There’s something that I’ve been thinking a lot about lately. I’ve been looking at the state of the world and everything that’s been going on politically and culturally. With the fires that we’ve been having out here on the West Coast, it feels like things are heating up—literally—on planet earth right now. I’ve been thinking about human beings’ relationship to nature, our relationship to the earth, and the healing that is required of all of us right now, and I think the practice of herbal alchemy or spagyrics has great power and potency to bring healing to people.
The Separation of “the World” and “the Earth”
I’ve especially been looking at and thinking about the dynamic of separation and how spagyrics can help heal that. A critical component of the spagyric process is separating out the principles of a plant in how they’re prepared alchemically. Right now there’s a core separation in our culture that’s at the root of a lot of the problems that we’re facing. That core separation is this illusion—which a majority of human beings on the planet are carrying—that we’re separate from nature.
One way to think about it is that it’s the difference between “the world” and “the earth.” The world is everything that human beings have created from our minds. I live in the country, so I’m surrounded by nature and trees and plants and the earth, but every time I go to a city, it’s overwhelming in a way, being surrounded by the humanmade objects that arise out of the human mind. The world is the human mind made manifest. In contrast, the earth is something greater. Something greater than us created the earth. Obviously we didn’t create the ways the elements are and the way nature is. We’re a part of that.
Separation within Ourselves
We’ve created this world that has separated us from nature. This is the core, fundamental issue that we’re facing on this planet right now. That core separation creates deeper layers of separation within ourselves, where our mind is separated from our heart, our intuitive faculties are separate from our rational mind. In our culture, our science is separate from our spirituality. And in that way, we create a world that is separate from the earth.
The healing that we need at this time is to individually, within ourselves, heal the splits inside of us—to heal the splits between our heart and our mind, our body and our spirit, so that we can become integrated unto ourselves. When that happens on a large scale, we have the ability to create a world that is a reflection of the earth. We can create a holistic way of living on earth that is integrated into the natural ecosystem that is Gaia, that is this planetary intelligence that we live on.
In order for that to become reality, though, there are deep levels of healing that have to happen within human beings, healing that is far beyond our bodies. We need a healing in our minds and in our hearts and even down to a soul-level healing where we’re able to heal ourselves in a way that reintegrates ourselves and our consciousness and the way we live our lives into that intelligence of nature, so that we remember that we’re a part of nature and that everything that we do impacts the earth.
Plants’ Role in Healing
The plants hold a very special power to do this kind of healing. Herbal medicines grow out of the earth. They’re of the earth. They’re the living intelligence, the healing medicines that grow from the earth. The way a lot of people tend to think of herbal medicines is that there are plants that you can use instead of taking a drug for common symptoms and issues that you face in your health. And while that’s definitely a part of herbal medicine, that’s a superficial aspect of what these plants have the ability to do and the level of healing that plants are able to reach.
In order for us to have this deeper model of practicing herbal medicine, to use plants in a way that is not just taking away our symptoms or healing in our physical bodies, there’s a way to use herbs that drives them deeper into the constructs of the mind. The plants have the ability to take the emotional traumas that we’ve gone through, these deep wounds that we all carry as human beings, and transform them into our gifts, into our talents, into our purpose, into understanding who we really are.
I always say that there’s a plant out there that reflects who you are. There’s a teaching in that plant, there’s a healing in that plant that brings a part of you back to yourself. An essential part of yourself is reassembled into the architecture of your being through that healing medicine of that plant.
The Separation Dynamic in How We Practice Herbalism
In order to practice herbal medicine in this deeper transformational context, there are some new ways that we have to learn to see plants. We have to learn to approach a plant and a person very differently from the ways that most models of herbal medicine do. This dynamic of separation is seen in herbal medicine and the way herbal medicine is practiced.
A lot of herbalists have a clinical focus. They’re focused on healing the body, healing physical symptoms, healing disease. And that’s really great. Obviously we need more of that in the world. But sometimes in that process, there’s an overlooking of these psycho-spiritual dynamics and the ways that people can carry certain ways of thinking and certain ways of feeling that are influencing their physical health.
The flip side of that is true as well. We see people who work more with subtle forms of herbal medicine, more the vibrational properties of the plants, to work through those psychological and emotional dynamics. But in the process, they may overlook symptoms in the body that are linked to that psychological, emotional dynamic.
So there’s separation in the way that we see a person. We see the physical symptoms over here and the psycho-spiritual symptoms over there. There’s not a link between them. There aren’t a whole lot of systems out there that connect those together in an integral way that enables people to address the wholeness of the person.
We also see this separation dynamic in plants. We study the chemistry of the plants and their energetic properties. We also study the psycho-spiritual properties of the plants. But oftentimes they’re talked about separately. We’re not seeing the wholeness of the plant, the way a plant carries this intelligence that is reflected in its chemistry and in its energetics and in its physiological actions and in the way it works through the organ systems and in the way it influences our psychology and our emotions and carries a teaching for us on how we can evolve, and how we can grow, and how we can come into contact with that true nature inside.
There’s separation in how we see people and how we see plants and even in how herbs are prepared. A lot of times people say that if you’re going to treat a symptom in the body, use something like a powder or a tea or a tincture, but if you want to work with someone’s psychology, maybe work with a flower essence, something that has more of that vibrational property of the plant. So we see the separation even in how the herbs are prepared. The idea is “these plants are for this thing, and those plants are for that thing.”
But we’re whole beings. From many traditional perspectives, our mind and our body aren’t separate. Our emotions aren’t separate from our mind and our body. They’re all a facet of the soul, of our consciousness.
Spagyrics Can Heal This Separation
We need to heal this separation and have a model of herbal medicine that equally addresses the wholeness of the plant and the wholeness of the person. In terms of separating herbs, I think we’re seeing the pinnacle of this of the phytopharmaceutical industry, the supplement industry, where people are taking plants and separating out just single compounds or little parts of the chemistry of the plant and throwing the rest of it away. And even in-home medicine making, whenever we’re making a tincture or a vinegar or some sort of home remedy, we end up composting the earth—we end up throwing that physical plant material away after we’re done. Again, there’s separation. There’s something missing in our model of herbal medicine.
I believe that in order for you to be a truly holistic practitioner of herbal medicine, to use herbs in a way that is really working with the whole person, you have to use the whole plant. We also have to heal this separation in ourselves, in our culture, and in our model of herbal medicine. This is where spagyrics comes in. The tradition of alchemy, and specifically herbal alchemy or spagyrics, understands people and plants in a way that truly honors and recognizes that wholeness—the wholeness of the person, the body of the person, the mind of the person, the heart of the person, the consciousness of the person, the soul of the person, as well as that within the plant.
Spagyrics, or herbal alchemy, is a truly holistic model of working with plants. A lot of people tend to think of herbal alchemy as just certain ways of preparing plants into a medicine. But it goes much further than this. In the alchemical tradition, there are very specific techniques and methods to make medicines, but it’s also a whole model of healing. It’s an integrated model, an integrated system that’s truly holistic. We think of the word “holistic” as “using whole plants for whole people,” but alchemy takes it to a whole other level where we’re seeing the whole plant and the whole person in their relationship with the wholeness of the cosmos, with creation. That’s what the old adage of “as above, so below; as within, so without” refers to. Within alchemy we’re seeing how people and plants are a microcosmic reflection of the macrocosm, of the earth and the cosmos and how all of these forces of life are present within people and plants.
The word “spagyric” is classically defined as to separate and recombine. I love that definition, because in our culture, in our world, and in herbal medicine, we see this dynamic of separation, separation, separation, but there’s no recombination. There’s no putting things back together. One of the hallmarks of science is that we’ll separate a part from the whole and study it and break it down into all these little parts and then study that part, but never reassemble it back to a model of wholeness.
That’s where we’re getting into a lot of trouble culturally, and this is where our practice of herbal medicine can evolve, can move forward, can be brought to a whole new level of wholeness. Recombination is one of the important, beautiful things about herbal alchemy or spagyrics. When we’re creating a medicine, we’re separating. In alchemy they talk about the three principles of a plant: the sulfur, the mercury, and the salt of the plant. From an Ayurvedic perspective, we might say it’s the three doshas or three gunas of the plant that we’re separating. Or from an astrology perspective, the cardinal mutable fixed qualities of that plant. We’re separating them out, purifying them, and then recombining them back together into a holistic form of herbal medicine. And because that herb is present in the medicine in its whole state, it’s going to work on the wholeness of a person.
With herbal alchemy, you have a model and a practice of plant medicine where you’re using one type of herbal medicine, a spagyrically prepared herbal medicine that’s going to equally address our bodies, our psychology, and our spirituality. This recombination is all about recombining us as human beings into nature. It sounds funny to say that, because we’re already a part of nature. But we have this illusion that we’re not. Alchemically prepared medicines have an ability to heal us in a way that helps us understand our connection to life. We understand our connection to the earth. We understand and feel inside of ourselves. We understand our connection to the greater wholeness of life and the impact that we’re having.
Through the process of spagyrics, we separate the plant out into its components and then recombine them back together. And that’s what plants do for us too. So when you’re working with a spagyric remedy, everything you do to that plant to prepare it, now the process reverses and the plant does it to you. That plant is going to separate out your true nature from your false nature. We all have conditioned patterns, things that our parents or teachers or our culture taught us. Like layers of an onion, at the core we’ve got our essential nature, and then there’s all this false stuff that gets put on top of it. And in order for us to receive true healing, we’ve got to separate the true from the false, the real from the unreal, the real you from the things that aren’t really you.
Spagyric medicines are cleansing, they’re removing, they’re extracting these nonessential parts of the self and purifying us, rejuvenating us, so that we can come into contact with the truth of who we are, our path, our purpose. The essence of who we are is brought out through spagyrics. So it’s really neat not only having a model of herbal medicine that equally honors the wholeness of people and plants in their relationship to the wholeness of life, but also having a model of working with herbs that’s equally healing the body and supporting our spiritual growth.
This is why I call my work evolutionary herbalism. You’re working with the plants to assist in your own soul’s evolution, your own soul’s growth. And I believe that’s really what it’s all about. Things are crazy in the world right now. I believe that the plants have the ability to heal us in the ways that we need in order to start turning things in a positive direction, to contribute to the healing of the people, the culture, and the planet. The tradition of alchemy holds a very unique perspective that is missing in a lot of modern herbal medicine. This integration of the alchemical tradition with modern herbal medicine has an incredible power and potency to make a positive difference, to bring true, deep healing to people. And that’s what is needed to get things moving in the right direction.