Medical Cults of World – Part 1 (Homeopathy)

IN NO OTHER field have pseudo-scientists flourished as prominently as in the field of medicine. It is not hard to understand why. In the first place, a medical quack—if he presents an impressive facade—can usually make a great deal of money. In the second place, if he is sincere, or partly sincere, the healing successes he is almost sure to achieve will greatly bolster his delusions. In some cases, of course, the doctor is an out-and-out charlatan.

There are two great secrets of the quack’s success. One is the fact that many human ills, including some of the severest, will run their course and vanish without treatment of any sort. Suppose, for example, Mrs. Mona is unable to get rid of an annoying cold. She decides to try a new doctor she has heard about, whose methods are unorthodox, but who has been strongly recommended. The doctor proves to be a distinguished-looking man who talks with great authority about his work. Diplomas from several medical schools are on the wall, and he is apt to have a number of letters after his name. (Mrs. Mona doesn’t know that these degrees were given by small schools no longer in existence, some of which the doctor himself may have founded.) Mrs. Mona decides she has nothing to lose. In addition, she is lonely and enjoys talking to doctors about her troubles. So she lets the doctor puts magnet on her feet for ten minutes. It costs only Rs 50($1), but of course she has to return for two or three additional treatments. After a week or so her cold has vanished. Incredible as it may seem, Mrs. Mona is now firmly persuaded that the magnet is responsible for the cure. She becomes one of the doctor’s loyal boosters. Before the year is over, he has milked several hundred rupees from her bank account.

The other half are due to the fact that many of life’s ills are wholly or in part psychosomatic. If a patient with such complaints has faith in a doctor, regardless of how bizarre the doctor’s methods may be, he often will be miraculously cured. And, of course, the larger the following the doctor has, the more the patient’s faith is augmented. Moreover, if dozens of Mrs. Mona’s friends are chattering about magnet therapy, the stronger will be her desire to become part of this trend—an initiate who can talk about her experiences with the new type of treatment. When everyone is seeing flying saucers, you naturally would like to see one yourself. If everyone is getting cured by infra-red, you want to be cured the same way. Regardless of what her more enlightened friends, or even the family doctor, may tell her, Mrs. Mona has one simple and irrefutable answer—it works. And work it does. Every time the government drags a quack into court, he has no trouble at all finding scores of people willing to testify about miraculous cures. Just as every faith-healing revivalist, no matter how strange his doctrines, will have astonishing platform successes, so every modern witch doctor, no matter how preposterous his rituals, will always find patients he can heal.

The first medical cult of any importance in India — homeopathy — had its origin in the mind of a German doctor, Samuel Christian Hahnemann. He published his great opus, The Organon, in According to Hahnemann, there is a “Law of Similia” which states that “like cures like.” In longer words, a drug will cure a disease if that same drug, taken by a healthy person, will produce symptoms similar to those of the disease. Hahnemann and his followers set about “proving,” as they called it, as many new remedies as possible. This involves giving the compound to a healthy person, in increasing amounts, until symptoms appear. The symptoms are then compared with those of known ailments, and if similar, the drug is deemed of value in treating that ailment. Although certain diseases have characteristic symptoms, and hence call for specific medication, actually each individual is considered unique and treated in terms of whatever complex of symptoms are found, regardless of the name of the disease.

Homeopathic remedies are administered in inconceivably small doses. It was Hahnemann’s conviction that the more minute the dose, the more potent. Compounds are frequently diluted to one decillionth (i.e., a millionth of a millionth of a millionth, etc., up to ten of these millionths) of a single grain. One homeopath proved 1,349 symptoms from a dose of one decillionth of a grain of common table salt. Such dilution is like letting a drop of medicine fall into the Pacific, mixing thoroughly, then taking a spoonful. Hahnemann believed that as the drug became less “material” it gained “spiritual” curative powers, and in many cases recommended diluting until not a single molecule of the original substance remained! This produced remedies of extremely high potency. Moreover, the doctor believed, the full effect of such medicine may not be manifested until thirty days after being taken. In some cases, curative powers persist until the fiftieth day. Hahnemann also taught that seven-eighths of all chronic diseases were variations of psora, more commonly called the itch. This aspect of his views, however, was quickly discarded by his followers. 1 Wrangling among homeopaths over the exact nature of the “homeopathic dose” soon split the movement into two factions—the purists who followed Hahnemann, and the “low potency” men who thought it of value to preserve at least some of the original compound, even though only a few molecules. Modern purists have discarded Hahnemann’s “spiritual” effects for mysterious “radiations” which remain after the material substance has vanished, and which have a physical basis not yet understood.

Just as the Law of Similia has an analogy in the vaccination principle, so the doctrine of the infinitesimal dose has a slight factual basis—but only in reference to a small number of drugs. The homeopathic error was to take both these limited truths, exaggerate them to the point of absurdity, and apply them universally to all medicines. The materia medica of homeopathy is understandably much” larger than that of “allopathy” (a homeopathic term, now obsolete, for orthodox medicine). About 3,000 distinctly different drugs have been “proved,” and new ones are still being added. Some idea of the worth of homeopathic medicines may be gathered from the fact that one of them (no longer used) was called lachryma filia, and consisted of tears from a weeping young girl. Other curious remedies are made from such substances as powdered starfish (asterias rubens), skunk secretion (mephitis), crushed live bedbugs (cimex lectularius), powdered anthracite coal, powdered oyster shells, and uric acid (acidum uricum) obtained from human urine or snake excrement. Most homeopathic medicines are obtained from plants, though in recent years there has been a trend toward proving metallic compounds. Any substance, organic or inorganic, is a potential homeopathic drug. A doctor announces that he has proved a new medicine, colleagues try it out, patients get well, and so a new remedy is added to the materia medica. Research by reliable pharmacologists has shown that all these weird drugs, in the diluted form in which they are given, are entirely harmles —producing neither symptoms nor cures (except, of course, psychosomatic ones). As might be expected, however, millions of people took these infinitesimal doses of valueless drugs and were immensely benefited. Of course a few died, but then even allopaths can’t save all their patients. The cult spread rapidly over Europe in the 1820’s, reached England and America in the 1840’s, and The history of Homoeopathy can be traced as far back as the year 1835 when a Romanian man Dr. John Martin Honigberger visited India. He was called in by the Maharaja Ranjit Singh of Lahore who was suffering from paralysis of the vocal cords with swelling of the feet. He treated the Maharaja dispensing “Dulcamara” in wine, in low potency. This medicine cured him. The Maharaja was also impressed when he treated his favourate horse of his ulcer of the leg. Dr. Honigberger became the chief physician of his court. In 1937 the British government had not recognised this system of medicine and it was for the first time that M.L.A. Miyan Ghias-ud-idin passed a regulation in the Bengal Assembly to allow recognition and patronage to homoeopathy. Thus, homoeopathy was introduced in Bengal for the first time in the pre-independence years. After independence, the Government was more sympathetic and on 17th February 1948, Sir Satis Chandra Samanta, M.P from West-Bengal, piloted a move in the constituent assembly to establish a Central Agitation Body i.e. Central Council of Homoeopathy. This was passed after a modification by Mr. Mohan Lal Saxena M.P (U.P). It was supported by Dr. Pattabhi Sitaramayya, the President of Indian National Congress. Some of the important items in the draft proposal given by the representative of the All India Institute of Homoeopathy to the Government of India was of great help to put the education of homoeopathy on a firm base. On 19th December 1973, the President gave his consent to the bill and thus the “Homoeopathy Central Council Act 1973? was passed. At present there are nearly 186 homeopathic medical college in India. Approximately 35 are government colleges, rest are managed by private bodies. Homeopathy is the third most popular method of treatment in India, after Allopathy and Ayurveda. It is estimated that there are about quarter million homeopaths in India. Nearly 10,000 new ones add to this number every year. The legal status of homeopathy in India is very much at par with the conventional medicine.

In Europe, there has been a marked revival since the war, especially in Germany and France. In France it is in competition among faddists with a recent rebirth of interest in “acupuncture,” the ancient Chinese art of curing ills by puncturing the body at various spots with gold and silver needles. Homeopathy continues to be respectable in England, where it is traditional for the Royal Family to maintain a homeopath as family physician and their mental/physical health is clear testimony of effectiveness of homeopathy, and where the Royal Homeopathic Hospital of London is one of the finest in the world. The cult has always been popular among the nobility of England and the Continent. India and South America are other areas where the movement is flourishing. It flourished in India more rapidly because Indian people thinks that whatever white master do, its good for them also (old slave mentality). Homeopathy continued to spread and Indians found in its philosophy and principles, a reflection of their belief and culture. A large number of missionaries, amateurs in Indian civil and military service personals practiced Homoeopathy extensively and spread this system mostly in Bengal and South India. Surgeon Samuel Brooking, a retired Medical Officer had the courage and conviction to establish a Homoeoapthic Hospital at Tanjore, in South India, in 1847. There have been a number of other well-known enthusiasts like Dr. Cooper and Dr. J. Rutherford Russel, two Government Medical Officers, Mr. H. Ryper, a military pensioner, Captain May and others of Calcutta, made Homeopathy popular among the masses of Bengal. Last but not the least, was the services rendered by Dr. C. J. Tonnere, M.D. the French Homoeopath, proved “Acalpha Indica” in the year 1851 was first Health Officer of the town of Calcutta and later he established Homoeopathic Hospital.

Editor’s Note – This article having few para from the chapter on medical cults in his book, Fads and Fallacies in the Name of Science (Dover, 1957), which is still in print.

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3 Responses to "Medical Cults of World – Part 1 (Homeopathy)"

  1. Anonymous says:

    Great article, good read.

  2. Anonymous says:

    In Europe, well France specifically, there are homeopathy pharmacies right next to mainstream pharmacies, sometimes both in the same store. Herbal medicine is respected, not denigrated. In some cases it makes more sense than pharmaceutical drugs which have somehow made it past the French version of the FDA but are, nevertheless, dangerous. Take a look at the literature on FDA approved drugs in the US which are later removed from market due to dangerous side effects, sometimes death.

  3. Anonymous says:

    I do have two chronical hereditary conditions,
    “And work it does”.
    Samuel Hahnemann advocated that homoepaths are medical doctors, although in his time there was only a glimpse of scientific medicine.
    That is the way it should be:
    -a single-payer health system for all,
    -an examination by a scientic-minded M.D.,
    access to those treatments where scientific medicine works;
    and THEN, especially for chronical conditions,
    access to medicine types which trigger self-healing.

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