What Great Physicians Would Say
About the Current Medical Crisis

19 January 2022

Dare we ask, “In the face of the billions spent on testing and vaccines, has the ‘scientific’ paradigm really succeeded any better than society did in similar crises of past history? Could there be better ways to deal with epidemics?”

There must be. We believe that problems and their solutions can be simplified. The answers are really close at hand. That said, our “answers” are largely outside modern thinking and especially standard medical practice. So – Reader Beware.

We can take clues and hints from healers, and traditions around world and over the centuries. However, we will restrict our foray to a few of the more enlightened medical men of past history. We apologize for drawing on the thoughts of men only. The patriarchy has overshadowed the medical profession in the west for many centuries, preventing women from even studying medicine until recent generations. That all the while, the female sex, mothers in particular, and Mother Nature in general are the fountainhead of health and healing on our planet.

To begin, Dr. Oliver Sacks was meant to be the full focus of this essay. But after a time, we thought, “We are imagining – more or less – how Sacks might look at the pandemic. We have extracted his thoughts and conclusions from other moments and circumstances. Why not widen the exploration to include other Physician-Healers? What would they also think and say?”

Oliver Sacks

Oliver Sacks (1933-2015)

Oliver Sacks was a British-born neurologist who came to fame through his work with patients living with encephalitis lethargica. The “sleepy sickness” touched possibly a million people as an after-effect of the great influenza epidemic of 1916-1921. In the 60s, Sacks cared for dozens of those affected who remained in distracted, sleepy, imprisoned states of being for decades long after the epidemic. His most famous of many books is Awakenings, which retold the stories of his severely compromised fellows. Awakenings was eventually made into an award-winning film of the same name starring Robin Williams and Robert De Niro.

Sacks was a compassionate, thoughtful neurologist who cared for and loved patients as if they were family. In the midst of his work with sleepy sickness patients and others with similar Parkinsonian symptoms, Dr. Sacks came to an “earth-shaking” revelation:

“I was forced, too, to wonder if my previous world-views had not been too pallid, too superficial, altogether too ‘rational’ in mere skimmings or skatings on the surface of reality; if I had not been denying the fierce complexity of Nature, profoundly important determinants of being – forces below the surface of the conscious, forces below the surface of the world, powers beyond powers …”

Nature, in her subtle works and wonders, stared him in the face day to day. Once recognized, Sacks endeavored to put mechanistic, formulaic medical methods into broader perspective. He concluded that those methods “can not only endanger patients, but are deeply unscientific in that they go with an improper attitude to Nature – the arrogant feeling that Nature exists to be commanded and ruled, instead of the humble feeling that we need to understand her.”

One of Dr. Sacks’s main conclusions was the urgent “need for a rational medicine, one based on the deepest understanding of natural law.”

Oliver Sacks equated Rational Medicine with Understanding of Natural Law.

Lewis Thomas

Lewis Thomas (1913-1993)

Lewis Thomas was a physician and researcher, administrator and author. In his various writings, he surveyed the flow of medicine over the course of the 20th century. In the midst of his modern medical trappings, Dr. Thomas was in his own way a keen observer of the world and Nature. He noted that the word physician came from “one of the master roots in the old language, bheu, meaning Nature itself, being, existence. Phusis was made from this root in Greek, on its way to the English word physic, used for medicine in general, and physics, meaning the Study of Nature.”  

At the same time, Thomas also came to some sweeping conclusions:

“The only solid piece of scientific truth about which I feel totally confident is that we are profoundly ignorant about Nature. Indeed, I regard this as the major discovery of the past hundred years of biology.”

“The greatest difficulty in trying to reason your way scientifically through the problems of human disease is that there are so few solid facts to reason with.”

Yet, “Nature is everywhere real and alive and our thinking about Nature must be real and alive.”

Thomas was also quite aware that, “The old art of medicine has been lost, forgotten.”

The magic of “touching was the real professional secret, never acknowledged as the central, essential skill, always obscured by the dancing and the chanting, but always busily there, the laying on of hands.”

Lewis Thomas pointed to the need to Understand Nature and
let it Work through the Hands.

William Osler

William Osler (1848-1918)

Sir William Osler, the Father of American Medicine, admitted early in his classic book Aequanimitas that “we have not yet risen to a true conception of Nature.” While a student of Nature in his own way, Osler made his name as a pathologist and later as a teacher of internal medicine. He was revered from Canada, to the USA, and on to Great Britain, but readily admitted the immensity of his subject and the limits of his own life, experience and knowledge.

He hardly ran from books, but reveled in them. Osler studied all manner of physicians and philosophers. He was a keen student of his times and first found success studying human bodies decimated by the diseases and epidemics of his day. Gradually drawn from the dissection room, Dr. Osler set to studying living bodies and teaching young medical students.
“The question, ‘What is Life?’ lay behind everything I learned.... It became clear that the mechanistic concept of life, which dominated our study of medicine at that time, was unsatisfactory. There was no denying the principle of a creative power governing life; only it was not satisfactory as long as it was not tangible, as long as it could not be described or practically handled.”

William Osler prayed for the Creative Power of Life to be made Tangible.

AT Still

Andrew Taylor Still (1828-1917)

Andrew Taylor Still began as a medical doctor following in his father’s footsteps in Kansas. He repeatedly witnessed the failures of standard medicine to benefit many human ills. Dr. Still became more and more disillusioned with his profession until his patience broke upon the passing of three family members from meningitis. He then turned in his own unique way to Nature for answers.

Still painstakingly and persistently dissected dozens of corpses, mostly taken from Indian burial sites. From them he learned “first hand” Nature alive in the structure and function of the body. Along the way, he unearthed” much knowledge and awareness so as to create the discipline of Osteopathy. Still admitted that many of his discoveries could never be put into words, but he was able to demonstrate them through his presence and his hands. He encouraged his students to do much the same on needy patients.

Osteopathy then became a living monument to the open secrets of Nature and to the grand wonders of the human form. Osteopathic doctors who put their hands on sick people were known to have far greater success in times of cholera and other epidemics.

“Thus I have prosecuted the voyage from sea to sea, until I have discovered that Nature is never without necessary remedies…. God or Nature is the only doctor whom man should respect. Man should study and use the drugs of His drug-store only.”

AT Still demonstrated Nature as the Real Healer,
Physicians acting as Nature’s aides through their hands.

Franz Hartmann

Franz Hartmann (1838-1912)

Franz Hartmann was a German physician and healer, theosophist and world traveler. He turned to learn where possible from Nature itself. Hartmann was keen to say that, “The practice of medicine is the art of restoring the sick to health” with the aid of Nature.

In his time, Hartmann recognized the “apparent” successes of medicine in fact resulted far more from improvements in hygiene and sanitation, nutrition and housing than the medical system. He also noted that medicine of his day and even more so in ours “is, to a great extent, looked upon and employed as if it were a system by which man by his cunning and cleverness may cheat Nature out of her dues and act against the laws of God with impunity …”

“Instead of seeking to know the divine laws in Nature, and to help to restore the divine order of things, the highest aim of medical science is at present to find means to so poison the body of man … to make it incapable of reacting upon the introduction of a similar poison. This system corresponds in religion to that which succeeds in quieting the voice of conscience by never paying any attention to it.”

Franz Hartmann wanted medics to Pay Attention to Nature
to stimulate and restore Health.

Anton Mesmer

Anton Mesmer (1734-1815)

Anton Mesmer, the famed Austrian whose name is in daily use [mesmerizing and being mesmerized], dared to bring Nature palpably into the hands of physicians and laypersons alike. Mesmer was happy to teach doctors the discoveries he made over time in the midst of undisturbed Nature. [He spent three months with Nature, alone and wordlessly. Mesmer told that he thought without words for that period. Thus his perceptions and life were changed dramatically.] That Doctor also believed that gifts of Nature – her magnetic influences – could be used by passing them through the hands of all manner of citizens to aid those in distress and disease.

Mesmer brought his discoveries and teachings to the public in Paris during the years before the French Revolution. He attracted attention and admiration from the curious as well as the sick. At the same time, the German Doctor aroused fear and animosity among medical practitioners.

So, Mesmer turned away from the medical system to open-minded Parisians, forming Societies of Harmony throughout France and then beyond its borders. The Societies were intended to help members pass on Nature’s healing gifts to all classes of humans. Students trained in the Societies were required to tend all patients regardless of means. For many reasons, most especially the French Revolution, Mesmer’s Societies and discoveries slipped into history all too quickly.

Anton Mesmer bowed to Nature, proclaiming that, “Nature affords a universal means of healing and preserving men.”

Anton Mesmer taught that Nature’s Methods for Healing are universally available.

Jan Van Helmont

Jan Baptist Van Helmont (1580–1644)

Jan Van Helmont was a seeker of truth and benefactor to the poor. He gave up a family fortune and proceeded as a physician treating the poor and others gratis. Van Helmont was a devotee of Hippocrates, Father of Medicine. He believed that Hippocrates had known great secrets regarding the plague and was able to cure it. While those secrets had been lost, Van Helmont set out to rediscover the causes and cures of the plague [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.”

Van Helmont came to understand 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.”
The key element to which Van Helmont and others pointed was FEAR. The Pest was created by a “Pestilential Ferment” or “Image of conceived Terror.” Its poison was created out of apprehension and the conception of terrible effects. Thus, Van Helmont reckoned that when FEAR wraps itself in substance, it can readily darken the “lights of the human form.”

Van Helmont gave a number of Remedies (Preventives) for the Plague, and presumably for any Contagion which can be found. [See our previous essay at - http://peoplemedicine.net/CVContagions.html for a more detailed account of Van Helmont’s ideas and methods.]

During the plague circa 1640, Van Helmont was in prison because of his heretical ideas. But, it is said that he gained release “to attend certain of the sick during this period, and rescued many” using his simple natural methods.

Accordingly, Jan Baptist Van Helmont became known as “Nature’s Privy-Counsellor and thus accessed its secrets as have the greatest healers of all times. He was convinced of Mother Nature’s wondrous creative and regenerative (healing) powers. He saw the matter of bodies being revitalized by agents of God and Nature. Without those invisible agents, there is no life, no healing, no transformation.”

With them the brutal and destructive practices of the medicine of his day could have been set aside, as he hoped to see the doctors of the future rise to new heights. Illness and disease could and should be met with sympathetic rather than combative methods. After allowing Nature to produce her recuperative wonders, the sick can arise from their troubles better for the experience.  

Van Helmont revealed Secrets of Nature regarding the Cure of the contagion called Plague.


Paracelsus (1493-1541

Paracelsus, born Aureolus Philippus Theophrastus Bombast von Hohenheim, was a truly committed student of Nature. At an early age, he apprenticed with his physician father. Soon, he fashioned his own curriculum.

Like Van Helmont, Paracelsus felt a deep calling to be a Physician directed by God and dedicated to knowledge of Nature. “I began to study … the book of Nature, written by the finger of God … I have entered through the door of Nature: her light, and not the lamp of an apothecary’s [druggist’s] shop, has illuminated my way… Nature and her grand treasures are key to understanding the wonders of life, to living in harmony with the rest of the world, and to finding the means to healing in any situation.”

Paracelsus, known as the Swiss Hermes (as well as the Swiss Hippocrates), largely studied medicine and philosophy through Nature. With Nature always the key, Paracelsus bowed to her great powers while becoming the greatest physician of the past millennium. His voluminous writings, mostly compiled after his death, appear to the novice reader sometimes contradictory, sometimes confusing, and often hard to read – much like Nature herself.

As to the issue at hand, like Van Helmont, Paracelsus saw “Man himself as the first cause of plague.” All action being generated through imagination, “as all heaven is nothing but imagination; it acts on man, causes plague and other disease, not through bodily instruments, but through its form (Gestalt), as the sun kindles fire.”

“The spirit is the master, the mind [imagination] is the tool, and the body the plastic material.”

Contagion was due to a propagation of an “infectious” seed. “The original causation of the plague, however, is more complicated than a mere chain of metabolic-chemical events in Nature at large and in Man. It lies in a psycho-physical interaction between man and the stars…. Thus Man himself brings down the scourge of the plague upon mankind.”
Paracelsus’s concept of contagion is related to “Natural Magic,” both being based on attraction and repulsion in the world. So too, healing calls for the invitation of Nature to regenerate the sick and needy.

Paracelsus promoted Nature as the Distributor of the Divine Balsam of Life.


We will follow up the threads sewn here in coming essays. Sources of quotations available on request. Comments are always welcome

Send comments to theportableschool at gmail dot com.



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