Homeopathy - History and Philosophy

This is the second part of a series of pages dedicated to describing homeopathy, its history and development and the philosophy of health that stand behind the medicinal practice.

In many countries throughout the world homeopathy is used as a mainstream medicine and an alternative or complimentary approach to healing. Its genesis is, however, little known or understood outside the field.

To introduce and understand it we must go back in time 260 years and examine the remarkable life of Samuel Hahnemann. It is hard to imagine what it was like living in the 18th century, when the diseases that were most prevalent were leprosy, smallpox, syphilis and tuberculosis.

However, if we try to put ourselves into that situation, and to understand a little of the political climate in Europe and the medical practices that were available to people then, we can begin to grasp how great were the achievements of this man and what a far-reaching effect his knowledge of health and disease have had on us now - and will continue to do into the future.

The modern day Homeopath and writer George Vithoulkas wrote "I am certain that this man will rank as one of the greats in history, alongside such giants of discovery as Einstein, Newton and Hippocrates. Like these men, his insights have radically and permanently altered perceptions of not only health and disease but also the nature of existence itself."

Humble Beginnings

Samuel Hahnemann, the founder or formulator of homeopathy, was born on the 10th of April 1755 in Meissen, Germany, to educated parents who lived in poor circumstances. Hahnemann demonstrated remarkable scholastic abilities from an early age but was forced to leave school when the factory where his father worked closed down. The Rector of the school, realizing his potential, waived the fees and persuaded Hahnemann's father to allow him to return to school.

His father also recognised Hahnemann's brilliance and in an attempt to develop it would lock him in his room with closed shutters and give him "thinking problems and exercises".This contributed substantially to his later ability to think with great originality.

Samuel had an unusual talent for languages and mastered French, English, Italian, Greek, Hebrew, Arabic, and Spanish at an early age. At the age of twelve he taught Greek and Hebrew to pay for his tuition and later worked his way through university by translating English books into German.

Early Medical Practice

Long before he had any thoughts about homeopathy, Hahnemann studied medicine at Leipzig and earned the reputation of being a brilliant chemist and physician. He graduated as a Doctor of Medicine in 1779 and soon started publishing his own works on chemistry and pharmacology. Later he was elected to the Academy of Science at Mayence and quickly established an international reputation in his field. In 1782 Hahnemann married Joanna Leopoldine Henriette Kuechler whom he called Elise, he was aged 28 and she 18. They had 11 children, 9 girls and 2 boys.

In 1784 the Hahnemann family moved to Dresden where Samuel was, for a time, a locum for a doctor who treated not only the wealthy but also the poor and those who were in workhouses and prisons. He was horrified by prison conditions and became an ardent advocate of prison reform writing the pamphlet "Friend of Health - A searching comment on hygiene and how to handle epidemics". In Hahnemann's day these places were noted for the chaining of patients and for constant beatings. He instigated a compassionate program of care and treated these people with great humanity and dignity. He also believed that diseases of the mind were curable except where too many medicines had already been used.

However as his experience grew he became dissatisfied with the medical practice of the day which consisted largely of blood letting, cathartics and the use of combinations of powerful toxic drugs. Hahnemann could never come to terms with what he considered were highly unscientific medical practices. Even the terminology of his time was a point of contention. For example in Hahnemann's time terms such as ' bilious rheumatism' and 'perverseness of the vitality' were used. He became convinced that this scholarly 'gibberish' served only as a device to impress patients and their relatives, and to conceal the physician's ignorance.

Hahnemann's early enthusiasm for medicine began to wane as he realised that he was learning nothing from his professors and colleagues that might enable him to heal the sick.

After two years of practice in the lowlands of Hungary,his diaries show that he felt that his patients were no better off for the medical advice he was able to offer.

Writing and Translating

Homeopathy as an idea came about because, to supplement his growing family's income, Samuel earned money from translating texts from one language to another. During the four years he spent in Dresden in the late 1780s he published 2,200 printed pages of matter, partly translations, partly original essays, which shows both his level of enthusiasm and his ability to work.

He also adopted a custom that he was to keep for forty years, which was to sit up one night in every four working, translating, studying and writing throughout the night, yet he still lived to a ripe old age.

Among his writings was a work entitled "Poisoning by Arsenic, its treatment and forensic detection" in which he demanded the restriction of the sale of this poison that was a constituent of popular "fever powders". His suggestions for the prescribing of poisons in general are still followed in detail to the present time. He classified a number of antidotes and quoted from nearly 400 authors in various languages and from several centuries, with reference, page number, volume etc. He was an extremely thorough scientist. He also began to establish scientific standards for preparations of medicines and condemned the unscientific mixing of medicines. In his day it was not uncommon for up to 20 medicines to be mixed together in one prescription.

As a result of Hahnemann's prolific reading, studying and translating he began to develop his own understanding of the nature of disease, what makes us get ill and what path we must follow to return to complete wellness. He was later to name this new approach to medicine 'homeopathy'.

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