A few months ago when I was visiting the walled city of Chiang Mai in Northern Thailand, I came across a treasure trove of quackery. I had stumbled across a bookshop that happened to have the finest selection of woo I had ever seen – resulting in me spending literally every baht I had. Luckily for me, the guy who I was travelling with was able to lend me some money so I could make it back to the hotel with all my spoils.
One of the books from this store I talked about previously was Cosmic Cleaning which is an instruction guide for cleaning the “nine opens of the body”. A lot of these techniques for cleaning your various openings involved either dousing yourself in generous amounts of your own urine or gulping the stuff down like it’s going out of fashion. In all honesty, it was a pretty good read and something which I thought would be hard to top but, unknown to me, another book I picked up at that shop would be giving Cosmic Cleansing a run for its money. The Water of Life is another book promoting the therapeutic properties of drinking one’s own widdle, and is written by the naturopath John W. Armstrong. Unlike Cosmic Cleaning which is a light-hearted romp through the wonderful world of woo, The Water of Life is a somewhat darker and more disgusting read.
The book starts off on a strange note and, given that this book is advocating urine therapy, that is saying a lot. Armstrong starts by bashing the medical community for their use of surgery, vivisection, and vaccinations whilst ignoring what nature or a higher power has provided. To give an example of nature’s power he says that after war, there are more male children born to make up for the losses and that naturopathy has been instrumental in curing diseases that orthodox medicine has failed to do.
To give us a taste of what is to come, Armstrong begins to tell us anecdotal stories of people who have used urine in the past to cure their ailments….and not just their own. One story that really grossed me out was one centered around a Dorset farmer who, for sixty years, drank four pints of cow’s urine a day after being told to do so by a gypsy.
Whilst I am sure the vast majority of you reading this will be finding this both hilarious and repugnant, there is a potential danger to anyone following this farmers advice. For example, Leptospirosis is a type of bacterial infection spread to humans from animals. In most cases infection causes mild flu-like symptoms and can be cured with antibiotics however in some cases it can lead to organ failure, internal bleeding, and death. I would not normally bring attention to something so bizarre but the places on earth where this book is popular also happen to be places where people do practice these types of unusual alternative procedures.
We later find out where Armstrong was first introduced to urine theory and why he believes it has real potential to help people. Turns out it was his family who first introduced it to him as a way to treat minor stings and toothaches after reading a verse from the bible
“Drink waters out of thine own cistern, and running water out of thine own well”.
Armstrong later goes on to tell us that during the First World War he had contracted tuberculosis and was suffering as a result. He later goes on to say that he went to see a specialist who told him that he was misdiagnosed, nevertheless, Armstrong decided there was no better opportunity to test the healing properties of urine than now and started on a 45-day fast drinking nothing but urine and tap water. At the end, he had lost one-half his body weight but somehow felt much better and decided to promote urine therapy and fasting to all that would listen.
From this point onwards, the book takes a dark turn when it becomes nothing more than a list of all the very ill people Armstrong has convinced to starve themselves and drink nothing other than water and their own urine, rather than seeking help from a trained medical professional. For example, there is a whole chapter dedicated to those suffering from cancer all ending with a miraculous recovery but those of us who live in the real world know that was probably not the case. Urine is no panacea and I am sure this will come as no surprise but according to the American Cancer Society “available scientific evidence does not support claims that urine or urea given in any form is helpful for cancer patients”. In all likelihood, Armstrong probably prolonged the suffering of some and caused the death of others. Whilst the whole time robbing them of their dignity and immortalizing their actions in his vomit inducing book. Think I am over exaggerating? The following is an excerpt where Armstrong recommends a woman who suffered from particular painful periods to drink her own urine that was “heavily overcharged with menstrual blood”
As I was getting to the end of the book I thought it could not get any worse than promoting a bizarre cure-all to gravely ill people, but I was wrong. You see there is one thing in this world that really gets my blood boiling. The one thing that makes me see red, and that is the promotion or practicing of alternative treatments on people who are unable to give consent or animals and this book has a small chapter dedicated to urine therapy on animals. In this chapter, Armstrong talks about how he starved a dog for 19 days forcing it to drink its own urine after it had been run over by a motorbike. What makes this example worse is that he says that he washed the dog with “old, strong, greasy urine” without ever telling us where it came from and finishes by saying that the dog began to lose its hair! He later goes on to talk about a farm where he starved a cow for much longer and it too, after being doused in urine, lost all its hair and was nothing but “skin and bone” at the end. When it came to the chickens on this farm he was a little stumped because birds don’t urinate, so decided just to starve them anyway because they were not producing enough eggs.
When I first picked up this book I thought it would be another funny talking piece to add to my collection but instead, I found it to be something much darker. It’s the diary of an animal abuser and a list of seriously ill people he convinced to degrade themselves in the hope of finding a cure.