Lesson 4) Square Up

Hello again class and welcome back to another exciting topic in the world of medicinal alchemy!  I do hope that you have started working on your elixirs, or you’re about to begin working on them.  Be sure to keep track of which jar is yours while you work on the project.  We wouldn’t want them to get mixed up.  Enough of the chit chat, let’s move on with the lesson!

In the past we have mentioned a few Greek philosophers as well as Greek influence on alchemy.  I believe one of their best contributions to alchemy was their studies on medicine and the human body.  With the rise of medicinal alchemy happening during the Renaissance, many alchemists during that time pulled from Greek ideologies in order to build their own theories and we see this connection in alchemical concepts such as the Four Aspects.

I would like you to remember all the way back to Year Two.  At the time, I mentioned that Aristotle had linked up all four aspects to sensible qualities.  These are known as the Four Basic Qualities, consisting of two different polarities: hot / cold and wet / dry.  We observe the basic qualities manifested in the natural world on a day to day basis.  However, the Greek understanding of these qualities are more figurative than literal, kind of like most alchemical concepts in general.

The hot and cold polarity indicates a relative level of activity or energy that is present in a system or entity.  Hot is at the top of the scale as a high level of activity or energy.  It activates, expands, moves, circulates, excites, and disperses.  Think about it in a literal sense; we use heat to brew potions, process elixirs, and even cook because it does all of that on the molecular level.  Cold takes its place at the bottom as it denotes a low level of activity or energy.  While heat can speed up energy, cold slows it down as well as congeals, sedates, obstructs, and contracts activity.  This can be observed by simply putting food in the fridge or freezer as you are slowing down the process of spoiling.

Wet and dry refers to the relative level of moisture that is present within an entity or system.  Now, this can mean figuratively or literally as we know that liquids spiritually refer to emotions and feelings.  Wet is a high level of moisture as it’s coherent, indiscrete, and subjective, while Dry is a low concentration of moisture since it means separate, discrete, and objective.  Wet obviously behaves more fluid while dry tends to be solid and rigid.  For those of you who know a thing or two about instruments, I would like you to imagine a rawhide drum head and how humidity can affect it.  When the air is wet, a drum head can absorb the moisture and become soft and flexible.  Of course, it will affect the tuning of the drum so you will need to tighten the head.  The opposite happens when the drum head is dry.  It can shrivel up and become stiff so you need to loosen up the head, otherwise you could break it by playing too hard.

As I stated in Year Two, the Four Aspects have two of the Four Basic Qualities attributed to them.  Fire is hot and dry, water is cold and wet, air is wet and hot, and earth is dry and cold.  Now that you have background information, you can draw a better picture about how the aspects work in not only the physical plane, but also the spiritual plane by looking at the behaviors of the qualities.  It’s also important to know that the qualities are always changing.  That’s not a bad thing at all, in fact, the reason we can work with them at all is due to the fact that they aren’t static.  Here are a few things to keep in mind when working with the qualities medically, think of them as rules even:

  • Heat can cause dryness: When heat is applied over periods of time, it increases even if it’s applied in small to moderate amounts.  This in turn gets rid of cold, and in large amounts, it will reduce moisture.  An example of this would be how a puddle will evaporate on a hot sunny day.
  • Cold compresses moisture: Similar to the rule mentioned above, cold applied over periods of time will increase cooling levels and disperse heat.  Intense doses of coldness will condense moisture and result in wetness.
  • Like increases like: When looking at a certain quality you would like to increase in someone, you can often achieve your goal through using medicines or treatments that quality.
  • Opposites balance each other out: If there is a quality that is extremely out of balance and seems to be causing the problem, you can always treat it by administering a medicine with an opposing quality in order to bring the body back into balance.

https://dmwordoftheweek.files.wordpress.com/2014/01/fourhumoursbottles.jpgEvery living being has four different metabolic agents working within the body called the Four Humors.  These humors are blood, yellow bile, black bile, and phlegm.  Oh no, I can see some of you turning up your noses in disgust.  Don’t worry, I have a reason for bringing this up.

The idea of humorism was believed to have originated in either ancient Egypt or Mesopotamia, however, this theory wasn’t systematized until ancient Greece.  The philosophers of the time attributed the humors to each of the Four Aspects, which in relation, the Four Basic Qualities are paired with the corresponding aspect and humor.  The Four Humors were then applied to medicine by none other than Hippocrates.  Hippocrates wrote that these four substances needed to be in the correct proportion to each other in strength and quantity in order for the body to be healthy.  Whenever one of these substances were out of balance with each other or separated, it would cause pain or illness.  A nice balance of the humors is referred to as eucrasia while an imbalance is called dyscrasia.  This theory is even used in medicinal practices in the eighteenth century.  For example, bleeding or bloodletting a person was a method of expelling an excessive amount of blood.  People who sweat due to fevers were considered to be hot and wet, so they were given food or herbs that had cold and dry qualities.

The Four Humors are physical substances in the body, however, they also permeate throughout your whole being as subtle vapors that affect your psychological state.

https://s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/736x/71/d5/2d/71d52db757503a1100d61ae9aca168d6.jpgBlood should be the most familiar humor to everyone in this room.  It runs through our veins, keeping us alive by transporting nutrients and oxygen to our cells.  Blood comes in four types: A, B, AB, and O.  I won’t go into detail about all the science about blood.  You can look that up in your free time if you are curious.  Blood is associated with air with its qualities being hot and wet.  It’s the essence of health and vitality.  Some maybe even call it the basic currency of any organism.  Cells, tissues, and organs need it for nutrition and taking away metabolic waste products.  Blood is said to have an attractive force because of the absolute need for it in order to survive.  It is also the most plentiful humor out of the four.  The psychological effects of blood bolster feelings of optimism, joy, affection, enthusiasm, mirth, and general wellbeing.

https://s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/736x/8f/28/7c/8f287cdcee45f07b4e9c10a03fe34050.jpgPhlegm is not restricted to only phlegm.  The phlegm humor refers to all clear fluids in the body such as mucus, plasma, lymph, saliva, and other fluids.  Its qualities are cold and wet while its aspect is water.  The purpose of this humor is to expel impurities out of the body, transport nutrients, and flush away wastes.  All of the fluids included in the phlegm humor moisten, cool, protect, lubricate, nourish, and purify.  Most of the body’s growth, nutrition, and metabolism depends on blood and phlegm.  Like water, phlegm influences emotions and sensitivity on the psychological level.  It also prompts passiveness, lethargy, sentimentality, devotion, and subjectivity.

https://s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/736x/04/36/ee/0436eeac0d204a9143199fc80cd6d4e3.jpgYellow Bile is the humor that is produced in the liver and stored in the gallbladder.  It’s associated with the qualities hot and dry as well as the aspect fire.  The nature of this humor is hot and caustic and its purpose is to empower digestion, assimilate and excrete cholesterol and fats, and serve as a laxative.  A small amount of the humor does in fact enter the general circulation where it acts as a blood thinner, empowers the inflammatory response, and opens up the respiratory passages as a surface-active agent, which is a wetting agent that works similar to detergent.  It’s important to note that both fire and yellow bile consume, transform, and metabolize.  These similarities are why they are considered to be potent catalysts that are essential where they are needed.  While yellow bile can invigorate excitement and passions psychologically, it also has the ability to incite anger, jealousy, irritability, ambition, and courage.

https://s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/564x/78/46/1a/78461a31a81133ace8e61f40b1b9766e.jpgBlack Bile is the last of the four humors as well as the least plentiful of them.  The aspect that it’s associated with is none other than earth with the qualities being cold and dry.  You know how when you’re hungry and your stomach starts growling, saliva is produced, and you just really want food?  Black bile is what activates your appetite and how your body reacts to it.  It also lets the digestive organs hold on to its contents so that everything can be processed.  While yellow bile breaks down substances, black bile will cool down and dry substances, causing them to coagulate and solidify.  The solidifying effect of this humor is necessary for the body to build dense connective tissues as well as bones and teeth.  Black bile in the bloodstream will promote clotting, form granulation and scar tissue, and perform structural repairs.  Psychologically, black bile boosts caution, realism, melancholy, pessimism, and pensiveness.


To build on what we just learned about humorism, there are four constitutional bodymind types of Greek medicine that are based on the domination of a certain humor in the body.  These types are called the Four Temperaments which consist of sanguine, choleric, melancholic, and phlegmatic.  These temperaments were the basis of how you were diagnosed and treated in traditional Greek medicine.  They were identified by basic physical traits, physiology, digestion, metabolism, personality, and character.  If you knew what your temperament was, healers could tell you which foods are best for your diet, which types of medicine and how you can medicate yourself, and what type of living style will let your health maintenance be at its fullest potential.

That being said, when we look at these temperaments, you may feel that you fit more than one and that’s completely normal.  Pure types are rare as the human race is very diverse.  Mixed temperaments are very common with a majority of people having dual temperaments.  Dual temperaments are situated where you will typically have a dominant temperament and a secondary temperament, which is actually similar to how you may feel about the Hogwarts houses!  Some people may even associate themselves with three temperaments.  Be sure to pay attention to the following temperaments and see which one fits you the most.

The Sanguine Temperament is considered by many to be the most desirable temperament.  That is because blood, the humor that it is associated with, is the essence of health and vitality.  Those with this temperament are said to have the following general physical traits: an oval shaped face, brown almond-shaped eyes, delicate mouth and lips, moderate frame and build, thick wavy hair, rosy complexion, and if they’re male they have an abundance of facial and body hair.  Sanguine temperament people are said to also have pleasant dreams that often involve romance, travel, games, and amusement.  Of course, the physical traits are not going to apply to everyone.  When diagnosed via temperaments, healers looked for those who matched up with the personality traits.  People of a sanguine temperament are fairly extroverted, and they often enjoy attending social gatherings and making new friends.  They tend to be creative and often found lost in a daydream.  Although they are compassionate and sensitive, they can also be forgetful and sarcastic.  They are lighthearted optimists who have an appreciation for aesthetics and the arts.

The Choleric Temperament is the most active of the four temperaments.  The humor it is aligned with is yellow bile.  Physical features of this temperament include: sharp angular features such as a broad jaw and high cheekbones, penetrating eyes, lean and wiry physique, good muscle definition, broad chest, curly or thin hair, and a reddish or sallow skin complexion.  They tend to have violent dreams of confrontation, fire, and fight or flight scenarios.  People with a choleric temperament tend to be very self-confident and self-reliant.  They exhibit a strong initiative and thrive on challenge, making them natural leaders.  Although they are bold, courageous, and ambitious, they are prone to extremism, anger, short temperedness, irritability, and impatience.  Mentally, they are daring visionaries with a sharp insight and they prefer to leave the details of ideas to others.

The Melancholic Temperament is the contrary to the sanguine temperament, therefore it is often referred to being the most problematic of the four.  Associated with black bile, this temperament can be healthy with proper management.  Physical traits include: square face shape, prominent cheekbones, sunken cheeks, small beady eyes, thin lips, crooked teeth, thin physique with knobby joints, thick and straight brown hair, sparse facial hair in men, sallow skin complexion, and coarse dry skin.  Their dreams tend to be dark, somber, or disturbing with common themes of grief or loss.  Melancholics are detail-oriented analytical thinkers.  They are often studious, philosophical, practical, efficient, and reliable; though they tend to have a pessimistic and realist perspective on things, especially on topics involving risk-taking.  They are also prone to being nervous, moody, and high-strung, which could further spiral into depression.

The Phlegmatic Temperament is the most passive of the four temperaments and is represented by the phlegm humor.  Physical traits of people with the phlegmatic temperament include: a round face shape, full cheeks, dimples, large eyes, thick eyelashes, soft facial features, a stout heavy frame, plump, light colored hair, pale fair skin, and delicate moist skin.  Phlegmatic temperaments tend to invoke very laid-back dreams involving aquatic themes.  They have a calm, good-natured outlook on things.  Although people with this temperament are slow to learn new things, they are excellent at it and retain it well once they understand it. They are nurturers at heart; often being very compassionate, sympathetic, patient, shy, charitable, emotional, sensitive, and relaxed.

Those are the four temperaments!  Which one(s) do you think fit you the best?  You can let me know in our extra credit assignment today.

https://s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/originals/89/92/d9/8992d985494e16c22194331c6d973178.jpgContinuing on with another set of four concepts, I would like to introduce the Four Faculties.  This idea was developed by Galen, an important Greek philosopher and physician that lived during the Roman Empire.  He was one of the pioneers for discovering and understanding how the human organs and systems worked.  Out of Galen’s contributions to Greek medicine, I would have to say that his doctrine on the four faculties was the most prominent study.

Galen determined that all living organisms have four basic functions they need to perform in order to survive.  They have to vitalize themselves in order to function; feed themselves to grow and regenerate; respond to the environment in a timely manner through perception and consciousness; and finally they have to reproduce themselves in order to continue life of their species. These four functions became the base idea for Galen’s four faculties.  Each faculty has a prime organ which is the central control of that particular faculty.

The Vital Faculty energizes the organism, which in turn enables it to function on a day-to-day basis.  It also coordinates whole body responses.  This faculty is in charge of the respiratory system, the circulatory system, the immune response, and cellular metabolism.  The principal organ of this faculty is the heart.

The Natural Faculty feeds the organism.  This is where it takes in all the nutrients in order for the organism to grow and regenerate its physical structure in case of injury.  The Natural Faculty governs digestion, nutrition, growth, and metabolism.  Its principal organ is the liver.

Following that is the Psychic Faculty, which is the last of the three primary faculties that are absolutely necessary for the organism to survive.  This faculty controls perception, intelligence, stimulus, and response.  It allows you to respond to the environment in order to protect yourself.  The principal organ of the Psychic Faculty is the brain.

Last, but not least, is the Generative Faculty.  This faculty is in charge of reproduction and procreation.  This is the only faculty that is not needed on a daily basis, therefore excluding it from the primary faculties.  The primary organ is the gonads.

Let’s take a look at an example for why the first three of the faculties are absolutely necessary.  Think about… a hamster.  Why not?  They’re cute.  Anyway, this hamster needs all three of these primary faculties.  The Vital Faculty gives it the circulation and energy to keep it alive.  Without it, the hamster would die within minutes from no oxygen being transferred through the blood.  What about the Natural Faculty?  Well, without the nourishment provided with the faculty, the hamster will starve to death and eventually decompose over time.  It’s also needless to say that without the Psychic Faculty, the hamster would not even be capable of thinking.  Removing a basic thought process will prevent the body from performing any sort of function to live, such as breathing.  I know this seems a little morbid, but it is an example of why these are crucial.

I would now like to tie together everything that we have learned today.  In the art of this traditional medicine, we have the Greek Medicine Wheel to display a visual representation of how these concepts fit together.  In the picture below, you can see the classic Greek medicine wheel.

Notice how the four basic qualities, the four humors, the four seasons, and the four directions are all on there.  It’s a simple enough chart that shows how the qualities and the humors fit in with occurrences of the natural world like the seasons.  For instance, in the Summer, the heat evaporates the moisture so therefore it’s hot and dry.  Those conditions irritate the yellow bile and can aggravate us or make us feverish.

The seasons can also represent the stages of life.  For example, Spring corresponds to youth.  Greek healers state that youthful bodies are warm and moist, full of blood, and are continuously growing.  Summer represents adulthood, Autumn is the Middle Age, and Winter is the Old Age.  This isn’t the only area that has a medicine wheel, but it’s pretty neat to see where everything falls into the big picture we call life.

I will need to end it there because we are definitely out of time.  Your next O.W.L. prep assignment is in the next lesson along with a short quiz over what we have learned so far this year.  Today you will have a brief quiz as well as an extra credit assignment about the temperaments.  I look forward to seeing your answers!  Class dismissed!

Have you ever aspired to be a healer? Alchemy is and has been a tremendous influence on medicinal practices throughout the ages. We will be looking at topics such as the universal cure, herbal medicines, spiritual healing, psychological and therapeutic effects, and maybe we’ll get our hands dirty with a bit of laboratory work. Time to mix up some tinctures, tonics, and elixirs!
Course Prerequisites:
  • ALCH-401

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