Dr. John Fothergill,
occult physician &
patron of botanists;
together with a commentary on
founder of the cult of Homeopathy
"MAGIC, n. The art of converting superstition into coin."
The Devil's Dictionary
The wonderful North American genus of shrubs called Fothergilla contains two species, & is named for John Fothergill (1733-1814), a Quaker physician & gardener in 18th Century London.
Because we have two 'Mount Airy' hybrid fothergillas in our garden, I could not help but take an interest in the career of the man after whom this lovely native shrub was named.
Dr. Fothergill was first to describe techniques of mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, though he seems to have believed this technique functioned on the basis of restoring the angelic power called Vitalism, transferred by means of breath from healthful individual to a recently dead individual. Though trained in medicine, superstition overcame him by midlife, & he became an arch quack who promoted a form of occult medicine founded on Theosophic & Swedenborgian ideas that assumed an evil spiritual cause of all illness. This demonic source of illness was called Psora, which is curable by that good spirit called Vitalism.
Vitalism is at war with Psora in the body, & to increase the power of Vitalism, a patient may be given infinitisimal amounts of deadly toxins. According to the "Law of Infinitismals" dilute poisons induce the exact opposite of whatever an overdose would cause. Therefore the less of a medicine one is exposed to, the more powerful it becomes in inducing the magical energy of the soul to fix you up.
For example, if a certain mushroom is known to destroy the liver & kidneys, rapidly resulting in death, then immeasurably dilute quantities of that same mushroom will induce spiritual Vitalism to cast out demonic Psora from the liver & kidneys.
"Immeasurably dilute" is the important factor here; no actual tinctures were used. Rather, a drop of herbal extract or a toxin with a known harmful effect (to be reversed by means of the law of infinitisimals) would be added to a bucket of water. Then that bucket of water would diluted serially by several more buckets of water, resulting in a concluding bucket of water quite lacking even a single remnant molecule of that initial drop of toxin. So at least no one was at risk of being poisoned outright!
The idea was that the water having been touched by an herb or toxin keeps a "memory" of that contact. Treatment is therefore effected not by the ingredient per se, of which there is none, but by the water's memory of the ingredient.
Many alternative medicinal practices can sometimes provide at least moderate benefits. The majority of popular herbs may not have the dramatic effects alleged for them, but some few of them are indeed very powerful drugs. And yes, some deadly poisons are at lower doses effective medications as well. Even so, the known actual benefits of some herbs can by no rational basis be transferred to the occult practice of Homeopathy, for no actual herbs, let alone poisons, are ever given.
Even though the most powerful molecular microscope on earth cannot find the source of this mystical "memory" in memory-infused homeopathic water, people do still put down good money for the tapwater cure.
Reason would dictate that even if water could be given curative memories of ingredients that formerly touched the water, then that capacity for memory would include everything else that formerly touched the water, then be overwritten dozens of times more by contact with fungal spoors, algaes & sundry microorganisms & airborne pollutants that reach the water after that one intentional memory infusion. Since these impurities can be detected with a microscope, they'd surely overwhelm the intended but undetectible infusion. Ah, but attempting to impose some sort of rationality on such an irrational system is only slightly less absurd than believing any part of it in the first place.
To this day, quackpots can get wealthy off the gullibility of others, because mystical claptrap sounds so convincing to the uneducated who've never learned the difference between magical religious jargon & a testable hypothesis. The National Council Against Health Fraud has pointed out, "Homeopathy's principles have been refuted by the basic sciences of chemistry, physics, pharmacology, & pathology. Homeopathy meets the dictionary definitions of a sect & a cult."
I have tried to find a nuttier popular health fad than homeopathy & there is none. The majority have an iota of rationality to them, if only an iota. Oh, Aroma therapy is pretty damned silly & frequently a part of the homeopathist's repertoir of magic. And that Australian weirdo "Jasmuheen" (aka Ellen Greve) nearly qualifies as quackier. She preaches Breatharianism, the philosophy that it is not actually necessary to eat food to thrive. If all I need is air, just call me Epiphitic Paghat! Now that is as nutty but not more nutty than homeopathy, which cannot be outdone.
Homeopathy was founded by the alchemist & mystic Christian Friedrich Samuel Hahnemann (1755-1843), shown in the portrait at left. Hahnemann was from an era when all sorts of angel beliefs were abroad. So when he taught that "spirit-like vital force can become ill," he is using this personfication of illness or health as a Spirit because of the angel lore so important to alchemy of the age. Hahnemann's alchemical process appealed foremost to generations of occultists & theosophists who followed in his wake, but he has also become today's premiere figure of the commercial resurgence of this medical fraud.
When Hahnemann speaks of "Psora, the Mother of all true chronic diseases," he creates a new version of Lilith, a demoness of disease, conquerable with the Vitalism that is likewise an invisible spirit. He further taught of the authority of, "Health, a spiritual power, autocracy [or] vital force." This Spiritual Power also known as Vitalism is the "good" spirit of the universe at odds wsith Psora the "bad" spirit in the universe.
In Bengal, this would be familiar to worshippers of the Pox-mother Sitala, a fanged Goddess who causes & cures disease. She can be appeased by placing a pot of water on the roof of one's house, so that when she visits, she takes a drink on the roof, then moves on without smiting the household. The East Indian influences on Hahnemann have been noted by others, but really the fundamentals can be found in the more extremely esoteric elements of most modern religions, with gnosticism, kaballah, hindu saktism, & alchemy intersecting at every bend.
The war Hahnemann posits between Mother Psora & The Vital Force is the same one found in medieval kabbalistic texts as between Lilith & the Divine Shekhinah, & the transformation of Psora into healthy Vitalism reflects the central premise of all alchemical thought -- the transformation of evil into good, Lilith into Shekhinah, Protenoia into Sophia, lead into gold, Illness into Health, Psora into Vitalism.
Hahnemann, the L. Ron Hubbard of his day, even claimed that reading his book was sufficient to frighten away many of the Psora ("itches" or demonic spirits) inhabiting sick peoples' bodies, & he aggressively sold the book to patients as a "medicine" in & of itself.
Hahnemann's occult romance Organon of the Medical Art first published in 1810 is still a primary text for modern homeopathists, even though the modern sales pitches tend nowadays to remove the craziest sounding aspects of the occult doctrine, altered in the last twenty years to disguise the less & less popular Alchemical, Occult & Theosophic aspects. A textual comparison between Hahnemann's occult health treatise Organon & the signal alchemical writings of Paracelsus (1493-1541) makes the occult origins of Hahnemann's mystical doctrine very clear, as Paracelsus would have Psora a literal personifiction of Evil, the same as Satan.
The abject quackery has not really been improved when modern homeopathy avoids the more overt language of what is essentially angel lore. It is not accidental that Hahnemann's alchemical speculation, "Vital Force animates the organism...without this animating spirit-like power the organism is dead," finds it direct parallel in the Gnostic idea of Sophia as the animating spirit of creation, with our capacity to sin polluting Sophia so that she becomes a harlot within us, thus spreading sinfulness & disease. When Hahnemann claims, "It is by the Spiritual influences of morbific noxae that our spirit-like Vital Force can become ill," he is in essence creating a parallel to the pollution of the Divine Sophia, who becomes thereby the slutty Protenoia, for Hahnemann is likening health & illness to the War in Heaven, Lucifer's forces vs the Archangel Michael.
This sort of thinking was very much abroad in Hahnemann's time, when alchemy was taught in major universities alongside medicine as though Faith & Science were one & the same. The war between Demon & Angel, Psora & Vital Force, upon which homeopathic philosophy is based, does not go over so well today as it did one & two centuries ago, so a modern language sometimes updates the flimflam.
One updated revision changes the Law of Infinitismals to the effects of "positronium" as a form of anti-matter responsible for the miraculous curative properties of memory-charged water, borrowing the word from physics because it sounds so "positive," & clumsily pounding the word into purely mystical concepts to justify homeopthy as a practical medicine "proven" by science. Mere instruments of actual scientists of course have never detected this positronic alteration in homeopathic water because it really is just that miraculous. Physicists will tell you that actual positronium exists for only a fraction of a moment as an exotic atom where protons & neutrons unite. This is odd enough that it appeals to alchemists, & homeopathists purport that a confused take on physics thus proves the medicinal value of homeopathic water.
The value, then, is established by something so extremely transient (positronium) it cannot be detected by any scientific means. And by this kind of magical thinking posing as physics, the fact that no alteration in the positronified water can be detected becomes proof that it is in fact altered.
Then making not one but two leaps of magical thinking, the alteration makes the transformed water beneficial to health. Frankly, they should have stuck to the idea of that nasty old Evil Mother Psora beaten up by the Spirit Power Vital Force, while "The Good Ship Lolipop" plays over a loudspeaker.
Unbelivable as all this may seem, the lunacy can get even bigger than that. A world leader in homeopathy is French super-quack Jacques Benveniste. He has fooled many desparate naifs into accepting the premise that water with no ingredients whatsoever has been trained by temporary exposure to sub-microscopic molecules, so that by means of memory-infused water, immune systems can be boosted & any ailment known to man can be reversed.
It was no great leap among homeopathothists who will already say, "Oh yeah, that'll work!" to also believe in Jacque Benveniste's newest & most marvelous homeopathic discovery! He has established a method of training water for paying clients in distant parts of the world, as the memory infusion can be transferred to regular water over telephone lines in exchange for their Visa information.
Imagine it. You call up your homeopathist, you hold a glass of water against the phone, & he transfers the immune-boosting factors of toxins or herbs directly into your home & into your very own glass of water. But I say save yourself the Visa charge & just sneak into a Catholic cathedral & when no ones looking, slurp up some holy water for free. I've heard demons don't like that stuff either.
Ignorant & unbelievable as this faux medical system has always been, it remains one of the most popular forms of fraudulant medicine. Because it indeed relies on faith rather than science, believers are easily outraged, in the same manner as other types of religious fanatics, when their fanatisism is threatened by rationality. Hence I could supplement this article with the hate-mail I've received from believers in occult medicine, if I wished to fully convey the type of mind that either sells or embraces this nonsense, minds that are completely tone-deaf to the cognitive dissonance of a tried & true but fairly obvious scam.
Complete & utter frauds still get rich off the public's preference for magic over medicine. Dr. Fothergill, who inspired this discussion at its beginning, most certainly got rich, for the desparately ill would come from great distances to London in order to imbibe his magic water cures.
His knowledge of herbs was in fact very great, & if he'd practiced herbal medicine rather than homeopathy, he might've become as great man of medicine as he imagined himself to be. Then again, he might merely have glommed onto homeopathy's chief rival in occult medical practice, the Doctrine of Signatures which judged herbal values not by testable & perceivable benefits, but by plant appearance alone, therefore a plant with leaves mottled like liver was useful to treat liver diseases (hence Liverwort), while red-flowered plants were useful for blood diseases, & yellow for jaundice. It also required some astrological charting, & special harvesting of herbs by moonlight with left or right hand. It'd be hysterically funny if people didn't die of treatable illnesses thanks to these kinds of snake oil treatments.
Our good Quaker Quack was said to have had a most splendid bedside manner, always dressed to the nines since he sure could afford it, with a forever hopeful attitude toward the people he assisted into the grave with his watery non-treatments. Perhaps his optimism was enough for some few, who got better by means of the placebo effect & Dr. Fothergill's blissful cheerfulness, as one's overall state of mind when a practioner seems wholeheartedly to care about your wellness doubtless has some benefit the memory-infused water lacks.
Others were no doubt hypochondriacs who really didn't require authentic treatment of any kind, but just needed someone who for a large fee showed a great deal of concern. But those with treatable ailments, if ever they were treated exclusively with some mumbojumbo & a drink of water, Dr. Fothergill was essentially their murderer. And modern homeopothists who are not quick to send authentically ill people to actual doctors, & who fail to restrict their practice to the art of pandering to hypochondriacs, are likewise murderers.
We can hope that Dr. Fothergill most often used homeopathy as a supplemental treatment only, & did not merely watch treatable patients die with nothing more done for them than can be had from a glass of water. However, some might well argue that in an age when "real" medicine promoted purging & bleeding & provided a macabre market for graverobbers, an elderly midwife with a speck of herbal knowledge would have been a far superior choice of medical practitioner. And to not be treated by anything at all (beyond that glass of magic water) might've been less harmful than bleeding, the "advanced" medical treatment of the day that killed George Washington.
Dr. Fothergill did have medical training & some valid beliefs, for he promoted the idea of wearing clean clothing at a time when it was more common for the well-off to disguise their filth with cologne, as well as keeping one's bed linens clean, going on long walks in fresh air, eating a healthful diet, & performing philanthropic acts which further helped skew the balance of the bodies demonic illness-spirits versus angelic health-spirits to the side of the angelic.
There is one more reason to forgive Dr. Fothergill for passing magic off as medicine. What we can say in his favor is he used his dubiously acquired wealth to support botanical research around the world, & all he wanted in exchange were plants for his own extensive botanical garden in Essex, & a nice shrub named for himself.
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