Book Review: Alchemical Medicine for the 21st Century

Alchemical Medicine for the 21st Century (subtitled 'Spagyrics for Detox, Healing and Longevity') written by Clare Goodrick-Clarke, is among the best "first" books for someone new to alchemy, providing the reader with a concise and very well-written compilation of alchemical history as well as practical facts and easily-implemented suggestions on how to use the healing properties of plants and the ancient art and science of spagyrics for the treatment of contemporary health problems.

This is wisdom, coming down to us from great antiquity and until now shrouded in a wantonly impenetrable jargon that is finally surfacing in the new century. I much regret that this book didn't exist (nor did anything even remotely like it exist with the possible exception of Frater Albertus' "The Alchemist's Handbook") when I first took up my own study of the Great Work.

Spagyrics is a branch of medicinal alchemy, borne in ancient Egypt but not fully developed until the late renaissance by the Swiss physician and alchemist Paracelsus (AKA Philippus Aureolus Theophrastus Bombastus von Hohenheim, d. 1541). Spagyrics is a holistic therapy that promotes healing at all levels of the human being - body, soul, and spirit. Spagyrics harnesses the life force in plants to help the body rebalance and recover from illness. The word is derived from the Greek "spaos" and "gyrein," meaning "to take apart" and "to put together."

In the spagyric process, a plant is chemically separated into its components, known as "salt," "sulfur," and "mercury." These are not the elements of the periodic table so familiar from high school chemistry, but alchemical nomenclature for the soul of the plant (or individualized essence, i.e., the essential oils), the plant's life force (liquid distillates), and its physical body (insoluble salts or alkaloids). It is the work of the alchemist-spagyricist to separate and recombine these three basic principles as often as necessary until they are in perfect proportion and harmony with each other, and yield a "living remedy." This work is undertaken at specific hours of specific days, the so-called "planetary hours" at which the plant's subtle energies are at their zenith.

Most of the first part of this book is history, with the second half of the book detailing the methods for making spagyric essences as well as providing plant profiles and information on the therapeutic actions of alchemical preparations. Chapter six ("Making Spagyric Essences") is especially worthwhile, and details the means for formulating both tinctures (without distillation) and essences (distilled formulae). Following author Goodrick-Clarke's instructions, and adhering to her safeguards and cautions, anyone with ordinary kitchen skills and even a small knowledge of herbalism can create remedies of substance and value.

"Alchemical Medicine for the 21st Century" provides a rare and enjoyable introduction to its principles, methodology, and the basic practices of spagyric alchemy, and is profoundly worthy of the attention of serious students and practitioners of deep and real healing. I thoroughly recommend it to all.

Review provided by William Courson, BVSA, D. Ayur., an Ayurvedic Practitioner, faculty member and the College Dean of Institutional Development at Sai Ayurvedic College & Ayurvedic Wellness Center.

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