That remarkable man, Philippus Aureolus Bombast von Hohenheim, known as Theophrastus Paracelsus, was born in this house on November 10, 1493.

His medieval mind and questing spirit would not take it amiss if, in respectful remembrance of the customs of his day, we first glance at the position of the sun at the time of his birth.

It stood in the sign of Scorpio, a sign that, according to ancient tradition, was favourable to physicians, the ministers of poisons and of healing.

The ruler of Scorpio is the proud and bellicose Mars, who endows the strong with warlike courage and the weak with a quarrelsome and irascible disposition.

The course of Paracelsus’s life certainly did not belie his nativity.

Turning now from the heavens to the earth on which he was born, we see his parents’ house embedded in a deep, lonely valley, darkly overhung by woods, and surrounded by the somber towering mountains that shut in the moorlike slopes of the hills and declivities round about melancholy Einsiedeln.

The great peaks of the Alps-rise up menacingly close, the might of the earth visibly dwarfs the will of man; threateningly alive, it holds him fast in its hollows and forces its will upon him.

Here, where nature is mightier than man, none escapes her influence; the chill of water, the starkness of rock, the gnarled, jutting roots of trees and precipitous cliffs—all this generates in the soul of anyone born there something that can never be extirpated, lending him that characteristically Swiss obstinacy, doggedness,

That remarkable man, Philippus Aureolus Bombast von Hohenheim, known as Theophrastus Paracelsus, was born in this house on November 10, 1493.

His medieval mind and questing spirit would not take it amiss if, in respectful remembrance of the customs of his day, we first glance at the position of the sun at the time of his birth.

It stood in the sign of Scorpio, a sign that, according to ancient tradition, was favourable to physicians, the ministers of poisons and of healing.

The ruler of Scorpio is the proud and bellicose Mars, who endows the strong with warlike courage and the weak with a quarrelsome and irascible disposition.

The course of Paracelsus’s life certainly did not belie his nativity.

Turning now from the heavens to the earth on which he was born, we see his parents’ house embedded in a deep, lonely valley, darkly overhung by woods, and surrounded by the somber towering mountains that shut in the moorlike slopes of the hills  nd declivities round about melancholy Einsiedeln.

 

The great peaks of the Alps-rise up menacingly close, the might of the earth visibly dwarfs the will of man; threateningly alive, it holds him fast in its hollows and forces its will upon him.

 

Here, where nature is mightier than man, none escapes her influence; the chill of water, the starkness of rock, the gnarled, jutting roots of trees

and precipitous cliffs—all this generates in the soul of anyone born there something that can never be extirpated, lending him that characteristically Swiss obstinacy, doggedness,

 

that lays claim to the potestas patris, as if it were his own father’s adversary.

 

What the father lost or had to relinquish—success, fame, a free-roving life in the great world—he will have to win back again.

 

And, following a tragic law, he must also fall out with his friends, as the predestined consequence of the fateful bond with his only friend, his father—for psychic endogamy is attended by heavy punishments.

 

As is not uncommon, nature equipped him very badly for the role of avenger.

 

Instead of an heroic figure fit for a rebel, she gave him a stature of a mere five feet, an unhealthy appearance, an upper lip that was too short and did not quite cover his teeth (often the distinguishing mark of nervous people), and, so it seems, a pelvis that struck everybody by its femininity when,

in the nineteenth century, his bones were exhumed in Salzburg.

 

3 There is even a legend that he was a eunuch, though to my knowledge there is no further evidence of this.

 

At all events,  love seems never to have woven her roses into his earthly life, and he had no need of their thorns, since his character was

prickly enough as it was.

 

Hardly had he reached an age to bear arms than the little man buckled on a sword much too big for him, from which he seldom let himself be parted, the less so because, in its ballshaped pommel, he kept his laudanum pills, which were his true arcanum.

 

Thus accoutred, a figure not entirely lacking in comedy, he set forth into the wide world on his amazing and hazardous journeys which took him to Germany, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Denmark, Sweden, and Russia.

 

An eccentric thaumaturge, almost a second Apollonius of Tyana, he is supposed, according to legend, to have travelled to Africa and Asia, where he discovered the greatest secrets.

 

He never undertook any regular studies, as submission to authority was taboo to him.

 

He was a self-made man, who devised for himself the apt motto Alterius non sit, qui suus esse potest right and proper Swiss sentiment.

 

All that befell Paracelsus on his endless journeys must remain forever in the realm of conjecture, but probably it was a constant repetition of what happened to him in Basel.

 

In 1525, already famed as a physician, he was summoned to Basel by the town council, the latter evidently acting in one of those rare fits of clear-headedness which now and then occur in the course of history, as the appointment of the youthful Nietzsche also shows.

 

The appointment of Paracelsus had a somewhat distressing background, as Europe at that time was suffering under an unexampled epidemic of syphilis which had broken out after the Neapolitan campaign.

 

Paracelsus occupied the post of a town physician, but he comported himself with a lack of dignity not at all to the taste of the university or of the worshipful public.

 

He scandalized the former by giving his lectures in the language of stable-boys and scullions, that is, in German; the latter he outraged by appearing in the street, not in his robe of office, but in a labourer’s jerkin.

 

Among his colleagues he was the best hated man in Basel, and not a hair was left unscathed in his medical treatises.

 

He was known as the “mad bull,” the “wild ass of Einsiedeln.”

 

He gave it all back, and more, in studiedly obscene invective, a far from edifying spectacle.

 

In Basel, fate dealt him a blow that struck deep into his life: he lost his friend and favourite pupil, the humanist Johannes Oporinus, who meanly betrayed him and supplied his enemies with the most powerful ammunition.

 

Afterwards, Oporinus himself regretted his disloyalty, but it was too late; the damage could never be mended.

 

Nothing, however, could dampen the arrogant and obstreperous behaviour of Paracelsus; on the contrary, the betrayal only increased it.

 

He soon took to travelling  again, mostly poverty-stricken and often reduced to beggary.

 

When he was thirty-eight, a characteristic change showed itself in his writings: philosophical treatises began to appear alongside his medical ones.

 

“Philosophical” is hardly the right word for this spiritual phenomenon—one would do better to call it “Gnostic.”

 

This remarkable psychic change is one that usually occurs after the midpoint of life has been crossed, and it might be described as a reversal of the psychic current.

 

Only rarely does this subtle change of direction appear clearly on the surface; in most people it takes place, like all the important things in life, beneath the threshold of consciousness.

 

Among those with powerful minds, it manifests itself as a transformation of

 

the intellect into a kind of speculative or intuitive spirituality, as for instance in the case of Newton, Swedenborg, and Nietzsche.

 

With Paracelsus, the tension between the opposites was not so marked, though it was noticeable enough.

 

This brings us, after having touched on the externals and the vicissitudes of his personal life, to Paracelsus the spiritual man, and we now enter a world of ideas that must seem extraordinarily dark and confusing to the man of the present, unless he has some special knowledge of the late-medieval mentality.

 

Above all, Paracelsus—despite his high estimation of Luther—died a good Catholic, in strange contrast to his pagan philosophy.

 

One can hardly suppose that Catholicism was simply his style of life.

 

For him it was probably such a manifestly and completely incomprehensible thing that he never even reflected upon it, otherwise he would certainly have got into difficulties with the Church and with his own feelings.

 

Paracelsus was evidently one of those people who keep their intellect and their feelings in different compartments, so that they can happily go on thinking with the intellect and not run the risk of colliding with what their feelings believe.

 

It is indeed a great relief when the one hand does not know what the other is doing, and it would be idle curiosity to want to know what would happen if the two ever did collide. In those days, if all went well, they did not collide—this is the distinctive feature of that peculiar age, and it is quite as puzzling as the mentality, say, of Pope Alexander VI and of the whole higher clergy of the Cinquecento.

 

Just as, in art, a merry paganism emerged from under the skirts of the Church, so, behind the curtain of scholastic disputation, a paganism of the spirit flourished in a rebirth of Neoplatonism and natural philosophy.

 

Among the leaders of this movement it was particularly the Neoplatonism of the humanist Marsilio Ficino which influenced Paracelsus, as it did so many other aspiring “modern” minds in those days.

 

Nothing is more characteristic of the explosive, revolutionary, futuristic spirit of the times, which left Protestantism far behind and anticipated the nineteenth century, than the motto of Agrippa von Nettesheim’s book De incertitudine et vanitate scientiarum (1527): Nullis his parcet Agrippa,

contemnit, scit, nescit, flet, ridet, irascitur, insectatur, carpit omnia, ipse philosophus, daemon, heros, deus et omnia.

 

A new era had dawned, the overthrow of the authority of the Church was under way, and with it vanished the metaphysical certainty of the Gothic man.

 

But whereas in Latin countries antiquity broke through in every conceivable form, the barbarous Germanic countries, instead of reverting to classical times, succumbed to the primitive experience of the spirit in all its immediacy, in different forms and at different levels, embodied by great and marvellous thinkers and poets like Meister Eckhart, Agrippa, Paracelsus, Angelus Silesius, and Jacob Boehme.

 

All of them show their primitive but forceful originality by an impetuous language that has broken away from tradition and authority.

 

Apart from Boehme, probably the worst rebel in this respect was Paracelsus.

 

His philosophical terminology is so individual and so arbitrary that it surpasses by far the “power words” of the Gnostics in eccentricity and turgidity of style.

 

The highest cosmogonic principle, corresponding to the Gnostic demiurge, is the Yliaster or Hylaster, a hybrid compound of hyle (matter) and astrum (star).

 

This concept might be translated as “cosmic matter.”

 

It is something like the “One” of Pythagoras and Empedocles, or the Heimarmene of the Stoics —a primitive conception of primary matter or energy.

 

The Graeco-Latin coinage is no more than a fashionable stylistic flourish, a cultural veneer for a very ancient idea that had also fascinated the pre-Socratics, though there is no reason to suppose that Paracelsus inherited it from them.

 

These archetypal images belong to humanity at large and can crop up autochthonously in anybody’s head at any time and place, only needing favourable circumstances for their reappearance.

 

The suitable moment for this is always when a particular view of the world is collapsing, sweeping away all the formulas that purported to offer final answers to the great problems of life.

 

It is, as a matter of fact, quite in accord with psychological law that, when all the uprooted gods have come home to roost in man, he should cry out, “Ipse philosophus, daemon, heros, deus et omnia,” and that, when a religion glorifying the spirit disappears, there should rise up in its stead a primordial image of creative matter.

 

12 In strictest contrast to the Christian view, the supreme Paracelsan principle is thoroughly materialistic.

 

The spiritual principle takes second place, this being the anima mundi that proceeds from matter, the “Ideos” or ‘Ides,” the “Mysterium magnum” or “Limbus major, a spiritual being, an invisible and intangible thing.”

 

Everything is contained in it in the form of Plato’s “eidola,” the archetypes, a germinal idea that may have been implanted in Paracelsus by Marsilio Ficino.

 

The “Limbus” is a circle. The animate world is the larger circle, man is the “Limbus minor,” the smaller circle. He is the microcosm. Consequently, everything without is within, everything above is below.

 

Between all things in the larger and smaller circles reigns “correspondence” {correspondentia), a notion that culminates in Swedenborg’s homo maximus as a gigantic anthropomorphization of the universe. In the more primitive conception of Paracelsus the anthropomorphization is lacking.

 

For him man and world alike are aggregates of animate matter, and this in turn is a notion that has an affinity with the scientific conceptions of the

late nineteenth century, except that Paracelsus did not think mechanistically, in terms of inert, chemical matter, but in a primitive animistic way.

 

For him nature swarmed with witches, incubi, succubi, devils, sylphs, undines, etc.

 

The animation he experienced psychically was simultaneously the animation of nature. The death of all things psychic that took place in scientific

materialism was still a long way off, but he prepared the ground for it.

 

He was still an animist, in keeping with his primitive cast of mind, but already a materialist.

 

Matter, as something infinitely distributed throughout space, is the absolute opposite of that concentration of the organic which is psyche.

 

The world of sylphs and undines was soon to come to an end, and would be resurrected only in the psychological era, when one would wonder how such ancient truths could ever have been forgotten.

 

But, of course, it is much simpler to suppose that what we do not understand does not exist.

 

*3 The world of Paracelsus, macrocosmically and microcosmically, consisted of animate particles, or entia.

 

Diseases, too, were entia, and in the same way there was an ens astrorum, veneni, naturale, spirituale, or ideale.

 

The great epidemic of plague

 

raging at that time, he explained in a letter to the Emperor, was caused by succubi begotten in whore-houses.

 

An ens was another “spiritual being,” hence he said in his book Paragranum: “Diseases are not bodies, wherefore spirit must be used against spirit.”

 

By this he meant that, according to the doctrine of correspondence, for every ens morbi there existed a natural “arcanum” which could be used as a specific against the corresponding disease.

 

For this reason he did not describe diseases clinically or anatomically, but in terms of their specifics; for instance, there were “tartaric” diseases, which could be cured by their specific arcanum, in this case tartar.

 

Therefore he held in high esteem the doctrine of signatures, which seems to have been one of the main principles of folk-medicine in those days, as practiced by midwives, army surgeons, witches, quacks, and hangmen.

 

According to this doctrine, a plant, for instance, with leaves shaped like a hand is good for diseases of the hand, and so forth.

 

*4 Disease for Paracelsus was “a natural growth, a spiritual, living thing, a seed.”

 

We may safely say that for him a disease was a proper and necessary constituent of life that lived together with man, and not a hated “alien body” as it is for us.

 

It was kith and kin to the arcana which were present in nature and which, as nature’s constituents, were as necessary to her as diseases were to

man. Here the most modern doctor would shake Paracelsus by the hand and say: “I don’t think it’s quite like that, but it’s not so far off.”

 

The whole world, said Paracelsus, was an apothecary’s shop, and God the apothecary in chief.

 

Paracelsus had a mind typical of a crucial time of transition.

 

His searching and wrestling intellect had broken free from a spiritual view of the world to which his feelings still clung.

 

Extra ecclesiam nulla salus—this saying applies in the highest degree to every man whose spiritual transformation carries him beyond the magic circle of traditional holy images which, as ultimate truths, shut off the horizon: he loses all his comforting prejudices, his whole world falls apart, and he knows as yet nothing about a different order of things.

 

He has become impoverished, as unknowing as a small child, still entirely ignorant of the new world, and able to recall only with difficulty the age-old

experiences of mankind that speak to him from his blood.

 

All authority has dropped away, and he must build a new world out of his own experience.

 

16 On his long journeys Paracelsus gathered a rich harvest of experience, not scorning even the grimiest sources, for he was a pragmatist and empiricist without parallel.

 

All this primary material he accepted without prejudice, at the same time drawing upon the primitive darkness of his own psyche for the philosophical

ideas fundamental to his work.

 

Old pagan beliefs, living on in the blackest superstitions of the populace, were fished up.

 

Christian spirituality reverted to primitive animism, and out of this Paracelsus, with his scholastic training, concocted a philosophy that had no Christian prototype, but resembled far more the thinking of the most execrated enemies of the Church—the Gnostics.

 

Like every ruthless innovator who rejects authority and tradition, he was in danger of retrogressing to the very things that they in turn had once rejected, and so reaching a lifeless and purely destructive standstill.

 

But probably owing to the fact that while his intellect roved far and wide and probed back into the distant past his feelings still clung to the traditional

values, the full consequences of retrogression were averted.

 

Thanks to this unbearable opposition, regression turned into progression.

 

He did not deny the spirit his feelings believed in, but erected beside it the counter-principle of matter: earth as opposed to heaven, nature as opposed to spirit.

 

For this reason he was not a blind destroyer, a genius-cwm-charlatan like Agrippa, but a father of natural science, a pioneer of the new spirit, and as such he is rightly honoured today.

 

He would certainly shake his head at the idea for which some of his modern disciples most venerate him.

 

His hard-won discovery was not “panpsychism”—this still clung to him as a relic of his primitive participation mystique with nature—but matter and its qualities.

 

The conscious situation of his age and the existing state of knowledge did not allow him to see man outside the framework of nature as a whole.

 

This was reserved for the nineteenth century.

 

The indissoluble, unconscious oneness of man and world was still an absolute fact, but his intellect had begun to wrestle with it, using the tools of scientific empiricism.

 

Modern medicine can no longer understand the psyche as a mere appendage of the body and is beginning to take the “psychic factor” more and more into account.

 

In this respect it approaches the Paracelsan conception of psychically animated matter, with the result  hat the whole spiritual phenomenon of Paracelsus appears in a new light.

 

Just as Paracelsus was the great medical pioneer of his age, so today he is symbolic of an important change in our conception of the nature of disease and of life itself. ~Carl Jung, CW 15, Pages 3-12

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