by Lorie Eve Dechar
The Five Spirits are the Taoist map of the human psyche. The system provides a view of the nervous system and forms the basis of Chinese medical psychology. It also describes a precise and efficient technology for spiritual transformation, the process through which a human being rediscovers their essential wholeness and innate connection to the divine.
The Five Spirits themselves can be understood as the Taoist version of the chakra system of Vedic India. Like the chakras, the spirits exist as centers of consciousness in the subtle body rather than as structures in the physical body. Just as each chakra relates to a particular level of consciousness, each spirit relates to a particular aspect of human awareness, a particular vibration or frequency of psychic energy. An understanding of the Five Spirits is the key that opens the doorway to the mysteries of Taoist psycho-spiritual alchemy. By taking advantage of the discoveries of Western archetypal psychology and new discoveries about the mind and nervous system, we can decipher the Five Spirits and reorganize the system in a way that has proven to be clinically invaluable in treating psychosomatic, emotional, and psychospiritual distress.
Lorie Eve Dechar´s unique approach to the practice of traditional Chinese medicine emerges from her commitment to discovering a healthier and more integrated way for herself and other human beings to live on planet Earth. Her background includes a master´s degree in Acupuncture from the Traditional Acupuncture Institute and training in Archetypal Psychology, Gestalt and Focusing-Oriented Psychotherapy as well as stints as a gardener, environmental activist, poet and Zen student. Lorie currently maintains a private practice in Manhattan and Nyack, New York, where she focuses on the interconnections between physical, emotional and spiritual issues in her patients´ lives. She is a member of the faculty of the Tri-State College of Acupuncture in New York City and leads workshops and trainings nationwide. Lorie divides her time between New York and East Blue Hill, Maine.
From the Introduction: The Five Spirits
Five Spirits: Alchemical Acupuncture for Psychological and Spiritual Healing
Lorie Eve Dechar
The Five Spirits are the finest, most ephemeral aspect of qi. An understanding of the Five Spirits is the key that opens the doorway to the mystery of Taoist psychospiritual alchemy and the art of Alchemical Acupuncture. At the grossest level, the Five Spirits can be understood as a symbolic description of the human nervous system, the frontal lobe, the spinal column, the peripheral nerves and the autonomic nervous system, with its sympathetic and parasympathetic expressions. At a subtler level, the spirits can be conceptualized as divine animating and vitalizing forces, the Taoist version of the Western soul or psyche.
As a precise and efficient technology for psychospiritual development, the Five Spirits can be understood as the Taoist version of the chakra system of Vedic India. Like the chakras, the spirits function to balance the yang and yin aspects of our being. Like the Indian chakra system, the Taoist concept of the Five Spirits is based on the recognition of the inherent divinity of both feminine and masculine, earth and heaven. Just as each chakra relates to a particular level of consciousness, each spirit relates to a particular aspect of human awareness, a particular vibration or frequency of psychic energy. Like the chakras, the spirits exist in the subtle body or breath body, an invisible yet vital structure that forms a kind of pneumatic link between the realms of spirit and matter. Like the chakras, the spirits relate to the vertical axis of the human body, the spinal column, and the endocrine, nervous and functional organ systems that constellate around the center pole of the spine. However, unlike the chakras, which are visualized as abstract wheels of swirling energy fields, the Five Spirits are thought of as soulful psychic entities, each with its own nature, preferences, tendencies, needs, organic magnetism, emotional resonance and psychospiritual function.
Many modern acupuncturists regard the Five Spirits as a quaint but obsolete superstition; hence the wisdom contained in this theory has been largely ignored by modern acupuncture both in China and the West. However, through the investigation of Chinese characters and the reading of alchemical texts, we discover that the theory of the Five Spirits is much more than an intriguing story or beautiful fantasy; it is the core of an ancient spiritual psychology. By taking advantage of the discoveries of Western archetypal psychology, we can decipher the ancient symbols and their obscure references and reorganize them in a way that has proven to be clinically invaluable in treating psychosomatic, emotional and psychospiritual distress.
As we delve into this system, our modern Western ideas about the nature of spirit and consciousness are called into question. From a Taoist perspective we see that spirit exists not only in the distant heights of heaven but also as an ever-present phenomenon that illuminates the stars and penetrates to the darkest depths of matter. Similarly, consciousness is transformed from an abstraction into real and tangible light, an illuminating spark of spirit that rests in our hearts and guides us through our lives.
This vision of the Five Spirits allows us to view the psyche as a unity. The line between body, mind and spirit blurs, and psyche emerges not as a noun but as a verb, a process, an ongoing dance of transformation. From this perspective, we see that conscious and unconscious processes emerge from an organic, visceral matrix animated by the Five Spiritsby the energies of the divine.
The most important stories of ancient civilizations contain encoded information about priestcraft, astrology and social custom as well as information about psychological, astronomical, agricultural, temporal and geological occurrences. The Five Spirits present an encoded description of ancient Taoist healers´ observations of psychic and neurological phenomena in the human organism. The spirits illuminate the aspect of our being that in earlier times was referred to as the soul. This is the aspect of our being that allows us to transform our lives from the monotony of day-to-day survival into an intentional creation, a psychospiritual event.
The Five Spiritsthe shen, hun, po, yi, and zhiare the resident deities of the Taoist psyche or subtle breath body. Together they form a complex pneumatic system that both lifts and stabilizes the psychic and vital processes of the human organism. The Five Spirits give us a vocabulary to speak about the behavior and function of psychic phenomena that exist at the far edges of Western conscious awarenessfluid, ungraspable animating psychic energies such as inspiration, insight, imagination, mood, perceptions, intention, instinct and will. This vocabulary allows us to intentionally work with these subtle yet potent psychic energies in a precise and effective manner. Later in this book, the Five Spirits will be introduced in detail and we will look at ways these soul entities can be used to support integrated healing of the body, mind and spirit.