or we apprehend its inner light. Everything that lives, lives in light; everything that has an existence, radiates light. All things derive their life from light, and this light, in its root, is life itself. This, indeed, is the light that lighteth every man who cometh into the world.
Man perceives outward things by own outward senses, and he perceived inward things by his inner senses. The heart has eyes as well as the body, and the mind has ts own ears. All the internal parts of man have appropriate senses of cognition. To each of these parts, a message can be conveyed. Such messages can come either from light, which is the force of the energy which conveys, or from the works of light upon any of the levels of the world. In the case of the physical plane, works of light are epitomized in nature, and man beholds nature because of the light shining upon it. Man can also become aware of the light of nature because of he light which shines within it, revealing itself through its powers of animation. Therefore, by observation with the physical senses, we behold things that are lighted; by intuition, we behold things self-luminous. By intuition, we are brought into contact with the inner light of creatures, even as outwardly we see only the reflection of light upon creatures. This is true of all sensory perceptions, for all of these, and not the eyes alone, depend upon light.
Paracelsus might seem to differ from the moderns, but when we understand his true meaning of light as containing the total impact of life upon creation, we see that he is dealing with an energy or principle beyond what we generally think of today. This life-light corresponds with the mana of the natives of the Polynesian Islands. This is a mysterious spiritual nourishment, a universal sustaining power. There is another parallel in the term orenda, as used by the Iroquois Indians. Orenda is the light of things, flowing out through the manifestations and functions of life, and causing us to perceive qualities not immediately available to the profane analysis of untrained reason.
Thus we must come to recognize not only the shapes of things–their colors, their numbers, and their arrangement–by the reflected light of nature; we must perceive the qualities of things their goodness, their beauty, their integrity–and we come to experience a certain affinity because of our own intuitive reaction to the radiant energy everywhere present. This invisible light, of which the visible part is merely a shadow or reflection, arises in the invisible source of light in the solar system, which is the spiritual or original sun, concealed behind or within the luminous orb of day.
Paracelsus, following the Neoplatonists and some other early mystics, was of the opinion that there were three suns in the solar system– one physical, one astral (or belonging to the psychic sphere), and one spiritual. These three suns bestowed the life-light of the world according to their own natures. The light of the physical sun warms and reveals the bodies of things; the light of the psychic sun nourishes and reveals the structure of the soul; and the light of the spiritual or root sun, sustains and nourishes the human spirit. These three suns, therefore, become the causes of certain qualifications within light-life energy.
By the same concept, the universe is a totality, suspended in an infinite filed of spiritual light-life. All things that have existence exist within this light-energy which permeates space and, mingling with the spiritual light of other suns and other cosmic systems, fills all existence. This sea of eternal light is, in substance and essence, the luminous nature of God. We are reminded of the Pythagorean definition which describes Deity as an infinite being whose body is composed of the substance of light and whose soul is composed of the substance of truth. Truth is therefore a kind of light, and when it shines, a kind of darkness is dissipated. Truth is to the darkness of ignorance what the physical sun is to the darkness of nature. There is also a spiritual sun, and the total energy of this sun dissipates total illusion; that is mortality or materiality. The spiritual sun is forever dispelling the kind of darkness which we call death; the psychic sun is forever dissipating the kind of darkness which we call ignorance; the physical sun is forever dissipating crystallization.
To the Neoplatonists, Paracelsus was also indebted for the concept that matter is the least degree of life. By extension of reasoning, darkness is also the least degree of light; truth, the least degree of ignorance; and reality, the least degree of illusion. Having thus envisioned a universe of total light, Paracelsus was confronted with that ancient dilemma which has so long plagued theology and philosophy. How does it happen that total power, completely unconditioned in its own nature, enters into a condition of qualification and stratification? How does the One become differentiated? And why does light assume various appearances, benevolent or not benevolent, when combined in the compositions of created things?
Fir his answer, Paracelsus, factually or intuitively, had recourse to Gnosticism and its doctrine of emanations. He recognized that things in themselves always alike are cause to apparently change their qualities by their relationships, Kepler brought this out in his astronomical theories. Out of the motions or mutations of bodies, patterns are formed resulting in chemical compounds which appear balanced or unbalanced. Thus, also, in the phenomenon of the seasons on earth, the sun remains the same, the earth is unchanged, but climates and seasons change due to varying relationships.
In the Paracelsian philosophy of the universe, all mutations of energy are due to relationship, and not to the actual alteration of any energy in itself. He denied the existence of antipathetical energies. Therefore, he could not believe in the existence of real or factual evil. He did not accept the reality of a death energy or of a destructive force. He believed, however, that certain mutations or relationships between energy were benevolent to one thing and not benevolent to another. Because of these mutations within the energy fields, no energy is equally benevolent to all things at all times. Thus, if we have a depletion of energy, it may appear to afflict or burden a creature because it does not meet the immediate requirements of a particular organism. There are seasons in the world of energy, even as upon the earth, for while those in northern climates are shivering from the cold, the inhabitants of the southern hemisphere are enjoying a warm and pleasant summer.
Thus we come closer to the essential problem of energy. The earth, bathed in a world of light, passes through day and night, bearing man along the road of light and darkness. The human being can never be further from or nearer to any essential principle necessary for his survival. By mutation, however, nature itself is more abundant in certain energies at certain times, and is somewhat deficient in these energies at other times. Paracelsus, as a skilled observers pointed out that in some climates there are animals which hibernate when the necessities of existence are not available; whereas there are other animals, differently constituted, which provide in various ways for survival during seasons of sterility. Man also possesses within himself reservoirs wherein he can store up psychic and spiritual energy to preserve his life through the great psychic mutations of nature. Thus man is able to survive while energies are at their ebb.
In some of his writing, Paracelsus seems to refer, at least indirectly, to the endocrine chain in the human body. These glands–or more correctly, their magnetic fields–are important as means of storing and regulating the distribution of energy. If, however man depletes his resources too rapidly, and this depletion occurs at a time when restoring energies are less available, he may find himself in a serious state of fatigue, exhaustion, or devitalization.
Man, together with all other living things, is bound to the total universe by energy-correspondences. Everything that lives, whether it be a tiny organism in a drop of water, a might tree, a huge animal, a small herb hidden by the road side, is a focal point of universal life-energy. It is the duty of the physician to examine the celestial constellations of the sky, the terrestrial constellations upon the earth, and the physiological constellations within man. Heaven seems to have inverted itself upon the earth. For every star in the sky there is a flower in the meadow, and for each ray that comes out of space, there is an integrations, as well as vegetative, animal, and human integrations.
Paracelsus pointed out that the animal kingdom has a certain instinctive apperceptive power by which its creatures are able to fulfill the laws of their kind, even though they could not become learned or acquire intellectual wisdom. In the human body, every drop of blood, if permitted normal opportunity, will obey its God, keep the universal law, and function according to its proper place in the universal plan. It is only when the “harmony of the world” is disturbed or interfered with that the fruits of in-harmony must be endured.
To return for a moment to the constellations growing in the meadows. About herbs and their secret virtues, the Swiss Hermes was well informed. From old European herbalists and the wise men of Constantinople, Paracelsus had become deeply learned in the use of medicinal plants. According to his doctrine of sympathetic resemblances, all growing things reveal through their structure, form, color, and aroma, their peculiar usefulness to man. The average physician may not notice these resemblances immediately, nor be able to explain them, but simple people have discovered the healing virtues of plants by instinct or intuition. Perhaps the mind of the herbalist intuitively sensed in the design of the plant the organ of the body or the physiological process which it could benefit.
Therefore, von Hohenheim admonished the physician to search within himself for the spiritual insight by which he could recognize and even sense the energies of plants. The physician should sit quietly in the meadow, relax, and with deep faith and a prayerful heart without which none of the works of God can be accomplished open himself to the universal mystery of health. If the does this, he will perceive the stars in his own soul. He will note how little blossoms follow the motions of the planets, some to open their petals according to the phases of the moon, other by the cycle of the sun, and still others by response to the most distant stars.
Plants derive their energies from the two great sources of life in nature: the outer atmosphere and the earth beneath. The earth itself, according to Paracelsus, is not only composed of four elements, but is permeated by a peculiar kind of energy. This is captured in the earth by minerals and metals, for these are to the underworld what plants are to the surface of the earth. Paracelsus discovered some of these secrets while he was working far below the ground in the mines of the Fuggers. He gained much from personal observation, but he was also indebted to the miners who worked in the ground, and who shared with him old folklore and curious beliefs peculiar to their trades. They explained to him that minerals, like plants and animals, are born, grow, decrease with age, and finally die. Men seeking gold, for example may find none in a certain place, but returning years later, discover that fine threads of this precious metal have extended themselves through the ore. Instead of ridiculing such stories as mere superstitions, Paracelsus examined each report carefully and was moved to agree that mysterious things could happen for which there appeared to be no reasonable explanation.
All bodies seem to have their roots in atmosphere or space. They derive their nutrition from an invisible field of substances which is an intangible kind of earth. Thus the universe is an inverted garden, with its roots in space. This intangible atmosphere is the source of all elements and substances, and the nutritive agent which maintains the living processes. It is also the root of intelligence and emotion, and the source of certain archetypes or patterns by which species are differentiated. Various kinds of energy can be released only through creatures or beings in whose natures appropriate sympathetic polarities exist. Man’s uniqueness lies in the fact that within him are poles capable of attracting countless forms of energy. Therefore, man is capable of knowing everything necessary to his own survival. He can attain to all necessary ends because the roots and seeds of universal achievements are within him.
Actually, however, on the level of function, man responds only to such energies as he can capture and hold by those polarities which he has strengthened and developed by skill and thoughtfulness. Such polarities can be of many kinds, such as mineral, nutritional, astral, physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual. For example, an individual can never energize and emotional power which is inconsistent with the development of his own emotional nature. If, therefore, he hates, he cannot create the archetype of love by which he will participate in this noble emotion, unless he changes his own way of life. Man is always in the midst of energies, many of which are beyond his conscious understanding. Yet, gradually, through the growth of his own mind, he attains to true learning, and becomes responsive to the universal energies which sustain learning and help it to increase.
Therapy, which was always uppermost in the thinking of Paracelsus, depends upon adequate ways of conducting energy into the human body, setting up necessary poles for its reception and distribution, removing impediments to its circulation, and opposing to one energy another which will neutralize that which is not useful or necessary to human well-being. He early recognized the importance of nutrition. Food is not merely a physical substance; it is a medium for the transmission of life force. Several plants growing in the same soil will develop differently according to their natures. Some will have red blossoms, and others white. Some will have fragrance, and others have no odor, or possibly an objectionable one. It is the nature of the plant that determines what it takes from the soil, and it is the nature of man that determines what he will derive from universal nutrition. But this energy will help all things to grow according to their kind and constitutions. Man possesses the power to change certain parts of himself. He can become more noble or more kindly. He can engage in activities which strengthen him, or he can neglect his needs and thus diminish his proper powers.
Some energies come directly from the sun, others from outer space, and still others through those growing organisms which man transforms into food. One kind of energy generates the poison of the serpent, which appears to be dangerous to man. But we have come to know in the course of centuries, that Paracelsus was correct that even the poison of the serpent can be useful if man can discover its utility. The human being is therefore the alchemist, and within his body, wonderful transmutations are continuously taking place. Art perfects nature, and man, the artist, has the skill to prepare the garden of his soul for the useful plants that can grow flourish there. These psychic herbs and simples are for the healing of all sickness, both in man and in his world.
The great magician is the master of energy, He creates for it suitable instruments of expression. He calls it forth with the magic want of this will. He reforms and regenerates his disposition, his character, and his temperament. He overcomes in himself those bad habits, negative attitudes, and false beliefs which draw to him energy that is not useful. He cultivates the way of God in nature, and increases in righteousness. He respects life around him; he dedicates his skills to the services of those who need. Thus he becomes truly good and pure. Having established his own consciousness in the way of wisdom, he finds that suitable energies flow into him, his good resolutions are immediately strengthened, his consecrated mind experiences new vitality. Each constructive thought brings more life to his thinking. He is responsible for his use of energy. Who uses it wisely, enjoys the blessings of God; who uses it unwisely is deprived of these blessings, and must wander in the darkness of ignorance and sickness. Only the good man can have good health, and only the wise man can be truly good.
This is not worldly wisdom, but the wisdom of God in a mystery. It is the gentle wisdom of dedication and the life of uprightness. Thus for Paracelsus, the physician is not merely a scientists, but a holy man, a servant of that wonderful fountain of life and light which flows forever from the heart of the Infinite. As this light becomes energy, it manifests its nutritive qualities, and a man, living in God, is fed eternally from the very body of God. Thus living itself is a Eucharistic sacrament, a dedication to the service of immortal life.