Lesson 7) Pin Pricks
Hello again and welcome back to yet another week of Alchemy! Today we will be moving on to a type of Chinese alchemy. In fact, it’s the other of two types of alchemy still practiced by Muggles today: Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). The intriguing thing about this is that a lot of the philosophy and methods behind TCM provides a basis for healing practiced by Chinese wizards as well. As I spent my break in China catching up with friends and former colleagues, my mind is refreshed and ready to go. Let’s begin!
Traditional Chinese Medicine is a type of traditional medicine based on Chinese medicinal practices that date back more than 2,500 years. These included, but are not limited to, several forms of herbal practices, acupuncture, dietary therapy, exercise, and massage. The foundation of TCM traces its roots to two prominent doctrines, the Yellow Emperor’s Inner Canon and the Treatise on Cold Damage, as well as two concepts we learned previously in Year Three: Wu Xing and Yin and Yang. Since it has been a while since we initially discussed both concepts, let’s review them.
Yin and Yang are two contrary, yet complementary forces in the natural world. Both forces are incomplete without each other, but unchanging and form a whole when they’re together. As one force increases, the other decreases as both forces are interdependent on each other. These forces can be attributed to and used to explain different phenomenons in the universe. For example, Yin can be considered cold while Yang is hot, Yin is dark and Yang is light, or Yin can represent downwards in terms of direction while Yang is upwards. As Yin and Yang can coincide with natural occurrences, it can also be applied to parts and functions in the human body. The upper part of the body and the back are a part of Yang while the lower part of the body shares characteristics with Yin. Much like how we discussed balance in chakras, illnesses in the Yin-Yang theory are thought to be caused by a lack or overabundance of one force. A vacancy in Yin could result in heat sensations, night sweats, rapid pulse, dry mouth and throat, and insomnia. A vacancy in Yang could result in a slow pulse, an aversion to cold, pale complexion, diarrhea, and cold limbs. Chinese healers would prescribe potions and herbal remedies to reinforce Yin and Yang based on diagnosing certain symptoms.
Wu Xing, or the Five Elements or Phases, is a theory where all natural phenomena are categorized into the five elemental qualities: fire, water, wood, metal, and earth. As we learned in Year Three, Wu Xing is cyclic in nature in that the elements are woven together through several cycles. There are two Cycles of Balance where the elements are arranged in a certain order to create a balance between them; and two Cycles of Imbalance where one element becomes excessive and proceeds to hijack another element, causing a disruption in the equilibrium between all five elements. Now, the characteristics for all five elements can be attributed to natural occurrences like Yin and Yang. Here are some examples:
By assigning different parts of nature or the body to Wu Xing, we can see how each aspect interacts with each other to create the big overall picture. When combining both the Wu Xing and Yin-Yang theories, we get a philosophy called Yingyangism. Yingyangism was developed by the School of Naturalists in the Warring States period. Guess who was the founder of the school? Our good friend Dzou Yen, who we discussed in Year Two! This school’s philosophy was eventually absorbed into the Chinese medical framework, as well as the magical and alchemical sides of Taoism.
Before going into more depth, I would like to note that TCM is not based on actual anatomy, but bodily functions such as breathing or digestion. These functions are categorized and assigned a primary functional entity in the body. These entities are then held responsible for that function. There are five primary functional entities in TCM: Chi, Xue (blood), Zang organs, Fu organs, and the Meridians (Jing-luo).
Chi is one of the Three Treasures, which we learned about in Year Three. So as you may know already, Chi is our vitality, Shen is our spirit, and Ching is our essence. Although all three interconnect to help each other function, Chi is the most important in the context of the body in TCM because it’s the vital energy that runs through the Meridians that are connected to our bodily functions and organs. From there, different types of Chi are then categorized by five cardinal functions:
- Tuidong - activating physical processes in the body such as the Meridians, Zang-fu organs, and circulating bodily fluids.
- Wenxu - warming the body.
- Fangyu - defending against pathogenic factors.
- Gushe - containing bodily fluids.
- Qihua - transforming food, drink, and air into Chi, Xue, and Jingye (fluids) as well as transforming the Chi, Xue, and Jingye into each other.
Xue, or blood, is in charge of nourishing the tissues in the body, sustaining and soothing not only consciousness but also sleep, and conserving a degree of moisture within the body. Jingye (body fluids) are very similar to Xue in function in that it nourishes parts of the body and both have Yin characteristics. Jingye is also responsible for balancing Yin and Yang within the body.
Zang-fu organs are essentially the center of the TCM model of the body. Although they are named after the organs, they are primarily defined by their functions and secondarily tied to the actual anatomical properties. Typically, this is extinguished by capitalizing the organ names. The five Zang organs (Liver, Heart, Spleen, Kidney, and Lungs) are classified as being Yin in nature whereas the six Fu organs (Stomach, Bladder, Gallbladder, Small Intestine, Large Intestine, and Sanjiao) are Yang in nature. Ah, I see some of you are confused about the term “Sanjiao”. There is actually no organ equivalent to it in Western medicine nor a physical equivalent at all as it’s known to be purely energetic. The name “Sanjiao” translates to Triple Burner, which is responsible for metabolism and is located around the abdomino-pelvic and thoracic cavities. As you can see in the chart earlier in the lesson, each organ is related to one of the five elements. (Sanjiao is not mentioned in the chart, but it is associated with fire.) The organs are also connected to the twelve Standard Meridians: Yang Meridians are with the Fu organs and the Yin Meridians are with the Zang organs.
Speaking of them, what are Meridians? Meridians (Jing-luo) are channels connected in the body to make a network for the Chi to flow throughout. They run from the Zang-fu organs to the joints and limbs. In some way, this is similar to the chakra system in showing how energy is transported in the body, but definitely more intricate. The entire network is split into two categories: the meridian channels (Jingmai) and collaterals (Luomai), which are fifteen major arteries in the body that connect to the twelve Standard Meridians. The Jingmai consists of several different meridian systems: the twelve Tendinomuscular Meridians, the twelve Divergent Meridians, the twelve Standard Meridians, and the eight Extraordinary Meridians. In particular, we will be going into depth about the Standard (pictured on the left) and Extraordinary Meridians.
The twelve Standard Meridians (also known as Principal Meridians) are the channels directly connected to the Zang-fu organs and are the main Meridians that keep our basic bodily functions working. As I briefly hinted a little earlier, the Meridians are categorized into Yin and Yang as well as the Wu Xing. There are three Yin Meridians and three Yang Meridians per “limb” (hands/arms and feet/legs), and I would like to reiterate once more that it isn’t based on actual anatomy of the body. Clearly even though the Lung Meridian is a Yin Meridian of the arm, I trust that all of you know that your lungs are not located in your arms. That being said, the quality of Yin and Yang is further categorized into six levels: Greater Yang, Bright Yang, Lesser Yang, Greater Yin, Lesser Yin, and Terminal Yin. Essentially, this order of the six levels is the same order a disease takes in severity from health to death; meaning that a Greater Yang state is typically when the patient has just been exposed to the pathogen versus the Terminal Yin state which has extreme and almost fatal symptoms. Healers can diagnose a patient by determining which symptoms of the six levels they are exhibiting and treat the Meridian associated with it.
The eight Extraordinary Meridians are important to alchemy in particular. Instead of connecting to an inner organ, the Extraordinary Meridians are reservoirs of energy in the body. They are the deepest level of energetic structure within the body as they are formed when we are born. Think of it as a backup battery for the twelve Standard Meridians as well as a storage place for excess energy from the Standard Meridians. They are typically used for more inner alchemy purposes, similar to how balancing your chakras can clear the flow of your magic or how spiritual practices guide the alchemist to reaching enlightenment. However, a major part of Chinese healing is done through tapping into these energy reserves by not only the healer, but also the patient itself. For example, the healer could give the patient a potion that would help open up the reserves more to help heal whatever ailment they may have or the healer could tap into their own Extraordinary Meridians to channel more energy into a healing spell. Below are the eight Extraordinary Meridians, the first four being the most important for healing and alchemy:
- Conception Vessel (Ren Mai) - Also known as the “sea of the Yin Meridians”, connects to all of Yin Meridians and also receives and stores the Chi from said channels.
- Governing Vessel (Du Mai) - Much like the above Meridian, this one is known as the “sea of the Yang Meridians”. This Meridian directly communicates with the brain, spinal cord, and kidney.
- Penetrating Vessel (Chong Mai) - The other name for this is the “sea of blood” as it regulates the flood of Chi and Xue in the body. It’s also the point where all twelve Standard Meridians converge.
- Girdle Vessel (Dai Mai) - The only horizontal flowing Meridian, it circles the waist like a belt. It connects to the leg Meridians and it’s also known in inner alchemy to be a center point of energy. There are practices to spiral the energy here upwards to connect with the energy of the planets and stars, and to also spiral the energy downwards to spiritually connect with the Earth.
- Yin Linking Vessel (Yin Wei Mai) - It links the Yin Meridians together and is in charge of the interior of the body.
- Yang Linking Vessel (Yang Wei Mai) - It links the Yang Meridians together and is in charge of the exterior of the body.
- Yin Heel Vessel (Yin Qiao Mai) and Yang Heel Vessel (Yang Qiao Mai) - These two Meridians are in charge of the activity and rest of the body. The Yin Heel Vessel is for the three Yin Meridians in the legs and the Yang is for the three Yang Meridians also in the legs. They also control lower limb movement and sleep.
In TCM, a disease is classified more as a disharmony to the five functional primary entities we just discussed rather than an illness by itself. A diagnosis is done through a process known as pattern discrimination, which is when the healer identifies the “pattern of disharmony”. Now, I definitely do not expect you to be able to diagnose someone as the pattern discrimination is the most difficult part of TCM. This is to serve more as a basic understanding of how they can diagnose a disease.
A disease has two parts: the disease entity (bing) and the pattern (zheng). The former is typically the disease itself and its symptoms. The latter is the more important one as treatment is given based on the pattern rather than the disease entity. Two people could have Black Cat Flu, a particularly nasty wizarding disease I must say, but the disease may present itself as different patterns in both people, thus they have different treatments. There are six allegorical terms called the Six Excesses that are used to describe symptoms. These are based on climate factors because in theory one or more of them entered the body and caused the symptoms to occur. Another important step of diagnosis in TCM is to evaluate the patient’s signs and symptoms based on the Eight Principles. After determining which pattern is afflicting the patient based on the Eight Principles, the healer then identifies which of the five functional primary entities the ailment is affecting.
The chart below lists the Six Excesses, the Eight Principles, and their symptoms:
There are also five diagnostic methods: inspection, auscultation, olfaction, inquiry, and palpation. Palpation is when they check the patient’s pulse at not only a superficial level, but also a deep level along the radial artery. Auscultation is when the healer listens for particular sounds like wheezing or coughing. Olfaction relates to the patient’s body odor. Inquiry is asking the patient about the severity of their symptoms. Inspection is an analysis of the tongue, particularly the size, shape, color, teeth marks, coating, and tension.
To round things off for today, we’re going to briefly discuss different treatments of TCM. Probably one of the first things that comes to mind is herbal medicine. I will say that although magical and mundane plants are the most common ingredients, the name is misleading as minerals, animal parts, and even human body parts are used. Fret not, present Chinese herbal medicine has stopped the use of human ingredients, though I can assure you that a conversation with Professor Aspen about Chinese herbology would be fairly interesting. Anyway, herbal medicine is where we see the most crossover with wizard healers and Muggle healers. There are so many mundane ingredients in the plethora of recipes over Chinese history that this is still widely practiced by Muggles in China. Wizards often use the same diagnosis techniques, however their herbal medicine uses ingredients from magical plants and creatures alongside the mundane ingredients to give the medicine a more potent effect. Magical TCM also has to cater to magical diseases when diagnosing and treating patients, thus potions and elixirs are more common, whereas Muggles tend to lean more towards tablets, pills, syrups, and powders.
I can’t lecture about TCM without mentioning acupuncture. Acupuncture is when needles are inserted into the body at acupuncture points. These points are typically along the Meridians and the process is done to influence the flow of Chi in the body. Although Muggles typically have this done, acupuncture can widely benefit wizards too. Having a better flow of Chi is similar to having balanced chakras in that your energy will flow better when performing magic of any sort and you will find it easier to concentrate. Moxibustion, the therapy of burning mugwort on particular parts of the body, is often performed with acupuncture. If you are not squeamish in the slightest, I would recommend trying either of these at least once. Other methods of treatment include, qigong, cupping, gua sha, food therapy, and more.
Phew, that was a lot for one day. I don’t think I can talk more about the subject today even if I tried. As always, be sure to complete your assignments in a timely manner. Make sure to review your material from Year Four as your final O.W.L. Prep assignment will be given next lesson. Until next time!