By Mary Elizabeth Wakefield, LAc, Dipl. Ac., MS, MM and MichelAngelo , MFA, CTM
The pursuit of alchemy is one of the more profound legacies of the ancient world, one that encompasses several philosophical traditions spanning some four millennia and three continents. One suggested etymology of the modern English word alchemy is from the Arabic word al-kimia, derived from al-Khem. Contact between China and the Arabic world may have resulted In the transmission of alchemical writings to the East. In the early Tang Dynasty (8th century CE), the word kiem-yak describe the "golden liquor" that was the essence of immortality.
Khem was the ancient Arabic word for Lower Egypt (i.e., the northern part of the country), and specifically referred to the rich black soil of the Nile Delta. The annual rebirth of life from this region,flooded by the abundant waters of the Nile River, provides us with a central image of, and philosophical motivation for, the alchemical art. What better metaphor for the process of renewal at the core of the treatment protocols of facial acupuncture?
The I Ching reminds us that the one reliable constant within our mortal existence is inconstancy. Without change, there can be no hope of transformation, or possibility of rebirth. We can certainly see this mechanism at work in the current upheavals within our world. They are the natural expressions of a collective consciousness seeking to transcend the current mechanistic, materialistic paradigm that has despoiled our planet and exhausted its resources. How appropriate that such a palpable impetus for spiritual evolution should be occurring in this Year of the Earth Ox, characterized by hard work, discipline, duty and success brought about by diligent labor. Oxen are blessed by the compassionate Bodhisattva, Kuan Yin because of their gentle, peaceful natures. In Buddhism, the sacred white ox symbolizes wisdom and contemplation.
It is exactly these very qualities that were indispensable to the solitary alchemist, pursuing the seemingly unattainable goal of transformation, whether it is that of laboratory gold or the "gold" of the spirit. In acknowledging the urgent desire for change, we ourselves long for a profound shift in awareness. In our treatments, we facilitate the restoration of balance and harmony for our patients. We are both raw material - the fertile, black soil - and alchemist/practitioner.
The image of the alchemist that persists in the West is that of a single individual, working assiduously in their laboratory to produce, through the redemption of spirit from matter, the lapis philosophorum (philosopher's stone), an object thought to grant to its possessor infinite power and ageless immortality. It should be noted, however, that a very large percentage of these so-called alchemists were those only desired to transmute lead into gold, and thereby accumulate vast wealth. Nevertheless, we may generalize by saying that Western alchemy may be described as consisting of an external process of transforming matter, the stages of which can be seen (according to Carl Jung) to mirror an inner psychological evolution of the alchemist.
Based upon Taoist philosophy, Chinese alchemy originated from an impulse similar to its Western counterpart. In the Han Dynasty (3rd century BCE), wei dan, or external alchemy, involved not only the consumption of toxic minerals and substances, but also techniques such as visualization of the I Ching, animals and nature concepts. Both of these practices stoked the alchemical fire by means of breathing into the lower dan tien, and "lacing" the qi upwards through the jiaos. Ge Hong, one of the first Chinese alchemists, believed that the minerals contained within themselves the seeds of transformation.
In contrast, the later Sung Dynasty practice of nei dan, or inner alchemy, sought immortality by energetic disciplines, including meditation, transcending the element of time and the mastery of emotions. The idea was to liberate the spiritual essence of the alchemist from the material body, while still remaining in physical form.
Whereas the European alchemist attempted to transform and refine an external substance, generally by heating it in a sealed vessel, the Chinese alchemist viewed the body itself both as raw material and the vessel of its redemption. Therefore, by incorporating these two approaches, the alchemical model of facial acupuncture embraces and encourages the transformation of both patient and practitioner.
The face, the most emotive part of the body, provides eloquent testimony for the benefits of healthy aging. Everything is visible in the face; the seven emotions, discoloration, trauma and abuse all reveal themselves to us as we catch a glimpse of the inner workings of the individual's constitutional functioning. This is reflective of a time-honored axiom of Chinese medicine: "The shen leads the qi." An unbalanced spirit or psyche can disturb the energy, a disharmony which can be discerned from an examination of the facial expression. When out of balance, emotions can directly permeate the organ systems, causing illness. They are the most important causes of internal constitutional dysfunction and reveal themselves to us in the facial terrain, which has evolved through untold eons of time to express those same emotional states.
Unlike the sealed vessel of Western alchemy, the body (the alchemical vessel of the Eastern model), has a "window" into its otherwise hidden depths; the face. The facial landscape, with its intricate interplay of nerves, muscles and blood vessels, readily displays changes such as increased shen, radiance in the complexion, scar improvements, facial wrinkles, etc., and also in the patient's general emotional/spiritual disposition. These recognizable results of a facial acupuncture treatment provide visible evidence that may not be as readily obtained from a purely constitutional treatment. This permits the alchemist-practitioner to witness the dynamics of alchemical transformation at first hand, simply by observing the patient's face.
This capacity of the face to manifest the ebb and flow of our inner life, as well as provide a barometer for our well-being, expresses an interesting variation upon one of the most ancient and fundamental of alchemical maxims. It is inscribed upon the legendary Emerald Tablet: "As above, so below." We might reformulate it, in this context, as "as within, so without."
It is only the face in its most natural state that possesses this capacity for subtle expression. Freezing the face by Botox deprives it of its wonderful motility. The "un-Botoxed" face unashamedly displays to us its wear and tear, emotional imbalances and zang fu disharmonies. It is a vulnerable instrument that displays in its lineaments the essence of whom we are and how we have lived. As practitioners of facial alchemy, we can aid, balance and treat the underlying constitutional imbalances that can impact the appearance of our patients' faces. We need not resurrect their countenances from a semblance of cryogenic "slumber" in order to address digestive, gynecologic or, heart problems, or help them process emotions that, if left dormant, may undermine their health. For example, extreme grief, as part of the emotional profile of the Metal element, can impact the lung, and cause bronchitis or an incipient case of pneumonia within minutes. In contrast, the Botoxed face would not reflect this underlying psycho-spiritual distress, rendering impotent a vital aspect of the body's defense against illness.
In facial acupuncture, the following levels of instruction encompass three different, yet related, states of consciousness and treatment, focused on body/mind/spirit, which interweave, interface and interconnect within a holographic multi-dimensional template: somatic (physical) level; alchemical (psycho-emotional) level; and vibrational (spiritual/shen) level.
An alchemical approach to facial renewal not only engages patients at a deeper level, but also honors the transformative potential of that wondrous organ that not only harbors a chronicle of our lives and a testament to our joys and triumphs, but also provides us with the key to an authentic process of physical and spiritual renewal.
Click here for previous articles by Mary Elizabeth Wakefield, LAc, Dipl. Ac., MS, MM.
MichelAngelo practices energy astrology, a blending of Oriental medicine, bodywork and astrology, with special emphasis on healing with sound. He may be contacted at