Him (Buffy, Season 7, Episode 6)

In this comical episode, Dawn, Buffy, Willow, and Anya all fall victim to a love spell associated with a letter jacket worn by a not-quite star quality football player called RJ. The letter jacket had previously affected Xander, when the football player’s older brother had worn the jacket. How the jacket’s effect moved from guys to gals was not explained…  but the switch seems to have even affected Willow.

A recurring word throughout the episode is ‘soul’.  In the opening sequence, Dawn asks Buffy what it means that Spike has his soul now.  Xander had a soul but he still stood Anya up, so having a soul doesn’t make a person ‘good’ or ‘not-hurtful’, she implies.  (Buffy just sips a soft drink, and Dawn rhetorically asks if that is some sort of ‘Zen’ answer to the question.)  Later, the spell-afflicted women of the Buffyverse talk about being able to see into RJ’s ‘soul’ or ‘spirit’.  Willow discusses his heart, which as noted in the previous episode, stores the ‘shen’ or spirit, and can be seen in a person’s eyes.  (The shen is seen in the expression of the eyes, not just the catchlights and clarity of the eyeballs themselves.)

Since the last post treated the relationship of the Heart to the Channel Divergences, and since the Heart stores the shen, or spirit, which is different from the Ling or soul, this post will set out to clarify the various spirits and souls treated in Classical Chinese medicine.

In the cosmological system within which Chinese medicine developed, a human person embodied a Ling, a soul. This very insubstantial yang soul (technically, the Ling is the yin aspect of the ‘Big Shen’) enters the person at conception, being attracted to the substantial jing involved in conceiving a child.  Herbs which help the Kidneys grasp Lung qi are used to aid in conception following this idea.  The soul then has three months to decide whether the particular lineage whose jing it has ‘bonded’ to will suffice it for working out a particular ‘curriculum’ of lessons and development in life. If so, it is born.  If not, it miscarries itself.

Actually, the Ling is sometimes described as a transcendent soul, and the more accessible ‘big shen’ is the focus of internal cultivation.  This idea reflects a yang and yin differentiation within the celestial world. The ‘big shen’ is still more yang than jing, however, and thus the two attract one another, just as the big shen and ling attract one another.

Once the jing begins to develop into an embryonic child, the big shen divides into the five spirits housed in the zang organs. The zang are said to ‘treasure’ the spirits, or act as a treasury in which the spirits are stored; this is why the zang organs are solid, and why spirit points are only associated with the outer bladder line points corresponding to zang, not fu organs. The five spiritual qualities are the ‘little’ shen stored in the Heart, which emerges from the union of qi and blood; the three hun stored in the Liver, who follow the shen but are called back to the body by the quality of its blood; the po, treasured by the Lungs but related to the bones and spine; the intent housed in the treasury of the Spleen; and the will (or will-within-the-will) embodied within the Kidneys.  The will-within-the-will is particularly manifested through the burning and transforming action of the Triple Warmer as it distributes the jing-essence whose prior lineage will furnish the curriculum of the big shen in this life. Finally, the jing-shen, the union of materiality and affect, is carried along by the marrow to the brain, and there in the ‘mudball palace’, a ‘celestial embryo’ is formed: the reconstituted big shen.  The brain in particular is said have a relationship with the intent and will in a similar manner to the hun having a relationship to blood:  As long as the will and intent are present, so also will be the soul.  When the will and intention to move through life depart, the soul will soon depart as well.  In this final aspect, alchemy has more to say than ‘medicine’ proper.

The various spirits interact with one another, though all are ‘subjects’ of the Heart shen. The hun in particular as said in Ling Shu Chapter 8 (‘Rooted in Spirit’) to follow the comings and goings of the shen. The hun, as reflective and pious, are the personality aspects of the person, and as such must help further the curriculum by attracting and repelling various other types of personalities in the world around oneself.   Ted Kaptchuk notes that when healthy, the Hun doesn’t want anything different from what is.  The character is composed of ‘ghost’ and ‘clouds’, the clouds which follow and follow from heaven in its turnings.  Dang Gui is particularly associated with the hun.

The po, on the other hand, tend to work on disrupting the curriculum; or rather, they help provide the obstacles which will develop the shen’s capacity to rule in sublime tranquility, as befits the imperial office it holds in the person. The po, being associated with the jing, are also the ‘debts’ of a lineage which the person or the person’s shen has the capacity and destiny to rectify in this particular incarnation.  They do, however, provide the basic impulse of life and growth.  Ted Kaptchuk notes the concept of po describes what animates us, reflexively rather than voluntarily; the po are driven and instinctual, very complete, all encompassing, and related to basic aspects of survival.  Etymologically, the character is composed of ‘ghost’ and ‘white’.  The white in this case reflects the moon, and the earliest characters indicate the po are related to lunar phases — the phases of the moon indicating the proper times of planting, harvesting, and growth.  Hu Po is especially associated with the po; its name actually means ‘tiger’s soul’, but it is used not to promote aggression, but to centre the person.

RJ’s jacket works on the level of the hun:  although it seems to evoke libido, a po-associated reactivity and ‘impulse to survive’, in reality it strengthens one of the three worms in the blood which gnaw at the hun’s capacity for piety towards one’s friends.  This sort of libido is best treated through LV-5, ‘wormwood canal’, as I have had occasion to mention in previous episodes.  An alternate treatment might look at the relation of the Liver and Lungs, and harmonise those two organs, perhaps through the diaphragm or a formula which focuses on healing the ribcage (as the site or boney cavity in which the two organs interact).

A martial arts formula for cracked ribs includes dan shen as the imperial herb of the formula, qing pi, chen pi, mo yao, zhi shi, xiang fu, chuan lian zi, chai hu, and lu lu tong as deputies, and mu xiang and yan hu suo as assistants.  (Decoct, take 1 cup twice a day for three to four days.  Do not take if the rib has actually punctured the lung organ, or if there is internal bleeding, or if the person is pregnant or nursing.)  The formula clearly has more LV related herbs to move the qi and blood, but it includes chen pi, which goes to the Lungs, and chuan lian zi, which is used for removing parasites from the blood.

The little shen, stored in the heart, is  very space and time dependant.  Kaptchuk relates it to the Heart:  like the HT meridian, the shen concerns being present to do the right thing at right time in the right cultural context.  It’s image is of an altar and one of the ‘heavenly stems’.  Many herbs treat the shen, but the method of treatment depends on the aim:  to revive the shen, to anchor it, to calm it, to settle it, to promote it.  E Jiao can help ‘restick’ the shen; Fu Ling can help calm it; long gu can help anchor it.  Any herb which will treat both qi and blood, or rather help harmonise them, will impact the shen, as the shen emerges from their union.

The Big Shen or Ling is, again following Kaptchuk, the capacity for self-directed cultivation of virtue.  This capacity for self-cultivation is the combined capacities of each of the five ‘little shen’ working together.  Herbs listed in the Shen Nong Ben Cao as ‘increasing virtue’ are oriented towards nourishing the Ling.  Ling Zhi (Reishi mushroom) is perhaps the most well known.  (ReiKi is actually the Japanese translation of ‘Ling Qi’.)

Since I have treated the various spirits and wills of the body in previous posts, I will not spend time detailing treatments particular to each here.  If you or a loved one wish to pursue further study in concepts of Ancient Chinese Religion, I would refer you to the primary source material in the Huai Nan Zi, and to Christopher Schiffer or Livia Kohn’s research on the topic.  The article ‘Han Thanatology’, as well as works treating the Ma Wang Dui banners are other sources of information.

Happy Slayage!

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Living Conditions (Buffy Season 4, Episode 2)

Ah, the roommate from another dimension.  I’m afraid many of us have been there.  I mean, many of us have been in the position of having a roommate from another dimension, rather than having been to the dimension the roommate happens to be from.  Although, some roommates will just suck you into their world regardless of all your own attempts to maintain your hold on this reality…

In this episode, we learn that Kathy, Buffy’s first college roommate is a demon who escaped her dimension to come to Sunnydale as a student.  Through the use of an arcane ritual involving blood and a scorpion, she attempts to steal Buffy’s soul while Buffy sleeps.  Having Buffy’s soul means that Kathy will not be detected by her home dimension’s ‘missing child’ task force;  instead, Buffy the Soul-less one, will be taken back to the dimension Kathy affectionately calls ‘Nebraska’.  Buffy is only aware that she is having very strange dreams.  Buffy’s friends believe she is over-reacting, and begin to suspect she may be going slightly mad.

So what can Chinese Medicine do for Buffy now?  The ritual offers some clues, actually.  Scorpion, or Quan Xie, is used medicinally to extinguish wind (i.e. tremours, stubborn headache) and goes exclusively to the Liver channel.  The use of blood in the ritual, especially during dream-time, also points to the Liver.  At night, the blood returns to the Liver, where it nourishes the hun, the ethereal soul, and anchors those souls (usually numbered as three) to call them back from wandering about while a person dreams.

The hun can be thought of as that aspect of the soul which involves the person’s personality; it survives for about three generations after a persons death, having exited via the mouth (or the top of the head, depending on one’s tradition).  It is the soul-aspect of an ancestor that is honoured in the household shrines.  (The other aspects of the soul, the shen and the po have been treated elsewhere.  The po return to the earth with the bones, the shen departs to wherever it needs to go next.)

Therefore, from the perspective of Chinese medicine, the ritual being used by Kathy involves taking the hun from Buffy when they are most accessible — during sleep.  They are loosened from Buffy through the use of foreign blood.  In case Buffy’s own lack of blood should give rise to wind — when the vessels are empty of blood, they often fill with wind instead, sometimes leading to madness — a scorpion is used.

It’s all well and good to understand the mechanism of an illness, but what can be done about it?  In this case, I would say we need to anchor the hun by nourishing Liver blood.  For points, I would use BL-47, hun men (“Ethereal soul gate”) and BL-17, the shu point of blood.  I would also consider thread moxa on Du-26, not only a ghost point but also near the mouth from which the hun are being drawn out of Buffy.  (Used as a ghost point, the area is pricked in order to draw a drop of blood.)

Finally, if I were particularly keen on discerning where the hun are located during the day, I would consult with some of the Dunhuang manuscripts on iatromancy, which detail how the hun move from point to point following the waxing and waning of the moon.  (See Lo and Cullen 2005, Medieval Chinese Medicine.  Routledge.)    The Qianjin yaofang notes that the renshen is located in the navel at age 19; and then moves to the heart.  The Wuwei manuscripts from Gansu locate the shenhun in the heart at that time, moving to the abdomen (which I take to mean CV-12, the ST mu) the following year.  Since Buffy is 19 at the time of this episode (using the Chinese system of counting birth as ‘1’, and the end of the first year of life as age 2), I would want to address either CV-12 or CV-14 as well.  Note the scorpion seems to be crawling upwards from these areas, past the pericardium-mu point of CV-17, and towards the mouth during Buffy’s dreams.

For herbal medicines, I would use Xi Xian Cao, steamed in wine (jiu zhi Xi Xian Cao) together with Ba Zhen Tang.  Xi Xian Cao (herba siegesbeckiae), can help the Liver bank blood and experiences.  it calms the spirit when there is a tendency for it to rise or not be contained, and is specific for physically restless insomnia.   The Ba Zhen Tang is simply present to nourish the blood overall, and to ensure that the po remain anchored to the presence of qi.  I might think of also using Gui Zhi Long Gu Mu Li Tang for a similar purpose, the gui zhi and bai shao, or the sheng jiang and da zao combinations acting to harmonise the qi and blood (as wei and ying qi), and thus maintain the balance between hun and po, hopefully preventing Buffy from going mad and becoming dominated by the sometimes perverse po.

In the end, of course, Buffy gets her soul back, and Kathy is banished — well, taken by her father — back to the dimension from whence she came.

As always, this post is to entertainingly illustrate the ways in which Chinese medical theories can be applied to various situations.  If you feel that Chinese Medicine may benefit you, please see a qualified practitioner.  Happy Slayage!

“The Puppet Show” (Buffy, Season 1)

I always like shows which feature creepy and murderous dummies. Alfred Hitchcock had a great one, in which the puppeteer fell in love with his dummy. That was creepy.

The puppeteer in this episode, however, meets a somewhat untimely end, although not the end he might have been expecting. Instead of death by brain cancer, his brain was harvested by a demon which needed to eat the heart and brain of a human every seven years in order to retain its human form. I seem to recall Anne Rice writing about vampires who ate the heart and brain of their predecessors. I think this was in Queen of the Damned.

Why a demon would want to retain the form of a high school student is somewhat beyond my comprehension. I’m sure Anyanka would have some rather interesting points to make in this regard.

The deceased’s dummy, it turns out, had a mission: to slay all these seven-year itch demons, after which his soul would be able to move on (and out of the creepy puppet body). He had already disposed of six. His last mission lay at Sunnydale High. Instead of (over)killing the demon with a guillotine and kitchen knife, however, he might have tried a different approach.

I think the diagnostic signifiers are the combination of seven years, heart, and brain.

First, seven years.  This particular demon clearly operates on a regular cycle, one which corresponds to the female cycle of seven years.  Although the Nei Jing indicates that women’s lives unfold along a seven year, and men’s lives along an eight year cycle, for some people, these lives can be shorter or longer.  What is important is that a clear pattern emerge.  This cyclical unfolding results from the triple warmer mechanism manifesting what is contained in prenatal jing, outwardly moving the most simple forms of yin, yang, and blood in a person.  In other words, the triple heat mechanism is in a certain sense determining how much the resources of the Ren, Du, and Chong Mai come into the world at any given cycle of life.  The San Jiao acts as a sort of guard to the treasure room, or even financial officers, permitting only a certain amount to be withdrawn at a time.

The cycles of seven therefore point us to three areas:  the jing, the Triple Heater mechanism, and the extraordinary vessels.  Also involved in this process of unfolding one’s life according to cycles are the Wei Mai.  Specifically, I would think the Yang Wei Mai is active in this situation, since it’s role is to integrate the exterior (“human high school student”) with the interior (“seven-year itch demon”).  Conveniently, TH-5 is the opening point for the Yang Wei Mai.

The eating of the Heart and Brain present their own twist on this diagnosis.  The Heart is the residence of the little shen, usually translated generically as “spirit.”  According to one interpretation, this little shen comes about after a ling, or soul, merges with the mixing of the jing of one’s parents.  The ling separates into five spiritual entities, termed the yi (intent), zhi (will-within-the-will), shen, hun (ethereal souls), and po corporeal souls).  (The hun and po are also considered to be plural in number, bringing the total fracturing to thirteen.)  The goal of the person’s life, according to the ancient Chinese alchemists, is to reunite these fractured entities into the Yuan Shen, the Original Spirit.  The organ which houses the Original Spirit?  That would be the Brain.

These seven-year itch demons, then, are consuming the fleshly residences in which the Little Shen and the Big Shen are stored.  It seems that their jing needs to unite with some shen in order to maintain an external appearance.  The treatment principle, therefore, is to keep the yin (jing) from separating from the existing yang (shen).  If this can be achieved, the seven-year itch will be relieved, and at least a few Sunnydale students will not die needlessly (this week).

The acupuncture treatment I might give would be to combine a Yang Wei Mai treatment with a Triple Heater Channel Divergence treatment.  A bit unorthodox, since I like to keep my channel systems separate, in general.  My reasoning for combing the two is this:  The Triple Heater Channel Divergence symptoms are concerned with yin and yang losing their ability to harmonise; treating the TH CD can help push the yang aspects of physiology back to the jing level.  The TH CD begins at Du-20, which is where the hun leaves at death, where the hundred spirits meet, and in some texts, is a point on the Yang Wei Mai.  It has a downward trajectory (to the heart, so, unless the demon is eating hearts because its previous heart has begun to decay, we should be in the clear.)  We activate the wei mai to engage its role in the seven year cycle and harness the energy of the TH mechanism through the opening point, TH-5.  The points I would use are:  TH-5, SI-10 or GB-20, Du-20, TH-17, CV-12.  I would use a deep needling technique for the TH-5, SI-10, and GB-20 points.  From Du-20 onwards, I would use a deep-superficial-deep needling technique.  The Yang Wei Mai treatment protocol can be continued daily with rosemary oil.  Unfortunately, EV treatments usually take three months to show results, and CD treatments can take three weeks.  That means the demon should really have planned ahead.  That whole, “I’m going to use the body of a high school student” has its drawbacks — frequent lack of forethought being one of them.

For an herbal treatment, I would be tempted to try Ren Shen Ge Jie San (Ginseng and Gecko powder).  At first glance, this formula does not meet the treatment criteria.  It is not used to consolidate yin and yang.  It has no sticky ingredients to make the shen adhere to the jing.  It doesn’t even include the heart and brain of the gecko from which it is made, using only their skin or tails.  However, sometimes infertility is due to the jing being unable to grasp the shen.  Physiologically, this is analogous to the Kidneys being unable to grasp the Lung qi.  This formula does exactly that — augments the Kidneys to grasp Lung qi.  It also contains Sang Bai Pi, which is used in Channel Divergent treatments, usually with the addition of E Jiao.  That would be the one modification I would make to the formula.

As always, this post is for theoretical and entertainment purposes only.  If you feel you have a seven-year itch which might receive benefit from acupuncture or herbal medicine, please see a qualified practitioner.

Happy Slayage!