Becoming, Part One (Buffy, Season Two)


I always love the episodes which have flashbacks to previous times in a vampire character’s life.  I’m often tempted to excerpt them and place them in chronological order as a biopic.  Of course, doing that would show certain inconsistencies.  The case at hand illustrates this well enough.  In the 1950’s, Angel was a rebel-without-a-cause type living in a beautiful Art Deco style hotel in Los Angeles — at least, according to what we see later in the Angel series.  Now we see a 1990’s Angel, living on the streets of NYC, half-crazed, surviving on rat’s blood — and with a very Brendan Fraser haircut.  (Maybe Angel ended up on the streets because he spent all his money on hair product.)  Ultimately, he is discovered by Whistler and brought to Los Angeles again, where he sees Buffy for the first time — and thus begins Angel’s love for her.

When he is discovered by Whistler, we also find out that Angel stinks like dead.  This, then will be our diagnostic guide for this episode.

Body odour is a problem for many people; for practitioners of 5-element acupuncture, however, body odour is actually a valuable diagnostic tool.  “Smelling” is one of the categories of diagnostic procedure, often overshadowed by the other meaning of the character, which is “listening.”

Many people, lay or practitioner are aware that body odour can change just before someone comes down with more visible symptoms of an illness.  I knew a psychiatric nurse who could smell schizophrenia, and I’ve observed similar sorts of smells from people taking psychiatric medications.  Many patients undergoing chemotherapy also complain about how their bodies no longer even smell like they used to.

For the practitioner of Chinese Medicine, body odour can be roughly classified into five main categories, each reflecting an imbalance in one of the five phases of qi.  A fetid, rancid, sour-sweet urine smell is associated with the Wood element.  A scorched smell is easily associated with Fire imbalances, while a fragrant and cloying, sickeningly sweet smell is characteristic of Earth.  I have read that this sweetness is similar to the smell of burning flesh.   The metal element is indicated with fishy or rotten odors.  I find this difficult to distinguish from the Water element, whose scent is likewise described as rotten or putrid; it seems more acrid than urine and more decayed than metal.

So which of these fits for Angel?  Although I usually associate a urine smell with some homeless people in California (one guy who rides the either the 43-Masonic or the 6-Parnassus bus in SF is famous for this smell), Whistler says Angel smells like ‘dead’.  Death has a fragrant smell — Earth — but Dead has a rotten or decaying smell to it.  So, I would have to go with either a Metal or a Water smell here.

Going by scent alone, then, I would use a Japanese 5-phase treatment protocol, and needle LU-5 and KD-7.  I would also add SP-3, according to the control cycle for water.  LU-5 is a water point on a metal meridian; thus we are taking the qi of the mother to nourish that of the child.  (Metal generates Water.)  KD-7 is the metal point on a water meridian — again, following the same concept, accessing the qi of a point which can nourish that of the entire channel.  SP-3 is an earth point on an earth channel, thus strengthening earth’s ability to control water.  it may also help provide nourishment for metal, if later treatments show that Angel does, in fact, have more of a metal imbalance.

In terms of herbal medicine, I would use a reconstructed version of the Tang Ye Jing and compose a three herb formula of Wu Wei Zi, Shan Yao, and Xi Xin.  This combination would actually be used to strengthen the metal element, rather than the water element.  I have chosen this because the acupuncture treatment, although geared to balancing the water phase, actually does so through accessing the qi of the metal phase.  Additionally, these three herbs together in a modern formula would be used to restrain leakage of KD qi and warm the interior — exactly the sort of treatment shivering and homeless Angel seems to need.  Xi Xin, even when used in the recommended 1 -3 gramme dosage, is usually combined with Sheng Jiang, raw ginger, to moderate its toxicity.  This adds another acrid herb to the mix; ultimately, I would choose one or the other — and probably settle for the Sheng Jiang, since Xi Xin is carried by children who attend funerals to ward off ghosts.

On the other hand, the Divine Farmer’s Materia Medica recommends using Gan Jiang, dried ginger to eliminate foul odour.  Therefore, we could substitute the hotter dried ginger for both xi xin and sheng jiang and end up with a substitution which conforms to all our criteria:  acrid, warm, wood-oriented herb which eliminates bad odour.  To this formula (now composed of gan jiang, wu wei zi, and shan yao), I would consider closing off with Ju Hua, chrysanthemum, which is said to level metal and nourish water.  It also has the special property of helping people see things more clearly on a psychological level.  (there’s a reason that chrysanthemum tea is served at mah-jong parties!)

But what about pure B.O.?  Without doing a proper differential diagnosis, I would attribute this to impaired cleansing of the blood and sweat.  Therefore, I would look at herbs which help unclog the Liver (Xiao Chai Hu Tang comes to mind), or which helps a person sweat to clear the pores (Ma Huang Tang could be useful here).

Acupuncture-wise, I would focus treatment on regulating Shao-Yang or Tai-Yang, and see if the person is manifesting other signs of increased turbidity (Small Intestine and Bladder separate the clear from the turbid, and comprise the organs of TaiYang) or lack of internal-external regulation.  Definitely encourage them to avoid air-conditioning in the summer or excessively hot homes in the winter, depending on the season.  Then I would assess the state of the Yin pairs of these levels, particularly JueYin.  Is the JueYin level not properly clearing the blood?  Additional herbal remedies can be built up around these physiological analyses — herbs like Qu Mai and Deng Xin Cao (or the formula Dao Chi San) can be used for impaired SI/BL/HT clearing, while herbs which dredge the Liver can be added to Xiao Chai Hu Tang.

As always, this discussion is for theoretical purposes only.  If you feel you may benefit from acupuncture or herbal medicine, please see a qualified practitioner.

Happy Slayage!

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