Many healing stories have been reported to me during my investigation of veterinary homeopathy. In these stories, the interviewees reflect upon cases where, either alone or with help, they succeeded in using homeopathy to heal an animal. They focus on the first signs of illness and on the evolution of the animal’s condition during treatment and through to full recovery. What follows is one example, taken from a dairy farmer in the Vendée region who practises organic farming.
“The first cow I treated with homeopathy was … I wrote it down … in 1985 or 1986. I had a cow that came out of the milking parlour… E. coli mastitis! I mean raging mastitis, the cow fell over! Ah! [I said:] “Shall I call the vet or not?” And her milk was slightly blue. So I searched and searched… blue, it’s more likely Lachesis. So I gave her – this will make you laugh, it’s crazy! I spent the night monitoring the cow’s state! I’d been on the internet, I’d looked at pretty much everything, I thought: “It has to be Lachesis! I’m not going to call the vet.” So I didn’t call the vet. I gave the cow 5 or 6 pellets of Lachesis 5C, because when you are not too sure, it’s best to start like that. And then two hours later I came back, my cow hadn’t got any worse. But she still wouldn’t get up! So I continued the treatment. At midnight the cow had improved, she was up. I thought: “Ah, that’s better, that’s better!” But her udder! And the milk was discoloured, blue… that’s weird, you know! (…) Lachesis, blue, it was congested. (….) And at two in the morning, my cow was chewing the cud. The next day she was eating hay. The vets refused to believe me! (…) And that’s when I said: “Now we can do it! When you put your mind to it, you can do it!”
Here the breeder is talking about a cow that had E. coli mastitis: this is an inflammation of the udder caused by microbes present in the animal’s environment. This is a particularly serious pathology which can lead to the rapid death of the animal if not treated in time. In the above story, the animal seems to be very weak: it can no longer get to its feet. The breeder chooses to use homeopathy as a first line of treatment for the cow. One particular sign, the bluish colour of the milk, attracts his attention, and orients him towards using Lachesis, which is made from a substance derived from the venom of the Lachesis mutus snake. He closely monitors the cow's condition so as to adjust the treatment. After several doses of the same remedy, the animal recovers. Finally, recovery is fast: about 6 hours after the first intervention, the cow is standing and starting to eat normally again while ruminating.
In this example, the farmer did not call the veterinarian, despite the serious nature of the animal's condition, because the veterinarian has no expertise in alternative medicine and would have immediately prescribed an antibiotic treatment. Indeed, this breeder has organic farming certification and must therefore comply with specifications that restrict the use of antibiotics (no more than three treatments per cow per year). He is therefore interested in other ways of treating the animals. He discovered homeopathy following the birth of his first daughter in the 1980s: she was suffering from eczema and a family friend advised them to consult a homeopathic doctor. The breeder learned about homeopathic medicine through discussions with this homeopathic doctor, reading specialized books and consulting internet sites. The story shown here describes the first time the breeder used homeopathy alone on his herd. It was a test which proved to be positive. As he says at the end of the interview: "Now, we can do it!" He is saying that he can use homeopathy on his entire herd, provided he puts the necessary resources in place.
The breeder enthusiastically tells us about this first cure obtained through homeopathy and focuses on certain details - the blue colour of the milk, an unusual sign that allowed him to immediately find the right remedy. He insists on recounting this event, from the very beginning of the interview, when the investigator was asking him how he had trained in homeopathy. We deduce that he also told this story to his veterinarians, because he tells us that they did not believe him.
In another interview with an organic dairy farmer from the Mayenne region, the investigator asks him to give "examples that made an impression on him". The farmer then offers to talk about "three clinical cases (...) that are somewhat atypical". He does not practice homeopathy alone, but works with a homeopathic veterinarian, Mr. F., who is present at the time of the interview. Since the advice is mostly given over the phone, the breeder has learned to observe his animals in order to help with the diagnosis. Here is the first case, described by both the breeder and Mr. F., of a cow suffering from E. coli mastitis.
Breeder: Well, I’ve got three clinical cases… which are in fact quite atypical… So there’s the cow with the Camphora [treatment]… so E. coli-type mastitis. So I called [Mr F.]. So back then we were in the milking parlour… So the cow comes to be milked in the usual way. But when I’m washing her, I notice that… there’s one quarter which is much bigger, far more volume. So in fact it’s curds ((Curds in the milk takes the form of small lumps, it’s a sign of swelling of the udder.)). I was still getting milk… or a few curds at first, but there was still milk.
Mr F.: But when I arrived a bit later, it was just cider ((The veterinarian compares the aspect of the milk to that of cider, to underline its abnormal character.)).
Breeder: Well... yes, that’s right. So it was early in the day… milking was done early, and even before I called you I was already getting modified milk. So there was a rapid evolution from mastitis to E. coli mastitis, without… there necessarily being any real temperature, right?
Mr F.: No. Her temperature was no higher than 38… (…)
Breeder: So while waiting for [Mr F.] to arrive (…) I empty the quarter as many times as I can… So when [Mr F.] arrived, she was in a stall. She was lying down in a stall. Not necessarily very, very dejected… She got up… She got up to go and feed… So I don’t know if that was when you touched her?
Mr F.: Yes. When I was taking her temperature.
Breeder: Or when taking her temperature the second time, yes when taking it again… that [Mr F.] noticed that (…) her hide was very cold. And me… Maybe I’d put my hand on her, but I hadn’t… I hadn’t noticed anything, you see! So… it goes to show that every little detail counts. Because I very clearly remember [Mr F.] asking me: “You didn’t notice anything?” No, well… I was fairly certain I’d touched her, you know! I was fairly certain, but…
Mr F.: In fact, her temperature fell… it probably fell very rapidly. In the space of two or three hours. Cold hide, hollow eyes, she wasn’t drinking…
Breeder: She wasn’t drinking. Yes, because she’d walked right past the troughs without…
Mr F.: We gave her some Camphora… So the similarity between camphor and… That cow, the fact is that when you touch camphor, it’s cold. In any case, the cow was cold. And so that cow, she warmed up after that, when we gave her the treatment…
Breeder: And I carried on emptying the quarter, every hour or every two hours, I don’t remember which… And the first drops of milk appeared in the afternoon. White milk. So at first it had just been cider… and then cider with a bit of milk, and finally drops [of milk]… And then cured… Cured… within 48 hours.
Mr F.: 48 hours. It was the Monday morning, and on the Wednesday morning you were putting the milk into the tank. So it was a very pedagogical case! That’s how homeopathy should work!
Here we find some of the characteristics of the first story: the choice of remedy based on a particularly significant element – in this case the low temperature of the cow that points to Camphora, made from camphor; the close monitoring of the animal's condition during its recovery; and a cure obtained relatively quickly, after 48 hours. This is more than the 6 hours mentioned in the first story, but less than the duration of an antibiotic treatment ((For E. coli mastitis, antibiotic treatment lasts a minimum of three days, and can take longer, depending on the evolution of the state of the animal and its udder, as well as the appearance of the milk). Once again, the breeder and the veterinarian have a fairly clear memory of the animal's recovery trajectory.
This example thus is a textbook case for the veterinarian, one that he discusses when training breeders. He describes this example as being "highly educational" because it shows that when the right remedy has been found, recovery is rapid and complete. We also find such accounts in a book on homeopathy for ruminants written by breeders who have collaborated for several years with a homeopathic veterinarian (Collectif, 2011).
The healing stories collected in interviews circulate orally within the agricultural world. They reflect the race against death that takes place when breeders and/or veterinarians try to treat an animal with homeopathy: it takes time to find the right remedy, and yet they do not have much time, because the animal is suffering and its condition is deteriorating. They need to stay alert and spot the most significant clue, the one that will automatically guide them to the appropriate homeopathic remedy. Healing through homeopathy strikes one as a spectacular, even "miraculous" phenomenon: the animal was in a very poor state and the administration of a few carefully chosen pellets allows it to regain health quickly and lastingly.
The purpose of healing stories is not only to explain the homeopathic approach, but also to demonstrate its effectiveness. The system of proof used here is that of curiosity as formalized by Christian Licoppe (1996) in his historical study of the physical sciences: the story that is developed from the observed phenomenon is a testimony of the narrator, whose story structure is "I did... I saw...". The elements of proof put forward by the narrators are purely visual: they relate the actions that they performed to treat the animal by homeopathy, and the effects that they directly observed and which correspond to an improved state of health, which is always presented as surprising. In the first interview, as in others, the first cure obtained with homeopathy is the one that triggered the conviction and adherence of the breeder. But it is difficult for those who did not see the healing process with their own eyes to believe it: in the first example, the veterinarians "refused to believe" the breeder.
So the story is intended to awaken other people’s interest in homeopathy and to encourage them to test this therapy for themselves and to experiment its effects first-hand. As I showed in the previous blogpost, the homeopathic approach is difficult to master and requires a significant investment by the breeder. Many breeders do not implement this therapy after following training courses, or else they quickly give up after just a few attempts. The circulation of spectacular healing stories encourages novices to persevere until they manage to heal a sick animal.
In his historical study of human homeopathy, Olivier Faure (2002) suggests that the scene of miraculous healing lies at the heart of stories of conversion to this medicine.
"The scene of miraculous healing, which is very much present in conversion stories, does not appeal to Catholics and mystics alone. The story is invariable. Gravely afflicted, the hero has tried everything to heal himself or his spouse. Through reading or the advice of friends, he becomes acquainted with homeopathy, and shows no hesitation in travelling throughout Europe to find the master or one of his first disciples. Almost immediately cured, and as if in awe, he decides to devote the rest of his life to the triumph of homeopathy." (Faure, 2002, p. 89).
These stories that mark the beginnings of human homeopathy concern people suffering from illnesses that classical medicine was unable to cure and which were finally cured through homeopathy. The stories are then circulated to attract new disciples. The author uses the religious metaphor, relating the beginnings of homeopathy, a time when this therapy was presented as being in opposition to modern medicine. The situation is different today, as homeopathy is considered to complement conventional medicine. In the majority of cases reported by breeders, they test homeopathy on pathologies that can be treated using the modern therapeutic arsenal. Their objective is to reduce the use of allopathic products, particularly antibiotics.
While stories of successful cures are the most common, breeders also sometimes report failures. The abovementioned farmer from the Vendée region mentions a certain number of disappointments, especially with young animals: "because the calf can't talk, can he!” In his opinion, calves present fewer symptoms than adults when they are sick. Yet the diseases that affect them, especially diarrhoea, evolve very quickly. In the book mentioned earlier, four pages are devoted to failures and how to overcome them (Collectif, op. cit, pp136-140). Aside from the case where the disease is incurable, causes of failure are attributed to an error in the choice of remedy or dosage (incorrect dilution or administration of the remedy too soon or too late). This is therefore clearly considered as a failure on the part of the caregiver: "In homeopathy the range [of remedies] is vast, dozens of remedies are at our disposal and wrong choices are due to our lack of knowledge and observational work. [If] we have not been able to decipher the case, at best the animal will improve through another therapy, at worst will die."(Collectif, op. cit., p. 139). In the rest of the text, failures are presented as opportunities to learn and improve one's skills in homeopathic care.
The failed cases do not, however, call into question the adherence of the breeders using homeopathy. One organic dairy farmer from the Jura says that he has now chosen to "focus" on homeopathy to care for his animals, adding: "When you [make the right diagnosis], it's easy. And sometimes it seems miraculous, so... it's so nice to achieve a cure like that. It's true that when you get it wrong, it's always unpleasant, but... I've already managed to achieve a 50% success rate.” This is the ambiguity of this therapy; it is presented as "extremely powerful" when the right remedy is found, but it is so difficult to implement and so demanding.
This piece has first been published in French on the Transhumances research blog, which we are thankful to to have allowed us to replicate it here !
Collectif (2011). Homéopathie à la ferme. Des éleveurs racontent. Valence, Editions Repas.
Faure O. (2002). L'homéopathie entre contestation et intégration. Actes de la Recherche en Sciences Sociales, 143, 88-96
Licoppe C. (1996). Du singulier au régulier ou de la curiosité à l’utilité. Anthropologie des sciences et des techniques, 88-126.