Robert Fludd (1574–1637) was a Brilliant English physician and alchemist. Robert Fludd was one of the most preeminent scholars of his day. He was a strong supporter of Rosicrucianism.
Fludd was born in Bearsted, Kent, in 1574 to a military administrator, Sir Thomas Fludd, who was in the good graces of Queen Elizabeth I. Fludd was raised a devout Christian and exhibited an unusual piety early in life; he viewed sex as the true cause of humanity’s fall from grace. At age 17, he entered St. John’s College in Oxford, where he excelled in studies.
Sometime between 1596 and 1598, Fludd graduated with a bachelor of arts and master of arts degrees and embarked on a six-year sojourn on the European Continent as a tutor. His interests were wide and eclectic, embracing astrology, metaphysics, alchemy, chemistry, physics, natural history, theology, and medicine. He was especially interested in the works of Paracelsus, though he proved to be more conservative than other Paracelsians of the day.
By the time he returned to Oxford, Fludd was 31. He entered school at Christ Church and by 1605 had earned a bachelor of medicine and a doctor of medicine degrees. However, his arrogance and his unusual ideas countered the university’s traditional teachings that were based on the Greek physician Galen, who lived in the second century c.e. Perhaps because of his views, it took Fludd nearly four years to become a fellow in the College of Physicians.
As a doctor, Fludd enjoyed a thriving practice. He mixed mysticism and astrology with medicine. He believed illness was caused by Demons; he gave great weight to diagnosis based on the color of urine. He consulted horoscopes for diagnosis and treatment. People flocked to him for care. He earned enough to maintain his own apothecary and a laboratory where he carried out his alchemical experiments.
Fludd was highly creative, writing works on a wide range of subjects and designing props for stage dramas. His special interest, however, was alchemy, especially its high spiritual principles—which he called the invisible parts of man—and he denigrated the efforts to transmute metals as base and vulgar.
He was drawn to the philosophy of Rosicrucianism, especially the concept that the greatest human aspiration is to know God. Fludd may have been a Rosicrucian— he wrote in defense of the order—but he never publicly admitted so. He was knowledgeable about the Kabbalah and attempted to reconcile Aristotlean and kabbalistic philosophies as expressed in the 10 spheres of Aristotle and the 10 sephirot of the kabbalistic Tree of Life.
Fludd appreciated the fact that many could not comprehend the lofty philosophical and spiritual ideas of alchemy. To Demonstrate alchemical principles, he devised an experiment to distill the Prima Materia and the quintessence from wheat. To his surprise, some of the quintessence became filled with strange white worms when it became accidentally filled with rainwater. Fludd concluded that the worms could only have come from spontaneous generation due to the vital nature in the quintessence of the wheat.
Fludd’s interest in astrology and alchemy led him into frequent clashes with his contemporary physicians, theologians, and others. For example, he said that it was natural for blood to circulate throughout the body because the heavenly bodies circulated through the macrocosm. He believed in sympathetic magic and defended Paracelsus’s weapon-salve therapy involving magical ointment, which critics called witchcraft.
Despite his unorthodox views, Fludd remained highly respected throughout his life, though he had to answer charges of heresy from some of his critics. He became an accomplished musician. He was celibate and never married; he prided himself on his “unstained virginity” and emphasized sexual desire as the cause of man’s fall from paradise.
Fludd died on September 8, 1637, of unknown causes; it is speculated that years of intense work may have been contributing factors. He evidently knew he was dying, as he arranged his affairs and had a tombstone prepared for his grave. He was buried in Bearsted church near Maidstone, England.
Fludd's best-known work is The History of the Macrocosm and the Microcosm, which explains the interrelationships between man and the heavens. The two-volume work was never completed. The first part was published in 1617, and the last part of it was written in 1624. The work created a stir as a bible of Rosicrucian and alchemical philosophy.
Fludd saw God in all things; everything is created out of the Light of God. Everything is both a macrocosm and a microcosm. He describes hierarchies of angels and Demons—he placed Christ among the angels—and the elemental world of men, plants and minerals. All partake of the Light of God, the degree of which depends on their place in the hierarchy of creation. At the midpoint is the sun, the “Tabernacle of God.” Fludd endorsed the Pythagorean concept of the music of the spheres: The music created by the movement of heavenly bodies turns the universe into a single musical instrument of harmony. He endorsed the doctrine of correspondences: Every level of the hierarchy of creation reflects the next higher realm. Without reflection there can be no creation.
One of his chief critics was a French scientist, Marin Marsenne, who accused Fludd of being a magician, a heretic, and an atheist—serious charges in Fludd’s day. Marsenne especially objected to Fludd’s alchemical interpretation of creation and felt that alchemy should remain separate from theology. He also objected to Fludd’s equation of Christ with the Anima Mundi, the feminine creative force of God, and to angels.
Fludd defended his cosmology in writing and reasserted his religious faith. Fortunately, King James remained his patron, and he had friends among the bishops of the Church of England.
- Godwin, Joscelyn. Robert Fludd: Hermetic Philosopher and Surveyor of Two Worlds. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Phanes Press, 1979.
- M. W. Sharon. “Doctor Robert Fludd. (1574–1637).” Available online. URL: https://www.levity.com/alchemy/fludd1. html. Downloaded on March 14, 2005.
- Seligmann, Kurt. The History of Magic and the Occult. New York: Pantheon Books, 1948.