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6. When Ngülchu is not Mercury: Tibetan Taxonomies of 'Metals'

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1. Title Title of document 6. When Ngülchu is not Mercury: Tibetan Taxonomies of 'Metals' - Soulless Matter, Seats of Energy
2. Creator Author's name, affiliation, country Barbara Gerke; Humboldt University of Berlin;
3. Subject Discipline(s) Religious Studies; South Asian Studies; Anthropology
4. Subject Keyword(s) Ngülchu; mercury; Tibetan medicine; silver-water; Tibetan pharmacology; tsothal
5. Subject Subject classification South Asian religion; vernacular religion
6. Description Abstract This article analyses Tibetan ideas of ngülchu (dngul chu), the ‘silver-water,’ which is considered the ‘king among the elixirs.’ Tibetan medical texts have mentioned its processing techniques for medicinal use since at least the twelfth century AD. How did Tibetan physicians classify metals in their key materia medica texts considering textual descriptions that ngülchu could be sourced from water, rocks, plants, and animals? Is it a metal, a precious substance, or something else? Some materia medica classify non-processed metallic mercury as an ‘inanimate cold poison,’ as a ‘precious’ and also ‘non-meltable’ substance. What do these classifications tell us about the nature of ngülchu, its poisonousness, and medicinal properties? Based on textual analysis and ethnographic fieldwork with contemporary Tibetan pharmacologists in India and Nepal, I argue that due to the varied sourcing, ngülchu is not necessarily metallic mercury, but that certain shiny-silvery substances found on herbs and inside animals are labelled ngülchu, share similar characteristics, and go beyond what we would classify as a ‘metal.’ Nevertheless, today’s pharmaceutical manufacturing of Tibetan mercurial medicines rely on processed mercury-sulfide compounds based on metallic mercury, although the plant source of ngülchu is considered a valid substitute (tshab) by some pharmacologists. This paper also analyses the popular mercury-sulfide ash tsothal (btso thal), which contains eight metals, in the context of its origin myth where the eight metals are eight sages. I then show parallels of this myth in the tsothal processing method, where the eight metals are burnt to ash and transformed into an elixir.
7. Publisher Organizing agency, location Equinox Publishing Ltd
8. Contributor Sponsor(s)
9. Date (YYYY-MM-DD) 15-Aug-2016
10. Type Status & genre Peer-reviewed Article
11. Type Type
12. Format File format PDF
13. Identifier Uniform Resource Identifier
14. Identifier Digital Object Identifier 10.1558/equinox.29655
15. Source Journal/conference title; vol., no. (year) Equinox eBooks Publishing; Soulless Matter, Seats of Energy
16. Language English=en en
18. Coverage Geo-spatial location, chronological period, research sample (gender, age, etc.) South Asia
19. Rights Copyright and permissions Copyright 2014 Equinox Publishing Ltd