Dr Georgios Loukas
The word “psora” can be found in Latin and Greek. One view suggests that it derives from the Hebrew “Tsorat” which means stretch mark, mistake, ditch, contamination, stigma; it was often attributed to outbreaks of leprosy and severe plagues.
Hahnemann’s use of the word “psora” had a special connotation. By this term he meant an original unhealthy condition, whereby after the internal infection of the whole organism is completed, there appears a peculiar skin exanthema. He argued that, “Psora is the oldest, the most universal, the most devastating and most little known miasmatic disease, which has disfigured and tormented nations for thousands of years”. Haehl states that, “For Hahnemann, psora is a disease or the susceptibility to a disease which has been passed from generation to generation for thousands of years. It is the breeding ground for every sickly condition and it is at the same time the most contagious and infectious disease of all”.
It is difficult to understand how psora is transmitted. We read in classical writings that a simple touch is enough for one to catch psora. A baby is infected as it passes through the mother’s genital tube. Alternatively the baby gets infected from the hands of the midwife who has in turn been infected by another woman giving birth, or perhaps even before that. After the psoric miasma comes into contact with the skin, it is transmitted through the nerves to the rest of the body. A few days later, after it has fully developed internally, the disease will manifest itself externally.
We are, therefore, faced with the following question: Does psora derive from without? If it does not begin in our brain, which is the seat of our psyche, then how did it first appear, when it did, thousands of years ago? It is of course very difficult to answer this question. We are faced with the dilemma of either accepting that the disease first appeared in mankind as a result of external factors or as a result of an internal process. However, before we attempt to give an answer, we ought to describe the characteristics of psora in the human organism, that is its symptomatology.
Amongst the symptoms of psora there are two common characteristics: hypersensitivity and lack. Lack is stressed in some books and hypersensitivity in others. We can understand the concept of hypersensitivity with a simple example: If we stimulate externally two different individuals they will react differently. The psoric individual reacts more strongly than the supposedly “normal individual”. That is to say there is an excessive reaction. This hypersensitivity is present in all aspects of the psoric’s life. He is very observant and aware of his immediate environment. He is sensitive. He also gets angry easily. After he has expressed his anger and has had a good sleep he is not bitter or hateful. He also cries easily. After crying he feels better. He is temperamental due to the hypersensitivity. He is very rich in the expressions of his feelings. The psoric can be a scientist or an artist. He is hypersensitive to light, sound and smell. The most typical expression of the hypersensitivity in the body is itching. An external or internal itching, like tickling for example, is a sign of psora. The suppression of the external bodily manifestations of psora, because of the wrong medical treatment, results in the appearance of an internal or psychic itching, which is even more troublesome to the individual. Such suppressions led Hahnemann to the discovery of the psoric miasma and its description.
The other main characteristic of psoric miasma is lack.
This lack is expressed as a feeling of inadequacy. There is a deep feeling of inferiority. It can be seen in the successful businessman who is intelligent and hard-working but who always wants to rely on somebody else. He is always looking for a partner. His partner, if he is a crook, can easily take advantage of him. He always needs support; he always seeks protection. This feeling of inferiority can also be seen in the scientist, who continuously asks for the support of his teacher or his colleagues despite the fact that he knows his subject well. He is anxious and fearful and gets scared easily.
This sense of inadequacy forces him to live in a world of fantasy. However, this world is not the autistic world of a schizophrenic. It is simply the feeling of inadequacy that stops him from fulfilling his dreams and so his rich inner world has to be expressed through fantasy. This can be seen in the individual who goes to a lecture and instead of paying attention, he spends most of his time day-dreaming. There are two reasons as to why he loses contact. Firstly, because of his deep emotions due to his hypersensitivity. Secondly, because he does not express these emotions due to his feeling of inadequacy.
Thus, psorics are people with a rich inner world, which is not expressed, because they lack boldness. Because of their feeling of inferiority they become stagnant, immobile and reserved. If this feeling of inferiority was absent they would be much happier people and would offer more to society. The awareness of their “helplessness” causes them sadness. When they feel sad they look far into the future and see happier days ahead. The words of a popular Greek song express very well the psoric sadness: “Be patient and the sky will become bluer …”. There is hope in them; it has not been lost.
The psoric is particularly concerned with what others think of him. He respects society’s customs and traditions and he feels guilty if he does not abide by the rules. He is scared of rejection because of this feeling of inadequacy. It is this feeling of inadequacy that makes him always seek support from someone else. He creates relationships of support, bonds of support and he does not want them to break because he will be left alone without them. A lot of people are sociable because they need this support from the group.
These needs of his, coupled with his sense of duty, continuously inhibit his desires. “I must” is stronger than “I want”. Before the psoric acts he asks himself if it is socially acceptable. If it is not, he usually does not act. He is very generous with his relatives. He is easily hurt by the remarks of others. It takes him time to express his anger but once he has expressed it the incident is forgotten.
The psoric individual has a tendency towards platonic love. Let’s say that a psoric man likes a woman. He thinks: “What a beautiful woman … What an amiable person … I wonder if she likes me. Well, so many men are after her, I doubt that she wants me … What if she rejects me?” Here also there is an inhibition. An inhibition caused by his sense of inadequacy on one hand and on the other his fear that his behaviour could be rejected by society. This makes him experience love through fantasy. He is a person who has fallen in love many times but who has very rarely fulfilled his fantasies. He is also emotional, he gets worried easily and he gets hurt easily. His love fantasies are heterosexual. He is pure in his feelings. He falls in love with the whole person not with a breast or a thigh. He sees the personality, he does not see his partner as a sex object.
The psoric is also religiously inclined. He is religious in a broad sense. His faith is of a philosophising nature, born from a need to search, to comprehend the agony of existence, to cope with the feeling of being alone and inadequate in a vast universe.
Lack is manifested in the body in a variety of ways. Insufficient feeding is an example of that. He eats continuously but the body cannot digest the food. So there is lack. It is possible to make a connection between lack of vitamins and trace elements in the body with psoric miasma. For example the lack of vitamin A causes dryness. Dryness is one of the basic symptoms of psoric miasma. When Hahnemann wrote about psoric miasma he did not know of the existance of vitamin A. This lack of elements can be seen in delayed osteoporosis or late teething. The lack of trace elements causes weakness, fatigue and sluggishness.
Therefore, we can see that there is hypersensitivity on one hand and lack on the other. Lack and hypersensitivity coexist in the psoric miasma. It is difficult to say which one precedes the other.
Let us ask ourselves once more: “What is psoric miasma? What is the foundation on which human disease has been built?” I could not find a satisfactory explanation in all the homeopathic literature known to me. So I tried to find a solution within ancient Greek philosophy and literature, psychoanalysis and religious systems. Perhaps these areas would provide a clue to the genesis of disease. A comparative study would help me understand psoric miasma.
Let us first study the psychoanalytic views on the development of symptoms. It is not of course possible to give a detailed account of the psychoanalytic views. Whoever is interested can have a better look in the writings mentioned in the bibliography. It is necessary to refer to the “structural” model of the personality developed by Freud. The personality of an individual, that is the sum total of his particular and fixed character traits (his views, his ideas, his values, his emotional reactions, his actions and his adaptive behaviour) is divided into three parts.
The Pre-ego, or “That”, or “It”, or Id is the part of the personality that includes all the instinctive impulses. It follows the pleasure principle.
The Ego is the most “systematized area” of the personality. It is the part that primarily serves the psychosocial adaptation. It is a mediator between the inner impulses and the restrictions. It also preserves the contact and the control of the external reality. The Ego is governed by the reality principle.
The Superego includes the moral values imposed upon the individual by his family upbringing during the first years of the development of his personality. It includes the prohibitions and the ideals of the individual.
Health according to the psychoanalytic theory is achieved when there is a balance amongst these three parts of the personality. Apart from the structural model, Freud has also described the topographical model, which includes the following: the Conscious, the Subconscious and the Unconscious.
In the unconscious there are experiences that one is not aware of. In the subconscious there are experiences and processes that one can become conscious of more easily.
Any instinctive desire goes through the “cencorship” of the Superego, where it can be examined as to whether it is possible for it to be satisfied without ridiculing the individual. If it is considered prohibited, a conflict between the Id and the Superego is created which leads to a dead-end. The Ego tries to reach a compromise by delaying the gratification of the desire by using the repression mechanism. Repression is the primary defence mechanism. It does not allow unacceptable desires, tendencies, thoughts etc. to come to the conscious and “pushes” the conflict into the unconscious. Although all this takes place on an unconscious level, the Ego has a sense of danger in that if the unconscious and “prohibited” desires are expressed, it will be carried away into unacceptable conduct. The feeling of this threat is the unconscious or primary anxiety, which acts as an “alarm signal” and urges the Ego to confine the instinctive desires and the whole conflict to the unconscious, so that the threat is not realised by the conscious mind.
This means that there is a constant dynamic process. The instinctive desires on the one hand and their repression caused by the Ego on the other. When the instinctive impulses intensify, the conflict rises to the subconscious and now there is a real danger that it will reach the conscious. At this point the symptom of anxiety is clearly felt by the individual. As this is uncomfortable, various defence mechanisms are mobilized and act subconsciously. These defence mechanisms, apart from the repression that has already been mentioned, are the following: Identification, compensation, substitution, sublimation, rationalization, regression, displacement, intellectualization, undoing, reaction formation, dissociation, conversion, symbolism, projection, introjection, incorporation, denial, postponement, expectation (for more details please, read the “Psychoanalytic Psychopathology” by H. Hierodiaconou).
A part of the psychic conflict is discharged in the body and in this way physical symptoms develop.
The similarity between homeopathy and the psychoanalytic school on what is disease is evident. From the psychoanalytic school of thought we can use the following points in order to clarify the riddle of psoric miasma: a) The concept of the psychic conflict and b) the concept of repression. In theory, if we did not repress, there would be no primary anxiety and symptoms. The necessary condition not to repress is constant awareness.
Reference to the creation of disease can be found in the Old Testament, in the myth of Adam and Eve. Adam and Eve lived happily in Paradise. They had everything. There was only one thing they were not allowed to do. They were not to eat from the tree of “Knowledge of good and evil”. One day Eve was tempted by the evil spirit, the devil, who appeared before her in the form of a snake. He told her that if they ate the fruit they too would become Gods. She ate from the forbidden fruit, persuading Adam to do the same. After the deed they began to feel ashamed and they covered themselves so they would not see their nakedness. God was very angry with them and sent them away from Paradise with the following curse: “Eve, with pain you will give birth to children. Adam, by the sweat of your brow you will eat your food”. After the fall from Paradise people started getting ill and dying.
In this myth we can see the following: a) There is desire and there is the law, b) Adam and Eve have a feeling of inferiority in the face of God. The eating of the fruit symbolizes the violation of the laws of nature, c) after their disobedience they feel remorse, d) after the violation of the law people start getting ill and dying.
Two questions are raised at this point: If this had not happened would man never have experienced death? Did man perhaps then start being afraid of death?
The myth of Prometheus Bound is also of interest to us. Prometheus was punished by Zeus and was chained on Mount Caucasus by Hephaestus with the help of State and Force. An eagle ate from Prometheus’s liver every day, and every night Prometheus was reborn.
However, why did Zeus punish him? In Aeschylus’s play “Prometheus Bound” Prometheus himself gives the answer in the following dialogue:
Prometheus symbolizes the human race. He was deprived of his freedom by Hephaestus, who is the God of invention, the God of technology, by State, who is the God of authority and by Force, who is the Goddess of arbitrary and unjust power. But why was he deprived of his freedom? Because “he tried with a remedy to free himself from the fear of death …”
Volumes of books have been written and more may well be written on this subject. It is not my intention to expand on this issue here. I may deal with this in a future lecture. I would only like to highlight some aspects that I believe are relevant to psoric miasma. The first aspect is that the cause of Prometheus’s suffering is the “false” freedom from the fear of death. This freedom is associated with the gift of fire. Our civilization is the result of the knowledge of “fire”, in its metaphorical sense. What drove man towards science? Was it perhaps the fear of death? Does science solve man’s deepest problems or does it simply deceive him “by putting in his heart false hopes?” Is our civilization a source of happiness or a source of unhappiness for us?
The second aspect is the one associated with the three deities, who chained Prometheus on Mount Caucasus. The technology of every era (Hephaestus) “bewitches” people. It does not matter if it is the space satellite of the 20th century or the best made chariot of ancient times. The technology of every era is what marks that era. Its achievements constitute the dream of many people. However, at the same time it binds people to a certain way of life. Our social image and our acceptance by society is influenced by the technological achievements. A good car raises our social status. An individual who cannot acquire a car feels ashamed because he considers himself not well established socially.
The law (State) is another factor that influences us. The average person does not want to oppose the law even when it is unjust. Imprisonment makes us feel ashamed, despite the fact that a lot of heroes or important historical figures have been imprisoned by their opponents.
The average person is also afraid of arbitrary and unjust power (Force) in the hands of people who are in positions of authority. The average person makes sure he minds his own business and does not oppose these powerful people so that he does not get himself into trouble.
The symbolism of the eagle, that eats Prometheus’s liver, is also interesting. The eagle is a symbol of power. The liver is an organ, which in antiquity was connected with the function of man’s will (like the brain with the intellect and the heart with feelings). Thus, the eating of the liver is related to man’s eroded will, to his contraction caused by his fantasized opposition to Hephaestus, to State and to Force. Of course it is not accidental that all this happens in daylight, because during the day “nothing stays hidden under the sun’s light”.
For Plato the battle against ignorance through the appropriate education and the emancipation of the individual from anger and desire is of great importance. In The Republic, Plato states that desire accompanied by intense emotional movement (hypersensitivity) can disturb the individual’s inner harmony and his ability to function in society. He also believed that when death approaches nobody wants to die.
The Stoic philosophers taught that the equilibrium of the individual cannot be affected by external factors. No threat or punishment to the body can be powerful enough to change the individual’s deepest sense of freedom or alter his value system. In a psychotherapeutic way they tried to help the individual focus on the fundamental human values and free him from the opinions of society. In this way the individual freed himself from the agony and the anxiety of being accepted by society and considered society rather than himself responsible for accepting him.
For the Stoics it was also important that man overcame his fear of death. To do this the individual was helped to focus on the idea of death, cultivating at the same time his self-control and to accept that it is not death itself that is fearful but rather the fear of death.
They accepted, however, that death, life, pleasure and pain were primary states of being for man. However, these primary states of being are “indifferent” and “involuntary” for man. Thus, the Stoics recognised that the concept of death had a serious affect on the human psyche but man had to consider death as “indifferent” and “involuntary”, as a final attempt to preserve his inner unity and inner peace. These views are important because they show that the concept of the unconscious was not unknown to the ancient Greeks.
Lucritius, was a Roman poet, who lived around 95 to 55 BC. He wrote a philosophical epic called “On the nature of things”, which for many is an account of Epicure’s theory of the cosmos. Following his own psychotherapeutic method Lucritius believed that the main cause of psychic inertia is the fear of death. This fear immobilizes the individual’s mind and soul and inhibits all the incentives and hopes for inner growth. He believed that if the individual came to terms with death and was freed from the anxiety and the fear, then the return of hope and the expectation of a more fulfilling and happier inner life would re-establish his suppressed creativity as well as his inner peace and harmony.
Oedipus, in Sophocles’s “Oedipus Rex” is also interesting. The myth goes as follows:
Laius, the king of Thebes, married Jocasta, the daughter of Menoeceus and sister of Creon. Since they could not have children they consulted the Delphic Oracle. They were told that their child would kill its father. Afraid of the oracle, Laius decided to have the baby put to death as soon as it was born. He had the infant’s ankles pierced and riveted together and he ordered a shepherd to abandon it on Mount Cithaeron. The shepherd feeling sorry for the infant, did not abandon it on the mountain but gave it instead to the childless king and queen of Corinth, Polybus and Meropy. They called him Oedipus (swollen foot) and raised him as their own child.
When Oedipus grew up, because it was suggested to him by many that he was illegitimate, he went to Delphi to discover his true origin. It was not revealed to him who his real parents were, but he was told that he would kill his father and marry his mother. Oedipus, believing that his parents were the king and queen of Corinth and in order to prevent the prophecy from coming true, does not return to Corinth but instead goes to Phocis. On the way he meets Laius, the king of Thebes, his real father, who was on his way to Delphi. There was an argument between Oedipus and Laius’s charioteer and unknowingly Oedipus kills his father, Laius, and his attendants except one who informs the people of Thebes about the incident. Creon, his real mother’s brother, becomes the king of Thebes.
At that time a great evil falls upon the people of Thebes. The Sphinx, a human-like monster, who sat on Mount Phicio, forced travellers to answer a riddle and killed the ones that could not do so. King Creon announced that whoever freed the country from the monster would become the king of Thebes and marry his sister, Jocasta. This was the riddle:
“Four legs in the morning, two at noon
Three legs again in the evening
Walks on land and doesn’t sink in sea
Strongest with two legs, weakest with four-
What is it?”
Oedipus solves the riddle of the Sphinx by replying that the answer is man and therefore he frees Thebes form this monster. As a reward Creon gives him the throne and his sister, Jocasta, as his wife. Oedipus marries her without knowing that he is her son. They have four children. A few prosperous years go by. The Gods, however, have not forgotten Oedipus’s sinful deeds even though he has committed them unwillingly and unknowingly. In order to punish him Thebes is struck by a plague.
Oedipus sends Creon to consult the Oracle on how the city could be saved. The answer was that the one who had killed Laius should be killed or exiled.
Oedipus goes to the blind prophet Teiresias who hints at Oedipus’s errors and foretells his future misfortunes.
In the end after a series of adventures and efforts by Oedipus the truth is revealed. Jocasta hangs herself and Oedipus blinds himself.
The riddle of the Sphinx is of course related to the ages of man from birth to old age and death. Laius’s murder symbolizes the beginning of lack of awareness, the marriage with Jocasta desire.
Finally, it is not accidental that in our religion Passion Week is always in spring when Christ an through him the whole of Humanity relives every year the intense eroticism of Spring and at the same time the drama of the Calvary.
We can now reach some useful conclusions.
- Psoric miasma is not an external but rather an internal disease.
- It is related to desire and to the primary anxiety of death. The primary anxiety of death exists in every being form the moment of birth.
- Desire and the primary anxiety of death are triggered by any external stimulus. So, for example, when we see somebody being ill or when somebody we like touches us, psora is triggered within us.
- The primary anxiety of death is due to a limited awareness of the function of the universe.
- Repression is the defence mechanism that is directly related to psora. Psoric miasma was born from the moment man started to use repression as a defence mechanism.
- Lack and hypersensitivity express the nature of psoric miasma.
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