Alchemy and Herbalism Part IV- Illness as Initiation

Alchemy provides a unique perspective on health and disease that differs from conventional medicine. According to this philosophy, periods of sickness and health are as natural as the changing of the seasons.

Alchemy views illness as an initiation. From this perspective, sickness provides you with the opportunity to heal underlying patterns and undergo transformation. One of the best forms of herbal remedies to help you with this process is spagyrics. Because these medicines work on the chemical, energetic, and spiritual levels, they correct health imbalances at their root and help you emerge more whole than before. 

In this week’s blog post, you’ll learn: 

  • How alchemy’s views on illness differ from conventional medicine
  • What illness as initiation really means 
  • Ways that planetary and elemental archetypes influence your health
  • The crucial role spagyrics play in healing archetypal imbalances 
  • How to approach healing for transformational results

Table of Contents

Welcome to the fourth and final part of the Alchemy and Herbalism series. Hopefully, you have been feeling inspired by the tradition of alchemy and the profound ways it can influence your work as an herbalist. In this week’s episode, you will learn how alchemy understands disease and healing and how you can use spagyric remedies to attain deeper levels of healing in your personal life. 

The alchemical outlook on sickness and disease differs from what you would find in your standard alternative medicine books or herbal education. And the truth is, it is vitally important that you can see sickness and health differently than conventional practitioners because let’s face it, people usually see an herbalist as a last resort after they have already gone the conventional route or even seen other “alternative” practitioners. 

With the unique alchemical lens, you have a whole new way of looking at and understanding what a person is going through when they are struggling with their health. It also gives you a myriad of tools you can use to help them heal, such as spagyrics.

Spagyric medicine works holistically on the whole person because they contain the entirety of a plant by concentrating its chemical, energetic, and spiritual properties. Resultantly, they work on the physical, psychological, and spiritual levels of a person. 

I am always awestruck by this ancient tradition and its ability to speak to so many different levels within the body. That said, how exactly does alchemy view health and disease? The answer to this question is the cornerstone for transformational healing. 

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

Illness as Initiation

Sickness can feel like a guest you don’t want to host. No one wants to be sick, but it happens, and when it happens, it tends to bring up the darkest parts of yourself. You may feel powerless, irritable, depressed, or other painful emotions. 

Alchemy views illness as initiation. According to the alchemical philosophy, everything in nature is in a constant change of flux and transformation. The seasons change, animals hibernate and re-awaken, the sun rises and sets, and the moon waxes and wanes. Our planet is designed to be in a constant state of change. As a part of nature, you are no exception to this rule.

Ultimately, the goal of transformation is the obtaining of greater wholeness, but what exactly does that mean? It means we find a greater level of harmony within our own bodies and understand how we can structure our lives to live in greater harmony with nature. By recognizing your role in the harmony and rhythm of our natural world, you can experience grace when you feel unwell and see how it connects you with the greater wholeness and unity of this world. 

Alchemy is a medicinal and spiritual practice. These are two sides of the same leaf, and your spiritual development is directly tied to your healing process and vice versa. Anyone who has embarked on a spiritual path of self-awareness hits blockages in parts of themselves where they are resistant to change and transforming and feel stuck in the past. And we’ve all dealt with traumas that can hold us back from developing, growing, and evolving spiritually. 

The alchemical perspective of disease is that sickness occurs when your vital force gets stuck. This can result when your soul gets “stuck” in past trauma, when you habitually perpetuate negative emotional or psychological traits, or when you don’t live in accordance with your unique constitutional predispositions. The pathway to healing is taking these patterns as lessons, processing them, and transforming them into something good. 

When you want to evolve you discover the healing work you need to do. True healing occurs when you take your trauma and use it as a conduit for transformation. This process also reflects what Alchemy is all about; which is taking poison and turning it into medicine. This is illustrated in the higher levels of alchemy that work with poisonous and toxic compounds— such as certain minerals like mercury or antimony— and turning them into powerful medicines. Within ourselves, it’s about taking your wound and turning it into your strength, gift, and power. Everything happens in your life for a reason, and each challenge holds a lesson that can teach you how to be a better human being. 

Ultimately alchemy views sickness as occurring for five primary reasons, what are commonly referred to as the “entias.” Some of these include the influence of toxins or poisons, our own nature or constitutional predispositions, astrological influences, acts of God, or our psychological and emotional dispositions. These internal and external factors encompass the core of alchemical theory of disease, and spagyric medicines are designed to mitigate these influences that we can control… although alchemy does recognize those outside of our control, such as acts of God or our genetics.  

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

How the Archetypes Affect Us

In part II of this series, I talked about how humans are a microcosm of the macrocosm and how we contain the wholeness of creation within us. Alchemy explains this by drawing connections and parallels between the Elements and Planets and showing how we have all of those forces and influences within us. 

For some, these archetypal forces are well integrated. When you are in a harmonious relationship with a particular archetypal force, it means you know how to express it in a healthy and virtuous way physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. However, when these forces are incongruous with your constitutional pattern, they can occur in deficiency or excess. When this happens, you might experience this imbalance in the form of “lessons” that arise in your life repeatedly so that you can learn how to integrate them better. 

Typically, this looks like facing thematic challenges throughout your life. However, when you don’t learn the lessons you need from them and continue to make the same mistakes, it can lead to health problems that correspond to the organ systems and tissues associated with that particular elemental or planetary archetype. 

For example, take a look at the Fire Element. Fire has rules in the way it functions. It can be the spark of creative inspiration and joy, but it can also be the source of burnout and exhaustion or frustration and anger. When you don’t live in accordance with the balance of the Fire Element, you may experience problems associated with this archetype’s traits. Perhaps it affects the immune system or cardiovascular system physically, a difficult in finding ones will and personal power, or other ways Fire can express either in excess or deficiency. 

The planetary and Elemental archetypes impact you far beyond the physical level. They influence your wellness on a soul level, and thus, they possess the lessons you need to learn, grow, and evolve as a human being. In this way, alchemy shows us how nature teaches you to become more whole and live in harmony with the wholeness of creation. 

Another example that illustrates this is the following dynamic with Venus. Venus governs the quality of relationships in your life. It has to do with how you interact with others and all domains of relationships, love, and intimacy. Venus is considered the archetype of your ability to form relational bonds, and its function is to establish and create harmony within our lives. 

If someone doesn’t have a well-integrated Venus, they might struggle to form meaningful and lasting relationships. They may feel isolated, closed-hearted, or constantly repeat the same patterns in relationships repeatedly. They might think to themselves, “Why do I keep attracting the same kinds of people with the same problems again and again?”

In this example, you can see that Venus is vying for their attention and is trying to wake them up so they can evolve and change this pattern. If the person continues to ignore this invitation for growth, the pattern can manifest in the body. 

In the body, Venus governs the urinary tract, the kidneys, the reproductive system, and the veins. Health challenges arising from a Venus imbalance could lead to problems in any of these areas, such as chronic urinary tract infections, kidney stones, varicose veins, or health problems in the reproductive system. 

When you have a disharmonious relationship with Venus, you will bump into lessons that invite you to work on this relationship and develop a healthier connection with this archetypal force. When you ignore these messages, problems relating to them can trickle down into the mind, emotions, and ultimately into the body. 

From the perspective of alchemy, these lessons arise in your life so that you can experience healthy relationships, good boundaries, open-heartedness, and more. When a challenge arrives in your life, the goal is to meditate on what lesson you are being urged to learn. By approaching them in this way, you receive the medicine you need to grow beyond the challenge and grow into a healthier version of yourself. Ultimately alchemically prepared medicines are designed to address these archetypal patterns and help us to physically, psychologically and spiritually embody and express their “highest” virtues. 

Lady’s mantle (Alchemilla vulgaris)

Integrating Alchemy into Herbalism

Alchemy looks at life as a school with seven main headmasters governing different aspects of life. These seven headmasters are the seven planets: The Sun, Moon, Mars, Venus, Jupiter, Saturn, and Mercury. Above them are the three grand headmasters that exist on a different plane. These three outer planets include Pluto, Neptune, and Uranus. The purpose of each of these planets is to imbue archetypal patterns, themes, and lessons in your life so that you can evolve into the healthiest version of yourself throughout your life. Similarly, the Elements are archetypal influences in our life with unique lessons for us to learn from. 

When you approach illness as an initiation, the goal is to make it to the other side of wellness as a more integrated person in greater harmony with life. The alchemy here is taking your trauma and turning it into your transformation. 

This is where our work as herbalists of the alchemical lineage comes in. In a way, it’s like assembling a puzzle. You start with a bunch of different pieces, and it may be unclear how they connect. Over time, however, you start noticing patterns and groups, and before you know it, the picture becomes complete, and you can see it clearly as day. 

Working with someone is like 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 their life. Once you know this, you can work with corresponding remedies that work through those archetypal forces with the help of spagyric medicines.

Spagyrics are like a spiritual pharmacy. With this type of herbal medicine, you not only harvest the plants but the planetary and elemental forces behind them. By following the spagyric process of distillation, fermentation, calcination, crystallization, and so forth, you extract the plant’s physical, spiritual, and energetic properties. Along with this complex series of steps, you are also aligning the time of your harvesting and preparation with the optimal time window of your herb’s planetary ruler. This approach yields a plant medicine that is not only potent on the biochemical level but on the spiritual and energetic one as well. 

If someone has an imbalance of Venus, you would administer what is called a “sympathetic remedy.” Sympathetic means that the herb is similar to the archetype the person is struggling with. So in this case, you would administer an herb ruled by Venus to correct a Venus imbalance. 

There are many herbs ruled by Venus, such as Wild Rose (Rosa spp), Pulsatilla (Pulsatilla vulgaris), and Lady’s Mantle (Alchemilla vulgaris), to name a few. Of course, you would not select an herb for someone willy-nilly just because they are ruled by Venus, as not all Venusian plants work the same. Because each herb provides different medicinal value, you would select the one indicated for their constitution, tissue states, and condition. 

A spagyric made with a Venusian plant works through the corresponding organ systems and the astral body, which can be thought of as the alchemical equivalent to meridians in Chinese medicine or the nadis in Ayurveda. Spagyrics operate through the body, mind, emotions, and soul. When you administer a sympathetic remedy, it acts as a balancing bridge between you as a microcosm and the microcosm.

It is not uncommon for strange things to start happening while you are taking a spagyric. Many people report vivid dreams and receive messages in them. Oftentimes synchronistic events happen in your daily life that relate to the archetype you’re working with. When you take a spagyric remedy, everything you have been suppressing rises to the surface so that you can further process it, let go, and heal.

In the case of Venus, you might bump into someone from a past relationship or start having dreams about them as your psyche processes the lessons needed to find closure and move forward. Through processing trauma and using it as a conduit for transformation, you undergo a process of alignment in which your underlying archetypal force becomes one with nature. 

All of the archetypes that exist in nature possess a duality of light and dark. For example, when Venus is in balance (also known as the virtuous state), you easily experience love, kindness, and acceptance. You know how to have balanced and healthy relationships with others. On the other side, an imbalance of Venus can breed feelings of envy, jealousy, and manipulative tendencies. The alchemical process is the journey of working through all aspects of these archetypes (the light and dark) so that you can learn to express them in healthy ways.

Cottwood Buds (Populus trichocarpa)

Beyond Herbal Band-Aids

The modern herbalism client is not just looking for an herbal band-aid. They are looking for deep levels of transformational healing on the physical, psychological, and spiritual levels. As an alchemical herbalist, you have a lot of methods for helping people experience healing on a profound level. 

For example, if you had a client who came to you because of recurrent UTIs, you could think beyond the scope of “herbal antibiotics” and into the archetypal underworkings behind this condition. 

Through your client intake, you may discover they have an imbalanced relationship with Venus. This imbalance might ripple into other parts of their lives, such as how they relate to others, mental states (like envy), and other areas. From this perspective, you can administer an herb that balances their relationship with Venus, thereby recalibrating their health on the levels of their body, spirit, and soul. 

Alchemy is an incredibly powerful tool that allows you to effectively decipher the underlying message behind a condition and what medicinal plants you can use to support someone in their healing journey. 

Herbalism and alchemy provide the framework for resolving deep-seated problems that modern medicine has difficulty addressing. There is a time and place for everything, and spagyric medicine can be a meaningful and impactful part of your herbal repertoire. Ultimately, spagyrics help us all on this Earth, collectively and individually, to become better, healthier, and more vibrant so we can live a fulfilling and purposeful life. 

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