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Theosophical Encyclopedia

Paracelsus

Philippus Aureolus Theophrastus Bombastus von Hoenheim (1493?-1541), who called himself Paracelsus (i.e., “superior to [or after] Celsus,” a 2nd century. Roman anti-Christian philosopher criticized by Origen), was both a magician, physician, and writer. He was of Swiss birth, but traveled widely and died young, apparently a victim of murder, in Salzburg, Austria, where a statue was erected for him in 1752. He enjoyed wide popularity with common people, lecturing in German rather than Latin, but was thoroughly disliked by his learned contemporaries because of his egotism and unconventional ideas. A lengthy dramatic poem was written about him by Robert Browning, published in 1875, sections of which are often quoted in theosophical writings. A portrait of him faces p. 529 of vol. 1 of The Secret Doctrine. Among other things, Paracelsus opposed the theory of “humors” and advocated specific remedies for specific diseases. He introduced a number of medicines into use and identified hereditary patterns in certain diseases. He was the first to recognize an occupationally related illness in his On Diseases of Miners. He is also credited with the discovery of the element nitrogen (SD I:297). In addition to medical treatises, such as on the treatment of syphilis, he wrote some important occult works. De fundamento Sapientiae (On the Foundation of Wisdom), De Generatione (On Generation), De Viribus (On Man), Paragranum (Against the Grain), and Philosophia ad Athenienses (Philosophy to the Athenians) are cited by Helena P. Blavatsky in The Secret Doctrine. In addition to some scholarly biographies, there is one written by an early theosophist, Dr. Franz Hartmann, The Life of Paracelsus (1887), frequently quoted by HPB in her The Secret Doctrine. There is also an article on him as part of a series on “Great Theosophists” in Theosophy magazine (1938).

Unlike scholarly sources, most of which either ignore or ridicule his philosophy, there are numerous favorable references to Paracelsus’ ideas in The Secret Doctrine. Summarizing, he held the view that there is one ultimate, homogeneous reality in the universe, which he called Mysterium Magnum, which HPB equates with the Hindu notion of Brahman (SD I:61), and which is the underlying basis of all matter (SD I:584). Thus, as Hartmann translates from the Philosophia ad Atheniensus, “Everything is the product of one universal creative effort. . . . There is nothing dead in Nature. Everything is organic and living and consequently the whole world appears to be a living organism” (loc. cit, p. 44; cited in SD I:281, italics HPB’s). This all-pervading force Paracelsus termed “Archaeus,” which HPB identifies with the “Father-Ether” of The Secret Doctrine (SD I:51). This vital energy or “nerve fluid,” he also calls “Liquor Vitae,” the noumenal cause of the phenomenal stellar influences upon human beings, which, HPB adds, works through man’s etheric double or “vital linga-śarīra” (SD I:532; Hartmann, p. 133), an idea clearly referred to by Paracelsus as a “vital force” which “radiates around man like a luminous sphere” (SD I:532 fn.; the quote is from the Paragranum). HPB adds, “This primordial substance is said to contain within itself the essence of all that goes to make up man; it has not only all the elements of his physical being, but even the ‘breath of life’ itself in a latent state, ready to be awakened. This it derives from the ‘incubation’ of the Spirit of God upon the face of the waters — CHAOS: in fact, this substance is chaos itself. From this it was that Paracelsus claimed to be able to make his homunculi . . .” (SD I:345). The homunculi, according to HPB, were akin to the “shadows” or chhāyās referred to in Stanza V, sloka 20 of the Stanzas of Dzyan, although she says those created by Paracelsus were “on a far more material plane” (SD II:120). And she states that this “fact in Alchemy,” i.e., the ability to create such homunculi, is something which future scientists will rediscover (SD II:349). Interestingly, Henry M. Pachter, in Paracelsus: Magic into Science (NY: Henry Schuman, 1951; pp. 146-7), who gives a sympathetic account of Paracelsus’ medical theories, says that the Paragranum “is his best-known work, for . . . the outline is simple, the style lively, and his basic teachings are put in a nutshell.” Several writers, furthermore, relate his ideas to the homeopathic theories of Samuel Hahnemann (1755-1843).

HPB claims that Paracelsus believed that the universe is evolved out of an ideal Plan, but only hinted at such an idea “inferentially” (SD I:282) and that it operates through a hierarchy of intelligent beings which he called Flagae (“flaming ones”) and which she identifies as the same as the DHYĀNI-CHOHANS of occultism, the pitrIs of Hinduism, and the guardian Angels of Christianity (SD I:222 fn). She mentions in passing that Paracelsus, like occultism, made a distinction between the purely phenomenal causality of orthodox science and the true cause of phenomena in their noumenal counterparts (SD I:492). She uses a quote from De Fundamento Sapientiae: (“Animal man is the son of the animal elements out of which his soul [life] was born, and animals are the mirrors of man”) to support her statement that the elementals of ether, fire, air, water, and earth are attracted to people according to the preponderance of that element in the person’s constitution, hence an earthy man, she says, will attract gnomic elementals who will “lead him towards assimilating metals — money and wealth, and so on” (SD I:294 fn). In fact, she claims, had not Paracelsus been murdered, “physiological Magic would have fewer secrets for the civilized world than it now has” (SD I:263).

R.W.B.

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