Welcome to The Botanarchy Times: Holy Lessons In Radical Austerity edition! The season of the Metal Element is upon us, as Autumn exhales the breath of the Gods and fecundates all of creation with her austere magic. This newsletter is an orphic hymn to loss and emptiness, a transcript of what I learned in the Botanarchy Hermitage in 2023 with a dying dog in hospice, where nearly every fleshly attachment I held as sacred was gone in a matter of months. All vestments of corporeal HERENESS vanished before me like a magic act where the linens disappear yet the china remains unbroken. My husband and our german shepherd to sudden divorce, most of my furniture, then the water and power (demanding me to live in an empty house by candlelight for nearly a week), and finally my companion wolf Mandrake, who made his final exit under the full October moon. For many of my patients, this year was that scenario played out in various guises, an extended Mass of Tenebrae with a gradual extinguishing of candles culminating in crawling darkness. Whether you’ve been having a Metal Season or a Metal Year, this element teaches hard lessons in radical austerity. The qi of nature is in reverse, summoning us to the underworld with a beckoning finger wave. Natural law dictates that the flow of sap must change direction before distilling its sweetness in the bowels of the Earth, and Ol’ Father Time pulls the leaves off the trees to return to origin as mulch. The lesson? Do not resist the dungheap.
In the Taoist classics, Metal is described as ‘condensed yang’ - precious energy that has moved into storage. Before modern physicists even traced the origin of Metal to dust clouds formed by the stars and the sun in a prehistoric rager in outer space, Taoist philosophers believed that Metal’s purpose was to grace the earth with the ‘purity of heaven’. Our embodied Metal element is the Lungs and Large Intestine, who provide the pivot of gain and loss for the entire body cosmos. Metal organs accumulate precious qi from above via inhalation, and cut our losses out the back end via defection. Uniting Heaven and Earth, they are our emissaries to the celestial and chthonic realms, and the polarity of their emptying and filling keeps us aligned with the cadence of nature, true to the purity of our untarnished core and not full of proverbial sh^t. Metal embodies the archetypal energy of Autumn - releasing, refining, and stripping down to what's essential, like verdant grasses turning to seed to reveal the sublime purity of bones and rocks and shadow and erosion.
The Metal Element says:
In the spirit of the season of letting go, I am sharing the eulogy I wrote for my dog Lord Mandrake, now Saint Mandrake of the Cahuenga Pass, who crossed into the void the afternoon of the full autumn moon.
May he rest in peace.
Mandrake went the way of the pilgrim under the spartan boughs of my sycamore tree, almost a year to the day that I was married beneath it. A circle of witches ensconced him, and as he was ushered from one floating world to the next over a bonfire, the full moon rose over his patron mountain, Mount Lee. The moon emerged like Mandrake with an angelic wink and an alabaster grin, enduring, loyal, generous, and faithful… a hermit’s lamp, an eternal light, a cyclic being of wonder. And as the cycle dictates, Mandrake was reborn and rose again as a benevolent ancestor and landvættir of my little hill. He left us with an alchemical tale about autumn, how physical matter with all its inescapable needs can surrender to pure, animate transparency, the dissolution of elements returning to origin.
It was clear to all who met him that Mandrake was not a dog. Preternaturally gracious, elegant, gentle, and polite despite a history of abuse on the streets, he had the unmistakable air of a christian mystic, venerated master, traveller from the floating world, an emissary of the great beyond. Like all great gentleman, he loved mushroom foraging, bowties, Mendocino, hunting, Keats, solitude, remote forests, warm fires, thought lamb was the finest meat, and always asked before getting on the furniture. He was a magician and shaman in the purest sense - he took on the morass of a sullied world and transformed it into small acts of magic without making a ripple. During times of great crisis in my life, he would come down with illnesses that I was prone to, and spontaneously heal from them, protecting me from their clutches. Mandrake taught me how to flagrantly love people and bestow my gifts of protection upon them wantonly with fierce loyalty. All are holy and worthy, and if you have the strength and gumption to spare, you should use it to quietly alleviate the suffering of others with reverence and honor. Everyone who has ever been my patient has received a healing intercession from Mandrake.
In the last year of his life, people would come by just to watch him sleep in the yard, the way you would make a pilgrimage to a holy well. I would often take pictures of him, and in the photos he was ensconced in a rainbow or emanating white light. I never understood why such an ascended being chose me until the end of his life. Recently blindsighted by divorce and having also lost our companion hound Athena, it was just the two of us in hermitage on our hill while he shifted between the worlds with advancing dementia. Having a senior dog with dementia takes a certain grit and panache, a willingness to confront death and decay on a daily basis that would cripple those who don’t live in this world during the sunlight hours as well. A gnarly bog witch by trade, I lifted him out of ditches, carried him around the yard, disinfected his bedsores, cleaned him when he was soiled. I would wake every night to his howling moans, and we would make gremlin sounds together and sit in silence gazing into the void. The two of us coexisted in the WYRD and the WEIRD. It was an honor to serve him, and I told him I was willing to get as weird as he needed for as long as he needed. And then last week, he told me it was time.
Lord Mandrake is now Saint Mandrake of the Cahuenga Pass, and you can petition him for healing miracles. If you need someone to behold you in your messiness and bestow a gift of unconditional love, he is there for you. Eternal, perpetual, a benevolent ancestor and local landvættir. In his honor, I share my favorite Japanese death poem written by the poet Saiba, who, like Mandrake, died on the day of the full autumn moon:
In honor of Saint Mandrake of the Cahuenga Pass, may we come to understand the purity of Metal through returning to the Earth what has completed its cycle. We will be the wind blowing through the empty trees, we will dance The Waltz Of The Dead like our righteous hearts were never hardened. Onwards, into the void!
In health and solidarity,
By Carolyn Barron
 II. TO TURKEYTAIL [TRAMETES VERSICOLOR]
Fumigation with Myrrh
Goddess of phantoms,
By fate’s decree you must feast upon the dead.
Some will say you’re a necromancer,
finessing life from death
and reversing the cloying pull of entropy
Your fanned fungal fronds emerging like feathered tails upon dead hardwood as you devour your host.
The West degrades you by calling you names,
By pointing out your tail
(like it’s a vestigial digit
of a dim-witted bird)
As if an alchemist in the tradition of Zosimos of Panopolis could be besmirched by such pedestrian poultry patois.
In Latin, they revere you as Trametes Versicolor:
a group of small, thin ones,
tremendously variable in color.
A cluster of witches in colorful robes, feeding upon the dead, casting out poisons and spitting them into the cuspidors of the void.
The Chinese call you Cloud Fungus 雲芝,
Which gets at it, enough.
Like a cloud you rise up from the depths,
taking with you its chthonic coffers of
curatives & philters,
triterpenes & sterols.
And for those who are emboldened by your medicines, you ensconce us in tendrils of protective magic.
When I think of you, which I do, often
You come to me as the Bard Of Bioremediation
Seeker of cancers, devourer of blight,
eviscerater of our chemical sins.
I heard from Paul Stamets that he trained you to digest the chemical warfare agent, VX.
At the ready, you dismantle the military industrial complex,
gnawing upon its corpse.
She Who Denatures The Noxious Fumes Of Capitalism,
I beseech you!
(gently, but with firm punctuation)
Solve our eternal quandary:
There is no space, there is no space, there is no space left on Earth
Disembody our contaminants!
Build us armor from their venoms!
Teach us to be decomposers!
Invite us into your mystery school so that we may learn:
All poisons can be degraded
Nothing is too abject to be out of bounds
Balance will be found through decomposition
The gold is in the dungheap.
More than any other medicinal mushroom, Turkey Tail supports the body’s ability to detoxify. Be it the noxious aftereffects of industrialization or structures that poison and bind, she's a decomposer of the highest order, fanned fungal fronds emerging like feathered tails upon dead hardwood, singing Disintegration as she devours her host. Some may call her a necromancer, finessing life from death and reversing the cloying pull of entropy, a Confederate of Chaos that has found her way through to the other side. Call her what you will, she’s a pluripotent wonder - Adaptogen, Antioxidant, Anti-Inflammatory, Antibacterial, Immunostimulant. In Chinese, she is called Cloud Fungus, and like a cloud she rises up from the depths ensconcing us in tendrils of protective magic, increasing our Wei Qi forcefield against pathogens and the rigors of our environment, replenishing essence and qi with her licentious largesse. With an affinity for the lungs (where clouds like to gather in the cosmos of the body), I use Turkey Tail in my practice to prevent infection, assist in balancing the microbiome, and to support my cancer patients, as she helps mitigate the pernicious side effects of chemo and radiation whilst sporting anti-tumoral properties. In latin, she’s known as Trametes Versicolor - a group of small, thin ones, tremendously variable in color. A cluster of witches in colorful robes, feeding upon the dead, casting out poisons and spitting them into the cuspidors of the void.
Because they are decomposers that play in the underworld and dabble in alchemy, Turkey Tail mushrooms bear the mark of the Metal Element, who’s minerals they liberate from the mortal forms that bind them. Taoist scholar Kristofer Schipper says that for the Chinese alchemist Ge Hong, mushrooms had "immortalizing properties,” as they are produced from the sublimation of waidan - alchemical minerals like gold and cinnabar lying deep under the ground in the cauldron belly of the earth. Mushrooms imbibe the quintessence of these divine metals, sublimate it, then festoon it into grand elixirs that humans can imbibe for enlightenment and longevity by feasting upon its flesh.
Not just a medieval alchemist but a modern mage as well, Turkey Tail mushrooms are used for bioremediation, the process of training microorganisms to consume and break down environmental pollutants like oil, pesticides, and industrial waste. In this capacity, Turkey Tail is Wei Qi for Gaia herself, denaturing substances that aim to harm her whilst sheltering her from human folly. Like a more genteel Tiger King, infamous mycologist Paul Stamets trained Turkey Tail to digest the chemical warfare agent, VX. Poised and at the ready, it dismantles the military industrial complex, gnawing upon its corpse. Turkey Tail has been studied extensively for its ability to denature endocrine-disrupting chemicals in the environment like phenols, parabens, and phthalates that alter normal hormone regulation, contribute to cancer growth, and damage reproductive health and the body en masse (read about it here!). It also performs this very miracle in our body cosmos, increasing anti-tumoral agents like natural killer cells and T-cells. Polysaccaride K, one of the most prolific cancer treatment medicines used in Japan, is derived from Turkey Tail and prescribed for patients with gastric cancer, breast cancer, colorectal cancer, and lung cancer. In Five Element Alchemical Medicine, Metal brings quality to Wood, meaning herbs that support the Metal element create healthy growth and support structures in human bodies, the way minerals create flourishing plants that are verdant, vibrant, flexible, prolific, and healthy.
Turkey Tail is a reminder that all poisons can be degraded, nothing is too abject to be out of bounds, balance will be found through decomposition and disintegration, the gold is in the dungheap. Seeker of cancers, devourer of blight, that which eviscerates our chemical sins, it can be used for energetic bioremediation when taken daily as a sacramental tea. Ingested with reverence, it is an ally if you feel heavy and laden with toxicity, overly sensitive, teetering on collapse, exposed to noxious situations or people, besotted with negative self-talk (especially invalidating patterns that have been culturally-enforced against your will), and possessing low resistance and fragile immunity.
To use the mushroom this way, or rather, to fuse with it (mushrooms prefer reciprocal aid to transactional capital), follow these loose brewing guidelines and feel free as always to embellish:
When you are bonding with a mushroom, you should commune daily in open-ended spacetime in seated silence. Follow the energy downward as you sip your tea, down, down, down, into the chthonic underbelly of your gut, following the tendrils as she snakes through your body. Allow her to disembody your contaminants, for she builds armor from venoms. Imagination is key. Let your feelings be felt and fester, and trust her to dissolve their density. Repeat, repeat, repeat.
By Carolyn Barron
Metals are created by Earth, shaped and smelted by Fire, and become the flesh of Water. They represent the contraction of energy inwards, surrendering to transformation like diamonds being forged in the depths. In their capacity to harvest decomposed minerals and store them in crystalline matrices of lustrous strength, they mark the cycles of Compost, Crystallization, Concentration, and Completion.
We see these patterns reflected in the ecologic role of Metals within the ecosystem around us. As alchemists, recyclers, and the skeletal remains of our structures and systems, Metals:
We can find the somatic imprint of the Metal element in our barrier systems and protective shields, our organs that take in and let go, and the Lungs and Large Intestine who accumulate precious qi from above via inhalation and cut our losses out the back end via defection. The Metal element is intimately embroiled with the deep, ancient instincts of smell and touch that allow our primal selves to sense the world around us. In the psychospiritual realm, Metal creates the instincts and survival drives that arise from the depths of origin, the embryonic lunar light of yin.
To be in flow with Metal is to be content with loss, not rushing to fill emptiness with things. It is to be reflective, resisting the externalization of every impulse and action. It is to be able to plunge our depths for intrinsic riches to sustain us through the dark moon of the year. Firm yet malleable Metal centers us in the reality of ever-changing nature and the impermanence of life. When Metal is in her full expression, we can question our values and design rituals and structures that support them in flourishing when the qi of Nature is ready for growth. As she crystallizes within us, we are able to create order from disorder, possess strength under pressure, and weave magic and beauty from the fabric of our tao. Metal dons the corset and leather gloves, reminding us that in discipline and structure there is wild freedom. She tidies the drawers and polishes the mirror of our very being so that we may know our worth and exult in our brilliance.
The AcuPoint that most strengthens the essential nature of Metal within the body cosmos is Lung 8 - Meridian Gutter. Found on the lung meridian over the pulsation of the radial artery, Meridian Gutter clears the gutters of of any debris, stagnations, obstructions, and rubbish that is obscuring the clarity of our essential nature. As the Metal point on the Lung meridian, it empowers Metal’s virtue of purity, which allows us to revel in the holiness of emptiness, rid ourselves of the old to court the mystery of the new.
Acupuncture meridians are the esoteric anatomy of the body, a framework for activation of the flow nature of the universe. Five Element Acupuncturist Lonny Jarret says that
“the unique property of acupuncture points is their ability, with stimulation, to restore our memory of original nature. Each point has the capacity to evoke some aspect of functioning that has been lost, buried under the accretions of life’s habituating influence.”
As conduits of flow, they bring us into harmony with wu-wei, removing any physical or emotional blockages that interfere with natural and spontaneous development. When we awaken to our esoteric anatomy through acupuncture points, we enter into an exploration of deep time, or rather, mythic time. Sliding our fingers over the skin at Meridian Gutter, we can feel the waste being flushed away by the pulsing currents of water as it courses through the vessels. In understanding our bodies through the ancient senses of touch and sound, we come to understand the patterns of its inner landscape and weather systems. Here, the dead leaves of autumn are washed away and the gutters are cleansed by the rushing of fresh rain water. Feel it for yourself right now.
AcuPoint Lung 8 - Meridian Gutter:
While you are working with Meridian Gutter, you may want to magnify its potency with one of the Metal element rituals I practice this time of year:
Metal represents the condensing of spirit into matter, the sacred into the mundane. Consecrate a sacred object out of something blasé you already have in your house. Carry this with you at all times through Metal season.
Find a place you can sit and gaze at the horizon through the empty trees. Marvel at the revelatory seduction of Nature’s strip tease.
The gift of Metal is that it allows for purity of vision that cuts through the superfluous right to the core. Identify what drives your actions, and strive to only do what feels in alignment with the fullest expression of your tao.
Every autumn, I do what I like to call a ‘ritual inventory’. I make a list of the sanity-inducing rituals & litanies that get me through my weeks. I make sure that these practices have continued to be generative, that I’m not clutching to things out of fear or habit. I hold each one up to the light, and ask the age old AnarchaTaoist question: Does this giveth qi, or taketh away? Shedding now encourages healthier expression and growth in spring.
If we keep filling ourselves and our lives with stuff, there’s no space for beauty to penetrate deeply inside. Ritualistically empty a shelf or cupboard in your house and vow to never fill it. Allow it to be a symbol of your commitment to courting the numinous.
Though spangly and supernal by their very nature, crystals are valuable market commodities because they are non-renewable resources that take thousands - sometimes millions - of years to form. Crystal mining is rife with severe human rights violations and environmental harm, and once an area has been stripped of its minerals it often suffers massive losses of biodiversity. Crystal Repatriation is a concept I reverently borrowed from the witch Dori Midnight. It is a practice of sacrificing your crystals back into the earth from which they were wrested. It is a pact you are making with the land to be a better ancestor and land steward. If you don’t want to loose something of value - even better! That sacrifice will allow you to make contact with the ephemeral, transient nature of objects and examine how value and worth come from actions and principal. Very Metal element.
A belief system can be viewed like the structure of a crystal - a matrix of information into which we pour emotional energy. Adopt a belief system for the duration of Metal season. This can be a belief about yourself (I am irresistible) others (people are benevolent by nature), or a religious belief (all objects are animate beings). Notice the malleability of belief and how belief shapes YOU. Keep a notebook of how this belief is shaping and affecting your life for the duration of the season.
It’s verbose, antiquated, and laden with Lovecraftian pathos, but time and time again I return Liber Astarte: On Uniting Oneself To a Deity By Devotion - a ritual practice I did to bind myself to a healing deity when I began working in medicine. If this feels too much - which, by design, it unequivocally is - you can devote yourself to a craft, art, or practice for the duration of the season. At the very least, you can choose a deity, set up an altar in the Metal corner of your house, and make appropriate offerings throughout the course of the season.
To mark the glorious decomposition of Metal season with eroded exuberance, here’s a selection of the finest biodegradable burial vestments and mushroom burial suits paired with jisei, Japanese death poems. Death poems are an East Asian literary tradition that offer a reflection on death from its craggy precipice, a small act of worship for the clarity of awareness that endings and emptyings bring. Death poems are my favorite poetic medium, for they touch upon all of the themes that bring Metal season alive… grief for the ephemeral, an appreciation of the transient nature of things, deep identification with nature and its cycles, the recycling of elements between land and living, and a reverent, holy acceptance of loss within the birth-death-rebirth wheel of life.
At the end, I included my version of a death poem, an Anarcha Taoist paean on aging that I composed while my father was hospitalized after a cerebral incident that we thought would end his life. It bucks tradition and is a bit long form, brevity is not my thing.
ECOSENSUAL MEDICINE POEM III
by Carolyn Barron
Taoist physicians believe
Is a sea of marrow
Ebbing, flowing through cavities of calcified honeycomb
A temple of Jing pulsing inside osseous tissue.
The Sea Of Marrow is the material basis of
the fives senses:
taste, touch, smell, hearing and seeing.
It is natural
for the Sea of Marrow to wane as we grow old
Somewhere in biology’s continuum between birth and decay
Recede the senses like sparse vegetation.
The body becomes:
A chapel of bones
A chest of skeletal remains washed ashore on the beach,
interning the remnants of sense & memory.
like eburnine ivory.
like sea glass.
trapped like ancient organisms in the nectarous amber of
the scent of burnt matches that tangled themselves in steam,
rising up from the bathtub of the lover that bathed me like a sacrificial lamb.
the sound of my mother’s respirator amidst a symphony of staccato beeps.
I will have no children to ponder these things
while my carotid is being auscultated
for the umpteenth time.
Down here in the catacombs
A calcimine sea of deficits,
deteriorating emotional control and social behavior.
The equivocal nature of
Is it helpful to say Alzheimer’s Disease and Vascular Dementia
or Slow Excitotoxicity
Neuronal atrophy and synapse loss in the prefrontal cortex and
I don’t really know.
I am not sure these get us anywhere closer to the truth:
that cognition is sinuous and its sea is
a weaving waterway that is prone to growing scum in crooks
and bends like so many rivers I have known and loved
whose course is slowed by the magic of time.
Phlegm disturbs the vessels and blocks the flow of vital essence:
The audacity of ontogenesis.
Reader queries into the mystic wilds of the body can be submitted to email@example.com. Time permits but one answer a month at this juncture.
This season’s query comes from a sublimely witchy patient who had the gumption to ask:
“What ritual practices do you use for the winter transition?”
Sequestered and shrouded deep within earth’s core, Metals alert us to the hidden treasures within, much like how autumn asks us to go inward and mine the caves of our interior for riches to sustain us through the yin time of year. Metal is one of the first things we pounded and shaped for use, and as such, has always been emblematic of alchemy and transformation. During the transition from autumn to winter, I work on empowering the Metal element functions of refining, catalyzing, crystallizing, and clearing. I do this by way of an ancient Taoist alchemical meditation called Jindan ‘Golden Elixir Meditation’.
As the reservoirs of our life force and pluripotent potentiality, the Kidneys, resting in the lower cauldron of the body, are a subterranean sanctum that stores the seed potential of our inherited constitution. This primordial dark matter is known as Jing 精, loosely translated as ‘essence’ but best understood as the alchemical marriage of DNA and sexual energy, serpentine stockpiles of lifeforce that provide the blueprint for the material basis of the human body and the nest egg for fueling all that we long to gestate in this lifetime. Along with Shen - spirit - and Qi - energy - Jing is one of the Three Treasures of the Eastern Medical Arts, and it is the will of this work to nurture, protect, cultivate, and sustain it.
Jing is water in the well, our inheritance from our last life and all the others before it, intimately embroiled with DNA but utterly beyond it… some may say that it’s our epigenetic ancestral life force. But Jing isn’t JUST the ephemeral cosmic serpent of DNA, it’s spirit materialized in density and substance, informing the robustness of our blood and flesh. It’s what makes things juicy, as Jing is the substructure of the sexiest elixirs of life - blood, semen, marrow, menstrum, the elixir rubeus. Jing is swoony like that.
Jing is utilized anytime we tap into our reserves, and it is THEE work upon this seasonal precipice to allocate these reserves appropriately so that we survive the harshness of winter with gusto. Though aging is quite literally the process of loosing Jing, it can also be egregiously squandered through the spoils of a life well-lived in reckless abandon - spilling seed, chasing darkness, worshipping adrenaline, Bacchanalian benders, and their 2023 equivalent of slaving in the Late Capitalist Bardo. But fret not! As sure as Jing can be leaked and lost, it can also be strengthened and sequestered, and as the Secretary of the Jing Preservation Society, I’m here to teach you how.
This meditative offering is a daily Jing cultivation practice you can use in the dark moon of the year to stock your larders for the coming winter. In the crucible of my Metal Year, this is how I smelted the hard contraction of perpetual shock and remained luminously fluid like molten gold. In this alchemical meditation, the human body becomes a cauldron in which the Three Treasures of Jinq, Qi, and Shen are refined and circulated by means of cyclical breath and visualization. I’ve kept the phrasing of this meditation fully intact to maintain the potency of the technique as it was interpreted by Taoist teacher Liu Ming. As such, there may be some concepts that require elucidation:
❁ Small Orbit: Also called the Microcosmic Orbit, the movement of energy through this energetic orbit distills Jing in the cauldron of the body using breath and concentration. The rising sensation is like steam or evaporating dew spiraling up the spine to the top of the head on inhalation, and the descending is like a trickling natural spring cascading down the front of the body on exhalation, returning to its source at the base of the perineum. The small orbit is repeated over and over again until the Jing is condensed into a crystalline dew.
❁ Du Mai Channel: An acupuncture channel and energetic pathway that runs along the back midline of the body. Known as The Sea of Yang, it originates in the cauldron fire between the kidneys, flows downwards to the perineum, and then runs up the length of the spine through the brain to the top of the head.
❁ Ren Mai Channel: An acupuncture channel and energetic pathway that runs along the front midline of the body. Known as The Sea of Yin, it originates in the cauldron fire between the kidneys, flows downwards to the perineum, and then runs up the anterior of the body from the navel to the mouth.
❁ Chong Mai: A hollow, tunnel-shaped energetic channel that shuttles energy and Jing through the innermost center of the body.
❁ Dantian: Translated as Elixir Field, the dantian is where energy - or elixir - is stored in the body. The lower dantian is known as the Vessel Of Jing, and rests at the root of the body in the deep space below our navel.
❁ Wu Wei: The act of non-doing, the principal of not forcing. In cultivating wu wei, we allow action to be spontaneous, automatic, instinctive, and flowing, letting nature take its own course without interference.
❁ Wei Qi: The protective energy that ensconces the surface of the body like glowing armor.
Visuals for this alchemical meditation were provided by my Shui Dom/Witch-Sis-In-Arms, the inimitable Meghan Wallace James. Enjoy.
“There are moments when the elixir of life rises to such overbrimming splendor that the soul spills over. In the seraphic smile of the madonnas the soul is seen to flood the psyche. The moon of the face becomes full; the equation is perfect. A minute, a half minute, a second later, the miracle has passed. something intangible, something inexplicable, was given out—and received.”
-- Henry Miller, Sexus