The teachings of Paracelsus

Theophrastus Paracelsus(1493-1541) was a remarkable physician, alchemist and occultist of the Renaissance era who left behind 106 books filled with highly original insights on a wide range of esoteric subjects such as astrology, healing plants and minerals, occult anatomy, sleep and dreams, elemental beings, etc.   Frantz Hartmann, who wrote the book “Paracelsus: Life and Teachings“, remarks that many of his divinations, then unknown in the West, were quite compatible with the teachings of Eastern mysticism.  The Theosophists speculate that he had interactions with Eastern mystics in the course of travels during his early youth.  Paracelsus himself stated that he derived his insights from the “Book of Nature” (i.e. intuition and observation).  He is said to have received the Philosopher’s Stone (an allegorical expression for wisdom) from an adept named Solomon Trismosinus.  His disciples testify that he dictated his works without the aid of memoranda or manuscripts.  Nominally a Catholic, he held an independent interpretation of the Bible.  An inventory of goods taken after his death revealed nothing other than a Bible, a Biblical concordance and a book of Medicine. [1]

Paracelsus spoke on the process of Creation, the subtle (invisible) planes of the Universe and the occult beings which populate them, and the sevenfold constitution of Man.  He said that man is the microcosm of the Universe.  All this is quite similar to Indic thought and I won’t delve into those aspects here.  Instead, I will focus on some remarkable passages which provide a glimpse of his wisdom, interspersed with comparisons to analogous remarks made by Sri Aurobindo and the Mother.

True and False Faith

Commenting on the doctrine promulgated by the Roman Catholic Church, Paracelsus is said to have remarked:

“It is not a faith in the existence of a historical Jesus Christ that has the power to save mankind from evil, but a faith into the Supreme Power (God), through which the man Jesus was enabled to act. The former ‘faith’ is merely a belief and a result of education; the latter is a faith belonging to the constitution of man. Christ does not say that if we believe in His personal power to accomplish wonderful things we would be enabled to throw mountains into the ocean; but He spoke of our own faith, meaning the divine power of God, that may act through ourselves as much as it acted through Christ, if we become like Him. This power comes from God and returns to Him; and if one man cures another in the name of Christ, he cures him by the power of God, and by his own faith. That power becomes active in and through him by his faith, and not out of gratitude for his professed belief, or the belief of the patient that Christ once existed upon the earth” [1, 191]

The Living stones

Paracelsus observed that life is everywhere – in stones, metals, plants.

Everything that exists is a manifestation of life. Stones and metals have a life as well as plants-animals or men; only the mode of the manifestation differs on account of the organic structure of the particles of which they are composed. A fly, for instance, has the same life as a stone, because there is only One Life, but in a fly it manifests itself otherwise than in a stone, and while the shape of the former may exist as an illusion for thousands of years, the latter may live only a few days. [1, 82]

This is in consonance with the observations of the Mother Mirra Alfassa:

So, in the outer appearances as you see them, at first you find the mineral kingdom with stones, earth, minerals which to us, in our outer consciousness, appear absolutely unconscious. Yet, behind this unconsciousness there is the life of the Spirit, the consciousness of the Spirit, which is completely hidden, which is as if asleep – though that is only an appearance – and which works from within in order gradually to transform this Matter that is completely inert in appearance, so that its organisation may lend itself more and more to the manifestation of consciousness. [2, 209].

For more on this topic, see The latent consciousness within matter

The Circumconscient

Paracelsus spoke of the “Archaeus”, a vital envelope which envelops the body:

The Archaeus is of a magnetic nature, and attracts or repulses other sympathetic or antipathetic forces belonging to the same plane. The less power of resistance for astral influences a person possesses, the more will he be subject to such influences. The vital force is not enclosed in man but is around him like a luminous sphere, and it may be made to act at-a-distance. In those semi-material rays the imagination of man may produce healthy or morbid effects. It may poison the essence of life and cause diseases, or it may purify it after it has been made impure, and restore the health [1, 133]

Similarly, Sri Aurobindo spoke of a vital-physical layer which creates a protective  envelope around the physical body:

The first thing one sees when one has broken the barrier is the vital-physical body. It is around the physical body and with the physical it forms as it were the “nervous envelope.” The force of a disease has to break through it to reach the body – except for the attacks on the most material parts. You can then feel the disease coming and also feel in the nervous envelope the part of the body which it is going to, or intending to, attack because what is in the nervous envelope has a material counterpart in the body. Thus it is the vital-physical which is first attacked and then the force takes the form of a disease in the system. I had myself the experience of fever all around the body. [3, 232]

For more on this, see Circumconscient.

Inner perception

Paracelsus elucidated on the subtle sight which a physician must have in order to successfully diagnose a disease:

…For this inner sight is the Astronomy of Medicine, and as physical Anatomy shows all the inner parts of the body, such as cannot be seen through the skin, so this magic perception shows not only all the causes of disease, but it furthermore discovers the elements in medicinal substances in which the healing powers reside. [1, 50]

Sri Aurobindo alluded to the same ability in a letter to a disciple:

The seeing of the body (at least one’s own) in its internal parts is a yogic power developed by the Raja and Hathayogins – I suppose it could be extended to the body of others. There is also the sense of subtle smells and I have noticed that sometimes one smell persists [4, 952]

Thought transfer

Paracelsus on telepathic powers:

By the magic power of the will a person on this side of the ocean may make a person on the other side hear what is said on this side, and a person in the East may thus converse with another person in the West. The physical man may hear and understand the voice of another man at a distance of a hundred steps, and the ethereal body of a man may hear what another man thinks at a distance of a hundred miles and more. [1, 206]

Such powers are known as Siddhis in Indic literature.  Sri Aurobindo referred to these specific powers as Prakamya and Vyapti.  By Prakamya, we can see “objects, scenes and events at a distance or hidden from the normal operation of the mind and senses.” and by Vyapti, we gain the ability to “communicate anything we have in our system, – thought, feeling, power etc. to another” [5, 372].  In this context, see also The greater Powers of the Sense Mind.

On eating meat

In the following passage, Paracelsus provides a succinct exposition on the effects of meat consumption.  The word “Mumia” in this context refers to the vital power which animates the physical body.

If we eat the flesh of animals, it is not their flesh that forms again blood and bones in our bodies, but the invisible vehicle of life derived from the flesh of these animals, which is taken up into our bodies and forms new tissues and organs. If an animal dies in consequence of some internal disease, we do not eat its flesh, because its Mumia has been poisoned by its disease; neither do we eat the flesh of animals that died of old age, or the flesh of a rotten carcase, because its healthy Mumia has departed on. account of the decomposition, and what is left of the Mumia has been poisoned by the process of putrefaction. The Mumia of a living being partakes of the characteristics of the being from which it is taken. For this reason we do not eat the flesh of ferocious animals, such as tigers, lions, wild-cats, etc. They contain a fiery Mumia which stimulates the astral essences of man, and causes in him such tendencies as were the characteristics of the animals from which they are taken.  We eat the flesh of domestic animals, because their character is more gentle and their Mumia not exciting, such as the stupid ox, the gentle sheep, etc., but the healthiest animal food is the flesh of birds, because they live in the air, and the air is the noblest of the four elements [1, 120-121]

On a comparative note, theMother Mirra Alfassa observed that “in a greater or lesser proportion you swallow along with the meat a little of the consciousness of the animal you eat. It is not very serious, but it is not always very pleasant. And obviously it does not help you in being on the side of man rather than of the beast” [6, 178-180].  For more on this subject, see The rationale behind vegetarianism.

Dreams

The insights of Paracelsus on the nature of sleep and dreams are again noteworthy.

The power of clairvoyance and prevision is especially active in dreams, when the activity of the physical body is subdued, and the disturbing influences coming through the avenues of the physical senses are excluded [1, 108]

How to remember dreams?  Paracelsus said one must remain inert after waking up:

If this happens and we wish to remember such dreams, we should not leave the room after rising, and speak to nobody; but remain alone and undisturbed, and eat nothing until after a while we may remember that dream [1, 108]

The quality of dreams, he says, depends on our spiritual development:

There are two kinds of dreams-natural ones and such  as come from the spirit. It is unnecessary to say much about the former, because they are known to all. They may be caused by joy or sadness, by impurities of the blood, by external or internal causes [1, 77]

The quality of the dreams will depend on the harmony that exists between the soul and the Astrum (Universal Mind). To those who are self-conceited and vain of their imaginary knowledge of exterior things, having no real wisdom, nothing can be shown, because the perverted action of their own minds opposes the harmonious action of the Universal Mind and repulses it. [1, 80]

There are some persons whose nature is so spiritual, and their souls so exalted, that they can approach the highest spiritual sphere at a time when their bodies are asleep. Such persons have seen the glory of God, the happiness of the redeemed, and the torture of the wicked; and they did not forget their dreams on awakening, but remembered what they had seen unto the end of their days. [1, 78]

All this is in accord with the remarks of the Mother Mirra Alfassa, a small illustration of which is given below:

And as you become more and more conscious, you will begin to have the same control over your being at night as you have in the day, perhaps even more. For at night you are free, at least partially, from slavery to the mechanism of the body. The control over the processes of the body-consciousness is more difficult, since they are more rigid, less amenable to change than are the mental or the vital processes.  In the night the mental and vital, especially the vital, are very active. During the day they are under check, the physical consciousness automatically represses their free play and expression. In sleep this check is removed and they come out with their natural and free movements.  [7, 15]

For more on this topic, see an earlier post – Towards more conscious sleep and dreams.

Paracelsus also spoke of the prophetic dreams in which one might get guidance from people who have died several years ago:

It may happen that the Evestra of persons who have died perhaps fifty or a hundred years ago may appear to us in a, dream, and if such an Evestrum comes to us in our dream and speaks with us, we should pay especial attention to what it says; for such a vision is not a hallucination or delusion, and it is possible that a man is as much able to use his reason during the sleep of his body as when the latter is awake, and if in such a case such an Evestrum appears to him, and he asks questions, he will then hear that which is true. [1, 78]

There are a few other similarities between the teachings of Paracelsus and that of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, which will be covered in another article.

References

  1. Franz Hartmann.  Paracelsus: Life and Teachings.  (New York: Rudolf Steiner Publications, 1973) (google books) (amazon)
  2. Mother Mirra Alfassa.  Collected Works of the Mother, vol. 9.
  3. A.B. Purani. Evening Talks with Sri Aurobindo, First Series.
  4. Sri Aurobindo.  Letters on Yoga, SABCL vol. 23, Section on Visions and Symbols.
  5. Sri Aurobindo.  Sapta Chatushtaya Supplement, SABCL vol. 27.
  6. Mother Mirra Alfassa.  Collected Works of the Mother, vol 6.
  7. Mother Mirra Alfassa.  Collected Works of the Mother, vol 3.

See also

  1. Triple movement of Integral Yoga (Witness, Consenter, Enjoyer)
  2. Vedic Vak: illustration of Para Vak
  3. Vedic Vak: four levels of sound
  4. Man shall not live by bread alone
  5. Links between Vedas, Upanishads, Tantra and Puranas
  6. Spirituality : between morality and immorality
  7. Why does Yoga give you a “high”?
  8. The phenomenon of double consciousness
  9. Disrupting the routines of life
  10. Developing discernment on which actions are spiritual
  11. Four epistemic methods of consciousness
  12. The Aurobindonian model of Karma
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