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From the Townsend Letter
July 2009

A Colorful Ride through Homeopathic History
review by Neal White

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The Homeopathic Revolution: Why Famous People and Cultural Heroes Choose Homeopathy
by Dana Ullman, MPH
North Atlantic Books
Box 12327, Berkeley, CA 94712
Softcover, c. 2007; $35; 387 pp.

The name and life work of Dana Ullman, MPH, should be familiar to practitioners of homeopathy around the world, especially among English-speakers. Indeed, in America, his name and service to homeopathy are certainly well known to every practitioner and to many grateful laypersons who rely upon the resources he offers them. His justified fame comes not only through the publication of his own fine books, but perhaps even more actively through his dedicated directorship of the Homeopathic Educational Services (based in California but accessible to the world by mail order and online). I daresay most American students and practitioners of homeopathy could not do without this well-established, reliable, and highly respected comprehensive source of media and publications focused on homeopathy.

Through the resources of the Homeopathic Educational Services and his popular books, I believe Ullman has done more to advance homeopathy in the US than any other individual. As such, any new book by Ullman is well worth the attention of the practitioner or anyone interested in this fascinating branch of healing, which experiencing a rebirth in the 21st century – to a significant extent, brought about in America by Ullman. His latest work, The Homeopathic Revolution, provides a rich source of historical information on homeopathy by tracing its history, with brief biographies of its pioneers and patients. 

The Homeopathic Revolution, with its highly readable text and uniquely appealing approach, could be valuable indeed for opening the minds of those who might very well be more influenced by famous exemplars from the history of literature, the arts and sciences, and entertainment since the advent of homeopathy in the early 19th century through the present.  In an age of media where fascination with the personalities of the public world prevails, there is a particular attraction to the use the famous as exemplars, including the wide spectrum of those offered by the book; that is, the many special and admired people who have been documented as devotees of homeopathy. Although more detailed history within a broader historical setting may be found in Coulter's multivolume history,  Ullman's book provides something rather different in spite of the inevitable overlaps in historical material ... and considerably more entertainment through the presentation of a historical play and its players. 

There will probably be rather fewer serendipitous surprises for readers already acquainted with homeopathy's history through Coulter et al. in discovering celebrities of the past and accounting for homeopathy's struggle for recognition and survival than for someone less familiar. However, the struggle of homeopathy to achieve and maintain its unique approach is a heroic one, worthy of the more historical/personal treatments that characterize Ullman's book …  especially given the increasingly prevalent phenomenon of celebrity worship, and the cult of the personality in our media-influenced society. But I do not mean to suggest that this is merely a tantalizing read, with homeopaths as heroes: the book should prove a powerful raiser of consciousness among readers who might not otherwise give homeopathic treatment a try, influenced by its popularity among the great and famous. 

From other perspectives, the book offers interesting insights and syntheses of the historical, biographical, and scientific. For example, of fascinating interest is the repeated presence and reference to the great 19th-century naturalist whose theories of evolution and the origin of species through natural selection also constituted a revolution; namely, Charles Darwin. I found the Darwin's appearances in the story especially relevant in an account of the origin of homeopathy and its descent in man and the survival of the fittest; that is, in the evolution of medicine. Homeopathy appeared and gained its place in medicine at a time when allopathic medicine offered little in the way of effective treatments for most diseases and was making real progress only in the mechanics of surgery and sanitation. Once allopathic medicine found itself threatened and hired a PR expert to promote itself and discredit its more effective competition, the historical equivalent to Darwin's concept of mutation (here in the form of the Madison Avenue approach to conditioning a population regarding choice of medical care), homeopathy faltered and almost disappeared into extinction. Yet it survived; and I am reminded that although the incredibly powerful and once-dominant dinosaurs are today apparently extinct and so one might not think "fit" enough to survive, they actually do survive everywhere on earth as birds. That is, their survivors adapted to fresh forms to preserve their unique genus and genius ... which is what I believe happened, and is happening, to homeopathy. Far from becoming extinct, it is surviving, not only reappearing in its classical forms far from its birthplace (for example, in India, a land with a history for tolerance of diversity in thought) but in new forms (for example, complex homeopathy, EAV and Vegatesting, and so on). 

For me, reading through the book felt like a guided tour through a wax museum of homeopathic history, a Madame Tussauds of the simillimum, pausing at each of the bigger-than-life statues as Ullman profiled the intriguing personalities who populate the history of homeopathy and thereby define it in a personal way. It is an impressive cast of characters: US presidents from Abraham Lincoln to Bill Clinton, Benjamin Disraeli, numerous Indian political and religious leaders in particular, many famous females (for example, in medicine, Florence Nightingale and Clara Barton; in civil rights, Susan B. Anthony and Louisa May Alcott); and literary luminaries such as Mark Twain and other 19th-century authors. Perhaps even more impressive than the more traditionally open-minded masters of arts are homeopathic partisans among plutocrats like J. D. Rockefeller; many monarchs, including, most famously, the present Queen of England and Prince of Wales. And as for musicians, actors, athletes, and other entertainers, I feel hopeless to know where to begin listing the superstars who depend upon homeopathic treatment. Ullman skillfully weaves literary references to homeopathy with historical excerpts to humanize the generations of some of the cream of human creativity and productivity who respected or depended upon homeopathy for their health. Of course, many physicians appear in the account, most of their names unknown to the layperson, but influential both in the progress and preservation of homeopathy … as well as in its defamation by the public relations office of the American Medical Association, whose outlandish melodramatic antics (including outright blackmail) beggar belief. 

As an alternative medical therapy, homeopathy is about people, after all. With a few exceptions, since most new books about homeopathy are about technical praxis or theory, I had to keep reminding myself of this personal slant – that homeopathy is also a history which reflects the vagaries of the human personae. However, since I myself admittedly have a theoretical bias, the following comments address that orientation.
I especially appreciated how  larger, important issues of society seem to naturally arise in the narrative – for example, the account of the relationship of feminism to homeopathy, a correlation that has long fascinated me as a reflection of a powerful, arguably essentially feminine, energy in homeopathy insofar as it is a gentle, relatively unintrusive and nurturing form of therapy compared with the more aggressive allopathic interventions.

Other issues that I have always found interesting in homeopathy which are integrated in the saga include the notable influence of Swedenborgian ideas. The fundamental commonality of Swedenborg's cosmology with certain Asian metaphysics, such as Jainism, has also struck me. Both Swedenborg and the Jains perceived the universe metaphysically as a macrocosmic physiology. Other Asian philosophies are also compatible with homeopathic concepts. For instance, the basic meditation methods advocated in early Buddhism (and still practiced more than 2,500 years later) include a visualization of the pathological counterparts to desire and attachment, which, along with a fundamental delusion about the materiality of the ego, constitute the source of suffering. Such meditations (for example, charnel ground meditations) are essentially homeopathic in their psychodynamics.

Related to such Western and Asiatic spirituality are, increasingly, the evolving theories of homeopath Dr. Rajan Sankaran: his conceptualization of the alien (and alienating) nonhuman realms of the vegetable, mineral, and animal kingdoms as energetic pathological entities also resonates with ideas in all three paradigms. Likewise, the realms of rebirth through which karma propels human beings according to their conduct also include the same kingdoms that materialize energy on earth and which can be diagnostically identified in Sankaran's theory of sensations. (Interestingly, the old title given to psychoanalysts of "alienist" would seem to better apply to homeopaths using Sankaran's diagnostic criteria for locating the remedy in the alien energy present in the patient. )

For me, the key to understanding and finding homeopathy credible is to embrace the concept that it functions essentially nonmaterially. This concept is the least palatable
to conventional allopathic thinking because of its belief that we are material beings. Buddhism, in particular, clarifies the nonmaterial nature of human beings, that our apparent corporeality or materiality is the fundamental delusion in the etiology of suffering (whether it is experienced physically or psychically). For anyone who, like me, accepts this metaphysical model, the concept of the treatment with nonmaterial remedies of essentially nonmaterial suffering in essentially nonmaterial humans makes profoundly perfect sense.*

From these contemplative digressions inspired by the thought-provoking contents of Ullman's The Homeopathic Revolution, one can perhaps get a sense of  how inspiring of integrative and connective thought this very enjoyable book was; and, for me, that is the highest praise of any book: the most important role of any work of art, including literary (even when nonfictional) is to invite, catalyze, and inspire the participation of the creative imagination of its audience, and so inspire gestalts to be created by making the insightful connections that unify knowledge and inspire as the antecedents of wisdom. 

Here I would also like to recommend  B. Alan Wallace's excellent book Choosing Reality: A Buddhist View of Physics and the Mind (Ithaca, NY: Snow Lion, 1989). Wallace was trained as a physicist but became a Buddhist monk, a translator for the Dalai Lama, and then a professor at the University of California, Santa Barbara. His book analyzes the "scientific method" and compares it with other valid means to knowledge. The "weakness" of homeopathy being "tested" and found wanting by inappropriate methodology more suited to allopathy can be better understood by the insights of this brief but invaluable study.  Although I do not recall that it mentions homeopathy or even medicine particularly, I found this slim volume to be one of the best catalysts for opening the mind to unfamiliar, if not unorthodox, paradigms. 

Neal White is a professor emeritus from San Francisco State University, where he taught for 25 years. He is a complementary medical practitioner, whose practice includes not only homeopathy but also a variety of acupuncture paradigms, herbalism, and more. He is supposed to be retired, but continues his work in the healing and visual arts in Nova Scotia, Canada.


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