Maybe I’ve been listening to too much Last Podcast on the Left. Maybe I’ve been watching too much Haunting of Hill House. Or maybe I’m just getting in the Halloween spirit. Whatever the reason, I think it’s time for a spooky, seasonal blog post and that can mean only one thing – it’s time to talk about ghost points.
One of my favorite quotes from (of all movies) Batman Begins is actually from Arthur C. Clarke:
Magic’s just science that we don’t understand yet.
Continuing with the theme of Halloween, the first episode of the Haunting of Hill House on Netflix alludes to this as well. Without giving away any spoilers, one of the characters discusses the difference between supernatural and preternatural. He says he doesn’t believe in the word “supernatural” and then continues:
“I’m talking about the word itself. ‘Supernatural.’ There’s natural phenomena that we understand and then there’s natural phenomena that we don’t. Primitive humans used to die of fright during an eclipse. They had no idea what it was. The eye of an angry god. An evil spirit. Nothing supernatural about it though.Haunting of Hill House, Season 1 Episode 1, Netflix 2018
Once we understood what it was, well, it was just natural.
I prefer ‘preternatural’. Natural phenomena that we don’t quite understand yet.
There is a lot of modern science to acupuncture, a lot that we’ve been able to explain through neural pathways, fascia and hormonal cascades. But there is a lot we don’t understand too. The argument that some acupuncture effects are preternatural is the subject of another post all together (though I touch on it here) but I’m going to be transparent here:
Acupuncture actually has a lot to do with ghosts.
The Huang Di Nei Jing is one of the classics I reference a lot on this blog but it is only 2000 years old (which is how old many claim acupuncture to be.) In fact, its roots go back much further.
John Pirog states in his book The Practical Application of Meridian Style Acupuncture that Chinese medicine began as a bleeding technique practiced by shamans as far back as the Zhou Dynasty – 1046 to 256 BCE.
The shamans combined the idea of external influences causing disease with rituals akin to exorcisms, and the bleeding of superficial points called luo points was thought to purge the disease or evil from the body.
1500 years after the Zhou Dynasty, one of the greats of Classical Chinese medicine published his work.
Sun Si Miao lived during the Tang dynasty and is considered the King of Chinese Medicine. Not only was he a well respected physician known for his care and dedication to his patients, he was a prolific author, writing some of the first medical texts and what is considered the acupuncturist’s Hippocratic oath.
In one of his texts, the Qian Jin Yao Fang, Sun Si Miao discussed a specific set of thirteen points which are called ghost points. These points were developed to treat mental illness and other nervous system conditions such as epilepsy, paralysis and coma.
Like with many words in Chinese Medicine, the translation of ghost should not necessarily be taken literally. Sun Si Miao lived in a time that was well beyond the shamanistic exorcisms of the past and the preternatural aspects of mental illness were dispelled by the scientific understanding of disease theory at the time.
Ghosts were caused by excess phlegm influencing and possibly even taking over a person’s life. Sun Si Miao believed that these ghosts could be treated by a series of protocols depending how much the ghosts or mania had progressed.
Treating mental health in 1500 CE
The word mania in Chinese medicine doesn’t have the same meaning as it does in English (much like the word ghost).
In some cases it can mean the same thing – over-excitement, delusions over-activity and feelings of euphoria. In fact, the excess emotion of the heart, excess joy, is often described as mania.
But mania can also mean not feeling like oneself or acting out of character and that is the type of mania that Sun Si Miao sought to treat.
The points were needled, bled or warmed with moxa the left side first in women, right side first in men and treated one point at a time, one after another.
Interested in Classical Chinese medicine?
Sun Si Miao’s Thirteen Ghost Points
Before we get into the thirteen points I want to talk about how acupuncturists talk about acupoints.
First, there is the classical name of the point which I have included in pinyin, sourced either from Giovanni Maciocia’s The Foundation of Chinese Medicine or Peter Deadman’s A Manual of Acupuncture.
Second, there is a combination of an abbreviation of the channel the point is on and the number the point is in the sequence of the channel. This is the short hand acupuncturists use for medical notes.
I will be using both the classical names and their shorthand.
The First Grouping
These first three points treat the first manifestations of mental illness. They are meant to expel the phlegm that has begun to gather and drain the symptoms of heat (mania, insomnia) and wind (epilpsey) before they take root.
1. Ghost Palace (Gui Gong) – Du 26
This is one of the first three points used at the beginning of a mental illness. It was used for inappropriate laughing and crying and manic depression.
It was also used for things we know are neurological disorders such as both adult and childhood epilepsy, coma and interestingly, tetany.
Because of its location on the Du channel it is not only related to the consciousness of the body and the central nervous system but is also tied to the kidneys and prenatal essence which you can think of as genetic expression, but on more than just a physical level.
2. Ghost Truth/Belief (Gui Xin) – Lu 11
This point is located at the tip of the thumb and, like Du 26, is a well-known point for reviving consciousness. It is also an important point for mania and other excess emotions.
Being a point on a yin metal channel, it correlates to the connections that we have to other people, animals, concepts – essentially the world at large. There for, treating this point treats the way we related to the material world.
3. Ghost Eye (Gui Yan) – Sp 1
The last point in the first group of three is Sp 1. Where Lu 11 as Gui Xin treated mania Sp 1 treats depression. This isn’t the type of depression where one is lost in the abyss, this is chronic low-grade depression – the type of omnipresent sadness that can follow patients around for years before they get help.
This point also can help with insomnia and excessive dreaming, childhood epilepsy and loss of consciousness.
The Second Grouping
The second set of three points is used once the illness has noticeably manifested. At this point schizophrenic patients are becoming convinced of the “reality” of their delusions. Patients with depression start entertaining thoughts of suicide or alternatively, lose all hope and direction.
The hallmark here is that the mental attitudes of the patient have become set and it is difficult to convince the patient of what is real and what isn’t.
Before we continue I would like to clarify: if you are hearing voices, having thoughts of harming yourself or others or any other conditions discussed here talk to your doctor. This is an interesting, somewhat macabre topic for Halloween but acupuncture and herbs are no longer the bleeding edge of medical science when it comes to the treatment of mental health. You can get help, and you should.
4. Ghost Heart (Gui Xin) – Pc 7
Like points in the first trinity, this point is used for mania but this mania comes with raving and ranting. unceasing laughter, generalized agitation and weeping, grief, sadness and fear.
More esoterically, we see an obsession with things such as in hoarding variants of OCD and some types of schizophrenia. This was seen as the ghost trying to possess the heart, the seat of the consciousness.
5. Ghost Road (Gui Lu) – Ub 62
Gui Lu is used for manic-depression, but also intense fear. One might even say paranoia. It’s the type of fear that takes root in your chest, changes your breathing and gives you palpitations.
Because of its location of on the ankle, this point represents the person walking with the ghost, or even, in the footsteps of the ghost.
This point is also useful for epilepsy and paralysis (related or unrelated to mental illness.)
I can’t help but wonder, because of its effectiveness for paralysis and it’s association with insomnia and the opening of the eyes (because it is the master point of the yang qiao meridian) if this point may also be effective for those who suffer from sleep paralysis.
6. Ghost Pillow (Gui Zhen) – Du 16
Gui Zhen is located on the back of the neck, directly over the brain stem.
This point is related both to the complete inability to speak as well as incessant speech. It’s also associated with frantic pacing, the desire to commit suicide, and anxiety related palpitations. This is where we can see classic signs of mental illness that require medical attention. But in Tang dynasty China? There was acupuncture.
Ghost Pillow alludes to the idea that the person is now constantly with the ghost, both while awake and asleep. There is no longer any escape.
The Third Grouping
The third grouping may or may not be a progression of the previous group, but I find it fascinating in 600s Sun Si Miao discussed addiction in terms of mental illness, something we as modern Americans are only starting to come to terms with.
The third grouping is all about addiction to any substance. This is a patient who needs alcohol, or any other substance to be able to function.
7. Ghost Bed (Gui Chuang) – St 6
This point is located in the jaw which ties directly into its treatment for lockjaw. This point is also effective for the treatment of paralysis following stroke.
From an esoteric and emotional perspective, this point helps an addict see and acknowledge their suffering, and through acknowledging it, start the healing process.
8. Ghost Market (Gui Shi) – Ren 24
This point is also located on the jaw, but is found in the center of the chin. It also directly treats paralysis following stroke and lockjaw, but unlike Gui Chuang, this point treats mania and depression.
Being part of the Ren channel this point is associated with yin. Over time a persistent negative outlook will consume yin, as if a patient is relying on their resources to force their way through the day.
This point also treats nosebleeds, which are often seen as the body attempting to exorcise the ghost itself.
9. Ghost Cave (Gui Ku) – Pc 8
Of the three points of this grouping, Gui Ku is the most emotionally focused. Located in the palm of the hand, this point was used for chronic anxiety that leads to inappropriate or unpredictable emotional responses; strong emotions of anger, fear or sadness and ceaseless laughter.
Like many of the ghost points it can also be used to treat coma, loss of consciousness and epilepsy .
This is possibly one of the most important ghost points in this group because it helps the patient see themselves as a person and see the damage they are doing to themselves.
The Fourth Grouping
While each of the groupings is serious, this grouping is meant for mental illnesses that have begun to impact the physical health of the patient.
10. Ghost Hall (Gui Tang) – Du 23
Du 23 is located along the midline of the scalp, just inside the the hairline.
This point strongly calms the shen meaning that it helps relax the mind. This helps in cases of insomnia, but from a ghost point perspective this point is useful for cases like Alzheimer’s and other conditions that involved the deterioration of cognitive function and memory.
11. Ghost Hidden (Gui Cang) – Ren 1(-ish)
This point is located slightly differently in men and women. In men, it is called yin xia feng and in women it is called yu men tou. But both of these points are located near Ren 1, on your perineum.
Ren 1 is the meeting point of yin and as you remember from above persistent negativity and emotional distress consumes yin. This point is included in treatments where the yin has been completely depleted.
12. Ghost Minister (Gui Chen) – Li 11
This point is located on the elbow and is the most emotion focused of the three points. This point helps with agitation causing pressure in the chest, like in some panic disorders; mania and poor memory.
The Thirteenth Point –
Ghost Seal (Gui Feng) – Haichuan extra point
Sun Si Miao had this thirteenth point that didn’t fit neatly into the four categories. Some sources state that this point is used for schizophrenia. Deadman states that it is used for epilepsy and mania. But what most sources agree on is that it is rarely used in clinical practice because it is located under the tongue. Instead of getting needled, it is bled. As someone who went to acupuncture school, it is as…not awesome as it sounds.
Ghost Points in Modern Use
While I don’t doubt there are practitioners who use Sun Si Miao’s Ghost Points as intended, I have yet to meet one. Most of us learn the thirteen points to regurgitate them on boards and then never think of them again. I think that this is a mistake.
Acupuncture is an amazing complementary medicine for talk therapy, pharmaceuticals and other modern treatments for serious mental health issues and I think patients would benefit from their practitioners taking a second look.
Mental health needs to be taken seriously
In this post I’ve made reference to horror films, true crime podcasts and the supernatural but let me be clear: I don’t take mental health lightly and neither should you.
Schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, manic depression – these are all things that are treatable. If you or someone in your family suffers from even minor depression, talk to someone.
I love acupuncture and I think that Classical Chinese medicine can take someone’s treatment far. But there are faster and more effective means to get you the help you need.
And if you ever, ever, are in a place where you are considering harming yourself or others don’t go to an acupuncture clinic. Call a hotline.
Happy Halloween. Stay safe.
Contact the Suicide Prevention Lifeline
Disclaimer: I am an acupuncturist in the state of Minnesota, and the information falls within my scope of practice in my state. However, unless I have directed you here as your homework I am probably not your acupuncturist. The information in this post is for general purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. As always, check with your own acupuncturist or primary care provider before making any lifestyle changes. This post does not create a patient-practitioner relationship and I am not liable for any losses or damages resulting or relating to the content in this post.
Resources and links
Last Podcast on the Left – An incredibly inappropriate, not safe for work, true crime and supernatural podcast
Point descriptions and locations are sourced from Peter Deadman’s A Manual of Acupuncture, Giovanni Maciocia’s The Foundations of Chinese Medicine and John Pirog’s The Practical Application of Meridian Style Acupuncture.
Jessica Gustafson is a licensed acupuncturist in St Paul, MN specializing in women’s health and fertility. She loves working with patients through the Health Foundations Birth Center on Grand Avenue in St Paul as well as doing home visits in the Twin Cities area. Check out the services page for more information!
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