Homeopathy Papers

Diversity in the Law of Similars

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The author polls a number of homeopaths about the relationship between their spiritual beliefs and homeopathy.

Mainstream and Alternative Homeopaths in Massachusetts

Cornelia Cannon Holden

This paper,  “Diversity  in  the  Law  of  Similars,” presents  key  findings  from  my research  on homeopathic  practitioners’  understandings  of  the relationship between homeopathy and spirituality. I interviewed  sixteen  practitioners  in  Massachusetts from a range  of  medical and nonmedical  backgrounds. Each  interview lasted at least  ninety minutes and resulted in a transcript of  approximately seventy-five hundred words. While the narrow aperture  of this  project  cannot  demonstrate  trends, the data that I have collected demonstrates the ways in which  these  practitioners  draw  from  their  diverse religious and spiritual traditions to explain connections between the action of the homeopathic remedy on the “vital force” and the remedy’s potential to facilitate  spiritual  growth. I  will  explore  these  findings in light of the homeopathic philosophy laid out by Samuel Hahnemann, the founder of homeopathic medicine, in the mid-nineteenth century.

Let  me  first  begin  with  a  brief  introduction  to homeopathy.  Outside  of  allopathic  medicine,  we think  of  complementary  and  alternative  medicine, or CAM therapies, which is an umbrella term for a number  of  different  practices. Naturopathic  medicine,  for  example,  requires  training  across  a  spectrum of healing modalities, and a naturopathic doctor  often  receives  training  in  any  one  or  several  of the following modalities: acupuncture, chiropractic, reiki, massage, homeopathy, meditation, and  yoga. Many CAM practitioners do not attend naturopathic school and instead attend schools for their particular field or fields. One should note that homeopathy is as unique  a  medical  science  as, for  example, acupuncture  or  chiropractic  and  is  not  a  catch-all term that includes the practice of a host of different modalities, as does naturopathy.

Homeopathic  medicine  derives  from  the  ideas and experiments of Samuel Hahnemann, a German medical doctor who practiced in the late eighteenth through  mid-nineteenth  centuries.  It  was  he  who first coined the term homeopathy – from the Greek homoios, meaning  “similar,” and  pathos meaning “suffering” – to refer to the law of similars that is the basis of this medical system. Homeopathic medicine traces  its  origins  to  1789 when  Hahnemann  was translating a book by W. Cullen, an eminent physician  of  that  era. Hahnemann  noted  that  Cullen attributed  the  bitter  and  astringent  qualities  of Peruvian  bark  to  its  efficacy  as  a  treatment  for malaria.  Dissatisfied  with  Cullen’s  explanation, Hahnemann  began  to  experiment  on  himself  by taking repeated doses of Peruvian bark extract until he started to manifest fever, chills, and other symptoms associated with malaria. Over the next twenty years,  Hahnemann  put  to  use  his  knowledge  of botany,  chemistry,  and  toxicology  and  eventually, after  repeated  tests  and  trials  (known  in  homeopathy  as  “provings”),  set  forth  his  claim  that  substances  which  cause  symptoms  similar  to  those  of the  disease  –  like  Peruvian  bark  –  when  given  in highly diluted doses, will act to treat, and even cure, the disease. This is what is now known as the law of similars, or “like cures like.”

Today,  the  National  Center  for  Homeopathy claims  just  over  fifty-five  hundred  members, some of whom may be practicing professionally and others of whom may be practicing informally on themselves, family, and  friends. Fifty-eight  percent  or  so reside on either the West or East coasts, with roughly 42 percent living in the middle of the country. Of the just over six hundred members in New England, 279 live  in  Massachusetts. Of  those, 83 percent  are female  and  of  the  Massachusetts  residents, over  50 percent live within the Route 495 beltway. About 38 percent of Massachusetts members have some form of  higher  education  in,  for  example,  chiropractic, homeopathy, allopathy, nursing, and acupuncture.

Five  months ago when I initiated  this  inquiry  of practitioners’  understandings  of   the  relationship between  the  mechanism  of  action  of  the  homeopathic  remedy,  its  relation  to  the  vital  force,  and practitioners’ understandings of spirituality, I did so not to prove  or  disprove  the  medical  efficacy  or legitimacy  of  homeopathic  medicine, but  rather  to explore two primary questions: first, given the often tense relationship between allopathy and homeopathy  –  both  historically  and  in  the  present  day  –  I wondered  who  would  choose  to  practice  this  medical science and when and where they discovered it.

Second, I  was  intrigued  by  Hahnemann’s  understanding of disease as the result of a “pathologically untuned vital force.” In my research, I investigated what  relationship,  if   any,  practitioners  perceived between  the  remedy, the  vital  force, and  disease  by inquiring  about  their  definitions  of  homeopathy and spirituality.  Since, according to Hahnemann, a human being is both a physical organism and a dynamis — meaning “the life-giving, regulating, instinctively feeling vital force” which  animates  the  physical  organism—disease, he contends, results when there is an “untunement” of this  vital  force [2]. Accordingly, to  rectify  an energetic  untunement,  a  physician  must  assist  the “spirit-like vital force with medicines having equally  spirit-like,  dynamic  effects.”[3] In other  words,  to treat      spirit-like      untunements      with      what Hahnemann  calls  “crude  medicinal  substances”  – a.k.a. biomedicine – instead of dynamized, or energetic, medicine is contradictory.

Homeopathy’s ontological definition of disease as an  energetic  untunement  of   the  human  being, rather  than  a  biochemical  or  biophysical  alteration of   an  individual’s  physiology,  challenges  current biomedical practices. Such alterations, according to Hahnemann, are  the  symptoms  of  the  disease, but not the disease itself. If a disease is energetic, then, in order to treat like with like, the medicine must also be energetically based.  There  is  significant  diversity  of  background  in those  practicing  homeopathy  in  Massachusetts  and in the New England area in general. Of the over one hundred practitioners in Massachusetts with higher education,  I  was  able  to  interview  sixteen  –  seven women  and  nine  men.  Of  those, 50 percent  had received training in biomedicine while the other 50 percent  had  training  in  acupuncture, naturopathy, chiropractic,  nutrition,  psychology,  literature,  and even  a  former  MIT  professor  with  a  Ph.D. in  algebraic  topology.  In  other  words,  many  were  quite highly trained with backgrounds in various professional fields.

While very few learned about homeopathy during their medical training – in fact, only two – nearly as many  learned  about  homeopathy  prior  to  medical training as discovered it once they were working in the  medical  profession.  Two  individuals,  an  M.D. and a family nurse practitioner, went to medical and nursing  school  knowing  that  they  would  practice homeopathy after receiving their degrees. The most common  reason  individuals  found  their  way  to homeopathy was as a result of their own, or a family member’s, sickness. In all cases, the homeopathic remedy  worked  efficiently  and  effectively  and, as  a result, inspired the practitioner to explore further its mechanism of action and clinical applications.

All  practitioners  referred  to  the  law  of  similars, Hahnemann’s  foundational  tenet,  when  defining homeopathy and employed a variety of other terms to flesh out their definitions. Each practitioner contended  that  it  was  a  complete  medical  system  unto itself  –  and  in  many  cases,  practitioners  had  left their  initial  field  of  health  care  for  homeopathy because  they  felt  that  as  a  system  of healing, it  was the most comprehensive compared to, for example, acupuncture, biomedicine, or chiropractic.

The  terms  “energy,”  “God,”  “balance,”  “open,” “vital  force,” “miasm,” and  “energetic  pattern” were the most frequently used when practitioners articulated  the  relationship  between  the  homeopathic remedy, the vital force, disease, health, and spirituality. Spirituality  was  most  commonly  defined  as  “an awareness  of  God,”  “a  personal  relationship  with God,” “a sense of wholeness and interconnectedness with our environment,” “the substance and ultimate nature  of  the  universe,” and  “an  intangible  force.” The most common word used to describe both spirituality  and   homeopathy, however,    was the term,“energy.” Not one person failed to use this term during the interviews and, while further research on this  topic  needs  to  be  conducted, my  hypothesis  is that  the  term  “energy” is  an  important  connector between  homeopathic  practice, the  vital  force, and spirituality.

Comparing  the  words  from  the 2003 interviews with  Hahnemann’s  Organon, we  see  that  his  use  of the  term  “vital  force” is  as  prominent  compared  to the other terms as the practitioners’ use of the term “energy.”  For  both  Hahnemann  and  these  practitioners, energy (i.e., the vital force) is a key component  when  articulating  a  definition  of  disease, the remedy,  and  health.  Of  the  remedy,  Hahnemann writes, “this very subtle dose, which contains almost nothing  but  the  spirit-like  medicinal  force  released and  freed,  can  bring  about,  solely  by  its  dynamic power,  results  impossible  to  obtain  with  crude medicinal substances, even in massive doses.”[4]

Further evidence reveals that practitioners unanimously  consider  homeopathy  to  be  an  energetic medical science and, as such, to possess the potential to facilitate  spiritual  growth  if  a  practitioner  or patient is so inclined. However, several practitioners we readamant  that  homeopathy  is  not  a  spiritual practice and that one need not be spiritually oriented  either  to  practice  or  to  derive  medical  benefit from  a  remedy. The  six  practitioners  who  did  not feel homeopathy had a strong potential to facilitate spiritual growth noted that they did not have compelling enough evidence to know whether or not the remedy facilitated spiritual growth. There  appeared  to  be  a  connection  between  a practitioner’s own familiarity and comfort with the term “spirituality” and  his  or  her  claim  that  homeopathy  had  the  potential  to  aid  in  an  individual’s spiritual development. Those who were less certain about  their  definition  of  spirituality  were  also  less inclined  to  emphasize  the  ability  of a  homeopathic remedy  to  support  spiritual  growth.  None  of  the practitioners  suggested  that  homeopathy  could  not facilitate this kind of growth.

When  asked  to  describe  how  the  practitioner understood  the  way  in  which  homeopathy  could support  an  individual’s  spiritual  development, many referred to the remedy’s ability “to release an individual  from  old  habits  and  patterns  of  behavior.” Others suggested that the remedy itself serves as “a spirit-like  force” and  a  kind  of  energetic  “inner guide” which  “stimulates  the  body’s  innate  healing capacities.”  Others   mentioned   that   the   intake process and the continuing care increase the client’s own emotional, physical, and spiritual awareness.

Practitioner  responses  to  my  questions  about homeopathy and spiritual   development never strayed far from the terms “energy” and “vital force.” However, the very ambiguity of the remedy’s mechanism of action combined with the nuministic qualities of  terms like “God” and “Spirit” rendered the interviews  highly  theoretical,  and  answers  about homeopathy  were  often  infused  with  spiritual  terminology from the practitioners’ particular theological and cosmological understandings. For example, in describing the way in which a homeopathic remedy acts on the patient, one nurse stated:

…in  my  own  experience, homeopathic  remedies  carry divine healing power in a very direct way … the healing energy  is  refracted  through  a  particular  substance  that carries a particular informational pattern that teaches the person’s  healing  energy  how  to  rearrange  itself  around  a particular theme …. I believe that God chooses the homeopathic remedy as the messenger. It’s as though the remedy has  two faces  like  Janus the  two-faced  god: the  energetic, vibrational aspect of the remedy looks to the infinite vastness  of  God’s  healing  energy  and  the  other  aspect, which is the physical aspect – the fact that it’s contained in these tiny  sugar  pellets  –  speaks  to  the  finite  concrete embodiment of God, which is the patient.

Here we see  that  such  an  articulation  forces  this nurse to draw on metaphor, as well as on theological, mythological, and metaphysical language particular   to   her   own   beliefs.   This is something Hahnemann tried to avoid. “Far be it from me,” he writes,  “to  attempt  a  metaphysical  explanation  of the inner nature of disease in general or of any particular case of disease. I am merely pointing out that diseases obviously  are not and cannot be mechanical or chemical changes in the material substance of the body, that they do not depend on a material disease substance, but are an exclusively dynamic, spirit-like untunement of life.” [5]

The  tension  between, on  the  one  hand, attempts to explain  this  relationship  and, on the other, Hahnemann’s insistence that such an explanation is superfluous  raises  important  questions  about  the role  spirituality  plays  in  assisting  current-day  practitioners to understand why and how their method of healing works. It also points to one possible direction for future research. This nurse’s contention that the remedy carries divine healing power and is both a  messenger  and  a  teacher  from  God  begs  several questions:  Given  this  claim,  what  kind  of  agency does  the  practitioner  have  in  mediating  the  choice of the patient’s remedy? Does the practitioner then become  an  agent  of  God?  Is  this  something  about which she is aware? Is the practitioner explicit about her  role  in  this relationship  when  meeting  with clients? Should she be? And how would Hahnemann respond?

Many practitioners  have  found  it  possible,  and even preferable, to construct theological and cosmological meaning from their practice of homeopathy. All  contend,  however,  that  it  is  not this  broader framework  which  enables  the  remedy’s  efficacy. Rather, it appears that it is, in fact, the efficacy of this tiny, low-dose, energetic remedy which compels the practitioners  to  construct  a  framework  to  explain the results. These explanations are usually informed and  complicated  by  their  particular  religious  or spiritual practice. If the  homeopathic  remedy  does,  in  fact,  work without  the  need  for  a  broader  framework  of  any kind,  further  research  might  undertake  a  study  of the role such a framework plays in the health of both the  practitioner  and  the  patient. It  is  evident  from this  research  that  many  practitioners  have  spiritual practices  and  have  chosen  a  homeopathic  medical practice because it supports, deepens, and even challenges  their  theological  and  cosmological  frameworks in ways that other healing modalities do not. What role this confluence of medicine and spirituality plays in contributing  to  an  individual’s  healing and the mental and emotional health of the practitioner is ripe for further study.

Notes

  1. Samuel Hahnemann, Organon  of  Medicine, trans Alain Naudé (Blaine: Cooper Publishing, 1982),19.
  2. ,20.
  3. ,21.
  4. ,18.
  5. ,31.

About the author

Cornelia Cannon Holden

Cornelia Cannon Holden

Cornelia Cannon Holden, MDiv is the Founder and Principal of Mindful Warrior, a leadership and culture development consulting firm that supports individuals and organizations in designing and building high-trust, high-performance cultures. Past institutional clients include the U.S. Women's Olympic Ice Hockey team and several Ivy League and independent schools. Cornelia graduated summa cum laude from Bowdoin College, where she was a NCAA Division II giant slalom ski racing champion and a member of both the varsity tennis and crew teams. She also holds a Masters of Divinity from Harvard Divinity School, where her program of study included courses at Harvard Business School. Cornelia designed and now directs Core Leadership California. She lives on the Stevenson School campus with her husband, Kevin Hicks '85, a Narrative Instructor for the program and the President of Stevenson School, and their daughter Zuleika Alice.

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