In the students world of homeopathy we hear plenty of rumors about the elusive Hahnemann. But who was he really, and WHAT was he fighting for? The last few days have taken me on a brief historical trip, with the intention of gaining better insight into the healing mind of Samuel Hahnemann.
Just as Shakespeare is a universal symbol for actors, so is Hahnmann to homeopathy. Samuel Hahnemann was born in 1755 in Saxony, Germany, and through most of his life in Germany chose always to live close to the River Elbe. Hahnemann was born into an age where medicine and its science looked unquestionably different from todays. He constantly sought insight into humans sufferings, often adopting an attitude of common sense in the cases of patients whom had been given up by hysterical superstition. He was proficient in several languages and translated many books. He also wrote several books, most notably the Organon of medicine, thought to be his greatest work.
At that time the challenges for traditional medicine were enormous. Vast numbers of people were flooding into the cities looking for work, and growth in towns during the 1700´s put pressure on the availability of cheap housing, which in turn caused an explosion of slum areas. People were forced to live in single rooms without proper sanitation, fresh air, or clean water, resulting in putrid living conditions, and not surprisingly one of five children didn´t make it to their 2nd birthday.
Most physicians had general knowledge of the human body, but rules governing dissection contributed to inaccuracy in the medical field. Eventually progress shone through and surgeons and their students were finally granted access to human bodies. This came in the form of the unclaimed poor or criminals who had been put to death, these were then used for research into the human system thus providing invaluable knowledge for medics. Still, Hahnemann felt that many of the medicines being prescribed at the time were as destructive as the illnesses themselves. He once stated:
“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”.
Barber surgeons were also commonplace. These were in essence barbers with basic surgical skills – in other words you could book yourself in for a haircut and either a little blood letting or a quick kidney stone removal. This inadequate medical training and accompanying poor hygiene often resulted in complications or death.
The mentally ill were yet another challenge. Inexperience, fear and lack of education led to barbaric treatment, many were punished as criminals and subjected to torturous and inhumane treatment. Hahnemann became deeply affected by what he saw. He viewed their aberrant behavior as disease, and pioneered a new approach. Hahnemann suggested isolating patients, giving them fresh air and hygienic conditions. He also advocated a good diet encompassing hydro-therapy (drinking fresh water), thus eliminating toxins.
After many years of practicing medicine Hahnemann became disillusioned, retired and immersed himself in studying chemistry. Using himself as a guinea pig he started work on devising an alternative to the allopathic medicines he had employed all his life and thus learnt to distrust. After trial and some error he developed what we know today as homeopathy. More about that in the next blogpost in this series.