AUROLUS PHILLIPUS THEOPHRASTUR BOBASTUR VON HOHENHEIM, immortalized as Paracelsus, was born in 1493. He was the son of a physician of repute, who has been described as a Grand Master of the Teutonic Order, and it was from him that Paracelsus took his first instruction.
At the age of sixteen he entered the University at Basle, where he applied himself to the study of alchemy, surgery, and medicine. With the science of alchemy he was already acquainted, having previously studied the works of Isaac Hollandus, whose writings roused in him the ambition to cure disease by medicine superior to the material at that time in use, for apart from his incursions into alchemy, Paracelsus is credited with the introduction of opium and mercury into medicine, while his works indicate an advanced knowledge of the science and principles of magnetism. These are some of the achievements which would seem to justify Manly Hall's description of him as 'the precursor of chemical pharmacology and therapeutics and the most original medical thinker of the sixteenth century.' The Abbot Trithemius, an adept of a high order, and the instructor of the illustrious Henry Cornelius Agrippa, was responsible for Paracelsus' initiation into the science of alchemy. In 1516 he was still pursuing his research in mineralogy, medicine, surgery, and chemistry under the guidance of Sigismund Fugger, a wealthy physician of the city, but was forced to leave Basle hurriedly after trouble with the authorities over his studies in necromancy. He started out on a nomad's life, supporting himself by astrological predictions and occult practices of various kinds.
His wanderings took him through Germany, France, Hungary, the Netherlands, Denmark, Sweden, and Russia. In Russia he is reported to have been taken prisoner by the Tartars and brought before the Grand Cham at whose court he became a great favourite. Finally, assuming this story to be true, he accompanied the Cham's son on an embassy from China to Constantinople, the city in which the supreme secret, the universal dissolvent, the alkahest, was imparted to him by an Arabian adept. For Paracelsus, as Manly Hall has said, gained his knowledge 'not from coated pedagogues, but from dervishes in Constantinople, witches, gipsies, and sorcerers, who invoked spirits and captured the rays of the celestial bodies in dew; of whom it is said that he cured the incurable, gave sight to the blind, cleansed the leper, and even raised the dead, and whose memory could turn aside the plague.'
Paracelsus ultimately returned to Europe, passing along the Danube into Italy where he became an army surgeon. It was here apparently that his wonderful cures began. In 1526, at the age of thirty-two, he re-entered Germany, and at the university he had entered as a youth took a professorship of physics, medicine, and surgery. This was a position of some considerable importance, and was offered to him at the instance of Erasmus and Ecolampidus. Perhaps it was his behaviour at this time that eventually led to his title 'the Luther of physicians,' for in his lectures he made so bold as to denounce as antiquated the systems of Galen and his school, whose teachings were held to be so unalterable and inviolable by the authorities of that time, that the slightest deviation from their teachings was regarded as nothing short of heretical. As a crowning insult he actually burnt the works of these masters in a brass pan with sulphur and nitre! This high-handed behaviour, coupled with his original ideas, made him countless enemies. The fact that the cures he performed with his mineral medicines justified his teachings merely served further to antagonize the medical faculty, infuriated at their authority and prestige being undermined by the teachings of a 'heretic' and 'usurper.' Thus Paracelsus did not long retain his professorship at Basle, but was forced once again to leave the city and betake himself to a wanderer's life.
During the course of his second exile we hear of him in 1526 at Colmar, and in 1530 at Nuremburg, once again in conflict with the doctors of medicine, who denounced him as an impostor, although once again he turned the tables on his opponents by his successful treatment of several bad cases of elephantiasis, which he followed up during the next ten years by a series of cures which were amazing at the period.
Franz Hartmann in his 'Paracelsus' says:
'He proceeded to Maehren, Kaernthen, Krain, and Hungary, and finally to Salzburg, to which place he was invited by the Prince Palatine, Duke Ernst of Bavaria, who was a great lover of the secret art. But he was not destined to enjoy a long time the rest he so richly deserved. . .'
He died in 1541 after a short sickness in a small room at the White Horse Inn near the quay, and his body was buried in the graveyard of St. Sebastian. One writer supposes the event to have been accelerated by a scuffle with assassins in the pay of the orthodox medical faculty, but there is no actual foundation for this story.
Not one of his biographers seems to have found anything remarkable in the fact that at sixteen years of age Paracelsus was already well acquainted with alchemical literature. Even allowing for the earlier maturity of a man in those times, he must still have been something of a phenomenon in mental development. Certain it is that few of his contemporaries either could or would grasp his teachings, and his consequent irritation and arrogance in the face of their stupidity and obstinacy is scarcely to be wondered at. Although he numbered so many enemies among his fellow physicians, he also had his disciples, and for these no praise was too high for him. He was worshipped as their Noble and Beloved Monarch, the German Hermes, the Philosopher Trismegistus, Dear Preceptor and King, Theophrastus of Blessed Memory and Immortal Fame.
I am indebted to Mr. Arthur Edward Waite's translation from the German of the Hermetic and Alchemic Writings of Paracelsus for many of these facts of I life.