Dynamic Materia Medica: A Study of the Syphilitic Miasm by JEREMY SHERR, RSHom
11 remedies and a detailed review of the Syphilitic miasm and its remedies! Written by an internationally respected teacher of homeopathy!
Remedies include: Androctonus amoreuxii Hebraeus (scorpion), Aurur met, Haliaeetus leucocephalus (eagle), Guaiacum, Hepar sulphur, Phytolacca, Platina, Sitllingia sylvatica, Syphilinum, Thallium, Iridium Plumbum
REVIEW FROM “THE HOMEOPATH” (reprinted with permission)
Dynamic Materia Medica Syphilis
by Jeremy Sherr
Dynamis Books, UK, 2002 hardback, pp280. ISBN 1 901147045.
Reviewed by Nick Hewes
All homeopaths are secretly fascinated by the syphilitic miasm – it’s our very own slice of tabloid prurience, tantalising us with lurid tales of sex and violence, which offer us temporary relief from the psoric (prosaic?) grind of our daily working lives. So perhaps it is no accident that Jeremy Sherr, a marketing genius, has chosen the third miasm, syphilis, as the starting point of his examination of the miasms. The logical place to have begun would surely have been psora, but the latter has none of the enticing allure of syphilis: – the fact is, that as we sail westwards from psora, through sycosis and thence to syphilis, the miasms appear to become progressively more interesting, more tormented and more sexy. It may be top shelf material, but it will definitely sell.
The book comes not in a brown paper bag, but rather with handsome hard covers, and superior binding, having been stitched into robust sections. (One wonders why the other Dynamis books, especially the two volumes of provings, which are after all designed for constant reference, are not also boundin this way.)
In the opening chapter Jeremy introduces us to his use of ‘the verb’ as a method of analysis – “As homeopaths dealing with dynamic forces we should pay more attention to verbs than to nouns” he says, noting that conventional medicine deals mainly with nouns, in its attempt to frame every dynamic state of illness within the static confines of a fixed label. ‘The verb’ simply represents the repeated pattern of a patient’s ‘life action’, or function, which resonates on all levels, mental, emotional and physical. This faulty function is mirrored by a pathological sensation, or feeling. In this way, sensation and function create each other, with the returning logic of a ball bouncing off a wall.
This explanatory chapter is important because, at the end of each of the later chapters describing the various (carious?) syphilitic remedies, an attempt is made to find the relevant verb of the remedy under discussion. The chapter on Aurum, for example, ends with this summary:
“Sensation: too high, too low. Function: Must climb up to fall down.”
As someone who has always struggled with using ‘the verb’, I only wish Jeremy had published this chapter separately as an instruction manual ten years ago, as it really does project his ideas with crystalline clarity.
The bulk of the book then goes on to examine a dozen or so of our main syphilitic remedies. In order to draw out the dominant themes of that miasm, Jeremy employs various innovative and colourful methods, the most obvious of which is the use of poetry. Many of these are by Jeremy himself; all of them are readable, some are very good, and two or three are stunning. Some of the poems appear in a ‘split frame’ format, which allows the verse on one side to be complemented by a remedy’s proving symptoms on the opposite page. Take, for example, these lines on Aurum:
“Love of dejection Savouring pain Resuming the journey I’m climbing again.”
On the opposite page, we find this proving symptom from Hahnemann: “He
imagines that he finds everywhere some obstacle in his way.” Although our eyes have to track back and forth from verse to prose, a process that slightly interrupts our assimilation of the poem, the reader benefits because one is forced to understand the remedy from both left and right sides of the brain. At the very least, it’s an enjoyable way of studying a proving. (Incidentally, regarding these lines on Aurum, why was there absolutely no mention in the book of the Greek figure, Sisyphus, who, as a punishment for cheating death, was condemned to endlessly roll a huge rock up a hill, which was always doomed, Aurum-like, to roll back to the bottom again? His name, after all, is closer to the word ‘syphilis’ than almost any other word in our language.)
Apart from his own poems, Jeremy uses quotations, images and archetypes from many other sources, so that we may have cherries with our medicine. The portrait of Androctonos for example, is given a vivid splash of contemporary colour with a discussion of that extremely dangerous scorpion, Saddam – “cold hearted, cruel, cunning and violent”. There are also extensive quotations from the poem that gave syphilis its name, Girolamo Fracastoro’s Syphilis Sive Morbus Gallicus. Although a renaissance work, Fracastoro’s poem serves to remind us that syphilis has ancient, biblical roots, which penetrate to a distant, Arcadian past. It wasn’t invented by Columbus, only rediscovered.
In his remedy descriptions Jeremy writes skilfully, often embedding particular key words within a text in an encoded, almost cryptic style. When discussing Syphilinum, for example, he writes of “the need to fill gaping holes in our materia medica.” On Kent’s mention of razors in his Hepar sulphuris lecture he writes: “This well known and cutting quote from Kent has caused some contention. Sensibilities are offended.” The pinnacle of the book though, is the short lecture on Platina. Without wishing to abase myself with spaniellike gestures of selfobeisance, I have to say that I have not read a better dissection of that remedy, anywhere.
One of the most striking innovations in Syphilis is the use of geometric shapes and forms in order to help us to understand miasmatic disease processes. In Syphilinum, for example, the central image is of parallel lines that can never join, “doomed to travel an endless, lifeless path, without so much as a curve…there is no end”. (We see these lines of course in the bilateral syphilitic headaches.) The opposing function of this linear separation is “to converge to a point”, which we see delineated in Mercury’s “desire to kill with a knife”, in Platina’s feeling of being cut in two, in Hepar’s throat-slashing barber, in the eye-stabbing needles of Androctonos, and in the ulcerated triangles of tibia and nose.
This use of geometry is dextrous and convincing, but it has the paradoxical effect of slightly undercutting Jeremy’s earlier insistence on the primacy of ‘the verb’ as an analytical tool. For, is it not possible, as Sheldrake states in A New Science of Life, that form (in this case triangles, lines and points) is primary to energy and action? It is certainly the case that images and forms tend to be more recognisable and memorable than actions, and therefore may be of more use to homeopaths. In the end though, form and action must always come together, as a package (see the Organon, aphorism 15, on the duality of the body and the vital force: “…the two constitute a unity, although in thought our mind separates this unity into two distinct conceptions…”).
At the end of the book, the striking points of the various syphilitic remedies are drawn together, in an attempt to find the ‘synthesis’ of the miasm. The breathtaking conclusion is that syphilis is merely an acute form of psora – the parallel lines of syphilis are really only extensions of the tedious psoric split of male from female, whilst the “converging to a point” is the compensatory compulsion to join right and left (sometimes also known as sex), expressed even by the desperate, endless handwashing of Syphilinum. In the end then, after all the lurid pages of tabloid sleaze, we return once more to the old, psoric story of a boy and a girl who wander, unthinking, into an orchard, and pick the wrong apple from the wrong tree: – there is, after all, “no new thing under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 1 :9). This connection between the two miasms reminded me of my own lightweight theorising from a couple of years back, which went something like this: – psora implies a desire for others to die (due to a feeling that one must struggle to survive), whilst syphilis manifests as a desire to kill them (because the imperative to survive has become much more desperate and compelling).
What is there to say in criticism of Syphilis? On a personal level, I felt deeply affronted that there was absolutely no mention of Hull, my home town: – this is, after all, the place where archaeologists recently discovered irrefutable evidence of syphilitic lesions on the disinterred shinbones of thirteenth century monks, thus proving that syphilis existed in Europe long before Columbus’ voyage to the Americas. Hull, still deeply syphilitic, is, on the face of it, a filthy, wretched place, and the city could well have benefited from a public relations campaign, exalting its glorious past as ‘European Cradle of the Pox’. A rebranding opportunity has definitely been missed.
Another possible minus point is the amount of space given to a new proving of Phytolacca – fifty pages in all. Although this part of the book offered some startling insights into our favourite tonsillitis remedy, the proving could surely have benefited from some discrete but ruthless editorial slashing. One reflects fondly upon Timothy Allen’s ‘mind’ section of the proving of Arsenicum album: – its three pages tell us all we will ever need to know about the mental state of that remedy, a fact that will always slightly undermine the flatulent verbosity of the average modern prover.
Thirdly, there are perhaps too many silly typographical errors – lower case where there should be higher case, semi-colons where there should be colons – that seem out of place in a work which is otherwise of such high quality.
On the whole, though, Syphilis is a lovely book. At times it seems to give unearthly glimpses of a potential higher reality – an intimation of the spiritual radiance that enlightens our alchemical journey. One realises that homeopathy can no longer be bracketed simply as a form of medicine, because it has the potential to be art, science, drama, philosophy and more, containing all of life’s forms within itself. The idea of confining homeopathy within a purely medical framework seems sadly narrowing and retrograde, especially when seen against the open spirit of Jeremy’s innovative work, which invites us, rather, to “Rise together Through the clouds As on wings.”