The 8th International Conference Buddhism & Australia
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Some Notes on Juniper, Cedar, and Pine Trees; and the Circulatum Minus
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wetati tawi ‘a* [a] weta ti tawi hu’ > atira (ira) wikatasa [a] > I am telling of her > My mother…..who lies up against the sky
—2nd stanza of a Pawnee song honoring Mother Cedar Tree
Awhile ago when I was first preparing the seven planetary elixirs, I was working on the directive of Frater Albertus to find and use plants native to the area in which I lived. At the corner of the curving path away from the woods by our old house stood a mighty tall juniper tree. Choosing stems, leaves and berries, I enlisted the aid of this juniper toward the preparation of my elixir of the Sun. This elixir proved to be one of the most potent I have ever intermediated, matched in strength, character, and efficacy with the other plant which grows profusely in our area (along with an over-abundance of plants attributed to Venus), the Jupiter plant par excellence, Melissa (Lemon Balm). Both Melissa and Juniper have proven to be plants (+ planets!) most compatible with my nature as a student of alchemy, and both plants share similarities in heir multiplicity of usage and in their shared history/folklore concerning their properties associated with longevity and even immortality.
I will not be discussing Melissa at length in this paper, however, if the kind reader will allow me to digress to illustrate a point, I would here insert the following quote from Franz Hartmann’s book Paracelsus Life and Prophesies:
“There are some substances in which this quintessence (of all things) is contained in greater quantities than in others, and from which it may be more easily extracted. Such substances are especially the herb called melissa, and the human blood.”1
This passage continues with a description of a way to extract and prepare the Primum Ens Melissae. A practical experiment follows which results in the complete rejuvenation of the body. This type of “make-over” recalls Cagliostro’s “fountain of youth” and many other accounts relating to the life-supporting (and allegedly elongating) properties of the philosopher’s stone. Other than through these brief generalities concerning their action as alchemical substances mentioned above, it is not my intention here to seriously compare Melissa with Juniper, Cedar, or Pine trees.
“Master Hsueh…came back out with a bag of pine seeds that he had collected from the (Huashan) trees (a special species of pine tree native to the Chungnan Mountains) that grew at the summit. Their seeds, pollen, and even their needles were a staple in the diet of Taoists who lived on Hushan in the past. Ancient texts claim that after a thousand years the resin from the Huashan pine turns into amber and that eating it can transform a person into an immortal.”2
This quote is found in Road to Heaven: Encounters With Chinese Hermits by Bill Porter. Porter reports that Master Hsueh left him with a bag of pine seeds and instructions to either eat them or plant them. Choosing aesthetics over immortality, instead of ingesting the seeds, Porter decided to plant trees.
A year or two after reading this wonderful book I spoke with a friend who had seen what was apparently the result of pine seed ingestion in a magazine article with accompanying photos of corpses from China. The corpses left by these pine seed eaters over time were transformed into life-like amber sculptures. Amber, from the Arabian anbar, is a familiar fossil resin of a beautiful medium to dark orange yellow color. Perhaps this is a type of artistic immortality the chinese alchemist achieves by internally transforming prima materia with pine seeds as catalyst into the gold of amber perfectly formed in the shape of the human body which hosts the process.
What exactly are some of the medicinal uses and health benefits of junipers?
Under Government and Virtues, Culpeper lists Juniper Tree thus: “The berries are hot in the third degree, and dry in the first, being counter-poison, and a resister of the pestilence, and excellent against the bites of venomous beasts; it provokes urine, and is available in dysentaries and strangury. It is a remedy against dropsy, and brings down the terms, helps the fits of the mother, expels the wind, and strengthens the stomach. Indeed there is no better remedy for wind in any part of the body, or the colic, than the chymical oil drawn from the berries.
They are good for cough, shortness of breath, consumption, pains in the belly, rupture, cramps, convulsions, and speedy delivery to pregnant women; they strengthen the brain, fortify the sight, by strengthening the nerves, are good for agues, help the gout and sciatica, and strengthen the limbs of the body; it is also a speedy remedy to such as have the scurvy, to rub the gums with; the berries stay all fluxes, help the hemorrhoids or piles, and kill worms in children: a lye made from the ashes of wood, and the body bahed with it cures the itch, scabs and leprosy; the berries break the stone, procure appetite when it is lost; and are good for all palsies, and falling-sickness.”
My sister-in-law is a devotee of a local Mennonite healer who uses a herb-heavy program to implement better eating habits and general health and well-being. Her approach is to use factory-processed herbal combinations -differing from my own use of strictly local plants, trees, herbs, and “weeds”3—some ayurvedic herbs, and some less exotic combinations including juniper seeds, which she prescribes for alleviating water-retention.
Under the listing “Juniper, Juniperus communis, L.” in Alma R. Hutchens’ Indian Herbology of North America, we find the author’s statement “Every part of the shrub is medicinal.” She goes on to cite ingestion (by chewing) of the berries for stomach complaints, for sluggish conditions of the kidneys, as a diuretic, to expel wind, to kill worms, for coughs and shortness of breath, consumption, rupture, cramps, convulsions, gout, sciatica, dropsy and ague, they will strengthen the nerves and act as an agent in treating epilepsy. In a truly alchemical anecdote, a “Dr. Coffin” states, “If Juniper boughs are burnt to ashes and the ashes put into water, a medicine will be obtained that has cured dropsy in an advanced stage.” For fumigating a room which has been used by a patient with an infectious disease, a solution used as a spray destroys all fungi.4
Long before encountering the information on the Circulatum Minus in the Philosophers of Nature Spagyrics lessons, I stumbled across essentially the same information in three different works which all point back to a single source. The first text in which I found this information was in the collection entitled Collecteana Chemica5. In Chapter Two of this work, “Of the Vegetable Tincture, or the Process called the Lesser Circulation” there is mentioned, “a small thin duodecimo, without any author’s name, having for its title, “Aphorismi, seu Circulus majus et Circulus minus,” (ie; Aphorisms, hence the Circulatum major and Circulatum minus) wherein the whole process is plainly laid down.”6
One finds the same work reproduced with commentary in Albertus’ Golden Manuscripts.7 Finally, part of the same work is to be found at the heart of The Practical Handbook of Plant Alchemy by Manfred M. Junius, in chapter ten entitled, Circulatum Minus of Urbigerus. It is within this last text that one finds perhaps the most practical commentary and instruction toward completing the so-called “Minor Opus.”8 The PON Spagyrics lessons 22-23 contain the aphorisms which pertain to the vegetable kingdom of Urbigerus, the commentary by Junius, and PON commentary.
The Circulatum Minus, if correctly produced, has the ability to effect the separation of the essentials of a plant, leaving this essence floating on the top of a vessel while the feces (remaining organic matter) of the plant sinks to the bottom. The Circulatum is infinitely recoverable and recyclable. According to Junius, among other uses, it dissolves all kinds of gums, oils, and balms while separating their essences, and also extracts the tincture of a certain number of metals and minerals.
The key to the single image attached to Urbigerus’ Aphorisms, (Figure below) an emblem depicting Diana and Apollo of which I will have more to say below, is also the key ingredient of the Circulatum Minus, alluded to in Aphorism VII:
“The specific Medium required for the indissoluble union of these two Subjects is only a sulfurous and bituminous substance extracted from a plant, whether dead or alive, found in various parts of the world, and which is known by all kinds of men.” Junius comments: “Urbigerus clearly alludes to resins…Resins are obtained by cutting certain trees, mainly pines, firs, and spruce, larches and some exotic varieties. Amber is a particular kind of resin…(the succinic acid contained in amber is a marvelous catalyst).” He mentions several possible resins Urbigerus may prefer, including Italian pines: “Mention is often made of those pines in Italian poetry and even in music (Ottorino Respighi: I pini di Roma).” However, Junius particularly suggests to “his friends of the Art” the use of balm of Canada, which while not exactly inexpensive, is more or less readily available in an already processed form. I have personally used this substance and can attest to its practicality; two years ago when I was particularly interested in resins, my wife arrived home after a day out rummaging through second-hand stores. In a small town in south central Kansas she found a bottle of Canada Balsam at least 50 years old. This old balm of Canada proved to be just as virtuous as the balm I had recently purchased through Triad.
Concerning explication of the emblem accompanying Urbigerus’ Aphorisms, I will now attempt to expand on Junius’ commentary in which he points to “..the hole in the trunk of the tree where the resin is flowing from. In fact, the river toward which Apollo and Diana are advancing is resinous. Note that Diana comes out on the other side of the river with Apollo’s sun in her hand, thus becoming one being.”
The tree in the emblem is likely an oak, however, it may also be of the cedar or pine family. By leaving the genus of the tree “undetermined,” Baro Ubigerus may be hinting that while the resin of the oak is essential to the “wet way” of the Magnum Opus, (as the ash of the oak is used in the “dry way”), the resin of the cedar or pine is useful in the “wet way” (circulatum) in the Minor Opus, the work in the vegetable kingdom. It should be noted that the bulk of the Aphorismi, seu Circulus majus et Circulus minus is devoted to the Magnum Opus. Each student of alchemy should simply experiment with different resins to find that which works best in their own space/time, and circumstance.
The salt of the earth imbibed with the mercurial luna (Diana) and sulphurous sun (Apollo) results in “our fruitful hermaphrodite” (stone), not simply Diana w/ “Apollo’s sun in her hand,” unless by this Junius alludes to the same (new) thing. The earth/mother saturated by the lunar/feminine waters of unconsciousness requires the dawning (sun/son) light of day to reveal her creation (create-son), to illumine and enlighten under his crown of gold.
There are seven mottoes in latin expressed upon billowing scrolls in the Urbigerus emblem translated in Stanislaw Klossowski De Rola’s masterful iconography The Golden Game. Across the top of the emblem is printed Virtus unita fortior, “Virtue is stronger.” De Rola comments, “The virtue inherent in the Seed produces the miracle of the Tree. As the acorn becomes the oak, so does the Stone of the Philosophers grow into the Philosopher’s Stone. Nil sine vobis, ‘Naught without you,’ says the mercurial Snake with the martial tail, to his opposite number the winged Dragon with the saturnine tail. Per Nos omnia, ‘Through us, everything,’ answers the later who, being the symbol of the Materia Prima, contains its future potentialities.
‘I am a captive of thy beauty,’ whispers Apollo to his sister Diana, indicating his incestuous designs (and the initial domination of the female in their tryst). ‘I will vanquish thee yet further,’ answers Diana, pointing to the rising waters of dissolution. The hieroglyph, which is in the place of an arrow on her bow, is the symbol of Gaea, the Earth, which indicates the kind of earth that must be dissolved in their fiery embrace. On the other side of the Tree, as the waters recede, the Rebis-Hermaphrodite emerges, and his/her lunar face addresses its alter ego (the Sun): ‘Thy regeneration is in my power’ (Regeneratio tua in med Potentia). The other face gratefully exclaims: ‘By thee [living water] I shall live.’ (Per te Vivam).”9
In Pawnee cosmology, Mother Moon and Mother Cedar Tree have the power to bless those who cannot have children, and through their power women previously thought to be barren may bear children. The “Eagle Chief’s Songs” are sung when the moon is very bright (i.e.; full) as a prayer to the moon, Mother Cedar Tree, and the sun.10
Issue Number 18 of “The Stone-Journal of the Philosophers of Nature” (January-February 1997) contained an article by Jean Dubius entitled, “Preparation of a Powerful Spagyric Elixir Without a Lab.”The elixir in question requires (rare) oak mistletoe as the primary ingredient. In this compelling narrative, Jean describes a simple process resulting in a most wonderful elixir, and includes the following observation: “One day when I was looking at the front page of the book of the Alchemist Urbigerus, the image presenting the “spring of life” issuing from the trunk of an oak provided a revelation—it is not the mistletoe that heals, but the vital energies of the oak, accumulated by the mistletoe as a parasite of this tree.”11 He concludes that one could use acorns as well as mistletoe in preparing the elixir and goes on to describe the process in detail.
There are several different kinds of oak trees in the rural area in which we live, and I was able to use Jean’s advice concerning the oak elixir, however, it was not his resourcefulness in substituting acorns for mistletoe which impressed me most, but the idea that one could access the vital energies of the tree through a parasite such as oak mistletoe.
Junipers in our area develop a particular parasite, which however unsightly, doesn’t cause serious damage to the trees. This fungi, Gymnosporangium spp., is commonly known as Cedar Apple Rust. It manifests in 1/2 to 2 inch (in diameter) reddish brown galls on the twigs of the juniper. These woody galls begin to swell and produce orange gelatinous tendrils in early April, and remain active through May. Last April sixth, according to my alchemical journal, I picked some of these galls and, “Poured grain alcohol over four cedar “pods” (parasites) in a hermetically sealed vessel and set in kitchen window to circulate.” At some point, perhaps after 4-6 weeks, I placed the vessel into my alchemical closet in total darkness. By October eighteenth, I, “checked on cedar…very red tincture.”
According to Jean’s directions concerning the oak elixir, “For a nice bright red, it takes between 6 to 18 months, depending on the conditions of heat. When the bright red is reached, the elixir is ready.”12 At this writing, my new juniper elixir has been in preparation twelve months, and will likely wait another six months before being ready for use. In Kansas there are several kinds of junipers, cedars, and pines, however, the most common include the eastern redcedar and the Rocky mountain juniper. Check with the state horticulturist, or county extention service in your area if you are in doubt as to what varieties grow in your area.
Cedars, junipers, and cypresses all belong to the cedar or cypress family (Cupressaceae). They are characterized by “foliage evergreen, opposite or whorled, usually scalelike and overlapping, or awl-like and spreading, occasionally in 3’s, sometimes both on the same tree; fruit a woody, leathery, or semi-fleshy cone.”13 Pines belong within the same category of trees, the Gymnosperms, and include (other than pines), larches, spruces, hemlocks, true firs, and douglas firs.
My family lives out in the “boonies,” on the prairie of Kansas where over one hundred years ago people went crazy from the wind, developing “prairie fever.” Hardy, fast growing trees like junipers and cedars remain the choice for wind-breaks along pastures, roads, and around houses. The junipers surrounding where we live are very old, and very tall. A few nights ago I went out to survey the windy sky. There was a tall cedar, “my Mother who lies up against the sky” pointing to “Mother Moon,” brightly reflecting the sun. As the trees whirled in the wind, making celestial music for the stars, I thought of Van Gogh’s “Starry Night,” a vision of the universe in complete harmony with itself. The child Beauty was revealed to me in this scenario, through the blessing of these two benevolent “Mothers.”
In this short paper I realize that I’ve only scratched the surface of the rich alchemical applications of juniper, cedar, and pine trees and their wonderful aspects and properties including resins, turpentines, and their natural essences. I would encourage the interested reader/practitioner to study in particular Ubigerus’ Aphorisms and the various commentaries, and I certainly welcome any and all correspondence concerning this topic, and other’s experiences with these (and/or other) life-giving trees.
Notes 1. Paracelsus Life and Prophesies, by Franz Hartmann, M.D. Steinerbooks, Blauvelt, New York, 1988, pp 209-210. For more on the Primum Ens Sanguinis (the second “great secret” of Paracelsus, concerning the use of human blood in the same rejuvenating way as Melissa) see the present author’s article “We Can Build You: The Homunculus in Alchemical Tradition” in Caduceus-The Hermetic Quarterly, Spring 1997, Vol. 3, No. 1, pp 23-33.
2. Road To Heaven: Encounters With Chinese Hermits, by Bill Porter. San Francisco, Mercury House, 1993, p 82.
3. See: John Eberly, “At War With Heaven” (in preparation) for more on the usage of local plants for healing purposes. This paper calls for a more symbiotic relationship with our environment, using alchemical preparations of plants which may be classed as allergens to bolster the immune system and overcome a fear of nature as “enemy,” looking instead at making “allies.”
4. Indian Herbology of North America, by Alma R. Hutchens. Shambala, Boston, 1991, pp 168-169.
5. Collecteana Chemica Being Certain Select Treatises on Alchemy and Hermetic Medicine. The Alchemical Press, Edmonds, 1991, pp 63-77.
6. ibid., p 65.
7. Golden Manuscripts, by Frater Albertus. Kessinger, Kila, nd. The section is entitled “Circulatum Minus Urbigeranum, or The Philosophical Elixir of Vegetables with the Three Certain Ways of Preparing it Fully and Clearly Set Forth in one and Thirty Aphorisms by Baru Urbigerus.”
8. The Practical Handbook of Plant Alchemy, by Manfred M. Junius. Healing Arts Press, Rochester, 1993, pp 166-169.
9. The Golden Game-Alchemical Engravings of the Seventeenth Century by Stanislaw Klossowski De Rola. Thames and Hudson, London, 1988, p 305 (engraving #497), and p 307 (commentary). The emblem is also found in Alchemy: The Medieval Alchemists and their Royal Art, by Johannes Fabricius. On pp 86-87 we find the emblem with the following commentary: “Fig. 148 shows Sol and Luna playing and singing under the watery tree of the philosophers while merging into unity under its magic crown.” And under the reproduction of the emblem: “Fusing under the philosophical tree.” It is curious that the Urbigeris emblem does not figure into a recent iconography by Andrew Roob entitled The Hermetic Museum (Tarcher, 1997).
10. Ceremonies of the Pawnee, by James R. Murie. University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln, 1989, p 360.
11. “The Stone-Journal of the Philosophers of Nature,” Wheaton, Issue Number 18, January-February 1997, p 3.
12. ibid, p 3.
13. A Guide to Field Identification: Trees of North America, by C. Frank Brockman. Golden Press, New York, 1968, p 5.
For those readers interested in combining immortality with mortal pleasure, the following recipe is offered from The Frog Commissary Cookbook, by Steven Poses, Anne Clark, and Becky Roller (New York, Doubleday, 1985, p 68). This recipe is part of a chicken salad dish which requires cut up chicken breasts combined with the mayonnaise mixture, grapes, celery, and walnuts, served on a bed of the lettuce of your choice. Other uses for juniper berries cited in this book include cooking with pork, poultry, game, sauerkraut; adding to butter to baste roasting chicken or duck; and added into pork sausage or pate. Personally, your author can attest to the life-enhancing and general good feeling acquired by the use of perhaps the most popular American use of juniper berries: as a flavoring in gin.
HORSERADISH-JUNIPER BERRY MAYONNAISE
2 egg yolks
1 1/3 cups corn oil
1/4 cup vinegar
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon pepper
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons prepared horseradish
2 teaspoons pulverized juniper berries
Beat yolks until light-colored.
Pour in oil gradually.
Beat in vinegar, salt, pepper, and mustard.
Add horseradish and juniper berries.
Lasts 2 weeks.