THE ROSE OF PARACELSUS
By J.L. Borges
Down in his laboratory, to which the two rooms of the cellar had been given over, Paracelsus prayed to his God, his indeterminate God – any God – to send him a disciple.
Night was coming on. The guttering ï¬re in the hearth threw irregular shadows into the room. Getting up to light the iron lamp was too much trouble. Paracelsus, weary from the day, grew absent, and the prayer was forgotten. Night had expunged the dusty retorts and the furnace  when there came a knock at his door. Sleepily he got up, climbed the short spiral staircase , and opened one side of the double door. A stranger stepped inside. He too was very tired. Paracelsus gestured toward a bench; the other man sat down and waited. For a while, neither spoke.
The master was the ï¬rst to speak.
âI recall faces from the West and faces from the East,â he said, not without a certain formality, âyet yours I do not recall. Who are you, and what do you wish of me?â
âMy name is of small concern,â the other man replied. âI have journeyed three days and three nights to come into your house. I wish to become your disciple. I bring you all my possessions.â
He brought forth a pouch and emptied its contents on the table. The coins were many, and they were of gold. He did this with his right hand. Paracelsus turned his back to light the lamp ; when he turned around again, he saw that the manâs left hand held a rose. The rose troubled him. 
He leaned back, put the tips of his ï¬ngers together, and said:
âYou think that I am capable of extracting the stone that turns all elements to gold, and yet you bring me gold. But it is not gold I seek, and if it is gold that interests you, you shall never be my disciple.â
âGold is of no interest to me,â the other man replied. âThese coins merely symbolize my desire to join you in your work. I want you to teach me the Art. I want to walk beside you on that path that leads to the Stone.â
âThe path is the Stone. The point of departure is the Stone. If these words are unclear to you, you have not yet begun to understand. Every step you take is the goal you seek.â
Paracelsus spoke the words slowly. The other man looked at him with misgiving.
âBut,â he said, his voice changed, âis there, then, no goal?â
âMy detractors, who are no less numerous than imbecilic, say that there is not, and they call me an impostor. I believe they are mistaken, though it is possible that I am deluded. I know that there is a Path.â
There was silence, and then the other man spoke.
âI am ready to walk that Path with you, even if we must walk for many years. Allow me to cross the desert. Allow me to glimpse, even from afar the promised land, though the stars prevent me from setting foot upon it. All I ask is a proof before we begin the journey.â
âWhen?â said Paracelsus uneasily.
âNow,â said the disciple with brusque decisiveness.
They had begun their discourse in Latin; they now were speaking German.
The young man raised the rose into the air.
âYou are famed,â he said, âfor being able to burn a rose to ashes and make it emerge again, by the magic of your art. Let me witness that prodigy. I ask that of you, and in return I will offer up my entire life.â
âYou are credulous,â the master said. âI have no need of credulity; I demand faith.â
The other man persisted.
âIt is precisely because I am not credulous that I wish to see with my own eyes the annihilation and resurrection of the rose.â
âYou are credulous,â he repeated. âYou say that I can destroy it?â
âAny man has the power to destroy it,â said the disciple.
âYou are wrong,â the master responded. âDo you truly believe that something may be turned to nothing? Do you believe that the ï¬rst Adam in paradise was able to destroy a single ï¬ower, a single blade of grass?â
âWe are not in paradise,â the young man stubbornly replied. âHere, in the sublunary world , all things are mortal.â
Paracelsus had risen to his feet.
âWhere are we, then, if not in paradise?â he asked. âDo you believe that the deity is able to create a place that is not paradise? Do you believe that the Fall is something other than not realizing that we are in paradise?â 
âA rose can be burned,â the disciple said deï¬antly.
âThere is still some ï¬re thereâ, said Paracelsus, pointing toward the hearth. âIf you cast this rose into the embers, you would believe that it has been consumed, and that its ashes are real. I tell you that the rose is eternal, and that only its appearances may change. At a word from me, you would see it again.â
âA word?â the disciple asked, puzzled. âThe furnace is cold, and the retorts are covered with dust. What is it you would do to bring it back again?â
Paracelsus looked at him with sadness in his eyes.
âThe furnace is coldâ, he nodded, âand the retorts are covered with dust. On this leg of my long journey I use other instruments.â
âI dare not ask what they are,â said the other man humbly, or astutely.
âI am speaking of that instrument used by the deity to create the heavens and the earth and the invisible paradise in which we exist, but which original sin hides from us. I am speaking of the Word, which is taught to us by the science of the Kabbalah.â
âI ask you,â the disciple coldly said, âif you might be so kind as to show me the disappearance and appearance of the rose. It matters not the slightest to me whether you work with alembics or with the Word.â
Paracelsus studied for a moment; then he spoke:
âIf I did what you ask, you would say that it was an appearance cast by magic upon your eyes. The miracle would not bring you the faith you seek. Put aside, then, the rose.â
The young man looked at him, still suspicious. Then Paracelsus raised his voice.
âAnd besides, who are you to come into the house of a master and demand a miracle of him? What have you done to deserve such a gift?â
The other man, trembling, replied:
âI know I have done nothing. It is for the sake of the many years I will study in your shadow that I ask it of you – allow me to see the ashes and then the rose. I will ask nothing more. I will believe the witness of my eyes.â
He snatched up the red rose  that Paracelsus had left lying on the table, and he threw it into the ï¬ames. Its color vanished, and all that remained was a pinch of ash. For one inï¬nite moment, he awaited the words, and the miracle.
Paracelsus sat unmoving. He said with strange simplicity:
âAll the physicians and all the pharmacists in Basel say I am a fraud. Perhaps they are right. There are the ashes that were the rose, and that shall be the rose no more.â
The young man was ashamed. Paracelsus was a charlatan, or a mere visionary, and he, an intruder, had come through his door and forced him now to confess that his famed magic arts were false.
He knelt before the master and said:
âWhat I have done is unpardonable. I have lacked belief, which the Lord demands of all the faithful. Let me, then, continue to see ashes. I will come back again when I am stronger, and I will be your disciple, and at the end of the Path I will see the rose.â
He spoke with genuine passion, but that passion was the pity he felt for the aged master – so venerated, so inveighed against, so renowned, and therefore so hollow. Who was he, Johannes Grisebach, to discover with sacrilegious hand that behind the mask was no one?
Leaving the gold coins would be an act of almsgiving to the poor. He picked them up again as he went out. Paracelsus accompanied him to the foot of the staircase and told him he would always be welcome in that house. Both men knew they would never see each other again.
Paracelsus was then alone. Before putting out the lamp and returning to his weary chair, he poured the delicate ï¬stful of ashes from one hand into the concave other, and he whispered a single word. The rose appeared again.