Biodynamic Prep 502: Yarrow: Healing Earth and Psyche


Yarrow on our ranch.

Biodynamic Prep 502: Yarrow: Healing Earth and Psyche

When I first learned to use the I Ching for divination, I divined with yarrow sticks. This takes about 20 minutes: you take 50 yarrow sticks, setting one aside, which symbolizes the beginning, that state before Heaven and Earth separate. You divide the remaining 49 sticks into two bundles, representing the two primary forces, Heaven and Earth. Holding the bundles in each hand, you place a stick from your right hand (Earth) between the ring and little finger on your left hand, representing humanity. In doing so, according to Taoist master Alfred Huang, you invoke the “three supreme powers in the universe”: Heaven, Earth, and humanity.

From here, you preform a series of countings, all with symbolic meaning, until the six lines of the hexagram are determined. I like the time for contemplation, the feel of the sticks, and the mystery of the message that comes. Although I now most often use the faster method of the three coins, a commentary on our times, perhaps, I still enjoy casting the hexagram with the sticks.

The yarrow on our ranch is white and blooms in late April and May. The fernlike leaves lay close to the ground and have long been used to stop bleeding. In fact, yarrow’s scientific name, Achillea millefolium, refers to the Greek warrior Achilles’ use of the herb to dry wounds.

Huang says that yarrow sticks replaced the use of animal bones and tortoise shells some 3000 years ago because yarrow grew everywhere and was easy to obtain. Its tall, straight, sturdy stalks made it ideal for handling. The ancients believed “that yarrow was a divine gift from the heavens bestowed upon humanity so that we could communicate with Heaven.” (The Complete I Ching: The Definitive Translation by Alfred Huang) In his “Foreword” to the I Ching, Carl Jung says of the yarrow sticks, “…according to the old tradition, it is ‘spiritual agencies,’ acting in a mysterious way, that make the yarrow sticks give a meaningful answer. (xxv)”

Rudolf Steiner, father of Biodynamic agriculture, also perceived the intermediary function of yarrow, saying it works with sulfur, carrier of spirit, to bring cosmic forces into the earth by relating what he called the astral to the etheric. He said the yarrow compost preparation, which is one of six inserted into the compost pile as it is built, works to “enliven the soil so it can absorb and retain extremely fine doses of silicic acid and lead and so on that come toward the Earth” (Steiner, Agriculture, 95). Steiner said that you can never have enough yarrow on your land. It “radiates” so strongly that it is providing health by just growing there.

Hugh Courtney, Biodynamic practitioner and researcher, says of yarrow:

It may well be that these extremely fine doses of substances of cosmic origin are unable to retain the cosmic forces once they impact earthly soil unless the energies of the yarrow preparation are there to aid them in retaining their cosmic connection (Applied Biodynamics, Issue 37, p.10).

I think of yarrow as a kind of altar plant, where spirit meets matter. Is it also the patron plant of the psychotherapist? Are we not working to help our patients reconnect to the divine, the larger order? Is this not the healing?

Yarrow sticks are a kind of altar where Heaven and Earth meet.