German Folktales: Paracelsus and the Spirit in the Fir Tree

Public domain, via Wikimedia Common

Paracelsus was an influential physician, astrologer and alchemist of the German Renaissance.  His real name was Theophrastus Aureolus Bombastus von Hohenheim and he was born in 1493. He was was a medical pioneer of his time and credited with many notable achievements and has  been called the father of toxicology.  The medical movement called Paracelsianism was named after him and followed his ideas.  Presented here is a retelling of a legend called The Legend of Paracelsus from a collection of German folktales called Folk-lore and Legends: German by Anonymous.

The Legend of Paracelsus

Paracelsus was a deep and thoughtful man and wanted to find ways to help people by curing their illness and disease but rarely had sufficient funds for research.  Sometimes he took himself away for long walks to contemplate how he could do this.  One day as he was out walking in a part of the forest where few ever roamed he heard someone calling his name.  Surprised and a little baffled he looked around but could see no one in view. Nevertheless, he could still hear someone calling his name so he followed the sound until he came to an old fir-tree but could see no sign of anyone there. Bewildered he looked all around and walked around the trunk but could see no one but could still hear someone calling his name.  Examining the trunk of the fir tree he saw that deeply embedded within the wood was a small stopper that had three crosses etched into it. It was from here that the voice appeared to be coming from. On closer examination he realized the stopper was imprisoning a spirit in the trunk of the fir tree.

The Spirit in the Tree

The spirit now begged and pleaded with him to remove the stopper and set it free, but Paracelsus was wary.  He thought about this for a while and then said,

“If you will bestow on me a medicine that will cure all illness and disease and also a tincture that will turn everything it touches to gold to fund my research, then I will remove the stopper and set you free.”

The spirit readily agreed and so Paracelsus took out a small knife he always carried and after some trouble managed to pry out the stopper and put it in his pocket for safe keeping.  From out of the dark void that the stopper had filled their crept a most hideous and huge black spider that scuttled down the trunk of the tree to the ground.  As soon as it touched the ground it transformed into the ghastly, thin,  hideous old man who rose up to stand tall, squinting with his red eyes into the surprised eyes of Paracelsus.

The old man led him through the forest breaking a branch off a hazel tree as they went and leading Paracelsus to a high rocky ledge that overlooked vast swathes of the forest.  With the hazel branch he struck the rock wall three times and it opened with a groan. The old man bid Paracelsus to wait and disappeared inside the opening. After a short time he returned carry two small glass phials. One contained a yellow fluid which he handed to Paracelsus telling him that anything the fluid came into contact with would instantly turn to gold.  The second contained a white fluid which he gave to him and told him that this would cure all illness and disease. He then stuck the rock face three times and the opening closed up leaving no trace of the opening it concealed.

The Evil Spirit

As they walked back through the forest Paracelsus began to think about the spirit growing increasingly uneasy in its company.   It told him that it would now travel to Innsprück to wreak vengeance upon the sorcerer who had imprisoned him in the fir tree.  Paracelsus now realized the spirit was evil and feared for the magician and the world for having released it and thought about how he could set things to right.  When they arrived back at the fir tree he said to the spirit,

“Clearly you are a most gifted and magical being!  I wonder if you would mind making a show of your magical gifts by turning yourself back into a spider and crawling into that hole in the tree’s trunk again, purely as an exhibition of your cleverness and magic?”

The spirit was still very pleased at being released and loved to be flattered and therefore readily agreed.  In and instant it had transformed itself into a hideous black spider and scuttled up the tree trunk into the hole. Paracelsus quickly took the stopper out of his pocket and rammed it tightly into the hole trapping the spirit in the tree again.  Quickly finding a heavy stone he hammered the stopper into the wood as tight as possible and then taking his knife cut three fresh crosses into the stopper.

Tricked

Suddenly realizing it had been tricked the spirit screamed and wailed making a hideous noise and shook the tree as if it was in the grip of a hurricane but the stopper held firm. Paracelsus made his way home knowing that the evil spirit would remain safely incarcerated in the fir tree which was high in the mountains and protected by snow drifts and very few people ever passed that way.  

The Two Phials

When he arrived home he tried out the two phials of fluid the evil one had given him and was pleased with their success. It is said that it was largely these that made him one of the most celebrated physicians and alchemists of his day.

© 05/02/2019 zteve t evans

References, Attributions and Further Reading

Copyright February 5, 2019 zteve t evans

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4 thoughts on “German Folktales: Paracelsus and the Spirit in the Fir Tree

  1. Pingback: Via Under the influence!-German Folktales: Paracelsus and the Spirit in the Fir Tree – Fang & Saucer

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