Alchemy, Shamanism, Organic Food, and the Doctrine of Signatures

The 16th century alchemist and philosopher, Paracelsus, introduced in his treatise the Doctrine of Signatures , the concept that the Creator has placed his seal on plants to indicate their medicinal uses. The ‘doctrine of signatures’ is at the heart of homeopathy, folk medicine, Organic food, and plant shamanism.

Philippus Theophrastus Aureolus Bombastus von Hohenheim also known as Paracelsus.

Philippus Theophrastus Aureolus Bombastus von Hohenheim also known as Paracelsus.

The 16th century alchemist and philosopher, Paracelsus, introduced in his treatise the Doctrine of Signatures , the concept that the Creator has placed his seal on plants to indicate their medicinal uses.

Underlying Paracelsus’ treatise was the premise that nature was itself a living organism which must be considered an expression of “the One Life”, and that man and the universe are the same in their essential nature.

The 16th century alchemist and philosopher, Paracelsus, introduced in his treatise the Doctrine of Signatures , the concept that the Creator has placed his seal on plants to indicate their medicinal uses.

In this book of nature, Paracelsus noticed how the qualities of plants so often reflected their appearance – that the seeds of skullcap, for example, resemble small skulls and, it transpires, are effective at curing headache. Similarly, the hollow stalk of garlic resembles the windpipe and it is used for throat and bronchial problems. By the same token, willow grows in damp places and will heal rheumatic conditions.

Because of this, Paracelsus held that the inner nature of plants may be discovered by their outer forms or ‘signatures’. He applied this principle to food as well as medicine, remarking that “it is not in the quantity of food but in its quality that resides the Spirit of Life” – a belief familiar to those who choose to eat organic food and share the common concern over Genetically Modified substitutes that they lack ‘life force’, or spirit. According to Paracelsus, then, the appearance of a plant is the gateway to its spirit or consciousness

Shamans recognise the spiritual powers and qualities of plants in many ways: the colours of the flowers, their perfumes, the shape and form of their leaves, where they are growing and in what ways, the moods they evoke, and the wider geographical, cultural, or mythological landscapes they occupy

The doctrine of signatures treatise is not something known by indigenous shamans, but they understand the principles behind it well enough, that nature has spirit and communicates with us. These principles are not regarded as fanciful at all, but so important that they can save lives.

I discovered how the doctrine of signatures operates in the Amazon, for example, during my experiences with the Jergon Sacha plant.

Jergon Sacha (Dracontium peruviuanum)

My first exposure to this plant came about quite accidentally, when one day walking through the rainforest studying the properties of the plants, the maestro Javier queried why I always walked around with a machete. I jokingly replied “it’s against anacondas!”. He paused in thought for a moment and beckoned for me to follow him, a few minutes later we came across this tall stemmed plant. He proceeded to cut it down and then whip me around the body paying attention to my legs and the soles of my feet.. He then said “no more problems, you are protected against snakes”. I asked him why this plant was used in this way, and he indicated the pattern on the stem which looks identical to the snakes in the forest. Later as I started to investigate this plant even more, I discovered some interesting correspondences; this is a plant which is widely used as an antidote against snake bite venom in the Amazon.

This is accordance with the ‘doctrine of signatures’ concept. This doctrine is at the heart of homeopathy, folk medicine, and plant shamanism. The doctrine was revealed by the great alchemist and physician Paracelus who lived in the 16th Century. The underlying principle was that the healing properties of the plant are not only in the outer ‘physical’ form, but also in their inner or spiritual nature. The Doctrine of Signatures holds that this inner nature can be revealed by it’s outer physical form or signatures. This plant is a clear demonstration of the outer form indicating the inner qualities. It’s use is directly related to it’s physical appearance, the patterns on the tall stem closely resembles the skin patterns of the highly venomous pit viper known as ‘Bushmaster’ or Jararaca which is indigenous to the Amazon.

The large tuber of the plant is an well known and highly effective antidote for the bite of venomous snakes. The tuber is chopped up, and immersed in cold water and then drunk. Also the chopped tuber is placed in a banana leaf and used as a poultice which is wrapped around the bite area. These procedures are repeated every few hours. Of course the deal here is that it works, and as it not possible to store anti-venom vaccines in the rainforest without refrigeration, this plant has exceptional life-saving importance.

Mocura / Mucura Petivera Alliacea

This plant can be taken orally or used in floral baths to raise energy, or take you out of a saladera (a run of bad luck, inertia, sense of not living to the full). Gives mental strength and you can feel its effects as also with Ajo Sacha, both are varieties of ‘false’ garlic and have a penetrating aroma.

One of it’s qualities is that on a personal psychological level it can boost one’s strength. For example it is considered good in countering shyness, and can strengthen one’s own sense of personal value and authority. One of it’s properties is to help people overcome ‘irrational’ fears & fearful memories

Medicinal properties include asthma, bronchitis, reduction of fat and cholesterol. This plant grows widely in the lower Amazon, and it is used widely in purification (floral baths) .

Piñon Colorado Jatropha gossypifoilio

Has short lived effect after drinking but helps lucid dreaming later on when you go to bed. Can be used as a planta maestra and it is a plant that maestros can take when being during their initiation. Can also take with tobacco.

The plant’s properties on the physical level relate to problems such as, burns, swellings, intestinal parasites , Insect bites and stings, vaginal infections, and bronchitis. It is possible to take the resin which is much stronger but toxic if too much ingested. The resin can be applied directly to the skin.

Piri-piri, (Cyperaceae)

Native people throughout the Amazon cultivate numerous varieties of medicinal sedges to treat a wide range of health problems, the native peoples for example, use sedge roots to treat headaches, fevers, cramps, dysentery and wounds as well as to ease childbirth. Special sedge varieties are cultivated by Shipiba women to improve their skill weaving and to protect their babies from illness.

Teresa a Shipiba craftswoman who joins us on our Amazon Retreats, told me that it is customary when the girls are very young for their mothers to squeeze a few drops of the ‘piri piri’ seed sap into their eyes in order to give their daughters the ability to have visions of the designs that she will make throughout her life.

The men cultivate special sedges to improve their hunting. Since the plant is used for such a wide range of conditions, it was once dismissed as being mere superstition. Pharmacological research has revealed the presence of ergot alkaloids, which are known to have diverse effects on the body from stimulation of the nervous system to constriction of blood vessels. These alkaloids are responsible for the wide range of medicinal uses. Apparently the ergot alkaloids come not from the plant itself but from a fungus that infects the plant.

Chanca piedra “Stone Breaker” (Phyllanthus Niruri)

This is a hybrid name “chanca” meaning “to break” in Quechua and “piedra” meaning “stone” in Spanish. This herb from the Amazon has been used by the indigenous peoples of the Rainforest for generations as an effective remedy to eliminate gall, and kidney stones. The plant has demonstrated its effectiveness against many illnesses including, kidney problems , urinary problems, colic, dysentery, jaundice and numerous other conditions. This herb has become widely used in South America as the herbal remedy for gall and kidney stones, and can typically be bought in capsule or leaf form from many stores. This plant is used only for its pharmaceutical properties, and is not a planta maestra. As a note, this plant is also starting to become known in Western Medical circles, as when I brought some back for my mother to help her with her kidney stones, her doctor was apparently familiar with this herb, but he still didn’t want her to use it due to possible contra-indications with the prescribed pharmaceutical medicine.

Reflections

On reflection plant medicine is totally different than pharmaceutical medication which only affects one whilst it is being taken; these kinds of plant medicines seem to have a permanent effect in some way metaphorical or otherwise altering one's consciousness or "DNA". Paracelus, is still a source of inspiration to all those who work with the healing properties of herbs, and the plants.

One of the great revelations that we can experience in working with the plant spirit or consciousness is that we are not separate from the natural world. In our culture we perceive ourselves to be separate beings with our minds firmly embedded within our physical being (typically our head). The plants can show you that this way of being is an illusion and that we are all connected, all of us and everything else is a discrete element in the great universal field of consciousness or spirit.

Howard G. Charing, is an accomplished international workshop leader on shamanism. He has worked some of the most respected and extraordinary shamans & healers in the Andes, the Amazon Rainforest, and the Philippines. He organises specialist retreats to the Amazon Rainforest at the dedicated centre located in the Mishana nature reserve. He is the author of the best selling book, Plant Spirit Shamanism (Destiny Books USA), and has published numerous articles about plant medicines. He was baptised into the Shipibo tribe of the Upper Amazon, and initiated into the lineage of the shamans of the Rio Napo. Howard is also an artist who's paintings have featured in major exhibitions in London and elsewhere. His artwork has also been featured on book covers.
His website: www.shamanism.co.uk email contact: eagleswing@shamanism.co.uk.

Copyright © 2007 Howard G. Charing

Comments

We would all prefer to live free, joyous and abundant lives, but past wounds, conditioning imprints and traumas can often hold us back. In addition to the stresses of everyday life and love, the world is going through a time of great change and many people are feeling overloaded, depressed and despondent.
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We would all prefer to live free, joyous and abundant lives, but past wounds, conditioning imprints and traumas can often hold us back. In addition to the stresses of everyday life and love, the world is going through a time of great change and many people are feeling overloaded, depressed and despondent.