Amends (Buffy, Season Three, Ep 10)

In this episode we are introduced to the Big Bad of Season Seven — The First Evil.  It’s too bad that the appearance of the First in that season doesn’t cycle through the same figures who haunted Angel in this episode.  It would have made a nice tie-back.

One could argue that the First seems to take its images from the mind of the particular individual whom it has decided to torment — except that Spike didn’t have to fight the Master, or the Mayor, both of whom appeared in his fevered brain after he was re-ensouled and suffering, like Angel, from overwhelming guilt.

Guilt.  How clever of The First to draw individuals into committing evil acts — and then to torture them with guilt over having given in.  Sounds like something from de Laclos’ Les Liasons Dangereuses.

According to evolutionary psychology, the capacity for guilt is an emotion common to all humanity.  While some variations of technique and content might occur — Jewish guilt, Catholic guilt, Muslim guilt, Hindu guilt, Chinese guilt, Existentialist guilt — no one philosophical or cultural group has a monopoly on this sometimes crippling and tenacious emotion.

Angel’s guilt, however, is a result not of a cultural sort, but is inherent in his existence as an ensouled vampire ordained to atone for his past, soul-less existence.  He therefore seems to be experiencing a very existentialist guilt. (Perhaps this explains his interest in Sartre’s La Nausee.  Too bad he hasn’t internalised Camus’ message instead:  we all, in some way, come into this world guilty.)

Does Classical Chinese Medicine have anything to offer to assuage guilt? It may, and both Confucian and Buddhist philosophy can evoke a sense of guilt in their adherents. I will extrapolate my treatment principles from a specific herb, but I have not had the opportunity to try the efficacy of this theory in the clinic as of yet.  The core of the extrapolation derives from a class lecture by Ted Kaptchuk, but I will end up mixing it with ideas drawn from Jeffrey Yuen and Kanpo medicine.

The herb Wu Wei Zi (schizandra berry) is said to astringe the Lungs and Kidneys, restrain leakage in the form of spermatorrhea and leukhorrhea, and absorb phlegm.

Why should it absorb phlegm?  What does this mean?   The kidneys soften phlegm — so shouldn’t Wu Wei Zi soften phlegm, like Kon Bu or Hai Zao, rather than absorb it?

The clue may lie in an archaic use of the word spermatorrhea — in the Victorian era it was a code word for masturbation.  Some may say that masturbation is not pathological (unless taken to excess; I seem to recall an episode of Queer as Folk trying to make that point) — but that attitude is not, in fact, shared by many cultures.  Christian belief is linked both the Judaean story of Onan, and to the ascetic tradition of cultivating stillness in the body and the soul.  Pagan Greeks worried that a loss of semen would compromise the brain’s acuity.  (The Egyptians, in contrast, had one myth in which one of their deities masturbated and formed the world from his ejaculate.)  Moving further East, in India, dhat syndrome is a concern, and bears a resemblance to ancient Greek attitudes towards physiology.  In Chinese Confucian society — and it is an East Asian approach we are taking here, after all — one’s jing belongs to one’s ancestors.

Therefore, conserving or guarding one’s jing is an act of filial piety. Don’t touch the family jewels lest you break them, as it were.

But it is the astringing quality of wu wei zi is explained with reference to spermatorrhea.  How does this related to phlegm?

What is phlegm?  Phlegm is a heavy, sticky substance, usually produced by pathological dampness which has thickened. Pathological dampness can imply a pathological Spleen, although this need not always be the case.  If a pathological spleen perhaps also a pathological society?  After all, the colour of a Confucian scholar — a societal rank — is yellow, the colour of the earth — and the colour of the Spleen and Stomach.  They are all linked together and can stand in for one another as the situation demands.

In the case of wu wei zi, it is up to the Kidneys — the self — to soften the phlegm. In the case of wu wei zi absorbing phlegm, phlegm is a societal pathology put on an individual who must come to terms with it and process it in his or her own way.

In other words, the individual is experiencing a form of guilt.

As a side note, in Kanpo medicine, Gui Zhi Long Gu Mu Li Tang is often used in cases of spermatorrhea or masturbation. (I seem to recall such a case in Otsuka’s 30 Years of Kanpo, but cannot relocate it.)  However, the dynamics of that formula indicate a pathology of qi not being anchored, manifesting as pulsations along the Ren Mai below CV-16 above the navel.   “Anchor” differs slightly from the idea of qi not being contained, although GZLGMLT has shades of that image also.  Corresponding symptoms include fatigue, being easily worn out, involuntary seminal emission, sensation of cold in the scrotum, and insomnia.  In terms of acupuncture, LV-5 is a point used for excess qi going to the genitals and becoming trapped, but we will return to this idea in Buffy, Season 4; it does not apply here.

In Angel’s case, the existential guilt may not be a Spleen vs Kidney pathology. Although he is confronting what his society expected of human beings, he was not human at the time of his crimes (or at least, he did not have a human’s soul.)  Rather, because Angel shares the same physical body, the same material form, jing, as Angelus (his soul-less vampire self), Angel is experiencing is a Kidney vs Kidney situation.  His self is battling the self — and Wu Wei Zi is an excellent herb to address this. Even if we were to say that it is a matter of a Heart-Kidney disorder — the shen fighting with the jing — wu wei zi would still apply, since its ability to calm the shen is well known.

Simply put, Angel needs to keep from attacking himself.  We see that he is being driven to self-destruction by his guilt, and threatens to watch his last sunrise.  Kidneys attacking the Kidneys.  (Being driven to self-destruction because of pain is something else, and we will look at that when Faith appears in the Angel series.)

(Had Angel been consumed by the sunlight, his soul would likely have come back as a ghost — still searching for forgiveness.  If that were to have happened, treatment would follow the outlines of my post for I Only Have Eyes for You.)

This self-consumption physiologically reflects the domain of the divergent channels.  Incidentally, the first confluence, BL-KD,  deals with jing, bringing its deeply still and yin water qualities to bear in holding a pathology latent.  In this case, we want to access Angel’s deepest sense of self; if the soul, by definition, is a pinprick or spark of the Good, we want to remind Angel of this, and draw it outwards.

I just slipped into Platonic philosophy and left the realms of East Asia; perhaps the East Asian variation would be that Angel has a Buddha nature which can be realised.  This Buddha nature is contained in the pattern of his being by virtue of the pattern of incarnation.  Therefore, activating this subsuming pattern is necessary.  Prenatal jing is that which patterns post-natal jing to the particular incarnation.  For this reason, jing is only considered damaged if the body begins to develop tumours or other growths not originally contained in the jing-template.  A biomedical analogy would be that DNA provides the pattern by which amino acids are configured into the proteins which form, build, and repair the body.  (RNA would be analgous in certain ways to the Triple Heater mechanism.)

The BL-KD CD traverses the Kidneys, the self, and the HT, the soul.  All the CD’s connect with the heart in one way or another.  The heart has the power to vapourise phlegm — which is even cooler than absorbing it, in my opinion.  Points to focus on would be BL-15 and BL-23, in addition to BL-40.  Ma Dong Yuan uses BL-40 in his twelve star points; it opens to Ming Men, the Gate of Destiny.  BL-10 or BL-11 (the Ling Shu says “nape of the neck”) are used as the final points in the series.

So the acupuncture treatment would make use of a superficial-deep-superficial needling technique on all points, beginning with BL-40, then BL-23 (Kidney Shu), BL-15 (Heart Shu), and BL-10 (Window of Heaven point — appropriate to counteract the First’s influence).

As for herbs, if a single herb formula is too simple, one could think of adding Bei Mu, which treats phlegm and goes to HT, but does not astringe.  Lian Zi, which astringes and goes to both the Heart and Kidneys.  Finally, astringent He Zi, myrobalan, is an imperial herb in the canon of Tibetan medicine.  If one is trying to awaken Angel’s Buddha nature, this would be the herb to add.

As always, this post is for theoretical and entertainment purposes only.  If you feel you could benefit from the traditions of Asian medicine, please see a qualified practitioner.

Happy Slayage!


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