In the history of alchemy there is not a more striking or picturesque figure than Aurcelus Philippus Theophrastus Paracelsus Bombast von Hohenheim, the illustrious physician and exponent of the hermetic philosophy who has chosen to go down to fame under the name of Paracelsus. He was born at Einsideln, near Zurich, in the year 1493. His father, the natural son of a prince, himself practiced the " art of medicine," and was desirous that his only son should follow the same profession.
To the fulfillment of that desire was directed the early training of Paracelsus—a training which fostered his imaginative rather than his practical tendencies, and which first cast his mind into the "alchemical mould. It did not take him long to discover that the medical traditions of the time were bat empty husks from which all substance had long since dried away. "I considered with myself," he says, "that if there were no teacher of medicine in the world, how would I set about to learn the art ? No otherwise than in the great open book of nature, written with the finger of God." Having thus freed himself from the constraining bonds of an outworn medical orthodoxy, whose chief resources were bleeding, purging, and emetics, he set about evolving a new system to replace the old, and in order that he might study the book of nature to better advantage he traveled extensively from 1513 to 1524, visiting almost every part of the known world, studying metallurgy, chemistry, and medicine, and consorting with vagabonds of every description. He was brought before the Cham of Tartary, conversed with the magicians of Egypt and Arabia, and is said to have even reached India. At length his protracted wanderings came to a close, and in 1524 he settled in Basle, then a favorite resort of scholars and physicians, where he was appointed to fill the chair of medicine at the University. Never had Basle witnessed a more brilliant, erratic professor. His inflated language, his eccentric behavior, the splendor of his conceptions flashing through a fog of obscurity, at once attracted and repelled, and gained for him friends and enemies.
Prescribed freely in the form of "three black pills." The recipes which he gives for the Philosopher's Stone, the Elixir of Life, and various universal remedies, are exceedingly obscure. He is deservedly celebrated as the first physician. n to use opium and mercury, and to recognize the value of sulphur. He applied himself also to the solution of a problem which still exercises the minds of scientific men—whether it is possible to produce life from inorganic matter. Paracelsus asserted that it was, and has, left on record a quaint recipe for a homunculus, or artificial man. By a peculiar treatment of certain "spagyric substances" —which he has unfortunately omitted to specify—he declared that he could produce a perfect human child in, miniature. Speculations such as these, medical, alchemical and philosophical, were scattered so profusely throughout his teaching that we are compelled to admit that here was a master-mind, a genius, who was a charlatan only incidentally, by reason of training and temperament. Let it be remembered that he lived in an age when practically all scholars and physicians were wont to impose on popular ignorance, and we cannot but remark that Paracelsus displayed, under all his arrogant exterior, a curious singleness of purpose, and a real desire to penetrate the mysteries of science. He has left on record the principal points of the philosophy on which he founded his researches in his " Archidoxa Medicince." It contains the leading rules of the art of healing, as he practiced and preached them. "I had resolved," he says, "to give ten books to the 'Archidoxa,' but I have reserved the tenth in my head. It is a treasure which men are not worthy to possess, and shall only be given to the world when they shall have abjured Aristotle, Avicenna, and Galen, and promised a perfect submission to Paracelsus." The world did not recant, but Paracelsus relented, and at the entreaty of his disciples published this tenth book, the key to the nine others, but a key which might pass for a lock, and for a lock which we cannot even pick. It is entitled the "Tenth Book of the Arch-Doctrines ; or, On the Secret Mysteries of Nature." A brief summary of it is as follows:
He begins by supposing and ends by establishing that there is a universal spirit infused into the veins of man, forming within us a species of invisible body, of which our visible body, which it directs and governs at its will, is but the wrapping—the casket. This universal spirit is not simple—not more simple, for instance, than the number loo, which is a collection of units. Where, then, are the spiritual units of which our complex spirit is composed? Scattered in plants and minerals, but principally in metals. There exists in these inferior productions of the earth a host of sub-spirits which sum themselves up in us, as the universe does in God. So the science of the philosopher has simply to unite them to the body—to disengage them from the grosser matter which clogs and confines them, to separate the pure from the impure.
To separate the pure from the impure is, in other words, to seize upon the soul of the heterogeneous bodies—to evolve their "predestined element," "the seminal essence of beings," "the first being, or quintessence."
To understand this latter word "quintessence," it is needful for the reader to know that every body, whatever it may be, is composed of four elements, and that the essence compounded of these elements forms a fifth, which is the soul of the mixed bodies, or, in other words, its " mercury," "I have shown," says Paracelsus, " in my book of' Elements,' that the quintessence is the same thing as mercury. There is in mercury whatever wise men seek." That is, not the mercury of modern chemists, but a philosophical mercury of which every body has its own. " There are as many mercuries as there are things. The mercury of a vegetable, a mineral, or an animal of the same kind, although strongly resembling each other, does not precisely resemble another mercury, and it is for this reason that vegetables, minerals, and animals of the same species are not exactly alike. . . . "The true mercury of philosophers is the radical humidity of each body, and its essence."
Paracelsus now sought for a plant worthy of holding in the vegetable kingdom the same rank as gold in the metallic—a plant whose " predestined element" should unite in itself the virtues of nearly all the vegetable essences. Although this was not easy to distinguish, he recognized at a glance—we know not by what signs—the supremacy of excellence in the melissa, and first decreed to it that pharmaceutical crown which at a later period the Carmelites ought to have consecrated. How he obtained this new specific may be seen in the "Life of Paracelsus, ~ by Savarien:"
"He took some balm-mint in flower, which he had taken care to collect before the rising of the sun. He pounded it in a mortar, reduced it to an impalpable dust, poured it into a long-necked vial which he sealed hermetically, and placed it to digest (or settle) for forty hours in a heap of horse-dung. This time expired, he opened the vial, and found there a matter which he reduced into a fluid by pressing it, separating it from its impurities by exposure to the slow heat of a bain-marie. The grosser parts sunk to the bottom, and he drew off the liqueur which floated on the top, filtering it through some cotton. This liqueur having been poured into a bottle he added to it the fixed salt, which he had drawn from the same plant when dried. There remained nothing more but to extract from this liqueur the first lief or being of the plant. For this purpose Paracelsus mixed the liqueur with so much 'water of salt' (understand by this the mercurial element or radical humidity of the salt), put it in a matrass, exposed it for six weeks to the sun, and finally, at the expiration of this term, discovered a last residuum which was decidedly, according to him, the first life or supreme essence of the plant. But at all events, it is certain that what he found in his matrass was the genie or spirit he required; and with the surplus, if there were any, we need not concern ourselves."
Those who may wish to know what this genie was like, are informed that it as exactly resembled, as two drops of water, the spirit of aromatic wine known to-day as absinthe. It was a liquid green as emerald,—green, the bright color of hope and spring-time.
Unfortunately, it failed as a specific in the conditions indispensable for an elixir of immortality; but it was a preparation more than half-celestial, which almost rendered old age impossible. By means and manipulations as subtle and ingenious as those which he employed upon the melissa, Paracelsus did not draw, but learned to extract, the "predestined element" of plants which ranked much higher in the vegetable aristocracy,—the " first life" ot the gillyflower, the. cinnamon, the myrrh, the scammony, the celandine. All these supreme essences, which, according to the 5th book of " Archidoxa," unite with a mass of "magisteries" as precious as they are rude, are the base oi so many specifics, equally reparative and regenerative. This depends upon the relationship which exists between the temperament of a privileged plant and the temperament of the individual who asks of it his rejuvenescence.
However brilliant were the results of his discoveries, those he obtained or those he thought he might obtain, they were for Paracelsus but the A B C of Magic. To the eyes of so consummate an alchemist vegetable life is nothing; it is the mineral—the metallic life—which is all. So we may assure ourselves that it was in his power to seize the first life-principle of the moon, the sun, Mars, or Saturn; that is, of silver, gold, iron, or lead. It was equally facile for him to grasp the life of the precious stones, the bitumens, the sulphurs, and even that of animals.
Paracelsus sets forth several methods of obtaining this great arcanum. Here is the shortest and most simple as recorded by Incola Francus :—
"Take some mercury, or at least the element of mercury, separating the pure from the impure, and afterwards pounding it to perfect whiteness. Then you shall sublimate it with sal-ammoniac, and this so many times as may be necessary to resolve it into a fluid. Calcine it, coagulate it, and again dissolve it, and let it strain in a pelican during A philosophic month, until it thickens and assumes the form of a hard substance. Thereafter this form of stone is incombustible, and nothing can change or alter it; the metallic bodies which it penetrates become, fixed and incombustible, for this material is incombustible, and changes the imperfect metals into metal perfect. Although I have given the process in few words, the thing itself demands a long toil, and many difficult circumstances, which I have expressly omitted, not to weary the reader, who ought to be very diligent and intelligent if he wishes to arrive at the accomplishment of this great work." Paracelsus himself tells us in his " Archidoxa," when explaining his recipe for the completion of it, and profiting by the occasion to criticise his fellow-workers.
"I omit," he writes, " what I have said in different places on the theory of the stone; I Will say only that this Arcanum does not consist in the blast (romlle) or flowers of antimony. It must be sought in the mercury of antimony, which, when it is carried to perfection, is nothing else than the heaven of metals; for even as the heaven gives life to plants and minerals, so does the pure quintessence of antimony vitrify everything. This is why the Deluge was not able to deprive any substance of its virtue or properties, for the heaven being the life of all beings, there is nothing superior to it which can modify or destroy it.
"Take the antimony, purge it of its arsenical impurities in an iron vessel until the coagulated mercury of the antimony appears quite white, and is distinguishable by the star which appears in the superficies of the regulus, or semi-metal. But although this regulus, which is the element of mercury, has in itself a veritable hidden life, nevertheless these things are in virtue, and not actually.
"Therefore, if you wish to reduce the power to action, you must disengage the life which is concealed in it by a living fire like to itself, or with a metallic vinegar. To discover this fire many philosophers have proceeded differently, but .agreeing to the foundations of the art, have arrived at the desired end. For some with great labour have drawn forth the quintessence of the thickened mercury of the regulus of antimony, And by this means have reduced to action the mercury of the antimony: others have considered that there was a uniform quintessence, in the other minerals, as for example in the fixed sulphur of the vitriol, or the stone of the magnet, and having extracted the quintessence, have afterwards matured and exalted their heaven with it, and reduced it to action. Their process is good, and has had its result. Meanwhile this fire—this corporeal life—which they seek with toil, is found much more easily and in much greater perfection in the ordinary mercury, which appears through its perpetual fluidity—a proof that it possesses a very powerful fire and a celestial life similar to that which lies hidden in the regulus of the antimony. Therefore, he who would wish to exalt our metallic heaven, starred, to its greatest completeness, and to reduce into action its potential virtues, he must first extract from ordinary mercury its corporeal life, which is a celestial fire; that is to say the quintessence of quicksilver, or, in other words, the metallic vinegar, that has resulted from its dissolution in the water which originally produced it, and which is its own mother; that is to say, he must dissolve it in the Arcanum of the salt I have described, and mingle it with the ' stomach of Anthion,' which is the spirit of vinegar, and in this menstruum melt and filter and consistent mercury of the antimony, strain it in the said liquor, and finally reduce it into crystals of a yellowish green, of which we havespoken incur manual."
As regards the Philosopher's Stone, he gives the following formula:
"Take," he said, "the electric mineral not yet mature (antimony), put it in its sphere, in the fire with the iron, to remove its ordors and other superfluities, and purge it as much as you can, following the rules of chemistry, so that it may not suffer by the aforesaid impurities. Make, in a word, the regulus with the mark. This done, cause it to dissolve in the ' stomach of the ostrich ' (vitriol), which springs from the earth and is fortified in its virtue by the ' sharpness of the eagle' (the metallic vinegar or essence of mercury). As soon as the essence is perfected, and when after its dissolution it has taken the color of the herb called cakndu, do not forget to reduce it into a spiritual luminous essence, which resembles amber. After this, add to it of the 'spread eagle' one half the weight Of the election before its preparation, and frequently distil the ' stomach of the ostrich' into the matter, and thus the election will become much more spiritualized. When the ' stomach of the ostrich' is weakened by the labor of digestion, we must strengthen it and frequently distil it. Finally, when it has lost all its impurity, add as much tartarized quintessence as will rest upon your fingers, until it throws off its impurity and rises with it. Repeat this process until the preparation becomes white, and this will suffice; for you shall see yourself as gradually it rises in the form of the ' exalted eagle,' and with little trouble converts itself in its form (like sublimated mercury); and that is what we are seeking.
"I tell you in truth that there is no greater remedy in medicine than that which lies in this election, and that there is nothing like it in the whole world. But not to digress from my purpose, and not to leave this work imperfect, observe the manner in which you ought to operate."
"The election then being destroyed, as I have said, to arrive at the desired end (which is, to make of it a universal medicine for human as well as metallic bodies), take your election, rendered light and volatile by the method above described.
" Take of it as much as you would wish to reduce it to its perfection, and put it in a philosophical egg of glass, and seal it very tightly, that nothing of it may respire; put it into an athanor until of itself it resolves into a liquid, in such a manner that in the middle of this sea there may appear a small island, which daily diminishes, and finally, all shall be changed to a color black as ink. This color is the raven, or bird which flies at night without wings, and which, through the celestial dew, that rising continually falls back by a constant circulation, changes into what is called 'the head of the raven,' and afterwards resolves into 'the tail of the peacock,' then it assumes the hue of the 'tail of a peacock,' and afterwards the color of the ' feathers of a swan'; finally acquiring an extreme redness, which marks its fiery nature, and in virtue of which it expels all kinds of impurities, and strengthens feeble members. This preparation, according to all philosophers, is made in a single vessel, over a single furnace, with an equal and continual fire, and this medicine, which is more than celestial, cures all kinds of infirmities, as well in human as metallic bodies; wherefore no one can understand or attain such an Arcanum without the help of God.: for its virtue is ineffable and divine."
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