Eclipses—Vitality Blackouts / Solomon's Seal + Comfrey Leaf
We have just exited this year’s first eclipse season in the signs of Cancer/Capricorn, triggering within us sudden awareness and desires for transformation, the precise nature of which depending on the houses ruled by that axis in or charts, and if we have any personal planets in direct aspect. Eclipses often correlate with the manifestation of health conditions, so this month I want to focus on why that is, starting with the mythology and mechanisms behind them and ending as usual with two herbs that can help us transition through this time with grace.
Eclipses occur in oppositional pairs of a sign’s axis—for example, this past month we had a solar eclipse in Cancer on the 2nd followed by a lunar eclipse in Capricorn on the 16th. They are a phenomenon associated with the lunar nodes--a solar eclipse will happen on a new moon when the sun and moon are on the north node and a lunar eclipse will happen on a full moon when the moon is on the south node. From our earlier discussion on lunar nodes, you may remember that the nodes themselves are mathematical points where the moon’s orbit crosses the sun’s, suggesting that eclipses represent important meetings of our emotional awareness and our soul path.
According to Vedic myth, the nodes represent the head and tail of a large and powerful demonic dragon who stole a sip from the elixir of immortality that was reserved for the gods alone. Lord Vishnu decapitated the dragon, but as he was now immortal, his head was placed on one end of the heavens and his tail was placed on the opposite end to mitigate the damage they could do together. The head, or the north node, became known as a source of unending hunger and consumption fueled by inexperience, while the tail, or south node, was reputed to be a source of wisdom, knowledge, release and liberation. By eclipsing the sun and moon at certain times throughout the year, the nodes bring together the body (earth), the soul (sun) and the mind (moon), allowing us to understand how we may transcend our desire nature which causes us suffering.
The Nuts + Bolts of Eclipses
Due to the rate at which the nodes retrograde through the signs, we usually get 6-8 eclipses in the same pair of signs every 5 ½ months for about 18-20 months until the nodes ingress into a new sign, at which point the transformative focus shifts to a new topic for about 7-8 years until the nodes pass through the axis again. Additionally, eclipses happen in the same sign and day every 19 years, which can give us a window of perspective as to how they will affect us physically, emotionally and mentally. Of course, not all eclipses produce dramatic events in our lives--we may not even be aware of them due to our location in the world as well as the degree of the zodiac they fall on. For those of us who have sensitive points in Cancer/Capricorn, themes of transformation may have included:
creativity versus financial necessity
domination and integration of either the mother or father figure
how to be more emotionally fulfilled at work
house repairs, remodels or sales
moving away from home or back to home
repayment of debts
your reputation and social standing
feelings versus duty and obligation
Physically speaking, the Cancer/Capricorn axis rules the time in life where we are developing the muscular and skeletal strength to stand upright. As Capricorn rules the bones and the dense structures of our bodies, Cancer fuels and supports these structures through our assimilation and digestion of nutrients through food. As we continue to age, maladies in this axis can result in stone formation stemming from a weakness in the digestive system that can result in cysts, tumors, lipomas, fibroids or calculi in any organ. Therefore, our recent eclipses may have brought up health issues related to bones, body structure, digestive issues, or stone formation.
For example, I have been writing about my mom’s health journey with breast cancer since the beginning of the year, and this past month during the eclipses she decided to opt for a mastectomy, quite literally illustrating the energy of the eclipse as a release of physical material focusing on Cancer--the sign that rules the breasts--as well as Capricorn--the sign in which stones are grown. She is a Cancer, marking the importance of these last eclipses in her life’s journey, as is usual--the sign that the eclipses occur in will usually be more resonant if it is the same as your sun, moon or rising sign.
In many ancient traditions, eclipses were seen as portents of death and the rates of death actually piqued around eclipse season. If we think about this, we understand the importance of the sun as a representative of our vital life force in our charts. In Western astrology, the Sun is basically central, as the chart cannot exist without it’s illumination. The sun is like the light switch that allows us to see the other planets in the room, without it, we exist as pure energy unaware of itself. This is also why the sun is correlated to the ego, because it brings us our concept of “I.” In a physical sense, it is our awareness of our existence in a physical body. This is why during the solar eclipse, when the sun is consumed by the head of the dragon, many souls choose to transition back into their pure energy forms, what we know as passing on.
During a solar eclipse, when the moon stands between the earth and the sun, we may be compelled to review certain emotional needs that we have suppressed or ignored. Because we are in darkness, it is also an opportune time to plant seeds of intention that align us with our heart’s true desires. Conversely, on a lunar eclipse when the earth stands between the sun and moon and cuts off the light from the sun to the moon, we become aware of a truth or physical reality and may be called to release something which is no longer serving us as the moon enters the zone of transcendence by the dragon’s tail. It is common to have something end in a final conclusion on a lunar eclipse, while solar eclipses usher in new opportunities.
Eclipses and Physical Health
It is normal during eclipse season to feel drained, fatigued, or to require more rest than usual. My friend reported to me that on the day of the solar eclipse she did nothing but sleep! The body is processing information on many levels and readjusting energy frequencies, so it can be quite beneficial to rest and relax during those times. If we think of the sun as a light switch, it’s literally like our lights go out!
Although events that occur on eclipses can be profound, shocking or transformative, the effects are more likely to unfold over a period of time with each successive eclipse, telling a story rather than happening as an isolated event. This is true for health as well, as we rarely see health consequences popping up out of nowhere. For the recent eclipses happening in Cancer/Capricorn, we may see stories continuing from the last eclipses in Capricorn/Cancer on July 13th, 2018 and Jan. 6th, 2019 that will reach their conclusion next year when we have our eclipses in Capricorn/Cancer on Dec. 26th 2019, Jan. 10th, 2020, June 21st, 2020 and July 5th, 2020.
As eclipses show us the combined energy of mind, body and spirit, they can often illuminate how our own emotional patterning has contributed to our physical ailments. In Cancer/Capricorn, the emotional themes that produce the diseases that arise during this time may include:
Unresolved womb trauma or epigenetic disease
Stress damage from PTSD
Injuries due to overwork or overuse of a certain body part
Depression or sadness causing cold depression tissue states in the body
Accumulation of phlegm from prolonged depressive states that begins to harden into tumors
Issues related to emotional eating patterns--eating disorders, food sensitivities, etc.
Hormonal dysregulation due to emotional suppression affecting the liver
Guilt or fear complexes weakening the kidneys
Memory problems arising from blood sugar imbalance or unremediated traumatic memories
Menstrual issues that may be connected with sexual trauma (either our own or inherited) or physical overwork
For this month’s herbs, I chose to focus on two allies that have profound effects on musculo-skeletal health--True Solomon’s Seal and Comfrey leaf.
True, or greater Solomon’s Seal has multiple signatures revealing the traditional usage of the plant, starting with the shape of the plant itself. It can be found in rocky, moist areas and grows with the gesture of a curved arc. The flowers hang like white bells under leaves that grow out of the stem like vertebrae. To me, this shows the signature of a back hunched over, indicating strength with flexibility as well as an affinity for mineral-rich areas and a gift at balancing internal dampness with dry, hardened things. Indeed, Solomon’s Seal seems to have the uncanny ability to restore the proper tension to tissues whether they be too tense or lax. The rhizomes of this plant are used in medicine, and their signature is strong as well, bearing a strong resemblance to bones and vertebrae.
The name Solomon’s Seal comes from the resemblance between the part of the plant where the stalks rise out of the rhizome to sigils used by magicians. It was named after the wise king Solomon, although many know this plant as “high John the Conqueror” or “high John lucky” from it’s roots in the Afro-American tradition. It is used as a magical talisman, often times being worn or used in magical ritual.
The taste of the rhizomes is sweet and slightly acrid while it’s energetics are cooling and moistening, suggesting that it is useful for conditions of inflammation that arise from dryness, such as dry throat or cough. It’s sweetness indicates a nutritive nature, and traditionally this plant was used as a tonic for muscles, tendons and ligaments. It is a soothing demulcent to mucosal tissue as well, making it a beneficial ally to use for irritated tissue in the lungs, GI tract or reproductive areas. In Chinese medicine, Solomon’s Seal is known to be a “yin tonic,” a substance which nourishes, lubricates and moistens the tissues while protecting essence, or “jing.” It has been used as a reproductive tonic, specifically to elevate sperm count and ease the symptoms of menopause.
Other specific indications for Solomon’s Seal include: grey hair from kidney yin deficiency, premature ejaculation, high blood pressure, protection of the liver, fatty liver, elevated blood sugar levels and blood fat, stretched/stiff/tight/loose/weak tendons and ligaments, irritation of the mucosa of the intestines, lungs, vagina, tuberculosis, pulmonary problems, hemorrhages, rapid heart rate, intestinal upset, hemorrhoids, profuse menstrual flow, vaginal irritation, low estrogen levels, ovarian pain, bones spurs resulting from tension, repetitive use injury, carpel-tunnel, arthritis associated with old injuries, calcifications or tensions, bruises and externally for poison ivy.
To take Solomon’s Seal, a high-proof tincture or decoction made from the rhizomes harvested in the fall produces the best results, and dosage can depend on what you are using it for. The berries of the plant are considered toxic and the plant itself contains low levels of cardiac glycosides, but not enough to be poisonous at medicinal doses. The level in the roots at least are low enough that the Native Americans used it as trail food. Herbalist Jim McDonald has a wonderful article on Solomon’s Seal that is full of first-hand experience if you are interested in learning more about this wonderful ally.
This plant has the rather revealing nickname “knitbone,” showing us one of it’s true strengths as a profound bone healing remedy. The name “Comfrey” is derived from the Latin con ferva, “with strength.” and the genus name, symphytum, comes from the Greek symphis, which means “growing together of bones” or “knit together.” It’s ability to knit broken tissue together makes it useful not only for broken bones but for disturbed mucosal tissue as well.
Comfrey contains allantoin, a substance which promotes cell formation and aids in healing at the cellular level, stimulating growth when the system has been traumatized and is having trouble regenerating on its own. It is anti-inflammatory and keratinolytic, meaning that it is useful in conditions where the body produces excess skin such as with warts, keloid scars or calluses. Recently, it has become useful in the treatment of skin conditions post radiation in cancer patients.
The action of the leaves are astringent, cooling, anti inflammatory, diuretic, expectorant, emollient, vulnerary, hemostatic, alterative, anodyne, styptic and antiseptic. The roots are also used more as a demulcent tonic, as they contain high amounts of mucilage. The plant contains calcium, vitamin B12, iron, silica, protein, germanium, potassium, phosphorus, amino acids (tryptophan, lysine, isoleucine, methionine), inulin, alkaloids, tannins, sterols, resins, volatile oils, gums, and triterpenes.
Aside from Comfrey’s star effects on broken bones and ripped tissue, it has also been used for chest infection or congestion of the lungs, bloody discharges from weakened mucosa (lungs), allergies, hay fever, chronic cough, pleurisy, pneumonia, asthma, emphysema, tuberculosis, sinusitis, upset stomach, ulcers, colitis, diarrhea, digestive inflammation, bloody stool, Alzheimer’s, muscle spasms, rheumatoid arthritis (early onset), spinal injury, slipped or herniated disks and hemorrhoids. Topically, the leaf has many uses, the primary ones being for burns, cuts, scrapes, bug bites, lesions, eczema, wrinkles, varicosities, acne, allergic reaction, rashes, scars or excess growths of skin.
Recently, Comfrey has come under some scrutiny for it’s toxicity levels from pyrrolizidine alkaloids, which can be harmful to the liver in high amounts. As a result, you may see in commerce that Comfrey is not recommended for internal use, even though this plant has been used for centuries internally and PA levels in Comfrey vary depending on where it is grown. It must be noted that the lab test that resulted in these findings had isolated the PAs and injected them into rats at very high amounts, providing a different context from the way we have historically ingested the herb. That being said, your decision to use the plant may take into account your liver health, perhaps taking it for a short time for an acute condition as opposed to taking it as a long-term tonic, should you choose to take it internally at all. On the other hand, topical uses of the plant as a poultice, tincture or a salve will have plenty of healing effects on it’s own.
So if you made it through this month’s eclipse season unscathed, congrats! You have passed over a bridge of no return and are better for it. While eclipses often receive a bad rap, they are really blessings in disguise, showing us where we need to grow and improve, and how we may better honor our soul nature. Until next month, be well!