In the second part of this series of blog posts, I will explore the defining features of Hahnemann’s three miasms in greater depth. Beyond the original trio of Psora, Sycosis, and Syphilis, the concept of miasms has been broadly expanded by modern homeopaths to include other diseases and even non-disease conditions such as allopathic drug treatments. In part three of this series, I will discuss these modern ideas in more detail. This post will focus on the defining characteristics and identifying features of the original three miasms: psora (in Hahnemann’s theory originating from suppressed scabies infection), sycosis (originating from genital warts), and syphilis (originating from that disease, though not to be confused with it). When evaluating a patient under homeopathic treatment for the presence of a chronic miasm, the following are considered among the most important indications.
- Fear and Lack: the psoric miasm is considered to be more or less ubiquitous in modern populations, and so its true distinguishing features seem quite common, almost universal. The main issues which characterize psoric individuals are fear of the future, especially of poverty or lacking the resources to survive, fear of illness and accidents in general, accompanied by a constant sensation of lack: not enough safety, not enough money saved, not enough energy, not enough time. As a result, psoric individuals are usually hard working, thrifty, cautious, and responsible. They also tend to be conscientious about cleanliness and their appearance, which makes sense, as this miasm is a reaction to a disease born in filth and accompanied by a stigmatizing, highly contagious rash. Psoric people are likely to groom themselves neatly and conventionally while appearing in public, mow their lawns regularly, work dependably, save money for retirement, or in other words try to act and appear like most “normal,” respectable people. Occasionally, one or more of the opposite tendencies may be seen: a conspicuous lack of basic hygiene and grooming, a tendency to laziness and procrastination, or a selfishly entitled sense of greed. It is arguable that most of the greed in the world has its origin in the psoric miasm: periods of poverty, famine, scarcity, and want constantly occurring throughout generations have produced a world of reactionary people desperate to accumulate as much wealth as possible.
- Skin and Metabolism: the physical complaints of the psoric miasm tend to center around the metabolism and skin, with circulation often affected in some way. Hahnemann identified hundreds of symptoms he believed were attributable to psora, most of which point to disturbed circulation like congestive headaches, cold hands and feet, hemorrhoids, and reddened skin eruptions. In modern terms, most psoric patients have a notable present or past history of chronic skin diseases, like acne and eczema. There are also problems with metabolism, most often fatigue, chilliness, and stubborn weight gain, although some psoric patients complain of being always hot and may be lanky due to a seeming inability to put on weight. Mentally, shyness and insecurity predominate with anxiety and depression being common complaints. As it is the most common miasm, most common medical complaints that are chronic or recurring in nature tend to be psoric, especially colds, allergies, and digestive disorders.
- Past Medical History: the psoric miasm is linked to scabies, a contagious skin eruption caused by mites. Unlike the psoric miasm, the disease itself is uncommon today, mostly due to improvements in hygiene, and while Hahnemann argued that every modern family has some history of psora, he also argued the infections must have occurred quite far back in time to explain the miasm’s ubiquity. It is extremely unlikely that a psoric patient will have a reportable family history of scabies, though it is possible. Most commonly, a psoric family history involves high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity, type II diabetes, osteoarthritis, and a tendency for most ancestors to nonetheless live into ripe old age. Basically, the more common and unremarkable the family history seems, the more likely it is to be dominated by the psoric miasm.
- Caffeine: both of the world’s most popular beverages, coffee and tea, contain caffeine, and Hahnemann would have argued this widespread popularity is due to the widespread reach of the psoric miasm. While condemning the use of coffee, Hahnemann acknowledged that it seemed to partially and temporarily antidote the effects of the psoric miasm, and he argued that it is for this reason so many people become addicted to its use, and probably to caffeine in general. Because the psoric miasm is dominated by a feeling of lack, especially a lack of energy, focus, or time to complete one’s work, a reliance on caffeinated beverages is one of the strongest clues that an individual is psoric. If it is argued that this tendency is not unique because “everyone” today uses caffeine, the counter would be that “everyone” today is afflicted in some way with the psoric miasm, and so this makes perfect sense. In Hahnemann’s estimation, at least 99% of civilized people, if not 100% of them, are afflicted with the psoric miasm, due to the ubiquitous use throughout history of suppressive medical treatments. In modern practice, the best clue that the psoric miasm is dominant is simply that no other miasm seems to be present. In fact, according to Hahnemann’s theory when another miasm is present, the psoric miasm will exist as a certain layer underneath it, and will need to be treated in its turn once the overlying miasm resolves.
- Shame and Shamelessness: the sycotic miasm is believed to originate from badly treated or suppressed infection with gonorrhea or human papilloma virus. Both of these diseases, being sexually transmitted, are often accompanied by feelings of shame. The sycotic miasm itself is not understood to be a chronic infection with either of these microbes, but a residual impression left upon the organism that can be passed down and inherited. When this miasm is present, one of the most notable effects is upon the individual’s experience of shame: patients either experience excessive and unjustified shame, living as though they have some terrible secret to hide, or an utter lack of typical shame, usually manifesting as a pathological openness to intimacy with strangers and an irresistible compulsion to violate taboos. The former tendency to excessive shame may manifest as secretive and obsessive-compulsive behavior, and is often seen in individuals who choose to live in secluded communities according to rigid moralistic rules. The opposite tendency towards shameless behavior is more common, and clues to the presence of the sycotic miasm include precocious or excessive sexual activity, early experimentation with illicit drugs, and a general desire to push social boundaries which may lead to wild partying, extreme sports, or a brash preoccupation with sex appeal. This may manifest as a propensity toward extreme dieting and bodybuilding, especially if accompanied by extreme measures like plastic surgery and steroid use.
- Overgrowth: physically, the sycotic miasm produces a tendency to the overgrowth of otherwise healthy tissue, which is incidentally why bodybuilding often comes naturally to such people. Pathologically, this is seen as a tendency to produce warts, cysts, fibrotic tissue, and all sorts of benign tumors throughout the body. Because the sycotic miasm tends to displace the psoric miasm, essentially pushing it into the background, the skin of such individuals may appear exceptionally clear and healthy except for a notable tendency to develop warts.
- Past Medical History: because sexually transmitted diseases are often not documented in a patient’s family history, the patient’s own past medical history is most useful in uncovering this miasm. Any of the following will tend to point to the sycotic miasm: severe diaper rash, asthma or frequent urinary tract infections beginning in early infancy, cruelty to animals or incestuous behavior in children, and often an unusual number of severe injuries (as a consequence of wild, reckless behavior). Indeed, because the vital force is so inclined to excess, these individuals often seem indestructible in their youth, pushing their bodies to wild extremes and overcoming horrific accidents in a way that suggests an almost superhuman vitality, only to then suffer with premature breakdown as they age. Joint pains and sinus congestions that are worse in damp weather are common and may point to this miasm.
- Cannabis: the sycotic miasm has a peculiar relationship towards cannabis: not only is cannabis indicated homeopathically for sycotic complaints, but people within this miasm tend to be drawn towards its use. Hahnemann noted a strong relationship between coffee and the psoric miasm, arguing that psoric people crave coffee because it partially antidotes the miasm’s effects. In the same way, cannabis seems to partially antidote the effects of the sycotic miasm, especially a sense of vague, hurried anxiety that often accompanies this miasm. Coupled with the miasm’s tendency to transgress rules and boundaries, this makes early or frequent cannabis use a surprisingly good indicator of the sycotic miasm. While not all users of cannabis are sycotic, and not everyone within the sycotic miasm will use cannabis, it remains an important clue.
- Violence and Suspicion: syphilis was once an extremely common disease. Before germ theory explained it as a bacterial infection, it was believed to be a divine punishment for immoral sexual behavior. An old saying went “an evening with Venus, a lifetime with Mercury,” referring to mercury as the notably punishing treatment for what used to be a lifelong illness, typically spread through prostitution. When the syphilitic miasm is present in an individual, it is characterized by a pervasive attitude of suspicion, sometimes amounting to profound superstitious beliefs or conspiracy-driven paranoia, as if the individual is living under a constant fear of being punished. There is also usually an obsession with dealing punishment in the form of violent or destructive tendencies, sometimes even cruelly sadistic behavior. Affected individuals often harbor a morbid preoccupation with horror, death and gore, and many instances of violent crime are believed in homeopathy to arise from this miasm. That being said, most modern people within the syphilitic miasm are not manifestly cruel to others, but instead vent this tendency upon themselves in the form of self-mutilation or other self-destructive acts: this can range from anything as mild and innocent as a piercing, up to the most extreme forms of self-harm. Old works of materia medica speak of an impulse to stab upon seeing a knife as a common symptom of the syphilitic miasm, which in modern people often takes the form of an obsession with piercings, gauges, and tattoos. Whereas a sycotic individual may be drawn to tattoos and piercings as a way to misbehave or enhance sex appeal, individuals in the syphilitic miasm take a darker, even self-sabotaging approach, and may use these devices in extreme to make themselves appear frightening, disturbed, or even downright loathsome to others. One aspect of the syphilitic miasm is a difficulty connecting to others: this can manifest in some cases as stuttering or autistic spectrum disorders, or simply as a manner of behavior and dress that seems to shout, “stay away from me.”
- Destruction and Ulceration: the disease of chronic syphilis tends to progressively destroy the individual, first by ulcerating the skin and later by attacking from inside with a predilection to target the bones, teeth, and nervous system. Having the syphilitic miasm is not the same thing as having chronic syphilis, but when otherwise common health issues afflict such individuals, they tend to follow a similar pattern of violence and destruction. Sore throats have a tendency to ulcerate, acne lesions leave pitting scars, and mental breakdowns tend to result in destructive or violent behavior. There is also, as with the disease itself, a tendency for problems with the bones and teeth. It is notable that mercury was a historical treatment for syphilis, as well historically the most common metal used to fill dental caries. Any mental disturbance resulting in actual violent behavior, or physical disturbance resulting in the permanent destruction of affected tissue, can be considered syphilitic in the homeopathic sense and often indicates the presence of this miasm.
- Past Medical History: the incidence of syphilis reached its peak in the 18th century and is unlikely to be documented in a patient’s family history. Important clues to the syphilitic miasm in a family lineage include alcoholism, violent deaths especially by suicide, and any premature death that seems to strike suddenly and unexpectedly. Fatal heart attacks before the age of 50, sudden lethal conditions like dissecting aneurysms, rapidly destructive bone cancers, and profound mental illnesses requiring incarceration are strong indications of this miasm’s predominance. Additionally, of all the miasms, the syphilitic miasm is most strongly associated with birth defects, especially of the bones, teeth, and heart.
- Alcohol: the chronic miasms may explain many of humanity’s addictions, and the one which seems to most attract individuals in the syphilitic miasm is alcohol. While all the miasms may use alcohol, the tendency to become dependent on alcohol in an addictive, harmful, and eventually destructive way is usually an indication of the syphilitic miasm. Whenever there is a pronounced family history of alcoholism, especially within the context of profound depression, violence, or suicide, the syphilitic miasm should be suspected.