|Melanie Kornfeld Grimes|
An interview by Melanie Kornfeld Grimes
AH: How did you discover homeopathy?
O’Reilly: I was looking for alternative therapies for myself and my family and then I found homeopathy. I wanted to raise my children without antibiotics and had success with treating childhood illness. I took a first-aid course, to learn more, so I could treat my kids when we traveled. I found out there really was nothing between a weekend course and a full professional course. I started at the Pacific Academy and then studied at the Dynamis school in London, after we moved to Europe. It was obviously something that I was drawn to do, and it was on my path to do it.
AH: How did you get to Europe?
O’Reilly: My husband is a travel writer. We decided to spend part of the year in France. Before we left I met Jeremy, and decided to study with him in Europe.
AH: Tell me about growing up.
O’Reilly: I was born in Germany and raised in Boston and Washington. My father was a medical doctor.
AH: What were your early influences in medicine?
O’Reilly: My father did not like other doctors. He cared for us at home, and was open to alternative medicine, even in the 60s. My mother doesn’t like medicine either. Both of my parents have the view that medicine is basically something to stay away from if you can, that it doesn’t make you a healthier person. I grew up with that.
AH: And you home school your kids now?
O’Reilly: Yes. They have a tutor in the morning, then I work with them in French for 2 hours every day, when we are in Washington. In California they go to French Immersion School and in France they are in French public schools all day and I get lots of work done, looking out over Mt. Blanc.
Degree holder from the Dynamis School, Harvard, and Stanford Universities, Dr. Wenda Brewster O’Reilly, is editing a new and more complete translation of the Organon. Hers is a view of accuracy, depth, and grace. Many overlooked omissions, inaccuracies, and mistakes in all previous translations are revealed and explained.
AH: What is your educational background?
O’Reilly: I have Doctorate in Psychological Studies. Then I was in advertising in New York and Milan.
AH: How did you get from advertising to education?
O’Reilly: After working in advertising, I decided I wanted to do something more significant. It’s all about being persuasive. I wanted to do something other than sell things
AH: What did you think you would be doing when you began in education?
O’Reilly: I wanted to be working with children originally. Then I decided I couldn’t have children and work with them. I would be spending all day and all night with kids.
O’Reilly: I knew I was on the right track, but I didn’t know where it was going. People always think I know where I am going and I don’t, I simply know I am on the right track. I think my doctorate serves me well, and is useful in the homeopathic community.
AH: Are you planning to practice homeopathy?
O’Reilly: That’s not for me. I have done a number of things in my life where I have been in the practitioner role -as a psychological counselor, for example -and I find that one-on-one is not what I enjoy.
I’m about sowing the seeds and I don’t care which individuals are getting the message.
AH: You feel like your job is…?
O’Reilly: I’m a researcher, a scholar, and a writer. I helped Randy Neustader edit his book, his pediatric text.
I worked on Jeremy’s Dynamics of Provings, doing the first draft of the manuscript.
AH: Tell me about what you are doing with the Organon, what led you to this book project?
O’Reilly: I’d like to be able to say that from the moment I first laid eyes on the Organon, I fell in love with it, but that simply is not so. Like most students of homeopathy, I slogged through the book one paragraph at a time, only grasping the top layer of what Hahnemann was saying, if that. I started working on the Guide to the Organon as a class project while I was in my last year of study at the Dynamis School for Homeopathy in London. Jeremy Sherr suggested that analyzing the structure of the Organon would be a good project. As soon as he said that, I just couldn’t wait to get home to get started. I began by giving each paragraph or set of paragraphs a title; then I looked for larger sections, and then, stepping back further, I looked for chapters. At each stage, I was amazed at the intricacy of the Organon’s structure. It is a very structured book. In fact, there are layers and layers of structure, as well as layers and layers of meaning. In a way, the two go hand in hand.
I soon realized that I wanted to act as editor for Samuel Hahnemann -that is, to take his text and bring to it the kind of external structure that modern readers expect: chapters, a table of contents, an index… They say that in a good speech, first you tell your audience what you’re going to tell them, then you tell them, and finally you tell them what you told them. The Organon is like the body of the speech. In the Guide to the Organon, I’m adding the “tell them what you’re going to tell them” and the “tell them what you told them” parts. By skimming the table of contents or the section headings, you can get a pretty good idea about what’s in the book, in clear and simple language. Then the body of the text is a full, and quite literal translation of the Organon, except that I’ve altered the grammar.
AH: So your Guide to the Organon is basically a full translation with altered grammar, divided into chapters, sections and subsections?
O’Reilly: That and a little more. Mainly what I wanted to do was make the Organon as accessible as possible while preserving the accuracy of the text. I’ve tried to accomplish this in four ways: 1) by making the text itself easier to read and understand; 2) by adding headings and subheadings so its easier to know where you are in the text; 3) by adding a comprehensive index so you can find all the references to any subject; and 4) by adding a glossary of terms so you can look up any words you don’t understand or that you want to understand more fully.
AH: How have you made the text easier to understand while still preserving Hahnemann’s meaning?
O’Reilly: Mainly by changing the sentence structure, the grammar, while keeping his wording. I’ve broken up his very long sentences into shorter ones. Also, in paragraphs where he makes several points, I’ve structured it so that each point is clear. For example, he has many paragraphs containing several “ifs” followed by one or more “therefores.” In paragraphs like that, I’ve clearly identified each “if ” and “therefore.” In paragraphs where he makes several key points, I have numbered each one. Hahnemann’s writing has a very strong logical structure. I’ve tried to present each paragraph in a way that makes that logical structure clear and easy to follow.
AH: Point two headings and subheadings. Can you say more about them?
O’Reilly: They, combined with the index, allow the Organon to be used as a reference book.
AH: A reference book?
O’Reilly: When was the last time you were dealing with a particular topic and you said to yourself, “I wonder what Hahnemann has to say about this?” Unless you already know the book by heart, it’s just not possible to easily locate particular references or passages. Suppose you’re considering the use of small homeopathic doses as opposed to large, frequently repeated ones and you want to review all the relevant passages in the Organon. How would you begin? Here we have one of the greatest books on healing ever written and the best we can do is read it over and over or pick it up and read portions at random.
AH: What English translation are you using?
O’Reilly: I’m using an entirely new translation by Stephen Decker.
AH: Why a new translation?
O’Reilly: Two main reasons: to present as literal a translation as possible and to provide a complete translation.
AH: Aren’t the Boericke and Kunzli translations complete?
O’Reilly: Kunzli, Naudé and Pendleton provide a complete translation of §1-291. However, they don’t translate the introduction which, although it is long and mainly addresses the medical scene of 150 years ago, has some real jewels. Also, it helps the reader to better understand what Hahnemann is saying in the main part of the text. The Boericke translation, on the other hand, contains numerous errors and omissions. He neglected to translate changes to a number of footnotes, including ones to §205, 206, 253, 269 and 289. Also, in the sixth edition, Hahnemann added footnotes to §220, 256 and 265 that Boericke completely omitted.
AH: Boericke left out entire footnotes?
O’Reilly: Hard to believe, isn’t it? Boericke has a reputation for being such a precise and literal translation. In fact, it’s not at all. It was a real shock to me to discover how many inaccuracies there were. Of course, there is also a lot of beauty in the translation, but most of that is Dudgeon’s work. You see, Hahnemann created the sixth edition of the Organon by making handwritten changes to his copy of the printed fifth edition. About 85% of the sixth edition consists of unchanged fifth edition text. Dudgeon translated the fifth edition into English before the sixth edition was available. When Boericke obtained Hahnemann’s sixth edition, he simply translated the changes, using Dudgeon’s translation for all the text that remained unchanged. I’m not saying that Dudgeon’s translation is particularly literal, but on the whole it was a pretty accurate conceptual translation. Boericke’s translation, on the other hand, is simply sloppy.
AH: How is it that no one else has pointed out these errors before now?
O’Reilly: Good question. Kunzli, Naudé and Pendleton do state in their introduction that the Boericke/Dudgeon translation contains serious errors, but I’ve never seen any published account detailing what those errors are.
AH: How did you find the errors?
O’Reilly: They first came to my attention as I was comparing the Kunzli translation to Boericke/Dudgeon. First I should tell you that my understanding of German is well below elementary level. I worked on the editing of the Organon for over a year, relying entirely on English translations. I started with the Boericke/ Dudgeon translation; then I compared each paragraph to Kunzli. I came up with a long list of questions for my German-speaking friends in the homeopathic community.
I also got a microfiche copy of the original sixth edition to see for myself where Hahnemann had made handwritten changes to the fifth edition. In many cases, it was perfectly clear that Hahnemann had made a change or added a footnote where Boericke had made no change. My friends helped me identify many other errors. In the end, I came to rely on Kunzli’s translation as an accurate conceptual translation.
AH: How did Steven Decker get involved in this project and how long has he been working on a new translation?
O’Reilly: A year ago, Steven did not intend to produce a new translation of the Organon. He was happily working on other academic projects. He has a strong interest in the German language and Goethe, who was a contemporary of Hahnemann. He is also very well versed in homeopathy and has studied the Organon in the original German for a number of years. It wasn’t until I came knocking on his door, looking for answers to my many questions about the translations I was working with, that he agreed to produce a completely new translation. Every time we got together, for every question he answered he’d pose ten new ones for me to puzzle about. And after working on this pretty much on my own for a long while, it was a sheer delight to find such a special collaboration.
AH: Tell me about your collaboration with Steven Decker.
O’Reilly: I met Steven after I’d been working for almost a year and a half on the Guide to the Organon and I felt I was pretty close to being done. The structure of the book was pretty established, I was just still struggling with my many questions about the accuracy of the various translations. Steven has spent hours on the phone with me, showing me how the various English translations were all basically conceptual rather than literal.
AH: What do you mean by a conceptual translation as opposed to a literal one?
O’Reilly: In making a conceptual translation, the translator reads a phrase in German, identifies the concept and then looks for words to express that concept in English. What gets translated from the German is the abstract significance of the phrase. In a more literal translation, the translator looks for a word in English that matches as closely as possible a given word in the original German text. In a literal translation, an attempt is made to have all the significant words in a sentence carry not only the same primary meaning but also the same connotations for the reader. Of course, this a lot harder than making a more conceptual translation.
AH: Could you give me some examples of the difference between a conceptual and a literal translation of the Organon?
O’Reilly: Steven has pointed out to me many fascinating and thought-provoking themes present in the Organon that have been all but completely lost in the translations published to date. One is a musical theme.
AH: A musical theme?
O’Reilly: Yes, throughout the Organon, Hahnemann refers to the process of disease and cure in musical terms. For example, in §11, he states that when a person falls ill, it is only the life force that is at first mistuned by the dynamic influence upon it of a disease agent. The pathological mistunement of the life force then makes itself discernible by manifestations of disease in a person’s sensations and functions. In §16, he states that the only way pathological mistunements can be removed from the life force is by the dynamic, spirit-like retuning forces of the serviceable medicines acting upon the life force. In §19, he states that medicines can cure diseases only if they possess the power to differently tune the human condition. Perhaps his most beautiful musical imagery is in the footnote to §259 where he compares subtle doses of medicine to the softest tones of a distant flute.
AH: How did the translation process enable you to find these layers of meaning?
O’Reilly: Throughout these paragraphs, Hahnemann uses musical language to explain about the life force being altered in its tuning, first by disease agents (which mistune it), then by medicines which literally “tune over” the mistunement, nullifying it. Harmony is thereby restored to the life force. Other English translations do keep the references in §9 and 16 to the harmonious operation of the life force in health, but most of the musical imagery is lost. For example, Boericke/Dudgeon translate mistunement (Verstimmung) as “derangement,” and alteration in the tuning or “over-tuning” (Umstimmung) as “altering” or “affecting” man’s state of health. The retuning forces (Umstimmungs-Kräfte) of medicines are referred to by Boericke/Dudgeon as “alternative powers” of medicines. Have you ever wondered what a medicine’s “alternative powers” were? It’s so unclear compared to what Hahnemann really wrote.
AH: Does this change our understanding of homeopathic philosophy?
O’Reilly: When all of the musical references are present together in the text, a very different impression emerges concerning the process of disease and cure than is conveyed by words such as “derangement,” “altering” and “re-establishment” of health. With the musical terminology, Hahnemann suggests that the operation of the life force and the action of disease and medicines upon the living organism have a similar mechanism to that of sound or music. In other words, each organism, each disease, each medicine has a unique vibration. When a disease or medicine of a particular vibration meets a disease or mistuned life force with a very similar vibration, the two neutralize one another. This is in line with our modern understanding of physics. It’s something that Vithoulkas discusses in The Science of Homeopathy and is currently being taught in schools of homeopathy around the world. Isn’t it interesting to find that this concept is clearly present in the Organon?
AH: Have you found other themes?
O’Reilly: Yes, another theme involves Hahnemann’s use of reproductive language to refer to the process of disease and cure. For example, he uses several reproductive terms in describing the process by which a pathological potency (think male) mistunes the receptive life force (think female). A disease is then brought forth or begotten (erzeugen). Here English translators do not use a word like “beget” or “engender” that in some way preserves the reproductive imagery presented by Hahnemann. Instead, they have chosen words like cause and produce.
These are only a couple of examples. There are literally hundreds of words that need to be translated with a word that conveys the tone, feeling, weight of the German words, preserving the literal meaning and the various connotations of Hahnemann’s original language. That’s the kind of translation that Steven is currently working on.
AH: Are there any other ways that Steven’s translation will be different?
O’Reilly: He is making every effort to use only one English word to translate a given German word. He wants to avoid as much as possible using different English words in different contexts. Other translators have not been too concerned about using a number of English words to convey the meaning of one German word. The problem with this practice is that Hahnemann is often using one word in various contexts to convey to the reader that he is talking about the same process in different situations.
AH: Can you give an example?
O’Reilly: The word “Wesen” is a case in point. “Wesen,” in German, refers to a dynamic entity which is the essence of something. Even though it can’t be seen or touched, aWesen is real; it has a substantial presence. It’s not just some abstract concept. Hahnemann uses the wordWesen in reference to the essence of a disease and the essence of a medicine. He also refers to the vital force (or the life force, as Hahnemann calls it) as aWesen. He wants the reader to understand that these three things are all of the same nature. They are all dynamic and what Hahnemann refers to as “spiritlike” or not apparent to the senses. Another way to look at this is that all three are operating on the same plane of existence. This idea is lost when translators translate theWesen of disease and medicines with one word and theWesen which is the life force with another word.
AH: How have other translators translated that word?
O’Reilly: In fact,Wesen is translated by Dudgeon/Boericke variously as the internal essence of a disease (§7), an immaterial being (referring to the life force in §10), a thing (referring to disease in §13), the inner nature of a medicine (in §20), the curative principle in medicines (in §21), and the inner nature of life in health and disease (in §54). Who would ever guess that each time they are translating one single word?
AH: Does it ever go the other way, where one word in English is used for more than one word in German?
O’Reilly: Yes. One striking instance is the use of “totality of symptoms” to translate two different German concepts. Where we read about totality of symptoms in Boericke/Dudgeon, Hahnemann is usually using the word “Inbegriff,” but in §7 and 18, he is using the term “Gesammtheit der Symptome.” Gesammtheit der Symptome refers to the sum total of symptoms produced by a disease or a medicine, while Inbegriff refers to the totality of symptoms more in terms of the essence, the heart of the matter. Inbegriff literally means “inclusive essential concept.” It refers to the quintessence, the entire essence, as opposed to the sum total. Wouldn’t you as a reader like to know which of these terms Hahnemann is using in each instance?
AH: Is this a common problem in our current translations?
O’Reilly: Yes. Another example: Throughout the Organon, Hahnemann refers to two different kinds of knowledge: Wissen and Kenntniß. Wissen is the kind of knowledge you get from studying or reading books, while Kenntniß is that deep, personal knowledge you gain through experience. It’s the difference between knowing about wetness by reading about it versus knowing by immersing yourself in water. In other words, Wissen is intellectual awareness while Kenntniß is a knowing that permeates all aspects of a person, going beyond mere cognition. Boericke/Dudgeon translate both of these words simply as knowledge, and yet it’s very interesting to see where Hahnemann refers to one kind of knowledge as opposed to another.
AH: Where is this word found in the Organon?
O’Reilly: In §3 he states that, to be a true healing artist, the physician must have a deep personal knowledge (Kenntniß) of medicines and diseases and an intellectual awareness (Wissen) of how to adapt what is curative in medicines to what is pathological in patients. In other words, while physicians are expected to have studied and learned the clearly definable principles of curing, they are expected to have a deeper knowledge of disease and medicines. Later in the Organon, Hahnemann discusses one way to obtain this deeper knowledge. That’s by doing provings on oneself. You can obtain an intellectual awareness of a remedy by reading about it in various Materia Medica, but when you prove the remedy on yourself and experience the physical symptoms, the mental and emotional state, then you truly know the remedy. Insight about what is to be cured in diseases and what is curative in medicines only comes from this kind of experience.
AH: Can you give any other example of meanings that have come to light through Steven’s translation that were hidden before?
O’Reilly: There are so many . . . Here’s one I like: Hahnemann uses various words for disease. Mostly he uses “Krankheit,” which is the very common, straightforward word for disease or sickness, but occasionally he uses the word “Uebel,” which has two meanings in German: illness and evil. Unlike previous translations, Steven’s will use one word in English for each word in German, so the reader will know where Hahnemann uses Uebel. Steven will choose an English word which conveys this dual meaning as much as possible.
AH: Is there such a word?
O’Reilly: Not as clearly as there is in German, but “malady” is a possibility. It has “mal” as its Latin root, which means bad. It’s not great, because readers won’t automatically connect it with evil. How we’re dealing with this problem, which comes up a lot, is with the glossary. The glossary will contain every significant word in the translation and give the German word from which it was translated and that word’s definition. So, for example, a reader could look up “malady” and find that it’s translated from Uebel, which means both illness and evil. Then you, as the reader, will be able to track Hahnemann’s use of the term and come to whatever conclusions you like about why he used the word when he did.
AH: So this Guide will add a lot to our understanding of Hahnemann . . .
O’Reilly: Conceptual translations are like taking a composer’s music and playing it in the specified key, with the specified instruments, but improvising a lot of the notes. The result may be beautiful and strongly reminiscent of the original composition, as the various English translations of the Organon are, but they are not what was originally composed. And unless you can read the German of 150 years ago, you can’t know what is Hahnemann and what is translation.
AH: Has your view of the Organon changed as you’ve worked on it?
O’Reilly: Constantly. But especially when I started working with Steven. When I discovered Hahnemann’s original language and imagery, I realized why I had previously found the Organon to be so murky. I had thought it was because I didn’t understand his concepts or because the sentence structure was so difficult. That was certainly true to some extent, but now I realize that a lot of the obscurity was in the translation.
AH: What about sentence structure? How is Steven dealing with Hahnemann’s grammar?
O’Reilly: Here’s where Steven and I are working differently. He wants to translate the Organon with Hahnemann’s periodic sentence structure. After all, he’s a student of Goethe and thoroughly comfortable with long sentences that move through several clauses and sub-clauses as they build toward their main subject. I personally like short sentences with the subject and verb up front.
AH: What exactly is periodic sentence structure?
O’Reilly: I think of it as one without too many periods! Steven has commented that the healthier one is, the higher one’s capacity to understand such sentences. Our ability to hold several thoughts and sub-thoughts decreases with constitutional ill-health. Hmmm. Something to think about. . .
In any case, Steven and I are planning to work it so that the reader can have both. The Guide to the Organon will contain the language of Steven’s translation but with much more straightforward grammar, as I’ve said. But the reader will also have access to Steven’s exact translation from the original where the periodic sentence structure is preserved.
AH: What surprised you in doing the book?
O’Reilly: How many, many layers of meaning are in each paragraph, each sentence. That became especially clear when I started to build an index. The first thing I did in writing the index was look at each sentence and each paragraph and ask myself: what are the ideas set forth here? Often my indexing for a sentence was three times longer than the sentence itself. And every time I looked at a paragraph again, I’d find more -even after I’d read it twenty times and written it in an altered grammatical form four or five different times. Which brings me to how much I love the index. I’ve tried to make it more than a collection of words found in the text. I’ve tried to bring the various concepts into the index in different ways so that the reader might find something he or she didn’t know was in the book simply by skimming the index.
AH: What else has surprised you?
O’Reilly: How excited I could get over things like indexes. I guess it makes me realize how much I love this project, to be so excited about all the little details. This is undoubtedly the greatest book of healing that I have ever read. I have learned more homeopathy by reading this book over and over and writing it out, summarizing it, analyzing it, etc. than I ever could have imagined. It is truly a work of genius.
AH: What has been most satisfying to you about the project?
O’Reilly: Knowing that I was helping to bring something to light. I believe that the Guide to the Organon will help people understand the basic principles of homeopathy. I think it will be valuable both for those just beginning to study homeopathy as well as for practitioners and teachers. I hope that the presentation will be clear enough so that readers can find ideas in the Organon that I didn’t find. I have found so much that I never knew was there and I know that there is a whole lot more that I can’t yet see. If it’s there in the Guide to the Organon for others to discover, then my structural presentation and Steven’s translation will have succeeded.
Wenda Brewster O’Reilly currently works as an independent writer and editor. She earned a Master’s Degree in Education from Harvard University and a Ph.D. in Education from Stanford. She has conducted research on women’s health care as an Affiliated Scholar at Stanford University’s Institute for Research on Women and Gender. Wenda acted as Executive Director of The Birth Place, an out-of-hospital childbirth center in Menlo Park, California. She studied homeopathic medicine through The School of Homeopathy in Devon, England then through the Dynamis School for Homeopathy in London. She and her family make their home in Leavenworth, Washington. They also travel extensively, living part of each year in France and in California.