An evocative account of the ‘five guardian elements’ of acupuncture, this book is an important counterbalance to other recent publications that have concentrated on the treatment of specific conditions. As Principal of the School of Five Element Acupuncture, Nora Franglen is steeped in a tradition that honours the patient and his or her place in the universe. Coming myself from a school which includes five element acupuncture as one element in its teachings, I learnt a great deal from this book about the subtleties and nuances of this mode of practice. Since reading it, and whilst working with patients, I have found echoes of its ideas repeatedly coming into my mind.
Although Nora Franglen says the book is not an introduction to acupuncture, she does add that ‘to clear some of the cobwebs of misunderstanding is one of my aims, as it is to introduce this discipline to those to whom it is still a closed book.’ The misunderstandings she refers to are perhaps between different approaches to acupuncture practice, and by clarifying the emotional characteristics of each of the five elements she will certainly achieve this aim, while offering a greater depth of understanding to others who practise five element acupuncture only.
In the first section, Nora Franglen describes her discovery of a profound truth, and her need to share its ‘awesome beauty’ – that the soul, in its temporary container the body, can be touched by the manipulation of a needle. The skin, she suggests, is the meeting place at which all the energies of the universe, coming from outside, meet all those feeding every bodily cell from within. She argues that when our search for self-knowledge and the realisation of our potential through the element we are born into is frustrated, we become out of balance, and either physically or emotionally unwell. Acupuncture has the power to restore balance, enhance potential, and return us to health. In the second part, which systematically describes each element in great depth, she illustrates the role of each official with the example of a patient she has treated and also a celebrity. This latter approach may date the discussion rather quickly as fashions change and memories fade. I found particular illumination, though, in a section differentiating the roles of the four fire officials: Small Intestine, Heart, Three Heater and Heart Protector.
The final section describes what she perceives as the sorry state of contemporary conventional medicine, increasingly focused on measuring microscopic particles in searching for the cause of illnesses, and unable to look at the whole person and in particular, the soul. The neglect of the soul, she suggests, is a prime cause of ill health in our society, and one which conventional medicine is powerless to address. In contrast, acupuncture has certainly adapted successfully to the needs of people living in this century. Nora Franglen goes on to argue that five element acupuncture is particularly flexible, and able to respond to the advances in psychological understanding ushered in by Freud, Jung and their successors.
Whether we entirely share this perspective or not, the book does fulfil its primary aim of clearing up some misunderstandings about this particular school of acupuncture. Some might find the lyrical language in which it is couched stilted at times, and the alliterations on occasion forced. References to the ‘god-like presence’ of the universe may not make easy reading for all practitioners. The detailed description of five element personalities is, however, very useful, and has certainly enriched my own practice, especially in dealing with patients presenting with emotional problems.
Keepers of the Soul is an important addition to the literature of this area. I would strongly recommend students of acupuncture to read this book, which provides a spiritual context into which they can place the more concrete structures of other aspects of their training. For working acupuncturists too, however long they have been practising and from whatever discipline they may come, the book offers an insight into a subtle and very effective way of working, and demonstrates how much we all can learn from each other.
‘The way of medicine is so wide that its scope is as immeasurable as the Heaven and the Earth, and its depth is as immeasurable as the four seas.’ (Su Wen, Chapter 78: Lu, 1972.)
Angela Llewellyn Angela Llewellyn lives and practises in Wales. Her first degree was in Social Anthropology at the University of Sussex, and she graduated from the International College of Oriental Medicine in the UK in 1984. She studied for an MSc in Medical Anthropology at Brunel University, graduating in 1996, and is currently a member of the British Acupuncture Council’s Research Committee.