Prisma: The Arcana of Materia Medica Illuminated is a fully expanded version of Synoptic One, containing the same remedies, and also an encyclopaedic amount of information on the source, zoology, chemistry, physics, distribution, folklore, mythology and history of the remedies. This contextual material is absolutely fascinating reading, bringing the medicinal substances vibrantly to life. Whereas Synoptic One and Concordant Materia Medica are vital books for the student and the practitioner alike as clinical reference texts, Prisma is all this, plus bedtime reading too.
- Author: Frans Vermeulen
- ISBN: 9789076189109
- 1380 pages
- Edition: Third
- Published in 2002
- Printed in The Netherlands
Reprinted with the permission of The Society of Homeopaths, (from "The Homeopath" Journal July 2002 edition). Reviewed by Nick Hewes.
The development of Frans Vermeulen's series of 'synoptic' materia medica (as distinct to his encyclopaedic Concordant Materia Medica) over the last ten years is, in a way, a faithful mirror of the great changes that have occurred in homeopathy in that relatively short space of time.
The first volume, entitled simply Synoptic Materia Medica, is really Phatak with garlic, relying as it does on the refinement and virtuosity that George Vithoulkas and Vassilis Ghegas brought to a moribund homeopathy in the mid 1970s. This neat little book was originally intended as a remedy summary for Finnish and Irish students. Its main virtues were simplicity and brevity, along with a very adept synthesis of quotations from a wide range of authors, which helped to evoke the characteristics of our main remedies in a really succinct way. In every age authors have striven to simplify and condense the literature from the wide expanses of the past, and in the last century each generation of homeopaths produced its own, favourite masters of the synoptic art, among whom were figures such as Boericke, Boger, Clarke, Tyler, Phatak and lastly of course, Vermeulen himself, whose razzy silver volume probably replaced Phatak's Materia Materia upon the desks of many homeopaths.
Vermeulen's Synoptic Materia Medica II originally set out to cover those 'small' remedies not included in the first book, but somewhere along the line it turned into a completely different venture, due to the inclusion of a great deal of remedy information that was from non-homeopathic sources, such as, (to quote directly from the preface to volume two), "chemistry, metallurgy, botany, and biology" as well as imagery from "fairy tale, legend and myth". This fascinating but extraneous information went under the heading of "Signs", yet ignored writers). In order to compare the difference in approach between the first and second volumes, let us take as an example the first line on Conium in the earlier book:
"Region: NERVES. MUSCLES. GLANDS [MAMMAE; ovaries]. Sexual organs. Respiration. RIGHT SIDE. Left side."
This format would have been recognisable to all homeopaths from all ages, going back to the days of Boenninghausen and Jahr in the first half of the 19th century. Compare this however, with Vermeulen's treatment of Luna in the second volume, where any discussion of the symptoms of that remedy are held in abeyance for well over a page, whilst the writer discusses the moon goddesses Hecate and Selene, the tides of the oceans, insanity, fertility, and menstrual cycles, all of this under the "Signs" heading. This striking difference in approach tells us that, between volume one (1992) and volume two (1996) something very fundamental happened to Vermeulen's homeopathic worldview. That fundamental something was possibly the publication of Jan Scholten's Homoeopathy and Minerals in 1993, a revolutionary work because it suggested that the characteristics of a remedy could be deduced from studying its place in the natural world, from its uses, and from its identity in history, myth and literature, and not merely from a homeopathic proving. Without Scholten's work, Synoptic Materia Medica II would probably not exist in its present form.
Prisma (Dutch for 'prism', perhaps because the book aims to concentrate a vast and diverse spectrum of knowledge into one single text) simply returns to those same remedies that were so expertly summarised in the first volume, in order to add extra information, the most obvious of which relates to their signatures. It's a bit like Godfather Part II, where Coppola goes backwards in time, and explores the childhood of Don Corleone, in order to explain the adult who dominated the first film. Maybe Prisma should be subtitled Synoptic Materia Medica two and a half.
As in both earlier volumes, the use of quotations to illustrate the remedies is done superbly well. Vermeulen borrows from whatever sources he can, from Hahnemann to Vithoulkas, and the result is top quality homeopathic gossip, straight from the masters' mouths. His three volumes show that an apt quotation is by far the best form of summary. A real advance is the employment of footnotes to illustrate the sources of all these utterances. One frustrating aspect of both the earlier books was the unexplained absence of sources for some of the tasty quotations contained therein. The mystery is that some quotations were sourced, and others were not, a curiously unscholarly arrangement, given the author's reputation tor superhuman industry. The use of footnotes in Prisma overcomes these former, minor annoyances.
One quite bizarre feature, in a book that otherwise exudes all the virtues of scholarship, is the complete omission of any kind of bibliography. A full bibliography does exist (the publishers will send you one if you email them), but apparently the printers forgot to put it in. Oh well, that's the benign charm of Holland tor you - sometimes the home-grown is just too strong!
One other change from volume two is the subdivision of the "signs" section into various smaller categories of information, whereas formerly all the non-homeopathic information appeared within one heading, without any differentiation. Thus the section on Carbo vegetabilis, for example, is divided into the subheadings: "Constituents/ Uses/ Activated charcoal/ Absorbent/ Medicinal/ Carbon cycle/ Black". These subdivisions have the effect of further elevating the importance of the "Signs" section within Vermeulen's hierarchy.
A closer look at Carbo vegetabilis shows just how potent this influx of new information is, as an example of how it may help us to give new shape and colour to our existing portrait of that underused remedy. Vermeulen's discussion of the carbon cycle is particularly fascinating, since it describes at length the mechanism of global warming, implying of course that Carbo vegetabilis may once again become a very important polychrest, as we drive merrily onward towards an inevitable appointment with our tubercular nemesis.
Also of interest is the examination of the colour "black", invoking as it does images of darkness, death and the underworld, thus confirming the reputation of Carbo vegetabilis as the great corpse reviver. (Incidentally, this is of synchronous interest, as it relates to an article on Eileen Nauman in the current issue, in which she discusses the importance of a remedy's colour in understanding its uses.)
The obvious question we need to ask is "how important is the doctrine of signatures to the kind of homeopathy we practise?" As students we were told that there were really only three main sources of materia medica: provings, clinical information, and poisonings. occasionally a lecturer would use a remedy's signature to illustrate its therapeutic characteristics, but this was usually delivered as a pretty conceit, rather than as a primary teaching method. Now of course, things are so different, with some eminent homeopaths stressing that the proving is merely one method among many of understanding a remedy's healing identity. Take Nick Churchill's interview with Massimo Mangialavori in issue 75 of the Journal: "It's important to gather information from pharmacological and toxicological sources, or from the traditional use of the substance, and even about our delusions, our human projection - what in psychoanalysis is called the 'archetype' - of certain substances. All this is as important as the proving." Massimo's high estimation of non-homeopathic information - whether it is archetypal or scientific - is eons away from Hahnemann's strictures against the doctrine of signatures in his Examination of the Sources of the Materia Medica, (c1825). This really has to be quoted in full, so that we can fully appreciate the wonderfully humorous tone of his withering diatribe:
"I shall spare the ordinary medical school the humiliation of reminding it of the folly of those ancient physicians who, determining the medicinal powers of crude drugs from their signature, that is, from their colour and form, gave the testicle-shaped orchis-root in order to restore manly vigour; the phallus impudicus, to strengthen weak erections; ascribed to the yellow turmeric the power of curing jaundice, and considered hypericum perforatum, whose yellow flowers on being crushed yield a red juice (St John's blood), useful in haemorrhages and wounds; but I shall refrain from taunting the physicians of the present day with this absurdity, although traces of it are to be met with in the most modern treatises on Materia Medica".
To be honest, any debate over the place of signatures within homeopathy is only of academic interest (and therefore perhaps a waste of time), so widespread has the employment of this doctrine become in the daily practice of the majority of homeopaths. This is mainly due the teachings on kingdoms, families, groups and so on, by, principally, Jan Scholten, Rajan Sankaran and, latterly, Massimo Mangialavori. To argue for the traditional position, however, one is always happy to know that, as one shuffles anxiously and chaotically through the repertory in search of that elusive nothing we call the remedy, one always has the option of referring to the Materia Medica Pura, to The Chronic Diseases, to the twelve volumes of T.F. Allen's Encyclopaedia of Pure Materia Medica, to the mere ten volumes of Hering's Guiding Symptoms, and lastly, to the mini-epidemic of properly overseen modern provings that have been conducted since Jeremy Sherr's Androctonos in 1983. A good proving is the crucible: - it gives us the genuine alchemical identity of a substance, and this information stands for all time, as a testament to both the essence and the portrait of a remedy.
To return to Prisma (this is supposed to be a review, after all) the book is a delight, and should be - will be -taking its place in the library of most homeopaths within the next two or three years. Prisma is a celebration of knowledge, of science, art, mythology, theology -whatever you are interested in you'll find something here to engage you. Its diverse content takes us way beyond the clinical practice of homeopathy; the book will be of interest to the metallurgist, the geologist, the student of comparative religion, to the psychologist, the art historian and the Shakespearean scholar, as well as to the homeopath. Vermeulen has condensed information from so many sources, that the £47 - you spend on it is really a snip, because it'll save you lashing out hundreds of pounds on the Encyclopaedia Britannica. At the end of the day, it could even help you find the correct remedy.
Reprinted with the permission of The Homeopathic Links Journal, Volume 15, Autumn 2002. Reviewed by Guido Mortelmans, MD., Belgium.
Is there really a need for still another materia medica? When I started with homeopathy, I dreamed of having all the materia medicas in my consultation room. With all that knowledge, I would help the patients tremendously, I thought...
Now, twenty years later I have hundreds of homeopathic books one mouse-click away. And maybe the time is not far off that our homeopathic repertory will be updated automatically every time we start our computer. So why this new materia medica from Vermeulen? He already wrote the 'Concordant Materia Medica' (1994) and the 'Synoptic Materia Medica' part 1 (1992) and part 2 (1996). It seems even stranger when I notice that exactly the same 195 homeopathic remedies (and one addition) are studied in this new book as in part 1 of the Synoptic Materia Medica. Who still needs to buy this 'Prisma Materia Medica'? The first edition appeared in March 2002. And in August, five months later, a second edition already appeared! This book is a great success and a lot of homeopaths buy it. What is so special about it?
Let us just open the book and study a remedy in detail.
When I look at Ambra grisea in this Prisma Materia Medica it looks at first glance almost the same as in his former materia medica. The section 'region' is now named 'affinity' and the section 'leading symptoms' is now called 'main symptoms'. But there are important differences: the main symptoms are enlarged and revised. I will give an example.
In the SMM (Synoptic Materia Medica) we read a quote from Kent: 'Asks many questions, never waits for an answer'. In the Prisma Materia Medica more information is added: 'Especially is it indicated in those persons who manifest a momentary, fleeting inquisitiveness, jumping from one subject to another'.
Even another quote (Farrington) about this symptom is added.
Also additions from modern authors are present. Under the symptom 'aversion to smiling faces (suspicion, delusion being laughed at)' we find 'They have a disgust at the laughter of others; esp. if people are telling jokes about sex or other bodily functions which would embarrass them' (Thompson).
New information from journals about Ambra grisea as from Linda Johnston in Homeopathic Links (3/96 and 4/96) is present.
In the 'Rubrics' section we find more rubrics and sometimes more detailed. The rubric 'Vertigo, lying necessary'; becomes now: 'Vertigo: must lie down (2); and weakness in stomach (1/1). New rubrics are present: 'Dreams: of being abused, and too weak to defend himself (1/1).
We find also some new food additions: aversion fat food (1) and desire for salt (2), fish and seafood, (additions from Thompson).
The 'Nucleus' of the remedy as we saw in the SMM is removed from the Prisma Materia Medica. With this 'Nucleus' Vermeulen summarised in a few lines the most interesting symptoms of the remedy.
This Prisma Materia Medica is very personal. Which authors and which books do you choose out of the huge homeopathic library? Of course the great homeopaths from the past are present. You simply have to use Hahnemann, Allen and Hering. But which of the other 'old masters' do you prefer? Especially Nash but also Lippe, Royal, Dunham, Dewey are seldom quoted. On the contrary Hughes is quoted very often, a fact not many Ken-tians will like. Kent was very negative about Hughes' Materia Medica: a Cyclopedia of Drug Pathogenesy. 'As a patho-genesy it is a travesty', he wrote.
Sometimes Vermeulen found mistakes in the materia medica and corrected them as we see in the translation from Bellis perennis and Calcarea fluorica by Stephenson from German to English. Inaccurate repertory symptoms are corrected.