Epilepsy - Modern Insights From Paracelsian Medicine

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By: Bertram von Zabern, M.D.

There is something ageless about Paracelsus' writings, comparable to the great works of art by other renaissance men. We find insights about the threefoldness of Sulphur, Mercury, Sal, about the fourfoldness of earth, water, air and fire, and the mysteries of the inner planetary forces in the human body—wisdom that has prevailed throughout the great ancient cultures. The arm of Paracelsus' discoveries easily reaches the 21st century, an example being numerous medicinal springs he discovered in Middle Europe, whereby he became the founder of the science of balneology. The healing power of his spas attract more people now than ever before.

I found my way to Paracelsus as a medical student when I became particularly interested in epilepsy. I thought, if Paracelsus was the greatest physician in history, let us look up what he had to say about the illness and its treatment. I had to plow through some strange language, where he describes how in a convulsion the "spiritus vitae" becomes trapped in an organ like the heart or the liver, whereby it generates a deadly foam rendering the patient unconscious. Those simple words led me to pictures about the epileptic process that were alive, and confirmed what I had tried to learn from Rudolf Steiner's teachings in this field. Paracelsus' descriptions of epilepsy, like the ones of anthroposophical medicine, touch on a holistic view of the struggle of a spiritual entity, the human self, with the barriers of the body and certain organs.

Having realized how modern a thinker and how much part of holistic medicine Paracelsus was, I became even more curious about his description of the remedy that was supposed to cure epilepsy. There was a "vitriol" that needed to be heated with the "greatest fire" for two days and two nights until an oil distilled and a "caput mortuum," a "skull" would remain in the retort. The distilled oil and the caput mortuum would have to be reunited and redistilled several times. Paracelsus called the remedy "arcanum vitrioli," a spiritual substance with a “secretly gold-like property” that is capable of healing epilepsy.

I had the fortunate opportunity to discuss these old scripts with Walther Cloos, who had developed many of the innovative Weleda preparations through his direct work with Rudolf Steiner. He explained that the "vitriol" is a combination of natural salts formed by sulfuric acid and metal oxides, mainly copper oxide. By applying heat, these salts can be separated into their original constituents. Therefore the "oil" is sulfuric acid and the "caput mortuum" consists mostly of copper oxide. The repeated distillations are not only for purification, but they are a rhythmical process of reuniting what had been separated, a form of potentizing. Walther Cloos pointed out that such processes had to be rediscovered in order to prepare potent medications out of the spirit of nature and the human being.

What is it specifically that connects a pharmaceutical process with this spirit? The cultures of antiquity had an inkling of substances like copper and sulfur being mediators between the celestial "macrocosm," and the human being, the "microcosm." The stellar power of Venus was personified in the goddess of beauty, supposedly born at the seaside of Paphos on Cyprus, the copper island. Copper was and is seen as the metal of beauty and warmth that can heal spasms. Sol-phor was perceived as the carrier of sun heat, as its name indicates. Sulfur is impressively found as crystals, in hot springs, or as a gas wherever volcanic activity takes place. In the human body, sulfur is universally present where an active heat metabolism is required.

We are touching on one of the most actual issues of modern healthcare, the workings of the immune system. We are not surprised to find sulfur present in the inflammatory reactions of the immune system. The problem is the extent to which conventional medicine suppresses the body's ability to produce inflammatory reactions. In our medical
practices we meet children and adults who are unable to produce a healthy fever when it is needed; and they always have a low energy level. Others have "never been ill," however they develop cancer or an auto-immune disease such as multiple sclerosis. Most patients with epilepsy have a sluggish and slow metabolism. Their phlegmatic temperament at times becomes fiery and explosive, and their seizures appear as a vain attempt of the body to break through the obstacle of a bogged-down metabolism. Rudolf Steiner has emphasized the restoration of the failing warmth and heat reactions, which he called the "warmth organism," to be one of the main goals in anthroposophical medicine. Through his teachings I learned to understand why Paracelsus considered his epilepsy remedy an "arcanum," that is, a substance able to transform the life of spirit, soul and body to a new state of health.

Copper sulfate is a salt that had been formed eons of times ago by sulfuric acid and copper oxide. To bring it back to its own state of origin, we need to apply the brightly glowing heat of more than 2000°F! Only then does it separate into its original components. The skill and the apparatus needed to perform this evokes our admiration for the alchemist. But the wisdom in the preparation of the "arcanum" inspires us with awe. A violent heat process is needed to rejuvenate a substance that had rested in nature for countless years. That enormous heat impact is balanced by reuniting the acid and the oxide and redistilling sulfuric acid several times at a much lower temperature. This way the remedy is brought into the middle realm of pulsation and breathing, which the alchemists called "mercurial," the realm of true healing.

The few thoughts presented here may point towards resources that can open up new avenues for the preparation of potent medications. Substances nature offers us can be enhanced in their power. A substance such as the heat carrier sulfur can be enhanced in its inherent-Power by the heat process described by Paracelsus.

It needs "a good alchemist" to prepare a "spiritual remedy," which means bringing substance into a state of harmony with the cosmic forces that also constitute the human body. The preparation discussed is now available as "Acidum sulfuricum e vitriolo" by Weleda and has helped to balance the tendency towards temper outbursts in people with epilepsy, to activate the warmth organism of patients with poor body heat and to improve multiple sclerosis. Medicine will at all times have to "pass nature's examen," the test of helping patients. Rather than becoming a technology, its challenge is to be an art working with inspiration from sources we have to discover—or rediscover.

Dr. von Zabern is a family physician and psychiatrist using the anthroposophical approach. He is director of the Tobias House, a residential community in Temple, NH


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