Someone asked me if a Christian should use homeopathy. She was concerned, because a friend told her it was an anti-Christian practice. The question kind of surprised me, since I had never even considered it before and, to be honest, didn’t know much about homeopathy. Off the top of my head, I replied that I didn’t think it mattered one way or the other, but it would be interesting to look into scripture to find any kind of reference to this idea.
As I do many times, in starting a search relating to an unfamiliar subject, I first go to a good dictionary to make sure I fully understand the meaning of the topic. Homeopathy (Greek: homoios ‘like’ + patheia ‘suffering’) is a system of complementary medicine in which disease is treated by minute doses of natural substances, that in large quantities, would produce symptoms of the disease.1
I had no luck in finding any relationship in scripture to this definition, but I’ve learned from experience that just because I can’t find something immediately, doesn’t mean it isn’t there. I started what I call reverse research; learn all about the subject throughout history and then see if anything pops up that could lead backward to answering my biblical question. So, I proceeded down the rabbit hole, not knowing where it would go.
How Did the Practice of Homeopathy Start?
The first stop on my adventure led to a German man, Christian Friedrich Samuel Hahnemann (1755-1843), better known as Samuel Hahnemann, who is considered the founder of homeopathy in the late 18th century. He was a pretty smart fellow, mastering several languages and graduated with an MD at the University of Erlangen. Hahnemann was dissatisfied with the state of medicine in his time, and particularly objected to practices, such as bloodletting, which was harmful. He claimed that the medicine he had been taught to practice sometimes did the patient more harm than good. “My sense of duty would not easily allow me to treat the unknown pathological state of my suffering brethren with these unknown medicines,” he wrote. “The thought of becoming in this way a murderer or malefactor towards the life of my fellow human beings was most terrible to me, so terrible and disturbing that I wholly gave up my practice in the first years of my married life and occupied myself solely with chemistry and writing.”2
He closely followed the research of a peer, Austrian physician Anton von Störck, who claimed that the toxic effects of ingested substances often broadly paralleled those of certain diseases.3 Following up on this work, Hahnemann’s research led to a more generalized medicinal “Law of Similars.” He devised methods of diluting the drugs he tested in order to relieve the toxic effects and claimed that these dilutions, when prepared according to his technique, were still effective in alleviating the same symptoms in the sick.4
Basically, Hahnemann created the alternative doctrine of “like cures like,” which claims a substance that causes symptoms of a disease in healthy people, could cure the same in sick people,5 when used in minute doses. And this idea has some merit, after all, since that is similar to the concept of modern vaccines, “a preparation of live microorganisms, living attenuated organisms, or living fully virulent organisms, that is administered to produce or artificially increase immunity to a particular disease.”6
Although it is well known that Hahnemann followed the work of his peer, Anton von Störck an Austrian physician, he was, otherwise, very secretive about his research, never divulging his sources. Early in his career, he spent several years cataloging a rather large and ancient library and it is reasonable to believe that he read many of the manuscripts that were of interest to him, since he was proficient in several languages, including Greek and Latin. Books by Hippocrates, Paracelsus, and van Helmont would have been too intriguing to go unread.
The Greek physician, Hippocrates, known as the greatest physician of antiquity and the father of medicine,7 believed “let like cure like.”8 Paracelsus was a Swiss physician, alchemist and astrologer who stated that “if given in small doses, what makes a man ill also cures him.”9 Van Helmont, a Flemish chemist, physiologist, and physician, is largely remembered today for his ideas on spontaneous generation.10 He was a mystic and alchemist, but also partook of the new experiment-based learning methods.
Now the trail to answering my question was to branch off into new directions – research into Greek medicine, alchemy, astrology, and mysticism. I’m beginning to see why I was asked the question “should a Christian use homeopathy?” Its history included pagan practices including the supernatural, superstition, and magic. In fact, a Christian cohort suggested I stop my investigation at this point, but I was persistent in getting the full truth of this homeopathic practice.
Sir James George Frazer (1854-1941) was a famous anthropologist and is noted for stating that “human belief progressed through three stages: primitive magic, replaced by religion, in turn replaced by science.” Myth and religion were his areas of expertise.11 He wrote, “magic rests on two fundamental principles: first, that ‘like produces like,’ [or] effect resembling cause; second, that ‘things which have once been in contact continue ever afterwards to act on each other.’ The former principle may be called the Law of Similarity and the latter that of Contact or Contagion. From the one, the magician infers that he can produce any effect he desires merely by imitating it in advance; from the other, that whatever he does to a material object will automatically effect the person with whom it was once in contact.” Frazer goes on to explain how this magic was used world-wide to bring harm upon people, as well as to bring protection upon them. It really caught my attention when I read that he called the practices based on the Law of Similarity as Homeopathic Magic.12 Did Frazer crib the word “homeopathy” from Samuel Hahnemann’s writings?
Now, I was born and raised in New Orleans, a place known to be tinged with the practice of Voodoo. One of my favorite jazz songs, by Oscar ‘Papa’ Celestin (1884-1954)13 and his New Orleans Jazz Band, was about a Creole practitioner of Voodoo, named Marie LaVeau. Part of the lyrics goes like this:
She made gris-gris with an old ram horn,
Stuffed with feathers and shucks from a corn.
A big black cat urn and catfish fin,
Made a man get religion and give up his sin.
Voodoo was used to either help people by using potions or injure people by using a voodoo doll. To those who really believed – it worked. Frazer explained that this type of magic, by other names, was known to sorcerers in many lands throughout history (and, even today): India, Babylon, Egypt, Greece, Rome, Australia, Africa, as well as the Americas.14
Actual song lyrics suggesting a relationship between magic and religion, indicates that I could be on the correct path to answering my question, but there is still not a clear connection. Saying modern homeopathy is wrong, because it has pagan origins, would be like saying the same about Christmas, Easter, Halloween, baptisms, birthdays, wedding ceremonies, or a trinity of gods. OK, maybe there are real issues with only some of those, but you get the idea. My thought is that it is necessary to investigate the issue, before passing judgement.
James George Frazer also wrote that he called the practices based on the Law of Contagion as Contagious Magic which, he said, “is the magical sympathy which is supposed to exist between a man and any severed portion of his person, as his hair or nails; so that whoever gets possession of human hair may work his will, at any distance, upon the person from whom they were cut.15 It was the homeopathic term “magical sympathy” which triggered a memory of a similar term used by biblical scholar Michael S. Heiser.
In an article titled “The Healing Serpent,” Heiser talks about the words of Jesus: “And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life” (John 3:14–15, NRSV). He indicated that this is a reference to Numbers 21:4–9, when the Israelites complained about being punished for their lack of faith and they asked Moses to intercede for them. “God relented and instructed Moses to make a bronze serpent and set it on a pole. Anyone bitten by a serpent would be healed by gazing at the bronze serpent.”16
“In part, the answer to ‘why a serpent?’ is found in the ancient practice of sympathetic magic — the idea that a person afflicted by an object can be cured or delivered by an image of that same object. In the absence of sophisticated medical knowledge, ancient cultures sought cures for physical ailments or perceived curses by such means. We can find several examples of this ancient medical approach in other places in the Old Testament” (also see: 1 Samuel 6:5–18; Exodus 15:25; 2 Kings 2:21).17
Bingo! We have our link. References related to homoepathy practices do, indeed, appear in the Bible. Of course, God doesn’t encourage the practice of magic, but since the Israelites were always getting into trouble for their failing faith and not following his rules, he knew that they were familiar with such magic and used this situation to show that only Jehovah can truly protect and deliver them. We have made a connection to homeopathy in the Bible, but we have not discerned the proper way to answer the question: should a Christian use homeopathy?
While Paracelsus dealt with alchemy, astrology, and maybe, some magic along with his medicine, Hippocrates was different, “he believed that diseases were caused naturally, not because of superstition and gods. He separated the discipline of medicine from religion, believing and arguing that disease was not a punishment inflicted by the gods but rather the product of environmental factors, diet, and living habits.”18
Samuel Hahnemann, like Hippocrates, felt the need to remove the metaphysical, mystical, and supernatural elements of previous homeopathic practices and strictly adhere to the protocols he established with his research. Besides drugs derived from plant and animal sources, he “showed almost as strong a love of mineral, metals, and acids, dozens of which appeared in his meteria medica, as his great forebears Paracelsus and van Helmont.” He was more interested in discovering the specific relationships of certain medicines to certain diseases, to certain organs and tissues. He wanted to do away with the old methods that weren’t proven by research. He wasn’t interested in the influence of the stars, or of evil spirits, or witchcraft; he was including himself among the elite of the medical establishment finding the old ways of no value.19
No doubt, Hahnemann was very secretive about his research and medical sources only because he didn’t want anyone to know how many of his ideas and conclusions came from the writings of wizards and sorcerers, which would taint his medical position. Basically, he kept the scientific knowledge gained through research and experimentation and disposed of the mysterious and supernatural origins, speculations, and practices, thereby stripping out the fantasy and saving the science. Because of this, it is accurate to say that Hahnemann is the founder of modern homeopathy.
So, let’s answer the original question: should a Christian use homeopathy? My personal answer is, sure, if they want to – I see no Christian problem with someone approaching this avenue of problem solving, because it is not anti-Christian in modern practice. Since I am not a medical doctor, it is suggested, of course, one should check with a medical professional first, to inquire if there would be any harm in applying this approach to your particular situation (important: see disclaimer in Notes).20
Copyright © 2018, Dr. Ray Hermann
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References & Notes
- The Oxford English Dictionary, 2nd ed., (Oxford, England: Oxford University Press, 2000).
- “Samuel Hahnemann,” (Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., 12 June 2017), https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Samuel_Hahnemann
- “Anton von Störck,” (Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., 15 November 2016), https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anton_von_St%C3%B6rck
- Ibid., #2 above, (Hahnemann)
- “Homeopathy,” (Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., 31 July 2017), https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Homeopathy#History
- Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, 11th ed., (Springfield, MA: Merriam-Wester, Inc., 2003).
- Funk & Wagnalls New Encyclopedia, (USA: Funk & Wagnalls, Inc., 1986), vol. 13, p. 119.
- “Greek Medicine and Holistic Healing,” (retrieved 30 July 2017), http://www.greekmedicine.net/history/Greek_Medicine_and_Holistic_Healing.html
- “Paracelsus”, (Encyclopaedia Britannica, retrieved 2 August 2017), https://www.britannica.com/biography/Paracelsus
- “Jan Baptist van Helmont,” (Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., 22 June 2017)
- “James George Frazer,” (Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., 2 August 2017), https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/James_George_Frazer
- Frazer, James George; Gaster, Theodor H., (Eds.), The New Golden Bough: A New Abridgment of the Classic Work, (New York: Criterion Books, 1959), p. 7.
- “Papa Celestin,” (Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., 25 June 2017), https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Papa_Celestin
- Ibid., #12 above, (Frazer)
- Frazer, James George, The Golden Bough: A Study in Magic and Religion, (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1940), p. 38.
- Heiser, Michael S., “I Dare You Not to Bore Me with the Bible,” Bible Study Magazine, (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2014), p. 131.
- Ibid., p. 132.
- “Hippocrates,” (Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., 19 July 2017),
- Morrell, Peter, “The Secretive Hahnemann and the Esoteric Roots of Homeopathy,” (homeoint.org, retrieved 3 August 2017), http://www.homeoint.org/morrell/articles/esoteric.htm
- Author’s notes: (1) This is my standard qualifier or disclaimer, since I am not a medical doctor and do not offer medical advice in any manner. (2) This article is about someone asking for my religious opinion about an alternative medical practice that they thought may be contrary to Christian thought. It is my opinion that homeopathy is not anti-Christian in modern practice, but my opinion is not a suggestion, directive, or encouragement to try any alternative self-medication technique.