The Proving of Homoeopathic Remedies
Homoeopathy is a system of medicine based on the principle that like cures like; that the remedy which will cure the patient is the one that has the same effect on people as does the disease. There are many ways of seeing this process but one of the simplest is an assumption that the body knows what it is doing and medicine should help it rather than hinder it. Thus a person with a fever has a fever because it is the process the body uses to combat disease and infection. Conventional medicine often tries to reduce the fever even when it is not life threatening and so often negates the body’s own healing actions. Homoeopaths would give a remedy like Belladonna, which is made from the Deadly Nightshade, a poisonous plant that causes severe fever like symptoms if it is eaten.
The process of homoeopathy is a threefold one. First the homoeopath must “take the case”, gather as much useful information about the patient and his or her symptoms as he can. The homoeopath must also know or be able to find out about the effects that the different remedies have. This is done through the rigorous training undergone by Professional Homoeopaths, during which they learn the important symptoms of the major remedies and also how to use the Repertory, a giant index to symptoms that outlines which remedies cause which symptoms. The Repertories do come in book form but they have become so complex and so detailed that many homoeopaths now use computerised systems, which are much faster and more versatile. The last and most difficult part of the process is matching the patient’s symptoms to the symptoms of a remedy. This is much more difficult than it sounds because all the most common disease symptoms are found in a great number of remedies. It is necessary to find those symptoms that are truly distinctive of the patient and her disease, or else to get an overall “essential” picture of the patient that can be matched to the known essences of the remedies.
Those readers who have been to a homoeopath, or know someone who has, will know something about the case taking process. Anyone who has read Dr J’s monthly column in this magazine will have seen a little of what goes on in the process of matching patient to remedy. However, very little is generally known about the process of testing remedies, a process known as proving.
Samuel Hahnemann, the founder of Homoeopathy.
The Birth of Homoeopathy
Modern homoeopathy was discovered by Samuel Hahnemann, a German doctor working two hundred years ago. The legend goes that Hahnemann had become so disillusioned by the way that the medicine of the time did so much damage to patients and yet did so little to relieve their diseases and suffering that he had given up his practice.
As well as being a scientist he was a superb linguist, fluent in many languages, modern and classical, and had taken up translating scientific and medical papers from one language to another. In 1790 he was working on a paper about the effects of poisoning by Cinchona Bark, the source of the drug Quinine, which was then, as it is now, an important treatment for malarial fever. Hahnemann noted how similar the effects of the poisoning were to the symptoms of the disease that it cures. He took a dose of Cinchona Bark himself and carefully observed and noted the effect that it had on him. This was the first proving. He said of it “With this first trial broke upon me the dawn that has since brightened into the most brilliant day of medical art; that it is only in virtue of their power to make the healthy human being ill that medicines can cure morbid states.”
The principle of using poisons to cure diseases similar to their effects was not a new one. It had been known to the classical physicians such as Galen and Hippocrates, and had been advocated through the Middle Ages and Renaissance by many of the great alchemists and iatrochemists, particularly Paracelsus. What was different about Hahnemann’s system was that he investigated exactly what effect each remedy had and could then match them exactly to his patients’ diseases. At the time there were many remedies used for intermittent fevers; Cinchona Bark was a major one, but so were St Ignatius’ Bean, Arnica Root, Opium and others. On the whole, each physician used the one that he was most familiar with or had found successful. Sometimes they worked and sometimes they didn’t. By conducting provings on himself, his family and friends and especially his students, Hahnemann was able to differentiate between the remedies and so choose the one that best fitted each case.
Hahnemann did make another discovery central to homoeopathy, that by diluting and succussing (shaking very hard) the remedies, their medicinal power was retained, or even enhanced, while the poisonous side effects were mitigated. However, it was his systematic proving and understanding of remedies that made homoeopathy the powerful healing force that it is.
The Relevance of Proving Today
During his life Hahnemann proved at least a hundred different remedies and built the basis of the Materia Medica that is used today. During the hundred and fifty years since, some two and a half thousand remedies have been added, some through rigorous provings, others through noting the effects of accidental poisonings. Some homoeopaths feel that there are now more medicines than we need and that new provings are a waste of time; others feel that there are still many important medicines to be discovered and that old remedies need to be reproved both to clarify their symptoms and to bring them into focus in the light of the changes in society over two hundred years.
An example of this was to be seen in last month’s column by Dr J. Sepia is the brown pigment that results from drying cuttlefish ink. It was proved by Hahnemann after he observed that one of his patients, a painter, was in the habit of licking his paintbrush whenever he was using a sepia paint. The proving brought out a clear picture of the remedy and it became one of the most important homoeopathic remedies. The picture of Sepia that emerged through the Nineteenth and the first half of this Century was of the worn out housewife. Kent, the great American homoeopath working at the turn of the century, describes her as “A woman who is not built well as a woman.” She becomes the housewife and mother because that is the only role open to her, she is “dragged down” by domestic toil and she resents it. During the last thirty years the role of women in western society has changed dramatically. The woman with a Sepia susceptibility would no longer be forced to stay at home, she can go out into the world and get a job, a high flying one if she wants. The situation is now reversed; the Sepia woman is out working in a man’s world and she is “dragged down” by the fact she is a woman and the pressures that this puts on her. These can be the pressures of having children and running a household, or they can be the physical pressures of being a woman, pressures such as menstruation and menopause. Sepia is such a large and well-known remedy that it is not too difficult to recognise it on some of its more idiosyncratic features and so this modified picture has developed over recent years. However, there must be many other remedies that have a modern picture that is different from that which they revealed when they were proved more than a century ago and, because the details of their pictures are less well known, only new provings will fully reveal the pictures that are relevant today.
The Problems in Contemporary Provings
Hahnemann was, among his many skills, what we would call today a research scientist and the provings that he conducted were of a very high standard. Sadly not all those that followed him were as scrupulous and many very poor provings were conducted over the years. Over the last twenty years there has been enormous growth in professional homoeopathy all over the world but especially in Britain. One sign of this is that there were only a couple of colleges teaching homoeopathy twenty years ago, now there are about twenty. Provings have now become much more common and the way in which they are conducted is much more rigorous than it was just a few years ago.
A major force in this change has been the homoeopath Jeremy Sherr. He runs a postgraduate school where part of the syllabus is the proving of new remedies. Not only has he given us valuable pictures of remedies such as Chocolate, Hydrogen and Scorpion, but he developed and published a protocol for the conduct of provings that is rigorous and based on the work of Hahnemann.
Provings should be conducted on healthy individuals; however, very few people would claim to be a hundred per cent healthy and this is one of the many areas where compromises have to be made. No proving is perfect, but if it is well conducted the imperfections are above board and can be taken into account when it is interpreted. Most of the provings done today are done by student homoeopaths, just as they were in Hahnemann’s time. As most students are women, at least ninety per cent, and some classes contain no men at all, there is a gender imbalance in the results. This is the reverse of the situation in conventional medicine. In medical research, whether it be on drugs or of an epidemiological nature, the use of women subjects is thought to introduce too many variables, childbearing, hormonal changes, etc., and, unless it is on a gender specific disease such as breast cancer, research is conducted exclusively on men. Thus although heart disease kills many more women than breast cancer does, there has been almost no research at all on heart disease in women.
The Substances of Homoeopathy
When Hahnemann began proving remedies he worked primarily on the poisonous substances that were then used as medicines. These included minerals such as Sulphur, Gold and Mercury, and plants such as Cinchona, Deadly Nightshade and Monkshood. After a while he discovered that there are many substances that are thought to be harmless but which, when potentized, were found to cause symptoms in provers and to cure those same symptoms in patients. Common table salt and the Calcium carbonate found in oyster shells are examples of these substances which have become some of the most fundamental and powerful remedies used by homoeopaths.
Insusbstantial things, such as magnetism, were also potentized and proved. It is often not realised that only a few years ago a medical student’s basic equipment consisted of a stethoscope, a blood pressure gauge and an electronic magnetic field generator. Constantine Hering, one of Hahnemann’s students, discovered the powerful venom of the Bushmaster snake in the Amazon jungle. He accidentally absorbed some through a cut and so conducted the first proving of Lachesis. The Bee and the Tarantula spider also became valuable remedies.
There is now a well-developed protocol for how substances are used. Minerals and chemicals are used in their purest form. Either the whole of a plant or its most active part is tinctured in alcohol and water. Insects are used whole, which creates problems for vegetarian and vegans when the remedies Apis (bee), Tarantula or Scorpion are indicated. Reptiles are represented by their venoms. Mammals are represented by their milks. This started with dog’s milk, which was a folk remedy for Diptheria and which, when proved, was shown to be a valuable remedy. Bird remedies are made from a feather and/or a drop of blood.
Miasms and Nosodes
Hahnemann discovered that though he was able to cure diseases very effectively and quickly, many of his patients were coming back again with recurrent problems. He developed the Theory of Chronic Diseases, that the diseases we see can be just individual manifestations of a deeper disease that is under control some of the time but regularly pops up as an acute condition. Gradually the acute manifestations become more severe and the breaks between them shorter. Hahnemann realised that to cure the chronic disease it was necessary to treat it with a remedy that matched the picture of the whole person not just that of the presenting acute disease.
Hahnemann felt that there were certain diseases that lay in the background of chronic illness, and these were passed from generation to generation. He called these diseases Miasms and believed that they were associated with venereal infections. The first and most basic Miasm was Psora and it was associated with the itch, infection with the scabies mite. Scabies is not very common in people any more but it can be seen in dogs and foxes where it is known as mange. The second Miasm is Sycosis, which is associated with Gonorrhoea and the third is Syphilis. Over the years two more major Miasms have been added to the list, those of Tuberculosis and Cancer.
Nosodes are remedies that are prepared from diseased tissue. The samples are potentized, through which process all trace of the infective agent is removed. The medicine then represents the “spirit of the disease” rather than the disease itself. Although some aspects of a nosode can be inferred from the disease itself, the only way to get a true picture of the remedy is to conduct provings. Carcinosin, the Cancer nosode, Tuberculinum, the Tuberculosis nosode, and Medorrhinum, the Gonorrhoea nosode, are among the most valuable homoeopathic remedies but they are also among the hardest to understand properly and to recognise in patients.
The AIDS Nosode
In the early nineteen eighties a new and terrible disease was sweeping through the gay communities of the large cities of the western world. The disease itself had no form but it suppressed the immune system and allowed a number of opportunist infections to wreak havoc. The disease was transmitted through bodily fluids, usually through sexual contact. Its source was a mystery, and although the HIV virus was eventually discovered, there is still serious controversy whether it is the only factor involved in the disease.
A microscopic photograph of the blood of a prover before taking the AIDS remedy.
A photograph of the same person’s blood two days after taking the remedy.
As a venereal disease that suddenly swept through the world causing horror, revulsion, moral outrage and a fear that was out of proportion to its incidence; AIDS has many of the features of the other diseases that have provided the major miasmatic nosodes. Susan Sontag in her essay “Illness as Metaphor” describes how the Venereal Diseases, Tuberculosis and Cancer has taken on (or perhaps revealed) metaphoric meaning that went far beyond their physical manifestation, both in the individual and in society. AIDS, as soon as its presence became known, had clearly joined the pantheon of Metaphoric Illness.
In 1988 Misha Norland, who runs the School of Homoeopathy in Devon, conducted a proving of the remedy, which had been prepared from the blood of a man with full blown AIDS and who later died of the disease. This proving produced a number of symptoms but there was not a clear overall picture. A group in Holland also conducted a similarly exhaustive proving with similarly unsatisfactory results. In 1994 he conducted two further provings which this time produced a clear and comprehensive picture of the remedy.
In his books Rupert Sheldrake talks of how new phenomenon spread in a way that is not explained by physical communication. He gives the examples of Blue Tits learning to open milk bottles and of new chemicals that do not crystallise for sometime after their first synthesis but then suddenly, in laboratories scattered over the globe, the substance begins to crystallise in exactly the same pattern. He attributes this to “morphic fields” which he believes control growth and development in all sorts of different ways. It seems possible that the “morphic field of the AIDS remedy” was not sufficiently formed until the later provings.
In this proving the dreams were a particularly strong indicator of the essence of the remedy. Extravagance in behaviour and in buildings, a sense of suspicion and being under attack, a concern for the welfare of animals and children and restlessness were all themes that came through clearly in both the provers’ dreams and the feelings and symptoms they experienced after taking the remedy.
Although promiscuous homosexuality is by no means the story of even the majority of those who get AIDS, it has become part of the spirit of the disease, the feeling of being an outcast, a person who breaks the taboos of anal sex and so courts the third taboo of death, a person who can never be accepted by the rest of society. This feeling is absolutely central to the disease picture of the AIDS nosode. The AIDS patient often feels that he is abandoned by society and his illness is being ignored. The person who needs the AIDS nosode has the same sort of feelings, that he or she is an outcast of society, that they are only safe in their own house, where they can pull the curtains and create their own culture. When they leave the safety of their house they are defenceless and any attack becomes major, just as for the AIDS patient any disease or infection becomes life threatening.
Science and Homoeopathy
Alternative medicine is often criticised by conventional scientists as completely unscientific. Homoeopathy, since the time of Hahnemann, has been based on the clear, scientific collection of evidence, and the best homoeopathy continues to be so. In the case of AIDS a further proving was conducted with a remedy that came from the blood of a different person. As the results from this proving were very similar, it is clear that the picture is of the AIDS nosode and not that of the person from whom the blood was taken. In homoeopathy the evidence is given greater weight than is the prejudice of a certain mind set or scientific paradigm.
One of the major arguments against homoeopathy used by conventional critics is that the dilutions involved in homoeopathic remedies are so great that they could not possibly have any effect. This is true; nevertheless, they do have very powerful effects. During one of the AIDS provings one of the provers worked in a laboratory and agreed to have daily blood tests during the proving. The accompanying photographs show his blood as seen through a microscope before taking the remedy and two days after. In the first picture the erythrocytes (red blood cells) are normal in shape, size and distribution; in the second one the phenomena of anisocytosis (distortion in the size of erythrocytes), poikilocytosis (distortions in the shape of erythrocytes) and stacking are dramatically obvious. This prover received the remedy in a potency of 200c. In other words the original substance had been diluted to one part in one with four hundred noughts after it. If you took a single atom and diluted it in all the atoms that there are in our Galaxy, the Milky Way, you would have a dilution of one part in one with just seventy noughts after it. Yet in spite of this unimaginable dilution the remedy appears to have had an undeniable physical effect on the prover. In fact, provings clearly show that the effect of remedies can be felt by people who have not taken the remedy but who are in touch with its energy. Members of an established group who do not take the remedy often experience exactly the same symptoms as those members who do.
The Spirit of The Falcon
In 1997 I was involved in the proving of Trained Peregrine Falcon. The remedy (Falco) was prepared from a feather and a drop of blood taken from a trained Tiercel (male Falcon) by a vet. Half of a class of student homoeopaths took the remedy and half supervised, though symptoms clearly affected everyone in the group. Though none of the provers knew what the remedy was they experienced all sorts of symptoms clearly connected with the Spirit of the Falcon. When driving, many provers felt the urge for excessive speed (the Falcon is the fastest creature on earth), or found that they could not get off roundabouts and went round several times. There were things connected with the fingernails (talons) and dreams about eating raw meat. The most important spirit of the remedy revolves around feelings of humiliation and entrapment that reflect the position of the wild bird made captive and trained to the will of man. Many animals, especially the dog, have this dual nature, but dogs have been domesticated over hundreds of generations.
The Falcon is one of the wildest of creatures and it is disciplined through starvation and sensory deprivation in just a few months. The feelings of the Falco patient are also extreme and revolve around her true wild spirit and love of the wilderness and of being trapped and humiliated.
There are clearly similarities between the feelings in AIDS and Falco and the patient who has so far had the strongest curative effect from Falco was also enormously helped by the AIDS nosode.
The Effect of Provings
The purpose of provings is primarily to find the pictures of new remedies, or to deepen the understanding of old ones. There are, however, many important side effects. New remedies have helped many patients, who might never have been so deeply cured if remedies like Chocolate, Hydrogen and Scorpion had not been understood.
It is strange how often fate puts people in a proving that helps them. Two of the AIDS provers experienced what can only be described as cures from the remedy. In Falco several provers found that the proving had a substantial effect that seemed to help other remedies to work much better. Provings are not always pleasant, some of the symptoms experienced can be painful or uncomfortable. It is important that provers have the support of the proving structure and of an experienced homoeopath. Sometimes the prover will become stuck in some part of the proving state and he will need another remedy, an antidote, to bring him out of it. However, almost all provers come out of the experienced unchanged, or more often, healthier, stronger and wiser.
Provings are also a powerful pedagogic tool. They help students to learn and understand the process through which the remedies they use came to be understood. They also help students to better understand what symptoms are and what they feel like. We all become so used to our own selves and our own symptoms that we do not see them clearly in ourselves or in our patients; a proving forces homoeopaths to look very closely at symptoms and so to understand what exactly a symptom is and what it means.
The provings of AIDS and Falco are now being collated and will be published soon.
Hahnemann, S. Lesser Writings JAIN, 1995.
Hahnemann, S. The Organon of the Medical Art. Birdcage Books, 1996.
Sontag, S. Illness as Metaphor. Penguin Books,
Sheldrake, R. A New Science of Life. Paladin, 1983.
Sheldrake, R. The Presence of the Past. Thorsons, 1989.
Sherr, J The Dynamics and Methodology of Homoeopathic Provings. Dynamis Books, 1994.
jm sharma said..
very enlightening on proving for beginers like me in homeopathy