Douglas-Fir Essential Oil: Primal Fear, Inferiority Complex and the Themes of Paternal Nurturing and Protection

by | Nov 12, 2009 | Spiritual PhytoEssencing E-Journal

Last night a hard wind blowing off the Cascade Mountains gusted through the forest with the sound of cresting waves breaking upon a stony shore. The night sky was a thick sheet of glowing clouds permeated by obscured moonlight; it had the aspect of a gray dawn. Thus, the surrounding Douglas-firs, cedars and black alders were clearly visible, flexing like blades of tall grass with each powerful rush of air.

Sleep did not come easy with the wind sliding down the pitched roof and turning the downspouts into howling flutes. Even more tensing was the rapt awareness that at any moment one of the arboreal giants outside the window could be rocked loose of its moorings, impale the roof and crush any animate and inanimate objects in the field of its downward trajectory.

This wasn’t the type of anxious fear (born of life’s insecurities and weighty responsibilities) that stampedes through the mind when the lights are out. Rather, it was one of the untamed trepidations that roil in the lower chakras and rouse the animal soul. The kind that makes dogs bark wildly and cats hide wide-eyed under furniture.

I turned my gaze to a huge Douglas-fir, its canopy inscribing circles in the sky. It reminded me that the oil distilled from its needles can help assuage gut-driven primal fear, not only via its exertion of a generalized sedative effect, but also because its unique plant soul vibrates in the key of paternal protection and nurturing.

St. John’s Wort Essential Oil

Certainly, St. John’s wort essential oil has pinpoint specificity for the particular survival-oriented fear I experienced last night when the wind charged through the trees like a wild boar tossing thick branches into the air. In this reference, the St. John’s wort oil symptom picture (as described in Berkowsky’s Materia Medica/Spiritualis of Essential Oils) features the following relevant symptoms: anxiety; nervous excitement; fear; insomnia and other sleep disorders; stress; trauma; worse in a closed room; bad effects of shock, or fright; apprehensive; sensitive to noise; feels as if lifted high in the air; penetrating wounds; mechanical injuries; crushing wounds; unbearable pain.

In the book Virgin Soil by the 19th century Russian novelist Ivan Turgenev, a character leaves a suicide note that reads: “I could not simplify myself. What an arrow through the heart!”

This is a St. John’s wort sentiment. The symptom unbearable pain is important in this context of suicidal depression. St. John’s wort is especially indicated when there is depression due to deep, penetrating or crushing emotional wounding accompanied by nerve fragility and feelings of vulnerability.

John the Baptist (whose Hebrew name was Yohanan ha-Matbil), the namesake of St. John’s wort, was certainly no stranger to agitation of the animal soul. He was a Jewish preacher and major religious figure in the time of Pontius Pilate (Roman governor of Judea; 26-36 C.E.).

Following the model of earlier Jewish prophets, he lived austerely. According to the Christian gospels, John the Baptist was regarded by the multitude as a great prophet whose powerful appeal and semi-wild appearance of a deprived desert dweller reminded them of the prophet of Elijah. Matthew writes: â€śHe wore raiment of camel’s hair, and a leathern girdle about his loins; and his meat was locusts and wild honey.” (Matthew 3:4)

The people flocked in crowds to hear John’s stirring sermons. So much so that King Herod Antipas (the ruler of Israel; son of Herod the Great, who was king at the time of Jesus’ birth), fearing insurrection, came to view John’s influence upon his subjects as a threat to his rule. So he had him imprisoned in the fortress of Machaerus (located nine miles east of the Dead Sea).

John was ultimately executed by beheading for criticizing Herod Antipas. Although, because of its invariably fatal outcome, decapitation is not generally viewed as a wound, it is in fact a mortal penetrating wound.

Clearly, St. John’s wort oil is worthy of consideration regarding arousal of the animal soul’s survival-related fears, especially fear of penetrating or crushing wounds. However, the oil’s inner nature does not carry the essence of paternal nurturing and protection.

To the extent that the oil is imbued with the theme of paternal protection, this is restricted to the masculine aspect of God. Although, in this regard, said protection was seen by John as being contingent upon one’s fear of the power and wrath of a divine father.

John the Baptist challenged sinful rulers, and called for repentance and renewal of the people’s covenant relation with God. He was a critic of society and secular worldliness, who was calling for a return to an intensely Jewish piety, wherein one made oneself pure and followed the way of the Lord as set out in the Torah.

John believed that God was going to manifest in some sort of a catastrophic event to restore proper order in the world. He was an apocalyptic preacher who proclaimed a message of judgment, and emphasized that the urgency of repentance as a divine intervention into human affairs was imminent and God’s top priority would be to pass judgment upon the good and the evil.

Thus, while the “feeling” of St. John’s wort oil includes elements of the theme of protection, it does not evoke much in the way of a sense of reflexive paternalistic protection and nurturing. To engage with a generalized confluence of the themes of paternal protection and nurturing we have to turn to Douglas-fir oil. Perhaps this is one reason why Douglas-fir serves as the most common Christmas tree in the United States.

Douglas-Fir Essential Oil

Douglas-fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii), a member of the Pinaceae or Pine family, has been a major component of western North American forests since the middle of the Pleistocene period. The Pleistocene is the span of geological time that began 2.5 million years ago and ceased 10.000 years ago with the end of the last Ice Age.

John Muir in his 1918 book Steep Trails, describes the Douglas-fir he encountered in the forests of Washington state: “When we force our way into the depths of the forests, following any of the rivers back to their fountains, we find that the bulk of the woods is made up of the Douglas-fir. It is not only a very large tree but a very beautiful one, with lively bright-green drooping foliage, handsome pendent cones, and a shaft exquisitely straight and regular.

For so large a tree it is astonishing how many find nourishment and space to grow on any given area. The magnificent shafts push their spires into the sky close together with as regular a growth as that of a well-tilled field of grain.”

Muir’s description of the stands of Douglas-fir that he observed in the Pacific Northwest lend them a certain military aspect reminiscent of the mighty Roman legions with its soldiers arranged in close-order battle formation. This, and the fact that some old growth trees attain a height of more than 300 feet, lends Douglas-fir a distinct masculine, warrior quality.

It is a monoecious species, meaning that it is one in which male and female organs are found on the same plant, but in different flowers or cones. In this case, the oblong, red-to-yellow male cones and the reddish, long-bracted female ones, occur near branch tips. Here we see clear elaboration of both masculine and feminine: protective force and nurturing potential.

Regarding the latter, Douglas-firs are used as food plants by the larvae of some Lepidoptera (moth) species. Mule deer and elk forage off the Douglas-fir in winter and early spring when their other food supplies are covered in snow or haven’t yet appeared. Bears scrape the bark off younger trees and feed on the underlying sap layer. Among Native Americans, Douglas-fir served as a source of famine food used when other food was scarce; the inner bark, dried and ground into meal, was mixed with grains for making bread. A sweet manna-like substance exudes from the bark, and sap obtained from the trunk was used as a chewing gum or sugar-rich food by various native North American Indian tribes.

Regarding the theme of protection, Douglas-fir female cones feature a distinctive and long three-pointed bract (a bract is a leaf-like structure, different in form from foliage leaves associated with a flower) that extends beyond the cone scales and is commonly described as resembling a mouse posterior.

A Native American myth holds that each of the three-pointed bracts represents the tail and back legs of a mouse that hid within the cone’s scales, because the Douglas-fir tree was kind enough to provide sanctuary for the creatures during forest fires. This myth also reflects the intermingling of the themes of protection and nurturing and the oil’s resultant specificity for the feelings of vulnerability.

Given Douglas-fir’s association with the mouse and paternal nurturing and protection, the following excerpt from the novel Walking into the Night by Olaf Olafsson succinctly expresses the central feeling of Douglas-fir oil.

Olafsson is considered to be Iceland’s greatest living writer. The fictional character narrating the excerpt below is a man who emigrated to the United States from a small village in Iceland.

Ultimately, he becomes the caretaker at the Hearst mansion in San Simeon, California in the 1930s. There, he not only oversees the management of the house and grounds, but also acts as a sort of major domo who serves both William Randolph Hearst and his alcoholic movie-star mistress, Marion Davies. It is partly via his gentle, protective relationship with the troubled Davies (a great silent screen actress, her career by the 1930s is in eclipse) that the author elaborates the paternal nurturing/protective aspect of his soul-nature.

Walking Into The Night Excerpt:

“Ever since this morning I had been looking forward to telling you about the mouse I found in a plant pot down in the living room the day before yesterday; all of a sudden it seemed so strangely dear to me. I dug a little hole in the garden and covered it with some bits of twig and leaves to make it cozy.

I was going to describe to you how terrified it was when I took it out of the plant pot, because Helena had found it and was barking loudly and showing her snout at it. How its little heart pounded as I carried it outside; it quivered in my hands but didn’t try to struggle, and I wondered whether it could sense—or, rather, whether it could sense in me—that I wouldn’t do it any harm. I had even begun to convince myself that I’d managed to communicate through my hands alone that I wished it well and would take care of it.

I dug the hole in the flowerbed outside Casa del Monte. It looked as if the wind was going to pick up during the evening, so I found a place between two stones where I knew it would be safe. During the night it began to rain, the branches of the palm tree outside my window lashed the house, and the rain battered the windowpanes.

I couldn’t sleep, so I dressed and went down to the kitchen, stuck a piece of cheese in my pocket, and went outside. I was drenched within seconds as I hurried down the path. I was worried that the mouse might be out in the storm, so I was mightily relieved when I lifted the leaf from the hole.

It was as if it knew I would come back. I took care not to shine the flashlight I’d brought with me in its eyes, but I couldn’t help noticing that its gaze showed unconditional trust.

I can’t explain the moment of happiness I experienced as I knelt there beside the hole in the darkness. Why a tiny mouse should have such an effect on me…. It ate the cheese out of my hand and didn’t move even though I stroked its back over and over. Thunder shook the sky and lightning tore it apart but the mouse remained calm under my finger.

The following morning the sky was cloudless and the air smelled sweet after the rain. I knew even before I reached the hole that the mouse had gone.”

Notably, on a metaphysical level, some Native American tribes considered Douglas-fir cones to have magical qualities. The Chehalis would warm them by their fires as a means of stopping the persistent rain of the Pacific Northwest. Similarly, the Cowlitz placed them close to the fire as a way of appealing to the spirits for sunshine. The Skagit people burned the cones to help direct the wind.

Douglas-Fir and Adler’s Concept of the Inferiority Complex

Douglas-fir essential oil is not one of the more commonly used oils in aromatherapy but it is considered to be of potential value in the treatment of anxiety, nervous tension, asthma and wounds. Also, the Swinomish tribe used a decoction of the needles as a general tonic tea and applied heated needles to the chest as an analgesic that would “draw out the pain.”

While these insights helps substantiate Douglas-fir oil’s usefulness for helping to ameliorate primal fear, it doesn’t explain the mechanism or highlight the specific types of anxiety and fear for which it is most likely to exert a remedial impact. My observation has been that it is best suited to address primal fear associated with what Alfred Adler described as the “inferiority complex.”

Adler, a contemporary of Freud, was a pioneer in the field of psychoanalysis who developed the system called Individual Psychology (which refers to the undivided personality within its psychological structure).

Individual Psychology holds that people’s primary motivation is to strive for power or “superiority” (i.e., respect and acknowledgement from others, self-realization, wholeness). He referred to this process, which he viewed as the driving force behind all thought, emotion, and behavior, as a striving for superiority.

According to Adler, every individual begins life with a sense of inferiority because we start as weak, helpless children and must strive to overcome these inherent deficiencies by becoming superior to those around us.

Human children, unlike the offspring of most animals, require a protracted childhood and upbringing to develop the physical and social skills required for long-term survival. Adler believed that this long, tedious, required period of development imbues a human being with a feeling of inferiority in relation to his environment.

As the child’s mind develops to the degree that he can becomes aware of his physical shortcomings, low socioeconomic status, neglect or rejection by a parent, etc., his inherent feelings of inferiority, inadequacy, or incompleteness are exacerbated and encourage problematic frustrations in his striving for superiority.

Accordingly, we strive for success and acknowledgement in order to overcome our sense of inferiority. We develop particular skills and or abilities in order to compensate for feelings of being inferior. Each person, beginning in early childhood, seeks to overcome his sense of inferiority in a different way. This unique effort is what Adler refers to as a “style of life.” The style of life is partly influenced by what sense of inferiority-building events affected a child most dramatically in his or her first years of life.

Douglas-fir oil is one of the primary oils to consider whenever anxiety disorder and primal fear is fueled by a sense of powerlessness—when one is open and exposed to life’s buffeting winds and invasive factors and unable to find shelter from the storm sufficient to allow full flowering of the soul’s creativity. Accordingly, the Douglas-fir type is stalked by a recurring feeling of inferiority relative to his environment, society, etc.

Notably, Adler observed that feelings of inferiority may also arise from weakness in a particular physical organ such as the lungs, kidneys, etc. The Douglas-fir type typically has a weakness in the chest, especially involving the rhythmicity of the heart/lung interaction. Thus, he tends to experience his feelings of anxiety and fear in his chest—a sense of profound uneasiness sometimes accompanied by rapid heart rate, palpitations and/or shallow, rapid breathing.

In this reference, Douglas-fir oil is potentially useful in the treatment of circulatory weakness, respiratory weakness, infections, and/or catarrh, cough, asthma and bronchitis. As noted above, the Swinomish tribe used a decoction of the needles as a general tonic tea and applied heated needles to the chest as an analgesic that would “draw out the pain.”

Themes of Paternal Nurturing and Protection

When we think of the theme of nurturing, we reflexively associate it with the mother or other female caregiver. However, male nurturing is both unique and complementary to female nurturing. When blended with a palpable and effective protective presence, male nurturing is crucial to assuaging a child’s inherent sense of vulnerability and inferiority and creating a sheltered space within which the child’s creativity can flourish.

In cases where this male nurturing/protective influence has been historically deficient or lacking, Douglas-fir oil is worthy of consideration, especially when anxiety and fear is reported as being experienced in the chest.

The following excerpt from Tales Of The Hasidim, compiled and translated by the great philosopher Martin Buber, is a touching demonstration of male protective nurturing, the involvement of the chest and the resultant encouragement of a child’s creativity. When you read it, you will simultaneously experience the feeling of the soul-nature of Douglas-fir oil.

“Rabbi Aaron of Karlin [an 18th century Hasidic master] once came to the city where little Mordecai, who later became the rabbi of Lechovitz, was growing up. His father brought the boy to the visiting rabbi and complained that he did not persevere in his studies.

‘Leave the boy with me for a while,’ said Rabbi Aaron.

When he was alone with little Mordecai, he lay down and took the child to his heart. Silently he held him to his heart until his father returned.

‘I have given him a good talking-to,’ he said. ‘From now on, he will not be lacking in perseverance.’

Whenever the rabbi of Lechovitz related this incident, he added: ‘That was when I learned how to turn men to God.'”

Read Dr. Berkowsky’s Previous Article: “The Last Of Dass”

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