Culpepper, Nicolas

Culpepper, Nicolas

(religion, spiritualism, and occult)

Nicolas Culpepper, astrologer and herbalist, was born in Ockley, England, on October 18, 1616, to a wealthy family that owned property throughout Kent and Surrey. His father died before he was born, and he was raised by his mother in Isfield, where her father was a Church of England minister with Puritan leanings. As a child, he learned Latin and Greek from his grandfather. He was sent to Cambridge, where he majored in classical studies.

Culpepper became engaged and persuaded his fiancée to run away with him and get married. However, while on her way to the rendezvous, she was struck and killed by lightning. Culpepper had a nervous breakdown; after he recovered, he refused to return to his schooling or to enter the ministry. This refusal caused him to lose his inheritance from his mother’s family, and he had exhausted the inheritance from his father. He was thus apprenticed to an apothecary.

His apprenticeship was at St. Helens, Highgate, and he inherited and continued the practice of his employer. Culpepper also developed skill in astrology, a field that had intrigued him from a young age. At some point he began correlating astrology and the medicines he was studying as an apothecary. This association may have been suggested by some contemporary German books that linked the two.

Culpepper married Alice Fields in 1640 and through her wealth was able to set up practice in the east end of London, on Red Lion Street, Spitalfields. He joined the forces opposed to King Charles I in 1642 and fought in the Battle of Edgehill. He was wounded during the battle, and this wound may have triggered the tuberculosis that bothered him for the balance of his life. He evoked the hostility of the medical profession when he published an English translation of the Pharmacopea in 1649. Detailed information about herbs and other medical substances had been a professional secret before Culpepper’s translation, and other doctors were angry. His incorporation of astrology in this publication was held up for ridicule. He continued in medical practice for the five final years of his life. His wife’s money allowed him to devote his time to caring for the poor. He died at the youthful age of 38 on January 10, 1654.

Culpepper’s translation of the Pharmacopea became known as Culpepper’s Herbal, and gave him a certain amount of fame. It became a standard reference book and was reprinted often. When herbal medicine was making a comeback in the twentieth century, Culpepper’s Herbal again became important for its summary of the herbal lore of earlier times. It became a resource for healers and others who wanted alternatives to the harsh chemicals of mainstream medicine.

Sources:

Culpepper, Nicolas. Culpepper’s English Physician and Herbal Remedies. North Hollywood, CA: Wilshire Book Co., 1971. (Originally published in 1649.)
Inglis, Brian, and Ruth Inglis. The Alternative Health Guide. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1983.
Melton, J. Gordon. New Age Encyclopedia. Detroit: Gale Research, 1990.
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