Paracelsus Part 2: His Achievements

B A Ochia

In the first paper about Philipus Aureolus Theophrastu Bombastus von Hohenheim (Paracelsus) we discussed his life and turbulent world around him. In this paper attempt will be made, using paraphrases form his numerous writings, to show how he extended the credibility of mediaeval magic and, arguably, contributed towards the reconstruction of natural magic of the sixteenth century into the experimental philosophy of the seventeen century and beyond.

Philosophy and Theosophy

Philosophy, as we know it today, is a system of theoretical speculation, based upon reasoning from that which is believed to be true and to the unknown, drawing logical deduction from accepted opinion, and establishing new theories. Theosophy is the possession of spiritual knowledge obtained by practical experience. To be a philosopher it is necessary to have reasoning powers, and to calculate possibilities and probabilities; to be a true theosophist it is necessary to have the powers of spiritual perception and to know the things perceived, irrespective of any possibilities, probabilities or accepted opinions. A speculative philosopher occupies an objective standpoint in regard to the thing which he examines; the theosophist finds the character of that thing in himself. ” There is nothing in the Macrocosm of Nature that is not contained in man, because man and Nature are essentially one, and a man who is conscious of being one with Nature will know everything in Nature, if he knows only himself” , argued Paracelsus. A philosopher having no knowledge of his own spirit can only speculate about things which he does not see; the practical theosophist, knowing his own spiritual state, does not need to speculate, because he sees the spirit of things and knows what he sees. Thus philosophy is the love of wisdom and speculation thereon; theosophy is nothing more or less than the clear understanding itself. Paracelsus was a theosophist as we shall see in some of his pronouncement in matters relating to subjects as far afield as marriage and atomic energy.

Women and marriage

“Men and women are not equal. They are constituted very differently from each other, not only according to their mental characteristics, but also in regard to the whole of their bodily substance. Woman is made of the best and substantial part of man and is therefore the crown of creation. Man represents the dark and fiery will, woman the light and love will; man the fire, woman the water”, he declared. ” The procreation of children is an animal function and he who is unable or unwilling to exercise it has no business to marry. If he, nevertheless, enters the connubial bonds, he commits a piece of stupidity if not fraud.”


“If a pregnant woman imagines something strongly, the effects of her imagination become manifest in the child. A strong desire of either kind will give rise to a strong imagination. Curses as well as blessings will be effective if they come from the heart. It is therefore desirable that we should govern our imagination and not allow it to go wild.
The imagination of the father sets into action the creative power necessary to generate a human being, and the imagination of the mother furnishes the material for its formation and development; but neither the father nor the mother is the parent of the essential spiritual man, but the germ of the latter comes from the Mysterium Magum and God is the father. Parents do not endow their children with reason although they may furnish the child with a body, in which principle of reason may, or may not, be able to act. Reason is the natural birthright of every human being; it is eternal and perfect; and need not be educated in the child, but it may be overpowered and driven and out by dogmatism and error.”


“True science can accomplish a great deal; the Eternal Wisdom of the existence of all things is without a time, without a beginning and without an end. Things that are considered now to be impossible will be accomplished; that which is unexpected will in future prove to be true; and that which is looked upon as superstition in one century will be the basis for the approved science of the next. Our science should be based upon our own perception of truth, not upon mere belief or opinion.”

“Magic is the greatest wisdom and the knowledge of supernatural powers. The first requirement for the study of magic is a thorough knowledge of Nature. Man is an animal, a spirit and angel, for he has all three qualities. If man knows the essence of things, their attributes, their attractions, and elements of which they consist, he will be a master of Nature, of the elements, and of the spirits. There are two kinds of intelligence, that of the carnal man and that of the spirit; the former argues, the latter knows. A strong faith and a powerful imagination are the two pillars supporting the door to the temple of magic, and without them nothing could be accomplished. If man’s imagination is strong enough to penetrate into every corner of his interior world, it will be able create things in those corners, and whatever man thinks will take place in his soul. Man is mind; he is what he thinks.”

“All knowledge comes from the stars (the Universal Mind). Men do not invent or create ideas; the ideas exit, and men are able to grasp them. Many ideas exit which men have not yet grasped. Many stars are still far away to form a connection with the earth. The ream of stars and ideas is infinite, and therefore the source of inventions and discoveries is not yet exhausted. New ideas appear on the mental horizon, and old ideas are lost. If a new comet appears on the sky, if fills the hearts of the ignorant with terror; if new and grand idea appears on the mental horizon, it creates fear in the camp of those that cling to old systems and accepted forms.”


“Pseudo-philosophy looks like knowledge but it is the outcome of ignorance, gilded and varnished to deceive the vulgar. The intellectual of working the brain alone is not sufficient to give birth to a physician. The true physician is not the one who has heard of the truth, but he who feels the truth, who sees it before him as clearly as the light of the sun, who hears it as he would hear the noise of the cataract of the Rhine or the whistling of the storms upon the ocean, who smells it and tastes it, it being sweet to him as honey or bitter as gull. Nature produces diseases and effects their cures, and where then could be found a better teacher than Nature herself. That alone which we see and feel and perceive constitutes true knowledge; not that of which we are merely informed in books, and which is not confirmed by experience. Those who merely study and treat the effect of disease are like persons who imagine that they can drive the winter away by brushing the snow from the door. It is not the snow that causes the winter, but the winter is the cause of the snow. Imagination is the cause of many; faith is the cure for all. Faith will make medicine efficacious; doubt will destroy their virtues. If man were in possession of a perfect knowledge of himself, he would not be sick at all.”

Paracelsus’ ‘Spirit of Vitriol’ can claim a special interest as an early instance of the use of animals to test drugs. He attempted systematic chemical research incorporating metallurgy and pharmacology. He introduced new laboratory methods. He made possible the use of new and probably efficacious and therapeutic preparations by devising special methods of rendering them less harmful. Examples of advanced knowledge, advocated by him, are the concentrations of alcohol by freezing, the production of narcotic ether-like products arising from the reaction between sulphuric acid and alcohol, and the preparation of tartar emetic (antimony potassium bitartarate). He was the first to prepare hydrogen by the action of acids on certain metals. It was clearly distinguished from other flammable gases in 1766 by the English chemist, Henry Cavendish, who determined its density and the quantity of it resulting from the action of measured amounts and acids and metals.

During the golden age of Arab culture, a technique was developed for the distillation of the essential oils. The Arabs were first to distil ethyl alcohol from fermented sugar providing a solvent for the extraction of essential oils in place of fatty acids that had been used for several millennia. The alchemical theories of Paracelsus played a role in stimulating physicians and pharmacists to seek essential oil by distillation of a range of aromatic leaves, woods and roots.

In his treatise on Open Wounds and Diseases Paracelsus wrote “For we teach that what heals a man also wounds him, and what has wounded him will also heal him, when it is taken in an infinitesimal dose.” Thus laying the foundation stone for homeopathy, a system of therapeutics founded by Samuel Hahnemann (1755-1843), in which diseases are treated by drugs which are capable of producing in healthy persons symptoms like those of the diseases to be treated, the drug being administered in minute doses.

Paracelsus was the first person to connect goitre with minerals, especially lead, in drinking water. He maintained that the disease, syphilis, could be successfully treated with carefully measured doses of mercury compounds taken internally. He stated that the “miner’s disease (silicosis) resulted from inhaling metal vapours, and not a punishment for sins administered by mountain spirits”. On excessive intake of alcohol he wrote, “Alcohol, as we know, sharpens the senses up to the point where they (alcohol abusers) topple headlong into the pit of befuddled stupidity.”


“One man communicates his thoughts to another with whom he is in sympathy, at any distance, however great it may be, or he acts upon the spirit of another person in such a manner as to influence his actions after  the latter has awakened from his sleep.”


“Nothing can be accomplished without the power of faith. If a loaf of bread were laid on a table before a hungry man, and the man did not believe that he could break a piece of it, he would starve to death in spite of the loaf. It is the faith which gives us the power, and through the power of faith we become spirit ourselves, and are able to use spiritual powers. Faith renders the spirit; doubt in the destroyer.”


“If we eat the flesh of animals, it is not their flesh itself that forms our blood and bones in our bodies, but the invisible vehicle (Mumia) of life, derived from the flesh of these animals, is taken up into our bodies and forms new tissues and organs. We eat the flesh of domestic animals because their character is more gentle and their Mumia less exciting. The healthiest animal food is the flesh of the birds, because they live in the air, and the air is the noblest of the four elements.”


“As each of the component parts of man has its life, so it has its own death; there is a continual process of death and regeneration going on in man. The physical body of man is grown from the physical germ, and requires physical nutriment for its support. There is something like a fire (energy) within ourselves which continually consumes our form, and if we were to add nothing to our body to supply the waste caused by that combustion, our form would soon die. We continually eat our own selves; we eat our fingers, our heart and our brains; but in each morsel of food which we eat, there is contained the material required to replace that which has been consumed by the internal fire. The Master in man who superintends the building up of the organism, supplies every organ with that which it needs. Bread will produce blood, although there is no blood in bread.”


“If, for instance, a woman is deficient in the element of Mars, and  subsequently suffers from poverty of blood and want of the nervous system (anaemia), we may give her iron, because the astral elements of iron correspond to the astral elements represented by Mars, and will attract them as a magnet attracts iron. But we should choose a plant which contains iron in etherealised state, which is preferable to that of metallic iron (e.g. elder berries Sambucus).”


“Every living being requires that particular kinds of food which is adapted to its species and to its individual, organism, and life. The great alchemist, transforms the food taken. Animals refuse to eat or drink things which are injurious to them and the select, by their natural instincts, those things which they require; it is only given to intellectual man to disobey his natural instincts, and to eat or drink things which are injurious to him, but which may gratify some artificially acquired tastes. Man is much more subject to disease than animals in a state of liberty, because animals live in accordance with the laws of their nature, and man acts continually against the laws of his nature, especially in regard to his eating and drinking.”


On his way through Hungry and Walachia, Paracelsus was infected with body-lice. He immediately set to work and produced a white powder that proved entirely effective. So, he may be said to be the first to prepare a kind of “Keating’s Powder”, fatal to bugs, lice, fleas, beetle, etc, as DDT.

Atomic Energy

“When the process of perfection (purification or sublimation) properly begins, the mass (or matter) transforms itself, there and then, into a ray. Know, therefore, that the said mass is ultimately nothing but box full of great force and power”, Paracelsus wrote in his Buck Meteororum.

In conclusion, Paracelsus advanced the ancient magic by his emphasis on the thorough study of nature and, thus, laid the foundation of modern experimental technique.  By doing away with existing orthodox pedagogy he paved the way for modern medicine, chemistry, physiology and, even, nuclear power.