Listen to my podcast episode on Paracelsus:
Paracelsus (born Philippus Aureolus Theophrastus Bombastus von Hohenheim, 1493 –1541) was a German-Swiss
“Paracelsus”, meaning “equal to or greater than Celsus”, refers to the Roman encyclopedist Aulus Cornelius Celsus from the 1st century, known for his tract on medicine.
…this is indicative of his overbearing ego that would get him into trouble several times.
studying medicine at the University of Basel, later moving to Vienna. He gained his doctorate degree from the University of Ferrara around 1515
His wanderings as an itinerant physician and sometime journeyman miner took him through Germany, France, Spain, Hungary, the Netherlands, Denmark, Sweden and Russia.
After some issues with other physicians (he had a reputation for being very arrogant and was kicked out of the faculty in the University of Basel, and the U of Leipzig refused to print his works) he wwondered further through Europe, Africa and Asia Minor, ..some say India and the holy land in the pursuit of hidden knowledge. He revised old manuscripts and wrote new ones, but had trouble finding publishers. In 1536, his Die grosse Wundartznei (The Great Surgery Book) was published and enabled him to regain fame.
He died at the age of 48 of natural causes, and his remains were buried according to his wishes in the cemetery at the church of St Sebastian in Salzburg. His remains are now located in a tomb in the porch of the church.
Disregarding old knowledge:
Paracelsus’ life is connected to the birth of Lutheranism, and his opinions on the nature of the universe are better understood within the context of the religious ideas circulating during his lifetime For instance he thought experience and expertice was better than knowledge and burned the books of Avacenni (who we mentioned in the Al-Ghazali podcast and others) and tought in german instead of latin.
His hands-on experience got him the reputation of a magician, even though he was against magic. (We see similar things with Albertus Magnus)
As a physician of the early 16th century, Paracelsus held a natural affinity with theHermetic, Neoplatonic, and Pythagorean philosophies central to the Renaissance, a world-view exemplified by Marsilio Ficino and Pico della Mirandola. Paracelsus rejected the magic theories of Agrippa and Flamel in his Archidoxes of Magic.
It’s clear he often writes in alchemical languages and terms, but when he mentions ‘transmutation’ it is turning a weak soul into a healthy one. Or turning ingredients into medicine.
BUT he did base his medicine on astrology (which was common at the time)
He also invented an alphabet called the Alphabet of the Magi to write angelic names on talismans.. so while may have revolutionized medicine in some way.. he still clung to old beliefs in others.
Paracelsus believed in the Greek concept of the four elements, but he also introduced the idea that, on another level, the cosmos is fashioned from three spiritual substances:
the tria prima of mercury, sulfur, and salt.
And what will sound very familiar to those that have looked into alchemy or listened to this show is that these substances were not the simple substances we recognise today, but were rather broad principles that gave every object both its inner essence and outward form.
- Mercury represented the transformative agent (fusibility and volatility);
- sulfur represented the binding agent between substance and transformation (flammability); and
- salt represented the solidifying/substantiating agent (fixity and noncombustibility).
For example, when a piece of wood is burnt, the products reflect its constitution: smoke reflects mercury, flame reflects sulfur, and ash reflects salt.
The tria prima also defined the human identity. Sulfur embodied the soul, (the emotions and desires); salt represented the body; mercury epitomised the spirit (imagination, moral judgment, and the higher mental faculties).
By understanding the chemical nature of the tria prima, a physician could discover the means of curing disease.
he stated he was not after gold or silver (which sounds neoplatonic)
cloth to paper, wood to coal, but also metal to stone and stone to coal Still wrote about the alchemist’s ideas of Calcination, Sublimation, Solution, Putrefaction, Distillation, Coagulation, Tincture
This is from him: Philosopher’s stone: Adam had all knowledge and wrote it on two tables in hiroglyphics, Noah, took one table to Armenia after the flood, this deluted knowledge was taken up by four people: one became a Astronomer, one a Magus, one a cabalist, and one an alchemist. Abraham took it from Canaan to Egypt where it spread Moses plays a role and he has him as a cabalist, who was able to foretell stuff by cabalistic numerology Hermes another and zoroaster He describes how to make the philosopher’s stone (the usual mixing of salt and sulfur and continually heating sulfur breaking down compounds to their elements until you get liquid gold… which in this case can be seen as medicne closer to the elixir of life rather than something that makes gold. Astrology important in all of this.. so the stars and planets and moon need to be in the right place while doing all of this or you’re just wasting your time. …discredits many other occultists, like Ramon Llull and Albertus Magnus, Aquinas, Geber, etc. often while describing how to do something.
Zinc He is also credited for giving zinc its name, calling it zincum. based on the sharp pointed appearance of its crystals after smelting and the old German word “zinke” for pointed.
Healing Wounds etc. He used experimentation in learning about the human body. He did have hands on experience and gave that more importance than some read work. Like a wound needs to naturally drain etc.
Laudanum Paracelsus was also responsible for the creation of laudanum, an opium tincture very common until the 19th century.
Unconscious Paracelsus is credited as providing the first clinical/scientific mention of the unconscious with the meaining of the subconscious (kids sometimes get sick because of something they unconscoiously imagine)
Chemical medicine Although his medicine is based in hermeticism and astrology (as above, so below as in microcosm and macrocosm) he had the view that sickness is caused by an inbalance of minerals and therefore certain illnesses have chemical remedies.
Up to that points hippocrates’ view of sickness held. that means that illness was caused by one of the four humors being out of balance.. medicine was therefore eating certain foods and purging, or bloodletting etc.
Paracelsus challenged that by stating that sometimes illness can be caused by outside factors.
“The dose makes the poison.” was his saying (but paraphrasing) and is famous in toxicology.
Paracelsianism was a medical movement based on the theories and therapies of Paracelsus. It was prominent in late–16th and 17th century Europe (after his death) Trivia – Also mentioned in Frankenstein, along with agrippa and albertus magnus – He’s mentioned in harry poter as one of the collectibe cards that come with the chocolate frogs, and in the books his statue is at hogwarts – mentioned in moby dick – and tons more
the alchemist reader by stanton j linden