When one begins reading a discussion of ancient western medicine, it is commonplace to encounter the claim of such people as Hippocrates or Galen as being "founders". As most historians should realize, however, fundamental changes, be they social, philosophical, technological, or scientific, rarely come abruptly out of thin air. This also applies to western medicine, history and homeopathy. Often, you will hear someone claim that homeopathy can be traced back to Hippocrates. Similar claims are made about other aspects of medicine because the extant documents of the ancient era are sporadic, and many remain to be translated or even discovered. Given all of this, it should not be surprising to discover that at least one of the principles of homeopathy can be found much earlier than the fifth century before Christ.
There are at least two references to the Law of Similars principle in ancient Greek mythology. One is in the Iliad, when Agamemnon treated Telephus's spear wound when he "scraped some rust off his spear into the wound and thus healed it; with the further help of the herb achilleos, a vulnerary which he had himself discovered"9:586. An earlier reference is a tale of Melampus the Minyan, who was supposedly the first mortal to practice as a physician. In prison for attempting to steal cattle, Melampus was offered his freedom by King Phylacus if he would cure his son Iphiclus of impotency, to which:
Melampus agreed. He began the task by sacrificing two bulls to Apollo, and after he had burned the thigh-bones with the fat, left their carcasses lying by the altar. Presently two vultures flew down, and one remarked to the other: 'It must be several years since we were last here- that time when Phylacus was gelding rams and we collected our perquisites.'
'I well remember it,' said the other vulture. 'Iphiclus, who was then still a child, saw his father coming towards him with a blood-stained knife, and took fright. He apparently feared to be gelded himself, because he screamed at the top of his voice. Phylacus drove the knife into the sacred pear-tree over there, for safe-keeping, while he ran to comfort Iphiclus. That fright accounts for the impotency. Look, Phylacus forgot to recover the knife! There it still is, sticking in the tree, but bark has grown over its blade, and only the end of its handle shows.'
'In that case,' remarked the first vulture, 'the remedy for Iphiclus's impotency would be to draw out the knife, scrape off the rust left by the ram's blood and administer it to him, mixed in water, every day for ten days.'
'I concur,' said the other vulture. 'But who, less intelligent than ourselves, would have the sense to prescribe such a medicine?'9:220-1
In this way Melampus was able to cure Iphiclus, who soon had a son. Quaint though these references may be, they do illustrate an important point about the likes cures likes principle. Though many elements of the Iliad are no doubt apocryphal, the siege of Troy is generally acknowledged as actually having taken place, probably around 1200BC. Since myths and the ideas planted in them evolve over time, this would logically place the likes cures likes principle about a millennium before the time of Hippocrates at the least! This would make the roots of homeopathy as old as those which are known for most forms of medicine.
Unfortunately, such thinking would not see much systematic development or acceptance as medicine was subject to many and often contrary approaches. Many schools of thought would develop, advocating philosophical, scientific, or other approaches. Complex and often arbitrary medical frameworks emerged to explain the nature and treatment of illness. Of the people in the ancient era, it was Hippocrates and Galen who become the most well known, and have the most influence on the future of western medicine. This is despite the fact that no known treatise can be directly attributable to Hippocrates, and the fact that Galen often advocated the violent methods which would make classical medicine despised by so many.
As civilization began to grow and transform, medicine changed along with it. As the world turned from a religious to a rational philosophy, medicine became secularized and academic. Increasing emphasis was placed on anatomy and surgery, as well as a chemical understanding of the body. Institutions began in the form of medical schools and hospitals, and physicians became more professionalized. The consolidation of medical authority paralleled that of the state and municipalities. Not surprisingly, a schism developed between academic and popular medicine21:61. University-trained physicians would often be derisive of what they thought to be unqualified health care practitioners, and yet be defensive of their own methods which were academically rather than empirically driven, and were heavily influenced by Galen, who emphasized such things like anatomy and scientific testing.
Mainstream medicine would see a number of critics from many spheres. Theophrastus Philippus Aureolus Bombastus von Hohenheim, better known as Paracelsus, is one of the best known critics of the school of Galen. Living in the sixteenth century, Paracelsus was a Swiss physician who advocated a large number of ideas in medicine. Among the most significant were that of like cures like, the use of small and single remedies, the necessity of clear drug pictures, and the totality of symptoms. Francis Bacon of the sixteenth century is known as the father of modern philosophy, but he was also knowledgeable of medicine. Rejecting the scholarly approach to medicine, he advocated a more holistic approach in an attempt to reflect the complexity and variety of nature. He thought that a learned physician should apply medicines to reflect the characteristics of the patient. A seventeenth-century English chemist, Robert Boyle, would expand and simplify Bacon's principles. He objected to polypharmaceuticals, advocating that not only was the use of one remedy at a time the only way to know its effects, but he also stressed the importance of small doses in the interests of safety and efficacy. He believed that physicians should concentrate on looking for substances which produce a curative power, rather than search for imaginary causes to disease. Galen, who advocated such measures as noxious evacuations, was thought by Boyle to be a major hindrance to medical advancement.
Though these men were far from alone in their criticisms or their beliefs, little headway would be made against an increasingly powerful and intertwining establishment of state and medicine. The development of contrary medical thinking would remain limited and often disarticulated, and would not see a major breakthrough until the nineteenth century.
The breakthrough would finally come in the form of the lifelong work of Christian Friedrich Samuel Hahnemann and his followers. Known simply as Samuel Hahnemann from his childhood to avoid naming confusion with his father, he is the founder of modern homeopathy. Having synthesized and expanded several key ideas from alternative medical thinking over his lifetime, Hahnemann was to medicine what Isaac Newton was to classical physics. Educated in linguistics, chemistry, and medicine, Hahnemann was a doctor in Germany in the first half of the nineteenth century. He quickly became disenchanted with contemporary medicine and its crude techniques, and often had to support his family by translating books and by writing his own books on chemistry. While translating A Treatise on Materia Medica by Dr. William Cullen, Hahnemann became intrigued with one of the drugs, cinchona, or Peruvian bark. It had been used by South American natives to treat malaria. Its action, Cullen claimed, was due to its tonic effect on the stomach. Hahnemann disagreed with this evaluation, and gave the drug to himself as an experiment. What he discovered turned out to be the first proving of homeopathy. He carefully noted all the symptoms produced, and concluded it "acts because it can produce symptoms similar to those of intermittent fever in healthy people"17:59. Thus, not only was the homeopathic proving born, but also the Law of Similars.
Cutting out the Stone of Madness or an Operation on the Head, a painting in the sixteenth-century style of Pieter Bruegel the Elder10:145. Hahnemann was often outraged at the inhumane treatment given by the medical establishment. As with so many other things, Hahnemann was a pioneer in treating the mentally ill. In an asylum in Gotha, he actually listened to his patient, Herr Klockenbring, and gained his trust so that he could find the best means to help him17:62-6.
The rest, as they say, was history. Hahnemann researched and organized medical thinking into a cogent framework. The result was published originally in 1810 as Organon of Rational Medicine, later changed to Organon of the Healing Art. Even today, Hahnemann's Organon is recognized as the standard for homeopathic medicine. Its contents revolve around one simple idea:
The physician's highest and only calling is to make the sick healthy, to cure, as it is called.
The highest ideal of cure is the rapid, gentle and permanent restoration of health; that is, the lifting and annihilation of the disease in its entire extent in the shortest, most reliable, and least disadvantageous way, according to clearly realizable [in-seeable] principles.13:60
Although this statement may seem almost tautological for someone who is supposed to be practicing medicine, the path to true healing is difficult for most people to find, even today. In the Organon, many principles known in medieval and ancient times can be found, such as holistic treatment, like cures like, remedy provings, the minimum dose (though Hahnemann himself can be credited with the potentization process), and constitutional prescribing (i.e. the idea that certain people have an affinity to certain medicines in many cases, or "treat the person rather than the disease"). Such a uniquely combined approach, which was so contrary to the Galen school, would produce startlingly successful results. When explaining the virtues of homeopathy, it was often impossible for Hahnemann not to rant about the allopathic methods of his colleagues, not least because the damage done by allopathic treatment was often as much if not more of a problem as the original illness, and because the treatment was often based upon arbitrary and unproven assumptions. Given the childish, human tendency to "blame the messenger", it is not surprising that Hahnemann spent most of his life surrounded by tragedy and by persecution from his allopathic counterparts.
Despite the adversity, the success of homeopathy continued. Its first major test came during the Battle of Leipzig in October of 1813. Every available physician, including Hahnemann, worked day and night to treat the wounded, and the outbreak of typhus which followed. The results were published in a German newspaper the following year. Only two out of 180 patients treated homeopathically died (one of those two was an old man already on his last legs)17:104. The mortality rate of conventional treatment was greater than half!
Once again, empirical results were meaningless to an academic medical establishment. Supposedly, a scientific explanation by their standards would be necessary before it would be accepted. Hahnemann's followers continued to be persecuted. Dr. Karl Franz was forced to retire, while Dr. Christian Hornburg's homeopathic remedies were confiscated and buried symbolically in a bizarre churchyard ceremony! Hornburg eventually became the first martyr of homeopathy by being thrown into prison and dying three days later. Greed also reared its ugly head. The apothecaries, then the equivalent of the modern day pharmaceutical company, brought suit against Hahnemann for making his own remedies, though they really disliked his disruption of their drug monopoly. In his defense, Hahnemann argued that since apothecaries were paid by weight for the original medical ingredients, the cost of highly diluted homeopathic remedies was too low to be measured! Despite the logic of his argument, the apothecaries won the suit, and Hahnemann was forced to leave Leipzig. A last minute petition of the citizens who were outraged at the way he was treated made no difference to the situation.
Disgusted at the medical establishment and, no doubt, the failing of science to adequately explain and treat disease, Hahnemann turned towards metaphysics in his later years. His last major work, The Chronic Diseases, Their Peculiar Nature and Their Homeopathic Cure, was published in 1818. In it, Hahnemann emphasized such concepts as the vital force, which reflects the body's natural ability to heal itself. He also introduced his theory of miasms to explain the nature of disease, as will be further discussed in a later section of this website. Homeopathy continued to grow abroad, and other men would play their parts. Dr. Constantine Hering founded homeopathy in the United States, and a college in Allentown, Pennsylvania. He maintained correspondence with Hahnemann in his remaining years.
Over the course of the nineteenth century, homeopathy spread to other countries as well, most notably England, France, and especially India, where homeopathy's holistic approach to treatment was particularly compatible with Ayurvedic philosophy. Success continued, as in the cholera epidemic in England in 1854. Only 16.4% of patients in the Royal London Homeopathic Hospital died, compared to an average mortality rate of 51.8% in other hospitals. The report of this success was deliberately suppressed and ignored by the allopathic community, as was the case in a similar outbreak across Europe in 1831. Homeopathy continued to spread worldwide, reaching more than 60 countries. It is estimated that by the turn of the twentieth century, more than 400 million people worldwide were receiving homeopathic treatment.
In the meantime, a number of advances were being made in conventional medicine. Hospitals and medical research institutes grew to match an increasingly urbanized civilization. As scientific knowledge grew, so did areas of specialization. Allopathic medicine had, by this time, become inextricably tied to science, and thus saw its own plethora of specialists emerge. Modern anesthesia came into use, as did antiseptics. However, such advances came at a price. The Germ Theory of disease came into mass acceptance in part due to Louis Pasteur of France, who is often credited with identifying microbes as agents of infectious diseases. However, a Hungarian doctor named Ignazius Semmelweis empirically demonstrated the necessity of hygiene some twenty years earlier. As a result of the mindless bigotry often demonstrated against Hahnemann, Semmelweis was ignored in his warnings because he could not justify his findings within the scientific paradigm. Perhaps a million deaths from puerperal fever could have been avoided in that twenty year span if the medical community had not been so reactionary to something which today is taken for granted. As the years passed, Semmelweis watched helplessly as preventable deaths continued to mount. He lost his hospital position, and spent years fruitlessly campaigning for hygiene. He eventually lost his sanity, and was put in an asylum. In a final note of historical irony, Semmelweis died there from an infection through a small wound11:54-5. Thus, like Hornburg, Semmelweis became a martyr to medicine, though one that is seldom acknowledged as such today.
Advances in scientific medicine increased in the twentieth century, as did the number of fields of specialization. The so-called "miracle" drugs emerged and developed in the form of sulphonamides and later antibiotics. Many simply found the apparently dramatic effects of such methods much more appealing than homeopathy. Others adopted a "half-homeopath" mentality of mixing homeopathic and allopathic methods, usually with little or no rationale. Factors leading to the decline of homeopathy were not limited to these apparent medical advances, however. Divisions within the homeopathic camp had already begun in the late nineteenth century, particularly in the U.S.A. Hoping to encourage greater acceptance of homeopathy in mainstream medicine, allopaths were admitted into homeopathic organizations. The strategy backfired, however, as the allopaths undermined the organizations. Furthermore, true homeopathy was no longer being taught in most supposedly homeopathic schools, which were often run by allopaths and limited to a "this medicine for that disease" mentality. With the death of Hering in 1880, the last strong personality among Hahnemann's followers was gone. The void he left opened the door for philosophical disputes such as the use of the "scientifically unfounded" high potencies, the use of pathology versus constitution in prescribing, and mixing homeopathy with allopathy. In short, everything that Hahnemann had accomplished in a lifetime of research was becoming unravelled in the absence of strong leadership to counter allopathic and scientific influence5:74. Such external influences would continue to plague homeopathy even into the twenty-first century.
Despite everything, homeopathy continued to have success on some levels, even in the early years of the twentieth century. A number of homeopathic hospitals were in existence, some of which specialized in psychiatric care. Perhaps the most startling example of homeopathic success was during the great flu pandemic of 1918-1919. The devastation of the disease was difficult to imagine. A person who seemed perfectly healthy by morning could be dead by evening. An estimated 20 million people died worldwide, 548,000 of them in the U.S.A., putting the pandemic on a scale reminescent of the bubonic plague of the fourteenth century. Since this was in the days before the electron microscope, the term "flu" was often arbitrarily used to describe outbreaks when no other explanation was evident. However, autopsies were done on a handful of cases in London which revealed severe hemorrhages in the lungs2:157. Such clues make some suspect that the disease agent was actually an ancestor of the filovirus family (e.g. ebola), which would also account for the particularly devastating effects (such ideas will be explored in a later section of the website). Despite this situation, homeopathy proved itself once again, as the following from the Journal of the American Institute of Homeopathy in 1921 indicate:
• Dean Pearson of Philadelphia: 26,795 cases with a 1.05% mortality, compared to the allopathic rate of 30%.
• H. A. Roberts of Derby, CT: 6602 cases reported from 30 homeopathic physicians in the state with 55 deaths, or 0.833%.
• Frank Wieland of Chicago: A plant with 8,000 workers had one death.
• Dudley Williams of Providence, RI: No flu deaths, and a mortality rate of 2.1% for pneumonia, while allopathic mortality rates were commonly heard to be around 60%.
• E. F. Sappington of Philadelphia: 1500 cases reported to the Homœopathic Medical Society of the District of Columbia with only 15 deaths. Recoveries at the National Homœopathic Hospital were 100%.
• T. A. McCann of Dayton, OH: 1,000 cases with no deaths.
• W. F. Edmundson of Pittsburgh: One allopathic physician named Elsa Engle reportedly asked his nurse about anything more effective than the allopathic medicines he was using, since he was losing so many cases. The nurse replied that he should use homeopathic remedies because the homeopathic doctors for whom the nurse had worked had not lost a case. The doctor simply replied, "But that is homœopathy"!5:236-7
This last bullet is an example of the "rationalization" used for withholding proper treatment from a patient when such treatment conflicts with current medical interests, a situation which smacks of the Semmelweis affair, not to mention Hahnemann. "What sort of 'current medical interests' would justify such mass homicide?", you might ask. The answer to such a question lies in the continuation of the previously outlined events.
As civilization became more economically and scientifically driven during the industrial revolution of the nineteenth century, medicine once again became modified along with it. Drug companies turned away from the traditional botanically-based remedies and converted to the sale of patented proprietary medicines, which proved to be much more profitable (and expensive). Medicinal compounds were centralized by the drug manufacturers, freeing the physician from the detailed knowledge of the drugs. All that would now be necessary to know was the name of the compound and its associated disease names or symptoms. Any side-effects were usually ignored by the physician. This still applies today, and is perhaps most clearly demonstrated by the fact that one merely has to look at a drug handbook to find the things which the doctor denies3! Thus began the flooding of the medical market with proprietary medicines and advertisements, and was quickly followed by "scientific" synthetic drugs. The American Medical Association (AMA) began accepting advertisements for drugs in its journal (JAMA). In essence, the pharmaceutical industry became the largest source of income for the AMA.
As science had become the rational arm of medicine, so now allopathic medicine and the AMA became the profiteering arms of the pharmaceutical industry. As the agency responsible for approving treatments, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) became the medicinal watchdog for the AMA. While the FDA recklessly rubber-stamped any profitable drugs, any cost effective drugs were forced to undergo an expensive study in order to prove their safety and efficacy, which was most likely rejected anyway. Even medical historians realize the bias in such studies10:61. Given the already increasing ties between state and medicine, it became a simple matter to incorporate the rest of the all too often ignorant and corrupt governmental system into the scheme. Even today, the pharmaceutical industry is second only to the NRA in campaign contributions. The result is to have both medicines and policies researched and evaluated by people who have an inherent conflict of interests! Under the guise of providing consumer protection, all forms of competing alternative therapies, including homeopathy, became the targets of what was essentially a governmentally supported racketeering network. An attempt was made to subjugate homeopaths by allowing them membership into the AMA and state medical societies, provided they did not acknowledge being a homeopath or discuss homeopathy. The reason for such a move was made clear by the doctor who drove the plan, J. N. McCormack who said, "We must admit that we never fought the homœopath on matters of principle; we fought him because he came into our community and got our business"5:216. The attempts to bring homeopaths into the allopathic camp, along with the other previously described factors, provided enough impetus to shut down the homeopathic hospitals, and ensure that homeopathy would no longer be a widely known form of treatment, at least in the heavily capitalistic U.S.A. Thus began the "golden age" of biochemical medicine.
The northeast entrance to the facility. Though the hospital still bears his name, it was taken over by allopaths long ago. In this sense, Hahnemann University and Hospital is the last official tie of mainstream medicine in the U.S.A. to Hahnemann. As such, it is a sad and silent testimony to man's greed, ignorance, and apathy.
In retrospect, this "golden age" could be seen as being well timed to suit the current level of science. Penicillin was developed as a drug, and demonstrated its usefulness in World War II. In the "can do" attitude of America after the war, all disease was thought to be conquerable. Vaccines began to multiply, as did other pharmaceuticals. DDT and other chemicals were deployed to eliminate the vectors of communicable diseases. Soon, however, obvious patterns began to emerge, and reality started to set in. Man's clumsy approach to disease contributed to the rise of new and often more dangerous forms of disease, thus contributing to intropy (an idea which will be further explored in a later section of this website). Indeed, in 1996 the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reported that 22 new infectious diseases had emerged in the last 22 years18:10! As each successive generation of antibiotics failed to work, new ones became increasingly difficult and expensive to produce, making the "silver bullets" of biochemistry merely lead balloons. The often serious side-effects of "scientific" drugs continued to be downplayed or even blindly ignored by physicians. Many of the stronger ones were also chemically addictive. Environmental and iatrogenic factors would contribute to the emergence of ebola, cancer and AIDS. Vaccine proponents could not adequately account for, nor would often even acknowledge, the declining chronic health observed even in the U.S.A., the most heavily vaccinated population in human history (another idea which will be further explored in a later section of this website). The biochemical age turned into a pill and syringe shuffle. New drugs were continually being produced to replace the supposedly safe and effective ones which were already on the market, yet it was often difficult to substantiate them as such.
There are numerous examples of iatrogenic disease in the biochemical age. A study "in a large hospital in the United States found that errors (euphemistically called 'adverse events') occurred in the care of more than 45 per cent of patients. More than one in six of these patients suffered serious consequences, ranging from temporary disability to death"10:45. Health care professionals tend to respond to such facts with statements like, "the medicines needed to be applied properly". To believe such a statement is to completely miss the point. Many other factors are at play here, namely the tendency, even today, of doctors to view their limited range of drugs, especially antibiotics and steroids, as universal answers to disease. This comes in part from a limited view of disease based on the Germ Theory, and on the medical racketeering problem. The wide scale of adverse reactions from routinely administering such drugs inevitably follows, and encourages further medical dependence. People often buy into the "proper application" idea out of a common misconception acknowledged even by former FDA Commissioner Dr. Herbert Ley, who said, "The thing that bugs me is that the people think the FDA is protecting them. It isn't. What the FDA is doing and what the public thinks it's doing are as different as night and day"16:156. Drugs are hardly the only problem. A 1974 Senate investigation revealed that "2.4 million unnecessary operations were performed in the US per year and that they caused 11,900 deaths and cost about $3.9 billion"10:65. Surgery accounted for more annual deaths than the Korean and Vietnam wars! By the way, if you missed what impact the study had on allopathic medicine, so did everyone else. Once again, we see how the medical racketeering scheme set up in the early twentieth century works quite tidily.
The everyday attitude of physicians was also deplorable. They bounce people from one specialist to another, and each of them will rarely if ever listen to anything beyond his "turf". They will order any of a number of test which are mostly superfluous since they are rarely backed by treatment which is more than temporary or which will not cause additional problems later. This in turn would be compounded by the doctor's frequent refusal to ackowledge or report any 'negative' events. People became increasingly tired of having their problems unattended, their complaints ignored and, worse yet, being accused of needing psychiatric care when no disease cause could be identified by "scientific" methods. All of this stemmed from allopathic medicine's inability to effectively deal with most health problems, particularly the chronic ones. People started to shun the dehumanizing effect of modern allopathic medicine, which viewed them as little more than disease-bags to be sliced and drugged. Worse yet, everything came at a cost which escalated out of control. This was especially true in the U.S.A., where the cost versus quality of treatment was disproportional even by the allopathic standards in the rest of the world, and threatens to bankrupt the economy! Over the last generation, people have begun to rediscover alternatives to the school of Galen in health care, including homeopathy. Even the traditional barricades of the scientific community, the long time partner of the allopathic community, into homeopathic research began to drop in the 1990's in Europe, where a desire for greater understanding has resulted in wide-scale organized fundamental research into homeopathy. Such research is officially recognized by the European Union (EU), and is coordinated through the European Committee for Homeopathy (ECH)6:1. Many of the insights provided by this research are reflected in the current level of understanding on the scientific explanation for homeopathy presented previously in this website. Although homeopathy is still a long way from the mass acceptance it deserves, or even from being universally practiced in a fundamentally sound manner, it is finally showing signs of a brighter future.
Although the history presented here is, by necessity, an outline, it is meant to be representative. Since history, by nature, is an expansive topic requiring much reading, it is particularly advisable to do further reading on your own in this area. However, the information presented here should be adequate to provide some context for the other sections of this website.