Splendor Solis by Dr. Stephen Skinner
Dr. Stephen Skinner
is an Australian author, editor, publisher and lecturer. He is known for authoring books on magic, feng shui, sacred geometry and alchemy. He is an expert in both alchemy and 15th and 16th-century grimoires, having edited not only Dr. John Dee’s Spiritual Diaries, but also the book of Lapidus, one of the last remaining physical alchemist texts of the 20th century. He is an authority in 15th to 18th-century magic manuscripts and the author of more than 40 books on Western esoteric traditions. He has published over 46 books in more than 20 languages.
The excerpt below goes into detail about the medical benefits of the Philosophers’ Stone, according to the Paracelsian framework. Paracelsus was a Swiss physician, alchemist, and astrologer of the German Renaissance. He was a pioneer in several aspects of the “medical revolution” of the Renaissance, emphasizing the value of observation in combination with received wisdom.
In any case, Splendor solis fitted better than other texts within the overarching medical alchemical framework of Paracelsianism. In line with Paracelsus’s belief that the medical goal should supersede all others, Splendor solis maintains that the primary virtue of the Philosophers’ Stone is its ability to cure human bodies (Aureum vellus III, 1599, 81). There are three other benefits: the improvement of metals, the transmutation of ordinary stones into precious gems, and the softening of glass. These claims seem to be lifted directly from the last chapter of Aurora consurgens, which, as Rafał Prinke points out in this volume, is one of the chief sources of Splendor solis (Aurora consurgens 1593, 241).
Splendor solis further describes in detail the medical benefits of the Philosophers’ Stone:
… the wise Philosophers say that if taken in a warm draught of wine or water, it will immediately cure paralysis, dropsy, leprosy, jaundice, palpitation, colic, fever, palsy, and many other diseases within and without the body, when used as a salve. It strengthens an unhealthy stomach, takes away rheumatism and cures melancholy; it relieves eye diseases, and invigorates the heart; it brings back hearing, makes the teeth sound, restores lame limbs, heals all apostemes, as well as other injuries, fistulas, cancers and ulcers, when taken or used as salve or powder. Senior says that it makes human beings joyous and young, makes the body fresh and healthy, rejuvenates inside and outside, for it is a medicine above all the medicines of Hippocrates, Galen, Constantine, Alexander and Avicenna, and of other learned physicians (Aureum vellus III, 1599, 82).
In other words, the Philosophers’ Stone is the Universal Medicine that not only cures most – if not all – diseases but also restores youth and prolongs life. It is interesting to note that this list of medical benefits, itself drawn on the claims of Aurora consurgens, puts in first place several diseases that were then considered incurable by traditional medicine. Such diseases were believed to be so deeply entrenched in the body that no medicine could eliminate them. Yet it became a chief assertion of medical alchemy that its chemical compounds could actually penetrate the body so profoundly that they could remove these illnesses. Indeed, one of the strongest claims made on behalf of Paracelsus, and recorded on his Salzburg tombstone, was that he managed to heal leprosy, gout and dropsy.
Furthermore, the mildly polemic attitude of Splendor solis could only have delighted the early Paracelsians, who were often engaged in rhetorical battles with the traditional medical establishment (Debus 2002, 127–204). The claim that the alchemical medicine was above those of “Hippocrates, Galen, Constantine, Alexander, and Avicenna” originated from Aurora consurgens (1593, 423), but here it is associated with the alchemist Senior – by his real name Muhammad ibn Umail al-Tamîmî (c. 900–60), also called Senior Zadith. Incidentally, the historical Senior could have criticized neither Avicenna, since the latter was born shortly after the alchemist died (980), nor Constantine (most likely the physician Constantinus Africanus, who lived in the 11th century). Yet the association was appropriate, as Senior was the ultimate source of Aurora consurgens.10
This “medical” section of Splendor solis shows why early Paracelsians might have been persuaded to add it to their ever-growing list of writings of “adept philosophy”. There were other reasons for it as well. One was the fact that the Philosophers’ Stone was often called here “Tincture”, in line with Paracelsus’s preference for this term in The Great Surgery. Another, perhaps even more important, was the treatise’s prefiguration of Paracelsus’s much- debated doctrine of the three principles (tria prima). According to Paracelsus, all matter was made up of mercury (fluid), sulphur (volatile substance) and salt (earthy solid substance). Alchemy was the only method that could be used to separate a body into these three primordial principles.
Many Paracelsians took this notion of the tria prima as the defining feature of their movement, even if it was arguably not as central to Paracelsus’s writings as some made it out to be. The debate on this alchemical composition of bodies became particularly heated in the 17th century. It was eventually discounted by the influential alchemist and physician Jan Baptist van Helmont (1579–1644) and by the chemical enthusiast Robert Boyle (Hedesan 2016).
As some scholars have noted, the idea of three principles of matter was prefigured by certain alchemical treatises of the Late Middle Ages, chiefly the Buch der heiligen Dreifaltigkeit (“Book of the Holy Trinity”) (Hooykaas 1937). Splendor solis also seemed to reflect a ternary structure in the composition of metals. Thus, it claimed that the “water”, “moisture”, or “quintessence” within metallic bodies was called mercury or the “soul”; the sulphurous part was its spirit; and the solid body was its earth (Aureum vellus III, 1599, 80). It was easy to read this passage as referring to mercury (soul), sulphur (spirit) and salt (body, or earth). Moreover, these three united to create one thing, just as for Paracelsians the three principles came together into the composition of matter.