In Praise of Paracelsus
He was a contemporary of Copernicus, Leonardo da Vinci and Martin Luther, and greatly persecuted in his day, although few know anything about him today, despite his enormous influence on medicine, psychology, chemistry, toxicology and astrology. “Let no man belong to another who can belong to himself,” was his motto.
He believed in the concept “as above, so below,” although he interpreted these as macrocosm (nature) and microcosm (man). He studied the Romans and Greeks, and rejected just about every mainstream medical concept employed during the middle ages, especially blood-letting and the application of cow manure to heal open wounds.
His real name was Philippus Aureolus Theophrastus Bombastus von Hohenheim but he took the name Paracelsus to indicate he was advancing the same scientific method employed by Roman physician Celsus, who had authored De Medicina around 30 AD, a book in which the word “cancer” first appeared to describe tumors.
“The patients are your textbook, the sickbed is your study,” was one of Paracelsus’ favorite sayings when instructing students and he allowed folk healers, barber-surgeons and apothecaries to address his classes in order to probe their experiences.
Paracelsus invented a pain-relieving tincture of opium and named it Laudanum. He was the first to suggest some disease was a product of the imagination, and invented the concept of an unconscious mind. He was a great student of astrology, which kept him in constant conflict with the Vatican. Carl Jung was deeply affected by his investigations into magical symbolism.
Paracelsus believed the universe was one organism with a common energy flowing through everything, which is why he felt the cures for many diseases might be found in plants, chemicals, minerals or sometimes, stars. He wrote a book titled Achidoxes of Magic, in which he rejected the occult theories of Heinrich Agrippa and Nicolas Flamel, while advancing his own.
He created his own magical alphabet for astrologically-based talismans and may have influenced “the alphabet of the Magi.” He was the first doctor to suggest mental patients be treated humanely and not warehoused in prisons for the insane, as they were suffering from curable maladies.
By the time he was 40 years old, he was forced out of his professorship and wandered Europe as a penniless hobo for years until his death in Salzburg at age 47.