(Part 1 of 2)
Interview and Translation by Linda V. Nurra, Ph.D.
Dr. Elio Rossi is a medical doctor with a specialization in infectious diseases who has been practicing homeopathy for 40 years. He is internationally renowned for his advocacy efforts for homeopathy, as well as his prolific work as an educator, conference presenter, editor and author of more than 250 publications. Over the past 20 years, he has been working for the recognition and integration of homeopathy and other complementary medicines within the Italian public healthcare system. These efforts have resulted in the passing of legislation at the national and regional levels and the opening of 91 complementary medicine clinics within hospitals in Tuscany alone.
Can you start by telling us how your homeopathy career began, and also a bit about what was happening around you in Italy at the time?
My career as a homeopath began forty years ago, when I started spending time with a distant relative of mine in Milan in 1976. His name was Mario Garlasco. He was a medical doctor and a nutrition specialist – a pioneer in many ways. He advocated for a natural, organic diet and was among the first to bring fasting therapy, macrobiotics, and chiropractic to Italy in the 1960s. He then converted to homeopathy and was one of the few practicing homeopaths in Italy at the time.
I was curious about his work so I would go to his office in the evenings, after he finished his visits, and he would tell me about homeopathy. I was still in medical school and I knew nothing about it at the time. I soon discovered that other people in my circle were looking for someone to teach them, and they had found another homeopath by the name of Carlo Cenerelli.
Cenerelli and Garlasco, who already knew each other, joined forces. Together they taught a course through a school by the name of IMO (Istituto di Medicina Omeopatica), which was directed by a lay homeopath and patron of homeopathy in Milan, Count Gian Carlo Dal Verme. Dal Verme was a unique character – a chess master who fell in love with homeopathy and ran an import-export business for homeopathic remedies. He was very helpful because he made books and meeting space available to us. From February to June 1976 we met weekly for this course.
It was interesting because, at the time, Cenerelli and Garlasco were part of a group called Staphysagria, which met in Belgium and followed the footsteps of Pierre Schmidt, the Swiss homeopath who passed away in 1987, in his mid-90s. He was the greatest European classical homeopath of the last century because around 1920, he had been to North America and had studied intensively with Kent’s students and followers. He also came back with the repertory full of additions made in Kent’s own hand – quite a treasure to have at that time.
So Pierre Schmidt, whom I met in Geneva, would gather every month in Lyon with a group of European homeopaths who went there to learn from him. These courses, which were transcribed and eventually published, are commonly referred to as les cahiers de Schmidt. They were an important contribution because they ensured that the repertory wasn’t lost in classical homeopathy.
Schmidt’s was fundamentally a repertorial teaching. He had a very thorough knowledge of the repertory and materia medica that today probably doesn’t exist any more. All the classical European schools of the last century, from the 1950s on, followed the teachings of Schmidt in some way. Of course they evolved, but that was the foundation.
Now, those of us who were gathering in Milan, we didn’t feel like we had a Master teacher, because these masters didn’t present themselves as such. We didn’t have any formal schools in Italy at the time, but our teachers suggested that we form a group, rather than a school. They asked the most active of Schmidt’s followers, who had been forming groups in other parts of Europe, to come to Italy to teach us. His name was Jacques Imberechts, a Belgian from Bruxelles.
What was it like, working with Jacques Imberechts?
Imberechts’ message to us was: “There are no masters. We are all students. The great masters are few and old. We need to form a group.” He encouraged each of us to contribute our resources, share them, and try to learn homeopathy together. And that’s what we did.
By tradition, groups like this were named after a remedy, and this was a remedy that we had to extract from the repertory. Of course we didn’t have software repertories at the time, so we had to take the hardcopy repertory and copy out, page by page, all the rubrics where that remedy appeared. It took us a lot of time but he made us do it to make sure we leafed through every page of the repertory. Unfortunately for us, that remedy wasn’t Zizia, but rather Lycopodium! And that’s how our group came to be named.
Imberechts’ teaching fundamentally had three levels. One was philosophical or theoretical, mostly based on the Organon and therefore entirely classical. The other was the repertory, and the third was materia medica. Of course we also did clinical cases. We didn’t read anything modern – mostly Hahnemann, Kent and classic authors from the previous centuries, up through Stuart Close. We carefully examined the repertory, also because at the time additions were considered very important. These were taken from Schmidt’s repertory and from other authors, and we would make our additions by hand in pencil, along with all the cross-references because we didn’t want to miss any possibilities, any connections among rubrics. It was a very meticulous labor.
Imberechts was an extremely open and generous person. He used to come to us, as he did for groups in other European countries, and he didn’t want any payment aside from his travel expenses. All this was done in a completely voluntary manner and without profit. The concept didn’t even exist, really. The group got together every three months for three days over a weekend. He would come and teach, then give us homework that we regularly didn’t do… and in any case, we all learned a lot.
In December 1977, still in the early days of Lycopodium, Imberechts proposed doing an intensive week-long seminar in the Alps in January 1978. We would gather to study from 9 to 11 a.m., then ski until 4 p.m. and then study again, with just a break for dinner, from 5 p.m. to midnight. It was a beautiful experience. At the time, it cost 200,000 lire for a one-week ski vacation in Pila, and we only had about 20,000 lire each to chip in. So instead of staying at the Club Valtur, we rented two rooms and all slept in there, about 15 of us. These were somewhat heroic times…
At what point did you decide that you were ready to start working as a homeopath?
In July 1978, a group of about 10 of us decided to rent some space and start working. Half of the group was made up of doctors, and the other half of students like me who would each pair up with a doctor for the visits. This was in Milan and we called the space AMO, which stood for “Ambulatorio Medico Omeopatico” [Homeopathic Medical Clinic]. We earned very little at the time because, in some sense, we were all students and our goal was to get practice. The little we did earn, we would put into a common pot so that our group could grow.
Another interesting thing about that period is that we used placebo a lot. In fact, per Imberechts’ directions, we would systematically prescribe placebo in every case before giving the remedy. This was to try to distinguish the real reaction from a placebo reaction – something not entirely easy to do in homeopathy, as in all medicine. We would see the patient and give the placebo, and he would come back after a month saying he felt better. We would then repeat the placebo and, when they came back saying the effect was gone, that’s when we gave the remedy. The problem of course was that people weren’t feeling so well, so we decided to stop. But all in all it was useful because it helped us distinguish generic effects from the consultation or other factors from real remedy effects and aggravations. Little by little, people started to break away and start their own practices.
What led you to break out on your own?
I was working in Infectious Diseases – I’m an infectious diseases specialist – and my work had been focused on hepatitis since 1979. That was my “regular” job through which I made a living at the hospital. In 1983, this relative of mine Mario Garlasco, who was my first teacher, became ill, so I worked alongside him at first and then later took his place – at which point I left the hospital and dedicated myself fully to clinical work in homeopathy.
At this time, were you and the Lycopodium group still involved with Imberechts?
Yes, our meetings with Imberechts continued until the mid 1980s. I’ll share some events of that period, the early 1980s. We had learned about these international congresses organized by the Liga that attracted the great masters. Imberechts’ idea was that we had to meet as many masters as possible to learn different strategies and figure out which way was best suited to us.
In those years, Imberechts had been running study groups like ours all over Europe. These eventually gathered under the umbrella Homeopathia Europea, of which he was the leader. Since we didn’t have any money, as Homeopathia Europea we organized what we called “multigroup” gatherings right before the Liga congresses so that the masters, who were going to be there anyway, could join us for one or two days without our having to pay for their travel expenses. At that time, we were still struggling financially because many of us were students and recent graduates. It didn’t help that very few people sought out homeopathy or even knew what it was. There was also a very strong ostracism, so our way of living this experience at times felt even a bit clandestine.
I imagine that, in spite of the challenges, these encounters with other European groups in the 1980s must have energized your commitment to homeopathy. Did you experience them in that way?
Yes, it was a challenging but also a very exciting time. There was a very important congress for European homeopathy that happened in Lyon in 1986 that brought together many of the homeopaths who would later become important figures in the history of homeopathy. In the early 1980s, many groups had been forming all over Europe – for example, in Spain, England, France, Germany, Belgium – and we had the opportunity to connect with them.
I spoke a bit of Spanish at the time so I was asked at the beginning of 1990 to accompany Imberechts to Spain. Those of us who did this kind of work were group leaders or coordinators of sorts who were called to organize these initiatives. For my part, I did this with Spain; in fact I still have great relationships with many homeopaths there because we met way back, at the start of their homeopathic journey.
A big turning point during that period happened when Imberechts referred us to Irene Bachas, a great student of George Vithoulkas. She was a medical doctor – at a time when a very strong distinction was made in the Liga between doctor and lay homeopaths – so we chose to work with her because we wanted to relate our homeopathy work to our medical training. She was a great point of reference for us until she died in 1985 – she was very close to us and we collaborated with her often.
Did you have connections with other groups or schools that were working outside the European context?
Yes. At the time, within the Liga, the Mexican and Argentinian schools were quite dominant and influential. We might think of them as the equivalents of today’s Sankaran, Geukens or Schroyens. At the time we were looking in particular to Tomas Paschero’s Argentinian School and Proceso Sánchez Ortega’s Mexican school, and we felt more aligned with the latter. Our group was called Homeopathia Europea because it was inspired by Omeopatia de Mexico, the organization led by Ortega. There was a conflict between the tendency of the Argentinian homeopaths to consider the patient’s entire biopathography, whereas the Mexican school prescribed based on what they called the hoy, the today of the patient. These were pretty big differences.
A pretty explosive event in this contentious situation was the arrival in Italy of Masi Elisalde who was of Argentinian origin and a follower of Paschero. Elisalde interpreted the latter’s vision in an even stricter and more narrow way. The modalities for a miasmatic analysis were very specific: he saw psora, for example, as existential anguish. We were supposed to look for the deep suffering within the person and to direct our remedy there – something often quite difficult if not impossible, and with results that were often less than ideal. According to Masi, either you did it this way or you were suppressing. Some homeopaths in Italy abandoned homeopathy as a result of this. In my opinion, if 90% of what you do is suppression, then you might as well stop being a homeopath.
Among the great masters of the time who came to the Liga congresses were also some Indian homeopaths. A very important one of these was Diwan Harish Chand, an advisor to the Indian Minister of Health with regard to homeopathy. My contact with Indian homeopathy also happened on numerous trips to India, where I assisted during patient visits at the clinics of Dr. Chand and Dr. Dhwale, among others. These presented very complicated situations for obvious language reasons (including the multiple dialects spoken), the need for translators, the long lines and the variety of pathologies that we don’t see as often in the West – tuberculosis, encephalitis and other serious clinical issues. I would visit hospitals and see thousands, not hundreds, of patients waiting for a doctor. This experience was very important because it taught me what it means to practice homeopathy in the trenches, in a sense.
All these experiences were based on a classical approach but they were very eclectic because we were trying to bring together the best from different teachers. We believed that we had to do things this way because we didn’t feel that we had one Master who could teach us everything, a master in every sense of the word. So our group’s orientation always reflected this.
Some of us got closer to Masi Elisalde, some to Ortega; some went to Argentina to follow Paschero and others the European current, for example Jost Kunzli, whose legacy was taken up by his student Dario Spinedi in Switzerland after his death. Some of us, including me, took Imberechts’ suggestion and went to London to take the exam at the Faculty of Homeopathy for the title of Member of the Faculty (M.F.Hom.).
Do any of these teachers stand out personally to you?
For our group and for me personally, the biggest turning point was our meeting with the Israeli homeopath Joseph Reves. We learned about him from a woman, Aviva Davidowic, who reached out to us through Irene Bachas. I learned that he was teaching a unique approach so I went to visit him in 1986. I proposed to our group that we go to him for a seminar, which we did, and we ended up working with him for about 10 years.
Reves was a very methodical person and his approach was very classical. His teachings were commentaries on the Organon, Chronic Diseases, and Kent’s lessons. With him we – and I in particular – researched the relationship between Swedenborg and Kent, thus deepening our understanding of Kent through a reading of Swedenborgian texts. We learned a lot from Reves. In my opinion, it was through him that we learned the core or center of homeopathy; it all came together for us there. Up until then, the pieces of our knowledge summed themselves together but hadn’t yet found coherence. With Reves, we developed a deeper kind of knowledge.
He was very sharp, and so was his method. I’ll share just an example of his way of working. At one point, he corrected over 20,000 typographical and other errors in the repertory. He compared every page with prior versions and other repertories to see if an abbreviation, for example, really referred to Colchicum, Calcarea or Colocynthis; if something should be in the second or third degree; and if a column had been incorrectly moved. He also spent considerable effort researching the meaning of words in the repertory.
Our long encounter with Reves catalyzed other developments. We were inspired to start a school because there still weren’t any. In 1989-90, we began the first year of the Lycopodium school – a three-year program with a required number of hours. Unlike schools today, we defined our own standards, which we imposed upon ourselves while, on a parallel track, we worked towards the recognition of homeopathy. It took years for us to arrive at the end of this journey and achieve it. But at least a kind of self-discipline started to emerge during this time, in the late 80s and early 90s.
At the personal level, I decided to leave Milan and move to Lucca – which was a momentous change in both my professional and my personal life. But I’ll get back to that because there is an intermediate chapter – an extraordinary one – that takes me there via Cuba…
Cuba is quite a detour. What took you there?
When I decided to leave Milan to relocate to Lucca, I decided to go on a one-year trip around the world. My wife and I stopped in Cuba for a good month and a half. We had previously been contacted with requests for medicine donations, so we collected homeopathic remedies before we left, without even knowing whether they used them. When we arrived, we had our first contact with the Cuban homeopathic world, which was still in the early stages of development, with small groups that were forming. They asked us to work in Santiago because, at that time in Cuba, everything stopped in Havana, as happens in many countries – everything is concentrated in the capital while other areas remain without resources.
In Santiago, we found a pharmacist, who was also the vice director of the institute of pharmacology, Aurora Zuniga, and another important person, the pediatrician José Acosta, who were interested, so we proposed forming a group like ours in Italy. Back in Italy we created an international decentralized cooperation initiative through which we asked interested municipalities such as the City of Viareggio (Lucca) and the Region of Tuscany to donate funds. We raised something like 15 million lire, the equivalent of our current 7,500 or 8,000 euros, with which we bought the stock for 150 remedies, a distiller, an electric succussion machine, a bottle sterilizer, and the bottles themselves – but not the alcohol since in Cuba, at least that was abundant!
The idea was to provide training and a basic structure that would give these groups some prescriptive autonomy with the use of these remedies. We started in Santiago in February 1995 – and we went there blindly, having sent a letter and not having received a reply because faxing was too expensive for them. So we just showed up, found the person we had met originally, who found another person, and so on… and within a couple days we had 15 people.
This was 1995 and during that summer, other Cuban colleagues came on board. The group was called Jatropha curcas. By the time we went back to teach our third seminar the following January, just less than a year later, they had already made 22,000 prescriptions. These were mostly family doctors within the public sector and they were doing controlled studies to see if the remedies actually worked. So this seed we planted began to sprout. It was contagious because other provinces, all the way to Pinar del Río, needed medicines and started to use homeopathy as well. Jacques Imberechts was also involved and he continued to train Cuban practitioners until the late 90s but our work there lasted even beyond that.
Additionally, we had the support of an important figure in the Cuban political and scientific landscape, Concepcion Campa “Conchita”, director of the Findlay Institute, an important vaccine production center, who was later involved in the Homeopathic Immunisation Against Leptospirosis in Cuba initiative.
I know that your initial outreach with Cuba also took on another direction, in the field of veterinary homeopathy.
Yes. There was another wonderful experience in which I didn’t participate but that was spearheaded by my wife Mariella Di Stefano, a scientific journalist specializing in homeopathy, and Barbara Rigamonti, a veterinary homeopath. They asked themselves: “If they don’t have medicines for people, what could they possibly have for animals?” They were right, and they decided to do something about it. There was a 24-hour veterinary clinic that didn’t have any medications. It was the Clinica veterinaria de urgencia della Facultad de de Medicina Veterinaria in La Habana Centro. That’s where a new branch of this work would unfold.
We trained its veterinarians in the use of homeopathy and, thanks to the support of the clinic director, Dr. Achon, they went forward almost exclusively with the use of homeopathic remedies. It was a great experience because we didn’t think we could practice homeopathy on animals in Cuba – or, well, we knew it could be done but we never imagined this outcome.
For me, this experience was incredibly useful. It suggested to me that perhaps it was possible to believe in an institutional integration of homeopathy and that we could try to extend our efforts to the whole Italian population back home, rather than to the few “privileged” people who had been our patients until then. We realized we might be ready to bring homeopathy into the broader arena of public healthcare.
[To be continued in the next issue of Homeopathy for Everyone]