Materia Medica


thuja occidentalis
David Lilley
Written by David Lilley

A look at the symbolism and personality of Thuja.

thuja occidentalisThe Cosmic Tree

Ever since the human imagination began to evolve images and myths to explain the enigma of physical existence, the tree has provided an essential and supreme primordial symbol of ascent, regeneration, immortality and salvation. The concept of a mighty tree, the Tree of Life, penetrating and uniting the three levels of the invisible and visible cosmos, took symbolic shape: a vast pillar or central axis, its roots immersed in the soil and waters of the underworld (the unconscious), its trunk and lower branches passing through Earth (the conscious) and its topmost boughs reaching up to the light of the heavens (the superconscious). In this imagery, the Tree of Life, Cosmic Tree, was perceived as a conduit for celestial energy flowing from a divine source and  permeating the creation. Hence, the symbol often appears inverted, with its foliage on Earth and its roots in heaven, drawing down spiritual nourishment from above. Particularly majestic trees and those that bear valued fruit were held to be sacred by some cultures.


The immortal, incorruptible conifer

Deciduous trees “die” and shed their golden brown leaves in autumn and are “reborn” in their fresh green raiment of spring, suggesting in this cycle the eternal, cosmic processes of germination, growth, proliferation, death and regeneration. But even more sublime is the image of the ceaseless, inexhaustible life process encompassed by the Cosmic Tree, synon ymous with incorruptibility, immortality and the concept of “life without death”, which represents “absolute reality”. This higher symbolism belongs to the evergreens: the conifers (the pine, fir, spruce, cedar, cypress, juniper etc) and their relatives. Their primacy is also inherent in their antiquity, dating back to the close of the Palaeozoic era. Indeed, the most majestic trees of all, the giant sequoia and its cousin the coastal redwood, are both conifers. Yet, it is a seemingly humbler member of the order that has had the exalted designation, Tree of Life, bestowed upon it: thuja occi dentalis, the northern white cedar, and homeopathic provings and cures have substantiated this entitlement. Like Lachesis, which of all snakes has proved the very embodiment of the snake archetype, among trees, Thuja is the supreme healer, even the lordly oak having to yield precedence.


The sycotic archetype

Synchronicity and the intuitive, inquiring mind of Hahnemann provided us with this remarkable remedy very early in the development of the homeopathic materia medica. A young clergyman sought Hahnemann’s advice regarding an irritating, greenish, urethral discharge with inflammation and swelling of the genitals. On questioning, he stoutly denied any sexual contact that could have accounted for his affliction. Respecting his honesty, Hahnemann refrained from prescribing and asked him to report again in three days. On his return, all symptoms had passed away and he confessed to an unusual feeling of wellbeing. He then recalled that whilst sauntering through a garden he had broken off and chewed a sprig of Arbor  vitae (Tree of Life); the discharge had commenced shortly afterwards. This episode led to provings, which confirmed that Thuja occidentalis was capable of producing phenomena identical to gonorrhoea, including its chronic consequences, and was the pre-eminent remedy for the gonorrhoea-related sycotic constitution (sycosis). In his introduction to the symptom picture of the remedy, Hahnemann wrote: “… the pure effects of this uncommonly powerful medicinal substance will be regarded by the homoeopathic practitioner as a great addition to his medicinal treasury, and he will not fail to make a useful application of it in some of the most serious diseases of mankind, for which hitherto there has been no remedy”. He did not exaggerate!


Sexual abuse

Thuja is one of our greatest remedies for the ills caused by humanity’s efforts to escape the stress of a troubled world through wine, women and song. It has proved invaluable in the treatment of addiction to alcohol, tobacco, recreational drugs (especially cannabis) and even the excess consumption of tea, coffee, sweets and salt. It is often called for in sexually transmitted diseases and to assist the victims of sexual abuse. Both predator and prey may need it. When a person feels deep self contempt, Thuja should be considered. Sufferers from gonorrhoea, like the victims of rape, experience shame and a sense of being soiled or stained. This creates self loathing and feelings of worthlessness. It is a sense of being a pariah, an object for contempt, different and inferior to others. They feel they have something reprehensible and unwholesome to hide. Thuja may indulge in compulsive hand washing in an unconscious attempt to cleanse or absolve themselves. It has the delusion: “thinks his blood is dirty or poisoned”. Thuja will often compensate for this perceived inferiority by cultivating an image of excellence and immaculate perfection.


The Tree of Life and Death

From the beginning a duality was discerned in the mythology of the Tree of Life. Genesis reveals the presence of two sacred trees in Eden: the Tree of Life paralleled by a Tree of Death. Through the Tree of Life, humanity ascends from ist lower nature to spiritual realisation, salvation and release from the cycle of birth, death and rebirth; through the Tree of Knowledge, comes the “fall”, the descent into materialism and bondage to intellect and the flesh. However, though they stand in contention, the two

trees are one, being representations of the same idea of spiritual struggle and transformation, since it is only by death of the mortal (the ego personality) that the immortal (the soul) can truly live. This is the terrain of Thuja.


Resonating duality

A homeopathic remedy being in dynamic form, touches the collective unconscious, which is the realm of myth, and in a sensitive subject will give vent to often deeply repressed images through dreams and imagination. Remedy, archetype, myth, universal consciousness, the personal psyche and disease dance together in timeless patterns choreographed in eternity. Thuja elicits a sense of being double, split in two, on waking of being unable to tell which part he has possession of, that mind and body are separated and, most significantly, that the soul is separated from the body or that the body is too small for the soul. In step with the cosmic dance, the pathogen, Neisseria gonorrhoea , is a diplococcus, comprising two kidney shaped cocci within a single membrane: a symbol of duality and the collision and conflict of the sacred and the profane. This “war” is also the terrain of Thuja.


Thuja homeopathyThe serpent and the tree

Long before Genesis was written, the serpent or dragon had become inextricably entwined in the metaphor of the Tree of Life. It was synonymous with the animating force that coursed through the tree and also the guardian of its fruit or treasure. In images of the Great Goddess in every culture, the serpent is never far away, standing behind her, eating from her hand, wreathed round her tree, or even presenting in the shape of the goddess herself. In the Neolithic period the serpent was the Lord of Rebirth, inspiring and presiding over the shedding of the lower self, but in Judaeo-Christian tradition, the serpent in Eden has transformed into his evil shadow, a tempter towards the “fall”, the instigator of (spiritual) death, with whom Eve, the fallen goddess, is in league. In this patriarchal allegory we are persuaded that human nature, especially when feminine, is inherently inclined to corrupt and betray all that is sacred within it. This falling from grace (although not gender related) is often the plight of both Thuja and Lachesis. Thuja even dreams of falling and of being overwhelmingly heavy. There is much of the snake in the picture of Thuja: ailments are predominantly left sided (the feminine side) and often worse on waking; a sense of being double; jealousy, suspicion, secretiveness, deceit; rapid talkativeness; but most significantly the war between the higher and lower selves leading to religious despair. Two powerful elements in both archetypes are mysticism and sensuality. Sexual fantasy and feelings clash with religious aspiration and tear them apart.


The etymology of Thuja

The derivation of the word Thuja comes from the Greek word thyra meaning to sacrifice or thusia a burnt offering for the gods. Thuias (plural:  thuiades ) means raving woman, a generic name for a maenad (bacchante) who worshipped the orgiastic god, Dionysos (Bacchus), god of wine, who was also the lord of trees. Thrysus was a wand or staff consisting originally of a fennel stalk, but later, a vine or ivy twined fir branch tipped with a pine cone: the emblem of Dionysos, fre quently brandished by his votaries in their wild processions and sensual dances. The cone itself is a phallic symbol of masculine, generative power. The mythical counterparts of the maenads were the satyrs (sileni), part human and part animal. They loved to sing and dance, drink wine and chase maenads whilst in a state of perpetual sexual arousal. The religious congregation of the fanatical and frequently frenzied followers of Dionysos was known as the holy thiasus All these correspondences pertain to Thuja.

About the author

David Lilley

David Lilley

Dr. David Lilley was born in Leeds in 1940, the son of a homeopath. His family emigrated to South Africa in 1949. David studied medicine at the University of Pretoria and after qualifying spent three years at the Royal London Homeopathic Hospital and the London College of Osteopathy. He studied under Drs. Blackie, Twentyman, Raeside, Kennedy and Foubister. After obtaining his MFHom he returned to South Africa and joined his father in a practice in 1966. He has been in an exclusively homeopathic and osteopathic practice for the past 41 years. In 1994 he started the first homeopathic course for medical doctors in South Africa. This course has now evolved into the SA Faculty of Homeopathy, of which he is the Director of Education. In recent years he has been a visiting lecturer in the UK and other countries. In his lectures he weaves together homeopathic art and science, analytical psychology, mythology, chakra and colour theory, natural science and spiritual philosophy to provide a rich tapestry of perennial wisdom and knowledge. David has been described as an "inspiring teacher with an incredible in-depth knowledge of the remedies, who also shares many practical tips on the management of acute illnesses".


  • David, thanks for a wonderful article. I want to share the experience of my patient who had the following reaction the evening after taking Thuja 1M. Her main complaint was feeling torn between a somewhat double life she has been leading after coming to the realization that she married for comfort and convenience, and not for love. She deliberately chose a man who would be unacceptable to her parents, against whom she rallied as a teenager. She has been married 15 years and has 4 children. But suddenly this year she decided to find her teenage love and understood that she forsook her yearnings of the heart in order to have a “successful” earthly life:

    “I decided to go to bed early, since I was feeling as if my blood pressure went up. I went to sleep and then at 11 pm woke up feeling refreshed. On waking I had barely opened my eyes, when I had the most incredible vision: with my inner eye I “saw” my soul. It was located inside my chest just behind my breastbone. It had the shape of an egg, and on top it was rounded in the shape of a cupola. The bottom part was more elongated. It was the size of two fists. I sensed it was my own soul, and at the same time had a realization of all other human souls in the world, and an awareness that they all seem to be striving upward. As if the top part of each one is clean, and has a natural tendency to rise upward. I knew, for some reason, that up toward its creator is where it would eventually go, and that indeed all souls are continuously ready to make that upward ascent. Yet the most intense emotion I experienced, while observing the soul, was pity and compassion. I saw the souls of saints rising up, clean and transparent, like a pure jelly-fish. But the souls of us common sinners were dirty, with fringed ends hanging off the bottom and spots on the outside. It became apparent to me that the spots disappear and dissolve in the course of the soul’s ascent to heaven. And at the same time this deep compassion made me want to protect my soul, to keep it from being damaged. I felt sorry for my soul. And also for the first time in my life I no longer felt lonely. I became acutely aware that I am not alone, because I have my soul and we are one. The next day and for many days after, I had a deep sense of joy.”

    Your article so beautifully reflects the leading themes of Thuja. The remedy gave my patient a vision of her own essence and a direction for her soul that will, with God’s help, lead her toward healing.

  • We need to work on organ failure symptoms and find out exact remedies which can be administrated on the patient like BP/Diabetic/Cardiac failure/Leaver failure/Lungs failure/brain failure cases to go to ICU/CCU unnecessary/

    I need support from the world wide professors to look in to the matter.

    Thanks & Rgds
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  • It’s worthwhile remembering that Thuja in tincture form applied topically is a very powerful herbal healer for warts or growths or skin lesions of many types, which homeopaths shouldn’t be afraid of using, together with the internal use of potentised homeopathic Thuja.

    My father in old age grew a few unsightly, hard, scaly nodules on the upper rims of his ears, a few millimeters thick and standing proud of the skin of the ear. The appearance of these nodules or growths can I understand be due to many causes – gout, chondrodermatitis, or something more serious eg a hard area or spur which may overlie skin cancer. He never did anything about them, but when I started getting the same type of thing on the edge of one ear in my late 50s, I determined immediately to do something to get rid of them. The answer I found was Thuja tincture. Put a drop of neat tincture on the tip of a finger and rub it into and just around the hard area. Then put a further drop on it and leave it to dry there. Do that two or three times a day. It isn’t necessary to put a plaster on it. It doesn’t make the surrounding skin sore in my experience but the hardened area after a good few weeks (less if you are lucky!) gets to the point where a layer of the hard bit will come off when picked at. The lesion may then ‘weep’ a bit, but don’t worry. Continue to dab the same spot with tincture daily until you feel that the hard area has completely disappeared and new skin has covered the spot.

    I found furthermore that Thuja tincture assiduously applied will kill off infection and heal a ‘suspicious looking’ skin lesion anywhere. For instance, I spotted on my shin a small area the size of the nail on my little finger which had seemingly appeared overnight. It was a small, slightly discoloured spot; the sort of thing you would go to your dermatologist to check if it was likely to be cancerous or not. The area didn’t hurt when pressed but it had grown proud of the surrounding skin by a millimeter or so, and it had obviously grown fast. It may have started from a localised infection from a scratch after I had waded into some brambles while blackberry picking, but the surface of the skin wasn’t visibly broken, so that may be a red herring. It looked instead as if a nail-sized mole was just starting to grow there. Neat Thuja tincture massaged in several times a day started it shrinking within 10 days and in due course the lesion shrank to a pinpoint and then disappeared leaving nothing but a tiny localised skin discolouration, but no evidence of any abnormal skin cells.

  • Thanks for the comprehensive article about Thuja. Kindly advise whether thuja Q can be applied on exzema/psoriasis where the skin got thick and whitish scales are coming out during vigourous rubbing with hard and rough surface.

  • Wonderful article. I love going into depth with homeopathy. And i think thuja is just what i need. Is there anyone that can help via email or skype on confirming this remedy for me? i am not a homeopathic practitioner though have dabbled a bit by myself because of not getting right treatment so far from others( not their fault) I expect that i am too deceptive with them and maybe shame keeps me from telling the truth.
    Thank you

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