Edward Christopher Whitmont: a timeline
Edward Weissberg was the only child born, after many miscarriages, on 5th December, 1912, to a couple who had migrated to Vienna from Poland (now Ukraine). His father was said to be an illiterate furrier who never managed to adapt to his new language and economic situation, who abused his wife and resented his son’s gifts. Later, while a student, he worked to support his parents.
At the Wasa grammar school, Latin and Greek were the order of the day but also German literature (among whom, Hahnemann’s contemporaries). While some of his teachers were 'sadists', his class teacher from the age of eleven was a devotee of Goethe and implemented a system of classroom democracy. Already as a youth, Edi Weissberg belonged to a social milieu that was passionate about Schubert piano playing, psychology, anthroposophy, socialism, walking in the Alps and the thirst for a universal education. This became a way for them to forget their Jewishness and embrace Viennese cultural life to the full, with its coffee houses and, above all, the opera - preferably Wagner. **
After hesitating between music and medicine, he chose the latter and graduated from the University of Vienna in 1936. As he was unable to bear the bloody process of dissection, he gravitated towards psychology, alchemy and homeopathy, especially within a small group led by anthroposophist and physician Karl König from 1936. For them, the purely psychological explanation of life was not sufficient, yet he remained skeptical of some of the current spiritual excesses.
As an outspoken socialist, he was wanted by the Gestapo, from whom he escaped by emigrating to the USA, arriving on 15th September, 1938; through his smartness, he survived but his parents died in Auschwitz and, to the end of his days, he retained a deep feeling of survival guilt. Once in New York, he connected with the pushy environment and reinvented himself for a second time, changing his name to Edward Christopher Whitmont and marrying, in 1940, a girl from the anthroposophical background, Gretchen Foltz.
During the 1940s, he learned a more rigorous form of homeopathy from another anthroposophist, Elizabeth Wright Hubbard. He taught homeopathy between 1947-51 and, from the 1950s, collaborated with Maesimund Panos. His interest in analytical psychology was kindled and, after the war, he deepened his training after seeking out the Jungian analyst Gustav Heyer in Berlin. Heyer had been a member of the National Socialist Party and Jung would have nothing more to do with him, though Whitmont tried unsuccessfully to arrange a meeting between the two.†
With his co-founding, in 1962, of the C.G. Jung Foundation in New York, there followed a period that lasted the rest of his life, in which he was very present on the scene, innovative, popular as analyst with his students, and a family man with five children and a weekend house in Connecticut.
From around 1948, his growing practice with patients consisted increasingly of an eclectic gestalt form of psychotherapy, supported by homeopathy whenever he saw an appropriate remedy picture.‡ “He wanted to find a different level of listening as a homeopath.”* Going a stage further than Jung, he always sought an embodied response to unconscious material.≠
These were decades when homeopathy itself was under a cloud. Articles on homeopathy, written mainly between 1948 and 1955, were finally collected together in book form in 1980. However, The Alchemy of Healing, 1993, considered by some to be a central thesis for homeopathy and the healing art, is not widely read.
The last phase, the fifteen years up to 21st September, 1998, has a special atmosphere, characterised from all accounts by an inner transformation.
For Whitmont, it was not good enough just to combine homeopathy and psychotherapy. He wanted to find out what each on its own had to offer. Had he lived, his next book was going to be an exploration of the relative therapeutic domains proper to each. ◊
This is a tale he told to a conference, in England, in 1993:
He gave a remedy to a patient, after which, she had a dream of there being feathers in her mouth. She agreed, then, that they try physically stuffing feathers into her mouth. After they had done this, her memory came back of a childhood incident in which, as a young girl living on a farm, her uncle took her into a barn. He used chicken feathers to stop her from screaming, as they were to hand.
Here, we have the interplay of psychotherapy and homeopathy. Sometimes, the only way forward is by dreaming, working with the unknowable.
* Sarah Schaleger, personal communication, 2012, on which, for the most part, this article is based.
** H.W. Francke, Hans Schauder: Vienna - My Home, privately published by Agathe Dawson, Edinburgh, 2002.
† Thomas B. Kirsch, The Jungians: A comparative and historical perspective, Routledge, London, 2000
≠ Joyce Ashley, Edward Christopher Whitmont (December 5, 1912–September 21, 1998), The San Francisco Jung Institute Library Journal, 17:3, 1998, pp.75-76
Dana Ullman, personal communication, 2012.
‡ Edward Whitmont, personal communication, 1994.
◊ Nicholas Nossaman, 1) The Homeopath, No 72, 1999. 2) personal communication, 2012.
Photo: Edward Weissberg as a young man, by courtesy of Sarah Schaleger