How to make homeopathy work

Homeopathy involves the acquisition of a substance often chosen because of its harmful nature (but sometimes for other reasons) followed by the dilution of that substance, or an extract of it, in water numerous times until the substance itself is essentially gone, but the memory of the substance is retained by the water. This water, with the memory, is then considered by homeopathic practitioners to be an effective treatment for various conditions.

The basic principle of using a harmful substance to produce a sort of counter-reaction, or a beneficial reaction, is interesting. And, the idea of using some sort of organic memory is also interesting and potentially quite effective, if it can be pulled off. Most of my colleagues in science-based skepticism dismiss homeopathy as inconsequential and ineffective, in part because there are no double blind controlled studies with usable sample sizes, properly selected samples, appropriate statistics and biologically sensible analyses demonstrating effectiveness, and because there is no evidence of water having “memory” or of a substance diluted into non existence having an effect. But I think they may have given up too easily on this idea, and there is a way to make homeopathy work. We just have to change a couple of the parameters.

First, the substance that is used in dilute form needs to be a biologically potent substance, and not just some thing someone thought might work. For instance, if you take silica based crystals such as quartz and grind them up into a powder and ingest the powder in small quantity, there will be either minimal effect or a small effect similar to consuming a dose of fiber supplement. I don’t recommend trying this, because if the crystal contained certain minerals then the substance could be quite poisonous, and even if the powder is 99.9999999 percent silica, silica powder can be harmful (if inhaled). However, from the point of view of how natural systems work, crystal per se should have little effects by itself, especaily if ground up.

On the other hand, organic substances, those that are made up of cells or parts of cells, can have very powerful natural effects. This is because the body contains natural molecules that interact not only with each other, but also with natural molecules of organic origin that are introduced into the body. And, most interesting, it has been demonstrated in many studies that these reactions can literally change, in a natural and organic way, the body’s natural molecules. Furthermore, and this may seem hard to believe but it is really quite wonderful and proved in many studies, but the molecules in the body that are changed can “learn” to assist cells in making more molecules that, in turn, are changed in the same way. I’m oversimplifying a bit, but I think you may have already guessed where I’m going with this: The introduction of certain organic natural materials into the body can result in the body developing a long term memory of those molecules. Studies have shown that this memory, in many cases, lasts a lifetime, or at least, for several decades.

So, we have all the homeopathic elements: Substances that can be very potent, processed so they are in small concentration, introduced into the body, causing a memory reaction not in the water the substance was originally mixed in, but IN THE BODY ITSELF using purely natural and organic bodily processes. This memory will last a life time, or nearly so. In this way, a properly selected natural organic substance can cause a highly desirable re-conformation, in a totally natural and organic way, of the body’s reaction to stresses that originate from the outside.

The molecules introduced into the body are called antigens. The molecules the body learns to produce are called antibodies. The whole process is called vaccination.

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Comments

  1. #1 Anna
    December 19, 2010

    And by a wild unrelated coincidence, I’m sure, homeopathy started up in the 1790s, just like the first vaccinations.

  2. #2 John Santos
    December 19, 2010

    I always just assumed that knowledge of vaccination (in particular, cow pox preventing small pox) and immunity (that you can only get small pox, measles, mumps, chicken pox, etc. once) was an historical antecedent of homeopathy. Hahnemann had no idea how the immune system worked, but just invented a hypothesis to explain it and then ran with it without ever doing any proper testing. The standard explanation is he read about cinchona and based his theories (in the non-scientific sense) on that, but vaccination (with cow pox) was in the air in the 1770’s and Hahnemann must have heard about it.

  3. #3 Murray Bowles
    December 19, 2010

    Does that mean that vaccination would work even better if you succussed the patient?

  4. #4 Stephen Lau
    December 19, 2010

    I smiled at the end :P

  5. #5 Phil
    December 19, 2010

    John Santos is not at all historically accurate, Hahneman was a classically trained physician of his day who was frustrated that the standard cures in his Materia Medica did not work. he developed the concept of treating the patient, not the disease, and used compounds that would cause similar symptoms to the ones the patient was suffering when administered in large doses. He kept very careful notes. many of which are still in existence, and developed succussion when his notes showed that the patients who lived further away from his home recovered more quickly than those close by. (he travelled on horseback with the cures in his saddlebag) That some of today’s Homoeopathy is “suspect” I will not deny, but we must not throw out the baby with the bathwater. I wonder if the sudden vociferous upsurge in scepticism and it’s net groups has anything to do with the fact that the public’s opinion of orthodox science has never been lower………..?

  6. #6 Daniel J. Andrews
    December 19, 2010

    I wondered where you were going with that. :) heh-heh.

  7. #7 Tom
    December 19, 2010

    @Phil: you can throw out the baby and just keep the bathwater, surely? ;)

  8. #8 Emily
    December 19, 2010

    You can keep the bathwater then dilute it several times.

  9. #9 Anna
    December 19, 2010

    I’ve had babies, I’ve had bathwater, and I have even inserted babies into bathwater. When I was especially daring, I put a baby and a toddler in bathwater.

    You would definitely want to dilute the bathwater after a baby (or a toddler, or both) has been in it.

  10. #10 Gopiballava
    December 19, 2010

    @Phil: Interesting. I was wondering where he got the idea of succussion. Did he have a Bible in there too? I thought I’d read that a leather bound Bible was a good surface to succus against.

    I can’t speak for anybody else, but the vociferousness of my opposition to homeopathy has gone up as my knowledge of what it is, the lack of evidence for it, and the harm caused by reliance on it have all gone up.

    By your tone, I take it you believe that some classical homeopathic remedies work? Do you have any remedies in mind, and what evidence do you have? I’m interested in remedies diluted beyond 12C. 1X zinc is, IMHO, something that should never be marketed as homeopathic. It’s about as accurate as selling aspirin as 2X acetylsalicylic acid – most of the pill is binder, right? :)

  11. #11 Hadlee
    December 19, 2010

    Early homeopathy was better than standard medicine because the latter was so harmful.

  12. #12 RBH
    December 19, 2010

    Another way to use homeopathic remedies to improve health is to use the properly diluted homeopathic remedy to wash down one 75 mg. aspirin tablet per day.

  13. #13 David L.
    December 19, 2010

    So what exactly would homeopathic baby bathwater be a cure for, exactly? Pregnancy?

    Just askin’

  14. #14 Greg Laden
    December 19, 2010

    This is where the rubber meets the road, David. A Homeopathic Birth Control product. Let’s see how THAT sells!

  15. #15 Scott
    December 19, 2010

    I was very sceptical of Homeopathy until my wife and daughter had what I percieved as a miraculous response to Homeopathy. They were both extremely sick and homeopathy made their life much better. The symptoms they had went almost all away. I know for a fact that this was due to the Homeopathic remedies that they both recieved.

    That has been my experience

  16. #16 Gopiballava
    December 19, 2010

    Scott: How do you know for certain that it was the homeopathic remedy?

  17. #17 Greg Laden
    December 19, 2010

    There is a reason why anecdotal information is not used to make important decisions about the efficacy of drugs or other treatments.

  18. #18 charlystone
    December 20, 2010

    @Scott: And how have you tested that it was due the homeopathic remedies and not due coincidence or placebo effect? Which tests did you make to reach your conclusion?

  19. #19 Alan
    December 20, 2010

    Disappointed you would write something that on the surface equates homopathy to vaccination, especially when I’m pretty sure you don’t believe that. There are way too many quacks putting lives at risk with this superstitious bullshit without you lending (superficial) credence to them.

  20. #20 Dana Ullman
    December 20, 2010

    It is remarkable that you actually wrote that there are no randomized double-blind clinical trials on homeopathy. What remarkable igornance!

    Skeptics of homeopathy commonly make reference to a very flawed review of clinical research published in the Lancet (2005) by Shang, Eggers, et al. Responses to this “junk science” review of research published in the Lancet, as well as in leading research journals.

    > — Lüdtke R, Rutten ALB. The conclusions on the effectiveness of homeopathy highly depend on the set of analyzed trials. Journal of Clinical Epidemiology. October 2008. doi: 10.1016/j.jclinepi.2008.06/015.

    > — Taylor, MA, Reilly, D, Llewellyn-Jones, RH, et al., Randomised controlled trial of homoeopathy versus placebo in perennial allergic rhinitis with overview of four trial Series, BMJ, August 19, 2000, 321:471-476. (This review of FOUR studies on the homeopathic treatment of people with respiratory allergies)

    > — Ullman, D, Frass, M. A Review of Homeopathic Research in the Treatment of Respiratory Allergies. Alternative Medicine Review. 2010:15,1:48-58. http://www.thorne.com/altmedrev/.fulltext/15/1/48.pdf

    > — Vickers AJ. Homoeopathic Oscillococcinum for preventing and treating influenza and influenza-like syndromes. Cochrane Reviews. 2007. .

    > — Jacobs J, Jonas WB, Jimenez-Perez M, Crothers D, Homeopathy for Childhood Diarrhea: Combined Results and Metaanalysis from Three Randomized, Controlled Clinical Trials, Pediatr Infect Dis J, 2003;22:229-34. This metaanalysis of 242 children showed a highly significant result in the duration of childhood diarrhea (P=0.008).

    > — Frass, M, Dielacher, C, Linkesch, M, Endler, C, Muchitsch, I, Schuster, E, Kaye, A. Influence of potassium dichromate on tracheal secretions in critically ill patients, Chest, March, 2005;127:936-941.

    > — Bell IR, Lewis II DA, Brooks AJ, et al. Improved clinical status in fibromyalgia patients treated with individualized homeopathic remedies versus placebo, Rheumatology. 2004:1111-5.

    > — Frei H, Everts R, von Ammon K, Kaufmann F, Walther D, Hsu-Schmitz SF, Collenberg M, Fuhrer K, Hassink R, Steinlin M, Thurneysen A. Homeopathic treatment of children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder: a randomised, double blind, placebo controlled crossover trial. Eur J Pediatr. 2005 Dec;164(12):758-67. Epub 2005 Jul 27

    PLUS…there are hundreds of basic science trials, including dozens of replication trials.

  21. #21 Irene
    December 20, 2010

    Alan? Are you in there? This post is obviously not meant to present a friendly face to homeopathy. It rather makes fun of homeopathy and those who engage in it.

  22. #22 Greg Laden
    December 20, 2010

    Dana, I did not say that there were no studies. I said, and I quote, “there are no double blind controlled studies with usable sample sizes, properly selected samples, appropriate statistics and biologically sensible analyses demonstrating effectiveness”

  23. #23 Greg Laden
    December 20, 2010

    Alan, see Irene’s note. Do you really think I’m equating homeopathy with vaccination? I have another intention here, but making the point overtly in the article would obviate it. Obviously.

  24. #24 Timberwoof
    December 20, 2010

    If diluting a substance increases its effect through the memory of the water it was dissolved in, then how can homeopaths ever rinse the soap off their dishes?

  25. #25 Laura
    December 20, 2010

    Another analogy is with allergy shots.

  26. #26 Dana Ullman
    December 21, 2010

    In due respect, it is bad enough that you have obviously not read any or many of the studies and reviews of research that I have cited above, but it is worse that you’ve shown sloppy scholarship and have chosen to misinform people.

    The Oscillococcinum trials on the treatment of the flu had 1,200 patients…and were double-blind and randomized. The diarrhea trials had several hundred people…and were all double-blind and randomized…the allergy trials were published in the Lancet and BMJ and had several hundred people in the trials…and I could go on…but you obviously have an axe to grind, and you seem quite proud of your blinders, even defensive of them (how curious).

    Many of the other commenters are trying to be funny and cute…and I can laugh with their humor, but no one can or should take them seriously because they obviously are not familiar with water research, the silica hypothesis, and the influence of vigorous shaking on the creation of bubbles and nano-bubbles & its influence on water pressure. But heck, laugh as much as you want, but no one is taking you seriously…

  27. #27 Charlystone
    December 21, 2010

    Dana, it would be easier to read those articles, if you provided direct links to them. Name, even full name, makes it difficult to find them, partialy due to automatic google language/region preferences.

  28. #28 Greg Laden
    December 21, 2010

    This paper:

    Lüdtke R, Rutten ALB. The conclusions on the effectiveness of homeopathy highly depend on the set of analyzed trials. Journal of Clinical Epidemiology. October 2008. doi: 10.1016/j.jclinepi.2008.06/015

    is discussed here at some length. Here’s a link to the abstract and summary of the paper.

  29. #29 Alan
    December 21, 2010

    Irene / Greg,

    I realise Greg was trying to be funny, I just think that most people who are gullible enough to believe in homeopathy are also unlikely to have the intellectual capacity to percieve his sarcasm.

  30. #30 Stephanie Z
    December 21, 2010

    Alan, if you’re going to be incensed whenever someone refuses to talk to only the lowest common denominator, you’ve got a hell of a life in front of you. Also, you seem to have missed that alt med and anti-vax are generally the pets of those with comfortable educations and livings.

  31. #31 Greg Laden
    December 21, 2010

    Alan, I did consider what you are talking about. I considered the fact that the title of my post would appear in google searchers on “Homeopathy” and look like some sort of endorsement.

    But, it would be one of a hundred such one liners, and not add to the validity of homeopathy, but sitting there among other positive looking items, it might get read by someone wondering about homeopathy. Who would then possibly get a perspective they didn’t otherwise have a chance to be exposed to.

  32. #32 stavros
    December 22, 2010

    Oh no, it’s Dana again with the *exact* same flawed “arguments” he has been posting on a variety of skeptical sites!

    Dana, for the millionth time, there are comprehensive systematic reviews and meta analyses that show that homeopathy is just bullcrap:

    – J Kleijnen, P Knipschild and G ter Riet, Clinical trials of homoeopathy, BMJ 302 (1991), pp. 316–323

    – JP Boissel, M Cucherat, M Haugh and E Gauthier, Critical literature review on the effectiveness of homoeopathy: overview of data from homoeopathic medicine trials, Homoeopathic Medicine Research Group. Report to the European Commission, Brussels, Belgium (1996), pp. 195–210

    – K Linde and D Melchart, Randomized controlled trials of individualized homeopathy: a state-of-the-art review, J Alter Complement Med 4 (1998), pp. 371–388

    – K Linde, M Scholz, G Ramirez and N Clausius, Impact of study quality on outcome in placebo-controlled trials of homeopathy, J Clin Epidemiol 52 (1999), pp. 631–636

    – A Shang, K Huwiler-Müntener and L Nartey et al., Are the clinical effects of homoeopathy placebo effects? Comparative study of placebo-controlled trials of homoeopathy and allopathy, Lancet 366 (2005), pp. 726–732

    – M Cucherat, MC Haugh, M Gooch and JP Boissel, Evidence of clinical efficacy of homeopathy: a meta-analysis of clinical trials, Eur J Clin Pharmacol 56 (2000), pp. 27–33

    – E Ernst, A systematic review of systematic reviews of homeopathy, Br J Clin Pharmacol 54 (2002), pp. 577–582

    And no, as it has been shown a good number of times, the Shang review was NOT flawed, and if anything, the 2008 Ludtke paper just confirms the methodological approach Shang followed.

    Get a clue and learn to read properly. Next step may be to learn to *understand*, but that may prove tricky for you…

  33. #33 stavros
    December 23, 2010

    Just to avoid any silly comments, I tried to provide all the major systematic reviews in my previous comment as far as I know. Some of them are inconclusive, some are negative. But none is positive without significant qualifications.

    And Dana should know that it is the systematic reviews and metanalyses that show the real picture. So Dana, I wonder where you get your facts…

    On a side note, the more I see Ludtke’s title the more I find it outrageously funny: “The conclusions on the effectiveness of homeopathy highly depend on the set of analyzed trials”. No freaking way! Really?!?

  34. #34 Dana Ullman
    December 23, 2010

    Stavros correctly asserts that he and others have alerted me about THOSE reviews of research, while he and others conveniently ignore the reviews of research that I have provided. I don’t claim to not know about them, but I also know the details about each of those reviews, and I know which reviews are the most accurate.

    Further, let’s agree that homeopathy has not been proven to cure everything. Let’s then agree to see the reviews of research on the homeopathic treatment of specific ailments. In THIS light, the studies that I reference above (respiratory allergies, influenza, childhood diarrhea…just for starters) have a body of evidence that shows that the placebo explanation is “inadequate.”

    Stavros conveniently ignores the larger body of replication studies in basic science work, let alone the 1,000+ studies on hormesis (but heck, most of you don’t even know what hormesis means). Well, so much for that scientific attitude that you claim to have and hold.

  35. #35 Stephanie Z
    December 23, 2010

    Dana, I know what hormesis means. I know about that it’s not widely accepted (and with some good reasons). I don’t understand why you’d think it would apply to pure water.

  36. #36 Greg Laden
    December 23, 2010

    “Hormesis” is a great example of one of those quaint nineteenth century concepts, not nineteenth century because it was formulated then (though it was) but because it is a formulaic description of how the world works, and as such, is supposed to be in part an explanation of how the world works.

    In most cases it is simply the combination of two or more effects that kick in at different scales and that are somehow thought of as opposite on a scale to which we assign a polarity with qualitative meaning. For instance, if you drink a glass of red wine a day (and are French and lucky) you’ll have better health, but if you drink three bottles of it French or not) you’ll have worse health. What is really happening is that there is (or may be) a cardiovascular benefit from some ingredient in wine (or something the drinking of wine does for you) and there is also, independently, a negative effect of alcohol on various bodily systems such as the liver. The first effect kicks in with small “doses” and is not increased with a larger dose, and the second effect is non-existent in small doses but after a certain low level intake becomes more or less dose dependent.

    Interesting but not terribly strong, not explanatory of anything, and co-opted in the production of certain woo rhetoric (wootoric, if you will) and of minor historical importance.

  37. #37 Alan
    December 23, 2010

    Stephanie – I was not “incensed”, I was critical. Greg’s last response says he had already considered the point I was making and shoots down my critisim with a perspective I had not considered.

    And BTW, at my age most of my life is now behind rather than ahead of me. During that time I have found that a comfortable life and an education (in the humanities) does very little to protect one from psuedo-scientific / religious scams, but if you think that those lucky few outnumber the superstisious poorly-educated masses, you need to broaden your social circle.

  38. #38 Colugo
    January 5, 2011

    “In most cases it is simply the combination of two or more effects that kick in at different scales”

    That is not what hormesis is. Hormesis is simply the result of compensatory response to a stressor at low doses. Hence the biphasic response. (And has nothing to do with homeopathy, which is about effectively zero dose as opposed to low dose. Nor is an excuse to exposure oneself or others to toxins.) What you’re describing, in contrast, is two distinct responses to two different components of a mixture.

  39. #39 Dr. Fox
    January 7, 2012

    An interesting article on the subject; an entertaining too:)
    Fools gold – By Mike Bridger, RSHOM
    In recent years the tide has turned in favour of homoeopathy and I wonder whether this success hasn’t gone to our heads a little. It seems to have stimulated some kind of sycotic drive for originality within the profession which, if left unchecked, could end up seriously weakening homoeopathy as a whole. I am concerned for example, about meditative provings. Crudely put, this involves a group of people literally meditating on the material substance and the symptoms they experience during the meditation being collated to give the proving picture. My concern is that such provings may filter into mainstream homoeopathy without serious debate or critical assessment. This experimentation with meditative provings has to be considered in relation to these overall trends which are increasingly pervading homeopathic thought.
    Increasingly homoeopathy is being jumbled up with notions based on religions and spiritualism, psychotherapy, mysticism, magic, occultism, psychotherapy, karma, Aquarius and as the song goes “Uncle Tom Cobbly and all”. This isn’t surprising. The resurgence of homoeopathy in Britain sprang directly from new interest in Druidism, alchemy and-putting it crudely-New Ageism. The problem is that this trend is also a move away from the language of homoeopathy, which is a language of simplicity.
    The infiltration of ‘New Age’ notions is happening particularly in case analysis. We’ve got circle methods, triangles, tables, verbs, auras, planets and spiritual guides, and next week they’ll be another guru to tell us what homoeopathy really is, should be and never was, as compared to what we thought it was, or what Hahnemann meant it to be. We’ll think it’s very clever because we haven’t a clue what he or she is talking about. And so we all climb aboard The Starship Enterprise, to go boldly where no homoeopath has gone before. Meanwhile, there on the ground are our patients getting smaller and smaller until we can’t see them at all, and all we have left is the realisation that the nearer you get to heaven, the colder and lonelier it gets.
    Never mind the patient as long as we find the ‘right remedy’. It’s like setting off and searching for The Holy Grail! We’re being told that the ‘right remedy’ isn’t the one that covers the symptoms of the case, or the presenting complaint. It has to cover the whole life of the patient, particularly the patient’s life as foetus. It should penetrate into the deepest waters of the patient i.e. their soul, and if the remedy doesn’t cover the last 1000 light years of the patient’s past lives, then the prescription is probably palliative, certainly suppressive and there’s a good chance that the patient will die in unbearable agony at an early age, only to be re-incarnated as a blue-bottle fly. Who needs allopathy to frighten us when we’ve got that kind of agenda.
    The ‘right remedy’ is a homoeopathic G spot where lots of people go looking for something, but they don’t know where to look because they don’t know what it is. Maybe I’m just English. If these notions were true we would need to be so evolved to practice successfully, that we probably wouldn’t bother to be on earth at all, but would choose instead to fly with the angels. Homoeopathy would be left for the Sages and Seers and Gurus. I hate Gurus because I want to be one, but know that I’m no good at it. I’m the type of person that even if I was called Merlin, dressed in robes with a pointy hat and had a magic wand that incinerated everything I pointed it at, people would still think I was the assistant bank manager.
    Some regard homoeopathy as a sort of spiritual quest. If that’s the case then the remedy for the patient will have to cover the spirit of the patient. When Kent talked about deep acting remedies he meant that they covered pathology. Now ‘deep’ means ‘soul deep’. Of course homoeopathy has spiritual significance, but we should be aware that much of the world’s population is less worried about their spiritual development and more preoccupied with finding enough food for themselves and their children to eat.
    I have heard homoeopaths claim that they and their patients are more spiritually evolved than anyone else because they have been attracted to homoeopathy. Madness.
    If homoeopathy is tainted with the notion that homoeopaths save souls and set them on some spiritual path towards an idea of enlightenment, then it becomes a religion. Like all religions, we attract fundamentalists who like to think that anyone who does not follow the righteous path as defined by them, will find themselves skewered on the barbecues of hell with only a fried onion for a friend. Actually Hell would be practising in such a way, because the saving grace of homoeopathy, as well as being it’s flaw, is that homoeopathy is human. Because it is human, it can never be a perfect system. Paradoxically the more we become aware of this imperfection, in ourselves, in the way we practice and in our patients, the more we see the perfection inherent in that imperfection.
    I can prove that homoepathy is not perfect. How many of you practitioners reading this can honestly say that you have never experienced that moment, when the patient is sitting in front of you saying that the last remedy worked brilliantly, and you look down at your notes only to find that you forgot to write down what remedy you gave. Point made!
    Remember those early days as a student, when you’ve read this amazing stuff and you believe nothing can go wrong for you once you’re a homoeopath or have taken a remedy. Your grandad is sitting, dribbling and farting in the corner where he’s sat for 150 years and you’re trying to force-feed him with bucket-loads of Carbo Veg. He’s choking and someone’s trying to call for an ambulance, but you pull the phone out, shouting, “Don’t you understand, the allopaths will kill him!
    Then that first shock when someone who took a remedy still dies 10 years later. The shock of hearing that a homoeopath is having marriage problems.
    Homoepathy isn’t perfect and if we act as if it is, then homoepathy will lose its identity. If we worship ideas at the expense of the patients, then we will worship something else. It may be that meditative provings are part of a symptomatology which reflects exactly such a trend. We already see this problem in case analysis, where the analysis seems to be geared around the desire to be original and insightful, rather than trying to get the patient better. This is the equivalent of the allopath’s love of diagnosis and we can get caught up in similar thinking. The more clever, profound, complicated and obscure the analysis the better, and never mind the patient.
    Some eminent homoeopaths fly all over the world doing this stuff. They pop up at some seminar, take a case and give Candlewax 10M because the patient says they feel burnt out, then very quickly fly off again for someone else to clean up the mess.
    The sycotic drive for innovation and originality we should leave to the allopaths. They have succeeded in alienating themselves from their own roots, the people, the patients and healing. We gained from their not learning the lesson, but we gained and I’m not sure we learnt the lesson either. I see ideas and notions which are questionable and yet are embraced so readily, without question or critical appraisal by the profession; this disturbs me. Art can stoop to the level of pickling cows in formaldehyde without anyone, apart from the cow, getting hurt. But we are responsible for the health care of real people. If we worship innovation at the expense of the foundations of homoeopathy then our house will fall down. There are those, including the pharmaceutical companies that wolflike, will be prepared to huff and puff to help it on it’s way.
    The point is that systems and religions don’t sit well with homoeopathy, at least in practice. Systems of thought and belief are by their nature generalisations. Homoeopathy is specific. I become wary when I see this specificity replaced with gross generalisation. “Homoeopathy heals the planet.” No it doesn’t-it can heal the individual. That individual, by being healthier, can choose to do healthier things, and a larger group of healthier individuals can choose to make moves to heal the planet.
    These are two different propositions. The crux of it is this: homoeopathy is powerful and powerless at the same time. All homoeopathy can do is make choices available to people because they become healthier; it cannot and should not dictate what they do, however nice an intention we have for them.
    Never mind how clever we are at understanding illness, if we’re truthful we’re only like our patients. When we get toothache we want the pain to stop and never mind the fact that it is symbolic of our past life as a dental surgeon. If one of our loved ones is ill or in pain, we suddenly stop worrying about their trip to Nirvana and are more concerned about the potential trip to the local hospital. An excellent homoeopath spent a year going to different homoeopaths trying to sort out abdominal pain. She was told it would go when she sorted out her relationship with her father. Eventually she was rushed to hospital with peritonitis. She nearly died. Now I don’t deny that she may have had problems with her father, but we need to be clear about what we need to treat. My advice is never forget your patients. You are one!
    Ironically, the tendency to ignore physical symptoms in preference for apparent mental and spiritual causes is no more or less than simply allopathic. It is no better or worse than the allopaths predilection for specialising in various parts of the body. These same practitioners who scream if they hear prescriptions based on physicals because they regard them as partial, are quite happy to partially prescribe on any mental or emotional symptom that they can manage to torture out of the patient, while disregarding the more serious physical symptoms of the case.
    My heart bleeds for those poor students who are misled into ignoring the obvious and are sent like Gargantua the giant on that near impossible journey, to find the hidden pattern, the block, the delusionary state etc. Even if you think you’ve found it, rather like finding your third eye, it’s a little disappointing, not least because the remedy you give based on your discovery often doesn’t do anything. Why? Because the practitioner is encouraged to prescribe on speculative causations rather than the expression of symptoms. In homoeopathy the symptoms contain the cause. The symptoms are both cause and effect. Let go of the symptoms and you may as well stop breathing as a homoeopath.
    Like it or not we operate from the perspective of Western culture. Like it or not our model can be essentially allopathic, even if we call it homoeopathic. Much of what we do is a reaction to allopathy which for us, is the monster in the dark. But as we know, a reaction is often worryingly close to the thing reacted against. Allopathy thought it could cure everything with its wonder drugs and techno medicine, but we are suffering from a sycotic craving for new theories and short cuts to ‘get fixed quick’. Instead of Prozac we find cure-alls by meditating on Rainbow, or Tooth Fairy or some such, but it is only the opposite side of the same coin. We can delude ourselves into thinking that we’re cleverer than allopaths because not only do we claim to deal with physical sickness, but we can alter everyone’s Karma too.
    I see a great film in this by the way. Something like Orwell’s Animal Farm but I’ll call it Aquarius Farm. Instead of all the animals turning into humans, I’ll have the homoeopaths in white coats, growing stethoscopes out of their necks, driving around in sports cars and mumbling to themselves in Latin.
    People are very wary now, after the broken promises and the pay off of Thalidomide and Opren and the rest of that stuff. They’re wary of people giving false witness. They’re clever enough, if they perceive us to be wearing The Emperors New Clothes, to shout “Hyoscyamus” and kick us off the streets. Instead of claiming we are changing the world we would do better to remember, as I said earlier, that most of the population don’t even know what homoeopathy is.
    Instead of throwing stones at allopaths, let us remember that we live in glass houses too. Homoeopathy has a bright future but as they say, “The brighter the sun shines, the longer the shadow.” We need to start looking at that shadow. We need to become self-critical.
    These days we can voice any whimsical notion we have at any time, in any place. We can agree that there’s no criticism because that would remind us of allopathy. All you have to do is say, “spiritual; Atlantis; moon; alchemy; intuition; I feel; meditation” and anything produced will be untouchable or unquestionable in it’s holiness. No matter how half-arsed the notion is, it cannot be criticised because it’s beyond the rational and it’s obvious to anyone who’s evolved. If you don’t get it then you may as well jump in the primal slime with the frogs. The more logical you are the less you are, because it means you’re out of balance with your intuitive side.
    Then we have the lovely literal translation of the doctrine of signatures-“I feel the remedy is Sulphur because the patient’s head is a little pointy and reminds me of a volcano.” Bring back the leeches I say.
    We are at this adolescent stage where there’s a grandeur and a terrible importance about everything we do. We have this idealised view about healing the world. After the first remedy our elderly patient returns, pushed by his mum in a pram. After the second remedy you take him back to the womb. After the third remedy, he’s back being treated for the burns he received in 1642 where inevitably he was burnt as a martyr. Another prescription and he’ll be back in the garden of Eden munching apples, and so on.
    It’s easy to delude yourself about the grand work you’re doing and sometimes on a bad day, it’s even desirable. But whenever I start to get ideas above myself about how I’m saving the world and turning Mrs. Morris into a nicer and more spiritually sound person, Mrs. Morris comes in and complains that she’s had six months treatment, her hayfever is no better and what am I going to do about it?
    We need as teachers to be careful not to feed students crazy notions on what practice is all about. Let me tell those of you still studying that homoeopathy would be a perfect philosophy, and a perfect spiritual journey, it would be Nirvana itself, if it wasn’t for the patients!
    Some days things go so well you go for a stroll in the churchyard sprinkling Carbo Veg, certain that the earth will rumble and all the graveyard inhabitants pop up to sniff the spring air as if they’d just had an afternoon nap. But, other days you feel bad. 72 year-old Mrs. X who last month was bed-ridden, blind and deaf has been in today. She’s just got a job as the lead dancer for Ballet Rambert but she says she doesn’t feel any better after the remedy. It’s the sort of bad day where the patient has just burst into tears, you’re already running late and her time is up. She catches you looking at your watch.
    Outside the sun may shine and the daffs on the lawn sway but in your head the world is a trough full of syphilitic, gonnorhoeic and various other noxious effluvia. You scratch your head psorically, swig the last of the Jamesons whiskey syphilitically and wish night would come sycotically. Days like these are really there to experience humility.
    Whichever spiritual path or religion we may choose to follow, almost all place particular emphasis on that word, humility. We would be well advised to evaluate the meaning of that word in relation to ourselves as homoeopaths and the profession. It would be detrimental to us if we were simply to poach notions, concepts and beliefs from other systems and create a kind of soup made from lots of ingredients, but with no flavour. However grandiose sounding the recipes I would hate the patients to die of malnutrition.
    The question of meditative provings may illustrate my point. I understand meditation to be a difficult discipline. The ability to remove ego from self and self from universe requires, I would have thought, years of personal work. I thought the aim of meditation was basically not to have an aim and for the participants to be goal-less. Meditational proving is therefore a contradiction in terms since the participants intend to prove something. Even if such a contradiction could be explained, I would like to know how some homoeopaths and/or their students feel they automatically possess the ability to meditate so profoundly.
    How do we know that the symptoms they produce are not just from their own imaginations or products of ego. Such provings are conducted within a group highly charged with intention and often supervised by charismatic individuals. The effects of group are well studied and the ability of the group dynamic to overpower individuality for the sake of conformity, is well documented.
    Let me give you an anecdote which illustrates the power of suggestion within a group. A bunch of students and homoeopaths were sent off into the countryside to find a plant they felt an affinity towards. One returned with their chosen plant and someone said that it was Deadly Nightshade. The person who had chosen it went into details about how and why they’d chosen the plant and the symptoms they had manifested pretty much fitted the picture we have of Deadly Nightshade. One small problem. The plant turned out not to be Deadly Nightshade at all.
    What about time? Part of the wealth of information obtained from traditional provings is related to time. Symptoms appear and disappear, being replaced by new symptoms or even opposite symptoms. The substance has a story which requires a beginning, a middle and an end. There is a relationship to a time interval. This may be called primary and secondary action. These phases can take days or weeks to manifest. To what extent can we disregard time in this sense? Do we want to and if we do, will the materia medica benefit from this? I remain unconvinced.
    Meditative provings may be fascinating, exciting and raise questions about time and space, the subjective versus the objective and the Shamanistic elements of homoeopathy, but I’m not sure how they help my patients.
    It seems that for some there are no boundaries to homoeopathic philosophy. This may be true, but while there is a relationship between philosophy and imagination, they are not the same thing. We have to take special care to differentiate between what is no more than an imaginative speculation and what is truly an exploration of the processes of human spirit and universal law. It seems to me imperative that the starting point for such investigation must always begin with observations of the patients.
    Finally, I’m quite happy to accept that what we know is still only a little compared with the greater mystery of healing. I am prepared to be surprised. Maybe at the striking of the midnight bell heralding the year 2000, my patients will transform to a host of celestial beings, winged spirits and fairies and I myself be transformed into a wizened Merlin creature able to cast my threadbare repertory into the waters of Babylon; or like Buddha come to rest on the side of the Taunton canal and spend my days as the ferryman. Somehow, I’ll bet with any or all of you, that if I am well enough to practice the next day I will be treating the same grumpy, hungover, ailing souls that make up the splendour of the human race.
    I have no objection to working in new ways as a healer, but if I do, if I decide not to use the therapeutic tool which we call homoeopathy, then neither must I call myself a homoeopath. If the trends of thinking that I have been talking about take hold of our profession then we are turning the snake that winds the staff of healing into the Oroborus snake that eats it’s own tail. We will render homoeopathy obsolete.

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