The Cannabis Arcanum of Paracelsus

CANNABIS CULTURE – The techniques of preparation for disease fighting, life preserving elixirs was the core for many medieval and renaissance alchemists, and this was an adaption from Islamic influences that came into Europe following the Crusades.

In references to figures such as “Lully, Paracelsus, Jerome Cardan, etc” Albert G. Mackey in his Encyclopedia of Freemasonry, wrote that these  figures were not “occultists…They had been physicians and chemists; the ‘alchemy’ they studied was chemistry, and they studied it for medical uses… (along with botany, etc.)” (Mackey, 1873). Interestingly, as I have found while researching my forthcomign book, Liber 420: The Cannabis Arcanum (Trineday, 2018), all 3 of the figures mentioned by name have associations with cannabis elixirs, Cardano and Paracelsus both left recipes for cannabis preparations, and cannabis appears in a number of Lullian texts.

For now, lets just take a quick look at Paracelsus recipe for a cannabis infused arcanum, a name given for secret alchemical elixirs.

The Arcanum Compofitum of Paracelsus

It is doubtful that one could read a book on alchemy, and not come across the name Paracelsus, as this  Swiss renaissance  philosopher, physician, botanist, astrologer, and general occultist is so intertwined with the history of this craft. As well, he is widely considered the Father of Toxicology, and an all around important figure in the history of medicine. Born Philippus Aureolus Theophrastus Bombastus von Hohenheim, in his bombastic style, he later changed his name to Paracelsus (‘equal to Celsus’) indicating himself as a rival to ancient medical authorities like  Galen and Celsus. Paracelsus was extremely well travelled, and payed keen attention to not only the learned remedies of doctors in the different countries he travelled in, but also to folk remedies.  In his time Paracelsus represented a one man revolution in medicine.

Dr. Manfred Frankhauser states that “Paracelsus described cannabis in a number of his many works” (Frankhauser, 2002).  Sadly, however not much about these preparations can be found in modern works about Paracelsus, although from what little has been written on it, it seems to have held come importance.

The physician and philosopher Paracelsus (1493-1541) described cannabis in a number of his many works. In his book Das Neunte Buch in der Arznei [The ninth book of medicine (1526)], he mentioned cannabis as a component of the “Arcana compositum,” which he regarded to be the most important medicine. (Grotenhermen, 2009)

Although prepared similarly, “We might hope to distinguish elixirs from arcana according to the idea that the former preserves and the latter transform…” (Ball 1972). As Paracelsus himself noted “That is called arcanum then which is incorporeal, immortal, of perpetual life, intelligible above all nature and knowledge more than human… [Arcana] have the power of transmuting, altering, and restoring us, as the arcana of God, according to their own induction.”*

I was unable to track down this volume cited by Grotenhermen, to retrieve more information on this arcanum, however after considerable searching and effort I was able track down the following recipe, from an Old Dutch translation,  for the Arcanum Compofitum, ‘secret composition’, in the Fasciculus. Oft Lust-Hof der Chimescher Medecijnen, uyt allen Boecken ende Schriften Doctoris Theophrasti Paracelsi van Hogenheym vergadert (1614) which contained cannabis:

Translated from the 17th century Dutch we  get for the Arcanum Compofitum:

About four secret means against contractions and paralyses

The first is called composed secret means

Wine alcohol 6 English pounds cantharidum [Spanish Fly] 10 [abbreviation, likely ounce or dram] florum [flowers]Tapsi [female?] Cannabis, Chamomile, St. John’s wort ana

6. hands full / crush it and mix it together, allow it to draw in the rays of the sun or in the heat of manure for one month. Distillate it afterwards until this distillated liquor withers cannabis tapsi, chamomile, St. John’s wort, centaurea, prunella vulgaris, stachys officinalis ana 1,5 pond / Mastichis Numia ana Thuris 5 [abbreviation]. Earthworms and vorschen ana 1 half onse/ 1. Half pond.

Distillate this in Circulatorio for 8 days and use the method discussed above under balm.*

*17th century Dutch translation from the Dutch by Lena Vanelslander.

After the Dutch translation I passed the text off to Latin translator Veronika McLaren:

Wine alcohol 6 English pounds cantharidum [Spanish beatle] 10 [drams?] flowers of tapsi [barbati][an herb – also called verbascum thapsus or mullein*, probably from Latin mollis, soft]Cannabis, Chamomile, St. John’s wort ana [of each]

6. hands full / crush it and mix it together, allow it to draw in the rays of the sun or in the heat of manure for one month. Distillate it afterwards until this distillated liquor withers [Dutch: bloemen van = flowers of ] cannabis tapsi, chamomile, St. John’s wort, centaurea, prunella vulgaris, stachys officinalis ana [betony – common hedge-nettle, dried]1,5 pond / Mastichis  [resin, or gum] Numia [divine? resin]* ana Thuris [Frankincense] 5 ounces. Earthworms and vorschen ana 1 half onse/ 1. Half pond.

Distillate this in Circulatorio for 8 days and use the method discussed above under balm.

centaurea – centaury a medicinal herb,   prunella vulgaris – a herb known as common self-heal or heal-all

*Numia  – likely from Latin numen, numina [divine],

This method, seems to be a recipe for an epilepsy and seizure medicine. Epilepsy was considered as a form of demonic possession well into this period. That it was used as an alcohol based topical is interesting, as this would allow for much more absorption  in a topical preparation and would ensure penetration through the skin int the bloodstream. A balm covering this would keep this on the skin. Paracelsus’ other recipes for cannabis are waiting yet to be rediscovered.

The identity of the  Mastichis Numia that was added to the mixture is not given. It could be a name used for Arabic Gum, which was a prized compound for holding together various mixed ingredients, or perhaps some more potently active resin, that was considered to have divine properties?

 The reintroduction of cannabis based medicines, has resulted in a modern day interest in cannabis tinctures and preparation, and many craft business are marketing themselves as Apothecaries. With all the extraction possibilities, here has also been a revival of cannabis alchemy, and elaborate looking extraction equipment that looks like something out of a renaissance alchemical manuscript, is available in all shapes and sizes for this purpose.

Bibliography

Frankhauser, Manfred, ‘History of cannabis in Western Medicine, Cannabis and cannabinoids: pharmacology, toxicology, and therapeutic potential, By Franjo Grotenhermen, Ethan Russo, (Haworth Press, 2002)

Grotenhermen, Franjo, Cannabis en médecine: un guide pratique des applications médicales du cannabis et du THC, (2009)

 

Chris Bennett
Chris Bennett

Chris Bennett has been researching the historical role of cannabis in magic and religion for over a quarter century, his books include 'Green Gold the tree of Life: Marijuana in Magic and Religion' (1995); 'Sex, Drugs, Violence and the Bible' (2001); 'Cannabis and the Soma Solution' (2010. He Currently resides in Vancouver, BC, Canada, where he runs his ethnobotanical shop The Urban Shaman.