Alchemy and Herbalism Part IV- Illness as Initiation

Welcome to the fourth and final part of our Alchemy and Herbalism series! Hopefully, you’ve been able to watch the last three episodes that we’ve published over the last few weeks. My intention here is to share some teachings here about the tradition of Alchemy and the profound influence that it can have on your work with herbal medicine. In this week’s discussion, I’m taking a little deeper dive into how Alchemy translates disease and how Spagyric medicines can actually really affect us on a deeper level, bringing about a sense of healing like no other.

Illness as Initiation

Spagyric medicines work holistically on the whole person because they contain the whole plant by concentrating the chemical, energetic, and spiritual properties of the plants. Spagyrics have the ability to work on the physical, psychological, and spiritual levels within a person, which is why I am so awestruck by this particular ancient tradition – because it’s connecting and working on multiple levels within our own bodies. But, how exactly are they healing us? And, how does Alchemy view health and disease? 

I like to summarize this in a short statement, which is “our illness is our initiation.”  What do I mean by that? According to Alchemy, everything in nature is in a constant state of change or transformation. And, when we look at nature, we see that everything is always changing and transforming – like the turning of the seasons, the cycles of the moon, the way that plants grow, and the ways animals migrate and hibernate.

Everything in nature is going through these processes of transformation and human beings are not separate from that. Even though we’ve built a world to try to separate ourselves from nature, we ultimately can’t. And when we do try to separate ourselves from nature, it ultimately makes us sick in different ways. But, we see that in Alchemy, everything is in a state of transformation. And in that way, our state of transformation is striving towards a greater level of wholeness within ourselves and wholeness within our environment – coming to a place of unity within this world. 

Alchemy is ultimately a spiritual practice as well as a practice of medicine. But, it is inherent that our spiritual development is tied to our healing process. The way I like to think of it is that healing and our soul’s evolution are really two sides of the same leaf. And anyone that’s ever embarked on a spiritual path – wanting to reach a greater level of self-awareness and collective awareness – always faces those challenges. We always hit those blockages, those parts of ourselves that are resistant to change, that are resistant to transforming, and that are stuck in the past.

We’ve all dealt with different levels of trauma throughout our lives that can really hold us back from developing, growing, and evolving spiritually. Often, when we try to evolve, we discover that we have healing work to do. I like to think of this process as taking our trauma and turning it into our transformation. And, that concept really resonates with what Alchemy is all about – taking poison and turning it into medicine. Taking our wound and turning it into our strength, our gift, and our power. Everything happens to us in our lives for a reason and is there to teach us and to show us how we can be a better human being.

When we’re looking at the perspective of disease or health problems through the lens of Alchemy, we are really seeing that sickness or disease is where we get stuck. Our vital force gets stuck. It’s where part of our spirit or soul gets stuck oftentimes due to some sort of past trauma. Our pathway towards healing is taking that trauma and transforming it into something good. 

How the Archetypes Affect Us

In Part II of this series, I talked about how we as humans are a microcosm of the macrocosm – that we contain the wholeness of creation within us. And the way Alchemy views that is looking at the Elements on Earth and seeing that we contain all of those planetary and Elemental forces within us.

For some of us, we have integrated those forces well – we’re in great relationship with them and know how to express them in healthy and virtuous ways. But, some of those archetypal patterns we don’t understand, they’re a little bit incongruous with our own innate constitution. So, we see that some of these archetypal powers will sometimes be expressed in excess or in some form of deficiency. When these archetypes are deficient in us, they may give us a hard time trying to find a way to get a message through to us that shows us, “Hey, you know, you’re not living in accordance with my rules, right?”

For example, Fire has rules and a certain order and way that it functions. And when we don’t live in that way, it can start to burn us. This leads to problems associated with that archetype. And what we commonly see is that these archetypes are affecting us on a soul level – on those lessons that we need to learn, to grow, and to evolve as a human being. Those archetypes also affect us on the spirit level, or what in Alchemy, is referred to as Mercury – our psychological state, our emotional health. And, those archetypes also have a physical reflection within our body.

We can understand all those layers of ourselves through the pattern of these archetypes –  the planets and the Elements. When we are incongruous with one of those archetypes, oftentimes it sends us messages. It’s communicating to us and setting up our life circumstances so that we will be faced with challenges to overcome so that we can learn and grow. And sometimes, when we don’t get the message, when we don’t get the lesson, and we keep making the same mistakes, then it’s going to start affecting our minds and our emotions. And even after all that, we sometimes still don’t get that message and then it can materialize in the physical body and give us health problems, symptoms, diseases, and imbalances that correlate to the organ systems and the tissues that that particular archetype corresponds to. 

And these are all ultimately ways that life and nature is striving to teach us and make us more whole, so that we’re in harmony with that wholeness of creation. For example, we could think of the planet Venus. In Astrology, Venus is said to relate to our relationships, so it has to do with how we interact and interface with one another. Venus has everything to do with relationships, love, and intimacy, and is considered the archetype of our bonding to others and being able to be in harmony with another.

Venus’s function is to establish and create harmony within our lives, along with beauty and the arts, and there’s a lot of other dynamics that Venus represents. If someone doesn’t have a very well integrated Venus, maybe this person has difficulty in relationships. Maybe they feel really isolated or closed hearted, or they’re constantly repeating the same patterns in relationships over and over again. And they’re thinking, “Why is it that I keep attracting these same kinds of people with the same kinds of problems over and over again?” 

In this example, we see that Venus is trying to get this person’s attention. It’s trying to wake them up in order to evolve and change this pattern. And, if these patterns persist, and someone does not wake up, sometimes these things can manifest in the body. Venus governs the urinary tract, the kidneys, the reproductive system, and the veins in the body. So maybe this person with this struggle with Venus develops chronic urinary tract infections, or maybe they get a kidney stone, or maybe they end up with varicose veins, or some form of health problem in the reproductive system.

These are all things that are all correlating to Venus and if someone does not acknowledge these issues and patterns, and learn the lessons presented them, it can ultimately trickle down into the mind and into the emotions and ultimately into the body. 

In the perspective of Alchemy, these are examples of the ways that life is trying to teach us. It’s the way that these archetypes are trying to wake us up to say, “Hey, these are the things that you need to learn in order for you to express my virtues in a very beneficial way.” The lesson is meant to help someone grow so that they can experience healthy relationships, good boundaries, open heartedness – so they can be loving and caring, kind and compassionate.

Imbuing Alchemy into our Herbalism Practice

In Alchemy, we really look at life as a school. And, there are seven main headmasters (the planets) that govern these different schools of life. The Sun, Moon, Mars, Venus, Jupiter, Saturn, and Mercury. And then there’s these three grand headmasters on a different plane of those three outer planets – Pluto, Neptune, and Uranus. All of these planets are trying to teach us. 

The Elements are the same way. And when we experience illness as our initiation, we need to struggle through to make it out on the other side as a more integrated person who is in harmony with life. Again, I like to refer to this as taking our trauma and turning it into our transformation.

And this is where our work as herbalists working with the Alchemical lineage, is kind of like detective work. It’s kind of like putting a puzzle together. When you’re putting a puzzle together, you’ve got all these different pieces and the picture’s not super clear. But you start to see where the pieces connect and sometimes you get whole sections of that puzzle done and you start to get a sense of the bigger picture. And then, all of a sudden, all those pieces come together and you see the whole picture. 

Working with a person is similar to putting a puzzle together. The goal of the Alchemical Herbalist is to understand that person and see what core archetypal patterns are present in that person’s life. Once you know this, you can work with corresponding remedies that will help them work through those archetypal forces. This is where Spagyric medicines come in. Remember in the last part in this series, I was sharing with you about how Spagyrics or Alchemical Herbal Pharmacy is like a cosmological medicine making or a spiritual pharmacy whereby you’re not only harvesting and preparing the plants, but you’re harvesting and preparing the planetary and Elemental forces that are most strongly embodied in that plant. And we’re doing that through picking the remedies and taking them through those spagyric processes, like distillation, fermentation, calcination, crystallization, and all these different steps.

You’re doing all those parts of the process in alignment with the constitution of the plant – the planetary and Elemental signatures of that plant. Your complete Spagyric medicine is not only a chemical, energetic and spiritual concentration of the herbs, but it’s also a concentration of the planetary and the Elemental properties of that plant. When you’re working with someone with that Venus imbalance, you would administer to them what we call a sympathetic remedy.  Sympathetic meaning that the remedy is similar in nature to what archetype that person is struggling with. In this case, I may work with something like Wild Rose, or Lady’s Mantle, or perhaps something like Pulsatilla. These are just some examples of Venus plants. And typically, you don’t just select any Venus plant, you find the Venus plant that is going to best match what that person is struggling with. 

Pulsatilla works very differently than Lady’s Mantle from an Herbalist perspective, right? So we want to make sure we’re selecting a remedy that’s indicated for their constitution, their tissue states, and their condition. When you take a spagyric into your body, it not only moves through the Venusian organ systems, but it also moves through the astral body, which in Alchemy is kind of equivalent to meridians in Chinese medicine. The kind of subtle, energetic circuitry of the body acts as the mediary between the physical being and the subtle being.

Spagyric medicine is working through the body, the mind, the emotions, and the soul. When administering that sympathetic remedy, it’s bringing you into a relationship with that archetypal force. You’re aligning your whole being to this archetypal power. And you’re calling it into your life to help you in a healing medicinal way. So that plant acts as a bridge between you as microcosm and these astral forces in the macrocosm. Often, during this time, interesting things really start happening. For example, people can begin to have more dreams and can start receiving messages and teachings through those dreams. For lack of a better term, all of our shit comes to the surface. All of our past traumas and all the stuff that we haven’t really worked through or dealt within our lives tend to percolate up to the surface.

All of a sudden, maybe you bump into that past relationship that you never really resolved, or they call you, or you start having dreams about them. This process starts bringing all this stuff up to the surface so that you can work through it and transform it, and then integrate the lessons and the teachings that life is trying to present to you so that you can move forward. That’s that process of taking trauma and turning it into your transformation. It balances you as microcosm to these astral forces in the macrocosm. It’s all about coming into alignment, coming into harmony with these underlying forces of nature. And the ultimate goal from a spiritual perspective of Alchemy is that we find a perfect balance of those archetypes and become whole.

When we are in balance, we’re able to draw upon these different parts of ourselves and utilize their energy and their teachings in a healthy way, expressing the most virtuous qualities of these archetypes. 

All of these archetypes can have darker qualities. For example, Venus can sometimes be manipulative or very envious or jealous of other people. But, when in a balanced state, in a virtuous state, Venus is very loving and kind and very accepting of people and knows how to have balance in relationship with others. The Alchemical process is this journey of working through these different archetypes so that we can come into a good relationship with them and express them in a healthy way.

It’s a very different approach to herbal medicine. This is not just, “Oh, you have a UTI, take some Uva Ursi.” Instead, you think “Why do they have the UTI? Is there something else going on here?” There’s a deeper meaning behind why we ended up with the health problems that we have. And Alchemy is this incredibly powerful tool that allows you to effectively decipher what that message is and help someone understand what that message is. And then, we have this living healing intelligence of the Earth in the form of medicinal plants that can guide people along that healing journey. And that really is why I think Alchemy is so applicable to our modern world and why I think these Spagyric forms of herbal medicine can be incredibly helpful for the different levels of challenges that we’re all going through on this Earth, collectively and individually.

I think that there’s a lot of room for us to help people in the ways that they need because the modern herbal client is not just looking for herbal bandaids. They’re looking for deeper levels of transformational healing on the physical, psychological, and spiritual levels. 

I wanted to share a little bit more about how Spagyrics work and how Alchemy sees our journey of healing. I really feel like it is a very different perspective than what we get in typical alternative medicine books or herbal education. It’s a different way of seeing things. And to me, it’s vitally important for us as Herbalists to see things from a different perspective. 

Let’s face it, by the time most people see an Herbalist, they’ve already been to an Acupuncturist, an MD, and an ND. They’ve been to all kinds of different practitioners and maybe nothing worked. And they’re like, “Well, I guess I’ll go see the Herbalist.” This new lens that Alchemy gives you is a whole other way of looking at and understanding what a person is going through. It’s a whole other set of tools that you can use to effectively heal them. 

I hope you’ve enjoyed this 4-Part series on Alchemy and Herbalism and hopefully, it’s given you a little bit of perspective and inspiration on the potency and power of combining Herbalism and Alchemy. Obviously, I can’t teach you everything there is to know about Alchemy here in this series, but I do have a much more in-depth, totally free training series that I would love to invite you to – it’s called the Herbal Alchemy Training Sessions!

Stay tuned – it’s coming next week!

I’m going to be sending you an email early next week to join me in this in-depth exploration of utilizing the Alchemical tradition in your work with people and plants as an Herbalist. In the course, I’ll be taking you into my Spagyrics lab and walking you step by step through some of the core processes that you use to prepare Spagyrics, as well as some super simple ways that you can start preparing your own simple Spagyric tinctures at home. We’ll also go over the overarching cosmology of Alchemy and the philosophy and the practice so that you can really start to reap the benefits of this powerful synergy of Alchemy and herbal medicine. So keep an eye out on your inbox – I’ll be sending you a link to the Herbal Alchemy Training Sessions very soon!

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