Touched (Buffy, Season 7, Episode 20)

How sexuality impacts one’s approach to an apocalypse is explored in this episode, augmented by an excellent soundtrack.   Faith and Wood let out their physical tension; Xander and Anya find comfort in the familiarity of one another’s bodies; Willow and Kennedy finally go ‘all the way’; and Buffy and Spike achieve an intimacy which does not rely on sexual activity, but on simple holding and being held by another person.

Sexual encounters aside, the actual plot involves Faith leading the potentials into a trap:  They discover a bomb in the vineyard moments before it explodes.  Diagnostically, the episode references sweat and scent several times.  Wood refers to how when the First appeared to him, it took the form and image of his mother, right down to her perfume.  Spike tracks Buffy by her scent (despite not breathing; but then, we saw him  waterboarded by a Torakhan earlier in the season, a form of torture which should not have affected a non-breathing creature).

Overall, this episode provides a good opportunity to revisit some Channel Divergence physiologies as they link up with other channel systems.  The diagnostic entry point will be a re-examination of the five odours as they pertain to the CDs and point to other channel systems.  Then I will examine sexual form and function from several channel perspectives.

To review, the five odours and their five-phase correlates among the Primary Channels are generally listed as:

Rancid, like oil that has been too long exposed to air, is associated with the Wood phase of the Liver and Gallbladder.

Scorched, appropriately associated with the Fire phase of Heart and Small Intestine.

Fragrant, Sweet, corresponding to the flavour of earth and grains (when chewed for a long time), is associated with the Earth phase, and the Spleen and Stomach organs.  (The Pancreas are associated with the Spleen in this system.)

Rotten, Rank, or Fishy, like the breath of one who has tuberculosis or a Lung abscess, is associated with the metal phase, and with the Lungs and Large Intestine.

Putrid, Rotting, Decay, the scent of winter’s kill before it freezes, or the smell of wood left underwater and ice for a season, is associated with the water phase, and with the Kidney and Bladder organs.

The Channel Divergences link the yin and yang primary channels of a particular phase of qi (wood, fire, earth, metal, water), and in this way a diagnostic correspondence between patient odour and channel to be treated could be formed.  However, let’s complicate the picture in two different ways.  The first way is to link the CDs with other channel systems by phase.  The second way is to look at the interaction of CD fluids, channel systems, and organ-tissue relationships.

To begin with the first set, but with an eye to the second:

The BL-KD CD is associated with jing, and draws heavily on the Extraordinary Vessel system.

The GB-LV CD is associated with xue-blood, and relates in particular to the mu points and Luo Vessels.

The ST-SP CD is associated with jin-fluids, and intersects with the Heart through its own trajectory, through the Chong Mai’s relationship with blood, and through its ability to nourish the upper sensory portals, including the tongue.

The SI-HT CD is associated with both sweat and ye-thick fluid, which nourishes the Sinew Vessels.

The TW-PC CD is associated with ying qi, and moves heat out to jing-well points through nodes to terminations.  Sinew Vessels begin at the jing-well points.

The LI-LU CD is associated with wei qi,  and begins the cycle of primary meridians.

Bringing the five-phase odour correspondences into the above chart, several resonances between odour and channel systems occur:

Decaying, putrid odours point towards jing and the EVs.  (Note that decay can be associated with the teeth as the SI meridian deposits pathogens there to maintain latency.)

Rancid odours indicate the luo vessels, and emotion left too long un-aired out and unresolved.

Fragrant odours point to the heart and sense of perception.

Scorched odours, that ‘burnt out’ smell, indicate the marrow and sinews may benefit from treatment first.

Rotten, fishy odours suggest that the primary meridian cycle may be most effective in treating the pathophysiology currently underway in the person.

Next, the organ-tissue correspondences as they are associated with CD fluids:

LV is associated with blood and sinews (possibly meaning ‘nerves’); GB governs the bones.  In the CD channel system, the SI-HT CD relates to the sinews.  This comes about in part because SI-9, on the SI-HT CD trajectory, moves blood into the sinews.  The form of the sinews is felt through the movement of ye-thick fluid, the fluid of the SI CD.  The function of the sinews is brought about through blood, the fluid of the GB-LV CD.  The blood relationship of the Liver is more closely linked to the Luo Vessel system here.

HT rules over the mai, the vessels.  This includes the arteries as well as the jing-luo mai, the qi mai, and the bao mai. In other words, the Heart rules over the primary meridian cycle, the luo mai system of collaterals, the extraordinary vessels, and the enveloping vessel.  Absent are the CDs (but all the CDs go to the Heart) and the Sinew Channels (but the Sinew Channels are associated with the SI-HT CD).

SP is associated with the flesh; ST is associated with blood.  Because the luo vessels are about how events have not been ‘digested’  or assimilated by the person in question, the ST-SP CD and the Luo Vessels have a relationship.  Looking at the relation between LV and ST in this respect may be useful, for treatment patterns.  The Yin Wei Mai, a major intersection on the ST-SP CD could bear a certain relationship to the flesh, as the inner aspect of the body’s substance, linking everything together.

LU is associated with the skin, which is the domain of wei qi and the sinew vessels; LI is associated with jin-fluids, which provide the source of wei qi.  The LU, LI, SJ-PC CD and SI-HT CD all overlap with the beginnings of the sinew vessels.  In fact, however, the SI-HT CD is more associated with the end or binding points of the sinew vessels, while the SJ-PC CD is associated with their beginnings.  The LU-LI system is associated with wei qi, which is also the domain of the sinew vessels.  However, because the LU-LI CD is also associated with the Primary Channels, the LU-LI system goes ‘deeper’ into the body than the sinew channels themselves would.

KD are associated with bones, but the GB ‘masters’ the bones; the BL is associated with jing.  This correspondence fits in nicely with the BL-KD CD association with the EVs.  However, the SI-HT CD deposits pathogens in the jing-associated teeth.  The SI is further associated with the thick fluids which nourish jing-associated marrow.  However, the BL-SI and KD-HT channels link up through their TaiYang and ShaoYin associations.

When the topic turns to sexual function, several aspects come to the fore.  First, LV-5, the LV luo point, which is also on the LV CD trajectory, influences libido.  (The BL-KD CD and its relationship to the lineage-linked jing is clearly implicated in sexual functioning.)  Second, the relationship between wei qi and jing shares an analagous relationship to ejaculation:  wei qi is the yang qi which propels jing outside the body.   In this regard, two other CDs come into play, the SJ-PC channel divergence which conveys yang qi (and links the Heart and Kidneys, essential for climax — the moment when Heart Fire is discharged downwards towards the Kidneys) and the LI-LU CD which deals with wei qi.  Third, the SI-HT CD comes into play when sensation is involved; this includes pathophysiologies like vulvadinia and perhaps also hydroceles.   The ST-SP CD comes into play with openness and making sense of the person one is relating to (or not relating to) in sexual intercourse.

Perhaps in a future post, I will take each of the couples as a case study to illustrate the interplay of each channel system.  For now, however, the post is long enough!

As always, these posts are meant for entertainment and educational purposes, and are not meant to diagnose, treat, or cure any particular conditions.  If you or a loved one have recently begun to smell different and you are concerned about what this may mean, please see a qualified practitioner.  Happy Slayage!


Wild at Heart (Buffy Season 4, Episode 6)

Alas, poor Willow.

In this episode we learn why Oz was fascinated by Verucca, the lead singer of a frequent band at the Bronze.  Verucca, like Oz, is a werewolf.  We initially discover this the morning after Oz escapes from his cage and awakes next to a now human Verucca.  In contrast to Oz, Verucca celebrates her wildness and sees it as core to her own identity in the world.

Seeking to prevent her from doing any more damage, Oz locks Verucca away in his cage on the second night of the full moon.  Willow discovers the two of them naked the next morning.  While she had been nervous about the two of them from the start of the episode, this was more than she expected would have happened.

The third night sees the resolution of the Oz-Verucca relationship:  After tracking Verucca’s scent with Buffy, Oz realises they were thrown off the real trail; Verucca had gone to kill Willow.   Willow had been preparing a spell, but found she couldn’t actually go through with hurting the man she loved; this buys time for Verucca to transform into a werewolf and threaten Willow.  Oz arrives just in time, kills Verucca, and then gets tranquilised by Buffy.  The next day Oz leaves Sunnydale — and the show — in order to come to peace with himself.

What to diagnose?  I’ve already designed a potion to treat Oz’s lycanthropy in a previous post.  While I could advise making peace with oneself, I think I may save that for the episode in which Oz returns from Tibet.  Instead, taking my cue from Oz’s uncanny ability to track by scent even in human form, I will discuss the role odour plays in Chinese Medicine.

Listening and smelling is one of the five means of making a diagnosis in Chinese medicine.  The character for the part of diagnosis concerned with listening and smelling is the same — no distinction is made between the two.  The character contains two parts, the door radical, and within or between the doors, an ear.

This character always confused me.  How can it mean ‘to listen’ and ‘to smell’?  I was accustomed to thinking of the ear as a doorway through which perception comes; but this imagery would apply to other senses as well, particularly sight.  When I began to consider the image as an ear behind a closed door, however, the meaning stuck.  The character, which can also mean to receive news,  is indicative of those sense perceptions which do not rely on either sight or personal contact (e.g. touch, taste) to obtain information about the outside world.  Thus, the character presents the physician as a person inside a house and the patient as a person by outside the house.  News can be obtained by a person on one or the other side of the gate through overhearing a conversation, or catching the scent of what passersby may be carrying — flowers or dumplings (or maybe durrian fruit) — or the scent of whatever the inhabitants of the house might be cooking.

In the same way, a patient’s smell can tell us what is going on inside the house of the body.  What is the smell like, by which we can diagnose patients?  It isn’t quite body odor, and it isn’t always immediately noticeable.  Sometimes the odor is more noticeable after coming into the room for a second time.  Sometimes it is noticed after the patient leaves, and their scent lingers in the room.  Other times, it is quite palpable — to use the metaphor of touch in this case!

The various smells are categorised under five headings, each associated with one of the elements.  They can be used to corroborate other information gained from asking questions and feeling the pulse.  The particular imbalance they point to relates directly to either organ systems or meridian systems, so long as the underlying theory is based on five elements (rather than a strict yin-yang, six stages, or qi-blood-body fluids paradigm).

If someone has an imbalance in the wood element, they might smell rancid.  The smell is reminiscent of oil that has gone off.  I associate it with the smell of an old jar of peanut butter.  (Granted, this is a smell I do not often have the opportunity to encounter, since peanut butter rarely lasts long around me…)  The scent can likewise be associated with wood polishing oil or old linseed oil.  Often those liquids are simply old and spoiled oil.  The scent is not the sort of oil obtained from sandalwood or cedarwood, although those can also go rancid.

A fire element imbalance often shows up unsurprisingly as a scorched smell.  This sometimes smells like burnt toast, but I’ve also smelled it as burned flesh, having a slightly sweet edge.  Another time, I encountered it as more akin to the smell of ozone in the air on a summer day.

The odour of earth is fragrant.  I associate it with the smell of baking bread, a very full and rich scent.  Sometimes other fragrances can be indicative of an imbalance in the earth element — skin which smells like honey, or mangoes, or peaches, slightly musky but slightly sweet.  Diabetics sometimes have a fragrant smell to their skin, especially before they are diagnosed as such by biomedicine.   Diabetes is often associated with a Spleen-Stomach imbalance in Traditional Chinese Medicine.

The rotten smell, often accompanied by a certain acridity, is the smell of metal.  It is quite different from rancid in that it does not have an oily quality; it is much more of a piquant, spicy, dry odour.  It also differs from the putrid scent, because it isn’t really the smell of something decaying slowly.  I suppose one could say it smells like rubbish bins outside restaurants — unpleasant, but not altogether so.

Water gives off a putrid odour, the smell of decay.  It is the scent of something slowly stewing in its own juices, locked into the earth by winter ice, unable to go rotten for the cold, and so it just slowly deteriorates.  I sometimes encounter this smell in dentists’ offices, actually.  I am not surprised that the teeth, although having their own microcosm, are strongly associated with the Kidneys (governed by the element water) and with jing-essence (stored in the Kidneys).  Yet the scent can also be like still water with scum on top, a very green scent; or like an old pool, in which the chlorine has somehow collected and concentrated and turned into some other scent.  The earlier reference to jing makes me wonder if the putrid smell is like an old, used condom, but I’m not going to test this theory… someone else can tell me what they think.

As always, these posts are for entertainment purposes only.  If you think Chinese Medicine may have the solutions to your own body odour imbalances, please see a qualified practitioner.  Happy Slayage!

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!