Spagyrics is a process of making alchemical tinctures and potions, in which herbs or minerals are separated, purified, and then recombined. Spagyric processing was created by the great sixteenth century healer Paracelsus.
Working with plants is an ideal way to enter the realm of practical hermetic philosophy. Plants are indeed creatures. They have souls, spirits, and emotional responses, as well as a whole host of mysterious intelligent mechanisms. Plants speak to us in subtle ways.
All things are made up of varying proportions of the four elements and are governed in their responses to greater or lesser degrees by all of the planets. In plants, we find that the influence of one planet usually dominates. Making elixirs from such planets allows us to ingest the energies of the individual planets, purifying and balancing their corresponding spheres within ourselves.
Plants and the Three Principles
In plants, the three philosophical principles of sulfur, mercury, and salt are clearly defined. We can tell lavender and roses apart with our eyes closed, for they are differentiated by the perfume that characterizes their essential oils. These oils are the essence of a plant, its sulfur principle, its soul.
Ethyl alcohol is the mercury principle, the spirit of plants. Unlike essential oils, it is the same from all plants.
The salt, or body, principle in plants is to be found in the water-soluble alkaline salts that reside within the tissues of plants. These must be extracted and purified in order to “resurrect” a plant.
By extracting, purifying, and recombining the soul, spirit, and body of a plant, we “exalt” it, raising its powers to a higher level. The resulting elixir, when ingested, is able to resonate with our spirits, souls, and bodies.
Seven Planetary Elixirs
Let us make seven spagyric tinctures, one for each of the planets and each day of the week. You will need the following items:
The Elixir of Saturn
We shall begin on a Saturday, the day of Saturn, for this is the sphere within us that we should purify first of all. Without a balanced relationship with Saturn, we are prone to depression, accidents, and eccentricity.
First we need to choose a herb that is governed by Saturn (see chart). If we can find one that is growing wild in a unpolluted area, so much the better. An ideal, an typical, Saturn herb that is usually widely distributed and easy to identify is Equisetum arvense, commonly known as horsetail, scouring rush, or shave-brush. As its signature suggests, being jointed and skeletal in appearance, it is wonderful for keeping bones strong. Whichever plant we use, we should be sure to identify it carefully and to familiarize ourselves with its properties in a good herb book.
1. Harvest about 4 lb (2 kg) of the herb on a fine Saturday morning, after the dew has dried and when the plant is in its prime. The period around full moon is usually the best. This is when the plant’s vitality is in the stems and leaves, with the sap running high. Never pick too much from one spot and always harvest gratefully, and with consideration for the well-being of the species. The more contact that you can establish with the plant, the better.
Desiccation and Pulverization
2. The harvested plant matter should now be carefully dried, or desiccated. Many plants are actually improved by drying because all that the plant loses is water, which allows for a more concentrated tincture. The following Saturday, pulverize the herb to a powder in a pestle and mortar. Before beginning the work, which can be quite tiring, meditate on what you are doing and why. Energize yourself so that you feel positive and focused. Start to grind the herb methodically and carefully, being efficient with your energy. (You may need to wear a dusk mask to avoid breathing in too much dust.) You may not be able to grind the larger stalks down, in which case you can set them aside. Put 8 oz (250 g) of the ground herb into a glass jar and seal it tightly. The rest, including any discarded stalks, can be placed in a paper bag and kept in a dry place.
3. Maceration, the next phase of the work, should be performed on the first Saturday of the waxing Moon. Try to awake at dawn and to begin the work soon after sunrise, having previously meditated and stoked up plenty of calm, positive energy. Place the 8 oz (250 g) of the ground herb that you stored in a jar in a larger jar, about 4–5 inches (10–12 cm) wide and at least twice as tall. Slowly pour on the spirit of wine, pausing every now and then to allow the plant powder to absorb it. Stop adding alcohol as soon as it has covered the plant powder by a clear 1/4 inches (6 mm). Hermetically seal the jar, that is, make it air-tight, to enable the seal of Hermes to allow nothing in or out. The spirit of wine will draw both the sulfur and mercury principles out of the plant, releasing its soul and spirit.
Maceration and Circulation
4. Place the jar in a paperboard box, put it in a warm place, and allow the mixture to macerate for two weeks. Droplets of alcohol will condense on the side of the jar and will trickle back down again, as in a circulation.
5. Two weeks later, on a Saturday, filter the tincture into a clean, dry flask or bottle (preferably made of dark glass), using a glass funnel lined with filter paper (a coffee-filter paper will do) or a pad of absorbent cotton. When all of the tincture has dripped through, seal the flask or bottle and place it in a cool, dark, safe place. Put the plant residue into a heat-resistant ceramic pot of dish.
6. The next phase of the work is the process called calcination. This should be performed outside because it involves burning the remaining plant matter, which produces a lot of acrid smoke. Place the camping stove on the ground in a sheltered spot. Light it and then turn it up to full blast. Place the ceramic pot containing all of the plant matter (including the greater part that was not macerated) on top. The plant matter will start to smoke and turn black. Stir it with a steel spoon. When everything has stopped smoking and has turned black, turn off the stove.
7. Grind the black plant cinders to a powder using a pestle and mortar. Return them to the ceramic pot. The calcination can continue inside. Calcine (“make white”) until everything has turned into a gray-white ash.
Solution and Separation
8. Add 2 pints (1 liter) of the distilled water to te cool, calcined plant ashes, place a lid over the top, and bring the solution to a gentle boil. After about twenty minutes, turn off the heat and allow the liquid to cool. Now filter the ash-and-water solution into a bowl or bottle. The insoluble ashes are known as the caput mortuum, or death head. You have separated the essential matter from the dross and can now discard the ashes outside if you wish.
9. Clean out the ceramic pot and then return the filtrate (the filtered solution) to it. Heat the filtrate gently, keeping it just below boiling point. The solution will gradually evaporate to leave behind water soluble, alkaline salts. These are the sal salis, the salt of the salt. When the salts are completely dry, turn up the heat, place a lid over the top, and calcine the salts for at least an hour. The sal salis forms white crystals when it is pure, but they will probably need further purification. Add a cup of distilled water to the cooled salts, gently heat the mixture, and stir until every-thing has dissolved. Cool and filter, and then evaporate and calcine, as before. Repeat this process until the salt crystals are of a uniformly white (or very pale pink) colour.
10. When the salts have been purified, place them in the large macerating jar (on a Saturday) and carefully pour over the tincture. Through cohobation the three principles are thus reunited in a purified form. Hermetically seal the jar and put it in a warm, dark place. After two weeks, carefully pour the spagyric tincture into a dark-glass bottle of an appropriate size (the bottle should be full or nearly full) and seal it tightly (perhaps with a sterilized wine cork). You may notice that the aroma of the tincture has changed slightly, along with its colour. Your spagyric tincture is now ready. Take seven drops in water three times a day, starting on the first Saturday of a New Moon.
The Other Planetary Elixirs
Now you can start preparing the six other planetary elixirs – Jupiter, Mars, the Sun, Venus, Mercury, and the Moon. These can be prepared over the same period as the elixir of Saturn.
Refer to the correspondences of each planet (see chart) to choose the healing herbs you wish to work with. If you are not sure which ones to use, some recommendations follow:
hawthorn, cleavers, caraway, lemon balm, skullcap, motherwort, horsetail, rosemary
The elixir of Jupiter – Lemon balm
The elixir of Mars – Hawthorn (the flowers, young leaves, or berries) and dried nettle root (pulled up during a waning Moon)
The elixir of the Sun – Rosemary
The elixir of Venus – Lady’s mantle or motherwort
The elixir of Mercury – Skullcap, caraway, marjoram, or oregano
The elixir of the Moon – fresh cleavers, willow bark, or chaste-tree berries
Key Points to Remember
In all hermetic operations, it is important to bear in mind some key points.
1. Energize yourself through prayer, meditation, or exercise before working. It is important to be calm, but focused, both to avoid making mistakes and to receive profound insights into the nature of the work.
2. Always ensure that your utensils are clean. Glassware should be rinsed with distilled water (or else rainwater) and thoroughly dried.
3. Plants must be positively identified and picked at the right time or purchased from a good source.
4. Always ensure that you work with specific plants on their correct days. This helps to concentrate the planetary energies within the elixir.
Melville, Francis: The Book of Alchemy. Fair Winds Press 2002.
Compiled by Simone Anliker.