Alchemy and Forgery in Early Modern Medicine and Natural Philosophy

Villa Vigoni (Italy)
25–28 July 2016

Download the Conference Program.

Over the last 30 years, a number of major publications have considerably expanded our knowledge of the works of the Swiss physician Paracelsus (1493/94–1541) and his followers. Paracelsus is best known for his radical criticism of Aristotle and Galen along with his radical positions as a lay theologian and spiritual reformer. He ignited a long process leading to the emergence of chemistry as an autonomous science. His theological ideas nourished early modern debates on religious tolerance. He was also instrumental in Tycho Brahe’s reform of cosmology.

The production of forgeries under Paracelsus’s name was an integral part of the diffusion of Paracelsianism. Many of those forgeries were widely read and extremely influential, not only in the fields of medicine and “chymistry” (alchemy/chemistry), but also in cosmology, anthropology, theology and magic. For example, the famous Philosophia ad Athenienses included the dangerous idea on the uncreated “prime matter” of the world, while the De natura rerum described how to create a homunculus. Those were clearly alien to Paracelsus’s own philosophy but were taken at face value by both Paracelsians and their opponents. A number of other apocryphal works are no less interesting. All of them have yet to be studied in their own right.

The present conference, which opens a four-year project, aims to put together the knowledge of specialists with diverse backgrounds. Studying the content, sources, topics, potential authorship and dating of pseudo-Paracelsian treatises, it will reveal their distinctive and common features, their mutual connections, their kinship in style and content with the genuine works of Paracelsus. It will also explore their historical impacts on the evolution of both Paracelsianism and anti-Paracelsianism. This broad survey of the corpus will address many related disciplines and issues: medicine and alchemy, the four elements and the three principles, as well as the corpus attributed to George Ripley, the corpus attributed to Isaac Hollandus, the Ficinian idea of the World-Spirit (spiritus mundi) and its relation to alchemical quintessence, the “signatures doctrine” (signatura rerum), magnetism and imagination.

Our main targets are: Philosophia ad Athenienses; De natura rerum; De tinctura physicorum; Thesaurus thesauro¬rum; Aurora philosophorum; Apocalypsis Hermetis; De secretis creationis; De occulta philosophia; Liber Azoth; De pestilitate. The conference may even reconsider the dating of Paracelsus’s authentic treatises and explore their connections with the works of major Paracelsians such as Alexander von Suchten, Michael Toxites and Gerhardt Dorn.

Besides our plenary speakers, the conference seeks to involve younger researchers and postgraduate students by way of a call for papers. It also plans a workshop session in which the participants can read and discuss pseudo-Paracelsian texts along with related genuine works. This will foster the creation of an international reading group.

Plenary speakers

Tobias Bulang (Universität Heidelberg)
Dane T. Daniel (Wright State University, Ohio)
Georgiana Hedesan (University of Oxford)
Amadeo Murase (Seigakuin University, Japan)
William R. Newman (Indiana University)
Kathrin Pfister (Universität Heidelberg)
Lawrence M. Principe (Johns Hopkins University)
Jennifer Rampling (Princeton University)

More information

Download the conference program here. For more information please contact the organizers:

Didier Kahn (, Senior Researcher, CELLF 16e-18e (CNRS, Paris)
Hiro Hirai (, NWO research fellow (Radboud University, Netherlands)


Generous support for this project has been provided by