Thirty Days of Making: Dill (seed) Spagyric

I’m in Day 12 of a short series: Thirty Days of Making. Every day for the next thirty days, I intend to make something, anything, that is in some way connected to school. There won’t always be pictures, and I reserve the right to credit myself for things that I help my kids make. But I’ve decided that I need thirty days of maker success and maker failure under my belt to be a better designer.

I’ve decided that artwork counts, but not writing (unless it’s part of the art, like calligraphy). Digital work counts, but it has to be useful or publishable.

Some days there will be pictures, some days there won’t be. Each blog entry will contain a list of some of the materials and tools, a quick review of the success or failure of the Making, and a reflection on what I think I learned from the endeavor.  (My friend Alicia is beginning a new series along these lines, 12 weeks of the Artist’s Way — I wish her well in her process, go check her out!)

Reason for the Project:

Ok, once again, this one doesn’t really have much to do with school, except that a parent sent me this cool article about a sixth grader who developed a plan to create a microbrewery on board the International Space Station.  That’s awesome.  But mostly this project had to do with continuing my Druidic studies.  One of the goals for the Bardic grade is to create four alchemical tinctures from a list of sixteen acceptable ones, and learn what can be learned from them.  The answer is quite a lot, but it’s hard to know how much is relevant to schools.

From one perspective, this is what STEM really ought to look like:

  1. Here’s a quartet of chemical processes:
    • dissolving the essential oils in a plant with alcohol
    • reducing the remaining herbal material to ashes with fire
    • recombining the two and observing the resulting mixture
    • filtering out the remaining ash/residue and observing the resulting mixture
  2. Let’s follow these four steps with eight or ten plants in a school over the course of a year, while
  3. we will also study what we’ve learned about chemistry in the last 400 years since this was common methodology

Kids would learn some genuinely basic chemistry, like 400-year-old experimental chemistry, rather than learning about atoms and molecules and covalent bonds and so on.  Instead, they’d learn to think like a chemist thinks, how a pharmacist thinks, how a researcher thinks.  They’d learn the creative processes necessary to formulate new inventions.  And they’d have to develop a basic curiosity about plants — because if they didn’t, they’d accidentally spagyric-ize poison ivy instead of something useful.  So we’d be teaching botany in chemistry class, and chemistry in botany class, and scientific method in an entirely new way.

But no, we’re not likely going to do that.  And we’re right not to.  I mean, mixing teenagers with flammable and drinkable alcohol is a bad idea, first of all; and second of all, this requires a degree of artistry and acceptance of results quite apart from the question of what grade will I get? At the end of the alchemical process, your stuff is right, or it’s wrong.  If it’s wrong, you learn how to fix it or you throw it away.  If it’s right, good going and nicely done and on to the next  .

From another perspective, though, is this really a THIRTY DAYS OF MAKING PROJECT? I mean, this project has been underway for a month, but my part of it consists mostly of shaking a jar every day, twice a day, for more than a month; and occasionally decanting the results through a coffee filter.  It’s done today, and I happened to have time to do it. But it’s not a NEW project.

Oh, well. Sometimes we’re finishing things rather than starting them, or seeing them through beginning to end in one sitting.  That’s the way it goes.

Alchemy: filtering dill spagyricProcess and Results:

I happend to come into possession recently of a borosilicate glass beaker, which I’ve been using to assess the filtration process at the end of each of my spagyric mixtures. Today’s was particularly fine. Here was the starting setup. As you can see, the ashes in the cohobation tank at left have rendered the liquid very nearly black.  It’s completely opaque.

But the filtration system setup is pretty complete.  There are two coffee filters capturing the fine particles of dust or ash that are saturated with dill-laced essential oils. The first filter tends to capture the big particles; the second captures the tiny stuff.  It’s not an ideal system.  I have a second dill (weed) spagyric which never really quite filtered properly.  It’s still basically a black mess, and I don’t know what to do to fix it.  This one looked to turn out OK, though.  It’s got this weird color — I call it “sick, dehydrated person’s urine” but you could come up with other names.

One the other hand, the smell is amazing.  It has scents of earth and of richness, and it’s energizing.  It also works marvelously well on the digestive system — as a medicine, dill is supposed to be a stimulant, and to keep the GI tract in working order, particularly the stomach. I happened to get some on my fingers, and tasted it.  Spicy, a hint of dill or pickle taste: and within an hour I felt all kinds of energized and ahem, clean inside.

That process of clean filtration continued all the way to the end of the process. By that point, some of the particles of ash/residue in the jar had cut through part of the filter.  I had a leak from the filter into the bag, and I had to do the whole batch over again.  Argh.Alchemy: filtering dill spagyric But I’d say that even after another couple of filters and a new cleaned beaker, all went basically according to plan. Take a look — the liquid coming out of the cohobation jar on the top left is almost black. And the liquid coming out of the filter is perfect.  It rarely looks better than this, I think.

Reflection on My Learning

This is my fourteenth or fifteenth time through the spaygrics process, so I’m getting pretty good at it.  But I still have a hard time estimating how many jars I’m going to need to fill up in order to contain the finished product.  I guessed two big bottles and two smaller bottles.  It wound up being four bottles — at least in part because the filtration went so smoothly this time around.

Oh, yeah.  I also think I learned that I really need to work on packaging for these.  Not just because it’s annoying to have to write out six labels for six jars, and six jars is annoying anyway — who am I going to give bottles of a spagyric tincture to?  And who would want such a thing?  It’s not like these things are all that useful.

Spagyric of dill: complete

Reflection on Learning in General

I don’t think that I can count any more spagyrics as part of the Thirty Days of Making, because this one went so very smoothly.  I think I’ve … not mastered the process, exactly, but I’m not a newbie at it any more.  I know how to make the process work; I know when I’ve done something stupid that I’ll have to correct for later; and I know when I’ve screwed up to the point that I should pour out the experiment in the garden and try again later (the nice thing about spagyrics is that most of the waste is compostable or recyclable — although I think the guy who works at the liquor store thinks I’m crazy).

From the point of view of modern-day students, though — this process is totally doable by modern-day children.  They shouldn’t, because it’s illegal for them to handle high-proof alcohol, of course.  But that doesn’t mean they couldn’t learn to do it, or that the technology (and probably the equipment to do it) isn’t in their houses at home.  Which raises again the question of what is the added-value experience of school?  I mean, sure, we expect kids’ parents to go off to work and earn a living there so that the kids have food on the table and a roof over their heads (and add that most parents don’t know how to do spagyrics these days, and of course that’s not a problem, but it does make me wonder about lost knowledge and its value to modern society as a teaching tool and a learning tool).


two out of five stars.  I feel like a bit of a cheat, doing a project I was going to do anyway today as my Thirty Days of Making, but it’s not a complete failure.  And it is one of the requirements toward one of my non-school learning endeavors, namely earning the rank of Bard in the Druidical Order of the Golden Dawn.  And it did help me generate a few ideas about STEM teaching these days, even if those ideas won’t really pan out in the immediate term for my school or any other school.

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  1. I don’t think you are cheating either. I read most of your posts, but may have missed they “why” of this series…. but I seem to remember you saying along the way that this was to bolster your artistic and design foundation? If so, why would your daily project have to be totally new? Work on processes that you have already some experience with seems to be a part of any path towards becoming more of that path? I think this is perfect too.

    I do however take issue with one thing you said: “And who would want such a thing? It’s not like these things are all that useful.” OMG! You’re KIDDING right!?! Spagyric tinctures are very difficult to buy, and are as or more effective than regular tinctures (as a homeopath with definite weirdo leanings, I would say vastly MORE effective) so how could you think that no one would want such a thing? ME! Me, me ME! *I* would want such a thing!

    As to your musings on filtering… it’s unusual to dispense formulas as tinctures in the Chinese Medicine universe, but there is one big-dog guy doing it. Seems to me he’s got an interesting filtering process. See this article:

    And finally, I know your writing portion of the series, well, of your life just now is probably taking up more time than you have allotted it, but nevertheless, I would LOVE to hear about why you are doing this as a part of your Druid Path? And why the 16 “approved” plants on the list? And who approved them and why those and only those?

    PS: (As a homeopath, I think a spygric Mother Tincture of Poison Ivy would be REALLY interesting, and really interesting to make into a remedy as it’s already one of our largest remedies as a non-spygric tincture in potency (aka made into a remedy, see the homeopathy remedy Rhus Tox… also that would teach proper lab technique BIG TIME! You’d have to have them in a hazmat suit!)

    • It turns out that one of the hardest things to teach kids in my job is the forward-leaning attitude of “just doing it”. And part of the reason for that is the hesitancy that we adults experience. The willingness to “just make something” is a very hard mindset to achieve, and I decided I wanted practice at that. Hence the reason for the series.

      I’ll try to write a blog post about why I’m doing the Druidry course soon — it’s a lot of complicated stuff wrapped together, but it will answer a lot of your other questions.

      As far as getting spagyric tinctures to you… I’m not sure how I’d do that. Mine are home-made, I can’t verify potency or effectiveness or anything like that, and so on. But it’s nice to know there’s interest.

      • I wasn’t begging for your tinctures (at least not much! 😉 But were you to be so generous, I would not care about “home-made, I can’t verify potency or effectiveness”… my paradigm is very different from OTC FDA etc. I think they would be interesting just to use energetically… or to make a remedy and then “prove” (search “homepathic provings” without the quotes if you are interested further.) BTW, if you ever ship those thinks, or store them for long periods, I would HIGHLY suggest you do so wrapped in aluminum foil or in a metal box to preserve the energetic… well, energy. This is an “abundance of caution” protocol, but I would assume the energetic components could be ruined, as with homeopathic remedies, by the same kinds of things that used to ruin a floppy-disk… x-rays, magnetic fields like around household currents, or on on the top of TVs or near microwaves, or in direct sunlight… etc.

        I am interested in your Druid Path, but I am also interested in they whys of the Path… ie why 16 approved remedies? Who approved and why? And why not… oh, say… 300 approved remedies? (Less than the board exam for TCM herbalist covers, for instance.)

        When you say “willingness to “just make something” is a very hard mindset to achieve” do you mean making something to fit a circumstance, or need, or do you mean just because you want to exercise your creative muscles with no particular need in mind?

        • The wrapping in foil is a good idea; at the moment they’re all stored in amber-colored glass jars and out of direct sunlight, and away from electronics in a separate space in the kitchen. So that part is taken care of, at least until I try to ship something to california…

          As far as the sixteen ‘approved’ remedies, they’re not ‘approved’ so much as the sixteen (plus one) are the ones that form the curriculum. They have the advantage that none of them are particularly poisonous or toxic, they’re readily available, they’re relatively cheap, and they have provable medicinal effects. They’re also the sixteen herbs associated with the sixteen signs of Geomancy, which is what DOGD uses as its divination system. So together, they form a basic framework for magic as well as medicine as well as divination.

          “Willingness to ‘just make something’. Well, it turns out to be very easy for kids (and adults for that matter) to turn to ‘buy’ as a solution to a problem. I ran a program for kids to help them think about designing a new playground for our school, and what they did is open a bunch of catalogs and look at playground furniture on the internet. OK, cool… but not really what I planned an entire day’s activities around. So, I’m practicing this mindset of, “what does it take to be creative every single day, and produce some sort of physical/mental/digital object that’s more or less complete in a couple of hours?” And the answer is, quite a lot. An enormous amount of physical and mental energy, in fact. What I’ve done for the last thirteen days is use a couple of hours making something, and then an hour or more trying to understand what I’ve learned in writing. It’s been difficult but interesting. And at the end of thirty days, I expect that I’ll be much more of an expert on artisanship than I ever expected to be. I won’t be an expert artisan, but I’ll be able to talk about it in ways that other people won’t.

    • This is such an interesting series and such an interesting thread.

      I wonder if I am from an odd familial lineage or something, but it always occurs to me to try to make what I need or want. Usually, I can make far better than I can buy if I can even find what I want to buy. With clothes, sadly, it’s usually far, far cheaper to buy, sometimes even at full retail, than to make (and that does not take into account your time involved.) Partly, that’s because the choice of fabrics are now so very limited. Not so much for quilts as quilting is still a large crafter’s interest, but very limited for garments. Unless, of course, you want something that’s outside of the norm… say Magick Robes, or Buddhist Robes, or some such. Then, usually, if you want it, you have to make it.

      My father always made about half his own tools. My father-in-law the same. Me too, I have made or modified and repurposed a lot of my kitchen and other tools because I can’t get the correct tool for particular, usually antiquated, tasks. Nowadays, it’s difficult to even know what tool is needed for a particular project. For instance, did you know that just 60-80 years ago there were maybe 20-30 different kinds of shovels, each for distinctly different kinds of jobs… the same with pitchfork kinds of tools. Now you’d be lucky to find 4, 5 or maybe 6 shovels and 2 different kinds of forks in your average tool supplier store.

      Somewhere, in the last five years or so, I have seen a website or a book that is full of designs for simple hand and simple machine tools aimed at the so-called 3rd world agriculture market. I searched a bit, but could not find it right off… I did find a couple of really interesting links along those lines tho:

      I always want to make my own medicines if I can. But that too is getting difficult. Partly because the government wants to track ingredients and wants to force a certain protocol. In come cases, it’s arguable that it’s in the public’s interest, but not in others.. often it’s all about Big Brother’s control, period. Note your own concerns about your tinctures… I would argue that your concerns are unfounded, and I am interested to know if you intend to use them to treat anything for yourself… not just to use in rituals, but to use as medicines?

      I know that many people don’t realize that one can make not only items they want or need, but also the tools to make items they want or need. I just had not realized it had gotten quite as limited as you describe with the playground. I am so happy to know that you are working so diligently to overcome that trend.

      • I will use these tinctures to treat myself when the symptoms appear to warrant their use as medicines — but for the moment, tai chi is keeping me healthy enough that I don’t feel I need to! So far, so good!

        As a former government employee, once upon a couple of decades ago, I’m always reluctant to attribute anything to “Big Brother’s control.” In a Big Brother environment, lots of things get done because there’s one pair of hands and one pair of eyes minding the store, and lots of people get shoved aside in the quest for power. But we’re currently in stalemate — too many competing interests trying to eat the same pie, and all using all their forks and knives to keep everyone away from the plate. It’s a mess, but it’s not dictatorship. Which is no bad thing.

        As far as the familial lineage thing — my grandfather was a “bucket chemist” who tended to whip up products (and some lucrative patents) by doing chemistry in pails and by the gallon-ful rather than by test-tube. And my other grandfather was a telephone repairman who worked for Big Bell once upon a time. Both were consummate tinkerers. But my father was not, although my mother was. So I’m having to retrain my interests along some electrical and carpenterial lines, because I’m currently working with a more ‘feminine’ set of artisanal skills than a ‘masculine’ one. I no longer believe in the separation, but I know that others do — and I know you’ll understand what I mean.

        The tool challenge you describe is a serious one. I’m overly fond of saying that you can’t think with tools you’ve never used. I talked about installing a fence one day with a friend of mine, and he shrugged his shoulders, “I’ve got a posthole digger you can borrow, but I don’t think you want to change your body shape that much.” I asked what he meant, and he said that hand-powered posthole diggers drastically reshape the body if you dig more than a few dozen holes — it does odd things to the shoulder muscles and to the bad. I know a guy who used to be a skinny thing who then spent a couple of years homesteading in Arizona — and he bulked up from posthole digging in a real hurry.

        All of this is by way of saying, TOOLS MATTER. Provide a kid with a drill or a mechanical lathe, and you’ll get very different results than if you just give her pens and pencils.

      • As you say, “TOOLS MATTER” so much, in fact, I hardly think it’s possible to overemphasize just how much. And I would also argue that conceptual tools matter as much as material tools. And they cross-pollinate… physical tools allow one to conceptualize new or alternative ways to completing tasks and new material tools to make or modify. That’s one reason why I think it’s such a tragedy that tools, especially hand tools, are simply disappearing from our world! I suspect that going tool shopping in the (so called) third world would be an enlightening experience. I have found it so to go tool shopping in hardware stores in Amish areas just for that reason, but even they are dwindling (the stores and tools carried therein, both! 🙁

        Whenever my father was missing a tool or a part for something from a rifle to a camera, to a boat, he would just get in the car and go to the machine shop of one of his friends with a hunk of the appropriate metal… and make it… be it a screw or a spring or a scope-mount or a hand-rail stanchion, or whatever… he’d head off and shortly come back with the part… custom made and fitting perfectly. I grew up thinking that everybody could do that. Imagine my disappointment with… well, the world today and the competence of most of the people in it.

        And yes, I think somehow we have lost the ability to conceptualize what the consequences of many of our actions might be. Your story about the ramifications of post-hole digging remind me of the stories of galley slaves being oddly developed because of which side of the boat they were “assigned” to… and that some had the prescience to find a way to switch sides along the way… but *I* would still never have thought that one might run into unfortunate consequences from simply digging several holes for a new fence!

        It’s a good reminder to me to try to be more awake.

        I know I said it before, but this is SUCH an interesting series.

  2. “I mean, mixing teenagers with flammable and drinkable alcohol is a bad idea” I suspect they are way ahead of you in that particular experiment 😉 I don’t think you’re cheating using this at all- it’s in the days, it’s something you made. Perfect!

      • Going well! Blocks are being removed, possibilities are opening up and at the moment I’m holding myself back from trying to excitedly dive in too deep. Marathon training, after all. Taking it slow 🙂

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