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Theophrastus Paracelsus 1493-1541

16th century German alchemist Theophrastus Bombastus von Hohenheim is described as "a Renaissance alchemist, matter theorist and Christian apologist who had an extraordinary influence on early modern matter theories and chemistry. Famous for his medical cures and his chemical philosophy, his work was taken up by the likes of J.B. van Helmont and became one of the dominant strands in early modern natural philosophy".

Paracelsus adopted his pseudonym to indicate that his knowledge extended beyond that of the famous 1st century Roman pysician Celsus (para-Celsus: 'beyond Celsus). The consequence was that his Christian name generated the widespread use of the word 'Bombastic' to mean 'pretentious' or 'full of self-importance'.


The Doctrine of Signatures

I have ofttimes declared, how by the outward shapes and qualities of things, we may know their inward virtues, which God hath put in them for the use of man. So in St Johns Wort, we may take notice of the leaves, the porosity of the leaves, the veins. The porosity of holes in the leaves, signifies to us, that this herb helps inward or outward holes or cuts in the skin.... The flowers of Saint Johns Wort, when they are putrified they are like blood ; which teacheth us, that this herb is good for wounds, to close them and fill them up.
(Paracelsus' Vide Compendium Philosophiae, 1568; cited by: Lesley Gordon,. Green Magic: Flowers, Plants, and Herbs in Lore and Legend; New York: Viking, 1977).

Extracted from Three Famous Alchemists by Arthur Edward Waite, Lewis Spence and W.P. Swainson (Philadelphia, David McKay Company,1930s). The book features Raymond Lully (Waite) Cornelius Agrippa (Waite) and the section on Theophrastus Paracelsus written by Swainson.



The doctrine of Signatures, although known to occultists from the earliest ages, is generally associated with the teaching of Paracelsus, for it runs like a thread through his writings. In brief, it means that the inner or invisible ever impresses its character, or stamps its signature, upon the outer or visible.

The word "signature" is derived from the Latin signare, which means to sign. The word "doctrine" is derived from the Latin docere, to teach. The doctrine of Signatures, therefore, refers to what is taught concerning the marks placed upon all creatures and things by stellar influences. The identity of all things may thus be recognized by the mark placed, or the signature impressed upon them by invisible influences, just as a phrenologist can diagnose a man's character from the shape of his head, or we know the engraving on a seal from the impression it leaves on wax.

When a man writes a letter he signs his name at the end in order that his identity may be known. So also, though this is by no means so evident to the average man, all external or visible things have impressed upon them the stamp of their origin in the invisible world. Their relationship with other forms of manifestation is thereby revealed. One may be ignorant of the signs by which the planets and stars mark their progeny, but those who are familiar with stellar influences will recognize them, and at once perceive the relationship existing between the various things marked, or sealed.

In like manner, a man who can neither read nor write may be unable to decipher the autograph attached to a letter, but his inability to recognize the signature does not affect the matter; it simply reveals the ignorance of the man. So also inability to recognize the marks impressed on things by stellar influence does not affect the truth of the doctrine of Signatures; it only shows a lack of knowledge on our part concerning them.

The stars and planets influence man by means of their common magnetism. They thus impress their character, or stamp their signature, upon all things and persons. Every being belongs to one or other of the seven planetary families, either that of the Sun, the Moon, Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, or Saturn. The inner nature of every being corresponds, to a very large extent, to the attributes of that particular planet in whose spiritual vortex it was originally involved. For instance, a soul belonging to the Martian family will manifest an attitude of aggressive, impetuous leadership; on the other hand, one belonging to the Saturnian family will be of a cold, calculating nature.

The doctrine of Signatures affects everything throughout nature, from the highest to the lowest. All things possess attractive and repulsive qualities. Every species, genus, race, family and kingdom has its group signature, just as a man has his individual signature.

The universe is composed of an infinite number of entities, all interacting and interdependent. Everything has an influence, either slight or great, upon every other thing. All things are constantly sending out vibrations which bring them in contact with the human organism, every human organism having a complex vibration peculiar to itself, and determined by its individual signature.

Not only is man influenced by the stars, but everything by which he is surrounded is ceaselessly sending him vibrations, and so adding to his harmony or discord. They are thus ever leaving their impress, or stamping their signature upon him, by means of these vibrations.

The soul does not perceive the external or internal physical construction of herbs and roots, but it intuitively perceives their powers and virtues, and recognises at once their Signatum. This signatum is a certain organic or vital activity, giving to each natural object a certain similarity with a certain condition produced by disease, and through which health may be restored in specific diseases of the diseased part.

About the authors:

Arthur Edward Waite Arthur Edward Waite
(Oct 2, 1857 - May 19, 1942) was a scholarly occultist who wrote widely on esoteric matters, and is remembered as the co-creator of the Rider-Waite Tarot deck. His biographer R.A. Gilbert said of him: "Waite's name has survived because he was the first to attempt a systematic study of the history of western occultism viewed as a spiritual tradition rather than as aspects of proto-science or as the pathology of religion."

Waite was born in New York, but moved to his mother's native England at a young age following the death of his father. The death of his sister, Frederika Waite, in 1874 attracted him into psychical research and at twenty-one he began to read regularly in the Library of the British Museum, studying many branches of esotericism. Waite joined the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn in January 1891, became a Freemason in 1901, and entered the Societas Rosicruciana in Anglia in 1902. He is reported to have been a foe of Aleister Crowley, who referred to him as a villainous Arthwate in his novel 'Moonchild'. Waite was a prolific author and wrote many occult texts on subjects including divination, esotericism, Rosicrucianism, Freemasonry, ceremonial magic, Kabbalism and alchemy; he also translated and reissued several important mystical and alchemical works. He died on May 19, 1942 (aged 84), and rests at the village of Bishopsbourne, in the county of Kent, England

Unfortunately I can find no biographical details of his colleague W.P. Swainson, who wrote the passage above on Paracelsus.

Bio details for Waite extracted from Wikipedia: (May 2011)

Deborah Houlding, May 2011.

Oh, erm ..
The chapter extract given here (minus my additions) comprises the entire content of the 'Kessinger Publishing's Rare Reprints' edition of the book sold under the title The Doctrine of Signatures 'by Theophrastus Paracelsus'.

As can be seen, the text is not by Paracelsus, nor does it deserve to be marketed as 'a book', since the content runs to a mere eight paragraphs offering less than 600 words in total.