After the past year, you’re probably tired of thinking about respiratory health- and I can’t blame you! It’s been a real worry for many of us, even as it’s also pushed us into healthier habits and self-care. But as I look outside and see the spring storms waking up the landscape with their rain and wind, the trees waving in breezes and bending in gales, I can’t help but think about the air element, around and within us all.
In our modern world of tightly sealed buildings, we think of air as something still, empty, surrounding us but not really existing as a “thing” in our consciousness. But even in recent history, air was an animate element, moving and interactive, and was considered an intelligence with a spirit of its own.
That very word, “spirit”, is itself tied to concepts of air- it refers to the animating life force of a being, and comes from the Latin word spiritus, meaning breath. This root word, and all the ideas it encompasses, can be further seen in both respiration and inspiration, the breathing in of the air that sustains our bodies, and the animating energy that feeds our minds.
This collection of Spagyrics speaks to both of these ideas: tonics to the lungs and respiratory system, supports for the highest aspects of mind, and initiatics for the sacredness of sound and speech which bridge the mundane and the sacred.
The first herb I think of when I meditate on air in nature is Usnea. As I discussed in this post, Usnea’s role in the forest is as a purifier of the air, absorbing pollution and transforming CO2 to oxygen in more efficient ways than plants do. In wind storms like we’ve been having, Usnea can come unmoored from its tree hosts and sail around, and it is this sight that led the Dakota to call it the “spirit of the wind”. To keep from disturbing its important ecological role, we collect only windfall Usnea for our Spagyric Essence, which is back in stock with a new vintage.
In TCM, Usnea is used for “wind diseases”, that is, ailments that are carried through the air or which are active during the windy or cold seasons. As a lichen, Usnea is a marriage of an algae and a fungus, and it has a dual nature of direct antimocrobial action along with deeper immune support. It has been traditionally used for a range of infections, from influenza to tuberculosis, and can be combined with other respiratory herbs to modulate its action.
Another new vintage, which also combines well with Usnea, is our Mullein Essence. This common western native is a biennial, growing soft flannel-textured leaves its first year, and then a tall spike of yellow flowers in its second. The leaves and flowers are slightly different in action, and we include both in our Essence for the widest range of effects.
Mullein leaves are astringent, but not in a drying way, and so they support better structural integrity in the mucous membranes, as well as acting to break up congestion in the chest and sinuses. The flowers are painkilling and sedating, opening tight and spasmodic breathing and bringing comfort and rest.
On the more tonic side of lung support, the classic medicinal mushroom Cordyceps is a powerful and balanced ally for the respiratory, cardiovascular, and immune systems. This classic herb of Asian medicine is used to strengthen the lungs, help them absorb more oxygen from the air, and to help that oxygen move more efficiently through the body. It has been used to boost athletic performance and stamina in healthy people, and to allay the effects of chronic illnesses of the lungs, such as COPD and asthma. Cordyceps is also somewhat calming and uplifting, and so eases the body-mind imbalance that can aggravate these issues.
We find our Cordyceps Essence to be very opening to the breath, bringing an expansive feeling to the lungs and a balanced lift of energy to the whole body. Besides its healing uses, it is also supportive to meditation, Yoga, and Tai Qi practice, as it makes the breath effortless and flowing in its energy.
Whether in combination with Cordyceps, or on its own, our next Spagyric moves even further into the spiritual dimension of breath. Rhodiola is an herb of the high mountains of Tibet, where it is used by the monks as a spiritual food, supporting the body during long sessions of chanting and ritual work. In even older spiritual lineages of that area is its use by warrior monks, who rely on it as an adaptogen and as an herb of premonition and vision into the future, helping them avoid the arrows and blows of battle.
Most of us don’t need to dodge arrows in our daily lives, but our Essence of Rhodiola encompasses all the interesting aspects of this plant. Rhodiola also has a very uplifting effect on the mood, increasing endorphins to create a joyous, lighthearted positivity, acting much more quickly than St. John’s Wort and other herbal antidepressants.
When these energies come together, it creates a Spagyric that can help you see a positive future, envisioning the brightness of better things to come, and illuminating your own path forward with optimism and determination. It’s one of the best remedies we know of for getting out of any negative emotional rut, for seeing a way forward and moving towards it with inspiration.
One of our most popular Somalixir formulas bridges the physical and energetic aspects of breath and brings them together for spiritual practices- Prana Somalixir. Based on Cordyceps and its gift of opening the flow of breath and energy throughout the body, Prana also includes Alchemical Oil of Gold for its elevating, energizing intelligence. This interplay is enhanced by Sweetgrass, which is perhaps more familiar as a smudging herb.
Like many incenses and fumigant herbs (such as Frankincense, below) Sweetgrass’ beautiful aroma literally inspires you, prompting deep, calm breathing to take in its sweetness and the positive energy that it brings. Sacred to the First Nations of the American West, sweetgrass is seen as the hair of Mother Earth, and is braided into ropes as an expression of devotion to Her.
Relatives of Sweetgrass from the Old World were used as strewing herbs in churches to call in that same sweet energy of devotion and positivity, and to deepen the breath in ways that modern research now understands as facilitating transcendent blissful states of being. In our Prana Somalixir, it draws that same bright energy inwards, easing its flow throughout the body for Pranayama, Yoga, Tai Qi, chanting, and many other related disciplines.
To further support chanting and sacred speech and song, we recommend our Hibiscus Initiatic. This vibrant red flower is known as japa in Ayurveda, which is also the term for the practice of meditation by repetition of a mantra or sacred phrase or sound. Like so many herbs for meditation, Hibiscus brings a balanced state of restful calm for sitting, but with a sharpness and clarity to the mind so that the mantra can be followed and understood.
That clarity is also said to emanate outwards when using Hibiscus for japa work, as it removes spiritual and material obstacles so that the purpose of the mantra can be achieved by the practitioner. We have found our Hibiscus Initiatic to be a strongly heart-centered Spagyric, creating feelings of bliss and power when sound is made while working with it.
In a similar way, but on a different path, Vervain is used to bring power to magickal speech such as spellworking. This classic Old World ally has many uses in magick, but most of them center around its Mercurial nature as an herb that connects and opens energy flow across liminal boundaries.
As I wrote a while back, I use Vervain as an initiatic to connect with my Beloved Dead during the Celtic holiday of Samhain, to both bring their energies forward into our material world, and to take my own consciousness across into the spiritual realms the Dead now inhabit. I find it combines well with Clary Sage for this work, especially if you practice it through trance or dreaming.
Vervain can also carry intent across etheric space, in the form of spells, charms, incantations and affirmations. After taking our Vervain Initiatic, a deep, tangible resonance is felt in the voice, and one’s intentions and goals for the speech coalesce much more easily.
Moving even higher into more subtle realms of energy and processing, our final two Respiration/Inspiration Spagyrics are Magisteries, created to focus on the Soul level of being through the planetary archetypes and the most refined expressions of the plants that carry them.
Fennel is a complicated herb where we live- delicious as food and medicine, but also quite invasive, aggressively spreading throughout the West Coast. It especially loves living near the ocean, and to me, its clean licorice scent is a core aspect of the overall smell of the place we call home. That licorice scent is a signature of herbs of Mercury, as I wrote in a recent Weed Love article, and it points to the many medicinal uses of the herb that I discussed there.
For our focus on Air, I can’t think of a more airy-looking plant than Fennel, its ferny feathery leaves looking more like a green mist than anything as solid as a plant. Our Magistery of Fennel refines this oil-rich plant into an intensely aromatic, yet ethereal expression of air, focusing in particular on the magical uses of Fennel.
You are likely familiar with these uses, even if you’re not aware that you are- think of the last time you went to an Indian or Mediterranean restaurant, and you might recall the little bowl of candied and plain fennel seeds that they keep by the door. These are offered as a cleansing refreshment to the palate and a digestive tonic, and also to sweeten the breath.
Through the correspondences between the mundane and sacred that Hermetics works with, in sweetening the breath, Fennel also sweetens the words that are carried on it, making speech pleasant, melodious, and kind, even with difficult subjects or intense conversations. It is also believed to work in reverse, assuring that when others speak of you, it will be positive. This balance makes our Fennel Magistery supportive for all magickal practices involving speech, and also to public speakers, especially activists and those speaking on difficult and divisive subjects.
Our final Spagyric for Inspiration is an ancient, deeply sacred human ally- Frankincense. This precious resin has been used in ritual and spiritual ceremony for thousands of years, its bright and uplifting smoke filling sacred spaces and lifting the mood and prayers of the congregants. One of the main aromatics in Frankincense acts on several of our brain’s receptors, working as an anti-depressant and calmative, while also stimulating feelings of warmth on the skin.
I wrote about this flow of positive energy that Frankincense created for me on a difficult day a year ago at the start of the pandemic, here on our Facebook page. The intuitive breathing that the smell of Frankincense oil led me to that day has become a regular practice for me, aided by the oil, our Frankincense Magistery, or both, and I have found it to be powerfully healing and deeply entheogenic.
This warm Magistery of the Sun works in the overlap space between the heart (organ) and Heart (chakra), connecting them both through the flow of the breath and bringing a feeling of devotion and compassion for all beings, what the Christian mystics call agape and the Buddhists call loving-kindness. It is one of the most truly entheogenic Spagyrics we have created, in the sense of generating Divine consciousness within the self, and I continue to be as moved by it now as when I wrote about it as a new Magistery.