Recovering from Within: An Interview with Janet Snowdon

Linda Nurra
Written by Linda Nurra

Homeopath and international teacher Janet Snowden is interviewed by homeopath Linda V. Nurra.

Janet Snowdon, RS Hom, is among the key figures responsible for the resurgence of homeopathy in England in the late 1970s and early 1980s. After studying with Dr. Thomas Maughan, she attended the College of Homeopathy in London and has been practicing homeopathy for over 30 years. She has studied and worked with many leading homeopaths, including George Vithoulkas, Jayesh Shah, and Rajan Sankaran, whose methods she has integrated into her practice in a unique way. She is renowned for her excellence both as a practitioner and a teacher, holding faculty roles in various homeopathy colleges and having taught seminars throughout Europe, North America, Japan, Australia, and New Zealand.

How did you first come to homeopathy?

Just over 40 years ago, my mother was dying from cancer and her treatment at the hands of the medical profession went rather wrong. At the same time, my middle daughter, who was a baby, was quite ill and medical treatment didn’t work for her either. Somebody came around and suggested homeopathy. It was too late to do anything for my mother, even if my father had allowed it (which he wouldn’t have), but my daughter got remarkably better. She was only a few months old. Within two weeks she was well and, as I held her, I remember saying, “This baby is getting better from the inside out.” At the time, I had no idea about Hering’s law of cure but I actually experienced it. It wasn’t until later, when I was studying homeopathy, that I realized I had experienced homeopathy in the same way that you experience it when you do a proving. It’s a sort of visceral experience. It’s holistic rather than just intellectual.

After that I started taking my children to a homeopath called Dr. Thomas Maughan, who was in his 70s at the time. He was born at the end of the Victorian era and he was very fierce – quite terrifying, in fact. I don’t suppose he actually disliked children but he thought children should be seen and not heard. It was not easy. He always gave me an appointment at about 6 o’clock in the evening, which is not good for small children. He was very difficult but he was brilliant. And eventually I decided to start studying with him.

What was it like for you, studying with Thomas Maughan?

He taught a class once a fortnight and I did that class for two years. He was a very inspiring man. That was his gift. He was very scary and he quite brutally annihilated anyone who made a silly remark. At the same time, he had the capacity to inspire – and that’s what he really did. He inspired us with homeopathy. And his inspiration carried on after he died.

It’s interesting that we all thought he was in his 80s but he was only in his 70s when he died. He created an air of mystique around him which was part of his power and we would never dare question it. Once somebody has created a mystique like that, there’s a sort of Chinese whispers that happens and then you believe everything everybody says!

After Maughan died, two of his pupils who had been with him a long time, Martin Miles and Robert Davidson, opened the first college of homeopathy in London and I started there when that college started. It was very different in those days because we sort of stumbled through. We didn’t have all the information, all the help, and all the teaching that you have nowadays. In some ways, it was simpler but we didn’t know very much. You had to learn it on the hoof.

At that time, there were other small homeopathy groups forming throughout Europe. Were your groups in the UK connecting with them at that time?

I don’t think we were aware of other people. We weren’t aware of anything that was happening in other parts of Europe or the US, apart from Greece, because George Vithoulkas came on the scene in the early 80s. If you went to his seminars, you met homeopaths there from other European countries and some from America, but really cooperation didn’t actually come up in those days. People were just focused on what they were doing.

What was your experience of setting up a practice in the 1980s, compared to what you are seeing today?

In the early 80s, it was quite easy to set up a clinic and have a very busy practice. There was a big boom in demand for alternative medicine and particularly homeopathy. There weren’t that many alternative practitioners doing a lot of different things. And patients just came. I never advertised. They just came by word of mouth.

It’s more difficult for graduates nowadays, for all sorts of reasons. It’s partly due to the proliferation of alternative practitioners. Maybe the economic situation is a factor. In Britain, there is also a very vociferous anti-homeopathy brigade, which may put graduates off from setting up or deter people from studying homeopathy in the first place, but I’m not sure how much difference they make. It hasn’t affected my practice.

You’re in the trenches with the students today because you do a lot of teaching. What are you seeing happen after they graduate?

Among the students who finally graduate, it’s hard to know how many actually set up a practice, but many of them do put a lot of energy into this. If people have been professionals before starting homeopathy, they expect to be professionals with homeopathy. Some of the very good people eventually give up because they don’t manage to make a living. It’s disheartening for them. They don’t want a hobby. They want something that they can put their heart and souls into, make a living, and also feel that they are operating as a profession.

I can’t speak for America but I think that in Britain, in the last year or two, things have changed slightly and homeopathy is on the up again. We’ve reached the nadir and we’ve come out of it. A lot has gone by the wayside; a lot of colleges have gone by the wayside, but maybe that’s not a bad thing. It will take some time but things are beginning to improve.

A lot of great work and coordination is happening in the UK right now. I’m thinking, for example, about what the 4Homeopathy group and people like Mani Norland are doing. Do you think that’s part of what is driving the upswing?

Certainly Mani Norland is doing an awful lot of great work for homeopathy. It’s difficult to judge what causes what exactly. Homeopathy has gone up and down in popularity but the candle never blows out. It flickered, dangerously, for a while here and then there is an innate recovery.

What has happened in the last few years is that the profession has been shaken up. It needed to be shaken up. We needed to look at ourselves, sharpen up our ideas, sharpen up our practices, sharpen up our work, and put all of our focus into it. I believe that has happened. Because things can only improve from within. We know this. We’re a medicine that knows that sickness comes from within. It doesn’t come from the outside. You can blame outside factors; you can blame the recession; you can blame anything you’d like. But the only way you can recover is from within, and I think we are doing that. That’s probably the most important thing.

In spite of current challenges, you seem optimistic about the trends you’re seeing then. Can you share more about that?

One of the things that’s changed – is changing gradually – in England is that we’ve stopped infighting among homeopaths about which is the best and only way to do homeopathy. There was a disunity within our community, so really nobody on the outside needed to do it. We were quite successfully destroying ourselves. Now there’s a lot more unity.

The other danger in homeopathy is a victim feeling – that were are victims of this and that, victims of the government, the medical professionals, the pharmaceutical companies… Once you’ve made yourself the victim, you will find bullies everywhere. You can’t have bullies if you don’t have victims. Whereas, again, the change needs to come from our community. Dropping the disunity and the victim mentality and actually concentrating on the homeopathy and working together, we strengthen our profession. And I think we’re already doing that.

Some homeopaths maintain that in order to save homeopathy we must bring it into mainstream healthcare, for example by integrating into the hospital systems. This has been successful in some countries. Do you agree that this is the only possible future for homeopathy?

I wouldn’t say that’s the only future for homeopathy. If that were the only possible future, then homeopathy would die out in England. There are two factors to consider. Homeopathy used to be part of the NHS in England and they’re doing what they can to get rid of it. They’ve been closing down homeopathic hospitals and there’s very little homeopathy on the NHS now. The other factor is that there’s a divide in England. It would be very difficult for non-doctors to be part of the National Health Service. I don’t know in other countries but it’s probably the same in Europe, where most homeopaths are doctors. In some European countries, it’s illegal to practice unless you’re a doctor.

About the author

Linda Nurra

Linda Nurra

Linda V. Nurra, Ph.D. is an independent scholar and homeopath-in-training with the School of Homeopathy (UK). She has a background in humanities, with a focus on linguistics and semiotics. Her past work includes university teaching, corporate training and management, and higher education administration. She has translated, edited, authored and co-authored publications in semiotics and homeopathy.

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