Many people ask about the planetary archetype system which we work with as a foundation of our Spagyric practice. What are the archetypes, what do they rule, how are they connected to plants, how do I work with them? We also sometimes get questions wondering why the planetary attributions we list are different than those from other herbalists, websites, or books, ancient and modern.
The lighthearted answer is that if you ask 10 alchemists about planetary rulerships, you’ll get 11 different answers! But that silliness isn’t too far from the truth. Each person approaches this work in their own way, guided by inner and outer voices that they trust, research and life experience they’ve integrated, and a felt sense of what each planet’s intelligence has to communicate and how it speaks to us here. So just from the fact that we’re not the same person as Paracelsus or Culpeper or Scott Cunningham or Random Alchemy Influencer, our Materia Mystica varies from other people’s.
There is more to it than “different people have different ideas”, though, so I’d like to give you a peek into how we think of planetary attributes, how we go about assigning them, and why they matter and how they are used in our lab.
Firstly, I want to point out that, even though there are “canonical” or “accepted” sources for planetary rulerships, even if we agreed with them 100% of the time, we would still be on our own for many of the plants that we work with, since Culpeper’s repertory is solidly European. So if you’re working with Nettles or Rose, you’ll be able to consult him, but for Caapi or Maca or medicinal mushrooms, you won’t find help in his text.
Whether looking at herbs that are in the classical texts, or exploring new herbs, the main technique that most authors have used is the Doctrine of Signatures. This is the idea that the physical aspects of a plant- its colour, leaf shape, habitat, etc.- hold clues to its medicinal virtues.
For example, Milk Thistle has white spots on its leaves that resemble droplets of milk, and it is an excellent tonic for nursing mothers.
With plants not listed in the old herbals, examining them through the lens of the Doctrine of Signatures can be a useful way to determine effects and rulership- or not!
The example from our experience that comes to mind is Yerba Mansa, a widely-used healing plant of the Southwest US. Yerba Mansa grows in wet, muddy, boggy areas, and has large fleshy leaves and bright white flowers with a cool, sweet smell.
According to that collection of signatures, Yerba Mansa seems like an herb of the Moon, and that is how we collected and started processing our first Spagyric of it almost 30 years ago. As the process went on, however, it started to feel discordant, and when we sat with the glassware as it was working, and tasted the extraction at different points, it seemed less and less Lunar.
This is where some subjectivity comes in, as well as training and practice in being sensitive to subtle energies. Knowing what one’s own inner cosmos feels like, and then being able to track the changes in that microcosm brought about by external substances is an important skill that we’re continually working on. Bringing that skill to bear on the Yerba Mansa, the feeling of Saturnine energy became stronger and stronger as the Spagyric came into being.
The Yerba Mansa was cooling, yes, but in a drying way- more Saturn than Moon’s moisturizing properties. And its anti-inflammatory effects are of a very shrinking and drying nature, even as it expresses in its habitat. It grows in wet areas, but it dries them out and helps create new land from stagnation, and drying up stagnation is a great description of its healing action on injuries and infections, also.
With the new insights we received as the Yerba Mansa opened up some in the lab work, we switched to Saturn’s timing for the second half of the process, and as I wrote in this post, the Moon-Saturn combination turned out to be just what many people needed at that moment.
The Doctrine of Signatures can also give different rulerships for different parts of a plant, since plants are complex in their growth and expressions of being. An example I’m thinking of here is St. John’s Wort, which is in many of the old herbals.
There, it is discussed mainly as an immune tonic, its signature of red oil in the perforated pores of the leaves showing its uses for injuries, blood disease, and damage to the skin. Reading those signatures and how they connected to its excellent immune-boosting properties, we processed it as Mars for many years.
However, in modern times, St. John’s Wort is not used primarily as an immune tonic, but as an anti-depressant and mood balancer. Some of the old texts mention that it brings “gladness”, and that its cheery yellow flowers reflect the bright energy of the Sun, as does its side effect of increasing sun sensitivity, which I learned about the hard way as I posted here.
As use of St. John’s Wort shifted from immune support to anti-depressant, we decided to start processing it under the Sun’s rulership to magnify its gifts in that way. This brings up what I feel is the most important aspect of the rulership question- what does the maker want the medicine to express?
St. John’s Wort didn’t change, it’s been the same plant with the same range of properties since it evolved, so it’s not as if a Mars-ruled Spagyric of it would not work for depression, it would on one level, because the chemistry is there either way.
But much of what we do in making Spagyrics is not about chemistry, but about intelligence, and that comes through from plant to medicine as a partnership between the gifts of the plant and the context and direction that the planetary archetype gives those gifts.
We choose rulerships for our Spagyrics based on the plants inherent properties on all levels, but also on the uses that we know they will be put to, the needs of our community of customers, and our own sense of what energies need to go out into the world at the moment each one is born.
I’ll give one more example here, which is the specific example that a customer wrote about recently. They asked why we worked with Chaga under the Sun’s rulership, when the resources they looked at had it as a Saturn herb.
Saturn does express some key aspects of Chaga’s energy, especially the way it grows as a black, parasitic crust on Birch trees. This can be seen as a mirror of how cancer grows, parasitically destroying its host with invasive, difficult-to-eradicate growths.
From a Doctrine of Signatures standpoint, we can see the linkage there, and that can help us look at Chaga and remember that it is a cancer remedy. To me, this is the real genius of the Doctrine, in the way that it can be a living reference book in the mind, showing us the connections between plant and body in a mnemonic way.
Once we have that connection in our mental repertory, though, is the energy of how Chaga grows something we really want to invoke in someone with cancer? Saturn’s energy would certainly do that, as one of its healing attributes is to bring processes to their natural conclusion.
I think of that concluding and closing energy with Yerba Mansa and Red Root, used at the end of a cold or flu to help clear out the remnants of the infection and inflammation through the lymphatic system. The natural conclusion of a cold or flu (most of the time) is to get over it and get better.
The natural conclusion of cancer, though, is not as beneficial, and energetically, taking a parasitic and invasive plant and magnifying its one-way energy through Saturn’s intelligence is not the way we felt was best for Chaga.
Instead, we wanted to focus its anti-oxidant, tonic, and nourishing properties, as well as the great sense of well-being it gave us when we tasted it and sat with it at the beginning of our processing, as we do with every plant we offer. To us, all of that said Solar archetype, and so that is what our Spiritualized Essence of Chaga is processed as.
As with all of our Spagyrics, from many possible influences the plant could express, we invoked our own intelligence to choose the one that we felt would best bring its most useful gifts in the world. That’s where our Art comes into play, and where we act as the link between plant and planet.