THE Fire-Philosophers, or Philosophi per ignem, were a fanatical sect of philosophers, who appeared towards the close of the sixteenth century. They made a figure in almost all the countries of Europe. They declared that the intimate essences of natural things were only to be known by the trying efforts of fire, directed in a chemical process. The Theosophists also insisted that human reason was a dangerous and deceitful guide; that no real progress could be made in knowledge or in religion by it; and that to all vital--that is, supernatural--purpose it was a vain thing. They taught that divine and supernatural illumination was the only means of arriving at truth. Their name of Paracelsists was derived from Paracelsus, the eminent physician and chemist, who was the chief ornament of this extraordinary sect. In England, Robert Flood, or Fludd, was their great advocate and exponent. Rivier, who wrote in France; Severinus, an author of Denmark; Kunrath, an eminent physician .of Dresden; and Daniel Hoffmann, Professor of Divinity in the University of Helmstadt--have also treated largely on Paracelsus and on his system.
Philippus Aureolus Theophrastus Paracelsus was born in 1493, at Einsiedeln, a small town of the Canton of Schwitz, distant some leagues from Zurich. Having passed a troubled, migratory, and changeful life, this' great chemist, and very original thinker, died on the
[paragraph continues] 24th of September 1541, in the Hospital of St. Stephen, in the forty-eighth year of his age. His works may be enumerated as follows: 1. The German editions: Basil, 1575, in 8vo; lb. 1, 1589-90, in 10 vols. 4to; and Strasbourg, 1603-18, in 4 vols. folio. 2. The Latin editions: Opera Omnia Medico-chymico-chirurgica, Francfort, 1603, in 10 vols. 4to; and Geneva, 1658,. in 3 vols. folio. 3. The French editions: La Grand Chirurgerie de Paracelse, Lyons, 1593 and 1603, in 4to; and Montbéliard, 1608, in 8vo. See Adelung, Histoire de la Folie Humaine, tom. vii; Biographie Universelle, article 'Paracelse'; and Sprengel, Histoire Pragmatique de la Médecine, tom. iii.
'Akin to the school of the ancient Fire-Believers, and of the magnetists of a later period', says the learned Dr. Ennemoser, in his History of Magic (most ably rendered into English by William Howitt), 'of the same cast as these speculators and searchers into the mysteries of nature, drawing from the same well, are the Theosophists of the sixteenth and seventeenth, centuries. These practised chemistry, by which they asserted that they could explore the profoundest secrets of nature. As they strove, above all earthly knowledge, after the divine, and sought the divine light and fire, through which all men can acquire the true wisdom, they were called the Fire-Philosophers (philosophi per ignem). The most distinguished of these are Theophrastus Paracelsus, Adam von Boden, Oswald Croll; and, later, Valentine Weigel, Robert Flood, or Fludd, Jacob Böhmen, Peter Poiret, etc.' Under this head we may also refer to the Medico-surgical Essays of Hemmann, published at Berlin in 1778; and Pfaff's Astrology.
As a great general principle, the Theosophists called the soul a fire, .taken from the eternal ocean of light.
In regard to the supernatural--using the word in
its widest sense--it may be said that 'all the difficulty in admitting the strange things told us lies in the non-admission of an internal causal world as absolutely real: it is said, in intellectually admitting, because the influence of the arts proves that men’s feelings always have admitted, and do still admit, this reality'.
The Platonic philosophy of vision is, that it is the view of objects really existing in interior light, which assume form, not according to arbitrary laws, but according to the state of mind. This interior light, if we understand Plato, unites with exterior light in the eye, and is thus drawn into a sensual or imaginative activity; but when the outward light is separated, it reposes in its own serene atmosphere. It is, then, in this state of interior repose, that the usual class of religions, or what are called inspired visions occur. It is the same light of eternity so frequently alluded to in books that treat of mysterious subjects; the light revealed to Pimander, Zoroaster, and all the sages of the East, as the emanation of the spiritual sun. Böhmen writes of it in his Divine Vision or Contemplation, and Molinos in his Spiritual Guide--whose work is the ground of Quietism: Quietism being the foundation of the religion of the people called Friends or Quakers, as also of the other mystic or meditative sects. We enlarge from a very learned, candid, and instructive book upon the Occult Sciences.
Regard Fire, then, with other eyes than with those soulless, incurious ones, with which thou hast looked upon it as the most ordinary thing. Thou hast forgotten what it is--or rather thou hast never known. Chemists are silent about it; or may we not say that it is too loud for them? Therefore shall they speak fearfully of it in whispers. Philosophers talk of it as anatomists discourse of the constituents (or the parts) of the human body--as a piece of mechanism,
wondrous though it be. Such the wheels of the clock; say they in their ingenious expounding of the 'whys' and the 'wherefores' (and the mechanics and the mathematics) of this mysterious thing, with a supernatural soul in it, called world. Such is the chain, such are the balances, such the larger and the smaller mechanical forces; such the 'Time-blood', as it were, that is sent circulating through it; such is the striking, with an infinity of bells. It is made for man, this world and it is greatly like him--that is mean, they would add. And they do think it, if they dare add their thinkings. But is this all? Is this the sum of that casketed lamp of the human body--thine own body, thou unthinking world’s machine--thou Man! Or, in the fabric of this clay lamp (lacquered in thy man’s Imperial splendours), burneth there not a Light? Describe that, ye Doctors of Physics! Unwind the starry limbs of that phenomenon, ye heavy-browed doctorial wielders of the scalpel--useful, however, as ye be, in that 'upholstery warehouse' of nature to which bodies and their make be referred by the materialists as the godless origin of everything. Touch at its heart, ye dissectors of fibres and of valves; of sinews and of leaves (hands, perchance); of the vein-work, of the muscles, as bark-integument; of the trunk! Split and pare, as with steel tools and wedge, this portent, this 'Tree' (human though it be), round which ye cluster to examine, about which ye gather, with your 'persuasions' to wind into the innermost secret of Cyclops--one-eyed and savage--break into meaning this portent, Man, on your science-wheels.
Note the goings of the Fire, as he creepeth, serpentineth, riseth, slinketh, broadeneth. Note him reddening, glowing, whitening. Tremble at his face, dilating; at the meaning that is growing into it, to
you. See that spark from the blacksmith's anvil--struck, as an insect, out of a sky containing a whole cloud of such. Rare locusts, of which Pharaoh and the Cities of the Plain read of old the secret! One, two, three sparks; dozens come: faster and faster the fiery squadrons follow, until, in a short while, a whole possible army of that hungry thing for battle, for food for it--Fire--glances up; but is soon warned in again--lest acres should glow in the growing advance. Think that this thing is bound as in matter-chains. Think that he is outside of all things, and deep in the inside of all things; and that thou and thy world are only the thing between; and that outside and inside are both identical, couldst thou understand the supernatural truths! Reverence Fire (for 'its meaning), and tremble at it; though in the Earth it be chained, and the foot of the Archangel Michael--like upon the Dragon--be upon it! Avert the face from it, as the Magi turned, dreading, and (as the Symbol) before it bowed askance. So much for this great thing--Fire!
Observe the multiform shapes of fire; the flame-wreaths, the spires, the stars, the spots, the cascades, and the mighty falls of it; where the roar, when it grows high in Imperial masterdom, is as that of Niagara. Think what it can do, what it is. Watch the trail of sparks, struck, as in that spouting arch, from the metal shoes of the trampling horse. It is as a letter of the great alphabet. The familiar London streets, even, can give thee the Persian's God: though in thy pleasures, and in thy commerce-operations, thou so oft forgettest thine own God. Whence liberated are those sparks? as stars, afar off, of a whole sky of flame; sparks deep down in possibility, though close to us; great in their meaning, though small in their show; as distant single ships of whole fiery
fleets; animate children of, in thy human conception, a dreadful, but, in reality, a great world, of which thou knowest nothing. They fall, foodless, on the rejecting, barren, and (on the outside) the coldest stone. But in each stone, flinty and chilly as the outside is, is a heart of fire, to strike at which is to bid gush forth the waters, as it were, of very Fire, like waters of the rock! Truly, out of sparks can be displayed a whole acreage of fireworks. Forests can be conceived of flame--palaces of the fire; grandest things--soul-things--last things--all things!
Wonder no longer, then, if, rejected so long as an idolatry, the ancient Persians and their masters the Magi--concluding that they saw 'All' in this supernaturally magnificent element--fell down and worshipped it; making of it the visible representation of the very truest; but yet, in man’s speculation, and in his philosophies--nay, in his commonest reason--impossible God: God being everywhere, and in us, and, indeed, us, in the God-lighted man; and impossible to be contemplated or known outside--being All!
Lights and flames, and the torches, as it were, of fire (all fire in this world, the last background on which all things are painted), may be considered as 'lancets' of another world--the last world: circles, enclosed by the thick walls (which, however, by the fire are kept from closing) of this world. As fire waves and brandishes, will the walls of this world wave, and, as it were, undulate from about it. In smoke and disruption, or combustion of matter, we witness a phenomenon of the burning as of the edges of the matter-rings of this world, in which world is fire, like a spot; that dense and hard thing, matter, holding it in. Oxygen, which is the finest of air, and is the means of the quickest burning out, or the
supernatural (in this world) exhilaration of animal life, or extenuation of the Solid; and above all, the heightening of the capacity of the Human, as being the quintessence of matter: this oxygen is the thing which feeds fire the most overwhelming. Nor would the specks and spots and stars of fire stop in this dense world-medium, in this tissue or sea of things--could it farther and farther fasten upon and devour the solids: eating, as it were, through them. But as this thick world is a thing the thickest, it presses out, thrusts, or gravitates upon, and stifles, in its too great weight; and conquers not only that liveliest, subtlest, thinnest element of the solids, the finest air, by whatever chemical name--oxygen; azote, azone, or what not--it may be called; which, in fact, is merely the nomenclature of its composition, the naming of the ingredients which make the thing (but not the thing). The denseness of the world not only conquers this, we repeat; but, so to figure it, matter stamps upon, effaces, and treads out fire: which, else, would burn on, back, as in the beginning of things, or into itself--consuming, as in its great revenge of any thing being created other than it, all the. mighty worlds which, in Creation, were permitted out of it. - This is the teaching of the ancient Fire-Philosophers (re-established and restored, to the days of comprehension of them, in the conclusions of the Rosicrucians, or Illuminati, of later times), who claimed to have discovered the Eternal Fire, or to have found out 'God' in the 'Immortal Light'.
There are all grades or gradations of the density of matter; but it all coheres by the one law of gravitation. Now, this gravitation is mistaken for a force of itself, when it is nothing but the sympathy, or the taking away of the supposed thing between two other things. It is sympathy (or appetite) seeking its food,
or as the closing-together of two like things. It is not because one mass of matter is more ponderable or attracting than another (out of our- senses, and in reality), but. that, they are the same, with different amounts of affection, and that like seeks like, not recognizing or knowing that between. Now, this thing which is, as it were; slipped between, and which we strike into show of itself, or into fire--surprised and driven out of its ambush--is Fire. It is as the letter by which. matter spells itself out--so to speak.
Now, matter is only to be finally forced asunder by heat; flame being the bright, subtle something which comes last, and is the expansion, fruit, crown, or glory of heat: it is the vivid and visible soul, essence, and spirit of heat--the last evolvement before rending and before the forcible closing again of all the centre-speeding weights, or desires, of matter. Flame is as the expanding-out (or even exploding) flower to this growing thing, heat: it is as the bubble of it--the fruit (to which before we have likened it), or seed, in the outside Hand upon it. Given the supernatural Flora, heat is as the gorgeous plant, and flame the glorying flower; and as growth is greater out of the greater matrix, or matter of growing, so the thicker the material of fire (as we may roughly figure it, though we hope we shall be understood), so the stronger shall the fire be, and of necessity the fiercer will it be perceived to be--result being according to power.
Thus we get more of fire--that is, heat--out of the hard things: there being more of the thing Fire in them.
Trituration, mechanical division, multiplication, cutting up, precipitating, or compounding, are states into which the forces outside can place matter, without searching into and securing its bond, and gathering up (into hand off it) its chains, and mastering it.
[paragraph continues] These changes can be wrought in matter, and; as it, were, it can be taken in pieces; and all this dissolution of it may be effected without our getting as at the fire-blood of our subject.
But Fire disjoints, as it were, all the hinges of the house--laps out the coherence of it--sets ablaze the dense thing, matter--makes the dark metals run like waters of light--conjures the black devils out of the minerals, and, to our astonishment, shows them much libelled, blinding, angel-white! By Fire we can lay our hand upon the solids, part them, powder them, melt them, fine them, drive them out to more and more delicate and impalpable texture--firing their invisible molecules, or imponderables, into cloud, into mist, into gas: out of touch, into hearing; out of hearing, into seeing; out of seeing into smelling; out of smelling, into nothing--into real NOTHING--not even into the last blue sky. These are the potent operations of Fire--the crucible into which we can cast all the worlds, and find them, in their last evolution, not even smoke. These are physical and scientific facts which there can be no gainsaying--which were seen and found out long ago, ages ago, in the reveries first, and then in the practice of the great Magnetists, and those who were called the Fire-Philosophers, of whom we have spoken before.
What is that mysterious and inscrutable operation, the striking fire from flint? Familiar as it is, who remarks it? Where, in that hardest, closest pressing together of matter--where the granulation compresses, shining even in its hardness, into the solidest laminæ of cold, darkest blue, and streaky, core-like, agate-resembling white--lie the seeds of fire, spiritual flame-seeds, to the so stony fruit? In what folds of the flint, in. the block of it--in what invisible recess--speckled and spotted in what tissue--crouch the fire-sparks?--
to issue, in showers, on the stroke of iron--on the so sudden clattering (as of the crowbars of man) on its stony doors: Stone caving the thing Fire, unseen as its sepulchre; Stroke warning the magical thing forth. Whence comes that trail of the fire from the cold bosom of the hard, secret, unexploding flint?--children as from what hard, rocky breast; yet hiding its so sacred, sudden fire-birth! Who--and what science-philosopher--can explain this wondrous darting forth of the hidden something, which he shall try in vain to arrest, but which like a spirit, escapes. him? If we ask what fire is, of the men of science, they are at fault. They will tell us that it is a phenomenon, that their vocabularies can give no further account of it. They will explain to us that all that can be said of it is, that it is a last affection of matter, to the results of which (in the world of man) they can only testify, but of whose coming and of whose going--of the place from which it comes, and the whereabout to which it goeth--they are entirely ignorant--and would give a world to know!
The foregoing, however feebly expressed, are the views of the famous Rosicrucians respecting the nature of this supposed familiar, but yet puzzling, thing--Fire.
We will proceed to some of their further mystic reveries. They are very singular.
But the consideration of these is exceedingly abstract, and difficult. The whole subject is abstruse in the highest degree.
In regard to the singular name of the Rosicrucians, it may be here stated that the Chemists, according to their arcana, derive the Dew from the Latin Ros, and in the figure of a cross (+) they trace the three letters which compose the word Lux, Light. Mosheim is positive as to the accuracy of his information.