What Does “Holistic” Really Mean?
The term “holistic” is used a lot in the alternative medicine field. When we look at the “holistic” orientation from some of our traditional Western esoteric systems, we see a much bigger picture of what a system of holistic medicine looks like. In the evolutionary herbalism model, we’re approaching what I consider truly holistic herbalism.
In the greater culture, when people think of holistic medicine, oftentimes they think that’s taking vitamins and minerals and homeopathic remedies and herbs and things like that. But I think what makes you a holistic practitioner isn’t about what kind of remedy you give, be it an herb or a vitamin or a supplement or homeopathic remedy, but about how you give the remedies that you give. It’s more of a perspective, a perception, an orientation, an approach to how you see people, to how you see plants, and ultimately how you bring them together in a healing context.
There’s a bigger picture of what holistic herbalism can look like. We may think of holistic herbalism as looking at the whole plant—we want to use whole plants for whole people. But what does that really mean? What does it mean to understand the whole plant? What does it mean to attend to healing the whole person? From my perspective, it has to do with uniting the physical properties of a person and a plant, the energetics of a plant, our psychology, our minds, our hearts, our feelings, and the spiritual side of our lives as people and the spiritual essence of a plant. In the context of holistic herbalism, we want to be able to address each of those layers within a person, and we want to understand each of those layers within the plants that we use.
One of the challenges that we face is not having a cohesive system that effectively bridges those seemingly separate parts—plants and people—together. It’s common for us to look at the chemical properties of a plant over here, and maybe the psychospiritual properties of a plant over there, or to have one system and model for knowing the human body and how our body can become imbalanced or our pathology.
But how do we connect that to having a totally different orientation around understanding our psyche or looking at homeopathic or flower essence monographs on herbs? That’s a whole different perspective. We have one way of looking at the body, and one way of looking at the soul. We’ve got one way of looking at the chemistry and the physical properties of a plant, but a whole other perspective on how a plant can heal on an emotional and psychological level.
From a holistic orientation, these aren’t separate. The body isn’t separate from the soul, and the chemistry of a plant isn’t separate from its spirit. There’s an essence within a plant. There’s an essence within a person that unites those seemingly different layers of the self.
The Holistic System of Medical Astrology
One of the best ways to approach this from my orientation, which is based on the Western alchemical tradition, is medical astrology. Medical astrology is this incredibly powerful tool that takes our orientation of holistic herbalism to a whole other level. Because now we’re not just looking at the whole plant or the whole person, but we’re looking at the whole plant and the whole person in relationship to the cosmos, to nature as a whole, and being able to understand the connection between a plant and, from an astrological perspective, these archetypes.
That’s ultimately what astrology is. It’s a system of understanding the archetypical forces of nature and not only how they influence us but also how they influence medicinal plants.
One of the interesting things about the herbalists throughout Europe and the Renaissance tradition is that astrology was an integral part of how they classified and understood plants, how they classified and understood disease and human constitutions and therapeutics and formulation. It was standard training for a physician to be well-versed in astrology.
This is one of those areas of healing that has fallen off the charts. Not many people think of astrology from this medical orientation, but it was an integral part of the way it was used traditionally. That’s something that I’m working hard to revive with the evolutionary herbalism model, to bring back this incredibly powerful system and model that is really holistic—next-level holistic—in the way that it unites people and plants to these greater archetypal forces of nature, in the way that it brings together these seemingly separate parts of people and plants.
For example, our birth chart is basically where the planets and the signs and these archetypal forces were throughout the seasons at the moment we were born. It’s a specific snapshot of that time and space and how the archetypal forces were interacting at that moment. Those forces stamp us with their influence and ultimately determine not just the way modern astrology tends to look at it in terms of our personality or even our soul’s development and evolution, but it’s also very bodily. It’s affecting the shape and contour of our body, our constitution, our organ system strengths and weaknesses, and our predisposition to certain types of conditions or diseases or energetic, constitutional imbalances. It’s all right there in the chart.
But it’s one chart. It’s one pattern that you can look at and say that the chart is representing the body and how the organ systems are communicating to one another, which ones are strong, which ones are weak, which ones need to be tamped down in their excesses and built up in their deficiencies. We can look at that same chart and say this is the underlying of the mind and the emotions and the way that our thoughts are oriented—our perspectives and perceptions and how we see things and areas of our life where we need to grow and learn.
This is taking this evolutionary astrology approach, where we look at the chart and see it as a blueprint for our soul’s development. Through the chart we have an ability to see the archetypal forces of nature and which ones we embody and express well and which ones we don’t.
We all have strengths and weaknesses. For example, some people have a well-integrated mercury. They can communicate and express themselves and learn. Mercury represents our mind and the way we think and the way we communicate. Some people have that very well developed. But maybe their Venus isn’t well developed and they have a hard time relating to others and having deep, lasting bonds and connection and harmony in their relationships and in their life. From the orientation of astrology, we see that this is the Venusian archetype attempting to teach us something. It’s attempting to show us where in our lives we can learn and grow and develop and evolve as a soul. But those patterns in the soul where we need to grow and learn are directly influencing the mind and emotions and are directly influencing the body.
Astrology in Client Assessment
I like to talk about astrology so much because it’s an incredibly powerful tool that we have as herbalists that assists us in our evaluation and assessment of our clients and understanding a person holistically. It enables us to see into the body, to see into the root causes of disease. It gives us a system of understanding plants as well, where we can look at an herbal remedy and through its medicinal properties, through its habitat, and its morphology and color and texture and shape, its actions, its energetics, where it moves in the body, its affinities, to its spiritual properties. We can understand all of that through the lens of astrology.
As herbalists, the more tools we can have in our toolkit, so to speak, especially for working with people, to assess what’s going on with their health, the better. It’s common for a lot of herbalists to rely on intake, the interview, and that conversation that we have with a person as the sole means for getting the information that we need to get to figure out what’s going on for them so we know how to help them to the best of our ability. Oftentimes when folks want to have other systems for assessment and evaluation, we look to things like the pulse and the tongue or maybe facial diagnostics or iridology. Those are all great. But we have this other great, very well established system: medical astrology. The beauty of that is that it’s a system that is connecting us to those greater archetypal forces of nature.
A Holistic System
I know astrology isn’t for everyone. Some people may be a little turned off by astrology because maybe someone gave them a reading one time and it didn’t resonate, or it’s a whole new language to learn and it can be a little bit overwhelming. A lot of my students are like, “Oh, great, Sajah. Herbalism is already overwhelming enough. Now you’re throwing astrology on top of that?”
But one of the beautiful things is that as you study astrology, you’re studying people and you’re actually studying plants. And when you’re studying people and plants, you’re studying astrology. It’s all one system, it’s all one way of looking at things, and it’s connected to this greater pattern of wholeness. That pattern of wholeness to me is what “holistic” is really all about. Astrology is one of the most potent tools that we have to cultivate and develop a very refined, very effective, very precise, and specific system of holistic herbal medicine.