The Salt Principle is of vital importance in alchemy and spagyrics, for it represents the physical body of every living thing, and is thus the anchor through which Sulfur and Mercury are able to manifest in this world. As Sulfur is considered the dynamic, active force within everything that radiates and moves up and out, Salt can be seen as its opposite: the passive, magnetic, downward bearing form of everything, with Mercury being the bridge between the two. But ultimately without Salt, everything would be formless, lacking physical separation and distinction, and thus diversity within life.
Chemical salt is NaCl, or sodium chloride. When considering the elemental foundation of the Salt Principle in relation to chemical salt, it makes a lot of sense. Born of the union of the Earth and Water Elements, philosophical Salt is the most fixed, dense, and material principle. If we consider seawater, it is a perfect example of this, for the Earth is contained within the Water, which when evaporated reveals the crystalline salt. This is why it is said in evolutionary biology that all life emerged from the oceans, the primordial mother of matter. Chemical salt is thus the original, archetypal representation of form.
Every living thing has a body. We can consider the primary kingdoms of life as representing the living body of the Earth. Traditionally these were broken down into 3 primary kingdoms: mineral (which includes metals), botanical, and animal (which interestingly enough correlate to Salt, Mercury, and Sulfur, respectively). But as biology has advanced a bit since then, I prefer to include an oftentimes overlooking kingdom and thus include the fungal kingdom here as well. Minerals, plants, fungi, and animals are in essence what constitute the physical part of the Earth as we know it, each one naturally containing a vast range of complexity and biodiversity.
When we consider the foundation of a physical form, it ultimately is based upon minerals, or the matrix from which a body is composed. This is shown by burning anything down to ash, what you get is a baseline mineral matrix, which is said to be the purified body. Naturally bodies are complex as modern anatomy, physiology, botany, and biochemistry has revealed. But in alchemy we are concerned with essences, and here the essence of a body is seen in its minerals.
The Salt of People
The Salt principle within people is simply the body, comprised of multiple layers of self-organized systems: from organelles to cells, cells to tissues, tissues to organs, organs to organ systems, all of which interconnect and communicate with one another to form a highly coordinated, intelligent, and vastly complex system. We’ve really barely scratched the surface in terms of understanding how the human body works and will likely never truly know it all, as it is, according to alchemy, a microcosm of the universe. But the process of discovery is fascinating nonetheless!
So on the large scale perspective, Salt is the various layers of organization within the human body, which we can understand through the modern lens of anatomy, physiology, and biochemistry. Before the advent of modern science, the body was understood through seeing it as a reflection of nature, composed of the planets, elements, and forces of nature. On the largest scale, this comes down to constitutional theory, which recognizes that each human is unique and individual in their bodily composition. Some are of smaller frame with a nervous disposition, others are more muscular in their build and prone to inflammation, while yet a third is heavier and tends to be sluggish and stagnant.
While various constitutional systems abound, from the Ayurvedic tri-dosha and the Chinese 5 Elements, to the 7 planets of traditional medical astrology and the 4 humors of Greek Medicine. Yet what they all have in common is that the human body is seen as a microcosm of nature, that we are comprised of archetypal forces, that we all have our unique predispositions to health and disease, and as such, we should all be treated in a slightly different way. Constitutional models see that different people may have the same symptom but with a different underlying root cause, and thus the therapeutics adjust accordingly.
We are all born with our strengths and weaknesses, psychologically and physically. Constitutional maps help to point towards where we tend to accumulate excesses within the body, as well as where we might be physiologically weaker and prone to imbalance and disease. These point towards a preventative system of medicine, where we can address imbalances that are in process to becoming full fledged disease and treat accordingly with herbs, nutrition, and lifestyle adjustments. This approach is truly at the basis of holistic, vitalist medicine.
When we consider healing from the Salt perspective, we are focused on treating the physical body. As stated, holistic medicine is unique in comparison to modern medicine in that it can recognize physical imbalances that are in process to becoming a disease, which would slip under the radar of many conventional practitioners. This is why so many people go to doctors that don’t feel well but are told they aren’t sick or have a disease because they don’t match specific parameters set by medical institutions that determine what “sick” or “disease” means.
Therefore there are various layers of treating the Salt level. On the most extreme level, it involves treating current acute diseases or symptoms, ideally addressing the root cause of the problem while at the same providing palliative support. The next step down involves balancing the organs, systems, and tissues of the body that may be imbalanced in some way, but not expressing “true disease.” From there it involves supporting the constitution by cultivating lifestyle patterns that temper excesses and strengthen weaknesses and using indicated tonic remedies to do this to specific organ systems. The traditional approach to healing is not just about taking remedies, but aligning our lives with the cycles, rhythms, and patterns of nature, weather, and the seasons to maintain balance of the inner environment with the outer environment.
And of course, in a truly holistic model of healing, we don’t just attend to the body, but strive to see how those physical patterns are correlated to psychological/emotional patterns (Mercury) as well as deeper level traumas or life lessons the soul needs to learn in order to evolve (Sulfur). This is crucial, for in the alchemical view of people and healing, Sulfur, Mercury, and Salt are not necessarily separate entities, but rather three layers of our whole being. One pattern reflected on three levels. The goal of alchemy is to target that core archetypal pattern, administer remedies to it, and thus address the whole person.
The Salt of Plants
In regards to plants, the Salt principle is an essential missing piece from most herbal extracts available on the market. On the high level, like people, it represents the physical body of the plant, its color, texture, morphological characteristics, growth pattern, etc. On the more practical level for spagyric purposes, it is represented by the alkali mineral salts.
As stated in the article on Mercury and the Spirit of People and Plants [LINK], most commercial herbal tinctures are composed of the Mercury and Sulfur of the remedies extracted, but as soon as the marc (spent plant material) is composted, the Salt is discarded. In spagyrics, this all important principle is extracted by incinerating the marc down to an ash, which is ground to a fine powder and calcined, or further purified, by fire. This cycle of grinding and calcining is done over and over again until a very fine, smooth, grey-white colored powder is obtained. This is the crude Salt of the plant that requires further purification.
It’s worth noting that some spagyricists stop here and simply add this crude ash back into their tincture. We believe this is irresponsible, for this ash contains both soluble and insoluble minerals, that latter of which are preferably not ingested by humans. After all, it is when minerals precipitate out of solution within that body that one gets gout, urinary calculi, arthritic deposits, or gall stones. Not ideal.
This is why it is always preferable to further purify the Salt principle with water in a process referred to as dissolution. This separates the water-soluble salts from the ash, which are then crystallized and cohobated back into the finished spagyric, be it a simple tincture or more refined essence.
As stated previously, the Salt principle—being the body— is the physical vehicle through which the soul and spirit are able to function in this world. Thus, when these precious mineral salts are added back into a spagyric preparation, the consciousness (Sulfur) and intelligence (Mercury) of the plant are effectively anchored back into its body. This makes the remedy more “grounded,” and thus obtains a greater physiological affinity than saltless preparations.
Indeed, many plants contain water-soluble minerals that are essential to their medicinal properties. Horsetail (Equisetum arvense) is highly revered for its silica content, Nettle leaf (Urtica dioica) for its iron and multitude of other minerals, Red Raspberry (Rubus idaeus) for its manganese, and so on. Non-spagyric tinctures of these remedies will be completely lacking these minerals that are essential for carrying the full spectrum of these plants' healing properties, which are effectively contained and preserved in the spagyric extract.
Minerals have an incredibly wide range of medicinal and nutritive properties, with entire biochemical pathways requiring specific ones to properly function, even in the most miniscule amounts. In fact, the transcription of DNA to RNA and the coding of proteins requires a wide spectrum of minerals. Many of the cellular gating channels are controlled by minerals, especially sodium (Na) and potassium (K), which are interestingly enough two of the most common minerals found in the plant kingdom. Traditionally it is said that the inclusion of the Salt principle in spagyric remedies drives the remedy deeper into the body and makes them more physiologically active at lower doses. It is theorized that this could be due to the presence of sodium and potassium assisting in opening cellular gating channels to allow the other constituents of the plants into the cells and having a stronger physical effect, though this has not been scientifically proven.
What has been shown clinically though, is that spagyric preparations tend to work much more rapidly at lower dosages than standard herbal tinctures. While the exact mechanisms behind this are currently a mystery, the healing results are noticeably different, and at times profound according to practitioners that routinely use spagyrics for their clients and patients. We believe this is because of the potency of spagyrics in the philosophy behind their preparation, as well as the added physical benefits of having the presence of the all-important Salt principle.
To learn more about the other two philosophical principles, be sure to read Mercury and the Spirit of People and Plants and Sulfur and the Soul of People and Plants.