Homeopathy is Witchcraft? Um…

Homeopathy is Witchcraft? Um…

Author: Rushyo

Many of my friends and peers have been discussing a motion by the British Medical Association’s Junior Doctor’s Committee which has the potential to offend various practitioners of Witchcraft and has seemingly being received with a mix of humourous banter, dismissal and annoyance. The Doctor who proposed the motion stated, in unequivocal terms, that ‘Homeopathy is Witchcraft’. This article is intended to provide a broad understanding of the history of both Homeopathy and Witchcraft for the benefit of parties on all sides of the fence (scientists, Homeopaths and Witches) and assess the possible impact of this statement.

Homeopathy is described as ‘a form of alternative medicine, first proposed by German physician Samuel Hahnemann in 1796, that attempts to treat patients with heavily diluted preparations.’ by Wikipedia’s Homeopathy article. It is a pseudo-science that has undergone significant scientific scrutiny. It is practised throughout Europe and other parts of the world [1] as a method of healing and has cost the British National Health Service £12 million over three years [2]. The ultimate conclusion of various scientific studies is that Homeopathy has been reasonably proven not to be efficacious. That is, there is no compelling scientific reason to think it actually does anything: beneficial or otherwise. There are accusations that many Homeopaths engage in their trade out of ignorance of evidence-based science (the stipulation that medicinal treatments should be prescribed based on the assertion of scientific benefit) and, in certain cases, their own financial well-being over that of their patient’s health. [3][9]

Homeopathy itself is ‘a system based on the principle that a much diluted preparation of a substance that causes symptoms in healthy individuals can cure disease that causes the same symptoms in a sick person.’ [4] Essentially the ingredients are chosen for their similarity to the symptoms presented, diluted to the point at which conventional science suggests they cease to exist and ‘succused’, an act of tapping the diluted treatment to ensure the water holds a ‘memory’ of the solution.

The term of Witchcraft, as used in this article (for its definition is very subjective, as I shall address later) , is a practice popularised primarily in modern times by the Wiccan religious faith. Wiccans refers to themselves as ‘Witches’ as members of the faith, which represents their practice of Witchcraft as part of their religious belief. Witchcraft itself is however practised by various parties outside the Wiccan faith for varying purposes and with different intentions. As a result, some Witches are bound by the Wiccan codes of ethics, which constrain Wiccans to ‘do no harm’, and some are not. Witchcraft presently has no known scientific basis and is not presented with any.

Witchcraft is the act of invoking power beyond the material world defined by science, often linked with a spiritual element, intended to perform a tangible task with a particular stated goal. As practised by Wiccans, Witchcraft is used to invoke the power of the Gods through prayer and ritual. It is important to understand that Witchcraft and religion are considered to be quite separate entities, as articulated at length by members of the Witchcraft community, whilst often found in tandem [5].

With the introductions completed, let’s consider the context of the made by the committee. The motion was proposed by Dr Tom Dolphin as a humourous motion and was widely received as such. The motion was passed with a significant majority and to a wide chorus of laughter throughout the hall. Dr Dolphin retroactively stated that his use of the term ‘wasn’t talking about Witchcraft in the sense of Wicca or Paganism, I was talking about the old village healers, the ones whose treatments were more or less made up’ [6]. Whether there is in fact a difference between those two is a matter left up to interpretation.

So why take would anyone take offense? A corollary might be the use of the term ‘Jew’ to refer to one who is frugal or a ‘Gypo’ as one involved in petty crime. Both terms are clearly derogatory. In these colloquially utilised examples it is clear where offense might be gleaned. The origin of both terms is well understood to be their respective ethnic groups who are the aggrieved parties in those instances. To be subjected to a broad stereotype which is unrepresentative of the actual activities of the party can be interpreted as an attack (deliberate or out of ignorance) on those people, with the result that it perpetuates the stereotype that the party does not wishes to spread.

In this instance the main source is grievance is, I believe, the implied comparison of Witches to Homeopaths. Many Witches, especially those within the Wiccan faith, are bound by strong ethic and religious codes of conduct [7]. A byproduct of this is that Witchcraft is widely held to be practised in a responsible and conscientious manner. Homeopathy on the other hand has a less sterling reputation, with many scientists (myself included) actively campaigning against elements of Homeopathic practice [8]. To propagate the association of ethically dubious practices [9] with another whose proponents typically make a significant effort to hold high ethical standards is bound to cause friction, intentionally or not.

So why might this parallel be drawn if it was not intended? Both Homeopathy and Witchcraft are not well supported by science and receive public attention for it. Whilst Homeopathy is expressedly for the purpose of offering healing, Witchcraft is also often utilised with healing in mind. There are parties on both sides who would attempt to monetise their particular trade – although whether they represent the majority in either case in completely up to subjective interpretation.

Ultimately it is clear that the statement was well-intentioned and appropriate in context but it does highlight a certain degree of misunderstanding that such a statement might cause offense – I imagine the same party would have never thought to suggest a possible corollary in another better known religion in that forum. It highlights the continuing lack of education in Britain as to Witchcraft as a modern, progressive practice and how misperception is propagated amongst society.

It is worth considering that one of the reasons why Homeopathy and science come into conflict where Witchcraft and science do not is the practice of Witchcraft does not infer with evidence-based medical practices. Witchcraft is not state sponsored in lieu of funding for evidence-based medicine, whereas Homeopathy is. I feel it is fair to say that Witches and scientists do not interfere with each other’s practice. The responsible practice of Witchcraft dictates that it does not interfere with situations in which people’s lives are at stake. Homeopaths do not have such qualms and it is, in fact, their raison d’être to do so [10].

In the end, this is just an unintentional faux pas but the relationship between science and Witchcraft is widely untested. There are no journals assessing Witchcraft’s viability as a science, whilst Witches stay out of scientific pursuits. So why does such a relationship matter? Witches and scientists have much in common. They both believe in fundamentally making informed decisions, learning about the world around them and meeting significant ethical standards. Indeed of the last 30 news links passed on by the Witchvox Facebook page, 19 of them are on issues of science and Witchcraft, by its very nature, is ripe for scientific experimentation given its tangible goals and uncertain efficacy.

It is easy to see how any future relationship between the two could be scarred if it was felt that scientists did not do their research into matters pertaining to it. Yet a scientist would not want to be associated with ignorance, so perhaps if the current relationship of implied consent were to evolve into something more, it is inevitable it would turn into one of mutual understanding.

From the perspective of ethics, many Witches (particularly Wiccans) and scientists have much common ground and a mutual distain of irresponsible ethical practices, such as those prevalent within Homeopathy, seems only natural.

Should such a relationship be fostered? Science and Witchcraft may seem like impossible partners, but they are by no means mutually exclusive and it is my experience that Witches are over-represented amongst scientists and scientists over-represented amongst Witches. Much could be gained from the collaboration of minds in two progressive fields, both seeking to improve the world through honest knowledge whatever form it comes in.

Of course, when the ill educated press throw tact and logic to the wind and state that ‘homeopathy is harmless not voodoo medicine’ in reference to this issue and cite anecdotal experiences as justification for medical policy [11], it can only serve to create a sense of solidarity that might otherwise seem very far away.

[1] http://www.homeopathyeurope.org/regulatory-status
[2] http://www.guardian.co.uk/society/2009/jun/10/complementary-medicine-nhs-more4
[3] http://www.quackwatch.org/01QuackeryRelatedTopics/homeo.html
[4] http://www.skeptics.org.uk/homeopathy.php
[5] http://paganwiccan.about.com/od/wiccaandpaganismbasics/a/WWPDiffs.htm
[6] http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b00sfw5t/Jeremy_Vine_17_05_2010/
[7] http://www.religioustolerance.org/wicrede.htm
[8] http://www.1023.org.uk/why-you-cant-trust-homeopathy.php
[9] http://www.1023.org.uk/whats-the-harm-in-homeopathy.php
[10] http://www.hmc21.org/orthodox-medicine/4535621644
[11] http://news.stv.tv/opinion/178405-homeopathy-is-it-witchcraft-or-science/