Alchemy and Herbalism Part III- Spiritual Herbal Pharmacy

Spagyrics is the branch of the alchemical tradition that specifically concerns itself with the preparation and processing of medicinal plants. One of the unique attributes of spagyric preparations is that they are specifically designed to concentrate the physical, energetic and spiritual qualities of the plants in a singular extract. This process separates, purifies, and recombines the Three Principles of a plant, known as Sulfur, Mercury, and Salt, resulting in a uniquely powerful herbal medicine.

Spagyric medicine is unique to alchemy and offers a holistic approach to healing by addressing an individual’s physical, spiritual, and energetic well-being. This single remedy can be used for a variety of purposes, making it a versatile solution. 

In today’s blog post, you’ll learn:

  • What spagyric medicine is and why it is so powerful 
  • The process of gathering plants and planets in alchemy 
  • How spagyric remedies impact your astral and physical body
  • Techniques for extracting the physical, energetic, and spiritual qualities of an herb
  • How this integrated approach  can revolutionize your practice

Table of Contents

Preparing Chamomile (Matricaria recutita) flowers for the essential oil distillation – the first step in making a spagyric essence.

Welcome to part three of the alchemy and herbalism series. My intention with this series is to introduce you to the alchemical tradition and show you the influence and impact it can have on your approach to herbal medicine, whether in the field and forest, or in the lab and clinic. 

The alchemical worldview is one of integration, harmony, and profound connection with the natural world. It entails learning directly from people, plants, and nature as a whole. 

In episode two I spoke about the core philosophical pillars of alchemy and how it is based on learning to see the overarching pattern or blueprint of nature (commonly referred to as the macrocosm) within each individual expression of life (called the microcosm). For us herbalists, this primarily is in the form of people and plants. This macrocosmic pattern consists of the order of the solar system (the planets), the cycles of the seasons (the elements), and the primary structure of nature (the three principles). 

When you view things holistically, it connects the dotted lines that lie between the physical, energetic, and spiritual sides of plants and people, as alchemy teaches us how to see the whole within the part. Learning to see these intricacies ultimately makes you a better herbalist, for you understand the people and plants you work with on a much deeper level. 

In this episode of the series, you will learn how to practically apply this understanding of the macrocosm and a microcosm through a specific form of medicine-making that is exclusive to alchemy, called spagyrics. 

Kiln filled with crucibles of dried herbs ready to begin the calcination process (extracting the salt principle from the herbs).

 

Spagyric Medicine 101

Spagyric is a term invented by the alchemist Paracelsus in the early 1500’s. Spagyric medicine is a branch of the alchemical tradition that focuses on medicinal plants, particularly in terms of unique methods of pharmacy. You can trace its etymology to the Greek words spáō and ageírō, which mean “to separate and reawaken” (or more commonly translated, “to separate and recombine” but reawaken is more accurate)

I like to think of spagyric medicine as a form of spiritual herbal pharmacy, meaning that it is a precise method of preparing medicine (pharmacy) that equally honors the spiritual aspect of plants and nature as a whole. The process involves separating the Three Philosophical Principles of a plant— or what we might think of as its esoteric chemistry— and recombining them to yield a newly purified and holistic medicine. 

A central concept of alchemy is that there is a natural order to the creation of life, or what we might think of as a cosmological pattern in the cosmos and nature. The spagyric medicine-making sequence mimics this creation pattern, aligning the crafting of medicine with the specific process and pattern creation took when nothingness gradually formed life as we know it. 

The beauty of spagyric medicine is that it concentrates the chemical, energetic, and spiritual virtues of a plant, which means you can use this single remedy for your physical, spiritual, and energetic well-being. In other words, spagyrics are a holistic medicine that addresses you as a whole person. This is because the Three Principles (Sulfur, Mercury, and Salt) within the plant are separated, exalted, and recombined back together, thus they operate on the Sulfur, Mercury, and Salt within the person. A quintessential part of the alchemical philosophy is the understanding that everything in nature contains these three components in varying degrees and ratios. It is up to the alchemist to understand how each being manifests and expresses these three primal substances. 

The Sulfur component corresponds to the soul, Mercury to the spirit, and Salt to the body. Another way we might define it, is that it is the consciousness, mind, and body of any living thing. In plants specifically, Salt represents the physical plant and its alkaline mineral salts, Mercury to its alcohol and water-soluble constituents, and Sulfur to its essential oil content. 

The spagyric process involves separating these three parts out of a plant through various means, purifying them, and then recombining them to yield a broad-spectrum and concentrated herbal medicine that is incredibly potent in minuscule dosages. 

Although there are variations in spagyric medicine making, this outlines the basic theory behind the practice. Aside from its potency and holistic application, there is yet another benefit: spagyric pharmacy is a zero-waste form of herbal medicine making. Most herbal preparations end in the same way, you typically compost or throw out the leftover herbs. However, in spagyrics, you keep the leftover herbs and use them in a calcination process to preserve their alkaline minerals (the Salt), which are a critical component of the medicine. 

Whitney harvesting Nettles (Urtica dioica)

 

Harvesting Plants, Harvesting Planets 

Herbalism is all about gathering tangible and earthen plants for their healing properties. In essence, you are harvesting medicine from nature, the living medicinal intelligence of the Earth. Alchemy is different in that it focuses on gathering the energy of planets, along with the plants. Instead of just using plants, alchemy looks at the stars and planets to assist with healing. It may sound strange, but it is all about finding a correlation between what is happening in the sky and what is happening here on Earth. Alchemy sees the Planets, or “celestial wanderers,” as primal forces of creation, a fundamental, archetypal pattern that governs life… in a way, they are seen as angels. 

Astral timing mechanisms are used in alchemy to determine the best time to harvest certain plants and prepare them into medicine. This means that you would look at how different energies are flowing through various parts of the day, lunar cycle, month, and season of the year. 

The goal of astral timing and medicine-making is to identify a plant’s planetary ruler and grow, harvest, and make medicine with that plant during its planetary ruler’s best hours. By syncing up your medicine-making process with the energetics of time, your herbal medicine becomes even more potent and effective. This is how the “stars are in the medicine and the medicine is prepared in the stars.” 

Many people think that energetic understandings of time exist only in the East, but we have our own system in the West, which is based on astrology. Our understanding of the energetics of time mirrors other traditions that see the value of time changes throughout the day. For example, Traditional Chinese medicine views different parts of the day as corresponding to different organs. In Ayurveda, different seasons and times of day correspond to the three doshas. In the West, we simply organize the energetic understanding of time based on the planets, but at the core, the principle is the same: different energies are flowing through different spaces at different times. 

A critically important part of preparing spagyric medicine is harvesting and preparing a plant according to the timing of the planet that governs it. By learning how to see a plant’s relationship to a planet, you unlock the door to working with them alchemically. Indeed, my teacher in alchemy and spagyrics, Robert Bartlett, states that “a true alchemical medicine cannot be prepared without the use of astrology.”

A Spiritual Pharmacy 

One of the main ways spagyric remedies work is through your astral body, which can be understood as the midpoint between your physical organism and the spiritual part of your being. In that way, it can be thought of as a part of the Mercurial part of our being. 

When you work with a plant astrally, they are not only working chemically in your body, but influence your emotions and your spirit as well. Because of this, I think of spagyric remedies as bridging your microcosmic self to the archetypal forces in the macrocosm. Yes, a spagyric contains phytochemicals and constituents that pharmacologically act on the body. And yet at the same time, like a flower essence, they contain a vibrational component that influences us psychologically, emotionally, and even spiritually. 

The way this is understood in alchemical medicine is based, again, on the planetary forces and archetypes. You might embody and express some of these forces (planets, elements, etc.) quite well and healthily, and others less so. A well-integrated archetypal force will result in a healthy expression of its pattern. Alternatively, a poorly integrated one can lead to struggles in that domain and even lead to sickness, whether emotionally, psychologically, or physically. By looking beyond common symptoms and into the underlying pattern that needs help with its healthy integration, you develop and evolve on your pathway and journey through life. 

The process of making a spagyric medicine is centered on transformation. By dividing the three parts of a plant; Sulfur, Mercury, and Salt, purifying, and reintegrating them, you create a potent medicine that mirrors the transformational process they bring to you when you take them. This is another expression of “as above, so below,” in that the same process you guided the plant through in the laboratory is now being done to you internally by the plant itself, separating the pure from the impure, exalting the virtuous parts of the self, and recombining you back to a greater level of wholeness, wellness, and healing. 

A Unified Medicine 

I love medicine making, but throughout my time experimenting with different forms of herbal medicine, I always found that something was missing.

I worked with flower essences for some time and really liked how they work on the spirit, but I thought they were missing something important because they do not cause a physiological response. Conversely, many standard preparations, like tinctures, work on the physical body but not the spirit.

I wanted to ensure that the herbal medicine I prepared would address the whole person. I wound up combining decoctions, infusions, flower essences, and more in my attempt to yield a holistic medicine. Despite my positive intentions, my smorgasbord of herbal preparations lacked definition and focus. When I came across spagyric medicine, I realized it accomplished exactly what I was trying to do. 

Because spagyric medicine acknowledges the spiritual counterpart of a plant and its connection to the rest of the cosmos, it heals the subtle levels that exist beyond the body. Meanwhile, it also addresses the body with its physical-chemical constituents. In other words, it is a whole medicine that heals the whole person–on the physical, mental, and spiritual levels. 

Discovering an herbal medicine that does so much completely changed how I selected and used remedies. Instead of suggesting a handful of herbs, tinctures, teas, and more to a client, I was able to see incredible results from a single remedy or small specified formulas. Spagyrics have the ability to simplify your client’s life so that they can see positive results without needing to stress about taking so many different things. 

The calcination process (extracting the salt principle from the herbs)

 

The Power of Spagyric Medicine

Spagyrics are a powerful medicine, but I still use other forms of herbal medicine, like infused oils, salves, infusions, and more. Every type of herbal medicine has its rightful place. That said, spagyric medicine is a more complex and involved form of herbal preparation and is an advanced form of medicine making. The results are worth the effort though, because you get out what you put in. 

Spagyric medicine combines what is seen as separate parts of herbal medicine to create a single holistic herbal medicine that ultimately heals the entire person. I think this is especially important today in our modern world because people need healing on a level that goes much deeper than just a physical body. 

People go to herbalists for different reasons. Sometimes it is because they are fed up with pharmaceutical or over-the-counter medication, and other times it is because they want to achieve healing on a systemic level.  

Regardless of why someone comes to you for help, you can help them find long-term results by taking the time to understand their archetypal imbalance, and then using a spagyric to restore their health and balance on the deepest and most holistic level possible. 

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