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The Riddles of the World and Anthroposophy
GA 54

XXI. Paracelsus

26 April 1905, Berlin

Indeed, it is attractive to become engrossed in the past and to look around among the great spirits who preceded us. However, with the personality about which we want to speak today quite another matter than the charm of historical consideration comes into question as point of view. It rather matters with Paracelsus (Theophrastus Bombastus von Hohenheim, 1493-1541, physician, occultist) that he can give the human beings very much still today. Just a movement of the spiritual investigation of matters as spiritual science is particularly suitable to unearth the treasure, the spirit of knowledge, the investigation, and enlightenment of nature, which is hidden with Paracelsus. Today, indeed, modern research turns more or less also to spirits like Jacob Boehme, Paracelsus, and others of the end of the Middle Ages. However, the approach of our present science is so different from the spirit, the point of view of a man like Paracelsus that it cannot do justice to him in the true sense of the word.

For Paracelsus has to be understood in another way than it normally happens if one becomes engrossed in a spirit of the past. One has to develop a living feeling of the object and the direction of thinking to which he dedicated himself. This is in certain respect such a deepening in the spiritual life, in particular in the spiritual forces and beings that form the basis of nature, and only the spiritual-scientific approach does this. Paracelsus already belongs to an interesting time. It was the time from 1493 to 1541 in which he lived that was either just over or was still right in the middle of the emergence of the bourgeoisie. This exerted a significant influence on the entire spiritual life.

Two classes only had the greatest say concerning the spiritual life before the emergence of the bourgeoisie: nobility and clergy. After bourgeoisie had emerged, the intellectual culture was based more on the single personality and its efficiency. Before, the blood relationship, the clanship had a say within the nobility in the worth and the social position of the human being, on the one side, and, on the other side, the whole power and intellectual culture of the church supported the priests. It stood as a whole behind the single personality. Only in the time of the bourgeoisie, the performance of the single was based on the personal efficiency. Hence, everything that meets us in this time of the ending Middle Ages, the emerging bourgeoisie, gets a personal character and the personality has to fight for himself much more. We could quote many of such personalities who had to use their very own forces at that time.

One of the strangest and most interesting personalities is just Paracelsus. Other things still came into consideration in his lifetime too. This has been just in the time when the scene of the peoples increased enormously when the big discoveries of distant countries were done, in the time when the just invented art of printing pointed the spiritual life to quite different directions and currents than it was once the case. All that delivers the basic tableau, so to speak, from which this personality of Theophrastus Paracelsus emerges. To all that is to be added that we are concerned with a seldom-prominent person, with a person of revolutionary character in the spiritual sense. He was a person who was aware of that which was performed once in the realms of the spiritual life and how much his own work contrasted with it.

In order to understand Paracelsus, one must look at the basic character of his work as a doctor and as a philosopher, and grasp him as a theosophist, as he combined these both soul characters with each other. This personality was uniform. With brilliant look, he tried to grasp the construction of the world edifice. His surprised sight looked up at the secrets of the starry heaven, became engrossed in the construction of the earth and in particular in the construction of the human being himself. This brilliant sight penetrated also into the secrets of the spiritual life. He was also a theosophist, while he tried to enclose the nature of the astronomical knowledge and at the same time the nature of anthropology, the doctrine of the human being in connection with the doctrine of all living beings. Nothing was mere theory in him, everything was immediate in such a way that it was bent on practise, that he wanted to use all that he knew for the welfare, the spiritual and physical health of the human being. This gives his work, his thinking, and investigations the big, immense unity. This makes him appear as sharply carved from one single piece of wood. Thus, he stands before us as an original, elementary personality.

There were two schools for him in the field with which he was mainly concerned, with the medical art. The one went back to the old Greek physician Hippocrates (~460-370 B.C.), the other to Galenus (129-200 or 216 A.D., physician, philosopher). The father of medicine, Hippocrates, stood before him like a big ideal. The modern scholar can cope neither with that which that Greek was, nor with that which Paracelsus saw in him. Indeed, it seems rather problematic today if we hear that this medicine differentiated four humours in the human being: black bile, white or yellow bile, blood and phlegm, which were said to have a certain relation to earth, water, air and fire. These should be components of the human nature. Of course, the modern naturalist regards as a childish point of view, which a detailed knowledge had to overcome in the course of time. He does not anticipate that it depends, nevertheless, still on anything else.

That is why the modern academic view understands Paracelsus so exceptionally. He did not at all understand these four members of the human nature as usual physical humours and. The naturalist of that old time regarded the substances with which the human body builds itself up from the physical, sense-perceptible substances, only as the external expression of something spiritual, of the real builder of this external body.

In spiritual-scientific talks, we have often spoken about this builder of the human body. We have spoken about the etheric body, a fine body, forming the basis of the physical body and all its manifold materials, substances and humours. This etheric body or life body contains the forces to build up the physical body. It is in such a way that this etheric body builds up any. Sensuous research does not suffice to study this etheric body; something else belongs to it, namely intuition, spiritual research. If one uses sensuous expressions of that which is considered for this spiritual research, like black, white, yellow, green et cetera, one only means metaphors of something that is behind. It is quite wrong if one identifies them with our material things.

The way in which the old doctors approached the ill human beings in the medical centres was another. It was the intuitive view, which they directed not to the physical, but to the finer, the ethereal underlying the physical. One started out from the idea: if anything is ill, it is less crucial, which external changes are discernible, but what has caused them. The disorder in the external physical body corresponds to the disorder in the etheric body. The old doctors recognised how the etheric body changes in the ill organism, and they were out to cure that force, which is behind the physical body as the sculptor. If I may express myself somewhat roughly, one can say, if anybody has fallen ill with the stomach, he suffers not from the stomach, but from the finer body the expression of which the illness only is.

Paracelsus had taken up the spirit of such an intuitive medicine in himself. However, the Roman doctor Galenus worked everywhere like an authority. Indeed, he bases his medicine on these old principles, and if one reads Galenus externally, one gets the idea: what does Paracelsus really intend fighting in such a way against Galenus and taking the older medicine under his wings? Is it not the same? — It could almost seem that way, however, it is not in such a way. For Galenus externalised medicine while he materialised the originally spiritual view. The pupils of Galenus already understood by that which was once meant intuitively, as something externally material. Instead of using the intuitive view, they researched only in the matter, speculated, invented theories. The moral view had got lost.

Paracelsus opposes this method, this loss of the intuitive view. He wanted to go back; he wanted to find the means to cure the human beings from the knowledge of the big nature. Therefore, all that was antipathetic to him, which prevailed in those days officially as medicine. He did not want to take as basis that which one can read in the books, but wanted to open the fundamental book, the big book of nature. Everything that had emerged gradually as medicine was spun out from a completely deduced speculation, from a research that knew nothing of the original spiritual view. There one could no longer see the connection between a medicament and an illness because one just did no longer behold what is behind the body because one looked only materially at everything. This caused that Paracelsus said, the light of nature should shine again.

It brought him into a sharp conflict with the medicine of his time. Such a great insight, as he had it, his reasonable nature that grasped the big connection with the universe gave him the intensive self-confidence, which has something lovely, in the way in which he behaved towards those who practised science in generally accepted way at that time. However, the pharmacology of that time bears big analogy to that of today, with the difference that our time has no Paracelsus in the medical field. However, confusion and insecurity were almost the same as they are today. This reminds very well of that old time of Paracelsus. If we pursue medicine today, we see how a remedy is invented and then is regarded and rejected as something noxious after five years, how so and so many people are examined, but the big view of the coherence of the human being with nature has completely got lost. That reminds rather well of the time of Paracelsus. It is true that most people do not anticipate that they are again embedded in such a time and that the belief in authority has such an immense power just in this field. One struggles against the belief in authority on one side, and one considers oneself superior campaigning against the old superstition that sends people to Lourdes.

One may be right with it, but one does not anticipate that only the form of superstition has changed and that superstition becomes hardly smaller if one sends anybody to Wiesbaden (spa town) and other places. One can see in it something similar as it existed with Paracelsus and his time when one was inclined to oppose the conventional. Paracelsus said, “As I take the four for me, so you have to take them also and to follow me and I have not to follow you, you have to follow me. Follow me, you Avicenna (~980-1037, Persian polymath), Galenus, Rasis (854-927, Persian polymath), Montagnana, Mesue (~777-857, Assyrian physician) and all those from Paris, from Cologne, from Vienna and from the regions of the Danube and Rhine rivers, from the islands, from Italy, from Dalmatia,Sarmatia, Athens, you Greeks, you Arabs, you Israelites, follow me, I do not follow you. I become the monarch and the empire will be mine, and I lead the empire and gird your loins.” That as a characteristic and expression of his personal strength. He believed to owe this strength to his original relationship with the secrets of nature. She expressed herself for Paracelsus in such a way that he saw not only what he saw with his eyes, but with his being, which combined with nature.

He undertook big journeys. He did not want to listen to anything scientific from the chairs, but from the dark intuitiveness of the simple people outdoors who had not yet cut the band of feeling with nature; he wanted to learn from them. I would like to bring his soul condition to your mind by a comparison. It is rather nice to see how the animals know instinctively for sure in the field what they have to graze and what they have to leave what serves them for their welfare and what would become detrimental to them. This is based on the relationship of the being with its environment. This relationship exists in the soul forces and is able to choose what is good and what is not good.

The being breaks free from nature by the intellect and speculation. It is no superstition, if one says that the simple human being who lives in the countryside has still something of the original forces, which lead the animal to its food instinctively, that this relationship still delivers something of the knowledge how the single herb, how the single stone works on the human being. This feeling is different from the usual knowledge, which, however, is no longer so important for him. Hence, one finds with a human being, who has not yet gone through education, an original certainty what is useful for him within nature. Paracelsus feels related to this original feeling for nature. He emphasises repeatedly that those people are not the right ones who wander the world in such a way that they travel around the world in carriages and apart from the immediate contact with the rural population. Paracelsus travelled differently. He listened to that which the simple man could say to him. The instinct of the simple man became to him the intuition of the ingenious human being. He did not cut the connection between nature and the original intuitive force in the human being. He expresses this in such a way: “By nature I am not spun subtly, it is also not the way of life in my country to acquire something with silk spinning. We are not bred with figs, nor with mead, nor with wheat bread, but with cheese, milk, and oat bread. That cannot make subtle fellows because one is dependent on that which one has got as adolescent. Such a human being is almost rude compared to the subtle men feeling superior, to superfine people, and to those who have grown up in soft clothes and in boudoirs, whereas we grow up in fir cones, therefore, we do not well understand each other.”

He knew that he always walked on his journeys through Poland, Hungary to Turkey in the sun, not only in the sun of the physical world, but also in the spiritual sun. What distinguishes Paracelsus is the uniform sight in the spiritual. Hence, the human being is to him not the human being in whom one slips in with the sensory examination, but he is connected with the whole nature. He says, look at the apple and then at the apple pip. You cannot understand how the pip grows if you do not look at the whole apple.

That is why one also does not understand the elementary human being if one does not recognise the earth with all its substances and forces, because it has all its strength from the earth. Then a force incorporates a finer materiality in this physical elementary human being. Paracelsus calls it the archaeus. From the elementary body, he distinguishes the finer body, which is the builder of the physical body and the builder of the earth. Thus, he looks from the externally sense-perceptible at the cause, from the body at the life body, from the externally physical at that which as a force forms the basis of it. This is the first member of the human being in the sense of Paracelsus.

He regards the second member as a pip in a certain different way. For this second member the apple is the whole world of stars. Just as the elementary body draws his forces and humours from the earth and from that which belongs to it, the second human being draws his forces from that which lives in the stars, from the principles of the stars. Just as the blood, the muscles, the bones, and food juices are composed and the food juices change, are transformed, and as these are dependent on the earthly, Paracelsus summarises the instincts, desires, and passions, the ideas, joy and sorrow, all that as the two basic forces of the human mental nature, sympathy and antipathy. They are expressions of the whole world of stars, as the pip is an expression of the whole apple. Therefore, he calls the second body the astral body or the body related to the world of stars.

What works outdoors as gravity or gravitation, as force of attraction and repulsion is in the human being like in an essence as desire and listlessness, as sympathy and antipathy, so that nothing of that which is in the human being as instincts and passions can be understood different from the astrological astronomy as Paracelsus calls it. This is a science about which our time knows precious little. Astronomy took another path. Paracelsus as a doctor wants to know nothing about it. He wants to know how the astral forces are connected in space with the astral body of the human being. He behaves compared to an astronomer like a priest to a requiem parson. A requiem parson is someone who reads the mess and is paid for it, whereas a right priest is someone who penetrates into the spirit. Paracelsus uses clear expressions what others often call rudeness. We have now understood the second part of human wisdom.

The third part is that which he calls spirit. This spirit relates to the spiritual world like the pip of the apple to the much bigger apple, like the divine spark in the human being to the whole sum of divine forces in the world. Thus, Paracelsus differentiates in the world: the divine-spiritual, the astrological-astronomical, and the elementary-earthly. The human being contains an essence of them: the human mind from the spiritual-divine, the astral body from the astrological-astronomical, and the physical body from the elementary-earthly.

Just as one has to study the material, the plants, and animals and so on if one wants to understand the body of the human being, the doctor has to study and understand what goes forward in the world of the stars if he wants to understand the human being. Because Paracelsus says to himself, one understands an illness only if one goes back to its origin, he looks for the reason of the illness in the desires and passions. He considers the illness as a result of mental fallacy and finally he leads it back to moral qualities even if he also does not lead back these qualities to the stars, because he knows very well that the effect does not happen so fast.

He sees an expression of the spiritual everywhere in the physical. That is why he says, someone who wants to investigate the reason of an illness has to study the reason of all the sympathies and antipathies of the soul, and he can study this only if he studies the stars of the human being. Thus, you imagine how he approaches an ill human being. With an intuitive view, this soul digresses from the externally ill limb to that which lives internally in the soul of the human being.

From there he goes to the astral influence of the stars and to the elementary influence of the earth. He has this in every single case before him. Just this is spiritual medicine. How he imagines this, and how he tries to make clear with his own picture, he expresses this nicely in this deciphering of the whole world: “This is something great you should consider. Nothing is in heaven and on earth that is not also in the human being, and God who is in heaven and on earth is also in the human being.” — I have often quoted another nice saying where he compares what he wanted to say here. He says, look out at nature. What is there? He sees a mineral, an animal, a plant, these are like single letters and the human being is the word that is composed of these single letters. If one wants to read the human being, one has to collect the single letters in the big book of nature. — This does not mean that Paracelsus picks up the things, but that he tries to get a synopsis of the things in nature. This has always enabled him to keep in sight the whole world with the single special case, which he has to cure as a doctor. Behind all that, the ingenious-moral strength works from which all that arises with him. At last, it is something like moral indignation that rebels in him against the way conventional at that time to cure and to find mixtures for all possible things. He says, I am not there to enrich the apothecaries; I am there to cure the human beings.

One has to realise that Paracelsus used words quite unlike in later time if one fairly wants to read his writings. If you read salt, mercury, and sulphur with Paracelsus, one has no right idea automatically, one thinks of what today the human being calls in such a way. Everything that one reads with Paracelsus seems then to be imperfect and childish. Who knows science today has a certain right to regard Paracelsus as childish, but one has to penetrate somewhat deeper. I want to give you an idea how you can get around to understanding what he means if he uses the terms salt, mercury, and sulphur. Paracelsus looks far back into the evolution of the earth, in the evolution of the beings, which live round him, and of the human being. If he looks back in such a way, a time faces him in which the human beings still had forms of existence very different from now.

Nobody gets as clear about what has become as Paracelsus. The earth was completely different millions of years ago. We have spoken of the transformation of the earth often enough. He looked back at a human figure that was still completely animal where the hands were still locomotive organs where the human being still lived in air and water. The earth, the surroundings were quite different. Even modern physics looks back at an age in which that which is solid today was still in a liquid state. Paracelsus, who started from the spiritual, saw a spiritual human being in connection with such an earth that still looked quite different from today. On an earth, which was so much warmer than today, the present human being could not live.

At that time, the human beings also lived under other conditions. At that time, the metals were still liquid, they could hardly be contained as steam in the air. At that time, the living beings could also not take shape; however, they have developed. Just as today the elementary human being is connected with the physical world as the pip with the apple, the primeval human being was differently connected with the primeval earth and with the entire surrounding astral world. Therefore, that which constitutes the present physical human being, his soul as the astral body and his mind as a divine human being had still to emerge. This was quite different from once. The human being was still closer to the divinity. The astral human being is born out of the astral world, and the physical human being is born out of the entire physical world. Paracelsus spoke in a much greater and nobler sense of the origin of the physical human being from the physical surroundings than our modern theory of evolution. Paracelsus understood this, and he emphasises it also repeatedly, but for him the human being is a confluence of all that which lives outdoors in nature. The human being has passions; he has them in himself, only in reduced form as the lion has them, for example, and as they exist in the environment. If the human being looks at the lion in the sense of Paracelsus, he sees the same force that lives today as his passion in him born out of the astral world.

In the lion, it is one-sided, with the human being it is mixed with other forces. The entire animal realm is to Paracelsus like a fanned-out humanity. He sees everything that is distributed in the forms of the animals in himself, invisible in his inner human being. That also applies in certain respect if the human being looks at the earth. The metals that have become physical today are born out from the same being from which the physical human being is born out. Please, understand me properly, because it is far from present ideas. Paracelsus sees back to the time when the physical human body had only built the heart. There are lower animals that have no hearts that still preserve the form that the human being had at that time. This was to Paracelsus the same time when from a much more general essence of the earth the gold also developed, so that a connection exists between the origin of the gold and the human heart. He also sees a connection between abnormalities like cholera and the arsenic. He says to himself, the possibility that cholera could originate depends on the fact that the arsenic is developed from the external world. He considers any single organ as belonging to the human unity and it is in such a way that it belongs to him like any animal, any plant, or any substance in the external world.

I would like to read out another remark that shows you how he expresses himself in particular. This is a remark that is got out of a number of remarks of Paracelsus, which one could multiply by thousand. He regards the single human being as specifically related to the physical world and the astral world concerning his single organs and the recognition of their illnesses. It is differentiated in the most certain way. One admires the general expressions of modern pantheism, of the modern view of nature, but this is the purest dilettantism if one does not know that the great Paracelsus cannot be pleased with an all-life, which enjoys life in the single human being. Paracelsus speaks of something concrete: “That is why you should not say, this is cholera, this is melancholia, but this is arsenicus, this is aluminosum; and also he is a Saturnian, that is a Martian, and not: this man suffers from melancholia, that man suffers from cholera. For one part is from heaven, one part is from earth, and they are intermingled like fire and wood, because everything loses its name; since these are two things in one.”

As he explains the connection of the heart with the gold, he also explains the connection of certain phenomena with Saturn and another with Mars and that, which is related to Mars. The peculiar mind of Paracelsus positions the human being that way in nature, in the world. Even if there is to correct anything with Paracelsus: it depends on the great, on the comprehensive that lives in this soul.

He attributes this to single certain types. Thus, everything that originates as a precipitation in the mineral is elementary to him. At the same time, it originated in the developmental time when the human-bodily formed and took on the figure on earth, which it has today. Hence, every deposit of the mineral, everything salty is connected with the human-bodily, with the animal-bodily. He calls everything Mercurial, changeable that remains liquid after a certain precipitation has taken place. Mercury is to him a typical example of it. Thus, we have a trend towards the solidification of the liquid metal. The soul is also born out of the same universal forces from which the Mercurial was born out. The deeper connection is in such a way that one cannot discuss it publicly at all.

Sulphur and the present form of mind have a parallel cause of origin. However, they are not connected allegorically. No — these three things outdoors in the world correspond exactly to the body, the soul, and the mind of the human being.

Sulphur is connected according to its nature with the mind, mercury with the soul, and salt with the body of the human being. What the human being takes up besides is related to these in a certain respect because they are born out of them. Therefore, such an example shows us that we have to go in deeper. It is not enough if we understand the expressions of Paracelsus only; we must approach the books of Paracelsus with a deepened preparation, and then we understand him. We have to realise that he always has the whole in mind. Therefore, he says to himself, if the human being has an illness, it is an interruption, a disturbance of a certain balance. He calls it magnetic balance and — as there is never one pole in the magnetic needle, but always north pole and south pole together —, any digestion in the human body belongs to a digestion outdoors in the world, which he searches then. In the etheric human being, he searches the cause of the individual, in the material; he searches the expression of the spirit. In this respect, he calls the material the mummy. One has only to understand this significant expression. It is a certain essence that forms the basis of the bodily; the mummy is different in the healthy and the sick person because the whole and the individual is changed. Therefore, one needs only to recognise the mummy, the changes in the etheric body to recognise what a person lacks.

Briefly, we see there into the depth of a spiritual life from which one can learn quite a lot. We have to realise that only a detailed spiritual research can understand again what is contained in Paracelsus. If one understands so detailed, he does no longer appear as a spirit whom one regards only as an interesting historical object, but as a spirit whom one has to consider from a higher point of view and from whom one can still learn quite a lot also in our time — at least from his method. One should position himself to Paracelsus in this way. Someone who does this finds in his lovely-rude manner a difference between the modern way of research and his way, a difference that he already made for his contemporaries. He distinguishes two reasons, the reason that looks into the whole realm of the spiritual life, and the reason that is only bent on the single one. He calls the one the first reason. He calls it in such a way because it leads to the concealed spirit of the things He calls the other reason a public folly compared with the concealed wisdom. He expresses himself even lovelier or more rudely saying, one has to distinguish a human-divine reason and a bestial reason.

He does not express himself in such a way that he speaks of the animal and spiritual nature of the human being, but of the bestial one. He considers the human being as a son of the animal genus. The animal is spread in single facets; the animal is summarised in the human being. He says once, the human being is the son of the remaining animal realm. However, if he wanted to be like the other animal beings, they would not understand this, they would look like at a wayward son and would be surprised about that which he has become.

Apart from that, you can also receive elementary instructions of certain theosophical basic concepts from Paracelsus. What Paracelsus argues about dream and sleep is in the most eminent sense what also spiritual science has to say about it, only he expresses it in his superb language. If the human being sleeps, the elementary body is in the space, and the astral human being is active. Then the astral human being can dialogue with the stars, so that he only needs to remember the dialogue with the stars to help, to cure the sick person. He is able to lead back all that to the prophets. He esteems them more than all the later ones. He calls Moses, Daniel, and Enoch not magicians, but he says, if one understands them properly, they are the precursors of this great astronomical-astrological medicine, which has worked for humanity.

Such a man was allowed to have a self-confidence in certain ways, and the strength of his work flows out from this self-confidence. However, he was clear in his mind also that what he had donated must live on and will live on with those who can recognise it. In spite of it all, a lot of gossip and historical gossip approached him. One examined his skull to slander him because this skull had a hole and one has to think much of such external things. One verified that he fell a victim to drunkenness and broke his skull. One wanted to judge his whole life this way. One can state the parable of Christ Jesus with the dead dog where Christ Jesus pointed to the nice teeth of the animal. The other things of such a personality do not concern us, besides that which we can learn from him, by which he has become a benefactor of humanity who overcame so much and by which he has become immortal.

Let me close with his own words that he throws in the teeth of his adversaries: “I want to elucidate and argue in such a way that until the last day of the world my writings must remain and will remain true, and yours are recognised as full of bile, poison, and brood of vipers and are hated by the people like toads. It is not my will that you should fall down or be knocked down a year hence, but you must show your shame after a long time and you certainly fall through the cracks, I shall judge you more after my death than before, and even if you eat my body, you have only eaten filth: the Theophrastus will struggle for the body with you.”