Part 3: What are Miasms?

Hippocrates was the first physician to use the term "miasm" which has its origins in the Greek word for taint or fault. He postulated that certain infectious diseases were transmitted to humans by air and water tainted by miasms.

In late 18th century it was a common belief that miasms were impure airs that were responsible for the spread of epidemic diseases among groups of people. Hahnemann realized that the air could carry infectious diseases but he did not consider the pathogenic material to be gaseous in nature.

By the late 1790s Hahnemann had realized that syphilis was an infectious blood disease that could mask itself with the symptoms of many different illnesses.

Early in his career he made a special preparation called Mercurius Solubilis Hahnemanni that was the standard treatment for syphilis throughout Europe. He soon found that Mercury in homoeopathic potency worked much better on syphilis than the crude poisonous form and he recorded several permanent cures.

A Dutch naturalist named van Leeuwenhoek invented the microscope and published his observations of small living "animalcules" before in his death in 1723.

This information led Hahnemann to believe that microorganisms were at the root of many infectious diseases. For this reason he supported the ideas of the animalculists but at the same time upheld the importance of susceptibility of the host constitution.

Very early in his career Hahnemann suggested that certain skin eruptions, such as "crusta lactea", were being caused by microscopic "miasmic animalcule" i.e., micro-organisms. At this time there were four major theories about diseases that spread in an infectious manner.

  1. Miasma as a foul gaseous exhalation.
  2. The theory of the animalcule.
  3. The zymotic theory.
  4. The theory of spontaneous generation.

The followers of the spontaneous generation theory believed that germs appeared whenever the conditions were right for their development without the need for reproduction. In some sense this is true as where did the "first germ" come from?

The zymotists suggested that certain substances called "zymes" that were inert outside the body could lie dormant until the internal terrain made it possible for them to multiply and caused specific diseases.

The observations of the zymotists are very similar to the activities of viral material in the human body. The term zymotic can be found in the old homoeopathic literature and is a rubric in the general section of Kent's Repertory.

Hahnemann synthesized the ideas of the animalcule and zymes and redefined the Hippocratic term "miasma" to express the constitutional derangements caused by parasitic infections. He carefully separated the self-limiting acute miasms from the syndromes of long lasting diseases and started to develop a special materia medica and repertory for the treatment of the chronic miasms.

Therefore, in Hahnemannian Homoeopathy the word "miasm" means the effects of microorganisms on the vital force including the symptoms that are transmitted to the following generations. These chronic miasms are capable of producing degenerative illnesses, auto-immune diseases and lead the organism toward immuno-deficiency disorders.

Hahnemann noticed that each of the chronic diseases has three phases, a primary stage, latent stage, and a secondary or tertiary state. The effects of these miasms were then passed from one generation to the next generation by inheritance and caused predispositions to certain disease syndromes.

The three chronic miasms that Hahnemann introduced in 1828 were called Psora (the itch miasm), Sycosis (the gonorrheal miasm) and Syphilis (the chancre miasm). Hahnemann published his miasmic theory long before the presence of germs was widely accepted so most practitioners found it hard to understand such a sophisticated theory of contagion.

From the time of Hippocrates healers conjectured about the possibility of invisible organisms causing disease but Hahnemann founded the modern concept of infection. In fact, homoeopathic pathology is still far more advanced than its modern allopathic counterpart which still does not understand the effects of the miasmic processes or their inherited constitutional syndromes.

In the preface of Charles Hempel's translation of the Organon , Constantine Hering recorded that late in his life Hahnemann made further discoveries and developed a new aspect of the theory of Psora with the introduction of a new miasm he called Pseudo-psora. Hering wrote:

"Hahnemann distinguishes the venereal miasms as syphilis and sycosis; and also subdivides psora with pseudo-psora.".

Hahnemann's miasmic theory now contained two venereal and two non-venereal miasms that produced life-long chronic diseases. The two non-venereal miasms are Psora (the itch disease) and Pseudo-psora (the tubercle disease). The two venereal miasms are Sycosis (the fig wart diseases) and Syphilis (the chancre disease).

Hahnemann noticed that some cases that appeared to be Psora did not depend exclusively on an external skin eruption for their development. He observed that this disease was infectious in nature and possessed primary, latent, and secondary symptoms as well as inherited aspects.

He decided that it was caused by a miasmic agent with a distinct etiology so he separated its symptoms from Psora and made a new classification called the Pseudo-psora, the TB miasm. All of these miasms may be acquired through a primary infection or their effects can be experienced through heredity.

It is sometimes thought that Hahnemann taught that all long-lasting diseases are caused by chronic miasms. This is not the total picture. In the Organon  he mentions three classifications of long lasting disease:

"those caused by continuing stress factors (disorders upheld by maintaining causes which by their nature are not necessarily true chronic disorders §73),

those caused by drug toxicity and faulty treatment (physician caused §74.),

and those caused by infectious miasms (naturally caused §78)."

In modern times the diseases produced by man made toxins must be expanded to include the thousands of potential harmful chemicals released into our environment.

Between the environmental degradation caused by our massive industrial complex, the vaccinosis miasm caused by compulsory immunization, and great numbers of new medicines produced by the pharmaceutical industry, the second category of chronic disease has grown tremendously.

Illnesses that involve all three factors of causation (continual stress; drugs, toxins, vaccinosis; and natural miasms) are the most difficult to treat because all these factors intermingle to form complex layers.

Next: The Development of the Miasmic Theory