Homeopathy Papers

Hahnemann’s Understanding of Epidemics

Dr. Richard Pitcairn explores Hahnemann’s understanding of epidemics. Numerous references to the Organon are used to illustrate.

The success that is observed with the homeopathic treatment of epidemics is a challenge to our thinking. That we could have someone suddenly seriously ill, perhaps collapsing like we saw in the video, threatening to die, and have them recover to normal health with a drop or two of camphor tincture just makes no sense. It seems ridiculous to even suggest it was the camphor.

However, if we have, ourselves, seen the equivalent of this happen, especially several times, we have two choices. We can turn away from it, saying it makes no sense and can’t be understood — or we can inquire.

We can ask ourselves how this could happen, what do we need to understand, to grasp it?
Let us take the second choice.

Hahnemann’s Explanation
We start with the fundamental idea that disease is not a physical condition.
Organon 6

  • §11   “When a person falls ill, it is initially only this spirit-like, autonomic life force (life principle), everywhere present in the organism, that is mistuned through the dynamic influence of a morbific agent inimical to life.”
  • §12:    “It is the disease-tuned life force alone that brings forth diseases. These diseases are expressed by the disease manifestations perceptible to our senses conjointly with all internal alterations.”

Preface:   “… human diseases rest on no material, on no acridity, that is to say, on no disease matter; rather they are solely spirit-like (dynamic) mistunings of the spirit-like enlivening power-force-energy (the life principle, the life force) of the human body.”

Footnote 31:   “(Diseases) are not mechanical or chemical alterations of the material substance of the organism; they are not dependent on material disease matter. They are solely spirit-like, dynamic mistunements of life.”

This seems clear, doesn’t it? Of course, you do not have to agree with it, but it is a fundamental idea which could help us understand why homeopathy is different. You might ask “Are you saying I am not seeing disease when there are all these physical symptoms?” Let us make this more clear.

What we are in the habit of calling disease is the effect of the disease, the visible expression of it, and not the disease itself.  This view that Hahnemann gives us is that there is first disorder at the non-physical, conscious, level. What he calls “mistunement” of the life force. This is what we are to pay attention to.

The detailed physical changes that conventional allopathic medicine now focuses on with various instruments are of little significance. The pathology is not the disease but the effect of it.

James Kent

I am drawing on Kent as he was one of those that fully understood Hahnemann’s teaching. He put much of this in writing which is very useful to us by seeing these ideas in different words.  Here, from his writing, is material relevant to what we are exploring here.  (Lectures on Homoeopathic Philosophy,  James Tyler Kent, MD, 1900 )

Each and every thing that appears before the eyes is but the representative of its cause, and there is no cause except in the interior. Causes exist in such subtle form that they cannot be seen by the eye. There is no disease that exists of which the cause is known to man by the eye or by the microscope. Causes are infinitely too fine to be observed by any instrument of precision.

They are so immaterial that they correspond to and operate upon the interior nature of man, and they are ultimated in the body in the form of tissue changes that are recognized by the eye. Such tissue changes must be understood as the results of disease only or the physician will never perceive what disease cause is, what disease is, what potentization is, or what the nature of life is. The more that disease ultimates itself in the outward form the coarser it is and the less it points the physician to the remedy.

What follows from this is that disease does not originate on the physical level, but is a happening only on the non-physical dimension. Not only that, it stays there. From that level it manifests itself in observable changes in function, new sensations, emotional and mental alterations.

The physical location is significant, as also the functional changes such as becoming hot, swollen, painful are a guide, but the resultant pathology (final outcome) is not as much a guide.  What we recognize as the signs of disease are the outcome of disease, what Kent calls “the ultimates” and not the disease itself.

Kent describes observable changes in our patient as —

…. the second state following the first one disordered (e.g., the mistunement). This deals with the outermost, it relates to externals.  You have to consider both the internal and external man; that is, you have to consider causes that operate in this disordered innermost, and then the ultimates which constitute the outward appearance, particularly when the affection is chronic.  These two things must be considered, the nature or esse (essence) of the disease and its appearance.


What then do we make of micro-organisms? Are they not the cause of disease?

Hahnemann clearly indicates that diseases (and also medicines) affect the condition of the human organism only by acting dynamically upon the life force.

Organon ed. 6, Glossary:  Definition of Disease —

The wesen (essence) of the disease dynamically interacts, impinges upon and alters the tunement of the dynamis (i.e., the human wesen).

In other words, the wesen (essence) of the disease acts on a dynamic level instantaneously, in the wake of which there is a material manifestation of the disease, which is associated with the reproduction and growth of micro-organisms.

As we discussed above, all of these observable physical phenomena are the outer expression, the effect of the disordered life force. Germs then are not the disease, but the outcome of the disease, the sensory manifestation of it. A helpful way to think of bacteria, viruses, etc., is that they are the fruit, not the tree.

How then do we use the symptoms? Hahnemann tells us what we need is what can be readily sensed by the practitioner.

Organon, §6, footnote 6:  The medical-art practitioner can never see the spiritual wesen, the life force, that creates the disease, and he never needs to see it. In order to cure, he only needs to see and experience its diseased effects. Therefore, in the eyes of the medical-art practitioner, is not that which reveals itself to the senses by disease signs the disease itself?

Comment: One could consider Hahnemann’s statement that the interior state, where the disease is and can never be seen, as a limitation of his time. He could not know what has been accomplished by modern technology. Nonetheless, my interpretation of this is in agreement with what Hahnemann says — that we will never be able to see it.

It is like what has been found in quantum physics, there is a quantum dimension underlying all of physical reality. This dimension cannot be sensed and never can be, as it is not a sensory part of the physical world dimension we live in.

In The Medicine of Experience, Hahnemann says:

The internal essential nature of every malady, of every individual case of disease, as far as it is necessary for us to know it, for the purpose of curing it, expresses itself by the symptoms, as they present themselves to the investigations of the true observer in their whole extent, connexion and succession.

When the physician has discovered all the observable symptoms of the disease that exist, he has discovered the disease itself, he has attained the complete conception of it requisite to enable him to effect a cure.


We see that disease is not primarily a physical condition but a disorder prior to the physical expression that we can observe. “So what?” you might say. Well, if we come to agree with this, then disease is not to be treated only physically as you would be only modifying the effects and leaving the disturbance itself unchanged.

This, of course, would be the reason that with the primary use of allopathic treatment diseases are increasing with passing years. What then? We are to bring about cure when we treat the disease itself on the level of where it exists — the non-physical dimension that has not physical components.

This correlates with the other teaching from Hahnemann, one we are more familiar with, that the medicines used are acting energetically rather than physically. Thus, the energetic essence of camphor, when experienced, results in a state that is like that of the internal disease, which is then, itself, canceled out.

Footnote 289b    “…rubbing a medicinal substance and succussing its solution (dynamization, potentization) develops the medicinal powers lying hidden in the medicinal substance and discloses these powers more and more. The dynamization spiritizes the material substance, if one may use that expression.”

Changing our focus

If what can be physically observed is not the origin of the disease, then what is the dynamic of it as Hahnemann describes it? How did Hahnemann understand what was happening at that level? The most extensive information is from his article on treatment of cholera. What he says here will of course apply to other epidemics. (The Mode of Propagation of the Asiatic Cholera, published as a pamphlet in Leipzic, 1831)

Hahnemann starts with addressing the popular idea that cholera was spread through the air, as what was called “atmospheric-telluric influence.” He gives evidence why this does not fit the facts and then goes on to describe his understanding of how cholera is transmitted. He presents in terms of an influence affecting the town.

The course followed by the cholera in every place it traversed was almost uniformly this: that its fury shewed itself most virulently and most rapidly fatal at the commencement of its invasion (evidently solely because at that time the miasm encountered none but unprepared systems, for which even the slightest cholera miasm was something quite novel, never before experienced, and consequently extremely infectious); hence it then infected persons most frequently and most fatally.

Thereafter the cases increased, and with them at the same time, by the communication of the inhabitants among each other, the quantity of diluted miasm, whereby a kind of local sphere of cholera miasm exhalation was formed in the town, to which the more or less robust individuals had an opportunity of becoming gradually accustomed and hardened against it, so that by degrees always fewer inhabitants were attacked by it and could be severely affected by it (the cholera was then said to take on a milder character), until at last all the inhabitants were almost uniformly indurated against it, and thus the epidemic was extinguished in this town.

Comment: The disease was more virulent, more harmful, at the beginning and this was because there was no experience with it, “the miasm encountered none but unprepared systems.” This has been observed historically, that diseases, when new, are more severe but with time become milder. A good example was the introduction of syphilis to Europe as it was a condition that many died from. It is not like that now.

The other comment to make is his description of  “a kind of local sphere of cholera miasm exhalation was formed in the town” that the people of the town were exposed to. That is, the experience of exposure to the disease was not the transmission of the little guys we call bacteria, but a diffuse cloud-like something that people were living in all the time.

What he means by “cholera miasm exhalation” is not completely clear to me. I am assuming the “exhalation” refers to what is given off by those that have become sick with it. Perhaps a way to understand it is to think in terms of the normal situation being one in which we all share life force, each contributing to a community experience.

Or, perhaps, it is more accurate to say there is a field of life force that we are all using for our experience. I do often have people tell me they will come into my town, or some other place, and have “a good feeling” or “a bad feeling” about it. Might this be what they are referring to?

The last comment is the description of people becoming “indurated against it.” The word “indurated” means “hardened” so we can translate this as people becoming less susceptible to it in terms of the configuration of their life force not being easily disturbed by it.

The Doctor’s Experience

As the article on cholera continues, we learn even more detail on both transmission and development of resistance. Here he describes how the doctor encounters it.

When first called to a cholera patient, the physician, somewhat timid as yet, as is but reasonable, either tarries at first in the antechamber (in the weaker atmosphere of the miasmatic exhalation) or if he enter the patient’s room prefers keeping at some distance, or standing at the door, orders the nurse in attendance to do this or the other to the patient, he then prudently takes his departure promising to return again shortly; in the meantime he either goes about a little in the open air, or goes home and has some refreshment.

His vital force, which at the first short visit at some distance from the patient, was only moderately assailed by the diluted miasm, recovers itself completely in the meantime by this recreation, and when he again comes into the patient’s room and approaches somewhat nearer to the patient, it soon by practice comes to resist more powerfully the more concentrated infectious atmosphere that exists closer to the patient, until at length, from frequent visits and a nearer approach to the patient, it attains a mastery over the assaults of the miasm, so that at last the physician is completely hardened against even the most poisonous cholera miasm at the bedside, and rendered quite uninfectable by this pestilence; and the same is the case with the nurse who goes as cautiously and gradually to work.

Comment: This is very interesting as it brings out the factor of distancing from the patient. I don’t know if this was standard practice at the time, though Hahnemann writes as if it is. He says if the doctor that arrives to see the patient does not go in to be physically near the patient, to touch or examine him or her, but rather stays at the door of the bedroom, the exposure to the influence of the cholera disease is significantly less. This ties in with what was said about the “exhalation” over the town, that there is something like a cloud around the patient.

Again, there is not more explanation about this and I assume what Hahnemann is referring to is the contact with the life force of the patient. We might think that the life force will be strongest at the body, less so away from the body with distance. This is similar to what some people refer to as the “etheric body” or the astral body” which is not confined to the physical form but is more like an atmosphere around it.

Hahnemann says that this distance encounter with the patient had the effect on the life force of the doctor. It “was only moderately assailed by the diluted miasm.” Presumably, if the doctor had walked right in and touched the patient, the impact would have been very much greater, would have encountered “the more concentrated infectious atmosphere that exists closer to the patient.”

As a result of this less intense encounter, the doctor leaves, takes a break, and his life force recovers from that influence. Of course, this is assuming there is not a state of prior susceptibility, as if there was, recovery would likely not happen, but rather the doctor would become ill.

Then the doctor, on repeat visits, comes closer each time until his life force “attains a mastery over the assaults of the miasm, so that at last the physician is completely hardened against even the most poisonous cholera at miasm the bedside, and rendered quite uninfectable by this pestilence.”

This gives us a dynamic picture of the process. It is a living process. The life force, an aware and perceptive entity, can upon exposure to the disease, compensate and adjust itself in a way to resist it. This could be what Hahnemann calls “mistuning” but a temporary condition that can be resolved on its own.

The outcome, then, is that the life force is not altered away from health, but assumes a condition in which the later exposures are basically ignored. It gives us a feeling of how this is a living process, one of adaptation.


The way Hahnemann describes this process is not one in which the doctor is exposed to the germ, so that the cholera organism then develops in him, and he develops resistance or antibodies in the usual way we think of it. He is talking about the doctor taking a break, like going home for a cup of tea or a nap and then coming back again. Certainly, if this by the next day, it is way too soon for any cholera disease as we usually think of it could be happening.


Hahnemann writes more about this process of non-physical communication of influences in footnote 11 of Organon 6.

Footnote 11: What is dynamic influence, dynamic power? We perceive that, by some secret invisible force, our earth conducts its moon around itself in twenty-eight days and a few hours, and the moon, in turn, raises our northern seas to flood tide at set hours and, in an equal number of hours, lets it sink again to ebb tide (allowing for some variation at the full and new moons). We see this and are amazed because our senses do not perceive how this happens. Obviously this does not happen through material instruments, nor through mechanical arrangements like human works.

In the same way, the dynamic action of morbific influences on the healthy person, as well as the dynamic power of medicines on the life principle in order to make the person healthy again, are nothing other than contagion. They are as utterly non-material, as utterly non-mechanical, as the power of a bar magnet is when it forcibly attracts to itself a piece of iron or steel lying next to it.

A magnet’s action upon a nearby piece of iron or a steel needle is neither material nor mechanical. One sees that the piece of iron is attracted by one end (pole) of the magnet but one does not see how this takes place. This invisible power of the magnet needs no mechanical (material) helping-means, no hook or lever to attract the iron. It attracts it to itself and acts upon the piece of iron or on the steel needle by means of its own (pure) immaterial, invisible, spirit-like energy, that is, it does so dynamically. Moreover, the magnet invisibly (dynamically) transmits magnetic energy to the steel needle which, in turn, becomes magnetic, even at a distance, without the magnet touching it. The steel needle can then transmit the same magnetic property to other steel needles (dynamically).

Comment: It is interesting that Hahnemann draws on gravity (the earth-moon relationship) and magnetism to explain this. Over two hundred years ago he recognized, what has been understood in today’s physics, that these dynamic influences — gravity and magnetism — are not physical phenomena.

We see how he refers to these powers as “immaterial, invisible, spirit-like energy.” Is he not very much telling us that the origin of this experience is not the time-space continuum?

He then relates this specifically to transmission of viral diseases:

In a similar way, a child with smallpox or measles transmits the disease to a nearby healthy child, even without touching him. This contamination takes place invisibly (dynamically) at a distance, without something material having come (or having been able to come) into the affected child from the contagious one, just as there is no material transmission between the magnet and the steel needle. A solely specific, spirit-like impingement communicates smallpox or measles from one child to another nearby, just as a magnet communicates the magnetic property to a steel needle nearby.

Doctor Transmission

Not surprisingly, another aspect of this is how the disease can be carried from one person to another.

For such physicians and nurses, fortified in this manner against the miasm, now take away with them in their clothes, in their skin, in their hair, probably also in their breath, the invisible (probably animated) and perpetually reproductive contagious matter surrounding the cholera patient they have just visited, and this contagious matter they unconsciously and unsuspectingly carry along with them throughout the town and to their acquaintances, whom it unexpectedly and infallibly infects, without the slightest suspicion on their part of its source.

Thus the cholera physicians and nurses are the most certain and frequent propagators and communicators of contagion far and wide (Hahnemann’s emphasis); and yet amazement is expressed, even in the public journals, how the infection can spread so rapidly the very first day, to persons at the other end of the town, who had not come near the patient!

Comment: Is this not amazing? It is very different picture of this transmission than is accepted today. These infectious diseases are communicated non-physically by coming into contact with an aura around the affected person. Will it help to wear a mask? Does not sound like it. But the ideas of distancing does come forth. The difference in the distancing advice of today with what Hahnemann tells us is the current idea today of distancing indefinitely whereas Hahnemann tells us that this can be quite temporary, even just a matter of hours.

Another quite different view of transmission is that of the doctor or nurses, or other attendants, developing resistance and not being affected, yet they can still carry the non-physical miasm with them “in their clothes, in their skin, in their hair, probably also in their breath”

Probably Animated

Another choice of words by Hahnemann is referencing the cholera as “invisible (probably animated) and perpetually reproductive contagious matter.” What does he mean by this? Certainly he would have known of the existence of micro-organisms as they were discovered during the period 1665-83 by two Fellows of The Royal Society, Robert Hooke and Antoni van Leeuwenhoek. Later, Leeuwenhoek also observed and described microscopic protozoa and bacteria (communicated 1676). Hahnemann (1755–1843) likely factored this information in.

Was he extrapolating these earlier discoveries to the cholera disease? The identification of specifically the cholera organism is usually attributed to Robert Koch (1883) though it was later found that the original person that identified the micro-organism was Filippo Pacini (1812-83) in 1854 — both of these discoveries after the time of Hahnemann. Pacini’s discoveries were ignored during his life and not until 82 years after his death, the international committee on nomenclature in 1965 adopted Vibrio cholerae Pacini 1854 as the correct name of the cholera-causing organism.

So what was Hahnemann’s view? Another mention of this is of cholera occurring on sailing ships.

The most striking examples of infection and rapid spread of cholera take place, as is well known, and as the public journals likewise inform us, in this way: On board ships—in those confined spaces, filled with mouldy watery vapours, the cholera miasm finds a favourable element for its multiplication, and grows into an enormously increased brood of those excessively minute, invisible, living creatures, so inimical to human life, of which the contagious matter of the cholera most probably consists…”

He then describes the development of the illness on ships in which many die yet some develop resistance as we described above happens with doctors and nurses. These sailors, apparently in good health, when they go into communities later communicate the disease unexpectedly.

The cause of this is undoubtedly the invisible cloud that hovers closely around the sailors who have remained free from the disease, and which is composed of probably millions of those miasmatic animated beings, which, at first developed on the broad marshy banks of the tepid Ganges, always searching out in preference the human being to his destruction and attaching themselves closely to him, when transferred to distant and even colder regions become habituated to these also, without any diminution either of their unhappy fertility or of their fatal destructiveness.

Miasmatic Animated Beings?

Hahnemann is describing the existence of very small “beings” that are expressions of the cholera miasm as he calls it. What does he mean by saying it is a miasm?

Organon 6 Glossary

Miasm is “an acute or chronic disease which is infectious and which is invariable as to its wesen. In other words, the disease’s essential esse (the dynamic, self-subsisting presence which is the disease) is invariable. Miasms are collective diseases in that everyone who manifests the disease (in whatever form) has the same disease. This is also true of the uniquely-occurring epidemic diseases (e.g., the various epidemic outbreaks of different kinds of influenza); everyone in a given epidemic outbreak suffers from the one and the same disease, even if their symptoms differ. The difference between the uniquely-occurring epidemic diseases and the miasms is that the wesen of each separate uniquelyoccurring epidemic disease is different from every other one that occurred previous to it; no two such epidemics are exactly alike. The wesen of a miasm, on the other hand, always remains the same. This is true both of the acute miasms (e.g., the measles) whose disease manifestations are limited and fairly invariable, and the chronic miasms (e.g., psora) whose disease manifestations are numerous and vary greatly; all miasms, no matter how variable or how fixed their disease manifestations, always remain the same as to their wesen.

Comment:  If we understand the word “miasm” to refer to the essential beingness, the non-physical source of these organisms, it is equivalent to the concept of the wesen (essence) of the human or animal that is being affected. As we understand Hahnemann’s teaching the wesen of the human being is what animates the physical body which is composed of approximately 30 trillion cells.

In the human (or animal or plant) the cells are organized into a larger functional structure. When he refers to the cholera miasm (wesen), again there are the many cells “millions of these miasmatic animated beings” but they are not organized into a larger structure but move about more independently even though the same wesen animates them all.

What does he mean by “invisible (probably animated) and perpetually reproductive contagious matter.”  It is bringing back the concept of the life force animating the physical instrument.

  • 15   The suffering of the morbidly mistuned, spirit-like dynamis (life force) enlivening our body in the invisible interior, and the complex of the outwardly perceptible symptoms portraying the present malady, which are organized by the dynamis in the organism, form a whole. They are one and the same. The organism is indeed a material instrument for life, but it is not conceivable without the life imparted to it by the instinctual, feeling and regulating dynamis, just as the life force is not conceivable without the organism. Consequently, the two of them constitute a unity, although in thought, we split this unity into two concepts in order to conceptualize it more easily.

If we accept that the life force of the disease organism, as we would call it, is a unity with its physical expression, then we see how Hahnemann could describe it this way. It is the life force that is the active “dynamic” and the life force being a unity with the physical expression, we can refer to that expression as “reproductive contagious matter.” The important thing is to keep in mind the principle that the disease process is not hapening on the physical level.

  • 7  The totality of these symptoms is the outwardly reflected image of the inner wesen of the disease, that is, of the suffering of the life force. It is the contact with the life force of the organism which results in transmission.


It is interesting that he says “all miasms, no matter how variable or how fixed their disease manifestations, always remain the same as to their wesen.” This would mean that if influenza disease is a miasm, then all the flu epidemics that have occurred are the same disease, only varying in form of expression.

During the time that an epidemic is occurring, he is telling us that its identity, its essence, remains the same. If so, then the current reporting of many “variants” of the flu virus is quite a different view. At this point we cannot conclude which view is more accurate but it does imply that if Hahnemann is correct then the genus epidemicus should “work” regardless of it being called “a variant.”  As well, the changing drugs and developing a new vaccine with each variant is not a solution. There is much yet for us to learn.


The teachings of Hahnemann give us an understanding of epidemics quite different than what is assumed by most medical practitioners today. Some of these differences would be:

  1. The epidemic diseases are not physical, but start, and remain, on the level of the life force
  2. What we observe as disease symptoms are the outer manifestation (reflection) of the mistuned life force
  3. Treatment of the outer manifestation (ultimate) does not restore health
  4. Face masks are useless as the transmission is non-physical
  5. Distancing is an effective measure but needs to be done for a relatively short time, not indefinitely
  6. The primary means of transmission of the disease are the medical people (or others) that are caring for the sick and the carrying away the miasm in their hair, clothes, etc.
  7. A variety of individual treatments not needed, rather to see the whole pattern of the miasm as it is in a number of people, and respond to that with the appropriate remedy
  8. Unless there is pre-exiting susceptibility the life force has the ability to adapt and become resistant to any epidemic
  9. The nature (essence) of the epidemic does not change throughout its occurrence, even if symptoms vary

Seems very practical information.

About the author

Richard H. Pitcairn

Dr. Richard Pitcairn graduated from veterinary school in 1965, from the University of California at Davis, California, and worked on a PhD degree emphasizing the study of viruses, immunology and biochemistry. Working in a mixed practice he saw a wide variety of health problems, but to his disappointment, did not see the results that he expected using the treatments learned in veterinary school. He became interested in alternative medicine, nutrition and homeopathy. He found homeopathy to be intellectually complete and satisfying, and after studying and using it for some 20 plus years, has had remarkable success. Since 1992 he has taught a yearly course, The Professional Course in Veterinary Homeopathy, to train animal doctors in homeopathy.
Dr. Pitcairn was a founding member of the Academy of Veterinary Homeopathy and also served as its president. With Susan Pitcairn he wrote two editions of Natural Health for Dogs and Cats, a classic in the field, which sold over 350,000 copies.

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