To Master a Discipline, We Have to Start from its Roots Upwards
Interview with Dr. André Saine, D.C., N.D., F.C.A.H.
PART I | PART II
The following interview was recorded in January 1994 in Vienna by Liga members Drs. Friedrich Dellmour and Gerhard Willinger, who discussed some basic questions concerning Homeopathy with Dr. Saine on the occasion of his visit to Austria. It was originally published in the Journal of the Liga Medicorum Homoeopathica Internationalis 1994 (Autumn): 11-19.
André Saine is a graduate of the National College of Naturopathic Medicine in Portland, Oregon and a Diplomate in the Homeopathic Academy of Naturopathic Physicians. He has been teaching and lecturing on Homeopathy since 1985. One of the main points of his clinical work is the treatment of patients suffering from very serious chronic diseases. In addition to his private practice in Montreal, Canada, he has been the Dean and the main instructor for the postgraduate program of the Canadian Academy of Homeopathy since 1986.
Q: What made you decide to study homeopathy?
André Saine: In 1976, at the beginning of my studies, one of our professors, Dr. Joseph Bonyun, had at the end of his professional abbreviations the letters Hom. I asked him what they stood for and he gave a brief explanation and said: "If you want to know what it means, come to my office—I’m in practice on Tuesday and Thursday evenings and Saturdays." I went, and one of the first patients Dr. Bonyun saw that evening was a dermatologist about 45 years old who had eczema since early childhood. This patient was very skeptical and kept repeating that he did not believe in homeopathy but was willing to try it as two of his patients who had similar conditions had been successfully treated by Dr. Bonyun. This dermatologist had a history of having used all forms of ointment to suppress his own eruptions, and Dr. Bonyun gave him Zincum metallicum 10 M. Within a short time the dermatologist became covered with eczema and within six weeks experienced a great improvement. As soon as I discovered homeopathy I told myself: "This is what I want to study." Dr. Bonyun was a third-generation homeopath. His mother had graduated from Hahnemann Medical College in Philadelphia and his grandfather had been a homeopath in England.
Q: Who were the teachers who taught you homeopathy?
A.S.: Dr. Bonyun was the first one to encourage me to study homeopathy. During my internship we studied cases together. Then I studied with a number of teachers including Robin Murphy, Bill Gray, George Vithoulkas, Francisco Eizayaga and John Bastyr. Dr. Bastyr was a third-generation homeopath from Lippe. His teacher was C. P. Bryant (who had been, in 1939, president of the International Hahnemannian Association). C. P. Bryant had been taught by Walter James who had been one of Lippe’s closest students. My real teachers, the ones from whom I learned the most, were the masters of the past. I discovered them by reading the old journals.
In 1980, I went to the National College of Naturopathic Medicine in Portland, Oregon, to study homeopathy. There, I spent a lot of time in the library which contained over 2,000 volumes on homeopathy. They had a wonderful collection of old journals such as the Homeopathic Physician (Edited by Edmund J. Lee and Walter James, two of Lippe’s closest students), the American Homeopathic Review (Edited by Carroll Dunham and P. P. Wells), the Hahnemannian Monthly (Edited by Adolph Lippe), the Medical Advance (Edited by H. C. Allen), the Proceedings of the International Hahnemannian Association, etc. These were the best of the classic journals of the 19th century assembled in one place.
Whenever I had spare time I would find myself in the library reading these old journals. That is when I really woke up to it. The more I read the more I realized that what I was being taught in class and what was written in modern textbooks presented a completely different perspective to the one I was reading in those old journals. Two different ways of proceeding, of practicing, one deductive, depleted of all scientific rigor, very often left to one’s own fancies, while the other was essentially scientifically-based, inductive.
The more I studied these old masters the more I realized that the modern homeopathic community had been almost completely cut off from its roots. The more I investigated, the more I realized that the real masters of homeopathy had been very few. Even though most of them had already been forgotten, we still had their writings to study from. If we want to master a discipline, any discipline, we have to start from its roots upwards.
Becoming familiar with the history of homeopathy has been crucial for me in developing a deep understanding of it. When we know our history, we can know where we come from, where we stand and where we need to go. In studying the history of homeopathy, I realized that every generation of homeopaths would argue over polemics long settled in the past. Is it not true that by not knowing our history we are condemning ourselves to relive it?
In 1983, I decided to systematically review the homeopathic literature to retrieve the now long forgotten jewels. I reviewed the American, which is the most voluminous, the British, French, even some Spanish and Italian literature, as well as translations of the best German articles. I could not have received a better course of instruction in our time. I rediscovered the work of Hahnemann through the work and experience of practitioners who had understood it. I had found in this old literature my best teachers, and, of the old masters, the one who taught me the most was Adolph Lippe.
Q: Why Lippe in particular?
A.S.: First of all, because he wrote extensively. He was probably the one who wrote the most for the journals; in fifty years of practice he published about 500 articles. This means that Lippe would often write one or more articles per month and some of them were up to 20 pages long. But if the sheer volume of his output was extraordinary, so was the quality of his work. I do not think there has been anybody else in the homeopathic literature whose quality of writing equals that of Lippe as far as the demonstration of the principles of homeopathy goes. He was probably the most faithful follower of Hahnemann.
In his work, over a period of fifty years, he confirmed what Hahnemann had found fifty years earlier; through his writings, he demonstrated the great truth of the law of similars and validated Hahnemann’s teachings day after day in his practice. Nobody in the history of homeopathy came close to Lippe regarding success in treatment. Once, during a seminar, we reviewed the cases he lost during two years, 1878 and 1879.
We found that he lost seven elderly patients who had come to him very late with chronic diseases like cancer or tuberculosis, but not a single patient in these two years had died from an acute disease—and this was absolutely remarkable in a period when there were epidemics of scarlet fever, typhoid and diphtheria. These epidemic diseases usually had a high mortality rate—often over forty percent for diphtheria. Sometimes malignant diphtheria would claim a death rate of 60-65 percent or even more. He was a phenomenal prescriber, second to none.
In the city of Philadelphia, it was known that he had the largest and most successful medical practice of all—and that was the city where Hering also lived and practiced. He was in a class by himself and known to be so also during his lifetime. Now when we look at Hahnemann’s and Bœnninghausen’s case-books, we can further understand why Lippe was considered "the best prescriber that our school has ever known." Lippe seemed to have applied himself in the practice of homeopathy better than Hahnemann himself.
Q: There are many homeopathic schools and methods. Once you compared this development to a sequoia tree. Could you explain this in more detail?
A.S.: The sequoia is a tree that can grow very old, up to three thousand years, its base is very large, with the trunk growing thinner towards the top. Now, I compare this base to Hahnemann’s teachings: we progress in our science, we add new knowledge to what is already there, but the bulk of knowledge is already acquired, the broad base is there.
This trunk is as solid as life can be. It represents the practice of pure homeopathy. The trunk grows only by adding a new layer on the outside. The core never changes. Similarly, pure homeopathy is based on a law which is immutable. There are branches which also grow from the trunk—without a trunk, there can be no off-shoots of homeopathy.
In a sequoia the branches never live as long as the trunk—the lower branches fall off and die and the new branches come out at the top. I compare these branches to the various "offshoots" or "parasites"—of homeopathy: Lux isopathy, Griesselich low dilutions and specific medicines, Hughes pathological prescribing and physiologic materia medica, the polypharmacists, the complexists, the alternists, the organopathists, the eclectics, Schuesslerism, Kent’s Swedengorgism and synthetic materia medica.
Later we had Bach bowellism and flowerism, today we have the electrodiagnosticians, the materia medica fantasists and futurists, the grand elaboration of miasmatic follies, the very high dilutions only, and even the supra Kentian Catholicism. All of these and more are departures from the strict inductive method of Hahnemann. But like new branches at the top of the sequoia they attract many, and many become overly enthusiastic with these new approaches.
It reminds us of the famous admonition of Trousseau: "Treat as many patients as possible with the new remedies [with these off-shoots] while they still have the power to heal." As the tree continues to grow, these branches fall off and die to be eventually replaced by new ones. What remains always vital is the trunk, the foundation of homeopathy based on the strict inductive method of Hahnemann. That lasts, and will continue to grow forever.
Too many have forgotten the admonition that Hering wrote in his last published article: "If our school ever gives up the strict inductive method of Hahnemann, we are lost, and deserve only to be mentioned as a caricature in the history of medicine."
At times, we have a feeling that there is almost a competition for who will be the most original, and inadvertently become the best caricature. Sorry fellows! There are other fields than medicine to clown around in.
Q: Who were the homeopaths who really followed—and follow—Hahnemann, in history and at the present time?
A.S.: Of course we know only about the ones that have left writings. I have made a very careful study of the history and literature of homeopathy, and especially, of course, the American "chapter" of the homeopathic history, and I have come to the conclusion that there were very, very few people who ever really mastered homeopathy.
If you look at Hahnemann himself, he was a scientist, an experimenter, he made a phenomenal contribution to medicine, but as a practitioner, as can be seen in his casebooks, he was not able to fulfill the whole promise of homeopathy. This may have been due to his experimenting so much. But if we look at the people who really applied the teachings of Hahnemann, better than Hahnemann did himself, they achieved phenomenal results.
They were the ones who truly mastered the clinical aspects of homeopathy. Lippe, of course, is once again the best example. Hering was probably the one who was second to Hahnemann in terms of the personal delight he took in developing homeopathy; he participated in at least 106 provings, only ten less than Hahnemann. He was not the first homeopath in America, but with William Wesselhoeft he was one of the founding fathers of the American school of homeopathy. When he died in 1880, Lippe wrote in his memorial to Hering that the American school of homeopathy had loss their father.
Beside Adolph Lippe from that school emerged people such as P. P. Wells, Joslin, Carroll Dunham, Edward Bayard, H. N. Guernsey, Constantine Lippe (Adolph’s son), Nash, E. W. Berridge, H. C. Allen, Earnest and Harvey Farrington (father and son), Yingling, etc. Very few people in the history of homeopathy have really mastered homeopathy and very few have understood the teachings of Hahnemann—so the real potential of homeopathy has very seldom been fully realized. The people whose names I just mentioned were part of the golden age of American homeopathy.
In Europe, we had Bœnninghausen, Nuñez and Jahr who understood homeopathy very well and also Thomas Skinner (a student of Berridge) David Wilson in England. Later on, there was a resurrection of good homeopathy through Pierre Schmidt, who came to America to be trained by two students of Kent, Frederica Gladwin and Alonzo Eugene Austin. He went back to Europe and inspired a whole generation of homeopaths throughout the world. Many of the more recent leaders in homeopathy have been direct students of Pierre Schmidt such as Jacques Baur, Jost Künzli, Jacques Imberechts, Robert Bourgarit, Horst Barthel, Will Kunkler, Tomas Paschero, D. Harish Chand, etc. His influence has spread beyond Europe, to the Americas and to India. In North America, Elizabeth Wright-Hubbard, F.K. Bellokossy and Roger Schmidt (Pierre’s brother) were also students of Pierre Schmidt. We also have to remember that Pierre Schmidt was the founding father of the Liga in 1926.
Still, I repeat that very few people have really mastered homeopathy. Lippe was one of the few who mastered it from a clinical point of view. He did a few provings too, of course—but mainly, he practiced homeopathy according to Hahnemann’s teachings to the point where you can say that he really mastered the subject of clinical homeopathy. Hering was a master who combined theory and practice of homeopathy as much as possible, and so did Bœnninghausen, though to a lesser degree.
The American school of homeopathy left, in the twentieth century, the International Hahnemannian Association created through the labor of Adolph Lippe; it was Lippe’s "offspring." It was the famous speech of Carroll Dunham in 1870 which eventually opened the door to physicians of any school regardless of whether they practiced homeopathy or not, to join the American Institute of Homœopathy. Lippe called to the Hahnemannians to found a new association to preserve pure homeopathy.
Ten years later, just prior to Hering’s death in 1880, the International Hahnemannian Association was founded. From 1881 until 1959 these Hahnemannians met every year for 3-4 days to discuss papers which where later published as Proceedings of the International Hahnemannian Association. This Association played a crucial role in assembling the Hahnemannians and in providing new momentum to the practice and spread of pure homeopathy. If it hadn’t been for Lippe who for fifty years labored in the practice and defense of pure homeopathy, the American school would have likely died, and if it had, there would have been no Pierre Schmidt.
In my opinion, in that case pure homeopathy would have disappeared entirely. In the same way, if Hahnemann had never existed, homeopathy would likely never have been discovered. What Hahnemann did and discovered was so unique, so extraordinary. And if it had not been for Lippe, his teachings would have been lost, not only in America but all over the world. This is my opinion, but there is a lot of evidence in the homeopathic literature to support it.
It is interesting to trace the history of homeopathy in Europe from Hahnemann forward. It was a downhill development on the whole, even though there were some pockets in almost every European country where we could find good quality homeopathy. In America there was as well, thanks to Hering and Wesselhoeft who founded a very high quality school. As the demand for homeopathic physicians increased, more schools were eventually developed. We can say as a general rule that the greater the number of schools, the worse was the education, to the point where few graduates were able to practice homeopathy successfully.
So you see the survival of pure homeopathy has been very precarious: less than two percent of graduates could practice pure homeopathy. And this was so because they did not understand it, due to the poor quality of education.
Q: What do you think were the reasons for the decline of homeopathy in America and all over the rest of the world over the last 100 years?
A.S.: I have followed the evolution of homeopathy very carefully and I can tell you when the "downward" movement started specifically in America. We can date its beginning in 1845 with Julius Hempel’s first translation of Hahnemann’s works. His mistranslation and interpretations of Hahnemann’s texts, as well as his general teachings, led to confusion and he was responsible for introducing into homeopathy a more reductionist and allopathic way of thinking.
That was where it started, but that movement was not very strong until 1870, when Carroll Dunham made his famous speech before the American Institute of Homœopathy called "Liberty of Medical Opinion and Action: a Vital Necessity and a Great Responsibility." In fact this speech provided license to the pseudo-homeopaths to practice their eclecticism.
Four years later in 1874, the word homeopathy was stricken off as a requirement for membership in the American Institute of Homœopathy. Dunham’s original motive was perhaps noble but later shown to be naïve. He said, "let them practice as they judge best, and in the long term they will be convinced that pure homœopathy is the only way to practice." Lippe in answer to Dunham’s speech asked whether the homeopaths should be governed by principles or by opinion like the allopaths. He said because similia similibus curantur is a law, we do not have the freedom to practice contrarily to the law if we call ourselves homeopaths.
What eventually happened was that the pseudo-homeopaths had greater freedom to call homeopathy what they practiced, taught and wrote about. As predicted by Lippe it weakened the societies and the colleges. The survival of pure homeopathy was in danger. The decline continued further. Take for example in 1885 when T. F. Allen, then President of the American Institute of Homœopathy and Dean of a New York Homeopathic Medical College, said that there had been no proof of the power of infinitesimal, it was but dogma. Now the majority of members of the American Institute of Homœopathy who were pseudo-homeopaths were just one step short of joining the "regulars": the allopaths.
In the societies and the colleges, the fundamental principles of homeopathy were not even taught. The quality of education in the colleges in North America went way down. It was now but a question of time for the decline and disappearance of its institutions. Homeopathy had become very popular in North America during its early years due to its amazing successes obtained by the "old guard" during the epidemics—epidemics of diphtheria, scarlet fever, cholera, malaria, yellow fever—especially yellow fever; the death rate for that was 55% when allopathic treatment was used, but less than 5% in cases with homeopathic treatment; and it was the same for cholera. It is here with the "old guard" that homeopathy obtained its golden letters. So homeopathy became very popular, with the public as well as with the politicians. For a physician, it was often better to be known to be practicing homeopathy than allopathy.
In 1880’s there were about fifteen different homeopathic colleges with more being founded as the demand for homeopathic doctors rose. But very few physicians were trained in pure homeopathy and able to practice it properly. So most of them practiced "mixed" homeopathy with allopathy. So when we hear that at the turn of the century, there were 15,000 homeopaths in the United States, this simply is not true; there were probably less than two hundred trying to practice pure homeopathy. The rest were "mixers" or physicians who had degrees from homeopathic colleges, but did not attempt to practice pure homeopathy. Such a degree did not mean that you had been trained in homeopathy. Just to give you an example: Nash, whom we all admire for his "Leaders" said that when he attended the Western College of Homeopathic Medicine in Cleveland during the 1860’s, not only had he never read the Organon, but he had never heard of its existence.
By 1880 there were about 6000 homeopathic practitioners in America, of which 4800 were graduates from homeopathic colleges. Do you know how many copies of the Organon had been sold by that time since the first American edition of the Organon had been published in 1836? About 600 copies had been sold—total! Moreover, quite a large number of these Organons had been bought by laymen, because physicians like Lippe had their patients read the Organon. So you could say that less than ten percent of the graduates of homeopathic medical schools owned a copy of the Organon! Many of them had never even heard of it. The real problem, of course, was one of education.
You see, homeopathy becomes an extremely difficult science to learn and practice successfully when rigor in teaching it is missing. During a meeting on homeopathic education, I was once sitting at a table with about twelve other physicians, most of them had also specialized in various fields. As far as I remember there were two psychiatrists, one neurologist, one cardiologist, two internists and one radiologist—they all had done long years of study in difficult and demanding fields, but all of them said that their attempt to learn homeopathy had definitely been the most difficult. Yet none of them had gone through a training that would have taught them homeopathy like they had for learning their specialty, from A to Z.
For their homeopathic training they all had to collect bits and pieces, here and there. And that has always been the problem—the lack of good quality education in homeopathy. And why? Because we do not have people who have mastered the subject enough to teach it well. There was no lack of institutions in America, but how could one expect to receive adequate education if none of the teachers themselves had mastered their discipline? We have to start somewhere. Otherwise we are dealing with a vicious cycle, a downward spiral. This has always been the problem in the history of homeopathy.
Few people mastered the subject sufficiently to teach it so that the graduates would be able to apply the principles of homeopathy successfully. At the same time, impostors such as Hempel took up chairs of instruction, so that the blind was leading the blind. Today, it is not too different. History is only repeating itself.
Q: In your opinion, what should a systematic homeopathic training include?
A.S.: Ideally, it would be a training where a student would, prior to entering medical school, receive a broad general education in the liberal arts and sciences, and especially a very solid foundation in philosophy. Hahnemann referred to this subject in an article called the Medical Observer published in the second edition of his Materia Medica Pura. In this article he mentions that good judgment and the capacity to observe accurately are not innate faculties but must be acquired through proper education and training. He mentions that the study of the classic Latin and Greek authors is essential in order to develop these faculties.
Similarly, Hering taught his students at the Allentown Academy that we physicians could learn as much from Socrates as from Hippocrates on how to examine the patient. Incidentally Hippocrates said that the most difficult aspect of medical practice is judgment. It is not different today.
The study of liberal arts and sciences with a strong foundation in philosophy is essential to prepare the future physician to develop good judgement by promoting an openness of mind and critical and sound reasoning, a sense of history and the capacity to describe one’s perceptions accurately so as to be able to proceed with care and intelligence. Once in medicine, the student should be presented with a philosophy of medicine encouraging him or her to develop a general and critical understanding of the study and practice of medicine.
The study of medicine should have three major goals: first, to train doctors to become excellent diagnosticians. Not only to be able to recognize the pathological process, but to recognize the phenomenon of disease globally and from its beginning. To be able to investigate not only all the symptoms but all the circumstances, factors, influences and causes involved. To be able to constantly individualize.
To achieve this goal, the student of medicine must study the basic biological sciences—anatomy, physiology, histology, etc.—with a special emphasis on microbiology, genetics, hygiene and psychology, always with the perspective of the whole, thus permitting a global understanding of human nature and the dynamic relationship of man with his environment, followed by the study of pathology, the study of signs and symptoms, differential diagnoses, diligent and thorough case taking and physical examination. Only then would the science of diagnostics takes its full value.
By becoming a good diagnostician, thus by being able to recognize the fundamental causes of disease, the physician would then be able to achieve the second goal, which would be to eliminate the process of disease at its origin and teach the patient how to live a life that is conducive to good health. The third goal would be to assure that the doctor receives all the necessary training permitting him to master therapeutics and, above all, homeopathy, the science of therapeutics.
Starting in the first year of medical school, the students would learn the philosophy of homeopathy, the repertory, materia medica of the acute remedies, acute prescribing and first-aid. Also they would start to observe experienced and skilled clinicians at work. In the second year, they would complete what had not been covered in first year and start the study of chronic prescribing and its materia medica. In the clinic, they would participate in case-taking and examination of the patient under supervision. In the third year, they would continue their study in chronic prescribing and at the clinic, would start to manage cases under supervision. In the fourth year, they would complement their training of homeopathy by studying its application in the various fields such as pediatrics, gynecology, obstetrics, neurology, psychiatry, cardiology, etc.
By this time, the graduates in medicine would have done about 2,400 hours of didactic training and 2,400 hours of clinical training. One could then choose to spend one or more years in residency. There they would work on special training with perhaps the more experienced and skilled practitioners in our profession, continuing their study, perfecting their clinical skills and doing research.
Afterwards, the recent graduates would be asked to return to receive 50-100 hours of continuing education for the following 4-5 years. There are subjects in homeopathy that can be tackled only after a few years of practice. There should also be a possibility for recent graduates to bring their more difficult cases to their teachers, maybe to a college clinic with fixed hours for this purpose, where they could watch the more experienced homeopaths work on those cases; this is the way they will become experts. This would be the final step in their training where the expertise would be transmitted from the masters to the more advanced students.
In the field of therapeutics, complementary care to homeopathy would be learned in parallel, such as psychotherapy, hydrotherapy, physical medicine, etc. Then we would have a well rounded physician who would be prepared to deal with the most difficult acute or chronic cases, a physician trained in truly classical medicine. After such training and about five to ten years of practice they would have had all the opportunities to master their discipline.
Unfortunately, to my knowledge, this form of training has never been offered and that is the main reason why so few people have ever really mastered homeopathy. The closest we have come to this was when Lippe took charge of the Homeopathic Medical College of Pennsylvania in the mid 1860’s. He made sure that the entire faculty shared the same understanding of homeopathy and provided a unified training.
On the faculty, beside Lippe, there was Hering and Guernsey. When we look at the list of graduates from those years we find an unprecedented list of names such as Constantine Lippe, E. A. Farrington, T. L Bradford, E. W. Berridge and Walter James, all of which contributed in major ways to the profession. One day, very soon I hope, we will be able to provide an adequate system of education to our students.
Q: What are the requirements for a really first-class homeopathic physician, what kind of a person should he (or she) be?
A.S.: The first requirement is a balanced personality. If this is lacking, the way such a person approaches his studies, the way he applies medicine, the way he treats his patients, would reflect his imbalance. Balance is health, especially emotional health. Otherwise, it could be a very difficult experience for both the doctor and the patient.
Also, a good knowledge of self is essential—the more a physician has this knowledge of self, the more he or she will be able to progress in mastering homeopathy, the fewer mistakes he or she will make, the less of his or her own ego will intrude. Medicine is an art and science that was designed to help people. It is a service from one human being to another; many seem to have lost the true purpose of medicine, which is not to serve physicians or enrich drug companies. It is essentially a service for humanity.
The physician, as a scientist, must approach the practice of medicine with great humility—he or she must have a sound education, self-knowledge; he or she must always be eager to search, to learn about nature. The word "physician" is derived from the Greek word "phusis" which means nature, thus the physician is the one who seeks to understand nature, its principles and laws and how to apply them in health and disease.
Two basic requirements are mandatory: openness to observe, and at the same time the capacity to be critical of the observer and the observed. Like Hahnemann said, doubt your own power of apprehension.
So, in answer to your question, I would say that the basic requirements to becoming a good homeopathic physician would be a person who has great self-knowledge, sound health and who approaches medicine and homeopathy with humility and objectivity. If we physicians let our ego and prejudices interfere, our capacity to observe nature as it is and to apply its principles will be biased. And that retards our progress in the science of homeopathy.
Q: What is the correct attitude of a homeopathic physician towards a patient, what should be his state of mind?
A.S.: As physicians, we must have compassion. If we have no compassion, we will never be really good physicians. If we practice our art mainly to make money, we should go into business—it is much easier. So the first essential is compassion—we treat the other as we would wish to be treated. The patient is the "king" or "queen" in our office. We are there for them, not the other way around. That is the basic attitude. Our ego should not stand between us and our patients, as Hahnemann said to come out of ourselves, so to speak.
While our heart and intelligence should be unreservedly at the patient’s disposal, a good bedside manner is an art which is quite essential for the successful practice of medicine. Also, we should be constantly willing to learn from our patients. We should always remember that each patient we see contributes to our training. Each patient is an individual, presenting an unique phenomenon of nature, who is also there to teach us.
The practice of pure homeopathy is one of the greatest teachers there is, because, in trying to constantly apply a law of nature, erring, cheating, pretending or being lazy can only lead to failure as the right way requires a great deal of precision. If we let prejudice interfere between us and our observation, our perception of natural phenomena will be distorted and we will no longer be able to observe nature as it is. This is the main reason for our failures in practicing homeopathy.
Therefore, every time our perception of reality is distorted or we make an error in judgment, failure will result and unfortunately in the worst cases it may be a "fatal error," an expression often used by Lippe to describe any deviation from pure homeopathy. Indeed people will die from our failure to correctly apply and abide by the law of similars. Therefore, in homeopathy, if we are unable to be objective, if we have a tendency to be prejudiced, to form opinions, fancies, conclusions, explanations and extrapolations, our thoughts prevent us from perceiving reality accurately.
Thus, it is not surprising that we are not able to realize the promised results of homeopathy. For some reason we all have this tendency to imagine what we do not know, instead of seeking true knowledge. We cannot cheat nature and that is why there must be sound training, why students must be taught the right way, i.e., how to obtain superb results by following the law as it is.
Pierre Schmidt used to say that homeopathy provides many great satisfactions in life. First, because it is a challenge for the mind. Second, it is a joy for the heart, because we help people that are suffering. And third, it is a very decent way to make a living for ourselves and our families. I would like to add a fourth, i.e., homeopathy is also a great teacher, perhaps the greatest there is, because it teaches us to apply a law of nature.
We are constantly being corrected by nature. The symptoms of the patient are the language of nature, they are telling us physicians what we need to know. If our perceptions are misleading so will be our actions, therefore compromising the quick recovery of the patient. So we will have to correct ourselves constantly, redirect our navigation at the first sign of erring, so that we keep sailing in the right direction. If we are acutely keen on learning while practicing homeopathy, we will become wiser by constantly trying to conform to nature. Wisdom, in essence, is this constant search for the right or just way.
Q: What is the best way to study materia medica?
A.S.: First, we should study only the reliable sources. Hahnemann lead the way titling his first major work on materia medica, Materia Medica Pura. Pura because the materia medica has to be based on true observations only, pure from opinion, conjecture or fancy. Now, the materia medica must first of all be based on provings including cases of poisoning; to this are added the cured symptoms which are the verification of the provings. There you have the basis of the pure materia medica of Hahnemann.
As the materia medica eventually became voluminous, it became necessary to approach it in a systematic way, otherwise it would be absolutely overwhelming. Various teachers of materia medica have approached this subject, often in completely opposite ways. The best method to my knowledge, is the diagnostic method of Hering as he taught it to the students of the Allentown Academy in the 1830’s.
Essentially, we can approach the materia medica in the same way as you would approach any other natural science, such as geology, botany, zoology or entomology in which everything is classified by comparison. How long do you think it would take an experienced entomologist to classify a newly discovered insect? Just seconds—by comparing, differentiating and classifying the characteristics of this new specimen.
In studying the materia medica with the diagnostic method we would start with one remedy, one of the most often prescribed ones, reading from reliable sources as much we can about it. We would start with the proving, which should be studied very carefully, then compliment this with the clinical experience of reliable prescribers, and lastly with cured cases.
Then we take another often prescribed remedy that is the closest to the one previously studied and compare and differentiate the two. We do the same with a third one and so on. We could do a series of twelve remedies most often used in acute cases and then another twelve remedies most often used in chronic cases. In such a way the practitioner would know very well a limited number of remedies and would immediately be able to recognize one of them when indicated, or when it is not one of them.
Nash, in his monograph on Sulphur, wrote that "one remedy well studied is better than several not half understood." In practice, when choosing the most similar remedy, you often have to differentiate between three or four remedies. Usually, two or three of these are among the most often used remedies.
Q: Could you name a few examples?
A.S.:: For remedies most often used in acute cases, one could start with Belladonna, followed by Aconitum, Bryonia, Rhus toxicodendron, Arsenicum album, Apis mellifica, Hepar sulphur, Ferrum phosphoricum, Gelsemium, Nux vomica, Ignatia amara, Chamomilla. For remedies most often used in chronic cases, Lippe recommended his students to start with Lycopodium—which is a very good remedy to start with because it presents a very characteristic picture—and then we could go on to compare Pulsatilla with Lycopodium; then study Sepia and compare to the first two, because they are very close in some aspects.
And then you study Natrum muriaticum, Phosphorus, Sulphur, Lachesis, Calcarea carbonica, Silica, Staphysagria, Aurum metallicum, Platina, and so on, one after the other, always comparing their similarities and differences not only with each other, but with other remedies sharing similar symptoms, constantly comparing and individualizing. This is the meaning of diagnosis, to know through distinction, differentiation. The plan of such lectures on materia medica would be similar to Farrington’s Clinical Materia Medica.
With this method, the more remedies we study, the less time we will need to study further ones. Lippe once said that all those who had really mastered our materia medica had studied according to this method—the diagnostic method of Hering. In my own experience, I have found that the best way to prepare a lecture of materia medica is, first of all, to read the original wording from the proving, if possible, especially if it is there in chronological order. This is often possible in the case of provings that took place in America. We get exact information as to what occurred, at which hour of the day, so that we can follow the evolution of the symptoms. Of course we do not always get this.
Most materia medica follows the plan of Hahnemann by emphasizing the anatomical rather than the chronological arrangement. Regardless, it is still very important to study the original symptoms of the proving to obtain an appreciation of the primitive symptom picture. This is absolutely basic for a serious study of the materia medica. A well conducted proving with sensitive provers will bring out the most characteristic symptoms, its "genius." And that is what is important.
When reading a remedy we seek to perceive its genius, its nature, what is most characteristic, peculiar, what identifies it. Generally, Hahnemann would give a taste of the genius of a remedy in his introduction to it, or by emphasizing in bold the most striking symptoms. After reading the proving, I read the clinical confirmations from reliable—this is important! reliable—authors and then I usually discover a lot more about it.
Q: Can you give us an example?
A.S.: Not all characteristic symptoms will necessarily be discovered during a proving. Take for example the symptom of vomiting as soon as what has been ingested becomes warm in the stomach. This symptom is not to be found in the Materia Medica Pura or in the Chronic Diseases; so where does it come from? It comes from Lippe who observed it in a patient and reported it. Since has been often confirmed and has become a guiding symptom.
As we investigate further, each drug picture will evolve and become more complete with further proving and by adding the clinical experience of its application. This is the idea behind Hering’s Guiding Symptoms, a materia medica based on the verification of the provings as they were found in the sick. In the provings we will find the more pure and primitive symptoms which tends to be the more functional, the symptoms of the beginning of disease, while in the sick we will find also the later stage of the disease, the more organic symptoms.
So, when I prepare a lecture on materia medica, I start with Hahnemann or the original proving, then I follow this with Allen’s Encyclopædia of Pure Materia Medica, then with Hering’s Guiding Symptoms, then I read the reliable authors—Lippe, Guernsey, Nash, Dunham, Earnest Farrington, etc., then I will finish with more modern authors such as the Pulfords (father and son) and Harvey Farrington (Earnest’s son). Finally, I gather all the cases I can find from reliable observers and from my own practice to complement and illustrate the lecture. Now we have something juicy. This is the very best way I have found to study the materia medica.
Q: Was that list of reliable works on materia medica which you just gave us a comprehensive one, or are there more to be added?
A.S.: I should say that a comprehensive list would include Hahnemann, Lippe, Guernsey, Nash, Allen, Hering, Farrington. Although, with the father, Earnest, we have to be very careful, we have to exclude all the physiological aspects. He was wrong there.
In the twentieth century, there are not too many authors that are reliable. William Boericke was not necessarily the best homeopath but he was well read and what he wrote was reliable but very limited. Clark was also well read. His Dictionary is good for its first section called "Characteristics" which can be used as an introduction to a remedy. The anecdotes related here often create lively images, facilitating the characterization of a remedy. The rest of his materia medica is not that valuable.
The Pulfords—father and son—practiced in Ohio for a period of about eighty years. They were very good homeopaths and their materia medica is very reliable. Harvey Farrington was one of the last of the very reliable teachers of materia medica. His lectures are very valuable.
Pierre Schmidt was also very reliable. He did not use much of his own clinical experience to add to the materia medica, but he added to the materia medica from his readings. He had a very good library and he was able to draw on reliable material, while the Pulfords and Harvey Farrington were able to draw more from their experience. Herbert Roberts also makes interesting reading, he had a lot of experience and he was a good observer. Boger would be in the same league.
Q: What about Kent?
A.S.: Oh! A lot of what he wrote is not at all reliable, but even experts often do not know this. For instance, all his synthetic remedies are not at all reliable in my estimation.
Q. Could you please explain what synthetic remedies are?
A.S.: Synthetic remedies are the ones like Alumina silicata, Aurum arsenicum, Aurum iodatum, Aurum sulphuricum, etc. You take two known remedies, you look at their separate provings and then you say: "What would happen if these were combined?" With the synthetic remedies, we will notice that Kent usually begins with something like "the symptoms of this remedy present themselves in the morning, forenoon, afternoon, evening, during the night and after midnight"; then you take the next remedy and you find worse "in the morning, forenoon, afternoon and night" and so on!
There is absolutely no credibility to these supposed provings. Kent was likely not too impressed by paragraph 144 of the Organon where Hahnemann says that "all conjecture, everything merely asserted or entirely fabricated, must be completely excluded from such a materia medica: everything must be the pure language of nature carefully and honestly interrogated." Kent had been publishing his synthetic remedies in an obscure journal called the Critique of which he was an associate editor.
In his editorial of December 1907, he promised for the coming year twelve new remedies, one for each number of the journal. He did so until June 1908 when he was severely criticized by H. C. Allen and W. P. Waring. Both were members of the International Hahnemannian Association and like Kent were involved in homeopathic education in Chicago.
After this criticism, which Kent didn’t defend, he never again published another synthetic remedy not even the ones he had promised. He continued to contribute to the Critique but not with materia medica. When he published the second edition of his Lectures on Homeopathic Materia Medica in 1911, he did not include any synthetic remedies which had been published between 1904 and 1908 (the first edition of his Lectures on Materia Medica had been published in 1905).
On this point, Hahnemann made it very clear in the first paragraph of the Genius of the Homeopathic Healing-Art, published in every edition oh his Materia Medica Pura and which he considered one of his most important articles. Here he says that it would be senseless to combat disease with imaginary properties of medicine.
Q: Thank you for giving us this interview.
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A.S.: You are very welcome and I thank you for giving me an opportunity to share my views.