I’ve been writing about the great systems of medicine over the last few weeks, and during that time have written about Ayurvedic Medicine, Traditional Tibetan Medicine, and Traditional Chinese Medicine.
Homeopathy is also a great system of medicine, but it differs from the other three in that it stems from the West, and it also is fairly recent, whereas the other systems of medicine profiled are ancient systems.
Homeopathy was first proposed in 1796 by the German physician Samuel Hahnemann.
Hahnemann was influenced by the Swiss physician Paracelsus, who lived in the 16th century. Like many learned people of that era, Paracelsus was truly a Renaissance man, a man who dabbled both in the sciences and metaphysics: he was a doctor, botanist, alchemist, astrologer and occultist.
Interestingly, Paracelsus was a practicing astrologer, as were many other physicians working at that time in Europe. And as a scientist, Paracelsus pioneered the use of chemicals and minerals in medicine.
Because of his work with chemicals and minerals, Paracelsus is considered the pioneer of pharmacology. It was his belief that small doses of “what makes a man ill also cures him,” anticipated homeopathy and influenced Samuel Hahnemann.
Hahnemann was born in 1755 and died in 1843. He was a practicing physician, but quickly grew disenchanted with medicine, and by 1784 had given up his practice of medicine. He claimed that the medicine of his time did as much harm as good, and said:
“My sense of duty would not easily allow me to treat the unknown pathological state of my suffering brethren with these unknown medicines. The thought of becoming in this way a murderer or malefactor towards the life of my fellow human beings was most terrible to me, so terrible and disturbing that I wholly gave up my practice in the first years of my married life and occupied myself solely with chemistry and writing.”
After giving up his practice around 1784, Hahnemann made his living chiefly as a writer and translator, while resolving also to investigate the causes of medicine’s alleged errors.
While translating William Cullen’s A Treatise on the Materia Medica, Hahnemann encountered the claim that cinchona, the bark of a Peruvian tree, was effective in treating malaria because of its astringency.
Hahnemann believed that other astringent substances are not effective against malaria and began to research cinchona’s effect on the human body by self-application. Noting that the drug induced malaria-like symptoms in himself, he concluded that it would do so in any healthy individual – thus he put to practice Parcelsus’ theory that in small doses “what makes a man ill also cures him.”
This led him to postulate a healing principle: “that which can produce a set of symptoms in a healthy individual, can treat a sick individual who is manifesting a similar set of symptoms.”
This principle, like cures like, became the basis for an approach to medicine which he gave the name homeopathy. He first used the term homeopathy in his essay Indications of the Homeopathic Employment of Medicines in Ordinary Practice, published in Hufeland’s Journal in 1807.
Even though it wasn’t until 1807 that he used the term homeopathy, Hahnemann began practicing this new technique immediately upon discovering it, and by 1792 he was attracting the interest of other doctors. His first official public proclamation was an article he published about the homeopathic approach in a German language medical journal in 1796.
To be continued next time…