As seen previously, there is indeed a counterpoint of occultism running through homeopathy right from the beginning. And besides its paralelling of Hermetic ideas, we can also look at the resemblances that exist between Hahnemann's ideas and those of the sixteenth-century physician Theophrastus von Hohenheim, commonly known as Paracelsus, who came from the alchemical-hermetic tradition.
Paracelsus rejected the idea of disease categories, he believed in a version of the similia idea, and he favoured the use of tiny doses. The numerous parallels between Hahnemann and Paracelsus present us with a puzzle. It's difficult to think that they are due to chance, especially in view of the fact that Hahnemann read so widely. It seems unlikely that he would not have come across Paracelsus's ideas in books or through his Masonic contacts, for early nineteenth-century German Masonry was influenced by ideas of this kind via its connections with Rosicrucianism.
Yet Hahnemann nowhere refers to Paracelsus by name and he has merely one disparaging reference, in a footnote, to the "childish" doctrine of signatures, which Paracelsus favoured. It seems that late in his life one of his followers did draw his attention to the similarities between his ideas and those of Paracelsus, but he replied that he had never heard of the sixteenth-century physician.
This may of course be an example of Freudian "forgetting." In any case, among post-Hahnemannian homeopaths some were deeply influenced by the occult alchemical tradition to which Paracelsus belonged, and these homeopaths did not hesitate to make the connection explicit.
Probably the earliest manifestation of this is provided by the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, the magical society which included among its members not only the poet W B Yeats but also a number of homeopathic doctors. The Golden Dawn had indeed a medical flavour from its inception, for it was founded in 1888 by Dr Wynn Westcott, a physician turned coroner. For this purpose Dr Westcott forged documents, including letters of authorization from a certain "Fraulein Sprengel," an eminent Rosicrucian adept who he said lived in Germany. Westcott invited another doctor, W R Woodman, and a strange occultist called Mathers to join him as Chiefs of the Order.
The Rosicrucian idea, on which the Golden Dawn was allegedly based, had itself strong links with medicine as well as with alchemy and also with Paracelsus. It derived from the publication in Germany, in the early seventeenth century, of the "Rosicrucian Manifestos." These mysterious texts, supposedly written by a secret Brotherhood of initiates, caused a tremendous furore in Europe when they first appeared and their effects were felt in all kinds of unlikely places.
Francis Bacon, for example, appears to have known about them, and Isaac Newton likewise; while the idea of a secret brotherhood of savants probably inspired Robert Boyle and other founders of the Royal Society.
The Manifestos described the life and career of the supposed founder of the Order, Christian Rosenkreutz. He was said to have been a German monk who travelled to the East and there acquired much esoteric alchemical and medical knowledge. On his return he instituted the Brotherhood to preserve this knowledge. He was buried in a secret vault, which contained all the books written by himself and his colleagues and - a significant inclusion - one by Paracelsus, who though not a member of the Order was claimed as a kind of fellow-traveller. The vault was intended to be a time-capsule to preserve all this knowledge, and it was the accidental rediscovery of the vault, whose location had been forgotten, that was said to have prompted the publication of the Manifestos.
The members of the Golden Dawn believed in the literal truth of the Rosenkreutz legend and went so far as to reconstruct a replica of the vault in which to perform their magical rites. Christian Rosenkreutz himself was a physician and his followers were supposed to support themselves by practising medicine. In view of this, and the association with Paracelsus, it is easy to understand why Rosicrucianism should have attracted doctors who were drawn by their temperament towards the occult.
Fourteen medical men, in addition to Westcott and Woodman, were members of the Golden Dawn before 1900, and many of these were interested in homeopathy.
One of the most prominent members, Dr Edward Berridge, was a well-known homeopathic doctor who wrote a book on homeopathy and whose name appears as a prover in the American homeopathic literature at this time.
When it became clear that the authorization for setting up the Golden Dawn that Westcott had obtained from "Fraulein Sprengel" was bogus the Order broke up in confusion. But one medical member, Dr R W Felkin, refused to be discouraged. There must exist somewhere, he supposed, Secret Chiefs, guardians of esoteric knowledge, if only they could be found, and he set off on a series of travels in Germany to look for them.
This quest led him to Rudolf Steiner, the founder of Anthroposophy. Felkin apparently hoped that Steiner would appoint him as his representative in England, but in this he was disappointed, and Steiner does not seem to have taken him very seriously.
Steiner himself, however, took a great deal of interest in medicine, and later developed a therapeutic system that is in many ways a refinement of Paracelsus's ideas. It also has a good deal in common with homeopathy and continues to attract some homeopathic doctors.
Though not himself qualified in medicine, Steiner attracted a number of physicians to him and towards the end of his life he lectured extensively on medicine. In 1921 Ita Wegman came into contact with Steiner, and with his encouragement began her medical training in Switzerland. After qualifying she founded the Clinical-Therapeutic Institute at Arlesheim in Switzerland, where Anthroposophical methods of treatment are still in use today.
In addition a laboratory was set up at Dornach for the investigation and production of Steiner's remedies, and this work later gave rise to a number of commercial manufacturing countries in different countries.
Steiner's medical ideas are rather similar to those of Hahnemann though they also derive from earlier sources, especially Paracelsus and the alchemists; Steiner placed much more emphasis on symbolism and occultism.
Many Anthroposophical medicines are the same as those used in homeopathy but they are often given as mixtures instead of singly. The Hahnemannian method of potentization is sometimes used but Steiner also invented some more complicated procedures. For example, metals are often "vegetabilized" by passage through a plant. A metal is added to the soil in which a plant is growing; next year the plant is composted and used to fertilize a second generation of plants, and the process is repeated for a third year. This is said to dynamize the metal very effectively, while the influence of the metal causes the plants to direct their action to a particular organ or system.
There has long been an uneasy tension between those homeopaths who wish to make their subject wholly scientific and respectable, and those who have leanings towards the mystical or the occult. Today, naturally, the scientifically minded are in the ascendant; the talk is all of evidence-based medicine, double-blind trials, and the physics of water molecules. Yet there has always been, and still is, a movement within homeopathy (even medical homeopathy) in the opposite direction. Some homeopaths are drawn towards unconventional and unscientific means of selecting remedies, such as pendulum-swinging and other forms of dowsing. In this as in other respects, homeopathy harks back to its origins.
We tend to think of Hahnemann as a nineteenth-century figure, but we forget that his formative years were spent in the eighteenth century. We don't need to go much further back than that to reach a time when doctors routinely used astrology to help them make their diagnoses.
Our modern sciences had their origin in less reputable activities: astrology fathered astronomy, alchemy chemistry. Isaac Newton spent many years in the practical pursuit of alchemy; Kepler, who formulated the idea that the planets move in ellipses rather than circles, was motivated by the desire to prove that the orbits of the planets correspond to the Platonic regular solids.
In the seventeenth century mathematics was only just ceasing to be thought of as a form of magic. Modern medicine, too, developed painfully and slowly from less "rational" sources. For at least some of its practitioners, an important part of the appeal of homeopathy is that it is closer to the realm of magic.