Homeopathy is a practice that comes closest to religious healing without actually invading the priest’s, reverend’s or nun’s sacred grounds of healing.
One of the first major movements to demonstrate some sort of philosophical parallel with homeopathy is the establishment of the Swedenborgian movement in the early 1800s. By the 1820s, Emmanuel Swedenborg’s immense volume of spiritual writings were printed as a set for the first time, now about midway between the time Samuel Hahnemann made his own philosophical deductions about medicine and how it possibly worked, and when Hahnemannism first made its way into the United States for the first time with the resulting success needed to open a school on this practice in the Allentown area of Pennsylvania around 1837.
During the initial years of its inception, scientists were arguing over the concept of life energy or the vital spark as a whole. Like any argument involving metaphysical concepts, there were those materialists who wanted to use nature and matter to explain everything we could see or witness, like Isaac Newton using gravity to explain the rotation of the planets around the Sun and the spinning stars found throughout the universe. In medicine in 1805, a materialist physician argued that the nervous system and its nervous energy, and the body with its thermal energy in the form of body temperature, for the electricity and heat needed to define life’s processes. To the non-materialists or metaphysicians for this time, energy was simply that–energy–and its source was unknown, or at least unproven if you were one who believed.
Over the decades, vital spark and body heat/nervous electricity went back and forth in popularity, with other allied forms of medicine formed to help support the philosophies that were popular and at times even the physical healing agents made available to patients, that could be show to have some positive healing effect.
With homeopathy, one of the most common philosophies came to claim that some form of energy could be used to describe why and how these medicines worked. To Swedenborg, the reason homeopathic remedies worked would have seemed obvious–there were angels rested upon what little matter existed in a homeopathic preparation, and only one particle or atom of that substance carrying with it an angel, or some power representing an angel, was enough to make the medicine work.
To Swedenborgian homeopaths, a number of which formed their own church in Ohio around the 1840s, the more modern view of the angel was all they needed to belief in their medicines. And so, that is what allowed homeopathy to grow in size at a fairly consistent rate between 1842 and 1857.
Also during this time, hospitals had formed, and many of the larger hospitals were supporting of the various medical claims being made by the different professions. During the first half of the 1800s, care places such as hospices, clinics, and hospitals were built, funded, and supported by churches. There were a few facilities such as the city operated hospitals and the small privately run clinics devoted to a non-allopathic sect that tried to reduce the role of the church in medicine and healing, but never managed to establish a strong political foothold on medicine and hospital care until the latter half of the nineteenth century. There is the famous case of the hospitals in Ohio associated with several medical schools, some still operating to this day, which had three wards to offer their patients care in all three fields–Allopathy, Eclecticism and/or Botanic Medicine, and Homeopathy. To win over the nuns running these facilities, the allopaths had to force them to shut down the two non-allopathic wards, due to the larger amounts of patient flow in these facilities, and financial intake, when compared with the allopathy ward. (This is reviewed in detail on a separate page.)
Allopathy was least popular in the years of 1840 to 1852 approximately, which is when numerous alternative schools were opened. Many of these were devoted to homeopathy. In middle Pennsylvania and Missouri, we find areas where neighboring towns or cities had an allopathic medical school in one urban setting, bordered by the alternative schools within reasonable travel distance operating within the neighboring town or city. Homeopathy, becoming most popular by the late 1840s in fact had two schools established in at least one of these settings. Like Thomsonianism, homeopathy was a form of medicine that took a more metaphysical approach to healing, and with homeopathy, high doses of potentially toxic medications need not be a concern. To some physicians, such an option to providing care made many a physician less worried about overdosing his patient on substances like Mercury, Arsenic, tobacco, nightshade and numerous other highly toxic medications.
Another merging of philosophies can be seen between the regular doctors, who believed in climate theory of disease and its related natural electricity events, suggesting of the vital spark philosophy, and the homeopaths. Homeopathy is the only non-allopathic profession that almost had its way of forming a hybrid form of medicine by the 1850s. Were it not for the inner politics dwelling within the homeopathic profession due to the purists versus the reformists, homeopathy may have remained a part of allopathy for a few decades longer, until the bacterial theory finally did it in by assigning a physical appearance to previously invisible disease causing agents in 1891.
Nevertheless, it is important to note that the bacterial theory in no way led to the extinction of homeopathy. In fact, homeopathy continued to grow during the 1890s as purists in the field continued to argue directly against the claims made by the pro-bacteriologists. This argument managed to remain, as nearly every other argument for a non-allopathic form of medicine died off, beginning with Eclectics and New Eclectics–its short lived successor, water cure, botanic medicine, the new Thomsonianism out there known as New Thomsonianism and its few followers, and several fields of energy medicine, excluding chiropody (foot doctors), which still had its quality of life values, and the newly formed profession of chiropractic, an offshoot of the electric cure philosophy focused on the spinal column at first, but quickly becoming mostly mechanical in nature.
Symbolic of this phase in medical history during this time was the law regarding State Medical Boards, they had to consist of at least one or two allopaths, one Eclectic physician, and Homeopathy, each trained by means of a professional school within the United States. The Mixed Medicine Board slowly became a monologic pedagogue as first the Eclectics died off along with its followers, followed by the last surviving licensed Homeopathic MD during the 1930s.
What enabled homeopathy to remain active and close to regular medicine was the more spiritual aspects of the homeopathic philosophy. Add to this the unlikelihood of a homeopathic remedy being fatal to patients, and you have a form of medicine that could be practiced by those in search of a more metaphysical cure for their ailment, not offered by the traditional allopathic world. In addition, one didn’t necessarily have to share his/her likings for homeopathy with the regular MD, and had little fear that the remedies at hand might reveal their source in the form of some symptoms directly traceable to a toxic ingesti0n. Homeopathy had its way of concealing itself, wither in physical form as very small pill vials, or in chemical form as a medication taken that consisted almost entirely of sugar or a simple solvent like alcohol or water.
This apparently symptomless medication, with the ability to heal metaphysically, had its attractiveness for the metaphysicians of the time. These metaphysicians involved in the health care field were the nuns and pastors involved with the local medical schools and their hospitals. This popularity of homeopathy amongst those who were religiously devoted is what made it so successful alongside allopathy between 1855 and 1940, and perhaps even the present.
This article, and others that come up in my collection and so added here, illustrate this unique feature about a metaphysical form of medicine and how it can become and remain so popular, due to patients in need of some sort of metaphysical means for healing.