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Spagyric (spə-gîr'ĭk), is a name given to the production of herbal medicines using alchemical procedures. These procedures involve fermentation, distillation and the extraction of mineral components from the ash of the plant. These processes were in use in medieval alchemy generally for the separation and purification of metals from ores (see Calcination), and salts from brines and other aqueous solutions.

Contents

Etymology

Origin: Greek: Spao, to tear open, + ageiro, to collect.[1] It is a term probably first coined by Paracelsus. In its original use, the word spagyric was commonly used synonymously with the word alchemy, however, in more recent times it has often been adopted by alternative medicine theorists and various techniques of holistic medicine.

Spagyrics in practice

Spagyric most commonly refers to a plant tincture to which has also been added the ash of the burned plant. The original rationale behind these special herbal tinctures seems to have been that an extract using alcohol could not be expected to contain all the medicinal properties from a living plant and so the ash or mineral component of the burned plant was prepared separately and then added back to 'augment' the alcoholic tincture. The roots of the word therefore refer first to the extraction or separation process and then to the recombining process. These herbal tinctures are alleged to have superior medicinal properties to simple alcohol tinctures. In theory these spagyrics can also optionally include material from fermentation of the plant material and also any aromatic component such as might be obtained through distillation. The final spagyric should be a reblending of all such extracts into one 'essence.'

The concept of the spagyric remedy in turn relies upon the three cardinal principles of alchemy termed salt, sulphur and mercury. "The basis of matter was the alchemical trinity of principles--salt, sulfur and mercury. Salt was the principle of fixity (non-action) and incombustibility; mercury was the principle of fusibility (ability to melt and flow) and volatility; and sulfur was the principle of inflammability."[2]

The three primal alchemical properties and their correspondence in spagyric remedy are:

  • Mercury = water elements, representing the life essence of the plant, the very alcohol extract of the plant is the carrier of the life essence.
  • Salt = earth element, representing the vegetable salts extracted from calcined ashes of plant body.
  • Sulphur = fire element, virtue of plant, representing the volatile oil essence of the plant.

Paracelsus stated that the true purpose of Alchemy was not for the vulgar purpose of gold making, but rather for the production of medicines. [3] The term 'Spagyria' has been used by Paracelsus in his book 'Liber Paragranum', deriving from the Greek words 'spao' and 'ageiro', the essential meaning of which is to 'separate and to combine'.

He formulated that nature in itself was 'raw and unfinished' and man had the God-given task to evolve things to a higher level. As an example: The 'raw' medicinal plant would be separated into the basic components he termed 'mercurius', 'sulphur' and 'sal' and thereby cleaned of nonessential components. 'Mercurius', 'sulphur' and 'sal' were then recombined forming the medicine.

In contemporary terms this would be the extraction of the essential oils with vapor gaining the 'sulphur'. Then fermentation of the remaining plant and distilling the alcohol produced thus gaining 'mercurius'. Extraction of the mineral components from the ash of the marc which would be the 'sal'. Diluting the essential oils in the alcohol and then solving the mineral salts in it would produce the final potion.Note that this is a simplified representation of the process which varies strongly depending on the source chosen.

The word spagyric was inscribed upon the Coffin-plate of the physician Sir Thomas Browne, in all probability by his eldest son Edward Browne upon his father's death in 1682. The surviving half of Browne's Coffin-plate is displayed in the Church of Saint Peter Mancroft Norwich.

References

Bibliography

  • M.C Ramos Sánchez, F.J. Martín Gil, J. Martín Gil. "Los espagiristas vallisoletanos de la segunda mitad del siglo XVI y primera mitad del siglo XVII". Estudios sobre historia de la ciencia y de la técnica: IV Congreso de la Sociedad Española de Historia de las Ciencias y de las Técnicas: Valladolid, 22-27 de Septiembre de 1986, 1988, ISBN 84-505-7144-8, pags. 223-228
  • Method for producing spagyric essences from plants Patent 5340729

See also

External links

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