The editors of Vibration Magazine have been talking about the Doctrine of Signatures
for quite some time and promising you an article about it, but no single author came forward with a definitive
treatment of the subject. Rather than wait any longer, we present here a Panel-In-Print. It is
made up of excerpts from three flower remedy books brought together to explain how the Doctrine works,
and to give an example in action, that of the flower remedy Wild Rose, offered by Bach and Healing Herbs.
Donna Cunningham explained the Doctrine of Signatures in her Flower Remedies Handbook: Healing &
Emotional Growth With Bach
& Other Flower Essences as follows:
In the 1500s, a master physician and
herbalist named Paracelsus originated the Doctrine of Signatures.
He and many others of the time believed that the shape, color, taste, smell and
other properties of a plant gave hints of its use in healing. For instance,
he observed that the leaf of an herb used to treat the liver was in fact shaped
like the liver. The leaf of the cyclamen is shaped and marked like an ear,
and it was thought effective in diseases of that organ.
As an example
of this work, Paracelsus observed that Christmas rose (Helleborus niger) bloomed
in winter, and concluded that it had rejuvenative powers. He introduced the plant
into the pharmacopoeia of the time and recommended it for people over fifty. Later,
it was found that this plant did have an effect on arteriosclerosis.
Modern botanists are as rejecting of the Doctrine of Signatures as modern
doctors are of the healing properties of herbs. However, both herbalists and
flower essence practitioners continue to find helpful hints in such connections.
Whether or not you find them a key to healing, no doubt you can see that symbolism
can derive from associations like these. For instance, it is not hard to understand
why the Hawaiians regarded the banana as a fertility symbol. Among other uses, Banana flower
essence helps men to be more comfortable with their maleness.
For a more in-depth example, we will consider the remedy Wild Rose. The following psychological portrait of the Wild Rose type appeared in Rachelle Hasnas' book,
The Essence of Bach Flowers:
Apathy and resignation are the benchmarks of a Wild Rose state. The person has accepted his lot in life.
He feels as though nothing can be done to change his situation, and no attempt is made to do so.
An air of resignation takes over -- no effort is made to improve things. It is as though the very spark of life
has just about gone out. This is not a state of depression, however. You notice a flat affect with these individuals:
there are neither signs of sadness, nor any signs of joy. Nothing seems to matter any more.
A numbness sets in.
In line with the Doctrine of Signatures, how would noticing the qualities of
the wild rose bush lead to an
understanding of the state of apathy assigned to this essence? Here are some observations from The Complete Book
of Flower Essences by Rhonda PallasDowney.
The wild rose bush has many branching stems that are covered with prickly
thorns. I have walked in the wilderness and studied many wild rose bushes. The rose
always seems to be protected amidst the thorns. When reaching for the rose, one must
be careful not to get pricked by a thorn. This has always reminded me to have a clear
intention and to pay attention when I pick a rose or when I'm near a rose bush.
There have been times when I have gently pulled branches aside so the flowers
have more room to breathe. And though the flower seems to say, "Leave me alone," at first,
it also seems relieved to have some attention and to have more space to grow in.
The thorns are the plant's expression of protection; they represent our need
to protect ourselves from life's blows, our pain, our challenges, and our suffering.
The flower's destiny is to always live among the thorns. As people, we will always have
our challenges, pains, and suffering. The challenge is to accept whether there can
be anything else in the midst of these pains. Some people like living
in their own misery and indifference as a form of protection: "Nothing can get
better, so there's no need to hope for anything that might not happen." Yet the
flower itself holds a vibrancy and energy that says, "it's time to get up and go."
The pink color of the flower corresponds to the fourth or heart chakra,
the center that awakens our compassion, our love, our joy for life, and the
way we love ourselves. It relates to loving emotions such as grief for the
loss of a loved one, feeling a lack of love in life and for oneself, and
perhaps feeling self-pity and despair with no interest in changing one's circumstances.
The clump of yellow stamens relates to the third or solar plexus chakra,
which is associated with psychosomatic diseases caused by feelings that can
break down and lead to apathy, dissociation from others, disinterest,
indifference, lack of motivation, and lack of positive change. The wild rose bush represents a signature of abundance and growth,
freedom and beauty. It demonstrates the power of our emotions and thoughts, once stuck among the thorns, to find a new freedom toward personal growth and change, and a true desire to make the best of living.
Writing for Vibration Magazine, Donna Cunningham adds:
The Doctrine of Signatures is one tool that many essence makers use to determine the uses
and qualities of new essences. However, it should not be the only tool, any more than
intuitive insights and attuning to the plant spirits should be. Once an essence is made,
it needs to be tested clinically by observing its effects on many people. In such testing, it is important
not to predetermine the results by programming test subjects to give the answers you want. For
instance, if you tell someone, "Try this great new essence for self-esteem," they are likely to
be influenced by your enthusiasm and give you back exactly what you want to hear. Instead,
you should simply ask them to try your essence without telling them what you think it is for
and suggest they make notes on what they feel, notice, or even dream about in the testing period. That
is a more unbiased result and is also likely to uncover additional applications and effects you did not
know about. For more information, see the articles in our
Making and Testing Essences Virtual
Editors' Note: If you'd like to practice this principle with the rest of the Bach flower remedies, an
article by Cherrie Corey in our archives has links to photos of almost all of them.
BIBLIOGRAPHY: In order, the quotes above are from:
Donna Cunningham: Flower Remedies Handbook:
Emotional Healing & Growth with
Bach & Other Flower Essences. New York, NY: Sterling Publishing, Inc., 1992, p. 20.
Rachelle Hasnas: The Essence of Bach Flowers: Traditional and Transpersonal
Use and Practice. Freedom, CA: The Crossing Press, 1999, p. 42.
Rhonda PallasDowney: The Complete Book of Flower Essences. Novato, CA: New World Library, 2002, pp. 264-5.
The World Wide Essence Society does not mean to imply any recommendation of nor give certification to any individuals or companies above. This article is provided purely for informational purposes. We ask consumers to make their own determination as to quality of the services and products offered above. This article is not meant to be advice, and the information is not meant to replace medical or psychological treatment.