Et Habebis Magisterium – Alchemical Medicine for the 21st Century

June 8, 2011 § Leave a comment

“The acceptance of the essential unity of the universe and the cousinhood of all things in nature opened up an experience of the world that was very different from technical prescriptions. Alchemical work became an immersion in a sacramental activity, and it was termed the Great Work in which prayer and contemplation played an essential part.”

–   from Alchemical Medicine for the 21st Century, Clare Goodrick-Clarke

“The vast field of spagyrics presents itself rather like a mosaic that is only slowly completed by the collaboration of the reader.”

– from Spagyrics, Manfred Junius

Study which centers on the very essence of truth finds it’s most valuable expression in a fully engaged life of practice. In Alchemical Medicine for the 21st Century, Clare Goodrick-Clarke brings us a vital exploration of the humble, yet profound, art of spagyrics, the Paracelsean alchemical approach to discovering the quintessence of the vegetable kingdom.

As she explains in the introduction “The word spagyric (German spagyrik) comes from two Greek verbs: spao (to separate) and agyro (to unite), in accordance with the alchemical maxim solve et coagula, et habebis magisterium—“dissolve and bind, and you will have the magistery.” As the two Greek verbs suggest, the process of separating and combining imply a synthesis in which the finished whole is greater than the sum of its parts.” Spagyrics formed the core of Paracelsus’ practical medicinal work, and draws benefits from his synthesis of folk herbalism, academic theory, esoteric philosophy and practical experience.

While many are familiar with herbalism, and the use of natural remedies, as alternatives to pharmaceuticals or invasive medical treatments, these are not the sole means of participating in the beneficial medicinal aspects of plant life. .

“We stand at the threshold of a new era of medicine and at a point where it may be useful to engage with what has been known in the past about the importance of phytomedicines in all their various forms.”

–   from Alchemical Medicine for the 21st Century, Clare Goodrick-Clarke

Goodrick-Clarke clearly demonstrates the expansion of contemporary medical practices possible through the application of Alchemical insights. Offering no illusory cure all, she shows that it is in our relationship with the whole that we become healthy. This is medicine for living, and a living medicine, whose preparation, application and influence works to ground us in the very life of the world around us.

The physical sciences of the past identified four stages in the living expression of matter; first came the mineral realm, then the vegetative, than the animal, and finally the spirit. Each of these realms is alive in some sense, their differences expressed in how fully they are able to participate in the universal experience. Alchemy, the Royal Art, acts within all of these realms,  and can be applied, using the familiar processes of Nigredo, Albedo, and Rubedo, to sublimate and divine the essence of each station.

There is a modest admonition in the introduction to be prepared for rethinking our relationship with weeds. This belies the much deeper change that occurs as Goodrick-Clarke guides us through the history and theory of alchemy and its application to the medical field. Realizing that what we think of as weeds may be helpful as herbal remedies is a small step, compared to the initiatory leap necessary to fully grasp the correspondences associated with the Hermetic cosmology at the core of the alchemical work.

Paracelsus provides both a foundational figure for spagyric practice, as well as a historical framework where we can begin to absorb the Hermetic world view. Following his turbulent career, and exploring the influence of his insights, we are able to better understand the tensions existing between alchemical Hermetic practice and the mainline of Western thought, and the deep stream of wisdom that flows, often unseen, through the history of Western culture.

For Paracelsus the world was a series of corresponding alchemical movements, each to a greater or lesser extent interlocked in the movement of the whole. Plants, whose life force is fed by the intermingling celestial influences of the sun, moon, stars and comets, and the mineral deposits of the soil, represent alchemically active receptacles for the very essences of those influences, having refined them through organic spagyric processes. Knowing this, the spagyric alchemist further refines these celestial essences through the familiar processes of alchemy.

Exploring history Goodrick-Clarke is able to address issues of practice, theory and precedence, awakening us to new relationships with the world. Stellar influences are explored in terms of their historical understanding, and practical importance to the Art. In the second part of the book, dealing with practical spagyric instruction, this introduction proves very helpful for integrating with the full depth of the art.

We are also introduced to contemporaries such as Lily Koskinko, whose experiments with  with mineral tinctures and their reaction to certain celestial alignments, show intriguing evidence for planetary affects beyond what is accepted by most scientists. Goodrick-Clarke leads us on a historical overview of Paracelsean practice through brief introductions to the major figures that have applied his theories down to the present day.  Such historical precedence shows the need for more experimentation, and the groundwork for the present application of these alchemical preparations.

“In 1900, there were three main causes of death: pneumonia or severe influenza, tuberculosis, and enteritis. All that has now changed. Since 1940, heart disease, stroke, and cancer have taken the place of these fatal diseases. Chronic ill-health and debilitating conditions are a huge cost to the happiness of human life. The National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion describes chronic disease (heart problems, cancer, diabetes) as the leading cause of death and disability in the United States, accounting for 70 percent of all deaths.”

–    from Alchemical Medicine for the 21st Century, Clare Goodrick-Clarke

Quoting the alchemist Arnau Vilanova she notes that “The plagues beginning in 1348 further stimulated the search for “the mother and Empress of medicines, [which] others have named . . . the inestimable glory; others, indeed, have named it the quintessence, the philosophers’ stone, and the elixir of life.” In our own time the problems attendant with globalization, industrialization, environmental degradation and the increasingly chronic nature of our illnesses have brought a similar return to the everlasting quest.

“Our conditioning leads us to see disease as something to be fought; the fight for health is a war in which the enemy (disease) must be eradicated, excised, or beaten. The means to this end often involve the pharmacological blocking of natural responses, surgical excision, and genetic modification. Most modern medical interventions fall into these categories. The medical paradigm is “to go against,” for which we use the term allopathy.

Such an approach seldom leads to cure, and a growing number of people today do not wish to take pharmaceutical drugs, which burden the body with synthesized chemicals and suppress natural responses. Despite the billions of dollars spent on drug development, it is now widely recognized and reported that pharmacological use is itself a source of disease, with many thousands of people affected by iatrogenic illness every year.”

–    from Alchemical Medicine for the 21st Century, Clare Goodrick-Clarke

Goodrick-Clarke’s work is deeply embedded in the historical transmission of alchemical knowledge. As a student of Manfred Junius, she received hands on training in the practical aspects of the alchemical tradition from a well respected exponent of its contemporary expression.  The key to her work lies in her erudite scholarship, which allows these deeply immersive traditional ideas aterms that are accessible to the contemporary scientific and medical communities, and to all those willing to reassess their beliefs.

Medical students typically spend their first weeks of instruction on the corpse, in all its grim gradations of decay. Once dissection and anatomy has familiarized them with the structure of the body as it is in death, they are brought into the wards, where they encounter the living. Here, students find an important difference between the living and the dead, a difference so obvious and striking as to pass without comment. Here, even in the sick, is the mysterious, magical, and mystical quality of aliveness that marks the living from the dead.

–   from Alchemical Medicine for the 21st Century, Clare Goodrick-Clarke

In attempting to open our vision for seeing new relationships It is important to recognize, as Goodrick-Clarke points out, how cultural conditioning leads us to certain assumptions. In the historical figure of Samuel Hahnemann, who developed homeopathic dissolution, she explores the concept of the vital force, and how this concept alters the way in which we view treatment.

Treating the controversial theories of Hahnemann, she shows the value in establishing the historical stream of knowledge before dismissing an idea. Placing Hanehmann in his proper setting, Goodrick-Clarke is able to reevaluate his theories and their application to contemporary medicine. Using Hanehmann as a focus allows the scientific dismissal of his homeopathic work to provide an opening for an accurate historical review that demonstrates the true nature of the disagreement.

Through technical specialization and application the art of medicine has deteriorated to the level of mechanics. As Goodrick-Clark points out, “conventional medical science knows a great deal about the numerous ways in which the body deteriorates in disease, but it does not have a fully developed theory of the vital force and the dynamis that keeps a person well. Many people, observing living beings, would take as selfevident the proposition that the life force exists. Yet within the medical profession, there is a determined and vocal group whose position is that “there is no evidence whatsoever for a life force.

Scholarship and insight combine in presenting an overview of Alchemy through out the ages that aligns it with the current, and more generally know, cultural streams. Her historical knowledge aids her enthusiasm in expressing the full importance of these traditions, illustrating how current understanding lacks much of the holistic depth necessary for true healing to occur.

Both she and her husband, Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke, have been instrumental in the contemporary critical reevaluation of esotericism as an intellectual topic worth investigating. It is a credit to her work that the same critical eye for scholarship has gone into evaluating the practical application of these ideas. The second half of the work is dedicated to sharing the hands on tradition of spagyrics she learned from Manfred Junius, as well as her own insights proven through practice.  These step by step instructions continue to develop the application of the history and theory covered in the beginning of the work. Through preparing spagyric remedies themselves we are able to meditate on and integrate the insights provided by the active theory.

Access to such vital and long lived traditions in such an open manner is a gift of our current culture. As she amply expresses, “Finding a few sage leaves, steeping them in hot water, and drinking the resulting tea soothes a sore throat, or drinking mint tea alleviates mild indigestion. This book is for those who would like to go further and explore the wonderful range of healing that is ours for the taking as soon as we step out into the natural, wild world.” Go further, because as Manfred Junius mused, spagyrics is a relationship as much as a practice, a relationship with the world around us in it’s living whole. With Alchemical Medicine for the 21st Century, Clare Goodrick-Clarke has provided a historically erudite, practically applicable and deeply engaging work to initiate a new understanding of our relationship with the vegetable world.

***

About Clare Goodrick-Clarke:

Clare Goodrick-Clarke is a writer, lecturer, complemenalchemy devon #01tary health practitioner and meditation teacher. She is currently an Honorary Fellow of Exeter University where teaching modules on the Esoteric Body, and the History of Alchemy for the MA Programme in Western Esotericism ( the first degree of its kind in the world!) You can see details at the Exeter Centre for the Study of Esotericism.

Since 1995, Goodrick-Clarke has been a faculty member of the New York Open Center, speaking regularly at the New York Open Center International “Esoteric Quest” conferences. You can see forthcoming conference details as well as past conferences on the New York Open Center page.

For more information you can visit her website:

Wellspring Homeopathy

and visit the publisher, Inner Traditions’, page for the book, which includes a brief preview:

Alchemical Medicine for the 21st Century

Note: Special thanks to Inner Traditions for providing a copy of Alchemical Medicine for the 21st Century for research and review.

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