Anima Mundi, the “soul of the world” as described by the early European alchemists, infuses herself into diverse forms that are interconnected by their similar natures. Astrology, astrological magic and alchemy are all historically based on understanding how celestial and terrestrial influences are linked, and using those links to invoke, activate, propitiate, and magnetize those powers.
Knowing these interconnected “Virtues”, as the old alchemists and astrologers called them, we can easily create simple rituals that use aromatics, just as they have always been used in ancient temple incenses, for the purpose of invoking and strengthening specific planetary influences, first inside our own body and mind, and then in the world around us through synchronistic events.
Herbs and aromatics have been classified according to their solar and lunar qualities in virtually every classical medical, alchemical, and astrological tradition throughout the ages. These correspondences are generally easy to understand, and can be correlated directly to heating or cooling effects. Heating and cooling effects, in turn, can be understood physiologically as stimulating or relaxing, which can then be linked to the functions of the autonomic nervous system.
Therefore, the easiest way to understand solar herbs and aromatics is that they are warming, drying, stimulating and more related to activation of the sympathetic nervous system, whereas lunar herbs and aromatics are cooling, moistening, relaxing and more related to activation of the parasympathetic nervous system.
A beautiful depiction of the classification of herbs and aromatics according to the Sun and the Moon is seen in the mandalic garden of the Medicine Buddha, which is said to be where the Medicine Buddha gave the teachings of the Tibetan medical system.
In this old thangka from the 1600s we can see an image of the sun in the lower southern region, with representations of some of the most important solar-natured herbs and aromatics, including black pepper, long pepper, cinnamon, and ginger.
In the upper northern region, we find an image of the moon and depictions of the most important lunar-natured herbs and aromatics, including white and red sandalwood, camphor, and agarwood.
When we study the ancient recipes for temple incenses, the primary ingredient that will always be found in formulas for the Sun will be frankincense. This is not surprising: the golden colored resin tears from trees growing in the blazing desert were described by old physicians of Greece and Egypt as “crystalized drops of sunlight.”
But frankincense is more than crystalized sunlight in the botanical realm; its aromatic influence on our consciousness uplifts and brightens the spirit in ways that help overcome emotional darkness. The resin is also the tree’s immune power, which supports our own immunological vitality, the body’s ability to distinguish Self from Other at the microbial level.
Here is a simple way to use frankincense to harmonize with the astrological powers of the Sun, inwardly and outwardly:
Use an incense burner that is lined with sand at the bottom. Light an incense charcoal, and when the coal is glowing, place a small tear of frankincense resin on it, being aware that you are making an offering directly into a tiny ray of the Sun in the burner. Remember that the resin is a crystalized drop of liquid from the tree, which represents the tree’s immune power. If you are not able to do this incense ritual, you can simply use some frankincense essential oil in a diffuser, or place a drop or two on the palms of the hands for direct inhalation.
Now that you are surrounded by the aroma of frankincense, whether in the form of ceremonial smoke or simply from the fragrance in the diffuser, you can consciously harmonize with and merge into the beneficent powers of the Sun. Inhale the fragrance deeply, visualizing that you are breathing sunlight directly into the heart. Feel how the crystalized sunlight from the ancient trees strengthens and brightens your mental alertness, which then becomes a manifest as a luminous field of subtle energy around the body. Contemplate, and feel physically, that this increased solar radiance flows into the heart, strengthening and liberating the best qualities in your sense of Self, while simultaneously potentizing your immune system and purifying the atmosphere of pathogens.
Harmonizing with the influences of the moon means that we are using herbs and aromatics that calm and nourish the nervous system, hydrate through relaxation, and rejuvenate through deepened rest, relaxation, and meditative states. It means that our emotional nature is cool and clear. Moonlight in Ayurveda is called Soma, which also refers to the blissful nectar released by the brain in deep meditative states.
Here is a simple method for bringing moonlight into the body and mind, through inhalation of aromatics into the olfactory system, and into the deeper recesses of the limbic system and consciousness:
Sit under the radiance of the full moon, bathing in its pearlescent light. Then, anoint yourself with a drop of sandalwood oil. Slowly inhale it through the left nostril, which yoga describes as the lunar channel of breath, which activates the cooling effects of the parasympathetic nervous system. Feel how the lunar qualities of inner quiet spread through the body and gradually sink into the mind, bringing about a sense of inner peace. Specifically, feel why sandalwood is described as the “calmness of the moon” in liquid form.
This simple practice can help antidote some of the disturbances of other planetary influences, such as the Mercurial overstimulation of the mind from excess thoughts, the irritation of Martial heat from confrontation and conflicts we may have during the day, and the Saturnian heaviness of too much work and too many responsibilities. You can also do this practice with rose and jasmine oils, or any combination of those with sandalwood.
When harmonizing with the influences of Mercury, we want to do four things: (1) to strengthen the powers of mental clarity and concentration; (2) to improve the power of the voice; (3) to increase our capacity for clear communications; and (4) to calm the nervous system so that the mind is not overstimulated by Mercury’s cerebral and airy nature. The best oils that do all of these things at once are the conifer oils such as spruce, pine, fir and juniper.
Here is a simple way to activate the positive powers of Mercury using aromatherapy:
Put a drop of a conifer oil on the palms of the hands and inhale deeply. Feel the fragrance from the forest flowing through the sinuses and olfactory system into the brain, energizing and uplifting the mind. Notice how the tree aromas sharpen concentration yet simultaneously relax nervous tension.
Inhale again, and this time focus on the flow of the breath, and the feeling of the oil as it expands the lungs and clears the throat.
Inhale the oils a third time, and connect all these flows of prana: the energy of the brain that allows us to form thought, the power of the breath that is the basis of speech that allows us to express those thoughts.
Try this simple method before giving a speaking presentation, or before a writing project, to enhance the positive creative and expressive powers of Mercury.
How can we harmonize with the influences of Venus, to remind us of the wellbeing of our natural inner beauty? We could sit and watch the evening star come into view in the twilight, and as she does anoint ourselves with a drop of pure jasmine oil, to calm the overactive Mercurial mind of the day. It is a good time to remember what we have worked so hard for, which is the time to relax and enjoy the healthy pleasures of the senses, of intimacy and romance.
All the flower oils are under the sphere of Venus, especially jasmine, ylang-ylang, rose, champa, neroli, and all the other floral ingredients of perfume. These are different from medicinal flowers such as lavender and helichrysum, because they have more potent aphrodisiac effects on consciousness, which is not just for erotic purposes in relationships, but the enjoyment that every sense gives us, from the food we eat, to the physical wellbeing from good health, to the mental pleasures of artistic creations and expressions.
No matter what our astrological sign is, the highly concentrated essences of Venus found in the flora oils are beneficial for the heart, the mind and body; Ayurvedic texts specifically say that the sweet fragrance of flowers is a rejuvenative elixir that gives not only pleasure, but long life.
In clinical practice, we find many opportunities for harmonizing with the pathological aspects of Mars, which manifests in the body as heat, inflammation and infections. We can think immediately of several categories of aromatics that can be pacifying for Martian energies, both physically and emotionally.
Clary sage essential oil is one of the most consistent and predictable ways to quickly cool menopausal heat. Some women find that simply inhaling the fragrance from the bottle is sufficient, some find that a few drops in the bath is better, and some find that using the oil diluted in a body oil is best.
Lemon balm essential oil is a famous antiviral remedy for herpes viruses, both type 1 and type 2, and also for shingles outbreaks. It is well tolerated with direct application of undiluted oil, but what works even better is a salve along with other cooling flower oils such as chamomile.
The best examples of counteracting the fire of Mars are the two flower oils of lavender and helichrysum for treating burns. Both of these are generally safe and beneficial in their undiluted form, but more effective within a cooling carrier, such as fresh aloe vera gel.
The most supreme aromatic for attracting the blessings of Jupiter’s beneficence is without a doubt Agarwood, also known as Oud. So great is its magic that it is referred to as a “wish-fulfilling gem.” This deep, soft, sweet woody aroma is gently released when we heat a tiny piece of the wood that is rich with dark resin, which only happens in the trees under special circumstances.
Agarwood is the basis of some of the world’s finest incense, but it is increasingly rare and expensive. For those who would like to experience the power of Jupiter, however, a small investment in a piece of fine wood or high-quality incense is well worth the price; if used with reverence and positive aspirations it may confirm its reputation for you, which is that it creates spiritual synchronicity that brings unique blessings and removes obstacles.
Jupiter could be described as a “planetary wish-fulfilling gem,” who governs abundance and manifestation. Specifically, I have found that it is most beneficial when we use it to visualize our true potential and ask for the resources to manifest our persona Dharma, our true purpose in life.
Sit peacefully while a wisp of smoke escapes from the wood or incense, and reflect inwardly about your life purpose, and what blessings you may need to manifest that calling. In Japanese ceremonies, this is called “listening to the incense,” which is both a meditation practice as well as a way of manifesting magic through visualization.
Have you started to feel the effects of aging coming into the body? The passage of time moving through the tissues is bringing us closer every day to the age of Saturn, where we are blessed with wisdom from years of experience, but unfortunately, we are also stiff, dry, hard and prone to depressive states. In Ayurvedic terms, this is the third phase of life, the age of Vata.
Understanding Vata is the clue that helps us apply the antidote against creeping Saturnian physiological changes, which can minimize the discomforts of aging while increasing its mental and spiritual benefits. Warm oil massage is our best weapon against this force, and warm oil is the perfect vehicle for countless aromas from properly diluted essential oils.
One of the greatest herbal oils in Ayurveda is Mahanarayan Oil, a true herbal treasure composed of lubricating herbs such as shatavari and numerous spices such as ginger and tulsi. A teaspoon of this herbal oil is the perfect carrier for adding essential oils, which can be more warming spices such as a drop of black pepper, or cooling anti-inflammatories such as lavender or helichrysum, or musculoskeletal stimulants such as frankincense.
One of my favorite oils for this purpose is vetiver, a thick and viscous oil distilled from roots that have the spectacular effect of relaxing muscle tension while simultaneously uplifting the mood and benefitting the skin. Three to five drops of vetiver can be added to a tablespoon of Mahanarayan Oil or plain sesame oil and massaged into the neck and shoulder muscles several times a week.
NOTES ON THE DISTILLATION OF PLANETARY INFLUENCES
- The distillation of essential oils not only extracts the volatile compounds from aromatic plants, but also their planetary qualities, in highly concentrated forms. By understanding how distillation affects essential oils we can use them safely for maximum benefits, including for astrological purposes.
- An aromatic spice such as cinnamon, for example, can be classified as a solar natured herb, because it has physiologically warming properties; the essential oil distilled from cinnamon, however, will not just be warming, it will be intensely fiery by nature, capable of causing serious burns on the skin and inflammation in the digestive tract if consumed. Therefore, we can say that the distillation process concentrates the powers of the Sun that are found in warming spices to an exponential degree.
- Distillation in general tends to make almost all essential oils, not just from spice plants, hotter by nature than their whole herb counterpart: even oils from cooling herbs such as lavender can sometimes cause contact dermatitis if applied undiluted on the skin, and will definitely cause gastric inflammation if consumed orally.
- This concentrating effect also makes essential oils drying by nature, even when they are from plants that are moistening before distillation; dryness with heat is an aspect of the Sun, while dryness with cold is an aspect of Saturn. Citrus fruits, for example, are moistening and hydrating, but citrus essential oils are so drying they will quickly damage the skin if applied improperly.
- Distillation concentrates other influences in different ways as well, such as oils in the realms of the Moon and Venus, which are primarily the flowers. A tea made from flowers such as jasmine, rose or gardenia will have a cooling, soothing and mildly sensual effect, but the effects of those oils on consciousness could be described poetically as moonlight in a bottle, or the inebriating aphrodisiac power of Venus herself in liquid form.
- We could also describe herbs under the influence of Mercury’s air element in a similar way. Aromatic plants that open the lungs to enhance oxygenation while simultaneously sharpening the mind and improving concentration, such as rosemary, will be even more potent in essential oil form.