The main themes at the Washington Congress of the International Homoeo- pathic League were Sepia and Lachesis, a most happy choice which led into
many fresh and deepening insights. In spite of all that has been said on that
occasion as well as in the very considerable literature devoted to these remedies from many different sides, perhaps it is justified to attempt yet a further look at Lachesis. Personally I was so struck by the contrast of these two substances, Lachesis and Sepia, and their respective sources that I have been impelled to try and illuminate some aspects of the problem. Also it behoves us to do all that we can to bring out the genuine wholeness in our drug pictures, for mostly these present themselves to us, still, more or less as agglomerations of paradoxical symptoms.
Our remedy Lachesis is prepared from the venom of the Bushmaster Lachesis muta, perhaps the most aggressive and poisonous of all snakes. Again, as in the case of Sepia, we are faced with the question whether the source or only the chemical nature of this venom is significant. The chemical nature was the basis of Otto Leeser’s study and must be allowed to stand, but the serpent nature, as revealed in myth, forms the basis of Whitmont’s interpretation. Both approaches convince us of their validity. H. H. Engel, some years ago, contributed a profoundly suggestive paper which included the biological physiognomy.
Let us then begin with the serpents themselves which have from immemorial
antiquity figured so largely in myth and legend. It is strange that these creatures which are really rather inconspicuous and mostly rather timid and which in their outer form are so simple should have become symbols of wisdom and of man’s Fall and Redemption. It is strange that there is such almost universal revulsion from them. To our untutored observation they do not manifest any especial wisdom in their behaviour. Some of them are poisonous, most of them are not. The majority of them are said to live in the sea or, like the Anaconda, in fresh water, but we are more familiar with them on land. In evolution they appeared as polar opposites to the birds, both developing from primordial reptiles, but in opposite directions, clearing the air, so to speak, for the mammals and man to make their appearance in the middle. The similarities and polarities of these contrasted forms were brought out by Poppelbaum. Whereas in birds the whole trunk has been condensed into a sort of cage serving altogether as a head, in the snakes everything has become digestive. Snakes, as Jaworski also saw, are intestines served by other organs. Everything in them is concerned with swallowing and digesting. The digestive capacity of these creatures is staggering, they envelop their prey, in the case of pythons it may be a whole pig, they do not eat it or chew, they swallow it whole. The girth of the creature may be six times its normal after a meal. The digestive force is so strong that practically only pure uric acid is eliminated. In this elimination of uric acid they resemble the birds, mammals eliminate urea, with the strange
exception of Dalmatian dogs which also excrete uric acid. This colossal digestive capacity is true of both the poisonous and non-poisonous varieties. Snakes often eat each other and there is the famous symbol of the uroboros, the snake eating its own tail.
There are many witnesses to the overwhelming horror of the open mouth
of a snake. Owing to the system of levers by which the lower jaws are attached, it is possible for them to swallow objects many times larger than themselves. In the venomous snakes the poison is secreted from modified salivary glands, in the vipers it is actually shot through hollow teeth like hyperdermic needles. In one species this is so arranged that the venom is ejected to a distance of some yards in front of the creature and it can hit the eye of the victim from a distance.
We have seen in the case of the cuttlefish and molluscs that they are characterized by a non-segmental form. There is no metamerism in the molluscs, they are heads or pelves without trunks. In striking contrast the snakes are a series of almost non-ending vertebrae, up to 400. They have lost their legs and pelvic and shoulder girdles. Their heads with attached jaws are almost just a simple continuation of the vertebrae, with ribs for jaws. There is no sternum, no thorax, and the jaws can move separately so that the snakes can, so to speak, walk over their prey. In them segmentation, metamerism, reaches its highest expression, but it is entirely in service to the digestive function. They have usually only one lung, the left is greatly reduced or practically absent. Here the asymmetry which governs the abdomen extends strongly into the lungs, again showing how everything has dropped backwards or fallen downwards in these creatures. Just as in the birds everything has jumped ahead, so in snakes everything has become intestine, has fallen down. It is interesting also to note how in lizards and kindred forms, as legs diminish towards limbless forms the number of vertebrae correspondingly increase.
In the realm of the senses similar tendencies meet us. The eyes of the snake, contrasting with the ever-open eyes of the cuttlefish, are forever sealed, the eyelids have become transparent but are closed. It seems, too, that the snake only sees movement. Stationary objects it cannot see. It probably has no sense for colour. The sense of sight therefore can be said to have fallen out of its true sphere into a sense of movement. The tongue, flickering in and out through a small hole in the closed lips, seems rather to touch the air around than to taste anything. The swallowing whole of the victim is against any real tasting.
The tongue, with horny tips, seems to be an extended organ of touch, not
taste. The ears are scarcely developed, the middle ear, with the three ossicles, morphologically representing thigh, leg and foot, is absent, as is to be expected in creatures without limbs. Hearing has become a sense for mere vibration extended through the length of the creature. The senses also are fallen, degraded lower than their proper station. We have the impression that everything has slipped down a stage, is out of its proper place.
In the birds, a great range of colourful motifs and gestures come to outer
expression in plumage, ritual dances and behaviour, and in song. In the snakes, very little of all this psychic world, which the birds have around them, manifests outwardly. No bird is poisonous. In the snakes, we are compelled to see that all this rich realm of psychic forces has entered into the very metabolic, digestive processes. It is this world of forces, penetrating too deeply into the physiological realm, that gives rise to the poison. Is it not also this occulted world of the psychic which has become concealed in, rather than manifested around, the creature, that is the wisdom of the serpent. Like the blind sage Teiresias, like the blind Homer, the snakes’s attention is towards an inner world in which profound est wisdom is concealed.
But the endless repetition of the vertebra, the inability, as it were, of the
snake to put an end to it, is still enigmatic. The vertebral note sounded again
and again, like the repeated nodes of plant growth, points to immense vegetative forces of life. The bringing of this to a conclusion in skull and pelvis, as in root and blossom, belongs to other than purely vegetative forces. In the snake these other psychic forces have gone entirely into the digestive realm, neither can they bring forth limbs, and proper lungs from which inner sound can come forth. The snake can only hiss.
The snake often has a sexual, phallic, significance. This again is enigmatic,
seeing that its life patterns are so much more digestive than sexual. In con-
sidering the cuttlefish, Sepia off., we were faced with the bipolarity of sex; the cuttlefish and cephalopods can represent both the uterus and head. Conception in mankind is predominantly female in the uterus and male in the brain, and we are reminded of how the bisexual primitive forms became divided into separate sexes as Plato indicates in the Symposium and as indicated also in Genesis, male-female created he them. This moment of division is usually associated with the Fall of Man and we have been seeing how much the serpent is a revelation of fallen state. Now we also saw in the molluscs how the oyster is a polar contrast to the octopus and cuttlefish, and how the oyster strikes a predominantly cephalic note, the octopus a predominantly uterine one. In the case of the snakes, we shall have to look to the birds to find the complementary form. Taken alone, the serpent represents a sexuality concerned only with sensuality and reproduction. The higher pole of sexuality concerned with knowledge and consciousness is missing, sex has also collapsed into a fallen, or partial aspect which again for this reason fills the soul with a horror, the meaninglessness of mere feeding and reproduction, the horror of the snake pit.
I think we can also glimpse the nature of the horror to which the spectacle
of a feeding snake gives rise. The eating is also sexual, but wholly, appallingly, lacking in the higher metamorphosis which gives meaning and which is expressed in the gnostic writing which Holst set to music in his Hymn of Jesus. “Fain would I eat, fain would I be eaten.” We can now also glimpse an aspect of the mystery whereby man’s fall came about through the Serpent and his redemption began with the Baptism in Jordan and the manifestation of the Holy Spirit in the form of a Dove. The healing snakes of Asklepios are raised up vertically along the staff of the Caduceus and are winged, thus indicating the nature of the healing art, the restoring of wholeness to that which has fallen and become partial and divided.
How far can this picture of the snake help us to unriddle the drug picture
of Lachesist The greed of the snake which compels it to swallow its victim
whole finds its place in the egotism of Lachesis. The great emphasis on swallowing must be related to all the throat symptoms of all the snake venoms, but particularly Lachesis. In the egg-eating snake this note is most tellingly expressed. Special bony knobs on some of the vertebrae break right through into the oesophagus. The egg, swallowed with difficulty, is held behind the head as a great bulge; then it is cracked against the vertebral bones and the shell sent up, the egg contents swallowed down. In the globus hystericus, which in minor degrees is a common symptom, we sense a difficulty in swallowing, a reluctance to swallow the bitter pill of truth, a fear of being poisoned.
This question of the throat, of swallowing, so central to the Lachesis picture,
calls for our further consideration. The throat is the gateway to the world of
the belly, the world of the unconscious, the underworld. When we swallow
something it passes from the sphere of consciousness into the unconscious,
there we digest it and absorb it and are ourselves changed in the process. We swallow not only food but experience. We are often reluctant to swallow
unpleasant truths and experiences and thus they stick in our gullet, but
then we cannot forget them either, nor can we grow through their digestion.
The throat is a threshold and we learn from mythology that at doorways or
thresholds there are guardians. These are often dogs, the most well known
perhaps being Cerberus, the three-headed hound at the crossing ofthe river Styx.
Now in the mythology of the healing god Asklepios, snakes and dogs are
interchangeable. In the Roman museum at Bath there is an altar to Asklepios and on one side there is a snake, on another a dog. San Rocco, the patron saint of the plague and a medieval saint of healing, is always portrayed with a dog. It is indeed strange to find that Lac caninum, our remedy from bitches’ milk, has also this predilection for the throat and with Lachesis and Mercurius is one of three great remedies for sore throats and diphtheria. The God Mercury, of course, carries the Caduceus and is the psychopompus, the guide to the underworld, whilst our remedy Lac caninum is characterized by dreams of snakes.
The egotism of Lachesis may also be based on the selfishness of the snake
digestion which gives so little back to the earth. In contrast we have to think
of the cow, another sacred animal, which however, with its profound and
mysterious digestion gives to the earth the potent restoring manure of its
excrement and bestows its beneficent milk.
Does the dog gain its relationship to the snake through its descent from
the mean and cowardly jackal and the greedy wolf’! Certainly the dog is easily overwhelmed by shame, and then cringes on its belly like the snake. “Upon thy belly shalt thou go.” Expressions like “a dirty dog”, “a whipping dog”, indicate the tendency to throw our guilt elsewhere. There is also widespread belief that a dog howling at night heralds a death, a crossing of the threshold.
The great sensitivity of the throat to touch in the Lachesis patient belongs
partly to the general throatiness of snakes we have been considering and partly to the extreme sensitivity to touch altogether shown by these patients.
Bearing in mind the main features of our characterization of the snake, the
predominance of the digestive function and the fall of other functions to a
lower status than normal, we have to see how certain main symptoms of the
Lachesis picture fall into place.
Firstly, there is the aggravation of symptoms during and after sleep, with
waking into an aggravation of symptoms. The predominantly katabolic activity of the brain and nervous system during waking life gives way during sleep to a predominantly anabolic life. The balance tilts decisively during sleep in the direction of anabolism and those symptoms and disease processes which arise from anabolic superfluity are exaggerated. These are exactly the Lachesis conditions. Over-sleeping can be as much a cause of illness as undersleeping, which falls more into the Nux vomica field of action. Sepia conditions can be ameliorated or aggravated by sleep, in my experience they are often ameliorated, and Phosphorus is usually better for even short sleeps.
Secondly, symptoms are relieved by the onset of discharges, whether nasal, menstrual or other. Again here we see how a disbalance which has developed under anabolic supremacy is restored to harmony by the excretory, katabolic functions culminating in discharges.
Thirdly there is the extreme sensitivity to touch and particularly to con-
striction of any form. It is a little like the Ignatia hypersensitivity and is more
to light touch than firm pressure. It seems to be associated with hypersensitive, hysterical types of women and it may be connected with the definite tendency for hysterical symptoms to manifest more on the left side of the body. Hysterical symptoms proper reflect a predominance of the metabolic pole, in contrast to neurasthenic symptomatology which expresses the overweighting of the balance in the direction of the nerves and senses pole. This connection with the left- right polarity is also suggestive. The left side is both the feminine and the unconscious side and so here again we are brought up against the balance of conscious and unconscious which we have considered in relation to the throat. We should also bring it into relationship with the arterial-venous polarity. The left side is the arterial and centrifugal side, whereas the right side is venous and centripetal. The Lachesis tendency to purplish, venous discoloration is
thus found to be related to the left-sidedness and sensitivity to constriction.
Any constriction, more particularly on the left, centrifugal, side, will result
in congestion and venous distention. A firm enough pressure will also result in stopping the arteriolar flow and hence will prevent the venous overfilling. This preponderance of the venous side of the circulation may well be the basis also for the desire for air, for open windows, characterizing these patients. The aggravation from warmth with its relation to digestive and metabolic activities and its tendency to dilate the skin circulation is to be expected, as is the aggravation from alcohol. The Lachesis headaches of congestive type, aggravated by heat or sun and often left-sided, can be included here.
There is one further mental symptom which needs to be mentioned, the
loquacity sometimes seen in and indicating this remedy. It is an endless chatter of unrelated themes in which no real expression of the personality is achieved, no real communication. Any restriction on their logorrhoea is felt as a constriction in the physical symptoms. It reminds, too, of the endless repetition of the vertebrae, with the inability to put a stop to it, and finally the flashing in and out of the tongue, restlessly touching the air as the chatter seems to be more a feeling, a testing of the environment than an utterance from within. The snake can only hiss, it cannot sound forth its inner world.
The Lachesis patient may have a craving for oysters which seems indeed
another telling symptom. The oyster as head puts an end to and a crown on
top of the vertebral column and so it is indeed what the snake in us seeks, as a healing and completion of its exaggerated onesidedness.
Amongst the general indications for Lachesis we find the menopause and this seems to be related to certain features, two of them already familiar to us. The menopause marks the threshold of a new phase of existence, it marks the time when the individual can begin to take in hand his or her renewal, when the primary tasks of reproductive life are over. It is the transition from tasks of generation to those of regeneration. The cessation of the healing discharge of menstruation adds another note. The other feature of the snake which finds expression here is the changing of the skin, the renewal which it experiences every spring. We can also relate the spring and autumn aggravations to these same dynamics.
So far we have attempted to sketch the relation of the Lachesis drug picture
to the serpent archetype, using as a help the essential features revealed by
biology and mythology. It is perhaps surprising how far this can go, especially when we consider that the remedy is prepared from the venom rather than from the snake itself. It does seem that the mental and general symptoms and modalities are more understandable in terms of the characterization of the serpent as a whole than in terms of the chemistry of the venom and the acute symptoms of snake bite. However, Leeser did attempt to build up the drug picture from the known biochemistry of the venom.
The acute picture of snake bite depends on the injection of venom, usually
some mls, into the flesh of the victim. The venom, considered as a complex
mixture of enzymes, is also understood as a powerful secretion of salivary or
digestive glands. The presence of such powerful enzymes in salivary or modified salivary glands again relates these glands of the mouth to the intestinal and pancreatic juices. The same note which we have observed before is again struck here and emphasized by the presence in snake venom of zinc, which is a normal constituent of the pancreas. Powerful digestive processes, normally only occurring in the secret coils of the intestine, are after snake bite unveiled to our observation. Perhaps this is one further reason for the dread they invoke. These processes should not happen to the living, intact, victim. They should be reserved for the digestion of the chewed up, masticated portions of already killed prey. Understood in this way, these phenomena find their natural place within our overall picture. They manifest clinically in the severe septicaemic states which in the pre-antibiotic era were one of the chief successes in the Lachesis claim to fame. The crude toxic phenomena of snake bite then find their disease correlate in the toxic inflammatory states. The phenomena of provings, in which potencies are ingested, find their general correlation in the organs and regions of the body, e.g. the throat, in laterality, and in the modalities. The mentals on the whole seem to be correlated with those ‘provings’, as
I would maintain, that are expressed in myth and legend and which are the
response to the total impact made by the serpent through all the senses of the soul and not merely through the sense of taste.
We started from a comparison of the contrasting forms of snakes and cuttle-
fish. The contrast goes into the secretions which are the basis for our remedies. The sepia ink is an excretion used in the escapist defence ritual of the cuttlefish, whereas the snake venom is a mixture of fiercely active digestive enzymes used in attack. It is not surprising that the drug pictures are so distinct. It is also not surprising that in contrast to the highly sexually oriented action of Sepia, Lachesis has little real relation to the genital organs. It is more concerned with egotism and aggression.
We may conclude with the picture of the Akropolis at Athens. Two temples
crown it. One, the Erectheum, was dedicated to the snake God-King Erectheus of ancient Athens. In this temple, a serpent was always kept. The other, the Parthenon, was the temple of Pallas Athene, goddess of wisdom. Behind the Parthenon in the Museum is a statue of Athene in all her terrifying divinity, her cloak edged with serpents. She also is a serpent goddess. She is perhaps better known to us with her bird, the owl. Zeus has his eagle, Aphrodite her doves, but Pallas Athene has her owls, the birds of wisdom, the nocturnal birds, who in reversing the normal sleep rhythm of birds have become the true complement of the serpent raised up to the vertical around the staff of Asklepios and plumed.
- Dale-Green, Patricia (1966) Dog. London: Rupert Hart-Davies.
- Engel, H. H. (1959) Snakes-An essay in interpretation. The British Homceopathic Journal, 48, 22l.
- Harling, M. (1958) The snake under the skin. The British Homceopathic Journal, 47, 182.
- Kerenyi, C. (1960) Asklepios . Archetypal Image of the Physician’s Existence. London:Thames & Hudson.
- Leeser, O. (1958) Actions and medicinal use of snake venoms. The British Homoeopathic Journal, 47, 153.
- Twentyman, L. R. (1974) Sepia in the male and the male in Sepia. The British Homoeopathic Journal, 63,267.
- Whitmont, E. C. (1975) Psycho-physiological reflections on Lachesis. The British Homoeopathie Journal, 64, 14.
Author: R. TWENTYMAN, M.B., B.eH., F.F.HOM.
Source: The British Homoeopathic Journal, January 1975