Normal Again (Buffy, Season 6, Episode 17)

This episode begins by picking up with some fall-out from the previous episode.  Xander appears at Buffy and Willow’s door, and Xander makes a speech to his friends that perhaps anyone ever left by a man might want to hear.   The, of course, the plot thickens.  Buffy is stuck by a demon whose venom causes her to shift in an out of consciousness.  Or rather, she shifts between two different conscious states, each with its own plotline: Buffy-the-Slayer in the Buffyverse and Buffy-Institutionalised-in-Los-Angeles in a real-life setting.  Willow makes a diagnosis after giving Buffy an antidote (which unbeknownst to Willow, Buffy poured out beside her bed):  ‘Buffy, you’re brain is cooking’.

The question, of course, is whom should we treat?  Who is the ‘real’ Buffy?  The institutionalised Buffy or the Slayer Buffy?  And how do the sinew vessels interact with psychology?

Let’s start with herbal medicine treatments, first. Willow seems to think that Alkanet root and Nettle leaf would make an effective remedy.  Alkanet is typically used for making dye, although Culpepper notes it can be made into an ointment and used to treat inflammations and St Anthony’s fire.  St Anthony’s fire can refer to several different modern diseases, but in Britain, it tended to refer to inflamed skin conditions which Chinese medicine might characterise as fire toxins in the blood.  Nettles are well known in European herbalism for their blood purifying properties.  It can be made into an ointment with myrrh, and is said to open the pipes of the lungs to expel phlegm.  Culpepper notes that both Alkanet and Nettles are good antidotes for stinging creatures.  This may be the reason for Willow’s choice of these two herbs in particular.  (For the curious, see and for more information. )

I personally would favour Wang Qing Ren’s formula, Decoction to Wake from the Nightmare of Insanity, Dian Kuang Meng Xing Tang. Its ingredients include:

Tao Ren (Semen Persicae) 24g
Gan Cao (Radix Glycyrrhizae Uralensis) 15g
Su Zi (Fructus Perillae Frutescentis) 12g
Chi Shao (Radix Paeoniae Rubrae) 9g
Chai Hu (Radix Bupleuri) 9g
Da Fu Pi (Pericarpium Arecae Catechu) 9g
Chen Pi (Pericarpium Citri Reticulatae) 9g
Mu Tong (Caulis Mutong) 9g
Sang Bai Pi (Cortex Mori Albae Radicis) 9g
Ban Xia (Rhizoma Pinelliae Ternatae) 6g
Xiang Fu (Rhizoma Cyperi Rotundi) 6g
Qing Pi (Pericarpium Citri Reticulatae Viride) 6g

Wang Qing Ren’s formulas are noted for treating blood stagnation, and this is one of at least two formulas for treating blood stagnation in the head, particularly when that blood stagnation obstructs the orifices.  (The other formula is Tong Qiao Huo Xue Wan.)  In this respect, both Willow and I agree that some agent has caused an obstruction in the orifices, leading to heat.  Willow suggests phlegm, and this formula also drains phlegm.  However, this formula has a very strong effect on blood stagnation due to the high dosage of Tao Ren — it ‘purges’ or ‘breaks’ blood stagnation to open the orifices and clear heat.  It also contains qi moving herbs to transform phlegm.

The formula has been the subject of several studies for the treatment of mental illnesses such as schizophrenia.   For those interested in how Chinese Medicine treats mental illness, check out this article by Heiner Freuhof:

Regardless, giving this formula to both or either Buffy will resolve the dilemma of which Buffy, which universe, is ‘real’.

In terms of acupuncture, for a sinew treatment, I would select the Arm Tai Yang (SI).  This channel is indicated when the eyes have been closed a long time before being able to see, according to the Jia Yi Jing (Scroll 2, Chapter 6).  The channel begins at the little finger and travels up the arm to the scapula, levator scapula muscle, and on either side of the ear, ending at the outer canthus of the eye.  Treatment should particularly focus on opening Du14 and the Window to the Sky points on the neck, before proceeding to palpate the channel for sore points.  These points should then be treated with either a hot-needle or with thread moxa.

That treatment may not touch Willow’s diagnosis, however.  Her diagnosis of a brain being ‘cooked’ reminds me of brain fever, a sensation which used to be experienced by people dying of AIDS in the 1980s and early 1990s.  That condition could be seen as wei qi consuming marrow or invading the jing level.  For that, the Channel Divergences are most appropriate.  However, both the Arm Tai Yang and the Foot Shao Yang sinew vessels meet at the outer canthus.  Since the Foot Shao Yang sinew vessel connects to the Gallbladder primary channel, I might consider needling GB13 (Ben Shen), GB11 (Tou Qiao Yin), GB19 (Nao Kong), GB 39 (Shu for Marrow) in order to draw out the wei qi from the jing, and then direct that qi outwards along the sinew vessels by needling with stone needles at the sore points, before closing with threat moxa at SI1.

Another place of intersection for the both the GB and SI meridians is at SI-17, formerly located on the GB channel.  SI-17 functions as the Window to the Sky point for the Gallbladder channel, and thus has a particular influence over the marrow, brain, and shen (due to the SI-HT-shen connexion).  Cupping that point, perhaps with some bloodletting, may be effective at bringing wei qi to the surface in cases where a person’s shen is disoriented and harassed by heat and blood stagnation affecting the orifices.

The physiology of the above treatments rely on the role wei qi plays in ‘automatic’ perception.  It’s role in the brain is to bring external information inwards, but without conscious integration; that integration and storage is the role of the marrow, which is the union of jing and shen, experiences and character (the ‘real’ meeting the ‘ideal’ which creates a person’s ‘destiny’ in life).   When wei qi usurps the role of the clear yang of shen, a loss of lucidity ensues.  When shen cannot link with jing because wei qi has taken that place, the union of wei qi and jing causes brain fever.  This heat stagnates and consumes the very yin marrow.  Invigorating blood and clearing heat are therefore called for.


A third option would be the Tai Yang connexion of SI and BL channels.  While the SI sinew vessel ends at the outer canthus, the BL primary channel emerges at BL-1, which is where wei qi exits the body after its interior passage at night.  This leads us to consider the Extraordinary Vessel treatment appropriate for Buffy:  A Yin Qiao- Yang Qiao combination.  The Qiao Mai deal with how people consciously see things.  The Yin Qiao is inward looking:  How does Buffy see, or want to see, herself?  The Yang Qiao is how Buffy sees the world.  The two need to be connected and harmonised.  Therefore, needle KD-6, begin with the Yin Qiao, then BL-1, and close with BL-62.  BL-62 is called ‘Shen Mai’, the ‘extending vessel’, and is known for its ability to clear the shen-spirit.  (The character for ‘shen’ in the point name is different from the character ‘shen’ meaning ‘spirit’ or ‘habitus’.)  This treatment would need to be carried out over the course of 3 or more months, and while it may help ease Buffy’s cooking brain, is more geared to reorienting her to the world and her destiny in both worlds, the inner and the outer.

As always, these posts are for entertainment and educational purposes only.  If you or a loved one wish to explore Asian medical treatments for mental illness, brain fever, and integrating the interior life with external demands, please see a qualified practitioner.

Happy Slayage!


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