a remedy with unique characteristics is profiled by Jonathan Hardy
Mercury is an element which has been known to man and used in medicine for millennia. Used homeopathically it is a very deep-acting and wide-ranging medicine. As is often the case we can see fascinating parallels between the chemical nature, properties, toxicology, as well as associated mythology and psychology and the homeopathic application of the substance.
A member of the twelfth group of the periodic table, with zinc and cadmium, mercury is the only common metal that is liquid at ordinary temperature. The ancient Chinese and Hindus called it liquid silver (hydrargyrum). It was one of the most highly prized of all trading commodities in the ancient world and is reflected in our modern words “merchandise” and “merchant”.
Mercury is the heaviest of all known liquids weighing nearly 14 times as much as an equal volume of water. Stone, iron and even lead can float on its surface! It has many uses including in thermometers, barometers, street lighting and signs, and electrical apparatus, in pesticides, dental preparations, paints, batteries and mirrors.
Highly toxic, mercury is most poisonous when inhaled but dangerous amounts can be ingested and absorbed through the skin over time. Our homeopathic knowledge of Mercury comes partly from the provings carried out by Hahnemann and others and also from the extensive toxicological knowledge that has been built up over the centuries. The symptom picture gained is similar to many common diseases and Mercury is thus a frequently prescribed homeopathic medicine. Toxic amounts of mercury cause brain damage and nerve degeneration. There is excessive salivation, loss of teeth and muscle tremors. There is a metallic taste in the mouth, thirst and abdominal pain with vomiting and bloody diarrhoea. There are respiratory symptoms and kidney damage, emotional instability with irritability, excessive shyness and lack of confidence. Nervous system symptoms include insomnia, loss of memory, slow reflexes and numbness. There is restlessness and a sense of hurry. At its most extreme the mental state deteriorates into paranoia with a feeling of being attacked from behind and that everyone is an enemy.
There have been various causes of poisoning with mercury over the centuries. Criminals sentenced to work in quicksilver mines by the Romans had a life expectancy of only three years because of the toxicity of the mercury. In more recent times workers in the hat-making industry were poisoned by mercury because it was used to convert animal fur into felt. The intoxication was referred to as “mad hatter’s disease”. The clinical signs of poisoning included irrational fears, acute anxiety, nervousness, tremor and personality changes and led to the English expression “mad as a hatter”.
Pink disease or acrodynia is another disease caused by mercury poisoning. It resulted from the use of mercury in teething powders and skin ointments used for children. It was common in the first half of the twentieth century. Symptoms included excessive cavities in teeth, putrid body odour, loss of appetite and weight, followed by exhaustion. The condition usually resolved on cessation of use of the medicine and the disease itself almost disappeared after 1954 when mercury was withdrawn from teething powders.
The FDA in the United States has admitted that children have been exposed to unsafe levels of mercury through vaccines containing thimerosal, a preservative which is 50 per cent ethyl mercury. It has also been used in influenza vaccines and a study showed that individuals who had five consecutive flu shots between 1970 and 1980 had a ten times higher chance of developing Alzheimer’s disease. Every flu injection contained mercury and aluminium and the gradual build-up of these elements in the brain causes cognitive dysfunction.
In dentistry the amalgam used commonly today in fillings is made from equal parts of mercury and an alloy containing silver, copper and tin. The dental profession is still divided on the safety of this material.
Ancient myths and uses
Intuitive wisdom about our natural world is contained within our mythologies. The ancient Romans named the metal mercury because the quick movements of mercury droplets on a smooth surface reminded them of the cunning and resourceful Mercury, their god of merchants, travellers and thieves. The planet Mercury probably received its name because it moves so quickly across the sky and is elusive to observe. In Greek mythology mercury was personified as Hermes – the messenger of the gods who often led men astray. He was quick to act on an idea and ready for mischief. He was represented as a young man with winged hat and winged sandals bearing a caduceus (ancient wand) and sometimes a purse. Hermes epitomises the power of the spoken word; he helped the three Fates compose the alphabet. The alchemists equated mercury with concepts of fluency and transmutation. In astrology mercury was defined as “intellectual energy, fitting subtle and ingenious men, inconstant and busy fellows, poets, orators, philosophers”.
Mercury was known to the physicians of Ancient Egypt, Assyria and Babylonia and is one of the oldest remedies in medicine. In the Middle Ages a Mercurial ointment termed unguentum saracenicum was widely used in the treatment of skin diseases like scabies and leprosy. When syphilis made its entrance into 16th century Europe it was soon claimed that the sores could only be washed away with “quicksilver”. The most common technique for administering mercury was fumigation or “tubbing”, in which the patient would sit naked in a large wooden tub above a heated tray spread with mercurial compound. This would continue for up to one month. The side-effects could be drastic, including ulceration of the gums, tooth loss and deterioration of the bones. It was said that “for one night with Venus you had to spend a lifetime with Mercury”! Mercury was prescribed for so many illnesses that doctors became known as “Quicks” (because they were prescribers of Quicksilver). From this the word “Quack” is derived. Mercury therapy persisted until well into the 20th century, until the hazards of mercury toxicity became better understood. However, fortunately, through the genius of Hahnemann we are able to harness the powers of Mercury harmlessly. Through potentisation the healing qualities are accentuated while unwanted side-effects are eliminated. Homeopathic Mercury has already worked wonders in thousands of patients, and its continued role as a major homeopathic remedy is assured.
Fluidity is seen in patients who require Mercury as a homeopathic remedy. There is an instability on all levels. It is interesting that the homeopathic literature shows 55 factors which can aggravate a Mercury patient and only seven which can ameliorate him! Mercury is one of the main remedies which is sensitive to both heat and cold – these patients have a very narrow range of tolerance.
My first Mercury patient was actually one of my first patients ever. He was a young man who was complaining of chronic fatigue. He had swollen lymphatic glands in his neck, axillae and groin, excessive night sweats and memory loss. On examination he was trembling slightly and his tongue was coated a dirty colour and he had very bad breath! He complained of restlessness and anxiety. The picture suggested Mercurius strongly and this remedy cured him. I remember at the time being so impressed by the dramatic improvement in his overall state. This was very reassuring and encouraging at the beginning of a homeopathic career! He was also very impressed by the results and asked me whether I treated animals. His chief hobby was greyhound racing and he had a dog which until recently had been very successful. Now however the dog was completing three quarters of a race but then suffering with cramp and pulling up. I suggested that he might like to try Cuprum which is one of our leading cramp remedies and we were both delighted when the dog started winning his races again!
Another case which gave very satisfying results was a 15-year-old boy brought to me with ulcerative colitis. He was suffering with chronic symptoms of diarrhoea with mucus and blood in the stool, loss of appetite, abdominal pain and fatigue. His symptoms were only partially relieved by his conventional treatments of Prednisolone and Azathioprine. Mercurius is one of our leading remedies for inflammatory bowel disease, but of course in any case homeopathically you need to find symptoms which are peculiar to that remedy and guide to its selection. Sometimes there are only two or three such symptoms, but fortunately in his case there were several things that pointed to Mercurius as the remedy for him. He was very timid and shy and would blush easily in social situations. In addition, he had a marked craving for bread and butter which is a Mercurius peculiarity. This young man benefited greatly from his homeopathic treatment.
A 49-year-old man came to me with high blood pressure and a chief complaint of facial neuralgia. He experienced pain in the right lower jaw in the bone. The pain would spread to his face and ear. The most helpful aspect, homeopathically, was that the pain was much worse at night-time. Mercurius is a remedy for bone pains and right-sided face pain and a night-time aggravation is a well-known aspect of its picture. When I looked in his mouth I saw the familiar Mercurius appearance: teeth missing, broken and decayed. There were gaps between his teeth. His breath was offensive.
His personality fitted the Mercurius picture. He said he was not very social – he found it difficult to mix with people. His wife and son teased him about being “a bit of a misery”. He said he was very good at developing ideas and initiating things, but not keen on routine work. This fits with the psychology of the Mercury man as being “always on the move” – both physically and mentally. There is a restlessness which creates an internal hurriedness and an anxiety. (It is interesting to note that many of the symptoms of the Mercury proving which Hahnemann carried out were brought out by his extremely restless son, Friedrich. He was always travelling and finally went to the United States, where he disappeared without trace.)
My patient said he had become more and more introverted over the years to a point where he avoided people. This is the beginning of the Mercury state of being extremely closed and ultimately paranoid. I gave him a short course of Mercurius. When he returned he said that on the second day he had been very tired all day and experienced severe anxiety. The following day he felt a huge surge of energy and much better psychologically. After that all his symptoms improved. His neuralgia disappeared altogether and he was much better emotionally and much more focussed. He also said he started doing jobs in the home which he had been putting off for a long time – a sure sign of a good response to a remedy!
Jonathan Hardy MA BM MFHom has been practising homeopathy full-time in Hampshire since 1985. He obtained a degree in zoology before studying medicine and has a special interest in animal remedies.