Natura Sophia - The Wisdom of Nature













Intuition & Imagination

Intuition & Spiritual Path

The Three Selves of the Shaman


Doctrine of Signatures


Matthew Wood's Bio


and the Light of Nature

abstract from Vitalism, the History of Homeopathy, Herbalism and Flower Essences, by Matthew Wood (Berkeley, Ca.: North Atlantic Press, 2004).

For twenty centuries, the humoral medicine of Greek and Arabic physicians dominated medical practice in the Western world.  The body was thought to consist of four "humors" which mixed together in the correct proportion to create health.  This meant that diseases were not looked upon as specific entities, but as imbalances between the humors.  Medicinal agents were not conceived of as possessing specific capacities or affinities, but only the ability to change the relationship between humors: by purging, vomiting, sweating, salivating, etc.  This was a medicine that lacked the notion of specificity in bodily processes, functions, medicines, biological laws, and diseases.

A tendency towards specific medical knowledge was developing slowly, however.  Empirical doctors and folk practitioners often found herbs that worked in an exact, reliable way for a certain problem.  Primitive metallurgists and alchemists were slowly accumulating knowledge about the specific properties of substances.  This movement was gathering momentum over the centuries.  Eventually it would replace humoralism with a more or less "chemical" concept of how the body functions and is healed.  Distinct organs, diseases, and medicinal agents would be recognized.  

When the momentum had developed long enough in this direction, it was inevitable that an advocate for these new ideas should appear.  This person was a Swiss-born physician, Theophrastus Bombastus von Hohenheim (1493-1541), popularly known as Paracelsus.  He was the first person to advocate an essentially "chemical" view of the world.  He saw the living organism as a complex of different substances, each of which could be understood and affected through specific medicinal powers.  He developed the technical capacity to manipulate substances through a simple system of chemistry, so that he could create chemical remedies suited to chemical problems in the organism.  Paracelsus anticipated the basic disciplines that constitute modern medicine---pharmacy, physiology, biochemistry and drug-therapy.  He was also one of the first modern surgeons.  In his practice we recognize the rudimentary elements of our modern system of medicine.

There is, however, an important difference between the medicine of Paracelsus and modern science.  His approach united the spiritual to the material, the divine to the natural, the whole to the part.  For him, the purely reductionist and materialist view of the modern era would have been unthinkable.  His chemical substances corresponded with spiritual values, his principles to eternal laws.  His medicine encompassed the life force, the wisdom of nature, and the spiritual faculties of human nature.  Because of this orientation, the medicine of Paracelsus anticipated much that would later appear in alternative, as well as conventional, medicine.

Paracelsus was a revolutionary who had to jerry-rig terms and concepts in order to express ideas which were essentially alien to his own generation.  This, coupled with his lack of social skills, caused his work to be largely unappreciated outside a small group of followers who circulated his manuscripts in private.  These loyal students, as well as his phenomenal reputation as a healer and alchemist, stimulated interest in the Paracelsian corpus after his death, so that his collected works were published within a generation.  They fertilized Western science and medicine from about 1565 to about 1665, giving rise to many new ideas.  After that date his name was increasingly stigmatized and dropped from the agenda of dominant, mainstream thought.  The importance of his contributions were forgotten.  Only a few iconoclasts remembered him.

Because the system of Paracelsus is founded on universal and spiritual principles, poured forth in a voluminous rush of fresh, newly invented, stimulating words and grammar, his writings have a numinous quality, pregnant with spiritual implications.  He has inspired savants down through the centuries.  Power and beauty hover in the work of Paracelsus, inspiring us to look beyond the limitations of the materialist worldview.  This quality is not appreciated by the advocates of conventional science, but it provides a valuable foundation for a medicine which is natural, spiritual, vitalist, and holistic in composition.

Although the writings of Paracelsus exerted less direct influence in conventional (or even unconventional) medical circles, the themes he had launched upon the mental ethers of Western culture continued to have a stimulating and fertilizing effect, so that we see the same concepts emerging again and again.  Most of the important movements in alternative medicine in the nineteenth century developed themes that are first articulated in Paracelsus.  

Almost the whole of homeopathy was anticipated in Paracelsian medicine.  The relationship between these two movements has already been studied by several historians in the homeopathic camp.  Linn Boyd, A Study of the Simile in Medicine (1936), noted the basic association between Paracelsus and every major point of homeopathic doctrine.  Harris Coulter, in the first volume of Divided Legacy: A History of Schism in Medical Thought (1977), gives an overview of Paracelsian philosophy that is not dissimilar to the one given here.  Elizabeth Danciger, Homeopathy, From Alchemy to Medicine (1988), traces the some of the intervening medical movements and ideas from Paracelsus to Hahnemann.  The principal work on Paracelsus from a conventional standpoint is Walter Pagel's Paracelsus, an Introduction to Philosophical Medicine in the Era of the Renaissance (1958).  This may be highly recommended.

The Man

 "Throughout his life, a man cannot cast off what he received in his youth," wrote Paracelsus.  "My share was harshness, as against the subtle, pampered, and over-refined.  Those who were brought up in soft clothes and by womenfolk have little in common with we who were raised among the pine trees."1

Theophrastus Bombastus von Hohenheim was born in 1493, in a remote mountain village in Switzerland.  His father, Wilhelmus Bombastus von Hohenheim, was the illegitimate son of a petty German nobleman and his "concubine."  Wilhelm was listed as a "pauper" when he entered medical school in 1481.  After graduation, he wandered for a while, settling in the small hamlet of Einsiedeln, in Switzerland.  There he married a "bondmaiden" – a bound serf of the Benedictine Abbey.  Their only child was named Theophrastus, after the Greek botanist.  He was given the name Paracelsus as an adult.

His childhood home was peaceful and quiet, as Paracelsus later testified, but impoverished.  Before little Theophrastus was nine, his mother died.  There is evidence she took her own life.  With a letter of reference from the Benedictine Abbey, Wilhelm removed in 1502 to Villach, a town in the mining and smelting district of Carinthia [Slovenia], then part of Austria.  The senior von Hohenheim was interested in alchemy and mineralogy, as well as medicine.  He found rewarding employment there as a teacher in the mining school at Villach, and also continued to work as a physician.  Young Theophrastus grew up in the alchemical laboratories, smelters, and mines of the area.

It was during these early years that the characteristic interests of the boy were formed.  Alchemy captured his imagination more than anything else.  For Paracelsus, everything in the world was alchemical – the human organism, disease, and drugs.  He was the first to imagine that the body worked like an alchemical laboratory – that it was chemical in nature.  Besides his education in alchemy, several other factors contributed to the development of young Theophrastus.  His profound understanding of religious theology was evidently gained in the monastic schools to which, in those days, promising students were sent.  Religious doctrines are so thoroughly assimilated with Neoplatonic and Hermetic knowledge in the writings of Paracelsus that it is tempting to suppose that even in his youth he had been exposed to esoteric doctrines.  He specifically mentions having studied under Trithemius, abbot of Spanheim, the foremost occult scholar of the day.  But the most important tuition came from his father.  Wilhelm taught his son to observe nature directly and learn by personal experience, rather than from books, authorities, and dogmas.  It was this openness that led him away from the dull treatises of conventional medicine and science, towards an entirely new view of the world.

In 1507, at the age of fourteen, Theophrastus left his father's home to seek a formal education in the universities of Germany.  He traveled through the major college towns, finally settling at Vienna, where he completed his baccalaureate at the age of eighteen.  After a similar peregrination in search of medical education, he entered the university at Ferrara, in Italy.

There has been much controversy about whether Paracelsus completed his medical degree.  Circumstantial evidence indicates that he almost certainly did.  From his description of the dissecting room, it is known that he attended the university of Ferrara.  He applied to himself the title doctor utriusque medicinae – a degree granted only by the medical schools of northern Italy.  He is known to have been accepted as a graduate by town magistrates in two instances, and the doctor who wrote the preface to his Greater Books of Surgery addressed him as a fellow physician.

The origin of the name Paracelsus is also uncertain.  At that time, humanist scholars latinized their surnames as a measure of their esteem for classical learning.  This was especially popular among German humanists.  It seems highly improbable that Paracelsus – who opposed classical authority and preferred to use the German vernacular – would have adopted such a practice.  Therefore, it seems most likely that the name Paracelsus was given to him by others.  There is no evidence that he used it himself.2  He consistently signed his name Theophrastus von Hohenheim.

There is also controversy about what the name Paracelsus means.  Para is Greek for "over" or "beyond," while celsus is either the name of a Roman medical author or Latin for "high."  In humanist circles it would have been unthinkable to combine Greek and Latin words to form a name: it would have been a crude parody of humanist ideals.  One wonders, therefore, if the two words were placed in juxtaposition and given to Hohenheim as an insult.  They would have described someone who was a "tall talker" (beyond-high), while playing on the meaning of his German surname (high-home).  It would also have parodied his claims to surpass Galen and Avicenna by making him "beyond-Celsus," a more obscure figure.  This sort of literary joke would have been just the kind of thing foisted upon the unfortunate social outcast by a witty humanist.  We know that in Basle he came under attack by just such a person, who called him "Cacophrastus."  That he never used the name Paracelsus himself tends to support such an idea.  Yet the intended insult had a poetic and mysterious sound: it was well suited to a man who was already during his lifetime more a legend than a real person.  Now, he is universally known by that name.

Almost immediately after his graduation Paracelsus began to practice medicine in an unconventional fashion.  In those days surgery was considered separate from and inferior to "physic" (the use of medicines).  The Hippocratic Oath forbade opening or cutting the body by a "physician."  As a result, surgery was carried on by "barber-surgeons" or "chirurgeons," who were entrusted with all such activities that involved cutting of the body or its parts, whether it was the hair or the internal organs.  Paracelsus refused to recognize the division between surgery and physic.

Surgery not only lacked prestige, but was extremely crude and unsophisticated.  Paracelsus was one of the first to envision it as an essentially medical procedure.  He was aware of the importance of cleanliness, stating that nature would heal a wound if it were kept clean.  He also saw the need for anesthetic: it is Paracelsus who introduced the use opium in medicine.

Paracelsus considered his medical training to be virtually worthless and openly identified himself with the empirical tradition that opposed Galen and the rationalist doctrines of medicine.  The empirics believed that experience would lead them to medical knowledge, not rational dogma.  They were universally stigmatized by conventional doctors as quacks and charlatans.  Most of the empirics were folk-doctors, eccentrics untutored in the classical masters, or drop-outs from conventional medicine like Wilhelmus von Hohenheim.  Between them and the established doctors there was great enmity.

After graduation, Paracelsus took an extensive trip (1517-24).  Working as an army surgeon and physician, he traveled from Italy to Spain, England, the Netherlands, Scandinavia, the Baltic states, Poland and Moscow.  Here he was taken prisoner by raiding Tartars and removed to the Russian Steppes.  It is possible that he was initiated into a shamanic society at this time.  His writings display a familiarity with psychological techniques characteristic of shamanism and completely unrelated to anything found in European literature at this time.  Resuming his travels, Paracelsus returned to Italy through Eastern Europe, then made an extra excursion to Egypt (he describes crocodiles and hippopotami), the Holy Land, Turkey, Constantinople, and the Balkans.  Paracelsus was one of the most traveled scholars of his time.  He had marched with imperial armies and wandering tribes, learned from Greek alchemists in Constantinople, was in the last boat out of Rhodes when it fell to the Turks, visited the Hippocratic homeland at Cos and the temples in Athens.  He finally arrived back in northern Italy.  Ironically, this area was considerably less safe than most of the places he had already been.  The pall of war and destruction hung heavily over the land.  In 1524 he returned to his father's quiet house in Villach.

It was now time for Paracelsus to settle down somewhere as a physician.  Unfortunately, his anti-authoritarian streak, coupled with a love of travel, made him unsuited to permanent residence.  The rest of his life he would spend as a vagabond, traveling through the towns and villages of central Europe.  During these journeys he plied his skills as a physician, earning a reputation that made him legendary among the people as a healer, but notorious among the burghers and doctors as a trouble-maker.

Paracelsus suffered from personality problems that are peculiar to a genius.  He believed he was right, that his theories were based upon divine and eternal truths, and that his opponents were contemptible fools.  Though he speaks of being humble before nature, he was less than circumspect before men.  His tirades against his opponents were vicious, inflammatory, and vituperative.  He insulted their personalities, wives, religions, and lifestyles.  Yet, he was unable to receive criticism himself.  He continually destroyed personal and professional relationships, until his ostracism from society and culture was relatively complete.  He complained at one point that he "seldom slept in the same bed twice.

It seems likely that Paracelsus was an alcoholic.  He appears to have suffered from the symptoms typical of that disease: outbursts of temper, poor social skills, a sense of persecution, and inability to hold down a permanent job.  This conclusion is supported by eyewitness accounts.  "He could not be found sober, an hour or two together, in particular after his departure from Basle," wrote his secretary, Oporinus.  "Nevertheless, when he was most drunk and came home to dictate to me, he was so consistent and logical that a sober man could not have improved upon his manuscripts."3

Not being able to communicate his insights to his peers, Paracelsus used the pen as an outlet.  His manuscripts are voluminous.  He wrote numerous treatises every year, taking care to deposit them with more stable friends and students.  Hardly any of these were published during his lifetime.  

Through these writings we are able to trace the intellectual development of our peripatetic doctor.  Until about 1525 he wrote primarily on practical concerns of medicine.  Dropsy, mental illness, consumption, colic, apoplexy, worms, gout, stone, materia medica, and the properties of various springs occupy these works.  There are few hints as to his subsequent preoccupation with occult and divine topics.  Over the next several years, these begin to manifest.

In 1527 a pivotal event occurred which finalized the alienation of our wandering doctor.  Paracelsus was offered a position as municipal doctor at Basle that would give him authority and political power.  He was given the oversight of public health, administration of apothecaries and doctors, and a position on the faculty of the medical school.  The fiasco that resulted demonstrates that Paracelsus was talented and insightful, but lacking in essential social skills.  He was so rude, arrogant, and bellicose that he antagonized everyone, including his own supporters.  Finally, he was forced to flee Basle in the middle of the night.  Paracelsus never again had the opportunity to work from within the system.  Everywhere he went, patients clamored for his services, while authorities clamored for his removal from town.  

While he was in Basle Paracelsus committed the act for which he is most famous in the annals of medical history.  He cast a copy of the Canon of Avicenna into a public bonfire to show his contempt for medical dogma.  His contemporaries thought him outrageous, but later generations have seen it as a brave challenge encouraging independent thought in the period of the Renaissance.                  

After the debacle at Basle, Paracelsus' writing became more individualistic.  He began to work out his own system of medicine.  About 1530 his concepts started to fall into place.  Over the next several years he was able to express his mature thoughts about medicine.  His two great works on this subject are the Paramirum and the Paragranum, which date from 1530 and 1534.  These books establish the conceptual foundation for a new practice of medicine.  His later medical writings expand upon the ideas found here.  In the preface to the Paragranum he states that the two essentials of scientific investigation are experience and experiment.  Truth, Paracelsus says, "is no longer any kind of speculation or fantastic science, but is based on the solid foundation of well-considered experience."  This was a radical sentiment in 1530.             

Having completed his medical writings, Paracelsus turned to theological and philosophical issues.  Although he interjected strong Neoplatonic, mystical, occult, and shamanistic themes into his writing, Paracelsus considered himself a Christian.  "I write like a pagan, yet am a Christian," he commented.  He makes it quite clear that natural principles and healing are subservient to divine principles and healing, the mysteries of nature to the Mysteries of God.

After wrestling with spiritual questions Paracelsus returned to his favorite topic, medicine.  In 1536 his Books of Greater Surgery were published.  This was his only publishing success and the only field in which he received positive response and credit during his lifetime.  The work was practical; it became the basis for the development of early modern surgery.  Another work written about this time was On the Miner's Sickness, the first treatise ever written on occupational illness.  The work is more important, however, for showing how Paracelsus developed his medical knowledge.  By observing symptoms and conditions produced by chemical poisoning in mines and smelters, he was able to understand the therapeutic uses of various chemical agents.  He used the principle of ‘like treats like,’ later the basis of homeopathy, to explain the relationship between symptoms of poisoning and medical use.  He also developed an understanding of physiology and pathology based on a chemical model.      

Between 1537 and 1539, Paracelsus embarked on an encyclopaedic work on the nature of man and God, entitled Astronomiia Magna, or the Whole Sagacious Philosophy of the Greater and Lesser World.  Here his philosophy and vocabulary reach their fullest individualization.  He includes arcane ideas and terms, demonstrating his experience with the occult.

About 1540 Paracelsus' health started to decline.  He begged off cases that were too far away and actually settled down in Salzburg.  He sensed his physical decline in advance: his last work was the Defensiones, in which he defended himself against the attacks of his enemies.  In 1541 he had a stroke at an inn and died.  

The writings of Paracelsus are difficult to follow.  Contradictions and obscure terminology are the norm.  Still, his principal ideas are cast forth in many beautiful passages in his writings.  I do not have the space (or understanding) to represent all the major themes of Paracelsus, but the following selection represents most of his important ideas on the use of the medicinal substance in the healing art.

The Light of Nature

The material body is constructed from the elements of the earth, but man also has a "sidereal body" which is constructed by the stars.  The first gives him the ability to eat, drink, and sleep, while the second gives him a pattern or character which shines through this material vessel.  "The firmamental light" is also the source of wisdom, art, and reason, since these derive from the ability to detect the pattern and character in creation.  This primal ground is called the "light of nature" or lumen naturae by Paracelsus.  "The earth moulds [man's] shape, and then heaven endows this shape with the light of nature."4

From this perspective, the natural world is not just a collection of material bodies but has an interior, spiritual side as well.  The subjective as well as objective faculties must be exercised upon it in order to perceive everything that is really present in natural phenomena.  Paracelsus insisted upon the development of both in order to understand nature.           

The wisdom derived from the light of nature does not correspond to "psychic abilities," as we would now say, but to the intuitive understanding of patterns, virtues, powers, essences, and natures of different things.  It is much closer to "animal instinct."  Through this instinct, both animals and man "know what is going on" in the world around them.  Man must revert to this natural level of perception in order to have an intuitive understanding of nature.  "The physician is nothing but a hunting dog who smells the game and [follows] its footsteps from one place to another until he finds the game itself."5  From a simple attunement to "what's going on" our understanding of the light of nature grows, until we are able to detect complicated patterns, truths, and meanings implicate in the world at large.          

One of the important qualities of the light of nature is that it helps us differentiate between good and bad, just as a dog knows a good person from a bad one.  It is, therefore, a fundamental important ground for the development of spiritual life.  We cannot make proper choices without an instinctive sense of right and wrong.  We can see, therefore, why Paracelsus considered the light of nature to be the highest faculty within the creation, but not an aspect of God.  "Beyond this wisdom there is another given from on high, which transcends the created and surpasses by far all mortal sapience."  This is "the light of God."6

The light of nature was formed by the Father to be a beacon by which nature is known, but the light of God has been given to man so that the fallen creature may be rejoined to the Creator.  "The Father has set us in the light of nature, the Son in eternal life, and we have to know them both."  The Father gives us wisdom through the light of nature, but the Son gives us life through redemption of our imperfect mortal being.  The realms of the Father and Son are different, yet not incompatible.  "The Father is not angry with the Son, neither the Son angry with the Father," but the former "hands over to another what does not belong to himself."  For "the seed is cast into the earth, but it is another who gives the increase." 7

Learning from Nature

"Seeing and touching beget the truth."8  Internal knowledge is actually dependent on skills of observation.  It is not possible to perceive internal truths without an accurate appraisal of external form.  Paracelsus therefore taught that it was necessary to observe nature in great detail and diversity.  He observed natural phenomena carefully, made experiments, traveled the length and breadth of Europe, and drew conclusions from personal experience.

This was a radical idea in the early sixteenth century.  The ancients were believed to have been masters of knowledge, from whom all truth flowed.  Even when traditional ideas were contradicted by common sense, ancient authorities were given the benefit of a doubt.  The entire corpus of medical and scientific thought was interlaced with opinion, false observation, and fantasy: very little was known actually about natural phenomena from direct observation.

It is almost incredible to catalog the range of natural phenomena that Paracelsus personally observed and alluded to in his writings.  It is as if he sensed the narrowness of experience native to his era and was driven into the world to seek direct personal experience.  "Great are the virtues of Nature.  Who is so thirsty as to work out all her virtues?"9

Paracelsus developed several methods by which to gain experience of the natural world.  He listened to the opinions of all, not just the educated authorities.  "A doctor must seek out old wives, Gypsies, sorcerers, wandering tribes, old robbers, and such outlaws and take lessons from them."  He taught that it was necessary to travel in order to see natural phenomena in all their variety.  People, plants, minerals, and diseases change from place to place.  "A doctor must be a traveler."10  "Diseases wander hither and thither as wide as the world is and do not remain in one place.  If one will know many diseases he must wander."11  "My travels have developed me; no man becomes a master at home, nor finds his teacher behind the stove.  For knowledge is not all locked up, but is distributed throughout the whole world.  It must be sought for and captured wherever it is."12

Yet knowledge can be found behind the stove, that is, the alchemical stove.  Eyewitness accounts indicate that Paracelsus almost always had a retort on the fire, wherever he was.  He learned about the nature of chemical transformation in a crude manner, by observing the actions of minerals in mines, springs and chemical manipulation.  He drew from all these sources to construct an essentially chemical view of man in which there are chemical changes treatable by chemical remedies.  "A doctor must be an alchemist," he writes.  "He must therefore see the mother earth where the minerals grow and as the mountains won't come to him, he must go to the mountains. . . .  I have sought the minerals and found their mind and kept the knowledge of them fast."13    

As an example of the Paracelsian method, we might refer to a journey of Jean Begune, a seventeenth-century Paracelsian chemist.  Begune heard that people in a certain area of Carinthia were immune to syphilis, and that this was due to the high content of mercury in the soil.  Mercury was mined nearby.  Begune verified that this was correct.14  This is the type of travel and learning which Paracelsus undertook.  It is probable, in fact, that Begune was following in the footsteps of Paracelsus, who grew up in Carinthia and surveyed its natural resources.    

Experience can come unpremeditated, or it can be extracted from nature by conscious design.  In the latter sense, it is "experiment."  Paracelsus designed "experiments" in order to learn about the specific properties of the natural world.  "Every experiment is like a weapon which should be used according to its specific function, as a spear is used to thrust, or a club to batter."15  It is a strategic artifice that helps us gain knowledge about a particular element in the world.  Such experiments are not relegated to the laboratory alone but can be found in nature at large.

Galen described the three basic schools of medicine flourishing in his era as the rational, empiric, and methodist.  The first believed there was a rationale behind medical phenomena, and that adherence to the dogma received from established teachers constituted a firm basis for medical practice.  The humoral doctrine was the prevalent dogma at that time.  The empiricists rejected rationale in favor of personal experience.  The methodists adhered to a single idea: all diseases resulted from obstruction or flux.  In the time of Paracelsus rationalism was the norm of the school-bred doctors, but a variety of uneducated and iconoclastic practitioners (such as Wilhelmus von Hohenheim) adhered to the empiric method.  Paracelsus identified himself with empiricism, but he also sought to unite the two poles.  "Theory and practice should together form one, and should remain undivided."16  He saw that doctrine naturally developed out of experience, while guiding experience to more certain ground.  Practice should dominate but not eliminate doctrine.  "Not out of the speculative theory should the practice be hard-wrought, but out of the practice the theory."17

The Archeus

The doctrine of vitalism has a long history in medicine.  Sometimes it has been the normative view held by the medical profession and the lay public.  It can be traced all the way back to the roots of medicine.  Hippocrates advanced the idea that it was nature (physis) in the organism that healed the patient.  The doctor could assist the physis through passive means such as nutrition and the removal of waste products.  (From this came the term physician).  This was not a very active view of the power of the life force.  It was not seen as having a dynamic quality that could radically transform organic processes.  Seven centuries later, the doctrine of the vital force was modified by Galen.  He was interested in establishing patterns and explanations for natural phenomena in the organism.  In order to facilitate this, he introduced the concept of the pneuma or spirit.  There were three different "spirits" which acted inside the human organism: the vital, animal, and natural spirits.  He used them to account for various physiological processes.

These were the views of the vital force prominent at the time Paracelsus entered the medical scene.  He devised an approach that was quite different.  He saw the life force as an active, directing intelligence that maintained and repaired the organism in a dynamic fashion.  He saw it much like the animal instinct: a vital, dynamic, intelligent power.  This concept exerted a significant influence for the next several centuries.  Van Helmont's alchemical medicine, Hahnemann's homeopathy, eclecticism, and Thomsonian herbalism all present views of the vital force that stem from the Paracelsian model, not from the Hippocratic or Galenic approach.  Vitalism was not completely ignored within conventional medicine until the twentieth century.  

Paracelsus called the vital force the archeus.  He saw it as the arch-principle dominating life processes in a biological entity.  It was all pervading and powerful within that milieu, yet invisible to the material eye.  Only through its effects could the existence of the archeus be known.  Through these the realization was possible that life was governed by a self-regulating and self-healing intelligence.  The archeus of the physician could comprehend and interpret the activities of the archeus of the patient.  As an intelligent entity, the function of the archeus is to assimilate healthy materials into the organism and defend it against invasion from outside.  As such, the characteristic tendencies of the archeus are attraction and repulsion, or sympathy and antipathy.  As we shall see, it operates according to the "law of similars," or "like treats like."                     

In the realm of food and nutrition the function of the archeus is to discriminate between foods and poisons, allowing the first in and rejecting the second.  It then helps the organism to assimilate the nutriment and build it into the body.  Paracelsus visualized the archeus as the "inner alchemist."  He said it was located in the stomach, the seat of instinct and assimilation of food.  He likened it to a fire.  Just as the alchemist in the laboratory, through the agency of fire, separates all things into their constituent parts, the archeus separates the useful from the useless, incorporating them into the organism.

Paracelsus differentiated between the archeus as the intelligence controlling the invisible life of man, and the vital substance that served as its vehicle.  He called the latter the mumia.  This peculiar word is derived from the folk-medical ideas surrounding mummies.  At this time mummy-wrappings were imported from Egypt as exotic medicines.  They were thought to communicate some of the life force of the well-preserved bodies that they surrounded.  (Even today there is a healing substance used in Russian folk medicine called ‘mumia;’ it is an oily secretion found in caves).    

Like any substance, mumia can be collected, dispersed, or manipulated.  Sick mumia can be extracted from the body, or extra mumia can be implanted into it.  Through the mumia, one being acts upon the health of another, psychically.  It is, therefore, the basis through which psychic manipulation takes place.  Mumia can be clandestinely stolen from one person in order to enrich or degrade the life or another.  For example, sick mumia can be extracted from a patient, placed in some old clothes and left at the roadside, to be picked up by another person.  This is supposed to transfer the disease from the patient to the stranger. 
Paracelsus maintained that mumia was not inherently evil, though it was the principal subject of the black art.  He held that mumia is merely a "scientific" fact, so to speak.  It could be properly used for healing.  For the physician, Paracelsus said the mumia is the indispensable balsam of true healing.  If it perishes, life ceases; if it is supported, life flourishes.      

The archeus occupies the entire economy of the organism, giving it integrity, unity, and direction as a whole.  However, each separate part, organ and tissue has its own separate guiding intelligence, by which it does its work.  Paracelsus conceived each organ as having its own soul or spirit, which he called the archei.  All these archei are contiguous with and controlled by the archeus, the ultimate force in the body.

The most important organ in the body is the stomach, according to Paracelsus, because it is the center from which the archeus operates.  Here the fire of life separates food from poison and waste and begins the process of elaboration of nutriment into the body.  The concept of a fire residing in the stomach has been considered by historians of science to be a dim intuition of hydrochloric acid.  As a consequence, Paracelsus has been credited with anticipating this discovery.  Exactly where he got the idea that the fire of life resided in the stomach is unclear, but it had been established in Ayurvedic medicine centuries before Paracelsus appeared.  From him, it passed into both academic and folk-medicine.  The same theme is found in the work of Van Helmont and Stahl, as well as the American folk-doctor Samuel Thomson.       

In addition to the stomach, Paracelsus recognized seven essential organs, corresponding to the seven "planets:" liver (Jupiter), gall bladder (Mars), spleen (Saturn), heart (Sun), brain (Moon), kidneys (Venus), and lungs (Mercury).  Each organ has a "stomach," by which it receives food and medicine.  Remedies therefore can be directed towards specific organs.  Paracelsus called such medicines appropriata, because they were appropriated by the local organ.  Remedies that influenced the entire organism, the archeus, were called universalia.  The therapy of Paracelsus was sometimes directed to the part, sometimes to the whole.  He laid great stress on the fact that medical treatment must address both poles.  It must be flexible and holistic.  "Out of the entire man comes health, not out of crumbling fragments.  That is never considered in the colleges.  At all times they merely teach patchwork.  It is not warm to cold, constrictive to laxative.  That is not a basis for a physician to practice, and never has been."18

Paracelsus did not consider the functions of the organs to be tied to their specific, localized structures, but saw them as functional spheres that permeated the entire organism.  They were related to local structures, but not restricted to them.   The true organs were "not visible parts, but forces and powers without a corpus."19    Not only did the organs correlate with physiological activities, but they correspond to psychological processes as well.  Paracelsus adopted the standard correlations used in Hippocratic and astrological medicine.  The spleen was associated with melancholy, the stomach and brain with insanity, the liver with anger, and so on.  This leads us to the next important Paracelsian doctrine.

The Doctrine of Correspondence

Not only physical bodies, but all components of man, including the psyche, receive their organization and pattern from the light of nature.  The whole natural world corresponds to the archetypal world, which gives it form and meaning.  Emotions correspond to organs, and both correspond to plants, animals, and minerals of a similar essence or nature.  Diseases have their affinities and correspondences as well, so that they settle into certain organs and are driven out by certain medicines.  There is an over-all correspondence between all things in the "macrocosm" (the universe) and all things in the "microcosm" (the individual).  This idea, long called the "doctrine of correspondence," figures prominently in Paracelsian philosophy.      
This doctrine goes back to shamanistic thinking.  As the shamanic epoch drew to a close in ancient Greece, Plato gave the doctrine philosophical form.  He said there were primal ideas, which were the archetypal roots of things in the external, material world.  For instance, in this world we have cups, but behind them, says Plato, we have capaciousness (the ability to hold like a cup).  In a famous passage he describes people living in a cave, seeing events in the outside world as shadows cast upon a wall.  This is analogous to our own condition: ideas are the real things, what we see in this world are but shadows. 
This philosophy was perpetuated throughout the Graeco-Roman world.  It had some influence on Judaism and early Christianity.  The doctrine of correspondence reached its full expression within pagan literature in the Corpus Hermeticus.  These writings, dating from the third century A.D., attributed mystical knowledge to Hermes Trismegistos, a mythological wise man.  The Hermetic teachings were closely associated with alchemy, and with scientific and theosophical speculation in medieval Arabic, Byzantine, and Renaissance Christian culture.  These ideas influenced Paracelsus, flourishing even more widely after his appearance on the scene.            

According to the doctrine of correspondence, every created thing has an archetype from which its outward manifestation springs.  The creation as a whole is in correspondence with the primordial archetype that stands behind the universe.  This archetype is likened to a "Divine Human" or "Anthropos."  The whole of the creation corresponds to the Divine Human, because mankind is the highest form in the creation (at least from our own perspective).  Conversely, the individual human is a tiny microcosm, corresponding to and personifying the totality, the Divine, the Macrocosm.  "The Heavenly Man is an Immortal God," says Hermes.  "The earthly man is a mortal god."  

Each organ, tissue, or function is in correspondence to an underlying archetype or primordial part in the body of the Divine Human.  Each disease correlates to a perversion in the function of the underlying archetype.  For this reason, the archetypal configurations inherent in the macrocosm are the basis for an understanding of medical phenomena.  If an organ is sick, the doctor appeals to the corresponding organ in the macrocosm.  This will be personified in a mineral or vegetable that possesses the properties of that organ.  Thus, says Paracelsus, "We must treat limb to limb."  That is, "limb of the macrocosm to limb of the microcosm."20

The virtues, powers, characteristics, and essences of the various substances are received directly from the Divine Power, the source of all organization and quality in the universe.  However, notes Paracelsus, these powers and archetypes must pass through the realm of the stars, the astrum, before finding their way to us.  Here they become either positive or negative influences on us.  What were previously just archetypal patterns of, say, hot and cold, now become too hot and too cold.  From the level of the astrum come epidemics and meteorologically induced illnesses.  What we would generally call "infectious diseases" today, as well as certain types of mental diseases and strokes, were attributed to the stars by Paracelsus and his contemporaries.  

In the time of Paracelsus the study of the archetypal realm in relation to the material world is called astrology or astronomy---the words not yet having been separated.  "Astronomia may be called the highest wisdom of mortals in the light of nature."21  Through the archetype, man is able to peer into the substratum upon which creation is constructed, knowing thereby the medicinal virtues of substances.  This is the foundation upon which Paracelsus constructed his materia medica.

The Doctrine of Signatures

A practical application of the doctrine of correspondence is the doctrine of signatures.  The idea is that the shape, color, appearance, environmental niche, taste, smell, etc., of a plant or medicinal agent will display the tell-tale signs, marks, or configurations indicating how that agent may be used in medicine.  This is called the signatum, or signature.  From ancient times, the doctrine of signatures has been one of the principal methods by which folk-doctors gained knowledge of medicinal plants.  For instance, yellow plants are used to treat the liver, since the bile is yellow-orange.  Red plants are medicines for the blood, blue cools fevers, purple is for septic infections, etc.  The shape of a plant part can also be significant.  Because the orchid has roots shaped like testicles (orchis) it is a medicine for these parts.  "The virtue is signed in the form, figure, corpus and substance," writes Paracelsus.  "That through the signature the interior may be opened" and the "wisdom in the virtue" made known.22    

Hartman gives what is supposed to be a quote from Paracelsus on signatures, but which is more of a paraphrase or digest of his ideas.  It remains, however, one of the best descriptions of the doctrine of signatures in the literature:   

The soul does not perceive the external or internal physical construction of herbs and roots, but it intuitively perceives their powers and virtues, and recognizes at once their signatum.  This signatum (or signature) is a certain vital organic activity, giving to each natural object (in contradistinction to artificially made objects) a certain similarity with a certain condition produced by disease, and through which health may be restored in specific diseases in the diseased part.  This signatum is often expressed even in the exterior form of things, and by observing the form we may learn something in regard to their interior qualities, even without using our interior sight.  We see that the internal character of a man is often expressed in his exterior appearance, even in the manner of his walking and in the sound of his voice.  Likewise the hidden character of things is to a certain extent expressed in their outward forms.  As long as man remained in a natural state, he recognized the signature of things and knew their true character; but the more he diverged from the path of Nature, and the more his mind became captivated by illusive external appearances, the more this power became lost.23

For Paracelsus, the doctrine of signatures was the principle upon which to establish a rational knowledge of materia medica.  It was impossible to understand anything about plants without this knowledge.  "Who writes about the power of the herbs without the signature, is not writing from knowledge.  He writes like a blind man."24

Paracelsus criticized the study of the outward anatomy, as in the work of Vesalius and others popular at this time.  Instead, he believed one should look for the anatomia, the primal configuration inherent in the visible shape or form.  This gives primal order to all in medicine, because not only the medicines, but the organs, patients, and diseases have anatomia.  "The form or anatomia is also in the illness, [manifesting] in the pains, colors and locations."25

Correct treatment matches the anatomia of the medicine to that of the disease.  "There is a further necessity that you know such shapes in the anatomie of herbs and plants and that you bring them together with the anatomie of the disease.  The simile, according to which you should treat, makes healing understandable."26  This brings us to our next principle.


The Law of Similars

The essence or virtue of the plant is similar to the essence of the disease, organ or constitution that it is suited as a medicine.  It was, for Paracelsus (and later for Hahnemann) the Divine principle behind cure.  Paracelsus coined the Latin phrase, similia similibus curantur, "like treats like" to perpetuate the idea.  He was emphatically opposed to the  "law of contraries" as a basis for treatment.  "Contraria a contrariis curantur, that is, heat dispels cold, is false and always has been in medicine.  But rather, it is the arcanum and the disease which are contraria."27

Paracelsus was the first person to advance a system of medicine based on the law of similars as an exclusive ordering principle.  In this he built upon the experience of the empirics, and foreshadowed the work of Hahnemann, who based homeopathy solely on this principle.  Hahnemann latter used the same motto, similia similibus curantur, without acknowledging its Paracelsian paternity.

Despite the analogies, there are important differences between the Paracelsian and Hahnemannian approaches.  The former based similitude primarily on the doctrine of signatures, while Hahnemann looked to similarity between the symptoms caused by a poison and the symptoms produced by a disease.  The remedy which produced the symptoms in a healthy person would also cure them in the sick.  Homeopathy was therefore based upon a pharmacological principle.    

Paracelsus also recognized this form of similitude.  His long experience in mines, smelters, and laboratories brought him into contact with many symptoms produced by poisonous substances.  His Treatise on the Diseases of Miners shows how much his understanding of pathology was based upon such diseases.  He had an extensive knowledge of the substances which produced these effects, and he used them, "like to like," to treat disease.  "If you know arsenicum in its nature, then you also know how to recognize arsenicum in the body," he writes.  "So, when you encounter esthiomenum [devouring lupus] or cancer, you know that arsenicus lies on the same place which makes it."28  Treatment is therefore a matching of "disease to disease."29  The medicinal disease must be placed upon the organism's disease, so that cure will result.  As we shall see, this is the reasoning Hahnemann adopted to explain why the law of similars works.

The association of poisoning with healing may have been natural for both Paracelsus and Hahnemann: the word gift means both a poison and a medicine in German.30  As we shall see later on, however, a good many natural healers opposed the idea of using poisons in any form, even in dilution.  Samuel Thomson taught the use of non-toxic herbal remedies to the exclusion of chemical preparations and Edward Bach taught that only the positive virtue in a plant could heal, and that poisons did not possess this uplifting, spiritual quality.  The introduction of poisonous metals and chemicals into medicine by Paracelsus started the tendency in Western medicine away from simple, non-poisonous plants, towards pharmaceutical preparations.      
All the principal tenets of homeopathy were advanced by Paracelsus.  Linn Boyd, a homeopathic medical historian, writes, "The Paracelsian writings advance a simile, the small dose, the necessity for having drug pictures, the totality of the symptoms, the relationship of drug to disease, the single remedy, the individualization of the patient.  All of these are attributes of the modern [homeopathic] simile which, however, applies these thoughts on a quite different basis."31

Although Paracelsus anticipated Hahnemann, the credit belongs to the latter for making the law of similars into a comprehensive system of medicine based upon pharmacological principle and rational procedure.  The jumbled mass of Paracelsian literature hardly compares with the straight, rational lines of Hahnemannian medicine.  Hahnemann probably discovered his principles independently of any direct influence from the most exalted "charlatan," following an entirely different rationale.  He deserves credit for making an original discovery, and a great contribution to medicine.               
The law of similars had been known from the most ancient times.  It is mentioned by one of the Hippocratic writers, but in a more or less speculative vein.  Galen, an exponent of rationalism in medicine, formally instituted the law of contraries as the basis of practice.  However, his opponents, the empirics, maintained that experience taught them that the law of similars healed, contrary to rational doctrine.  The law of similars remained an element of magic and folk-medicine.  When it was discussed by physicians, it rose little above the level of superstition.  Agrippa von Nettesheim, a contemporary of Paracelsus, gives an account of "how we must find out and examine the virtues of things by way of similitude," which demonstrates this facile approach:

It is well known amongst physicians that brain helps the brain, and lungs the lungs.  So also it is said that the right eye of a frog helps the soreness of a man's right eye, and the left eye thereof helps the soreness of his left eye, if they be hanged about his neck in a cloth of its natural color.  The like is reported by the eyes of a crab.  So the feet of a tortoise helps them that have the gout in their being applied thus---as foot to foot, hand to hand, right to right, left to left.32

Paracelsus brought similarity to a higher level.  He rejected these literalistic and simple-minded applications of the principle.  "Not spleen of a cow, not the brain of a swine to the brain of man, but the brain---that is, the external brain to man's internal brain."33  For example, Chelidonium has an orange-yellow sap that looks like bile.  Therefore, it is used to treat diseases of the liver.        

Paracelsus has often been cited for introducing the law of similars on a magical basis, but there is an important difference between his method and that of his predecessors.  The Paracelsian simile is based on actual, observable patterns in nature.  His doctrine is magical, but not superstitious.  It is scientific within it's own premise.    

Whether or not one believes in the light of nature and the doctrine of correspondence, through his use of these principles Paracelsus was able to establish facts about natural history and chemical behavior that were quite practical and previously unknown.  This contributed to the emerging basis of knowledge upon which materialistic science was coming into existence.

The terms Paracelsus adopted to express the analogies between similars were, however, a step in the magical direction, causing his observations to appear quite a bit like those of Agrippa.  He usually used astrological terms to represent the correspondence between the different diseases and remedies.  Astrology was, for Paracelsus, primarily a language of pattern.  He was not interested in erecting charts and forecasting, but he used astrology as a language expressing archetypal relationships.         

Paracelsus offered several explanations for why the principle of similarity operates.  Historian Harris Coulter noted that they were often logically incompatible.  Here we see evidence of the theory lagging behind the practice, and also the disregard for rationality often found in an intuitive personality.  The explanation that is perhaps the best (or at least my favorite) is that the disease must be actualized, must manifest itself completely, in order for the body to be freed from its power.  The medicine, as a similar, brings the disease to its maximum expression.  "The illness. . . itself must be experienced. . . must be learned in the medicine."34 

The Arcana

The law of correspondence, the doctrine of signatures, and the law of similars point to the existence of a core essence, configuration, or identity-pattern at the root of every natural substance.  Paracelsus called this essence the arcana, or "secret."  As the name suggests, it is a hidden property.  It can only be seen through the light of nature, the spiritual eye.  "Behold the herbs!" says Paracelsus.  "Their virtues are invisible and yet they can be detected."35    

From the arcana standing at the core of the substance, flow the characteristics, similarities, and contrarieties of that substance.  The outward mechanical, chemical properties of the substance are a reflection or derivative of the arcana, but they are not the essence itself.  In fact, the material properties take us away from the arcana.  They can be torn from the context and used independently---and often are---in material medicine. "Laxative and constringent are not arcana."36  External properties, so easily observed and named, draw us away from the internal secrets.  "Names have no virtues; substances have."37

In order to describe the properties of the arcana, a language that is typological in nature is required.  The arcana are diverse, but they can be lumped into broad categories.  Paracelsus utilized the language of pattern common to his era---astrology.  He classified arcana according to the seven "planets" (Sun, Moon, Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn) or the seven precious metals (gold, silver, mercury, copper, iron, tin, and lead).  This method of classification had been in existence some time before Paracelsus and continued to develop after his death.  Paracelsus also used analogies from chemistry and mineralogy.  He likened archetypal principles and organic patterns to events and substances he saw in mines, laboratories, and mineral waters.  He even stated that one had to study volcanos to interpret fevers.

Since the arcana which cures a given disease is cognate with the essence of that disease, the most accurate system of pathological nomenclature would be based upon the remedies.  Paracelsus stated, "A natural truthful physician speaks thus: this is morbus terpentinus, that is morbus sileris montani, that is helleborinum, etc., and not that is phlegm, that is hoarseness, that is rheumatism, that is coryza."  The former names refer to precise phenomena, while the later are imprecise generalizations that have no specific existence.  "There is not simply one kind of colic but many types of colic and as many types as there are types of arcana in colic.  From this follows colica zibetina, colica muscata, not colica ventosa [wind colic], not colica fellis [bilious colic]."38  Such a sentiment would be familiar to a homeopath, who identifies the disease by the drug administered.        
Just as the arcana is hidden in the interior, subjective world, it is hidden in the interior of physical substance.  It is not immediately available for use, but must be isolated through alchemical refinement.  Paracelsus wrote:

Nothing of true value is located in the body of a substance, but in the virtue.  And this is the principle of the quintessence, which reduces, say 20 lbs. to a single ounce, and that ounce far exceeds the entire 20 lbs. in potency.  Hence the less there is of body, the more in proportion is the virtue.39

It is not clear in such statements whether Paracelsus was thinking of a reduction of the crude material to its "active ingredients," in the modern pharmacological sense, or whether he was thinking in terms of the homeopathic idea of dilution.  Perhaps he did not distinguish entirely between the two processes.  We have abundant evidence that the crude ores needed to make the iatrochemic remedies of Paracelsus had to be refined to bring out pure chemical and medicinal substances.  Such refining processes left only a small amount of the essential ingredient.  Paracelsus commonly prepared botanical remedies by distillation, so that the material was again reduced in amount.  There is no doubt, however, that Paracelsus did advocate the use of "unweighable" doses similar to homeopathic dilutions.  "Drugs should be administered not with the weight but beyond the weight," he says.  "Can one weigh the beams of the sun, the air, the spiritum arcanum?"40  Indeed, this was his preferred method, since "the less the body, the more the virtue."  

 Paracelsus continually stated that it was the size of the dose that determined whether the arcana was a poison or a medicine.  Unfortunately, this advice was not heeded by his imitators.  Well into the nineteenth century, chemical agents introduced by Paracelsus were used in large, damaging, sometimes fatal doses.

The arcana is a specific entity.  As such, it cannot be mixed or compounded.  Each medicinal agent possesses a single, specific arcana.  Because every disease is specific, it can only be treated by a specific medicine.  Consequently, Paracelsus taught the use of simples, or single remedies.  "The whole power lies in a simple."41  He opposed poly-pharmacy as the basis for medical practice.  "In the apothecaries there are no real preparations, only a cooking-together into a soup of filth.  The arcanum is drowned in this coction and has no influence."42  That is not to say, however, that Paracelsian preparations were completely free of admixture.  A list of his chemical remedies shows that he often combined several agents together.  The vegetable component was sometimes added to a chemical compound to make it more palatable and less poisonous.  What Paracelsus really opposed was the idea that different medicines could be compounded to form a specific medicinal property.  He seems to have allowed the use of a few simples together, when their unique properties were appreciated.       



Early metallurgists noted two qualities in the mineral world: "perfection" and "impurity."  When an ore was refined, both a perfect metal and an impurity were found within it.  When heated, the perfect part melted and flowed like water (it was malleable and fusible) while the impurity burned and produced smoke.  Because of these properties, the perfect portion was conceived of as a fluid inherent in metals.  It was associated with mercury, the fluidic metal.  Mercury was therefore known as the "mother of metals."  The impure constituent was likened to sulphur, because it burned and produced smoke.   
These ideas were extended to include all phenomena.  Because it was the essence of metals, mercurius was looked upon as the essence in all things.  It gave each creature its distinctive type, characteristics, qualities, and virtues.  "As often as there is a different type there is a different mercurius."43  When organic materials rotted or fermented they produced liquid.  This could then be purified by distillation, thereby isolating the mercurius.      

Sulphur was seen as the combustible element in inorganic and organic matter.  All things that burn or release energy contain sulphur.  It was especially associated with fats and oils, because these burn.  "Every fat is nothing but sulphur that is divided into different forms and ways."44  Organic materials are especially rich in alchemical sulphur because they are easily dried and burned; pure metals, on the other hand, are rich in mercurius.  The life force itself, which is like a finite and combustible material burning in the interior of the organism, is sulphur.         

All of nature consists of essence and energy.  Alchemy is the art of separating and recombining mercurius and sulphur.  Fire is the primal force used to accomplish these transmutations.  Paracelsus called the principle of fire vulcanus.  This principle is not always seen, but it is still there, in both organic and inorganic beings.  The fire in the earth, which is usually unseen but which sometimes erupts, and which Paracelsus intuitively associated with the changes in minerals seen from place to place, is vulcanus.  The fire burning in the interior of organic beings is also hidden, but it is still present.  Paracelsus called it the "internalized vulcanus."  Vulcanus also appears in the inner world of the human spirit.  It is that which separates, recombines, and transmutes.  "[God] instituted vulcanus so that good and evil can be separated from each other," Paracelsus says.  "[Alchemy] is like unto death, which separates the eternal from the mortal, so that it should properly be known as the death of things."45

The Three Substances        

Paracelsus introduced a third member into the alchemical scheme:  "That which burns is sulphur, that which evaporates is mercurius, and that which remains in the ash is salt."46   He called them the three substances or principia (philosophical principles).  They are the fundamental states into which matter divides when subjected to fire. 
The triad of spirit, soul, and body was the source from which Paracelsus drew the concept of the three principia.  "Hermes . . . calls these three substances, spirit, soul, and body, but he has not indicated how this is to be understood."47  Paracelsus supposed that Hermes knew about the chemical application of these three entities, but kept it hidden from profane eyes.  Actually, it was Paracelsus who made a practical, chemical application out of the Hermetic triad.

The elevation of the three substances to chemical principles did not remove from them their spiritual correspondences.  Like all Paracelsian concepts, they have a material and spiritual manifestation.  Mercurius is the spirit, that is, the archetypal, pre-material essence from which the outward form is constructed.  Sulphur is the mortal soul inhabiting the body.  Salt is the body.

The three substances also stand at the root of physiological processes in the body.  "Each corpus is composed of three things, called sulphur, mercurius and salt.  Nothing but life, hidden in the interior of what we call a body, can make them hang together.  If you take a body in hand, you have three invisible substances in one form.  These three are the basis of the giving and making of health."48

Mercurius is the blue-print upon which the corpus is constructed.  It provides the genetic prototype that maintains the form.  Digestion, which consists of tearing down the mercurius of foreign substances, is presided over by the mercurius of the organism.  So is assimilation, which brings them together into a new form.  Similar processes obtain in the intellectual sphere.  Mercurius is associated with personal identity, hence with the mind and brain.    

Sulphur is the root of "energy-processes" or metabolism in the body.  It is the "match-stick" of the body, causing things to burn, in order to remove waste materials and promote activity.  Because it lies at the root of metabolism, sulphur is centered in the middle part of the body, the digestive tract.  (Paracelsus realized, however, that metabolic process was generalized throughout the whole body, and that "alchemical kitchens" existed in every organ and tissue.)    

Paracelsus observed the behavior of salts precipitating out of mineral waters.  He concluded that salt controls and regulates solids and liquids in the body, so that the organism can move materials into and out of the tissues and the system as a whole.  Salt facilitates nutrition, cleansing, and waste removal.  Because of its association with cleaning and elimination, salt is most closely associated with the kidneys, the urinary tract and the lower part of the organism.  

The stomach is the central organ of the body, because it is the seat of the archeus.  However, each organ has its own "stomach," by which it receives and digests its particular nutriment.  The digestate is split into three different parts---mercury, sulphur, and salt.  Each organ has its own mercurius, sulphur, and salt, upon which it feeds.

Each of the three principia produces a characteristic kind of disease.  Mercurius is associated with putrifactive processes.  The primordial disease of mercurius is syphilis, with its putrefaction, erosion, and decomposition of hard structures.  On the mental level, syphilis causes destruction of the integrity and coherence of the personality.  (Mercury was the principal remedy for syphilis from the time of Paracelsus down to the modern era.)  Because it is isolated by distillation, mercurius rises to the top---the head and skin---causing mental disorders, nervous problems, and apoplexy, as well as ulceration and decomposition of the skin, glands, and bones.

Sulphuric diseases result in metabolic disorder.  Combustible waste materials collect, causing contamination, skin rashes, heat, or unequal temperature.  Such a category of disease has been spontaneously recognized in alternative medicine.  Homeopathy uses Sulphur as the principal remedy for "psora," a condition of heat, skin rashes, and irritation of the tissues.  Herbalism looks to sulphur-rich medicines such as Burdock, Dandelion, and Yellow Dock, to "clean the blood" or "detoxify the liver."             
Diseases of salt pertain to the balance and control of water and solids in the body.  If solids fall out of solution, we have mineralization and encrustation.  Arthritis and stone-formation are characteristic diseases.  If solids are deficient, or fluids are excessive, the body becomes too liquid.  Diabetes mellitus is such a disease.  Paracelsus was able to differentiate a wide variety of diseases of salt through examination of the urine.    

Each substance tends toward the deposit of a characteristic waste material.  For mercury it is phlegm, or impure water.  For sulphur it is resina, or impurely burned materials.  For salt it is tartarus, or saline precipitates.  When food is not entirely broken down by the digestive and assimilative processes in the organism it will not be taken up by the body, but instead will collect and settle out, like tartar on the bottom of a wine cask.  This precipitates in the organism, causing tartar on teeth, stones in the gall bladder and kidneys, casts from tubercular deposits, rheumatic stiffness, and disfigurement around bones. 
These three impurities are removed from the organism through a continual "diaphoresis" of the tissues.  "When the lungs are brought into a diaphoretic state, nothing evil can be confined within them.  Thus too with the liver, stomach and other members . . . .  Because neither mucilage, resina or tartarus can attach itself to that which sweats.  But if the sweat-producing power is lacking, then the three harmful things spread not only to one part but to all."50  

Although his system of chemistry was rudimentary, in it we spy the foundational concepts that would evolve into the modern disciplines of chemistry, biochemistry, physiology, and pharmacy.  How extraordinarily modern Paracelsus sounds when he comments that some medicines have to be stored in alcoholic tinctures, some in oils, and some in saline or crystalline bodies. 

The three Paracelsian substances were later criticized because they were not ultimate constituents of matter.  This criticism is based upon modern knowledge, however, and is not appropriate to the technical abilities of Paracelsus' time.  His alchemy was suited to a technology only able to isolate substances according to crude manipulations with fire and water.  It was therefore appropriate and innovative within its context.  Paracelsus called the principles of chemistry he discovered the archedoxa, or "primal doctrines."  They provided the first workable system of chemistry.


The Legacy of Paracelsus   

Paracelsus was a figure of titanic proportions.  It is therefore difficult to assess his ideas, much less their impact on medicine and science.  There is no doubt, however, that it was he who planted the seeds of a new world-view in these fields.  The creators of both conventional and unconventional medicine did not recognize their indebtedness to this "quack," but he must be given credit for establishing the mental atmosphere within which their ideas could arise.
The medicine of Paracelsus is holistic, because it unites the different constituents of man into one.  Only upon such a basis can a real system of medicine be constructed, because humanity is a combination of spirit and matter, nature and God, life and body.  We must continue to move in this direction, because it is the only standpoint that encompasses our true nature.  The acceptance of spiritual and vital processes into conventional science will bring meaning and healing that is impossible under the present order.



1Paracelsus, De Tinctura Physicorum, translated by Arthur Edward Waite, The Hermetic and Alchemical Writings of Paracelsus, 2 vols. (London: 1894; reprint ed., Berkeley, Ca.: Shambala, 1976), I:24; Karl Sudhoff, ed., Paracelsus Werke, 15 vols. (Munich: R. Oldenburg, 1922-3), I/14:392. Sudhoff attributes this tract to Johannes Huser, Paracelsus' editor.

2Paracelsus, Sieben Defensiones, Sudhoff, Paracelsus Werke, I/11:151-2.

3Walter Pagel, Paracelsus, An Introduction to Philosophical Medicine in the Era of the Renaissance (Basle: S. Karger, 1959), p. 5.

4quoted by Henry M. Pachter, Magic into Science, The Story of Paracelsus (New York: Henry Schuman, 1951), p. 155.

5Paracelsus, Von des Bades Pfaeffers Tugenden, Kraeften, under Wirkung; Sudhoff, Paracelsus Werke, I/9:641.

6Paracelsus, Von hinfallenden Siechtagen der Mutter; Sudhoff, Paracelsus Werke, I/8:365.

7Paracelsus, Astronomia magna; Sudhoff, Paracelsus Werke, I/12:497.

8Ibid., I/12:497.

9Paracelsus, De Caducis Liber I; Sudhoff, Paracelsus Werke, I/8:306.

10quoted by Pagel, Paracelsus, p. 53.

11quoted by Anna Stoddart, The Life of Paracelsus (London: 1911), pp. 74, 12.

12quoted by John M. Stillman, Theophrastus Bombastus con Hohenheim called Paracelsus (Chicago: Open Court, 1920), p. 18.

13Stoddart, The Life of Paracelsus, p. 74.

14Ibid., p. 75.

15Jean Beguinus, Tyrochium Chemicum (London: 1669; reprint ed., Gillette, N.J.: Heptangle Books, 1983), p. 21.

16Paracelsus,Von chemie und heilung der Franzosen neun Bücher; Sudhoff, Paracelsus Werke, I/6:456.

17Ibid., I/6:314.

18Paracelus, Labyrinthus medicorum errantium; Sudhoff, Paracelsus Werke, I/11:183.

19Paracelsus, De caduco matricis; Sudhoff, Paracelsus Werke, I/12:37

20Paracelsus, Labyrithus medioricum errantium; Sudhoff, Paracelsus Werke, I/11:205.

21quoted by Pachter, Magic into Science, p. 86.

22Paracelsus, Astronomia magna; Sudhoff, Paracelsus Werke, I/12:497.

23Ibid.; I/12:172.

24Franz Hartman, The Life of Paracelsus and the Substance of His Teachings (London: 1887; reprint ed., San Diego: Wizard's Bookshelf, 1985), p. 51.

25Paracelsus, Astronomia magna; Sudhoff, Paracelsus Werke, I/12:172.

26Paracelsus, Von den podagrischen Krankheiten; Sudhoff, Paracelsus Werke, I/1:363.

27Paracelsus, Paragranum; Sudhoff, Paracelsus Werke, I/8:120.

28Ibid., I/8:88.

Ibid., I/8:120.

30Ibid., I/8:87.

Pachter, Magic into Science, p. 86.

32Linn Boyd, A History of the Simile in Medicine (Philadelphia: Boericke and Tafel, 1936), p. 16.

33Willis F. Whitehead, ed., Three Books of Occult Philosophy by Henry Cornelius Agrippa (London: 1897; reprint ed., New York: Samuel Weiser, 1971), p. 72.

34Paracelsus, Paragranum; Sudhoff, Paracelsus Werke, I/8:157.

35Paracelsus, Vom Urspung und Herkommen der Franzosen; Sudhoff, Paracelsus Werke, I/7:239.

36Paracelsus, Astronomia magna; Sudhoff, Paracelsus Werke, I/12:148.

37Paracelsus, Paragranum; Sudhoff, Paracelsus Werke, I/8:193.

38quoted by Pachter, Magic into Science, p. 56.

39Paracelsus, Paragranum; Sudhoff, Paracelsus Werke, I/8:75.

40Paracelus, De Buecher von den unsichtbaren Krankheiten; Sudhoff, Paracelsus Werke, I/9:325.

41Paracelsus, Von Ursprung und Herkommen der Fransosen; Sudhoff, Paracelsus Werke, I/7:300.

42Paracelsus, Paragranum; Sudhoff, Paracelsus Werke, I/8:84.

Ibid., I/8:195.

44Paracelsus, Das Buch De Mineralibus; Sudhoff, Paracelsus Werke, I/3:42.

45Paracelsus, Von der Bergsucht; Sudhoff, Paracelsus Werke, I/9:472.

46Ibid., I/9:476.

47Paracelsus, Paramirum; Sudhoff, Paracelsus Werke, I/9:46.

48Paracelsus, De 9 Bücher De Natura rerum; Sudhoff, Paracelsus Werke, I/11:319.

49Paracelsus, Paramirum; Sudhoff, Paracelsus Werke, I/9:45; cf. Hartman, The Life of Paracelsus, p. 167.

50Paracelsus, Von der Bergsucht; Sudhoff, Paracelsus Werke, I/9:473.



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