Alchemical herbalism is a comprehensive approach to herbalism that works equally with the physical, energetic and spiritual elements of both people and plants. While typical herbalism focuses on symptomatic treatment of physical maladies with herbs, Alchemical herbalism treats the body as a manifestation of the spirit, and in this way uses plants to support the evolution of the soul.
Alchemy comes from the word ancient Egyptian words, Al, meaning sacred, and Khemia— the title given to a sacred science of healing, initiation, and spiritual understanding of the mysteries of life. As this sacred science spread into Europe it gradually became known as alchemy, which is the forerunner of the modern science of chemistry.
Nature is Unity
The foundation of alchemy is provided by one of its most famous axioms: “As Above, So Below”. The central tenet of this philosophy is a natural correspondence between the natural world and the invisible, spiritual world, or the Earth and the Cosmos. Everything that happens upon earth is a reflection of something that is happening in heaven; if we would wish to change something upon earth, then, we do not take action upon this plane of reality, but upon the higher one.
This obtains upon the level of the body as well. Alchemical herbalism does not regard any medical issue as primarily physical; if, for instance, the liver is dysfunctional, it is considered to be manifestation of a blockage or disturbance occurring at a higher level— that is, upon the level of the soul.
Any purely materialistic treatment of the liver might temporarily reduce the problem, yet without addressing the energetic issue, the problem will simply return. An alchemical herbalist therefore diagnoses what is going on “above” and prescribes remedies upon that level.
This is a fundamentally unified vision of the Universe. Alchemy sees nature as unity, as interconnected, as being in a constant state of inter-relatedness. There are no parts of the body which are acting “by themselves”, nor is the body in any way separate from the mind or spirit.
Similarly, we human beings are not separate from Nature, but exist within it. Matter and spirit are one, and inner and outer are one as well. The Cosmos (the macrocosm) is reflected within each and every living thing (the microcosm). Thus, when we study nature externally, we are also studying ourselves internally, for they are merely reflections of one another.
As the great physician and alchemist, Paracelsus wrote, “What is philosophy other than the invisible nature? That is what philosophy is. Things are in the human being in the same way they are outside, intangibly, as if one were looking at oneself in a mirror.”
The basis of alchemy, as with so many esoteric traditions, is founded upon a direct observation of the natural world— specifically its cycles of transformation. The alchemist maintains that those processes of Nature are also the processes of the body, and so strives to replicate those processes in all of his laboratory work.
From the growth cycles of plants, the process of human digestion, and the water cycle, to the movement of celestial bodies throughout the sky and the turning of the seasons, the ancient alchemists studied how nature transforms itself, and from these processes discerned the keys to evolution.
The medicines that are the products of these studies do not merely heal the body but are distilled essences of the transformational processes of nature. When taken, they catalyze those cycles of transformation within us.
The alchemist creates a kind of living medicine from the Earth which facilitates rejuvenation and healing for the body, clarity and inspiration for the mind, openness of the heart, and the evolution of consciousness. In this way, it is a healing modality that equally addresses the material and the spiritual aspects of the patient, as well as the material and spiritual essence of the plant.
In the alchemical conception of medicine, it is the spirit of the plant which heals the spiritual ailment of the individual. Each plant is thought to resonate at a certain frequency on the energetic plane. A common way of understanding these frequencies is by way of the zodiac. Each plant is thought to correspond to the energy of a given planet, and when ingested or applied will bring the frequency of this planet into the body.
Because the human body is a microcosm of the Universe, each organ is also understood to stand in special relationship with given planets. If a given organ is overactive or underactive, then we can take this to mean our relationship to this planetary energy is out of sorts.
An alchemical herbalist will take a survey of all physical symptoms, but he will also look for emotional and mental manifestations of this imbalance. Because the body, mind, heart and spirit are not separate, each will manifest the planetary dysfunction in its own way.
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For instance, if there is a liver or gall-bladder issue, this is an indication that the patient is having trouble integrating the energy of Mars. Mars is associated with heat, self-assertion, aggression and personal power. We may then look to the emotional life to discern how the Mars energy is dysfunction.
One may be holding onto an excessive amount of anger or approaching life in the spirit of combat and battle. Conversely, one may be apathetic, fatigued or avoidant, and unable to speak up for oneself or assert oneself in pursuit of an important goal. In one way or another, the spiritual or emotional root of the liver problem can be seen in the personality.
The alchemical herbalist will prescribe a tincture or spagyric which possesses the most appropriate energy to bring the entire energy system back into balance. The treatment does not merely repair the liver; it repairs our relationship with the Mars energy in general. When we assimilate this energy into our heart, mind and spirit, over time this will manifest in the body as the clearing up of symptoms. For, as we know, as above so below.