Edward Whitmont in perspective
This essay explores the thinking and mindset of Whitmont, how he was influenced by and used homeopathy and also what influence he has had on homeopathy. Whitmont shows that homeopathy has been very willing to learn from Jung and Alchemy, but Jungian analysts seem not to have shown so great a willingness to learn very much from homeopathy.
Edward Whitmont graduated from the Vienna Medical School in 1936. (1, 2, 3) and specialised in psychology, studying Adler (2) and Jung (1, 3). He escaped from the Nazis by emigrating to the USA in 1938; both his parents died in Auschwitz. (3) He was trained in homeopathy in New York by Elizabeth Wright Hubbard in the 1940s (1), and he then collaborated closely, as friend and associate, with Maesimund Panos from the 1950s on. (4) He taught homeopathy courses in the US 1947-51, but he had first come across it in Vienna along with anthroposophy under Karl König (2, 5), where he had also studied Steiner (1, 2) and alchemy (3, 5, 6, 9). He saw many important parallels and correspondences between Jungian psychotherapy and homeopathy and traced their origins back through figures like Goethe and the Romantics, (5) to Paracelsus and alchemy (6). He made useful contributions to both psychotherapy and homeopathy.
Edward Whitmont represents a fertile and revolutionary approach, pioneered from the 1950s on, that eventually found great favour a generation later and has since become more or less absorbed into the mainstream. It extends the original idea of Hahnemann in his attempt to answer the question of what a drug is most useful and suitable for, what type of sickness and what type of individual. In this matching process that homeopaths must all inevitably employ, the proving became the solution to the age-old issue concerning symptom correspondence and fine detail.
What psychology, and Whitmont in particular, supplied to homeopathy was the means to understand remedies as personalities, going beyond the mere facts of the proving, fleshing out the proving into more credible, vivid and realistic images of real people. (see Gladwin) This approach was emphasized by Kent and has since been adopted and extended by people like Philip Bailey. It usefully illuminates the specific issues that each person or remedy face, and which signs to look for both in the proving and in the patient. This greatly assists the matching process.
Trained in Adlerian and Jungian psychology, he viewed remedies as people, through their failures and successes, their strengths and weaknesses. By exploring their unresolved underlying tensions, Whitmont was able to enrich and deepen our understanding of remedies in their essence. That in turn enabled the homeopathic consultation to become a therapeutic event in itself.
His long-time familiarity with the work of Rudolph Steiner sharpened his perception of materia medica, making it a vehicle for understanding human sickness, as well as the wider problems of humanity, in terms of an interplay between symbolic polarising forces. He thus universalised the issues that we encounter in our study of materia medica and in case-taking.
Four key elements are visible in his work, which we can take or leave as we wish: homeopathy pure, alchemy, anthroposophy and Jungian psychology. However, bound up with these are various aspects of medieval and modern thinking about connections, correspondences and energy fields, creating in all a 'rich soup' of ideas for the reader. It is therefore pretty clear from reading his works that he viewed homeopathy primarily through a Jungian lens and saw in homeopathic drug pictures the abundant symbolism of archetypes, polarities and unresolved repressed psychological tensions. This mixture formed the basis of his discussions of individual remedies.
Whitmont the man
Whitmont had a big impact on people who knew him: People noticed "his gentle, quiet, and humble way... Dr. Whitmont’s humility, intelligence, and never-ending search for truth in meaning." (7) "Walking with him, I admired the quick step of someone who enjoys nature, and moreover, loves to move, to ascend, to overcome obstacles, to break new ground continuously. He was young, very young - physically and mentally." (2)
He was "a classic ectomorph, short, wiry, Whitmont had a restless nervous energy, a quick and creative mind. He was forever dissatisfied with what he knew, constantly exploring new avenues, prodded along by a Merlin-like quick silvery intuition." (8, p.145) Generously sharing his knowledge with respect and affection... His passion for life extended to nature. He loved to climb mountains and walk in the forest. Above all else, he was an evolving, struggling human being, fully “in the soup,” confronting his own shadow to the very end." (3)
His writings have proved insightful: "Dr Whitmont's erudition is immense, but his style is deceptively simple and easy to read. It is not so easy to retain what one has read because of the depth and complexity of the ideas presented, and the further perspectives which they indicate. (1)
– ego and dark ego, and setting boundaries
Whitmont describes the young child as existing in "the state of unconscious wholeness," (9, p.206) with unlimited psychic potential, some of which gets encouraged, realised and developed through life experience, and some that does not. The child is testing, experimenting and adapting. In this manner, the 'unmoulded' psyche manifests a variety of impulses and attitudes to parents and others. Some of them get validated and as acceptable, while others are rejected and repressed. Thus, what we might ordinarily call the 'personality'—but what he calls the light or daytime ego—emerges gradually, as we grow up, while the unused and repressed parts become the 'dark ego' or 'shadow.' (9, p.204; 10, p.216; 4; 11, p.43; 12, p.110) It is this dark ego that forms the main focus of psychotherapeutic exploration.
Parents set boundaries for the growing child, such as right and wrong, good and bad, masculine and feminine. Such boundaries do not exist in the unmoulded psyche but have to be learned, established and repeatedly reinforced. It can be a painful process, meeting with the child’s resistance. Jungians call this the separation of the ego from the Self.
The only thing that can harm one is that which is hidden from view. The more violently or rigidly the boundaries have been imposed upon the child, his will thwarted and the 'unwanted' material repressed, the more likely it is that trouble lies ahead. Setting rigid boundaries strengthens and clearly defines the daytime ego but at the same time strengthens the dark ego. A more balanced person can be defined as someone whose boundaries are in constant dynamic adaptation, who has accepted and embraces both aspects of his psyche. Repressed impulses remain strong and active, impelling the person to act in irrational and inexplicable ways.
All those elements that were not deemed as acceptable by one's peers and parents become welded in the unconscious into a 'shadow self' or ‘dark ego,’ that holds all those qualities which we dislike in ourselves and in others. According to this scenario, what we dislike most in others are the potentials in ourselves that we were unable to see fulfilled in our development. Thus the world and society mirrors in many ways the key elements of our dark ego and spawns tensions, conflicts, polarities and unresolved anxieties that reside within us.
The discarded and unvalidated impulses in ego formation are like bricks that were left over when the ego was being built. Corresponding to archetypes, they lie dormant as the dark ego. They are often polar opposites of the dominant ones in our usual personality and can pull us this way and that compulsively. They become active and manifest in dreams and daydreams and form part of the 'inner chatter' against which we measure and evaluate ourselves, our life goals, and what we see as our successes and our failures. In men, the feminine is a key part of the dormant repressed 'dark ego,' while in women it is the masculine that takes this subordinate role.
During sleep, the boundaries defining the daytime ego become blurred and then dissolve completely such that all aspects of the psyche can become accessible to the conscious awareness. They appear to us in dreams, using "the symbolic language of the unconscious" (9, p.207) and analysis is able to bring them into the light. Dreams are viewed as dramatisations of various unresolved issues in the unconscious: "dreams are allegoric and symbolic statements from a universal information bank." (13, pp.15-16) By exploring them with help from the analyst, the analysand is able to see and come to terms with the issues that are of concern to him. The patient becomes whole again by "integration of unconscious material into conscious awareness." (10, p.240) Whitmont and others realised, too, that homeopathic remedies likewise can greatly assist in this bringing of issues to the surface.
Whitmont refers variously to the "daylight ego," (13, p.14) the "habitual ego consciousness," (13, p.15) or "the ego consciousness," (13, p.15) that stands in sharp contrast to the "non-ego or non-personal psyche," (13, p.15) which he regards as the deeper source of our mental and emotional activity. "The prime human motivations are pre-rational and unconscious. We do not understand them unless we have learned to decipher the primordial language of symbolic images which happens to be the spontaneous mode of expression of the pre-rational unconscious psyche." (15, p.56) "The functioning of the ego is based on rationality and will. It is power-oriented." (15, p.57) "The logical rationality of the ego has pushed emotion, intuition, and image into the shadows of the margin." (10, p.216) In this view, "the language of the Self is that of images, feelings, metaphors and symbols, called mythopoetic in contrast to the verbal, rational language of the ego.." (10, p.241)
As a Jungian, he especially values dreams: "dreams are allegoric and symbolic statements from a universal information bank," (13, pp.15-16) emerging from the non-ego psyche; a dream is a "performance that mirrors our inner reality." (13, p.20) During sleep, the normal waking ego is disengaged and fades from view, and aspects of the primordial ego, with its cargo of unresolved issues, can take the stage. And so, in dreams otherwise unconscious aspects of the repressed dark ego come more to the fore and into play, which is why dreams are so important in Jungian analysis. They reveal to the therapist where our tensions and conflicts lie.
The purpose of therapy, and of dream analysis in particular, is to explore these hidden aspects of the psyche, bringing them into conscious awareness, and so to release the hidden tensions within us. "He applies his theory of the actualization of archetypes to explain the emergence of the ego out of the self through body experience." (12, p.112) The connection to homeopathy comes through looking at the dark and light elements in drug pictures and seeing these polarities in actual people. In his practice, and his view of the person, he also blends all of this with the symbolism of medieval alchemy which he derived from his study of Paracelsus as well as various Steinerian concepts.
To summarise, Whitmont describes Jungian psychotherapy as a system for understanding the mind and for helping individuals who have unresolved psychological tensions and issues. These are viewed as remnants of difficulties that have been repressed into the subconscious mind during childhood and which therefore have a power to make us act compulsively and irrationally without knowing why or being able to stop it. He thus views the purpose of psychotherapy as the bringing into conscious awareness that which lies hidden in the unconscious, by bringing into the light that which is in the dark. (9, p.206) By repeatedly bringing such problems into the open, they are deemed gradually to dissolve and their power fade away, leaving the patient released in greater freedom and happiness. This is achieved through one-to-one discussion, group work, dream analysis and dramatisation.
Whitmont’s view of health and healing took in a broad sweep of modalities that included “a post-quantum view (along with) Paracelsus, I Ching and Jung's workings on alchemy, synchronicity and the collective unconscious”. (6, p.146) It was rooted in the fundamental aspects of our lives. Life is full of tensions and disappointments: "whichever way we turn we cannot avoid crisis, pain and disease." (16, p.9) We all experience "tension, stress, conflict, repressions, depression and disappointment." (16, p.9) Some of these give rise to sickness.
Whitmont points up the value of "the ancient recognition of the potency of natural resources for healing. Our Post-Enlightenment Western society, rooted in a rational, empirical way of looking at the world, resists the notion of ‘folklore, gods and healing’. The ancients lived intimately attuned to natural resources (including dreaming) and movements of the cosmos, and were therefore in a position to benefit from the restorative properties of these sources." (17, p.126) Whitmont saw sickness and proving symptoms as an "interplay of polarizing forms." (13, p.vii) He regarded remedies as "substances administered in the ultramolecular transmaterial form." (13, p.viii) Each remedy embodies "a specific personality type," (13, p.x) each one "representing aspects of the human life-drama." (13, p.4) It is through potentisation that drugs reveal their "specific dynamic characteristics," (13, p.6) in the patient, behaving like "transmaterial fields." (13, p.7)
Whitmont makes a grand synthesis between homeopathy, humanity and cosmology when he depicts the "patterns underlying the human microcosm and outer macrocosm in mutual analogy and reflection." (13, p.8) For him, homeopathy illustrates the ancient alchemical notion that "various states of human consciousness are encoded in various mineral, plant and animal substances...they slumber in these materials waiting for their unfolding on the human level," (13, 18) which become manifest only in the homeopathic provings. He also feels that homeopathy is firmly linked "to his post-quantum understanding of the universe." (6) Potentisation of a drug, "while dematerialising on the molecular level, preserves its specific dynamic characteristics and intensifies its energetic change." (6)
He describes homeopathic remedies as "transcendental patterns prior to and playing with substance, directing the life force." (16, p.8) For every "illness pattern there is also a substance pattern 'out there' which minutely duplicates it." (16, p.10) Homeopathy is "a phenomenologically descriptive field." (16, p.17) "Hahnemann developed his theory not on the basis of speculation, but as the result of pure observation." (16, p.40) He regarded both Jung and Hahnemann as great empiricists, formulating their systems from direct careful observation almost devoid of theories. The "totality of symptoms," (16, p.55) forms the sole reliable guide to the remedy. With the provings, homeopathy "has amassed a tremendous amount of reliable experimental material." (16, p.81) He regarded the symptoms of the provings as a field of facts just as real as the symbols and archetypes of Jung’s psychology. And between these two bodies of information he saw massive correspondences.
Whitmont built bridges between homeopathy and psychotherapy. He seems to have seen remedies as somehow akin to archetypes, which means treating them in a non-causative, non-linear, phenomenological way, perceiving simply and without judgement the issues and tensions in the person, as mirrored in the provings. For him this bridge-building enriched and deepened the matching process but it also opened up the homeopathic consultation to a wider Jungian perspective of letting patients 'reveal themselves' (as they must) to the homeopath, and in the process, watching while the mental archetypes that typify the remedy come tumbling forth. His view of the psychological benefits to the patient of this type of consultation was also strongly coloured by his background in psychotherapy. He therefore began to apply to remedies the same process that he had long been familiar with for patients.
All of this connects both with the therapeutic aspects of the homeopathic consultation and also in the polarities we can see in the drug pictures. Therefore, what Whitmont has to say greatly and profoundly enriches the work of homeopaths. His contribution therefore amounts to a lot more than merely fleshing out the mental aspects of drug pictures a wee bit. Furthermore, the phenomenon of somatisation of dark ego issues means that Jungian analysis is directly related to all therapeutic interventions, including homeopathy. There is an interplay between the unconscious mind and actual bodily ailments not just in terms of how we might feel about aspects of our body.
He saw each remedy/person compassionately, and very much as individual fragments or splinters broken from a much broader mosaic of human suffering. The issues that his work brought to light, concerning damaged self-worth, betrayal, rapture, shyness, lack of confidence, courage, salvation, self-harm, jealousy, anger, hatred, fear, anxiety, self-loathing, shock, grief, loss, pain, sentimentality, sexual deviance, psychosis, delusions, clinging, reserve, revenge, secrecy, etc., were all, of course, grist to the mill of a practising psychotherapist like Whitmont, and he sought to show vividly that the contents of the homeopathic materia medica resoundingly echo all of that.
From an anthroposophist’s point of view, Ralph Twentyman (5) tells how: Whitmont attempts "to get beyond the dualism of mind and body and the associated mechanical, cause-and-effect thinking which still dominates the 'scientific' medicine of to-day. William Gutman produced some excellent studies in a Goethean spirit. Karl König, an old associate of Whitmont from Vienna days, produced some on the basis of Steiner's anthroposophical ideas. Otto Leeser proceeded from orthodox pharmacology, adding the refinements of provings to the experimental data. All these and others seem to me to be essential for the task of bringing the raw material of homoeopathy forward....healing is not to restore patients to the state of health they were previously in but to help them through to a new phase of life. Illness should be creative."
He believed that the homeopathic provings had revealed mysterious and amazing things about matter; subtle things alluded to only by alchemists centuries before, and the significance of which had never been seen or systematically explored until Hahnemann. He seems to have felt that this aspect of homeopathy connected deeply with Jungian psychology to reveal interesting aspects of the human psyche, suffering, medicine and healing.
Whitmont undoubtedly and vividly illuminated the psychology of a range of remedies, and the materia medica in general. However, the practical application of this information to homeopathy can prove a more difficult undertaking. The provings data is clearly useful for illuminating psychotherapy, but the other way round things are not quite so straightforward.
What he brought to our study of materia medica was a vast psychological insight which penetrated down like bright sunlight into each remedy, revealing their sharp contrasts and hidden depths as actual people and all their psychological frailties. Like actors moving on a stage, the people who populate the materia medica world were revealed by Whitmont to be shadows that mirror actual psychological archetypes which dwell deep within the mental world of humanity itself. This seems to be his most important and lasting contribution to the homeopathic tradition. “The case for a parallel relationship between homoeopathy and analytical psychology is made but not stressed. It is characteristic of this author that he states the case and leaves the reader to make up his own mind." (1)
Some might see, and therefore dismiss, Whitmont as just another New Ager like Sheldrake and Capra, dabbling in this and that and writing long-winded and speculative tracts – with "quantum silliness" (6, p.146) – while others see him as a true philosopher of genius attempting a grand synthesis and knitting a fabric composed of many aspects of the exciting post-quantum world we live in and linking together unfinished medieval aspects of life with much that science has left behind in its assertive, masculine surge towards rationalism and progress.
He saw the essences found in plant, animal and mineral remedies as acknowledging "the alchemical roots of homeopathy," (14, p.1) and resonating as a kind of energy set free and purified by the metamorphosis of potentisation. Take away the molecules and only the purified essence is left behind. It's a kind of transmutation, a kind of alchemy. "By undergoing potentization, the original material substance is dematerialized and thereby spiritualized; the substance's inherent healing properties are released. As such, homeopathy can be seen as a practical application of alchemy, tapping into the endless Mercurial fountain, the mystery of the boundless spirit and energy that is present in matter, the source of healing vitality and animation that lives in a potential form in all of us." (14, p.4)
Exactly as Paracelsus had said centuries before, as above so below. "The healing properties of homeopathy derive from profound resonances between substances in the outside world and phenomena in the inner world of the organism." (14, p.3)
The sub-molecular idea of potentised substance struck him as a primordial dynamic underpinning all matter, suggesting that a previously undisclosed unknowable essence resides in every substance. Such an essence forms a drug's unique ‘spiritual fingerprint’ which can be made to manifest its psychic properties only through the proving technique. The proving thus provided him with sufficient proof that not only humans but all matter, and thus the entire universe, is permeated by and underpinned with an otherwise invisible fabric of unseen essences with seemingly infinite and inexhaustible potential. As he puts it: "the elements of form...precede our material existence." (16, p.130)
With the symptoms of the provings, homeopathy seems to have provided Whitmont with the language of the psyche. In other words, through the language of the provings he found expression of the symbolism and polarities of the collective unconscious. Homeopathy allowed him to tap into this rich vein of archetypes and see the feminine and irrational shadow or dark ego, simultaneously providing him with strong confirmation of his long-standing Jungian and alchemical interests.
He applies his Jungianism equally to society which he holds to be in imbalance because dominated by the masculine, fragmented, linear, reductionistic, forceful daylight ego that yearns for rationalism, order, control, progress and domination—qualities all recognised, rewarded, applauded and revered in our modern technological existence—while the feminine, the irrational, gentle, circular, holistic, dreamy, intuitive, creative, emotional and nurturing shadow self or dark ego of humanity remains generally repressed, ignored, neglected, sidelined, unrecognised, bypassed and unrewarded. In The Return of the Goddess Whitmont urges that mankind needs urgently to rediscover those feminine aspects. He thus universalises Jung, homeopathy and alchemy.
I wish to express my grateful thanks to Gregory Vlamis for tracking down and supplying some of the reference material for this article.
1. Marianne Harling, Review of Psyche & Substance, BHJ, 72:4, October 1983
2. Uta Santos-Koenig, Edward Whitmont, 1912-1998, Homœopathic Links, Winter, 1998, Vol.11.4, p.186
3. Joyce Ashley, Edward Christopher Whitmont (December 5, 1912–September 21, 1998), The San Francisco Jung Institute Library Journal, 17:3, 1998, pp.75-76
4. Julian Winston, The Faces of Homeopathy, New Zealand: Great Auk Publishing, 1999, p.329
5. L R Twentyman, Review of 2nd edition of Psyche & Substance, BHJ, 81:1, January 1992
6. Patrick Pietroni, Review of The Alchemy of Healing, J Analyt Psychol, 1996 41.1, pp.145-147
7. Virginia Downey, In Memoriam - Edward C. Whitmont, 1912-1998 Heilkunst, 1998
8. Yoram Kaufmann, Edward Christopher Whitmont Obituary, Journal of Analytical Psychology, 1999, 44, 139–145
9. Nicholas Nossaman, Homoeopathy and Jungian Psychology: Kindred Spirits, AJHM 100.3, Autumn 2007, pp.202-213
10. Roger Brooke, Pathways into the Jungian World: Phenomenology & Analytical Psychology, London & New York: Routledge, 2000
11. Edward C. Whitmont, The Momentum of Man, Anima 3.2, 1977, pp.41-48
12. Lola Paulsen, Review of The Symbolic Quest, J Analyt Psych, 1971, 16.1, pp.110-112
13. Edward C. Whitmont, The Alchemy of Healing: Psyche and Soma. Berkeley California: North Atlantic Books, 1993
14. Anita Josefa Barzman, Closer Than They Appear: Homeopathy, Analysis, and the Unus Mundus, Paper delivered 26 August 2010 XVIIIth Congress of the IAAP: Facing Multiplicity Psyche Nature Culture, San Francisco, California, August 2010, 12 pages
15. Edward C. Whitmont, Jungian Theory: A Reply to Feminists, Anima 4.1, 1977, pp.56-59
16. Edward C. Whitmont, Psyche and Substance: Essays on Homeopathy in the Light of Jungian Psychology, North Atlantic Books, Berkeley, California, 1980
17. Jeffrey B. Pettis, Earth, Dream, and Healing: The Integration of Materia and Psyche in the Ancient World, Journal of Religion and Health, Vol. 45, No. 1, Spring 2006, pp.113-129
18. Peter Morrell, Hahnemann: the True Pioneer of Psychiatry, JAIH/AJHM 95.1, January 2003, pp.164-169 & Peter Morrell, Was Hahnemann the Real Pioneer of Psychiatry? chapter 4 in Johannes & Van der Zee, 2010, pp.86-94
Phillip Bailey, Homeopathic Psychology: Personality Profiles of the Major Constitutional Remedies
Frederica E Gladwin, People of the Materia Medica World, India: National Homoeopathic Pharmacy, 1974
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Christopher K. Johannes & Harry van der Zee, Homeopathy and Mental Health Care: Integrative Practice, Principles and Research, Amsterdam: Homeolinks Publishers, 2010
Nicholas Nossaman, Edward C Whitmont, MD, In Memoriam, JAIH 91:3, Autumn, 1998, pp.292-293
Nicholas Nossaman, Reflections on my Experiences with Edward C Whitmont, JAIH 92.2, Summer 1999, pp.63-70
Edward C. Whitmont, The Symbolic Quest: Basic Concepts of Analytical Psychology. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1969
Edward C. Whitmont, Return of the Goddess, New York: Crossroad Publishing Co., 1982
Edward C. Whitmont, & Sylvia Brinton Perera, Dreams: A Portal to the Source, London: Routledge, 1989
Photo: Sarah Schaleger