Great Teacher Series @ Theosophy Trust


The seeds sown in the Second Impulsion by Pico della Mirandola were germinated by Paracelsus (1493-1541), "the greatest Occultist of the middle ages," a solitary Sun illuminating every salubrious art and science which heals the human condition. Born Philippus Theophrastus Bombastus von Hohenheim, he was the son of Wilhelm Bombastus, a Swabian nobleman whose father had been Grand Master of the Knights of St. John, and Elsa Ochsner, a bondswoman of a Benedictine abbey. After the family lost Castle Hohenheim, his father studied medicine and alchemy until financial need forced him to become a country doctor. He settled in the town of Einsiedeln near Zurich and married in 1492. On St. Philip's Day in the following year his only child was born. Paracelsus was named after Theophrastus, an ancient scientist and successor to Aristotle as head of the Lyceum.

From the earliest moments of his life Paracelsus witnessed the altruistic service of his parents to the poor and ailing. He also learned the sciences behind this service – alchemy, medicine and surgery – from his father. This peaceful and instructive home was shattered by the tragic death of his mother when he was nine years old. Father and son left the town where Elsa, in a fit, had thrown herself into the Siehl River, to settle in Villach in Carinthia, where his father's knowledge of metals was welcomed by the Fugger mining enterprises. Here Paracelsus learned the alchemical mysteries which lay hidden in the smelter's crucible, the value of herbs, and their relations to the stars. Though sent to nearby Lavanttal to learn Latin, he was soon released by Bishop Erhard from grammatical studies so that they might pore over the problem of the Philosopher's Stone. Thus Paracelsus escaped the orthodox education of the day and nurtured a desire to wander the world in search of more potent truths, for he did not believe that the secrets of nature could be told. Rather,

All arts lie in man, though not all are apparent. Awakening brings them out. To be taught is nothing; everything is in man, waiting to be awakened.

In 1507 he became a travelling student. He visited the great universities – Heidelberg, Ingolstadt, Freiburg, Cologne – and rejected them all because of their ignorance, dogmatism and licentiousness. In 1509 he was befriended by Vadianus, the Rector of the University of Vienna and former teacher of humanities in Villach. He learned astrology, though he did not accept the prevailing idea that the stars mechanically control the destinies of men, believing instead that the stars and their aspects were only correlated with terrene properties, conditions and relations. He was repelled by the dissecting of corpses to discover the nature of the human body. His position on this practice was uncompromising: "They dissect thieves. . . . After they have seen everything, they know less than before and into the bargain are soiled with the refuse and cadaver. Then they go to Mass instead of seeing their patients." Yet Paracelsus supported experiment as a means to discover the applications of theoretical science to specific sicknesses. The medical system of Galen analyzed the body, but it did not demonstrate how the whole organism functioned. This became the crux of the cleavage between the Galenic and Paracelsian schools. Paracelsus protested:

You will learn nothing from the anatomy of the dead: it fails to show the true nature, its working, its essence, quality, being and power. All that is essential to know is dead. The true anatomy has never been dealt with. It is that of the living body, not the dead one. If you want to anatomize health and disease, you need a living body.

His mode of experimentum was to study the nature, function and correlations of the principles which animate the body. He demonstrated the power of his system in remarkable cures and even in his famous surgeries, though he resorted to them only when all else had failed.

Paracelsus had long been attracted to the philosophy of Plato, and so found the University of Ferrara, where Pico della Mirandola had studied, more congenial. Although he received his doctor's hat there in 1515, he could not find, even among the Platonists, synthesizing, intuitive minds who comprehended the spiritual roots of natural phenomena. And so he travelled yet farther, searching among academicians and Jews, pharmacists and gypsies, alchemists and executioners, to learn whatever he could of the ars medica.

In 1516 Paracelsus came to Trithemius, Bishop of Sponheim, a great alchemist and Magus who had instructed Cornelius Agrippa. "Studies generate knowledge," Trithemius taught. "Knowledge bears love; love, likeness; likeness, communion; communion, virtue; virtue, dignity; dignity, power; and power performs the miracle. This is the unique path to magic perfection." Paracelsus learned the nature of elementals, the inner meaning of signs and the signatures of nature, bringing into focus the links between macrocosm and microcosm. "I have entered through the door of Nature," he wrote. "Her light, not the lamp of the apothecary's shop, has illuminated my way."

Paracelsus was now prepared for his deepest studies. He declared:

No man becomes master while he stays at home, nor finds a teacher behind the stove. Diseases wander here and there the whole length of the world. He who would understand them must wander, too.

He travelled west, to the universities of Montpellier, home of Arabic medicine; then to Seville, Salamanca and the Sorbonne; to England, Flanders and Copenhagen, where he reorganized the pharmacies and set standards for the production of medicines; to Sweden and Russia. The Tartars sacked Moscow and took Paracelsus to the Khan. It is said that he travelled to India at this time and learned some portion of the secret wisdom of the East.

In 1521 he accompanied the Khan's son on a diplomatic mission to Constantinople. He received the Philosopher's Stone from Solomon Trismosinus, a mysterious being also seen in France in the late seventeenth century. Paracelsus proceeded to Alexandria and made an excursion up the Nile, then visited the Greek islands – barely escaping from Sultan Suleiman's siege of Rhodes, visiting Kos, birthplace of Hippocrates and Samos, that of Pythagoras, and Lesbos. He returned to Villach via the Dalmatian coast in 1524.

Paracelsus had searched and studied. Now he was prepared to teach. After settling briefly in Salzburg and Strasbourg, he was called to Basel to cure Johannes Froben, a famous printer and supporter of the German humanists. Other doctors had agreed that Froben's infected leg must be amputated, a highly dangerous operation which was repugnant to Paracelsus. He cured Froben without surgery and gave much appreciated medical advice to Erasmus, Froben's houseguest. Paracelsus met the leading minds of Basel, including Oecolampadius and the younger Holbein.

In 1526 the municipal council appointed him professor of physics, medicine and surgery, and city physician. For a year he lectured on all aspects of medicine and its underlying metaphysics, refusing to use any authority save the aphorisms of Hippocrates, Macer's Herbal, and experimentum et ratiocinium, experiment and reasoning. By 1528 his innovative medical theories, uncompromising language and relentless inspection of apothecaries for fairness of price and purity of drugs fused several factions against him, and he was forced to leave Basel.

Never again settling in one place, he travelled from town to town in central Europe, followed by disciples, dispensing his doctrines and cures without remuneration. The physicians of Nuremberg denounced him as a quack in 1530. Paracelsus demanded that the City Council bring him cases which had been pronounced incurable. Curing them quickly, he silenced his critics.

When visiting Villach in 1538, Paracelsus learned of his father's death. He felt that his major public work was finished, and though he continued to travel and heal the sick, he cloaked the last three years of his life in silence. Duke Ernst of Bavaria, Prince Palatine, a lover of the secret arts, invited him to Salzburg, where he briefly enjoyed peace and fame. But he was physically weak, and when attacked at an inn by hired thugs, he suffered a skull fracture. He died on September 24, 1541.

In fifteen years of writing, Paracelsus composed fifty works on practical and philosophical medicine, seven on alchemy, nine on natural history and philosophy, twenty-six on magic and fifteen on various topics. He developed his own terminology so that his basic concepts would not carry with them outworn associations. Often criticized for writing in 'vulgar' German rather than Latin, he ensured a wide audience for his ideas outside academic and ecclesiastical circles.

Paracelsus taught that Yliaster (perhaps from hyle, matter, and astrum, star), the source of nature, is pervaded by the Word or Logos and divides into invisible spiritual power and electric, vital matter. The source of all beings is this mysterium magnum, and each being has its seed cause in some mysterium specialium containing all the power and possibilities of that being potentially, though not actively. "Everything," he wrote, "is the product of one universal creative effort; the Macrocosm and man are one." Hence, there is nothing dead in nature, for what men call death is only a transformation. Becoming is the movement from potentiality to actuality. The key to the elevation or debasement of man lies in the conditions he fosters within himself, and this double possibility of transformation is represented in man's dual nature.

Animal man is the son of animal elements out of which his soul was born, and animals are the mirrors of man. . . . If man is like his animal father, he resembles an animal; if he is like the Divine Spirit that may illuminate his animal elements, he is like a god. . . . A man whose human reason is absorbed by his animal desires, is an animal, and if his animal reason amalgamates with wisdom, he becomes an angel. . . . Man should therefore live in harmony with his divine parent, and not in the animal elements of his soul.

In specifying the complex of principles called 'Man,' he enumerated seven: the elementary body, the shifting aggregate of elementals which constitute the physical form; the archaeus, or pranic force which animates all conditioned life; the sidereal body, the occult and inner foundation of the elementary body; the animal soul, or kama rupa when conceived in isolation from the other principles; the rational soul, Manas, the thinking principle; the spiritual soul, Buddhi; and the Man of the new Olympus, the divine Spirit overbrooding the other principles.

All imbalances, from spiritual failure and moral corruption to insanity and disease, stem from the actions of the universal force, or Karma. The specific causes of imbalance lie in the various principles and must be treated there. Treatment of symptoms might relieve immediate anxiety or discomfort, but until the principles of man are spiritually, morally and psycho-physically harmonized, no real cure is possible. Paracelsus advanced the art of diagnosis, treated the magnetic polarities of the body, and prescribed regimens of study, contemplation, diet, hygiene and socio-environmental reform.

Everything that man accomplishes or does, that he teaches or wants to learn, must have its right proportion; it must follow its own line and remain within its circle, to the end that a balance be preserved, that there be no crooked thing, that nothing exceed the circle.

With the keys of ancient wisdom, Pico threw open the gate beyond which lay the path to perfection. Paracelsus provided the foundation of spiritual therapeutics which strengthens men to tread that path.

Man should study in three schools. . . . He should send the elemental or material body to the elemental school, the sidereal or ethereal body to the sidereal school, and the eternal or luminous body to the school of eternity.

For three lights burn in man, and accordingly three doctrines are prescribed to him. Only all three together make man perfect. Although the first two lights shine but dimly in comparison with the brilliant third light, they too are lights of the world, and man must walk his earthly path in their radiance.

The three luminous spheres in which man is enveloped can be brought into a perfect harmony which will shed spiritual and vital radiance on the whole of humanity. This harmony can be effected by the thinking principle alone, for when it is infused with moral resilience, the Man within and Nature without are uplifted. "For the light of nature is nothing other than reason itself."

The Perfected Man is the indispensable agent of all nature, and the pivot of spiritual evolution. "The center of all things is man; he is the middle point of heaven and earth." Man can manifest the universal kinship of all life, for "Heaven is man, and man is heaven, and all men together are the one heaven, and heaven is nothing but one man.

Let man consider who he is and what he should and must become. . . . Man needs more than common intelligence to know who he is; only he who studies himself properly and knows whence he comes and who he is will also give profound attention to the eternal.

This friendless soul was a friend to all, sacrificing his own comfort and personal concern for others. He was buried in a pauper's tomb at the church of St. Sebastian in Salzburg. He was the father of modern chemistry and physiology, "the two great magicians of the future," according to H.P.Blavatsky. He first described and successfully treated syphilis, discovered nitrogen and prescribed organic iron for the blood, and founded chemotherapy and psychiatry on an occult basis.

William Q. Judge intimated another conclusion to the life of Paracelsus in 1887:

Paracelsus was one of the greatest Masters ever known upon the earth. In rank he may be compared with Hermes Thrice-Master. It is considered by some students to be likely that at this period He who was once known as Paracelsus is in a body whose astral meets with others in Asia.

While editing the works of this Master, Jolande Jacobi felt compelled to write:

He stands like a tree with spreading branches, and with each year that passes the leaves he puts forth seem richer and greener. Always and everywhere living and active in his power to fructify our souls, he is still living among us today.