Bach Flower Remedies:
by Julian Barnard
A Call for the Renewal
by Richard Katz
Barnard's book can be read on many levels: as a further biography of Dr. Edward Bach, a preparation manual for the sun and boiling methods, a comparison of homeopathy and flower essences, a field guide to the Bach remedy plants, a study of the soul "gestures" of the plants in relation to their essence qualities, or a treatise on a system of flower essence therapy based on three groups of essences. As a whole, Form & Function is a call for the renewal of flower essence therapy based on its founding spiritual principles.
If the remedies really work — and I, like many
others, have experienced them working — there is real meaning in
the way that a plant grows. The idea which instructs form cannot be based
upon chance. There is, as Bach would say, a Grand Design behind the physical
world of living beings. A grand design and a grand designer. This book
is an attempt to represent aspects of that design at work."
When we examine Dr. Bach's life we immediately encounter a problem. There is only one brief and somewhat sentimental biography, written by his assistant, Nora Weeks. Furthermore, Weeks reveals that Bach burned his research papers in a great bonfire during the last year of his life.
Dr. Edward Bach
Julian Barnard is a true scholar of Dr. Bach's life, perhaps more than anyone else alive today. He is the editor of Collected Works, the first complete collection of Dr. Bach's published writings, and the author of Patterns of Life Force, a review of Bach's life published in 1988. In Form & Function, Barnard does not so much present us with new facts about Bach's life as put what is known into context.
"Looking at the development of Bach's
ideas, from medical school, through the years of hospital work and on to
his later research, one thing is clear. He traveled a road of increasing sensitivity: from surgery
through bacteriology, to homeopathy and flower remedies...to assert the primacy
of spirit over matter. For him the pathway was to lead to just this place,
where the medicine of materialism was abandoned in favor of the plant-healers
from nature. Yet both are given up in favour of the word, the logos of the
Barnard avoids the simple conclusion that Bach's discoveries were an instant psychic revelation, as if they emerged from the womb of creative ideas full-grown. Through his extensive study of Bach's writings, Barnard shows us a truer picture of the ever-changing, evolving nature of Bach's discoveries. For example, the first "flower remedies" of Impatiens, Clematis, and Mimulus in 1928 and 1929 were actually homeopathic preparations, either made from the seeds of the plant or the macerated flowers. It was only after his development of the sun method in 1930 that we can say that flower essence therapy was born.
We also learn of three early flower essences that were later discarded: Cupressus (Cypress), Cotyledon (Pennywort), and Sonchus (Sow Thistle). Furthermore, early descriptions of some of Bach's flower essences changed dramatically as his understanding evolved. These details do not detract from our appreciation of Bach's work. Rather, they elevate it. We can appreciate Dr. Bach as a genuine scientist working in the realms of subtle healing, testing out his hypotheses, and forging ahead with new insights and discoveries.
The Sun and Boiling Preparation Methods
Why did Bach boil his last 19 remedies, rather than use the sun method? Since there are no indications from Bach on this subject, Barnard provides his own thoughtful hypothesis.
First of all, Barnard dismisses popular assumptions with basic facts. It is true that there are often few sunny days in England, particularly in the early spring. However, Bach used the boiling method in both spring and summer of 1935. Meteorological records show, through Barnard's documentation, that the English summer of 1935 was unusually sunny. Was not the method used for the more robust tree essences? This is true for many, but the delicate Star of Bethlehem was also a "boiler," while the tough Olive and Gorse, for example, were prepared by the sun method.
Barnard proposes that the sun and boiling method are alchemical polarities. The sun method incarnates fire from the sun radiating down to the earth. By contrast, Barnard posits that the boiling method catalyzes fire within the earth, radiating out to the cosmos. This leads to Barnard's insight about the groupings of Bach's essences.
Three Therapeutic Groups of Bach Remedies
A central thesis in Barnard's work is that the chronological development of Bach's essences mirrors their therapeutic use. First there were the "Twelve Healers," considered as constitutional "type remedies," prepared from 1928 to 1932 (with the Impatiens, Mimulus, and Clematis re-made in 1930 using the sun method). Then there were the "Seven Helpers," for chronic and habitual emotional conditions that can mask the soul type, prepared in 1933 and 1934. Finally, there is the second group of 19 remedies, all prepared from March to July of 1935 by the boiling method. These are the remedies for emotionally reactive states resulting from trauma and pain.
Barnard finds great value in the 12+7+19 grouping, though he does not unquestioningly accept all of Bach's attempts at numerological categories. For example, Barnard does not give credence to Bach's earlier correlations (later abandoned) with the seven chakras or the 12 zodiacal signs, or the seven categories described in subsequent writings. However, it is evident that Bach was quite interested in the esoteric significance of numerological patterns. This research may very well have led Bach to work with groupings of flower remedies in patterns of 12 and 7, then a final combination of 12 plus 7 again (19), for a total of 38 remedies.
(Editor's note: We invite case reports and commentary from practitioners regarding Barnard's hypothesis about the three groups of Bach essences, especially the application of the general theory to clinical experience.)
Reading the Gesture of Bach's Plant Remedies
Form & Function is an especially significant contribution for its detailed and perceptive descriptions of the Bach flower plants. We know from Nora Weeks that Bach "spent the day examining a great variety of plants, noting where they grew, what soil they chose to grow upon, the colour, shape and number of their petals, whether they spread by tuber, root or seed..." He devoted hours studying "the habits and characteristics of each flower plant and tree." Bach urged Weeks to recognize each of the remedy plants at every stage of its growth. But Barnard admits that precisely how Bach worked with these observations "is not clear from any records he published."
In these few words, Julian Barnard has summed up the key enigma of Dr. Bach's work, one that has challenged the research standards for flower essence development ever since. Barnard addressed this conundrum in 1988 when he stated in Patterns of Life Force (pp. 66-67):
If we truly understand the importance of Bach's work, it is not simply a "system" of 38 flower remedies. It is the possibility that we humans can become fluent in the healing language of Nature. We are challenged to open our eyes to the wonder of the natural world as a living script, a soul-imbued life that can speak intimately to the human soul.
Placing Bach's Work in Historical Context
We know that Bach was familiar with the work of the Swiss alchemist/physician Paracelsus (1493-1541) due to the brief mention he makes of him, along with Hippocrates and Hahnemann, in the first chapter of Heal Thyself (Collected Writings, p. 127) and in addresses such as Ye Suffer from Yourselves (Collected Writings, p. 111). However, it is not accurate to say that Paracelsus "discovered" flower essences, as claimed by some flower essence writers. Julian Barnard clearly establishes the originality of Dr. Bach's discoveries, and its place in history as more than a replication of prior alchemical approaches.
Nevertheless, Form & Function does not adequately address the larger historical and cultural context for Bach's discoveries, or even the precedent for Barnard's own approach to plant gesture. Bach was a student of esoteric Masonic teachings that belong to a larger alchemical stream in history. He also was clearly cognizant of Paracelsus, who established the idea of the "Doctrine of Signatures." Thus it is likely that Bach recognized correspondences of form and function between the soul gestures of plants and human beings.
The alchemical/Rosicrucian tradition was also significantly advanced in Europe by the German poet/scientist Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832), who emphasized the "gesture" of a plant as the quality of its expression through form, color, growth, and other patterns, in contrast to the prevailing quantitative and materialistic bias of the time. The Goethean approach to nature science has developed over the last two centuries into a diverse, worldwide school of professional scientific research and methodology, with significant contributions to many fields of science, including agriculture, medicinal plants, and botany.
We cannot ascertain from Bach's own writings to what extent he worked consciously with alchemical or Goethean influences in his study of plant gestures, nor can we gauge the precise impact of research from contemporary colleagues such as Dr. Robert Cooper's arborivital remedies.* Nonetheless, it is clear that Bach's healing methods and plant discoveries belong to a larger alchemical, historical development of nature science that places value not on physical substance alone, but also on the soul archetypes that shape and form substance into "gesture."
The overriding goal of Form & Function is to establish a wider context for Bach's healing work. Barnard argues that Bach's work evolved through various stages of personal insight and research. Similarly, we can also see the progressive development of Bach's research in relationship to a larger evolutionary stream of spiritual and natural science. Establishing such context does not minimize the individual and unique contribution of Dr. Bach, but rather expands our understanding of its significance for our time.
Barnard is right to give prominence to the observation of plant qualities in Form & Function. The concept of plant gesture is the central thesis of Form & Function and, indeed, it is the "bridge" to building the new plant science that Barnard first wrote about in Patterns of Life Force. The Healing Herbs of Edward Bach, first published in 1988, was Barnard's first discussion of plant gestures in the Bach remedies, providing photographs, clear botanical information, and some correlation of plant characteristics to essence qualities. In Form & Function, that work has matured. Barnard weaves together detailed plant observations, based upon Bach's scant commentary, and with his own perceptive insights. Barnard's work is an outstanding contribution by an author who has spent many hours in the field in devoted contemplation of Bach's plants. Consider, for example, these excerpts from his portrait of Water Violet:
Water Violet grows, not just by the river, like Mimulus and Impatiens, but actually submerged in water... Only in May and June do the stems rise clear of the water, straight and elegant, as they lift flowers into the sunlight. Bach wrote of the Water Violet soul:
This statement is apt as a description of the plant, too. For these are flowers which lead their lives with great precision, clarity and purpose.
Water Violet has always been relatively scarce, growing only in slow-moving but pure water, in ditches and ponds where it will not be disturbed. By nature it is fastidious and cannot abide any form of pollution. Perhaps it does not like competition and that is why it withdraws to water where it can spread out undisturbed. Certainly, Water Violet people will withdraw into their own space and do not like intrusion — like a cat, some say. But the withdrawal from land to a water habitat signals more than a desire for peace and solitude; it is symbol of the transition to a higher plane of being...Water Violet is a plant which has only the slightest contact with earth, living in water and pushing a stem to open flowers in the air... Although it is a perennial, it has only the frailest of roots — a few fine white threads which dangle from the green stems. They serve only to absorb minerals from the plant and do not anchor it to the land: Water Violet has freedom. The leaves and stems are 'spongy', containing many air spaces which allow the plant to float, just below the surface. The rosette of leaves, pinnatifid (deeply cut into segments), looks like a green star in the water, delicate and refined, yet somehow inspiring and exciting.
But interesting changes in behaviour occur as the water level drops, if the pool dries in July or August. The roots then play a more important part, anchoring the plan to the mud, keeping it alive by transmitting moisture. In these conditions, the leafy stems grow rapidly and spread outwards to prevent any other plant or seedling from obtaining light and space. Water Violets are capable of asserting themselves and will not tolerate interference from others. Equally, this is indicative of the growth and gain for Water Violet people if ever they involve themselves in the physical world. When the water rises again the rooted plant releases the individual stems and leaves through a process called 'stolon budding' and they float upward to cover the available space.
Bach commented directly on this pattern of growth with unattached roots and freedom to float:
This may be the clearest indication yet that Bach was looking at the plants as a literal emblem of the soul condition.
(from Bach Flower Remedies: Form & Function, Chapter 7, pp. 123-125)
Water Violet photos by Julian Barnard, line drawing by Catalina O'Brien
Barnard begins his book speaking of Bach's belief in the "Grand Design behind the physical world of living beings." He ends it with Bach's contention that the key for overcoming disease is found within the transformation of our own lives. In other words, Bach's legacy is a spiritual understanding of Nature, and a path for the spiritual transformation of the soul. Yet, can we truly say that these spiritual teachings are what most people today seek from the Bach flower remedies?
In discussing Bach's philosophical treatise, Heal Thyself, Barnard comments:
From the perspective of a new century it
begins to be clear that Bach was intent on two separate purposes. One
hand he had discovered a new set of remedies and he wanted people to
use them... On the other, he was the herald for a new world, a voice
crying in the medical wilderness of materialism and ignorance. The second
purpose is easy to forget and hard to accept. The two became separated
at an early stage, maybe well before Bach died. The message from spiritual
reality became subsumed into the opportunity for people to avail themselves
of floral healing.
Form & Function is a major contribution to re-enlivening the spiritual legacy of Dr. Bach. It is a call to flower essence therapists and researchers to continue the unfinished task of learning the healing language of the flowers and helping troubled humanity find the path to soul awakening. This is a book that should be read by every serious practitioner of flower essence therapy.
* Matthew Wood and Peter Morrel
have researched possible influences on Dr. Bach's work, relating to the arborivital
remedies of Dr. Robert Cooper and LeHunte Cooper. For more information see
the references cited below.
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