“Therefore, learn Alchimiam, otherwise called Spagyria, which teaches you to separate the false from the true.” PARACELSUS
The following is my personal journey with plant alchemy, or Spagyrics. It was difficult finding clear instructions in one place so I thought it helpful to other novice Spagyrists to chronicle my own experience here.
First Things First – As an Herbalist, I’d always wanted to make my own tinctures. After decades of infusions, concoctions and decoctions, I am finally doing the lab thing.
Over the years I just bought my bottles of extracts and when Spagyrics came across my path in 1995, I knew this was what I wanted to do but didn’t have the wherewithal at the time (or so I thought). Today, I think Alchemy and Spagyrics must be a Divine thing and all I need will be provided for so that I can help others.
I studied intensely for many weeks before setting up a rudimentary lab. I made a notebook, wrote out principles and any instructions I could find, and had fun printing, cutting and taping (I guess this was part of my own personal initiation process):
“The beginning of a new aspect of our interior development. Although we have inner experiences always, initiation sets them apart and a progressively more intense process ensues, thereby helping us to have and understand our progressive interior experiences. We initiate ourselves into the work and the work initiates us to higher (and deeper) levels of consciousness, back into the presence of our TRUE SELF, the center and origin of our Being.” (I’m sorry, I can’t find the author of this quote.)
NOTE: There are many good resources for in-depth traditional alchemical practices and tenets, not a ton, but many. My time journaling on the subject is limited so I cannot provide an exhaustive study, you will have to research much on your own. Here, I can provide a place to begin by sharing with you my beginnings with plant alchemy. The notes to follow are just that: my notes. I hope they will be helpful to those who find them.
MAKING SPAGYRIC TINCTURES
Some basics for the work:
Mortar and pestle
Everclear Grain Alcohol
Pint and quart canning jars with airtight plastic lids
Coffee paper filters
A Pyrex, Corning Ware, Visionware, or other heat resistant baking tray (can be a cookie sheet)
Time and patience – this is not a quick process
Some useful lab equipment:
ehrlenmyer and other measuring flasks
THE ALCHEMICAL PROCESS
By now you might be anxious to actually begin the work. You understand there is a personal initiation, a kind of bonding with the plant kingdom. You can use my process below as a practical start and I encourage you to use your intuitive nature, dust it off if you must, to enter the sacred space of plant alchemy.
i. choose herbs, crush them gently (do not grind to a powder)
ii. macerate in alcohol for 2 weeks, or use condenser (I’ve not used a condenser yet)
iii. filter and separate menstruum and herb body
1. CALCINATION: Represents the beginning of a ‘black stage.’ Psychologically, it can mean the destruction of the ego’s defense mechanisms that may be impeding growth of the soul (personality, mind, intellect), and/or the ability to know our higher self and our Creator. Socially, “….calcination can take place over time as we are gradually assaulted and overcome by the trials and tribulations of life.” In the lab, calcination is the application of intense heat to an herb body that has been previously macerated, burning it to as white an ash as we can get. (My present best is a light gray ash which Robert Bartlett says is ok). In any case, it is a controlled burn using fire, whether literally in the lab or figuratively in the psyche, that requires we surrender our grossest material natures to a kind of death. The calcination, or burning off of the impurities leaves behind the minerals of the plant in the lab. In the psyche,one can meditate on the exposed feelings coming to the surface, to be taken up by the fire that brings the impurities up to the heavens to be touched by Spirit. (Like a good detox/cleanse, calcination leaves one feeling better, having exposed raw some of the negative ego demands that make one suffer.) While these results are exciting and inspires the alchemist to strive toward this reward, calcining is not an easy process, neither in the lab or in one’s psyche.
Anecdote: I believe anyone who has an affinity and strong desire for learning about plants and their astonishing healing mechanisms, will also find that plants have a reciprocal passion to heal. This may be why some alchemists say, “the work itself will show you what to do.” I have found this to be the case in my first calcination trials, as well as my years of experimentation and experience with medicinal herbs.
After the herb body has been macerating in the alcohol for at least 2 weeks, you can filter through cheesecloth or coffee filters (be careful with coffee filters though – they break)
Proper calcination takes place under certain heat conditions. You can look on youtube for people starting off their calcination by lighting the alcohol-drenched herb body that was separated from the menstuum. I tried this but my problem was the fire kept going out. So I tried it another way by drying the herb body overnight in a 200 degree F oven then lighting it on fire. No difference. With both these techniques I swished the ashes around while they were lit and afterwards put the whole thing in the oven under the broiler for I don’t know how many hours. No difference – most of the ashes came out medium-dark gray. We are looking for white ash, but at least light gray.
NOTE: my next step is a kiln – when I’ve settled on a particular one I’ll post it on this blog. Up to this point I have spent approximately $400 on equipment, herbs I didn’t have, and grain alcohol. I tried calcination with the ‘DIY at-home using kitchen appliances’ method but this didn’t work for me. In fact, I have to restock my menstruum with herb so that I don’t have any waste of the very expensive alcohol (in the future I will investigate my own fermenting of the herb). But first I have to filter out the ashes that I poured back into the menstruum during my first attempt at dissolution (2nd process). I am hoping this will work to salvage the first 5 menstruum preparations.
UPDATE TO NOTE: I am looking at a couple of kilns but they are pricey so I’m considering Robert Bartlett’s design using a couple of cans and propane torch. Will post pics if I choose to construct my own kiln. Good to know one can! Also, I am satisfied with the quality of the menstruum after filtering again.
Below are the herbs I’m currently working with. So far I’ve not completed a satisfactory calcination. I heard this can take quite some time so I have the opportunity here to practice patience.
1/12/16 – MARS – Nettles (1st Tuesday prep). Calcination produced a light gray ash which was ok. I put it back into the menstruum for a couple of days and then filtered it again. I then calcined the ash portion (still light gray). I’ll probably put it back into the menstruum after I’m satisfied this is the right thing to do. As mentioned, there aren’t many clear instructions for procedures here so I am intuiting as I go, which never lets me down 🙂
1/13/16 – MERCURY – Lavender (1st Wednedsday) Same procedure as nettles, same results (light gray ash, put back into menstruum then filtered back out and calcined again). Evidently, I didn’t wring out the ash filter enough because it just got lost – NO LAVENDER SALTS (or minimal – whatever went back into the menstruum after 1st calcination).
1/14/16 – JUPITER – Dandelion (1st Thursday) Same procedure only tried working with the gas grill and got a much darker gray ash. So right about this time I’m starting to realize a few things about alchemy and my role. First, I don’t have a kiln, only a gas grill. I’ve tried lighting the herb body on fire right after separating it from the menstruum – lights up beautifully but not hot enough to keep it burning to white ash, which is our ideal goal. While it seems to be okay to use light gray alchemical salts, I am striving to get the purest form. Although it was quite dark, I did pour the calcined dandelion body back into its menstruum. I’ll keep it there until I can find out for certain what to do.
1/15/16 – VENUS – Marshmallow (1st Friday) Same procedure as dandelion – I was sad to put the darker ash back into the menstruum, which is a very beautiful, clear earthtone substance. May have to chuck this one too if no good.
1/16/16 – SATURN – Horsetail (1st Saturday) Same procedure as above, darker ash poured back into the menstruum. I would hate to lose the horsetail batch – one of my favorite medicinal herbs.
1/17/16 – SUN – Calendula (1st Sunday) Same as above only I’ve not added the ash back into the menstruum. Thinking maybe I can find out how to get it to white ash, or if I’m supposed to do the dissolution on the 1st calcined salts, distill it then add it back. Have to get clear on this.
1/18/16 – MOON – Cleavers (1st Monday) By now I’m realizing a few things. I can’t be too fanatical about the days of the week/planet/herb correspondence – not at this early learning stage. I’m experimenting learning technique so it feels ok to work with the tinctures of this past week on any day from hereon when I find out what the best practices are. The procedure with the cleavers was the same as previous but I tried keeping the body under the broiler for a few hours to get it light – but it still came out a medium gray (not even light gray). So for the next week’s batch I’m going to try a different calcination procedure: Vervain (2nd Monday) After separating the body from the menstruum I will dry it overnight in a 200Fdegree oven. Then I will light it using a torch on the absolute lowest setting. I did use the torch the second day but it didn’t seem to do the trick. So I’m hoping this technique will provide the extra internal drying needed to keep the body lit long enough to get hot enough to produce a white ash pure salt.
One way to make a simple spagyric medicine is to use the tincture (after it has been sitting and leaching for a month) after you’ve poured the first calcined ash back into it. I want to make sure the darker gray ash in the dandelion tincture is ok, if I should filter it again, or if I should chuck it, and I’m thinking of other ways I might salvage a couple of the tinctures I’m not presently happy with. For example, maybe I can mix the lavender menstruum with say, the dandelion menstruum (or another menstruum which I poured the darker gray ash into). In other words, I’m trying to think of and research ways to clean up anything I may have contaminated. The alcohol needed to make these tinctures is expensive and I really can’t afford to keep buying it so much (cost $100 in Everclear to make 16 base tinctures). If I lose the first 7 days worth at least I have another 9 base tinctures to play with, and hopefully get right, and I will have my medicine for every day (planet, body system) of the week.
NOTE: As of 1/22, all first week’s menstruums (Calendula, Cleavers, Nettles, Lavender, Dandelion, Marshmallow and Horsetail, and 2nd week’s vervain menstruum) have been restocked with gently crushed herbs – will wait for kiln to do calcination again which means not much more for me to do until that happens except study, and think about how I’m going to continue to set up the lab.