Declan Hammond, a homeopath, transpersonal therapist and shamanic practitioner, is co-founder and a director of The Irish School of Homeopathy.
“Many of the things my dying patients shared with me, of visions and insights from non-ordinary realities, were straight out of shamanic experience“. -Declan Hammond
FMcG : Can you tell us how you came to homeopathy in the first place?
DH : I first came across homeopathy in 1976 while training as a yoga teacher in Germany. When I went to India to further my studies, I noticed that many of my teachers carried these little remedy bottles which they used very successfully to cure all sorts of ailments. I was fascinated by this as I’d always had an interest in alternative lifestyles and health but at the time my interest was primarily in my yoga teaching and practice.
This all changed in 1979 when my then wife and I had twins who were born very prematurely on a visit home to Dublin. Immediately after they came home from hospital my daughter became very sick with high fever, delirium, convulsions and was in great distress. In hindsight, a clear Belladonna picture. But at the time, as a new parent, it frightened the life out of me! I called a wonderful old homeopath, Dr. Rice, who came promptly and gave her a remedy powder. Within seconds she calmed down and was back with us. Then I had one of those “moments” when time stood still and everything became clear. I knew what I wanted to do with my life. I told Dr. Rice then that I wanted to study homeopathy, but he told me that it wouldn’t be possible for me, as I wasn’t a medical doctor.
FMcG: So what did you do?
DH: Well, of course, this made me even more determined to do it! So I started studying myself. I read all the texts I could get my hands on and started treating people whenever I got the chance. I finally got the opportunity to study at The College of Homeopathy in London, some years later and then everything came together for me.
In the College and in my circle in London I was blessed with a number of wonderful, teachers, such as Martin Miles and Robert Davidson. Their teachings widened and deepened my own ideas. Martin was a member of the Druid Order and he inspired me to explore the more esoteric aspects of homeopathy and healing. I learnt a lot in College but realised there was a lot more that I needed to learn.
FMcG: What more did you feel you needed to learn?
DH: Homeopathy, for me, is ultimately an evolutionary tool. Being a homeopath has always meant much more than just prescribing remedies homeopathically. It is about growth and development, following your own life path. The different homeopaths I studied with all had their own unique ways of working, each in their own way producing excellent results. I felt that I needed to bring as much of my own uniqueness as I could in my homeopathic practice.
FMcG: So how do you bring your own unique way of being to homeopathy?
DH: My study and practice of Tantra Yoga has influenced my life and work deeply and has led me into exploring traditional shamanic healing. Using techniques from these, alongside more traditional homeopathic skills, has revolutionised my work.
FMcG: What would you say characterises your practice?
DH: The willingness to be flexible, to go beyond what’s considered “normal”, to be as inclusive as possible, bringing in as much information, sensory input and intuition as possible. I frequently use creative visualisation, shamanic journeying and focussing techniques with my patients. These help the patients to make contact with themselves, allow them to explore their illnesses, understand the meanings these hold for them, to bring about a quicker and more conscious healing. I am particularly interested in working with people who want to move beyond their diseases and work on their own spiritual development. My key word in all of this is “empowerment”.
FMcG: So, empowerment is a big word for you?
DH: Yes, homeopathy has empowered me enormously and given me a great sense of who I am. I felt hugely empowered as a parent learning and using homeopathy. It has empowered me in my personal life and in my work with my patients and students. Empowerment is one of the central themes of my life. Helping people find tools to empower themselves has always been a cornerstone of my teaching and practice. It’s very important for me to feel that people understand how much power they actually have. My best teachers have always been the ones who reminded of my sense of my own power. And this is what I’d like to pass on to my patients and students.
FMcG: With all the knowledge and skill you have gained through your own journey, how do you approach your teaching?
DH: I have a huge passion for teaching, sharing my experiences and skills. My patients continually inspire me. I have seen countless miracles in my practice and continue to be amazed at the depth of healing possible through homeopathy. I try to pass this all on to my students, to enkindle a sense of excitement about the work we do and to strive continuously to become more effective in what we do. My approach has been coloured by lots of different influences: my own life experience, travel and working abroad, my patients and many different teachers. My greatest teachers, however, were not the ones who gave me ideas, but who inspired me to expand my mind beyond what is normally considered possible.
I began teaching around the same time as I set up in practice, first in Denmark then in India and the Far-East. When I returned to Ireland in 1992, after having been away for 16 years, I was asked to teach at The Irish School of Homeopathy in Dublin, then run by a group of Dutch homeopaths and the following year was invited to become a director of the School.
FMcG: How did you take to this challenge?
DH: It was quite a challenge for me because the ethos of the School back then was very structured, teaching purely “classical” homeopathy. I have great respect for the teachers who taught me in that model and for the teachers who taught in the School at that time, but my experience over the years has shown me the limitations of only using one way of applying homeopathy. To respond homeopathically to my patients, I have often needed to do things that would not fall under the “classical” label. Many of my early teachers were eclectic practitioners who used homeopathy in the Hahnemannian tradition of continuing to explore and develop their prescribing beyond what was laid down in the old texts. The challenges my patients presented meant that I frequently had to go beyond what I had been taught and what had been previously been written.This led to some very interesting and occasionally heated discussions with the School directors!
The following year I was invited to become a co-director, and my intention then was to help develop an institution that would teach the most effective and practical ways of using homeopathy. I took over the School in 1994 and that goal became much clearer for me. Since then we have continued to evolve and develop. We are now a team of four directors, a partnership of Gerry and Angie Murphy, Anne Walker and myself – four very different personalities, with unique, complementary skills, which has created a very dynamic, creative and uniquely Irish school.
Our continued goal is to ground our students in the history and theory of homeopathy while providing teachers who can demonstrate a wide range of clinical and therapeutic skills. With thorough clinical training and supervision, we equip our students with all the necessary tools for a successful, professional practice.
FMcG: You have taught in many different parts of the world, could you tell us something of this?
DH: I have taught seminars and spoken at conferences in many wonderful places around the world, but some of my most inspiring work abroad has been training people in the “barefoot doctor” programs in India and Indonesia. The concept originated in China where, due to lack of trained doctors, volunteers from local villages were given short, intensive paramedical and acupuncture training and then given responsibility for primary health care for their area. I was involved in this work in Bihar, India from the late 1970’s until 1991 and in Bali, Indonesia from 1991 to 1992, helping setup, fund and then train homeopathic practitioners to do this work.
Indonesia, especially, was an extraordinary experience. It was the first time this kind of programme was tried in that country and it received a lot of attention from the local authorities. As we found out, medicine in the Third World is often tied up in politics and we frequently found ourselves caught up in local political powerplays, with different groups claiming credit for the work we were doing.
In spite of this, we were amazed at how much we could do with so few resources. It was like practicing frontier medicine in the Wild West in Kent’s time. The climate was wonderful, the land very fertile and our patients were all well nourished. But due to lack of money, they had little or no access to allopathic medicine. Patients mostly lived very traditional, ordered lives.
For a prescriber it provided a fantastic opportunity to see what homeopathy was capable of. The patients we treated came to our clinic with many serious pathologies such as gangrene, syphilis and TB, but most presented with such clear pictures of remedy states that mostly we saw dramatic results from one or two doses of the indicated remedy. This was the way the old books described it! It reminded us of the power of homeopathy and how back in Europe, with the suppressive effects of medication and lifestyle, our remedes don’t always work in the same way, or as well as they did in Kent’s time.
FMcG: How has your practice developed for you and your patients?
DH: When we came back to Ireland in 1992, after having been away for so long, we realised how different practice was in this part of the world. During the few years prior to our return, I’d had to deal with people close to me who were affected by cancer. This showed me the need for innovative work in this area. Many of the patients who came to see me in Ireland came with cancer and I was often reminded of the relationship between what goes on in my inner life and how that mirrors what happens in my clinic.
FMcG: How was that for you?
DH: Working with patients with cancer has been among the most exciting, rewarding and difficult experiences I have had in practice. When I realised the devastation a diagnosis of cancer brings, I realised that an extraordinary level of empathy and support is needed. To be able to work in this area, I needed to be willing to explore my own fears and darkness. So much work with cancer has sometimes felt like a burden, but it has brought me to places whare I have deepened as a person and as a practitioner. Ultimately, it is very rewarding and has stretched me to places I had no idea even existed.
Over the last years I have also had the privilege of working with many people dying from cancer and have experienced how, even at this last stage of life, homeopathy can bring great healing and solace to patients and their families.
The other main areas my practice covers at the moment are: working with sexual-abuse survivors; treating young opiate-addicted patients; autistic and seriously mentally disturbed children; “psychiatric” patients and those I would consider as undergoing psychic or spiritual crises.
All of this work has led me to search continually for new remedies and more effective ways of working. I realised that there weren’t enough tools in our traditional homeopathic tool kit to treat what was turning up in my practice. My patients challenged me to come up with new tools.
FMcG: How did you do this?
DH: I struggled for a while until I became aware of the depths and range of shamanic work. In traditional societies, a shaman would be recognised as an individual who had the courage to overcome his/her own illness and in the process had developed the skills and power to use different states of consciousness to heal others. I realised that in these traditions were tools, concepts and training which I could learn from. I travelled and met with native healers from different countries and realised that many of the “hopeless” conditions that patients brought to my practice could be helped by traditional healing techniques. There were age-old tools, remedies available to support people through their life crises.
I became fascinated by patients who presented with states diagnosed as psychotic, schizophrenia, mania; hearing voices or seeing visions imperceptible to their doctors or myself. In older, indigenous cultures these states would be seen as normal; here these patients were being put into psychiatric wards and on medication.
It also struck me that many of the things my dying patients shared with me, of visions and insights from non-ordinary realities, were straight out of shamanic experience. But here we were in our material culture without any tools or context to deal with them, other than a pathological model. So my own shamanic practice has helped me to become more aware of people in this positiion and to realise that there are remedies and tools available that had been used for thousands of years and that these were either not available in homeopathy or were only being used very sparingly. These remedies, notably Ayahuasca, Anhalonium, Psilocybe and Tabernanthe iboga have become mainstays of my practice and have revolutionised it.
FMcG: In what way?
DH: In traditional use, these “teacher” plants help people connect with their life purpose, grant them vision and insight into their life’s journey and connect them to their past and ancestors. These are qualities sorely lacking in our culture today. For me, one of the worst diseases of our time is separation: separation from our roots; from nature; from our ancestors; from our bodies; from our sexuality and especially from spirit.
Of course, all of our remedies can help patients reconnect to themselves, but these plants carry an extra special quality for me; they have been used for healing and spiritual purposes for millennia. For me it’s a very special privilege to be able to use such ancient tools, with their long history of healing, and to bring them into my practice.
FMcG: What kind of results have you experienced with these remedies?
DH: The results that I’m experiencing in my practice with these continue to astound me. I find that when I let go of the limits I have placed on my homeopathy, people are able to move beyond conditions that I would have thought as incurable in the past. It is an essential part of my own work that the limitations of my patients’ healing are directly linked to my awareness of my own limitations. The onus is on me to move beyond my own limitations and as I do this. I find my patients moving on in their lives, transforming themselves in ways that truly inspire me.
Paradoxically, this has brought me increasingly back to Hahnemann, to his spirit, to his constantly moving, constantly saying: “I used to believe this… now my experience tells me something different”. I feel if we are to be homeopaths and not just prescribe homeopathically, we must allow ourselves to continue to move. After all, lack of movement, lack of flowing energy leads to disease.
FMcG: You’ve explained how you were prompted to come to use these new remedies. Can you tell us something about the provings you have been involved with?
DH: I was lead to the ancient remedy Ayahuasca through the teaching of Martin Miles and the meditation proving done by the Guild of Homeopaths. At the time I was exploring the concept of a tool that would help people come to terms with the space between the worlds, the space that patients speak about after returning from near-death experiences. Many would have spoken of inhabiting a “place between the worlds” in their dying processes. Ayahuasca in the Quecha language means “vine of the dead, vine of the soul” and is used for journeying into and through that space. I have been involved in a number of further provings of this remedy and it has shown itself to be an extraordinary remedy for many deeply disassociative states and brings great healing.
I have also done an extensive proving of Tabernanthe iboga and a number of other substances that are still being processed.
FMcG: How did you come across this remedy?
DH: My experience is that at different times these plants have come across me, have chosen me! At significant times in my life they have presented themselves, usually with a flourish of synchronicity. I was at a conference in Amsterdam some years back when I heard an Italian anthropologist, Giorgio Samorini, talk about his experiences in West Africa. He was the first white person to experience initiation into the Bwiti religion of Gabon.
During this ceremony, usually undertaken when people enter adulthood, the initiate eats large quantities of the root bark of a native shrub Tabernanthe iboga. Under the loving hands of experienced shamans and musicians, they pass into a coma-like state whare they can remain for up to 2 days. During that time, if the initiation is to be successful, they will meet with their ancestors and be given their spiritual name and purpose for their life. When they return to ordinary consciousness they are considered to have been reborn.
Samorini’s story sent a chill up my spine. I recognised something I had felt many times and heard often in my practice – that sense of separation again…. and felt an immediate call, as if from the spirit of this plant to be potentised and proven.
By the way, the proving itself was quite extraordinary with clairvoyance, a deep sense of connection with one’s ancestry and community and a clear sense of life‘s purpose. Not surprisingly, this remedy has become an important part of my practice.
FMcG: How did the proving affect you personally?
DH: It transformed my life! The process of being a channel for this remedy has hugely coloured the way I live and work. The years following the proving were very productive years and my deepening sense of self and my goals were very much supported by this remedy.
FMcG: From what I know of you myself Declan, I see a man with a sparkle in his eyes who has a passion for life and living. Do you have your own personal philosophy on life?
DH: To be authentic about who you are and what you do is important to me. Having lived, both in my practice and in my personal life with death and loss, I live constantly with the reality that at any moment, anything can happen. Therefore I feel a great urgency to live each moment to the full: to live paying attention to what’s going on around me and inside me. I am totally committed to transformation, to being the best I can; helping others transform. It feels like a real grace to be reminded in my practice, on a daily basis, of the potential for change and healing that is in all of us. If I lose consciousness of this for a moment, the next patient is sure to come along and remind me. What work we do… staying conscious and getting paid for it!
FMcG: What is your sense of homeopathy internationally at the moment? Do you have a personal vision of where homeopathy is heading in Ireland?
DH: Our profession has been developing rapidly over the last 30 years. There are many wonderful training institutions all over the world; 1000’s of new remedies have become available to us and the work of those such as Scholten and Sankaran have hugely added to our prescribing possibilities. Even The Irish Times newspaper listed homeopathy as among the top 10 professions for the decade! More and more patients are turning to homeopathy as their preferred form of treatment and of course, this has brought it’s own problems in the form of attacks on the profession from vested interests on the internet and elsewhere, particularly in the UK.
I see these attacks as confirmation of all the good work we have been doing over the decades. How we respond to them, however, is crucial. Reacting in an allopathic way, fighting back with court cases and media attacks on our attackers is unlikely to have a good outcome. We are being presented now with a wonderful opportunity to present ourselves in a homeopathic way, sharing what we do with the world, on our own terms.
In Ireland, as a profession, we are relatively new but we are in a unique position, where we have been able to witness what has happened in other countries and have been able to learn from them. As a nation we are blessed with a rebellious streak that allows us to confront dogma and oppression. We also have a deep sense of tradition and respect for human values, such as friendliness and caring. I have a great sense of hope for homeopathy in this country. Having taught in many countries abroad, I see the quality of homeopathy here as being among the highest I have encountered. Part of our national shadow, perhaps a remnant of our colonial history, is a lack of recognition of the fine work that is being done by our colleagues here. My hope, with the maturing of our profession, is that we will come to a greater recognition of each other and the great work that is going on in this country.
FMcG: Finally, is there any advice you would like to give from your wealth of personal experience?
DH: I feel the nature of what we work at, on a daily basis, is very serious – too serious to get stuck in its seriousness! Take care of yourself; resource yourself regularly and remember to have fun, to bring lightness to the work. Stay open to new ways of doing things; keep it dynamic. Be still, clear in your intentions; work from the highest consciousness you can and trust in your own and your patients’ ability to heal. And remember to breathe!