During many epidemics in past centuries, physicians generally
prescribed the usual remedies of their days – like bloodletting,
blistering and purging. Some just threw up their hands. Others
evacuated centers of disease, then relocated to the countryside to
guard themselves and their families. Daniel Defoe (author of Robinson Crusoe) recounts such happenings in London of 1665 in his Journal of the Plague Year. FEAR was all encompassing in that time as the Plague of 18 months took 150,000 lives, a quarter of London’s population.
There were exceptions in Defoe’s time and in other Contagions of
history. A few physicians and healers worked differently, finding ways
to deal with the terrible forces which surrounded them. They used their
knowledge to help large numbers survive the Pests of their times while
hundreds and thousands were dying around them.
Jan Baptist Van Helmont (1580-1644)
Among them were Hippocrates. Jan Van Helmont remarks in his Workes
that the Father of Medicine was a divine man who cured the plague. But,
his secrets had been lost. Van Helmont seems to suggest that he had
found them. He also remarks that Paracelsus had his own Arcanums, or
Secret Medicines. The Flemish Van Helmont set out to rediscover the
causes and cures of the Pest.
“I promised therefore unto myself, before I attempted to write these
things, that the Plague that was curable, even unto that face of times,
and a true remedy thereof, was to be fetched out of the Grave of
Hippocrates, or rather from above, from the Father of Lights. I will
declare what I have learned, for the profit of Posterity.”
This topic is massive while only a few healers, who claimed success
with the grave subject, have been studied. We here draw especially upon
the writings of Van Helmont and Paracelsus, physicians of distant
centuries. Most surprisingly during recent research, a small tome
written in the London Plague Year by the physician William Simpson was
discovered online. Dr. Simpson produced a neat compilation of
information, from his own works and those of the earlier physicians,
suitable for his time – and quite possibly for the present.
The reader might think the Plague and the present Pandemic are too far
separated by centuries and scientific advancement to be considered
together. They are distant in some ways, but it is quite obvious that
the Coronavirus is still even in the scientific age poorly understood,
as was the Spanish flu which killed 50 to 100 million a century ago.
Even as the Plague found no effective treatment among orthodox doctors
in past eras, there is no remedy for the present Contagion.
This writer takes the Liberty to share his gleanings from Dr. Simpson’s
little book as well as Van Helmont’s earlier text. The reader may be
surprised to learn a few things from this brief essay and thus
strengthen him/herself through the continuing challenge upon us.
William Simpson, like Van Helmont, believed that the Plague was a
living agent, conceived outside or even inside the human body, which
was capable of seizing on the Spirit of Life. Van Helmont wrote, “The
plague is originally conceived from the terror of man.”
Neither physician said nor knew anything of bacteria or viruses. Still,
they considered the Plague as a real being, a vital spirit which
generally lay as a dormant entity. But, that ens was capable, as part
of Nature, of becoming active, forming a watery body around itself and
wreaking havoc. In Van Helmont’s own words, The Pest was “a wild spirit
tinged with a Poison of Nature.”
Contagions occurred often in Simpson’s era. The Plague appeared in
waves commonly around every 20 years under certain circumstances. The
key circumstance to which Simpson and his predecessors pointed was
FEAR. The Pest was an “Image of conceived Terror.” Its poison was
created out of apprehension and the conception of terrible effects.
Simpson offered an anecdote to support his understandings and beliefs:
“I knew a Physician who had such an inbred fear against the small Pox,
that he would scarce, if at all, venture into a house where any was
troubled with that disease; and yet, for all his curiosity of avoiding
places, was snatch’d with it at length even in the flower of his years
Simpson suggests that an Idea – yes, an Idea – can attract pestiferous
matter, attach itself to humans, and “put to flight the vital forces.”
The Idea was in fact one of FEAR drawn from the outside world or simply
welling up within a person.
FEAR has long been known as a powerful, destructive force. There is
something quite profound, ominous and factual to the Idea that a human
can be “Scared to Death.” Experiments have been made over the ages to
prove that the simple FEAR of Death can produce it. We may share more
stories in that vein in the future.
For now, let us just parrot Simpson and Van Helmont’s reckoning that
when FEAR wraps itself in substance, it can readily darken the “lights
of the human form.” Then, the being may quickly fall into disorder and
With this scary introduction passed, Simpson lists five Remedies
(Preventives) for the Plague, and presumably for any Contagion.
1ST: Live righteously.
2ND: Create a Wall of Defense by building a bodily frame supported by Cheerfulness.
“A cheerful, confident, and debonair person, like a Champion, conquers
those beasts of FEAR that lie in the way, and blots out those timorous
3RD: Take wine in moderation
– to exhilarate, but not inebriate. Vinum ad hilaritatem, sed non ad
ebrietatem. Thus, “to enliven the Spirits and put the Vitals upon
action to stand Sentinel.”
4TH: Use Mineral Salts to clear the digestion and keep the intestinal system flowing.
5TH: Wear Amulets of
various kinds to draw off accumulated darkness and dirt. Amber and
Lapis Lazuli (Sapphirus lazureus) were most commonly suggested. In the
plant kingdom, Colts foot (Petasitis) was recommended.
To Simpson’s list, Van Helmont might have added that a person should :
6TH: Remove sorrowful things from his/her presence – because they have similar effects as fear and terror.
7TH: Avoid the simple Idea of infection.
Be advised that this essay is a synopsis of a synopsis based on the two
books noted below with support from the writings of Hippocrates,
Paracelsus, and Andrew Jackson Davis. If the reader has interest, s/he
can contact the essayist with questions or study the books below. The
first is available at books.google.com, the second at archive.org.
Simpson’s book is small in size and covers around 110 pages. Van
Helmont’s is a massive-sized volume of almost 1200 pages. The last 100
are devoted to the Pest – Plague – and are the source for many of
Simpson’s own Ideas.
Zenexton Ante-Pestilentiale. or,
A Short Discourse of the Plague: Its Antidotes and Cure,
According to the Placets of the Best of Physicians,
Hippocrates, Paracelsus, and Helmont.
by William Simpson, London, 1665.
Van Helmont’s Workes
translated into English in 1664 by John Chandler
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