Reprinted with the permission of The Society of Homeopaths (from "The Homeopath" Journal Winter 2004 edition). Reviewed by Nick Hewes.
How on earth does one review a book like this? Homeopathic genius Vega Rozenberg once said that it is impossible to cure a patient who has reached a higher level of spiritual evolution than oneself. Similarly. its a very demanding task to undertake an appraisal of a text like this, so replete is it with spiritual truths of which one is only dimly aware.
The first thing we notice is the palindromic circularity of the title - Understanding Homoeopathy, Homoeopathic Understanding - a neat visual device which reveals one of the book's main philosophical themes: - that is, the idea of total correspondence between the inner and outer worlds, a Paracelsian image so important to homeopathy, which has embedded within itself an understanding of the essential likeness between microcosm and macrocosm. The first chapter extends this theme, as Julian examines the concept of holons: - "self-organising wholes within larger self-organising wholes... A holon has an inside and an outside".
From the start it is clear that the author has expended much time and effort on polishing the book's style. The language is sedate and crafted throughout; you feel that every word has been carefully weighed and sifted, until a final state of restful elegance and, occasionally, limpid beauty has been attained. The author's vocabulary is admirably simple, so that he always says something in the easiest and clearest way, never blinding one with obscure language or verbal ostentation.
On the other hand, some readers may find the book's slightly ponderous, earnest tone its most irritating feature. Despite the general excellence of Julian's material, I sometimes found myself wondering if the book might not have benefited from a good proof-reader's cull of some of its more preachy and serious phrases. The author insists on telling you exactly what he is going to do next, so that you get countless sentences like "Let's summarise the characteristics of the basic three"... "In the next chapter we'll get more specifically homoeopathic"... or, "Let's look in brief at the development of miasmatic theory". These kindly but wearisome prompts have an irritatingly solemn New Age feel to them. To be fair though, maybe all my years living amongst the blunt folk of Yorkshire have made me ill prepared for such examples of verbal gentility. Stroud, after all, may as well be on the other side of the planet from somewhere like Hull. But, these are minor gripes when placed in the context of the impressive achievement of philosophical synthesis that Julian has given us.
The second chapter establishes the Grand Theme of the book, that is, the journey - of the individual self, of the race and of nature itself-from blissful innocence, through painful and sometimes corrupting experience, finally to the all-embracing joy of transpersonal consciousness: "As consciousness emerges out of nature... it acquires the ability to discriminate... thus we see that the rhythm and cycle of nature is superseded by a form of consciousness that tends to polarity" (leading in turn to disintegration and suffering). Again and again the author stresses the suffering caused by the ancient wound which self-consciousness inflicted on our original immersion in wholeness.
This theme of unfolding consciousness is then examined from the viewpoint of developmental psychology, using models derived from the work of authors such as Freud, Maslow and Jung. As each new stage of consciousness develops, it builds upon, and yet transcends, the stage that went before. This inevitably involves the denial and burial of problematic issues that may have occurred previously: - "For example, as the mental self emerges, with its capacity to conceptualise, feelings may be denied or outlawed" - thus begins a process, known and loved by homeopaths everywhere under the term 'suppression', which so often eventuates as physical disease.
Having introduced us to these models of growth and decline, borrowed from conventional psychology, the author then very deftly and convincingly finds extraordinary parallels with Jan Scholten's work on the periodic table. He examines the ebb and flow of the various phases of life through the use of remedies such as Hydrogen, Graphites and Silica. These richly concentrated remedy pictures trace a fascinating voyage from the time of pre-birth, through a new awareness of the physical body, thence to the attainment of intellectual separateness, and so on and so on, until we reach the terminal disintegration of the radioactive elements, such as Plutonium nitricum, where the components of body and soul are stripped down in preparation either for nirvana, or for yet another ascent of the helter skelter that leads once more to the amniotic unity of Hydrogen. The journey runs, as Julian expresses it, from "the 'I' that didn't know, thence the T that knew, and thence knew that it knew. In the end there is the T that is not".
One striking feature of Understanding Homoeopathy is the way the author has managed to assimilate a wide variety of homoeopathic sources within his unifying theme of unfolding consciousness. Thus, having spent a couple of chapters looking at Scholten's audacious and visionary work on the periodic table, Julian then examines Sankaran's model of the miasms. He emphasises that each miasm represents a particular stage of life: "If we view each miasm as a stage of a cycle then each miasm lies somewhere in the cycle between beginning and end... Thus, the acute miasm is normal in infancy. The sycotic stance is normal for middle years". Old age, of course, is represented by syphilis, characterised as it is by destruction and disintegration. Another aspect of the ternal recurrence of the life and death is evidenced by the eighth chapter, which looks at the four elements. this particular homoeopathic map, inspired originally by Joseph Reves, and subsequently polished with great verve by Jeremy Sherr and Misha Norland, fits perfectly into Julian's theme, dealing as it does with endless cycles of expansion and contraction.
As one gets towards the end of the book there is a growing emphasis on the essentially shamanic idea of the oneness of all creation. The chapter on provings brings this out especially strongly. In language, which reminds us of Jeremy Sherr's The Dynamics and Methodology of Homoeopathic Provings, Julian states that, "In a proving the prover acquires direct experience of the powers of nature and the powers of their own psyche... The prover explores their own inner world, not as an isolated entity, but as a part of nature... we are quite literally made of the same stuff as the earth, seas, atmosphere and stars". This harks back to Renaissance Humanism's glorification of man, beautifully expressed by Prince Hamlet's exclamation: "What a piece of work is man!"
The repeated references to our stellar ancestry have a generally uplifting effect: - they are one aspect of the book's pervading theme of a complete identification between the individual and the entire web of life. In this sense Julian's book has something unique to offer. In bringing together motifs taken from ancient shamanic practices, alchemy and transpersonal psychology, and then projecting all these ideas and images through the prism of homoeopathy, he has presented us with a completely new kind of textbook on homoeopathic philosophy. It is important to remember that the books on philosophy that saw most of us through college, such as Stuart Close's The Genius of Homoeopathy, and Herbert Roberts' The Principles and Art of Cure by Homoeopathy, were written over 70 years ago, with Close's book dating from before the First World War. When one considers the amazing cultural and technological changes that occurred in the second half of the last century, it is obvious that books like this, which is, essentially, a radical reworking of those earlier titles on homoeopathic philosophy, are much needed. Even Vithoulkas' relatively recent The Science of Homeopathy looks dated now, with its diagrams of cones and sine waves attempting to convince us that homeopathy could be presented as an esoteric branch of engineering. Which of course can never be.
Understanding Homoeopathy reminds us of how essential philosophy is to the practice of homoeopathy. We all take it for granted, but we'd be in a right mess if it weren't there. When experienced homoeopaths, who should know better, tell students to "just do what works" they forget that every, single, allopathically suppressive prescription is justified in exactly the same terms, and with exactly the same rationale. When a CP gives antibiotics for otitis media, or DPT or MMR to protect against childhood epidemics, or Prozac for depression, they are, in their own terms, doing what works. So, telling someone to simply "do what works", without looking at the above and the below, the past and the future, the long and the short, may be to give a carte blanche to the promulgation of therapeutic idiocy. As homoeopaths we owe everything to our beautiful philosophy, and Understanding Homoeopathy is one more testament to our love of wisdom.