Alchemical Generals, Isis Unveiled, and Early American Holistic Medicine

 

Alexander Wilder, pioneer of holistic medicine, helped Madame Blavatsky finish her classic book Isis Unveiled.  As a young man he was a member of the notorious Oneida cult.  As a politician and journalist he fought against slavery then helped kick Boss Tweed out of New York.  He lectured at the famous New England Transcendentalist Concord School of Philosophy. The author of a nine hundred page history of medicine, and of books like Theurgia: The Egyptian Mysteries, he somehow found the time to write, edit and translate articles on esoteric subjects like alchemy, Neoplatonism, and the dynasties of ancient Egypt, for dozens of publications over almost sixty years.

As a kid working for Manly P. Hall in the Philosophical Research Society I had the privilege of spending hours each day browsing the library shelves.  The spiritual heritage of the entire world organized into subjects that caught my imagination.  Over there the mysteries of Tibet were waiting for my perusal.  Here books exposed secret codes in the works of famous authors.  MPH also provided through his own writing and in conversation a wonderful treasure map to obscure tomes full of flights of creative imagination filled with fascinating details of history and food for the soul.  Thanks to his recommendation I read Plotinus On the Beautiful and so the Neoplatonists were one of my first studies.  Like every other English speaking enthusiast before the recent renaissance in academic work on Proclus, Porphyry, Iamblichus and the others, I depended on the torturous translations of Thomas Taylor, joining the likes of Shelley, Blake and Emerson, finding gems of insight in the cave of run on sentences.

I also found, to my surprise, American translators of the Neoplatonists from a time that most of us associate with Billy the Kid and the shoot out at the O.K. Corral.  I imagined one of those dusty western streets, ripe with horse manure, an upstairs office in a plank building, and there inside some small room in the glow of a lamp a hardy soul burns the midnight oil, scribbling out the sublime communications left by pagan philosophers over a thousand years before.  Kenneth Sylvan Guthrie, Alexander Wilder, and Thomas Johnson, I could find out very little about them.  Even MPH didn’t have much information.  My curiosity was intensified when in a store called Hippocampus on Sunset Boulevard I stumbled on a bound edition of The Platonist, a rare 19th century Midwestern periodical.

Perhaps my favorite part of The Platonist volume 1 is “Platonic Technology:  A Glossary of Distinctive Terms” by Alexander Wilder M.D. appearing in four installments, in alphabetical order.   His Platonic dictionary is Neoplatonic, almost Christian.  For example: “On or Ontos On.  Real being; Absolute Being; that which really is; the really-existing as distinguished from the transitory; the permanent, eternal, and unchangeable; the Eternal Goodness, Truth and Excellence; the real being underlying all existence; the whence and why of all things; God.”  Would Plato have been comfortable with such a mystical definition of mere being?

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