This weekend, the Alliance of Registered Homeopaths will be holding their AGM. On the same day, they will be offering their members some Continuing Professional Development with a course on the ‘healing potential’ of fossils.
According to Martine Mercy, who will be giving the course, fossils represent “powerful healing from the dawn of time” and “are minerals with a difference, due to their geometrical markings and inscribed memories.” Mercy tells us she trained as a chiropractor, but now practises as a homeopath specialising in using fossil remedies. She describes fossils as “memorised vibrations.”
Homeopaths regularly have CPD courses like this. They are told it is a vital part of being ‘professional’. And the fun is that there will always be plenty of scope for all sorts of courses on the wildest of subjects. Since the rituals involved in preparing homeopathic remedies pretty much ensure you will always be left with plain water, then the starting subjects can be as bizarre as you like. No wonder we see homeopaths specialising in fossils as cures – just like we see specialists in shipwrecks, hyena saliva, the light from Venus and vacuum cleaner dust. After the repeated magic dilution and banging on a leather bible, the starting point is erased, leaving plain sugar pills or water drops. There are no limits. Pick, dilute and shake.
So how does Martine Mercy know what her fossil remedies will treat? Homeopaths use ‘provings’ to answer this question. The standard way to do this is to take the resultant sugar pill, give it to a group of ‘provers’ and ask them to keep a diary of any symptoms, feelings and emotions they experience over the coming weeks. The resultant, arbitrary list becomes the list of symptoms that homeopaths can try to match with patients according to their law of “like cures like”. Just as the remedies are arbitrary, so are the list of resultant symptoms. And as such, we might expect some variation in how provings are done as it does not really matter one jot what they do.
And indeed we see this, with homeopaths inventing new proving techniques such as performing ‘meditative provings’, where provers simply try to intuit what the remedy will do. A step further and dream provings rely on placing the pills under your pillow and recording what you dream about.
Martine Mercy has not just invented her own remedies, but also inventing her own proving techniques. We all like to wish we could combine our hobbies with our work and Martine has managed just that by creating the concept of Watercolour Provings. Martine paints the fossils and then asks people to meditate on them, recording their emotional responses and also her own whilst doing the painting. Thus we can work out what the fossils will treat.
An example: Martine has proven a remedy made from fossil belemnites (pictured). Belemnites are extinct cephalopods. They had ink sacs and ten arms and are related to cuttlefish. The fossils we find are the long bullet-shaped rostrums, the rear of the shell, that aided buoyancy, and they preserve very well. As a kid, we would find hundreds of them in the local quarry. However, the long shell would tend to be found broken up – and so, Martine has associated her remedy with feelings of ‘brokenness’. This stuff is not rocket science.
What Martine is doing, of course, is not producing medicine from fossils but practicing a form of fossilised medicine. We are witnessing the faint imprints of an earlier way of thinking about health from a time before science. Homeopathy is our window into an earlier world of protomedicine. Nonetheless, it is worth reminding us that it is quite possible to be prescribed fossil remedies on the NHS. The remnant, vestigial homeopathic hospitals are still funded by public money and this bizarre magic can be practiced and expensed to our taxes. This is quite an extraordinary fact. It is like finding trilobites, not in the Natural History Museum, but a little further North, swimming around in the mud of the Serpentine. But of course, trilobites were once real creatures – homeopathy never was effective medicine. It was an early, failed attempt to create a universal law of medicine, based on even earlier philosophies of healing.
Indeed, this fossilised medicine has its roots in the earlier concept of the doctrine of signatures. This idea was based on the concept that the living world was a divine, harmonious creation that was given to humans and filled with pervasive signs of the purpose of each part of that creation. Thus, illness could be treated by looking for the deep linkage between the natural world and the human body. Animal, vegetable and mineral all had significance in the human world. Yellow plants would be linked to the liver; orchids to the testicles, walnuts to the head, and so on.
Fossils were also used in ancient times according to the doctrine of signatures. Gryphaea, an extinct oyster, often called the Devil’s Toenails, were often used for arthritic joints due to their resemblance to contorted shapes. This ‘like-cures-like’ approach to finding cures was adopted by the founder of homeopathy, Hahnemann. Whereas, visual appearance was the usual source of the important signature, Hahnemann looked for signatures in the symptoms induced by various plants and concoctions. However, as we see with the practices of Martine Mercy, homeopathy is very adaptable and has, in her approach, reverted to a more straightforward form of the sympathetic magic that is the doctrine of signatures. Her responses to the visual appearances of the fossils and her paintings of them are the driving force in her work.
Darwin came along and showed the doctrine of signatures cannot be true. A plant or animal cannot evolve a trait that would benefit humans at its expense. Humans are not the centre of creation with all other living things designed to serve our own needs. The doctrine of signature is not a scientific concept but a superstitious one – a spiritual belief, if you like and a reflection of a belief in a benevolent god. The homeopathic concept of like-cures–like similar fails the plausibility test of basic science. Why should the world exist to provide remedies for us? It does not and cannot.
But, the appeal of homeopathy may well lie in this alluring, intuitive and spiritual view of health and our place in the world. The mechanistic and impersonal approaches of scientific medicine may leave people feeling they are lacking important aspects of their expectations about healing. Homeopathy, and its practitioners, provide a meaning and linkage to more general beliefs about where people fit into the world. This may well also help explain why homeopaths and many of their patients get so hostile when their practices are criticised. The critic may well be doubting the science of what they are doing, but to the believer, their very being is under attack. The definition of themselves and their relationship to the natural world, their spirit and god is under threat. Attack homeopathy and you attack their very definition of themselves.