Sulphur, A Drug Picture
L. R. TWENTYMAN
(BHJ. Vol. LXIV, 2/1975)
I am going to try and give a picture of Sulphur which, as you know, is one of the most important homœopathic remedies. To me the great problem with all our drug pictures is how to make them into coherent wholes, because in most of the books these drug pictures are really a jumble of bits and pieces. This is most disheartening, not only to the newcomer, but to anyone else who looks seriously into the Materia Medicas. There are many different ways which we could try, but one way, perhaps, is to examine how the substance occurs in various ways in nature, as well as in the human being. Then we may be able to build bridges between the manifestations of the substance, Sulphur, in the different places in which it occurs. Nor should we forget the legendary and mythological aspects of the substance; for these, I think, are a very sensitive form of proving.
If you put something on your tongue and swallow it you get a reaction to the substance through your sense of taste and through the extension of your sense of taste in your digestion. Myths and legends on the other hand are an enormously sensitive response to a substance or Being, a response not just of the gastro-intestinal tract but of the whole psyche. This is quite as much a proving, in a more refined sense, as it is to swallow the substance and see what happens. We can react in many different ways and on different levels.
If you think of Sulphur, I am sure that at this hour of the day, when your minds have been bewildered by many lectures, your imagination will begin to think of all those sulphurous pits of hell in which the purgatorial fires burn and in which one is purged of one’s iniquities and sins. Or perhaps you will be reminded of the brimstone and treacle which someone here was telling me, he was still given as a child. Flowers of Sulphur were sprinkled upon the treacle and it produced a great purging. The word purging, you see, can apply both to psychic sins and to congestions of the gut.
Thinking about this subject the other day, I could not help remembering a few years back when we were having a holiday at Amalfi, and one afternoon we went off along the north coast of the Bay of Naples to one of the most fascinating bits of the earth that you can find: The Phlegraean Fields. In ancient times, the Sibyl had her oracle there at Cumae, and after the Trojan war, Aeneas came and met the Sibyl and was conducted to Lake Avernus and the Underworld and had a journey through the Underworld. The Sanctuary site at Baia was rediscovered just after the war. It is a long tunnel into the hills; the discoverers went down it and found themselves standing at the bottom of the tunnel on the shores of an underground river and suddenly they realized that this was the River Styx. One of them later put on a diving suit, went through it—and survived! This, then, is the sort of world we found ourselves in.
There is a place there called the Solfatara and this is a volcano; not a mountain. It is sort of epitheliomatous ulcer; that is the best way I can describe it. As you approach it there is a big, steep rim, and then, when you get through the rim, there is a fiat surface like the top of a drum. You are conducted very carefully by the guides onto this drum and every now and then there is a hole in it in which black treacle is boiling away—barump, barump, barump! Fumes coming out of it, black treacle boiling, and there you are, and you do feel a little bit uncomfortable. Around the edge of the ulcer there are holes, little vents where whiffs of smoke come out. The trick is that the guide makes a burning wand of wrapped-up newspaper; he lights it so that it smoulders away. He holds this over one of the holes and, lo and behold, the thing begins to belch! Fumes and clouds of smoke pour out. It is a result out of all proportion to the stimulus. And not only that, but all round the rim of the crater, for a quarter of a mile across, every other little vent hole instantaneously begins to belch. It is quite astounding. The whole place becomes a mass of vents belching smoke and steam and sulphurous stenches. It is highly impressive and highly bewildering. How on earth can the small stimulus of heat from a smouldering wand create this widespread effect all round the crater and not just at the hole over which the wand is being waved. It really is an extraordinary performance. I came away from it at the time totally bewildered and to some extent I have remained bewildered ever since. But I think I am beginning gradually to get some concepts with which to approach the problem.
The whole land surface there is in a very labile balance between gravity and levity. Levity is not popular with scientists. They have heavy feet of lead and anything light-hearted is frowned upon by them. But nature often has quite a lot of levity in her and even makes jokes and laughs at scientists from time to time. And the whole land there has been going up and down over the centuries and over the millennia. Sometimes the Roman ruins of the classical sites are under water and sometimes the land rises and you can go and explore them all. It is quite extraordinary. Up and down it goes, not as fast as I am saying it but still it does go up and down and it is quite astonishing. From this you can get an impression of all the volcanic activity in this area which is in a very unstable balance between gravity and levity. And a slight stirring up of the levity by a burning flame is sufficient to suck up all the fumes out of it.
Well, you may say, that is all a lot of rubbish. Who has ever heard of levity. However, let us put it side by side with another phenomenon of nature which is in many ways equally staggering and fascinating. It is merely that we are more used to it, and it gets into the papers more often. This is the phenomenon of an avalanche where you have got great masses of snow on the mountains and one tiny pebble drops upon it, or there may even be just too loud a noise—of somebody shouting—and suddenly the whole thing crashes down under the force of gravity and destroys a village. Here you have a phenomenon which is the polar opposite to the volcanic. You can hold together in your imagination the phenomena to do with volcanoes, where levity raises fumes or masses of rock upwards, and these others where gravity hurls downwards masses of snow. With the volcanoes, Sulphur is associated, and it seems that it never occurs in elemental form apart from past or present volcanic activity.
Perhaps you can remember what Christmas is like on the Continent when the snow falls from up above, when tiny snow crystals gradually come together into flakes, drop down and form this incredibly white, still, covering over nature which lies there in wonderful peace and quiet. Completely static now, it has fallen down, so that something which was right up in the realm of levity has come down out of levity into gravity and there lies in this white snowfield. Whereas in the volcano, the forces from below have come out of the world of gravity and burst up, been caught for a time, into levitational fields.
So I am drawing attention first of all, just in the sphere of nature, to the problem of the relationship of the ponderable and the imponderable. Not much notice is taken today of the imponderable, and certainly not under the term of “the imponderables”. If you mention the imponderables in medicine, people will just think you are talking about psychological influences. But light is, after all, pretty imponderable, as its name implies, and heat is pretty imponderable, but people do not like to make a concept of these things which are imponderable and to observe that they can be related to the ponderable side of nature in rather different ways, in varied and differentiated ways.
If you take Sulphur and contrast it with Phosphorus you can get quite a helpful entrée into this question of how ponderables and imponderables are related. If you take some Sulphur and have it on the table it is quite happy to stay there. It doesn’t start burning or fuming, it just sits there. But, as you no doubt remember, you cannot take a stick of Phosphorus and leave it on the table; it will burn. You have to keep it under water.
In these two substances, the ponderable and the imponderable are united in contrasted ways. In Sulphur, the ponderable stuff you can weigh and the imponderable warmth element are closely bound together, like a good handshake, and they stick together. Sulphur needs a very high temperature before it burns and it then burns with a very hot flame and becomes oxidized. But normally it is happy to stay in the reduced state. Whereas Phosphorus, as you know, will burn if you take it out at all, and it burns with a cold flame. The Phosphorus stuff and the warmth element are very loosely united and Phosphorus seeks to become oxidized.
The ancients had a very different notion about combustion from what the moderns do. The ancients had the idea that when something burns, what really happens is what any of us can see happens: warmth is set free. If you stop thinking what you have been taught in a chemical laboratory, and if you strike a match or burn a lump of coal or anything else, what you actually experience is that warmth is set free in this process of burning. To the ancients warmth was, as you know, called fire and was an element, a distinctive thing. And this was set free. When the modern scientific age came in, four or five hundred years ago, people got obsessed with heaviness and gravity and they couldn’t think of anything existing which did not weigh something. So they had to develop the phlogiston theory. You probably remember in the history of chemistry that there was an idea called the phlogiston theory which still had this notion that heat or warmth was an element, but they could not conceive of it as weighing nothing. So the idea was that when you burnt something, phlogiston was set free and therefore the thing which burnt should have been lighter, because heat had gone out of it and heat must weigh something. Then Lavoisier came along and did some chemical experiments with weighing. He showed that, in fact, when you burn something, it weighs more and not less. And so they said, Well, phlogiston cannot be true. Well, certainly; but if heat belongs to the realm of the levitational world of expansion and not to the gravitational world of contraction, then you can see that the ancients may not have been quite so stupid as our moderns tend to think. And remember that the essential phenomenon which you can see if you trust your senses is that when something burns, heat is set free.
So, in Sulphur one has the substance closely bound together with the element of heat, and only with difficulty can they be separated. Whereas in Phosphorus it spontaneously oxidizes and burns with this cold flame, which is so cold that you can put your hand in the flame. And Phosphorus becomes oxidized, and light, but not heat, escapes. But there are other fascinating things, too, in case you think this is a purely arbitrary distinction between the two phenomena. It has to do with the fact that the hot burning of Sulphur needs oxygen, whilst the cold burning of Phosphorus needs ozone. Wherever you get phosphorescence you will find that it is related to ozone and wherever you get the ordinary hot flame, it needs oxygen, O2 as against O3. This leads us into the realm of the phenomena of pure light, light which forms without heat, the phosphorescent light of the glow-worm as well as the cold flame of Phosphorus,as distinct from the hot flame of the burning candle, where light is a secondary phenomenon, and dependent on—first of all—heat.
So this was simply to introduce the notion of the ponderable and imponderable as bound together in the things around us. As you have all been thinking about the problems of Homœopathy in these days, it may have already struck you that there is something in all this which might have to do with what happens when one potentizes something and reduces the ponderable side of it to nothing, and less than nothing. Perhaps the imponderable side is becoming released in this process of potentization.
If we consider Sulphur a bit more, we will find it is a substance which manifests in many different forms. It changes from flowers of Sulphur into various different crystalline forms of Sulphur and there are six or seven different forms of Sulphur which change into each other according to the temperature. It has the capacity to manifest in all these different forms and change from one into another. A strangely mobile world of phenomena hits one with Sulphur, not fixed at all, very mobile. And in flowers of Sulphur—as the name shows—it is almost a flower; it has a yellow colour like a daffodil, not like a metal; really the element becomes almost a flower, in the flowers of Sulphur, almost a plant. It is an active element which combines very easily with many other things, and has this quality of liking to unite, it is gregarious and, as Hauschka says, acts towards other substances as a cook.
I apologize for talking in this way about a serious science like Chemistry, but we have got to bring qualitative thoughts into these subjects if we are to make any real link between the world of Chemistry and the world of human beings and the psyche. If we make them only ponderable, only, as Lavoisier wanted, weighable, then obviously there is no qualitative, emotional, connection between that and you and me. We can only measure it.
Sulphur, if you observe it, has this quality of wanting to make friends around the place, to unite with things, through warmth. It occurs also, apart from in the mineral world of Inorganic chemistry, in Organic chemistry and in the living world and is an essential element in protein. Here no doubt the ease with which it assumes the colloidal state is important. The world of Protein is, again, one of these very plastic, mobile worlds; it can change, adapt itself to every nuance of changing influence upon it.
Let us think of the way Protein comes about, of the essential elements of protein. Let us first consider the Carbohydrates. These really are the typical stuff of the plant kingdom, the Carbon, the Hydrogen and the Oxygen. You get the whole world of the Carbohydrates out of this. And then, to bring this up to the animal level, to animate it, to raise it to Protein, what must happen? Protein is really animal stuff, and where it occurs in plants it occurs through a sort of animalizing process entering into the plant, as in the Leguminosae. These are better called Papilionaceae, with flowers which look like butterflies, and they produce beans and peas with lots of Protein in them, because this animal-butterflyness has gone down a bit deeper into them and not just remained hovering over them. Where you get this Protein, Nitrogen has come in, and Nitrogen, wherever you get it, is a mobile, explosive fellow. There are explosives based on Nitrogen, TNT and the rest of them. Nitrogen is always about to go off, and brings this mobility, sensibility, into the Carbohydrate, so that it becomes Protein. And then Sulphur comes into it and one gets the impression that Sulphur, in this gregarious, nice, warm way of Sulphur, unites and keeps it all together.
Now let us think of the plants, and the way a plant grows up out of the soil, and up the stem, with its leaves, to the blossom and to the fruit. You can perhaps see that it is at the upper end that Sulphur, and now we are talking of Sulphur not just as a substance but as a process, begins to come out in the blossom. There, the perfumes come out, the essential oils are formed, the whole stream of material salts from the soil going up the plant is carried up into the blossom and there gets almost de-materialized, and carried off into the atmosphere, in the perfumes and in the pollen. The whole thing works up and de-materializes into the atmosphere. This is not unlike the volcanic process. The other process, in which things come into the plant and get carried downward into it till you get the root in relationship with the soil, sensing the soil, and hardened but with a great deal of life in it, this is much more like the condensation of the snow, down into the world of matter and crystal. If you begin to think of these things, not simply in their material, molecular state, but as processes, and begin to feel that we can talk of the Sulphur process belongs more to the blossom, to this place where the plant begins to burn and flame, and that the other place, where the plant gets into relation with the earth and becomes hard, is akin to the Phosphorus process.
So I hope that in this sort of sketchy, imaginative way, we can begin to see that we have got a strange and significant polarity here. We can carry this further and unite it into a picture of the processes which go on inside us, and find again the same processes which we have seen in Meteorology, in the plants, and a little bit in Chemistry. Now, how do these processes work in us? I think you can see from the way in which our metabolic world works, our digestion and metabolism, that it is a very sulphuric world. Here we transform, we take in the food, we work on the protein, we demolish it, we change it; it easily becomes sulphuretted hydrogen and gives off flatus smelling of rotten eggs. You can see how all this process is going on down here, where we are hot and warm and the flame of our life is a hot flame. Up in our head end you can equally see that we are dealing with a Phosphorus-type process, where we burn with the cold flame of thought and an awareness more like the North Pole, whereas here in the abdomen we are more like the equatorial tropics. You see, the whole world is built just like we are. Up at the North Pole you get again the snow process, it is all white and still. And down in the tropics you get these tropical plants in which everything is mixed up; the colours become materialized colours, whereas in the alpine plants, or the plants up at the North Pole, the colours are pure colours, substance is reduced to very little. Colour, imponderableness, becomes purer and purer, which is why people love alpine plants. But if you go to a tropical jungle then you get these strange plants, contorted forms and shapes, flowers which have somehow dirty colours, and poisonous plants. It is all mixed up there, as it is all mixed up in our guts, thoroughly well mixed up. In our heads we separate it out, and just as in the case of Phosphorus, the flame burns with a cold flame, so of course in our brain we think with the cold flame and our awareness is up there.
Now you can begin to get perfectly coherently, I think, something of the drug picture of Sulphur. Even if you do not believe a word I have been saying, you can treat it as a mnemonic and it will help you to remember some of the salient features of the Sulphur drug picture and also give you some feeling, perhaps, of the sort of world you are working with when you prescribe Sulphur.
So burning runs all through, right through the whole picture of Sulphur. Just as to the medieval mind there were these burning pits of hell with people with their legs stuck in the burning Sulphur fires, so your Sulphur patient has burning feet, and sticks them out of bed, or on to the cold sheet, or into cold air in the middle of the night.
And they get burning in the stomach. It is no good giving Sulphur to an ulcer patient who has not got burning pain with his ulcers. It burns all through. The Diarrhoea of Sulphur gives a burning pain in the anus. Somebody comes along with a Diarrhoea and says that the anus is getting sore and burning with the Diarrhoea. They are driven out of bed in the morning, or after breakfast they are driven with a volcanic explosion to the loo. You will remember that! The rest of the day they may be all right, but it gets them in the morning and it tends to be burning as it comes out.
Their skins get Eczemas and they get a burning pain on the skin, burning and itching. If you get a skin eruption which is not burning or itching, do not give Sulphur.
Now what is happening in Eczemas of this sort? I sometimes get the feeling that what is sometimes, in some of them, happening is this. In our metabolism, and in our liver, we have not really detoxicated the foreign foodstuff—de-natured it is the best word—and rebuilt it into our own Protein. You know, autoimmunity comes in here. Some of it arises through the fact that we have not been strong enough in our digestion and metabolism to overcome and destroy the foreign food we eat and then rebuild it up into our own. Then the poor wretched skin gets landed with the stream of foreign protein coming out, and it has to carry on and do what the liver, particularly, and the metabolism have failed to do.
Sometimes the skin is an indication that the food has not been properly worked through, stewed over, cooked, in the metabolism, and then the skin is having to do for the liver what the liver failed to do.
So here you can see that if one brings Sulphur into the situation it may help to bring this whole Protein world more strongly together and help to build it up properly.
It may be said that Sulphur activates the metabolism. If you have got a sleepy metabolism which isn’t waking up to the foreign foods which come in, to deal with them, if it is asleep and the stuff slips through the sleepy fingers of our metabolism, then Sulphur brought into it activates it and you will find that these symptoms abate. I think it is connected with this, too, that you find this other great indication for Sulphur—when people fail to respond to treatment, to the well-indicated remedy, as the saying is. Sometimes with such people it is not because it was not the simillimum that you gave them, but because the whole metabolic world was sluggish, and until you have worked that up, and activated it with Sulphur, nothing will work. When you have stirred it up and activated it, then your well-indicated remedies will begin to work.
Then there is another, to me very significant, realm of Sulphur phenomena which have to do with sleep. If you take Sulphur and go on taking Sulphur, most people will get very sleepy and stupid, because the whole metabolic realm gets too strong. It gets so strong that it comes up over our phosphoric heads which then tend to become stomachs, as it were. When your head is all stomach you go to sleep because this is what happens when you are asleep, your whole system becomes metabolic. In the anabolic metabolism of sleep we restore the nervous system which during katabolic day-time waking we have been ardently destroying and breaking down. So you find these disturbances of sleep. There are catnaps in which there are so to speak oscillations between the sulphuric and phosphoric poles and there is during day-time a laziness, forgetfulness, difficulty in thinking. Sleeping pervades the day, it is difficult to wake up properly. There is a tendency to awake at 3 a.m. which I think is related to the rhythm of the liver. This I will mention again in a moment.
I fancy this heaviness of the metabolism accounts for the Sulphur patient’s proverbial aggravation from standing, everything sinks down and you get too the sinking feeling at 11 a.m. The metabolism needs stimulating by a snack, a Coffee, or Sulphur. There is a close connection with Sepia, and the Melanin pigment in Sepia contains Sulphur. In Sepia there is the hypoadrenal picture and perhaps in both these cases the 11 a.m. or forenoon aggravation is connected with the inadequate rise of cortisol levels during the morning.
Sulphur is described as having a dislike of washing. They tend to put their metabolic systems outside them, around them, on their skin but also their clothes and belongings, their rooms become metabolic, intestinal even. You all know people who will make new clothes look shabby in five minutes, there are teen-age girls who can turn a clean room into a pigsty within a few moments. The contrast to these are the Arsenicum patients who so to speak put the orderly, hierarchical nervous system all around them. Everything must be just in the right place.
I must now bring this to a conclusion by connecting it with Dr. John PATERSON’s Bowel Nosode Morgan, particularly Morgan Pure. Sulphur is the main remedy related to this Nosode and together they go a long way to characterizing HAHNEMANN’s picture of Psora. PATERSON gave the keynote of congestion for this Nosode and this runs all through what I have been saying. He also connected this with the liver particularly.
I hope that this will help you to form for yourselves a living, warm picture of Sulphur, both as it manifests in nature and in man. It can of course only give you lines of orientation with which to organize all the material available in standard works both orthodox and homœopathic, but that is what I wanted to attempt.
HAUSCHKA, Rudolf (1966) The Nature of Substance. London: Vincent STUART.
KÖNIG, Karl (1958) At four o’clock in the morning. The British Homœopathic Jounal, 47, 33.
LEHRS, Ernst (1958) Man or Matter. London: Faber.