Confessions Of A Neo-Classicist - homeopathy360
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Confessions Of A Neo-Classicist

As homeopaths and as scientists, we engage in continual conversation about what we have learned from our experiences. We perceive our environment, explain our findings, test and adjust our explanations and then communicate, as best we can, these ideas to each other. Our practice of medicine is a process of discovery and evolution.
Debate and dialogue is intrinsic to this tradition. Ideally these conversations open our eyes, allowing us to see a clearer path to our intended goal: healing our patients. One of the current discussions in our community raises the question of what constitutes the legitimate source of remedy information.
In this discussion several topics are addressed: the doctrine of signatures, thematic groupings, and provings. I believe for some there may be misunderstanding about these ideas, and for others simple disagreement. I wish to explain in this article how learning the natural history of a remedy’s source and how recognizing patterns, for either an individual remedy, a grouping of them, or those of the patient, has often led me to successfully identify the simillimum.

Form And Function

Doctrine Of Signatures

The Doctrine of Signatures has a long and enduring history. Galen, a Greek physician of the Second Century AD, wrote of it, as did Paracelsus and Jacob Boehme in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Paracelsus formulated the doctrine of signatures into a medical model of pharmacognosy asserting that the appearance of a particular plant, its color, scent, or habitat indicated its medicinal use.[2] Later Boehme wrote a spiritual treatise entitled, “Signatura Rerum; The Signature of all Things,” claiming that God had marked everything created with a sign indicating its true purpose.[3]
In the past, this Doctrine of Signatures was simplistic and imbued with magical thinking, but today the idea has evolved into a more sophisticated thesis, closer to the idea that form follows function.[4]
That the hummingbird develops a long beak to better draw out the nectar from trumpeted flowers, or that the penguin sports black and white feathers as a means to hide from its predators illustrates how specialized adaptations of form allow for greater function of each species. The color of a flower or the sweetness of its scent reflects the means that a plant uses to reproduce successfully. These adaptations, together with a myriad of other characteristics, distinguish one substance from any other.
I find it helpful to understand these adaptations as well as the natural history of our remedies: to know how a plant grows or how an animal lives, even the environment where a particular mineral is found. To truly observe the natural world deepens my relationship with the remedy. I consider this gathering of information to be a kind of case taking of the substance. And here I do mean substance, not the remedy, as my study of a remedy is accomplished by poring over clinical cases, provings, materia medica and repertories.
There has been a recent proliferation of analogic thinking in our community, conjecture that because a substance has certain traits this then endows the remedy with particular symptoms. Metaphor and analogy are useful mnemonic tools but they cannot be relied upon to indicate a remedy’s sphere of action. Rather it is best to observe, to see connections between the substance and the remedy and to then verify its usefulness.

Exploring Natural History

Often there is inadequate information about a remedy. A proving may have had limited participants; or the mother tincture was used rather than a potentized dilution; or perhaps there are no recorded clinical cases. Take, for example, Pseudotsuga  menziesii or Douglas Fir, a substance proven in 1995. This remedy had few clinical cases to illustrate its spectrum of healing when I first prescribed it. However, by studying the natural history of this tree, and about conifers in general, I was able to broaden my understanding of this remedy.
My Pseudotsuga  patients[5] expressed a profound loneliness as well as a longing for perfect intimacy. They described feeling “cut off” and “suspended in darkness.” One patient said she felt “dark, gray, dismal and lifeless.” If you have stood in a forest of Douglas Fir you may relate to this description. This forest is near the end stage of a climax forest, the final phase of ecological succession. The canopy above creates a dark and somber environment below. One can feel quite alone with few creatures stirring in the gray, hushed twilight. For some this creates a feeling of deep connection to spirit, for others a lonely feeling. Both of these emotional elements are represented in the remedy.
My experience with these trees seemed to resemble what my patients and the provers were describing. I felt I recognized the forest in the patients. I studied the climate and altitude preferences for various conifers, histology and photosynthesis, and what distinguished one specie from another. Just as I recognized the feeling of these patients in my experience of the forest, I began to recognize connections between the homeopathic symptoms of Pseudotsuga and the biology of the trees.
I also recognized that the proving symptoms of Pseudotsuga, particularly symptoms in the digestive tract, were similar to the other conifer remedies. My patients spoke of an inner emptiness felt in their stomach, and several members in the conifer family share this sensation. Thuja, Sabina, Taxus, Abies canadensis and Abies nigra are listed in the rubrics ‘emptiness’ in the stomach or abdomen.[6] That all of these Conifer trees share this symptom was interesting to me.
Every tree has a large core of dead wood at its center, some becoming hollow once the tree is afflicted by disease. Between the cambium, which lies just inside the bark, and the pithy center of the tree, is the sapwood, which contains tracheids. These tracheids draw up massive amounts of water — up to 500 gallons each day — in order to fulfill the nutritional needs of the tree. At other times the trees exist in drought-like conditions. I wondered if there was any relationship between these facts and the symptoms “emptiness,” “ravenous” and “wanting appetite” so common to the Conifer remedies.[7]
Another prevalent feeling for my Pseudotsuga patients was that of being without an “anchor.” They felt lost, that they would fall into a black abyss. This brought to mind the dreams and fear of falling that characterize Thuja and Sabina. This feeling of being without an anchor seemed particularly reminiscent of the plight of the conifer, trees with shallow roots that can topple in high winds or from severe rain erosion.
These associations may serve as a device to remember the qualities and characteristics of a remedy, or may offer some explanation of why a remedy has particular symptoms. I feel it is a disservice to suggest symptoms for a remedy just because of the natural history of the substance. However, to make the connection from remedy to source has proven worthwhile for me. If I can understand something of why the symptom is expressed by the remedy, the rubric can have more meaning for me.

Delving Into The Cultural History

In addition to learning about the habits and habitat of a substance I find it valuable to understand the cultural history associated with each. Such study may reveal rich insight into the remedy. In 1998 I successfully prescribed Physostigma for a patient with multiple sclerosis.[8] I began by repertorizing her case using three symptoms: multiple sclerosis, numbness in the left upper limb and a combination of rubrics that expressed the feeling of being alone, including the delusion of being a castaway.
I found that Physostigma was one of a handful of remedies represented in all three rubrics and the only one unknown to me. I was curious, so I began to study the remedy. My research included not only homeopathic information, but also the plant’s botany and history.
In West Africa the seeds of Physostigma were used to determine the guilt of persons accused of witchcraft. If the accused vomited within a half-hour, they were considered innocent, but if they died from the poison they were found guilty. What would someone feel in this situation, I wondered?
The peculiar feeling in the proving of Physostigma is that of being cast away and this was similar to what I imagined someone might feel undergoing this criminal trial – as often witches or sorcerers were shunned and cast out from the larger community. It was this feeling that seemed particularly characteristic of my patient. She felt “shunned” by others and unwanted by her parents.
Why does Physostigma have this feeling? Can we as classical homeopaths ask this question or must our curiosity be limited to the few symptoms of the provings? Some may argue that it makes no difference why, that it is enough that the prover stated: “Delusion; being a castaway.” But what does this statement mean and how do we differentiate Physostigma from the other remedies in the rubric “Delusions; being a castaway”, or even from the larger rubric “ Delusions, imaginations; alone.”
At times we make a leap of faith in our prescriptions because there is no other clarifying information from the provings or clinical cases. It is at these times that I find researching the cultural or natural history of the remedy helps to expand my understanding of the characteristic feeling behind the symptom.

Observation, Not Speculation

This process of understanding how form and myth reflects function is not a matter of supposition or imposition, but rather one of perceiving coherence between symptoms and the substance. Perhaps it is all done in hindsight, but this does not negate the value of the perception. If one theorizes that because bees are busy, the remedy Apis is busy as well, it is folly. But if one observes Apis to be busy, and that bees are truly busy, one may understand more deeply something of the unique and peculiar busyness of Apis. It is essential that we not impose theories upon the remedies because of their natural history; rather to make connections — to observe, not speculate.
Provings and clinical experiences provide us with information about the medicinal sphere of our homeopathic remedies. As Hahnemann states, we should know the powers of our medicines through provings, not speculation.[9] Nonetheless, there is virtue in knowing nature; provings should not limit our curiosity.
And then there is the problem that many provings, past and present, do not meet the rigor of our current science. Some provings used mother tincture, some were performed on sick patients, or on a single individual, and for some remedies we have no proving at all. This presents an unfortunate problem. If we are to rely solely on provings, and these provings must meet an agreed-upon standard, then we may be limited to very few remedies.

Thematic Groupings

Fractals And Patterns
Buddha is believed to have said, “The way you do anything is the way you do everything.” I think this is true, that we are consistently ourselves. How we dance, laugh, breathe or become sick follows an unvarying pattern that reflects our individual state, even if it is for just that moment. The tone of a man’s voice, his posture and the words he chooses are all directly linked to the unconscious process and each becomes an echo of the larger whole. The way a woman views herself, how she perceives the world, and what beliefs she holds resound with this “organicity.” Because of this consistency we could extract a single moment or expression to function as a lens to reveal the whole of the patient. We recognize this in many other examples: that within a single cell there exists the blueprint of a whole person, or the architecture of a tree within a single twig.
How a whale lives in the sea, I believe, is reflected in the fragment of Ambra grisea, or how a dog behaves is expressed in the remedy Lac caninum. In the same vein, I contend, a truly skilled homeopath could prescribe on very few symptoms if they understood how they reflected the whole of the patient. Fortunately, we have countless symptoms from our repertories to pair with our patients. Finding the simillimum can be challenging enough with a complete and well-taken case, and it is far easier to perceive the patient through a constellation of their peculiar and individuating symptoms than on just two or three. But the point is this: each symptom is a fractal[10] of a greater whole, each symptom rings out the same clear tone as all the others: the name of the patient’s remedy.
This “organicity” is true of our remedies as well. A single symptom should be able to act as a microcosm of the whole remedy. Of course, with many symptoms, we have no sense of how they fit into the larger idea of the remedy; but when we do understand; we are able to grasp the remedy in a deeper way. We can see the inflammation of Belladonna[11] expressed in their rage, meningitis, and pharyngitis. Or the swellings and sensation of enlargement that Agaricus[12] experiences reflected in their feelings of omnipotence. If we understand how each contributes to the whole we may understand something more comprehensive than a simple list of symptoms.

Thematic Patterns

I find it useful to identify patterns within a remedy or a patient’s case by collecting individual symptoms into thematic groups. I attempt to see what ideas, symptom expressions and sensations run throughout the case or remedy. If a patient consistently has right-sided symptoms, no matter what the complaint, I might use the rubric Generalities: right side, or if a patient has a predominance of wandering pains in many different locations I will use Generalities: wandering pains. There is nothing controversial in this; it is simply recognizing the pervasiveness of a symptom expression and naming it as a general symptom. But I do this in other ways as well. And it is this recognition of patterns that can allow me to hear the characteristic voice of the remedy or patient.
Recently the question was raised whether remedies made from creeping plants or vines have the symptoms of dreams of or desire to travel.[13] I was curious about this so I examined eleven remedies, all which are creepers — Bryonia, Clematis, Cocculus, Colocynthis, Dioscorea, Dulcamara, Elaterium, Gelsemium, Lycopodium, Rhus venata and Solanum nigra — to see whether they were present in rubrics having to do with wandering, traveling or creeping.
All eleven had some kind of wandering sensation, four had creeping symptoms (Bryonia, Clematis, Colocynthis, and Lycopodium), two had a desire to travel or wander (Bryonia, Elaterium) and one (Lycopodium) had dreams of journeys.
A question was posed, the hypothesis researched and now we must establish whether the information is useful. Can I apply it? Does it broaden and clarify my perception of the remedies or rubrics? This kind of questioning, pattern recognition and identification has become a daily exercise in my study of remedies.
Identifying the themes of a remedy can be accomplished by identifying patterns of rubrics. For example Pulsatilla is considered to be mild person[14] and we see this as a consistent theme throughout her physical symptoms as well. Her discharges of leucorrhea, catarrh, and tears are often bland and mild.[15] We also see Pulsatilla in rubrics describing her as servile, quiet and submissive at the same time as the remedy appears, more frequently than any other, in rubrics citing ailments from suppression. I wonder if the susceptibility to suppression is a reflection of a larger theme of servility and submissiveness; does Pulsatilla suffer from the effects of suppression because she is so easily dominated in her emotional life?

Thematic Families

We may also recognize patterns that lead us to a group of remedies, such as a botanical family or miasm, or perhaps a grouping based on some observable shared theme.[16] We see a characteristic running through our patient’s case and then explore remedies that we know share the same theme. Once we recognize a family we can explore and examine the individuating symptoms to determine the exact simillimum. I have found this method to be useful many times. I will recognize something of Lachesis in a patient but know there is something incongruent. Then I will discover that a different member of the snake family fits the case beautifully.
In one of my Mandragora cases, I had tried, unsuccessfully, to give three other remedies first. I had observed symptoms in the patient that reminded me of Belladonna and Stramonium, but giving these remedies produced little or no results.
This child had a fascination with and fear of death, but she did not express her fears with as much anxiety or activity as you might see in a patient needing Belladonna. Rather than the wildness of Belladonna, or the terror of Stramonium, she had a withdrawn quality coupled with intense focus. She was entranced with a world that frightened her, a world of death and darkness.
Each time I prescribed for her, I tried to understand how she was both similar to and different from the previous unsuccessful prescription. I recognized something familiar in her case, but the remedies I thought should cure, did not. If the case looked like Belladonna and Stramonium, but wasn’t, what was the simillimum?
I then looked to other remedies that I thought might be similar. I examined the characteristics of each remedy in the Solanaceae family in order to determine what commonalties existed between them, and what differentiated each from the other. It was in this way that I arrived at the prescription of Mandragora. When I finally gave my patient the correct remedy she became well; her attention deficit disorder and fears resolved.[17]
I have found in my study of families that often the well-known member of the group, such as Lachesis for the snakes, or Belladonna for the Solanaceae can act as a template for the other members of the group. In the same way that we understand something of Medorrhinum in the other sycotic remedies I have found that we may share or extend some of the template’s qualities and symptoms to the lesser-known members of the family. As in all of homeopathy, this is both a science and an art; it requires extensive study to understand what is shared and what is peculiar.

We Are Synthetic Thinkers

Homeopaths are synthetic thinkers, looking at the smallest peculiarities of our patients and attempting to understand their larger meaning. Our patients present discrete symptoms that on closer inspection turn out to be part of one seamless whole. When we take the case of a patient we want to know about her symptoms, how he lives, what kind of relationships she has, what he likes and dislikes. And when we study our remedies we should ask the same questions of them.
To practice good homeopathy we must have an open mind, and be an “unprejudiced observer.”[18] If we truly observe Nature, without speculation, without theorizing, we may be able to witness an extraordinary consonance between a remedy and its source. If we open our eyes and our minds to the congruency of the spirit of the medicine and the spirit of the substance, we may enjoy the “organicity” between the two.
As homeopaths we make connections, see relationships, draw conclusions, test our theories and practice our empirical science. As scientists we are at our best when we explore a thesis without prejudice. If we see reason and truth, we share our experience — our successes and failures — learning from each other in a respectful and curious manner. In this way we can grow in our knowledge and in our ability to help those who need us most.
[1] Peter Wright, past editor of the Simillimum, first used this term to describe me in the winter of 2000. I am charmed by the descriptor but frankly, consider myself to be a classical homeopath.
[2] Dudgeon, Robert Ellis. Similarities between Hahnemann and Paracelsus. Presented by Peter Morrell.
[3] James, Tamarra. An Introduction to the Doctrine of Signatures.
[4] Early twentieth century functionalist architect Louis Henry Sullivan insisted that architecture must embody the human connection with nature. He is the first to have noted, “Form ever follows function.” Later Ludwig Mies van der Rohe said “Form IS function”, followed by Frank Lloyd Wright stating, “Form and function should be one, joined in a spiritual union.”
[5] Heron, Krista. “Longing for a Perfect Intimacy: Two cases of Pseudotsuga menziesii.” LINKS Journal. Autumn 1999.
[6] Stomach: Emptiness (weak feeling, faintness, goneness, hungry feeling): Abies-c, Abies- n, Tax, Thuj.
Abdomen: Emptiness, faintness: Sabin.
Rubrics from van Zandvoort, Roger. The Complete Millennium Repertory.
[7] Stomach: Appetite, ravenous, canine, excessive: Abies-c, Abies- n, Pseuts-m, Tax, Ter, Thuj
Stomach: Appetite, diminished: Pin-s, Sabin, Tax, Ter, Thuj
Stomach: Appetite, wanting: Abies- n, Sabin, Tax, Ter, Thuj
Rubrics from van Zandvoort, Roger. The Complete Millennium Repertory.
[8] Heron, Krista. “Physostigma: The Discarded Vine.” American Homeopath. 2000.
[9] Hahnemann, Samuel, The Organon. paragraph 110.
[10] Fractal: frac – tal: noun. Etymology: French fractale, from Latin fractus broken, uneven.
: Any of various extremely irregular curves or shapes for which any suitably chosen part is similar in shape to a given larger or smaller part when magnified or reduced to the same size. Objects which display repetition of the same shape on a variety of scales.
: The idea that every moment of our life is a tiny representation of a larger time period; that our days, weeks and years are made up of individual moments, any one of which reflects the greater whole.
[11] Fever: Heat; Inflammatory, fever: Bell (3)
Head: Inflammation; meninges, meningitis: Bell (3)
Mind: Anger, irascibility; general; face color; red: Bell (4)
Mind: Rage, fury; fever, in: Bell (1)
Mind: Rage, fury; fever, in; heat Bell (1)
Throat: Inflammation; sore throat Bell (3)
Rubrics from van Zandvoort, Roger. The Complete Millennium Repertory.
[12] Mind: Delusions, imaginations; great person, is a: Agar (2)
Mind: Delusions, imaginations; light, incorporeal, immaterial, he is Agar (1)
Mind: Delusions, imaginations; officer, officers; he is an: Agar (1)
Mind: Delusions, imaginations; superhuman; control, is under: Agar (1)
[13] Saine, Andre. “Homeopathy Versus Speculative Medicine, A Call to Action.” Simillimum. Fall 2001. XIV, 3.
[14] We know Pulsatilla to be irritable as well, usually because she is experiencing a lack of attention or support.
[15] Pulsatilla is in 9 of the 15 rubrics citing bland discharges, and in 13 of the 111 rubrics citing acrid discharges.
[16] Such as the remedies identified by George Vithoulkas as treating “mania” that include Stram, Bell, Hyos, etc.
[17] Heron, Krista. “Mandragora, the Darker Side of Belladonna.” American Homeopath. 2001.
[18] Hahnemann, Samuel. The Organon. paragraph 6.
Author: Krista Heron, N.D.  DHANP

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