Key Learning Points
When was homoeopathy discovered, and who did it?
In the history of homeopathy, one man stands out: incredibly bright, conscientious, and a polymath – he spoke and translated many languages – a qualified doctor and a licensed pharmacist.
He wrote about living conditions that made people sick 150 years before the world caught up with him. In fact, his book, the ‘Organon of Medicine’ is one of the major intellectual achievements of the 19th century.
He was very articulate. And outspoken. He made many enemies. The medical professions hated him! Who was he?
Samuel Hahnemann (1755-1843), a German doctor, introduced homoeopathy 200 years ago. He had been dissatisfied with the orthodox treatments he’d been trained and licensed to use, such as blood-letting, harmful medications and purging. His system, which he evolved over the next 40 years or so, has become an important system of medicine in many countries.
Classical homoeopathy doesn’t claim to treat diseases. (For a homeopathy definition, click here.)
Instead, it sees symptoms as disturbances to what is called the VITAL FORCE.
These disturbances you experience as symptoms. The experience of homoeopaths is that certain collections of disturbances can be produced in healthy people by giving them what is called a homoeopathic “remedy“.
When you visit a homoeopath, your homoeopath will be trying to assemble everything you tell him into what he understands would have been the disturbance in the Vital Force caused by a particular homoeopathic remedy. In other words, he is trying to match your pattern to that of a remedy.
Finding the remedy for you is not always easy but when he does so, he will prescribe that remedy to you with a view to changing the pattern of symptoms displayed as disturbances by your Vital Force. If successful, your pattern of symptoms will begin to change.
The problem is that this means individualising every patient. No two patients are the same, even if they have the same ’disease’ according to their doctor. So homoeopathy usually takes longer than a consultation with your orthodox doctor.
The British Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) now imposes very strict rules on what can be said on any website like this in making claims for treating diseases, except for those diseases where robust scientific evidence has been accepted. Unfortunately, the cost of obtaining this evidence is beyond the financial means of most homoeopaths and their homoeopathic organisations and in any case, as pointed out above, homoeopathic remedies don’t treat diseases: they treat the Vital Force.
The history of homeopathy began really when he published his ideas about it, starting in 1796. Later he lectured at the university of Leipzig. His students helped him discover and prove remedies. Hahnemann trained a number of doctors who spread the word gradually across the world.
It’s a facet of homoeopathy that its practitioners fall out with one another, just as in science and religion.
Many of them fell out with Hahnemann too, though he fell out with just about everyone he could find, sooner or later.
One of the earliest fallings-out was with a Dr Fickel who managed to deceive nearly everyone, for a while.
Dr Fickel actually practised allopathic medicine (the kind your doctor probably practises) disguising it as homoeopathy. His deception was uncovered only when the normally high rate of success achieved in his hospital from using homoeopathic remedies went down disastrously and people started dying. The statistics pointed to the failure of homoeopathic medicine until his methods were exposed: he was actually using allopathic medicine, not homoeopathy.
Hahnemann was a medical student in 1777. While in what is now Romania he saw cinchona (from which we derive quinine) being used for swamp fever. (From this we get the homoeopathic remedy China.)
Later, translating the British writer William Cullen’s herbal Materia Medica into German, he added a footnote contradicting Cullen’s remarks about the effects of fever remedies.
Subsequently, he experimented with cinchona on himself, inducing a kind of fever not unlike swamp fever. (I expect his wife and children also received it, to complete the experiment. After all, isn’t that what spouses and families are for? No, don’t write to me, that’s supposed to be a joke.)
From that, and probably with the background of vitalistic medicine, coming down to him from Islamic alchemy via Paracelsus, he evolved his ideas on homoeopathy.
The history of homoeopathy continues today, suffering occasional ups and downs. Currently in the UK it is probably on a mild ‘down’, but this is balanced when you realise that Switzerland now allows homoeopathic medicine to be supplied on its NHS.
As far as the history of homeopathy goes for Hahnemann, he ended up in Paris, with a beautiful second wife, Melanie, whom he married when she was 35 and he was only 80. (His first wife bore him 11 children and then died, in 1830.)
In Paris he held court and was visited by the rich and famous from all round the world, including from the highest backgrounds.
He kept detailed notes of what he did (or rather, Melanie wrote them out) and he continued revising his Organon until he died.
This Organon remains an extraordinary achievement. He left the 6th edition for his wife to publish after his death. Unfortunately, for a variety of reasons including poverty and Melanie’s fear of reprisals from established homoeopaths, the book wasn’t published until 1921, long after her death in 1878.
It wasn’t translated into English until the 1950s. So Hahnemann’s last thoughts, including how he was practising at the end of his life and using homoeopathic remedies in a completely new way, didn’t become public knowledge, at least in the English-speaking world, until well over a 100 years after he died!
The history of homeopathy is full of the ‘strange, rare and peculiar’.
Homoeopathy was taken to New York by Dr Hans Gram (1786-1840). After the comparatively successful results of homoeopathy in treating Asiatic Cholera in 1832, many hitherto orthodox doctors were converted, leading to the formation of the American Institute of Homoeopathy in 1844.
Orthodox physicians got alarmed and in 1846 its adherents founded the American Medical Association.
So began a battle between homoeopathy and orthodoxy which continues today.
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The history of homeopathy began when it reached Britain via Dr Frederick Harvey Quin (1799-1878) who had graduated from Edinburgh university in 1820. He saw homoeopathy being practised in Italy with consistently better results than from orthodox medicine.
Dr Quin studied it intensively and while travelling in Moravia in 1831 succumbed to a cholera epidemic. He was cured by the use of homoeopathy, which convinced him that it worked. In 1832 he brought it to London where he started to practise.
Dr Quin’s results were so good that they aroused the suspicion and wrath of the medical establishment – a not uncommon consequence for homoeopaths and in the history of homoeopathy, it must be said.
Dr Quin trained others and it spread all over the UK. The history of homoeopathy in Scotland began soon after it was evangelized by Sir William Henderson, Professor of General Pathology at the University of Edinburgh.
The history of homeopathy as it moved from country to country is quite extraordinary. Spread always by fervent advocates, it has attracted huge numbers of followers. In some countries such as India it is one of the most used forms of medicine.
For more, read the book shown above by Harald Gaier!
In the history of homeopathy there are a very large number of diseases, and a very large number of potential homoeopathic remedies, any one of which may be appropriate for any individual with a disease.
So it is unlikely that much research on this acceptable to the ASA will be forthcoming for some time. However, the history of homoeopathy as written at the time by the equivalent of reporters and statisticians includes the following.
As a matter of historical record, one of the most outstanding accomplishments in the history of homeopathy was in Leipzig, Germany in the 1800’s. During the scourge of the plague in Leipzig tens of thousands of people died because of this awful disease.
Hahnemann, the founder of homoeopathy, is reported as having saved 183 cases of people who were ordered to the “dead house” and who were considered untreatable cases.
During the Second World War soldiers in the United States and in its army overseas experienced disastrous epidemics of the Flu. The history of homeopathy reports that homeopathic physicians treated this, while other orthodox physicians did not understand what was going on and what to do with this type of illness.
Mastitis is a disease that affects many cattle throughout the world. A survey conducted in the major-milk producing countries shows that each year clinical mastitis affects 15% – 20% of cows.
Antibiotics are not the best way to treat mastitis
Not surprisingly, many farmers use homoeopathy: with homoeopathic treatment, milking may be continued. In the history of homoeopathy, farmers – who are usually practical people – often say that when they have tried it, homoeopathy works for them.
Scarlet fever spread through Germany during the 1800’s; one of the most contagious maladies then affecting children. It particularly affected children living in dirty and damp conditions, not uncommon in those days.
Homoeopaths claim that the dangerous fever, with eruptions over the body, was very much helped and healed by homoeopathy in marked distinction to other systems of medicine at that time.
We should, however, point out that other systems of medicine at that time were themselves very deficient, even dangerous. How homoeopathy would fare against other modern systems of medicine today is now gradually being tested.
OK – now we come to a ‘heavy’ bit. Theory! The history of homeopathy has plenty of people who dipped their oar into it.
Whether you believe in homoeopathy or not, (let alone are interested in the history of homeopathy!) many of the health matters it raised (usually written about by Hahnemann himself, from around 1790 – no wonder he made enemies!) are now accepted or are beginning to reach into the conciousness of health providers:
Disease process? As you get ill and start to produce more chronic symptoms or symptoms of a more serious nature, the disease moves inwards towards your ‘centre’.
Put another way, the body’s attempts to resist it grow weaker OR where it maintains the illness is at more restricting levels – ‘restricting’ because you move with more difficulty and need more medication (eg painkillers) to keep going at the same rate as before you got ill.
So, whereas the disease process was originally at the level of your first line of defence, your skin or nose – as when you get a ‘cold’ and start sneezing, and your skin is alternately hot then cold, say – next it penetrates to your lungs.
In your lungs, your cough and the phlegm mean you can’t speak easily, your voice is muffled or weaker, you can’t run so easily and so on. The disease process is now held at the ‘level’ of your lungs.
If your body can’t stop the inwards march of the disease, you may find that your doctor diagnoses asthma, requiring a range of medications without which you wouldn’t be able to breathe at times: the disease process has become more serious.
… and each of those medications would of course have a primary and secondary action ..!
Continue taking those asthma medications and all may seem well for years, but those secondary actions will eventually take their toll, perhaps causing insomnia and tiredness, with more susceptibility to other diseases.
Gradually the disease process slips deeper.
The above example is a simplified explanation. The history of homeopathy is full of experienced homoeopaths who have actually thought about this rather more deeply using the concepts in homoeopathic philosophy designed to
For another ‘take’ on this, read what Margaret Roy, a well-known author and lecturer on homoeopathy, says on the disease process.
Few allopathic doctors think about disease quite this way. Chinese medicine has somewhat similar ideas to it, expressed differently – see Suppression and remaining pathogenic factor, for example. How disease penetrates is also considered in the theories of the Four Levels and the Six Stages.
It helps to explain why some people get a series of symptoms that seem worse than before. For instance see a recent randomised controlled study of homoeopathy versus placebo in which one of the trials produced more aggravations.
Possibly these aggravations might have been understood and treated had there been more understanding of the disease process. Of course, there may have been other reasons, such as environmental or patient resistance to change or … but the history of homeopathy is full of difficulties! For more, click on aggravations.
As I said, you don’t have to believe in homoeopathic efficacy to use some of its ideas. The history of homeopathy is full of situations where it forced others to re-consider their positions.