The History of Homeopathy

This article is part of our new series, Getting Started With Homeopathy. To read the rest of the articles in the series, click here.

By Haroula Battista, Hon. BSc., DHMHS, HOM, Ontario College of Homeopathic Medicine, @homeopathy_school_in_toronto

Homeopathy is not a new age concept, in fact, the fathers of medicine referred to the basic foundational principle of Homeopathy (similia similibus curentur) many years before it was conceptualized by Dr. Samuel Hahnemann.

  • Hippocrates (460 – 350 B.C.) who is regarded as the father of medicine said “By similar things a disease is produced and through the application of the like, it is cured”.
  • Aristotle (384 – 322 B.C.) said “Often the simile acts upon the simile”.
  • Galen (130 – 200 A.D.): “Natural cure by the likes”.
  • Paracelsus (1493 – 1541 A.D.): “Sames must be cured by sames.”

Samuel Hahnemann

Cristian Frederick Samuel Hahnemann (1755-1843), the father of Homeopathy, was born in Germany and was an avid scholar; he studied chemistry, botany and languages, and he became a doctor of medicine at the young age of 24 (in 1779). At the time, physicians practiced therapies that in today’s society would be frowned upon, including but not limited to bloodletting (also known as venesections) and purgations (or laxatives).

With his little medical experience as a young physician, Dr. Hahnemann came to the conclusion that the therapies of his time were not only ineffective, they were “barbaric”. In 1784, Dr. Hahnemann gave up his medical practice altogether citing that the medical procedures of the day did patients more harm than good.

Dr. Hahnemann wrote:

“My sense of duty would not easily allow me to treat the unknown pathological state of my suffering brethren with these unknown medicines. The thought of becoming in this way a murderer or malefactor towards the life of my fellow human beings was most terrible to me, so terrible and disturbing that I wholly gave up my practice in the first years of my married life and occupied myself solely with chemistry and writing.”

Frustrated with the state of the medical system, he turned to translating texts to supplement his income (he needed to support his growing family). Dr. Hahnemann was inspired and began to question the action of medicine when he undertook the translation of a book written by the distinguished physician William Cullen: A TREATISE ON MATERIA MEDICA. On translating the book by Dr. William Cullen, Dr. Hahnemann read about a very specific drug: Cinchona (Peruvian Bark). Within the materia medica was an account of the drug that was widely used at the time for the treatment of malaria, which prompted a scientific experiment. Dr. Hahnemann took large crude doses of Cinchona and noted that he developed symptoms (in fact, those very symptoms recurred each time he took a course of the drug and they lasted for a few hours each time) he recorded his symptoms carefully. What he found surprising in his first experiment was that that he took a medication which was used to treat malaria and the same drug, created symptoms in him (a healthy individual) …this is where the Homeopathic system of medicine took root. This experiment was called a proving.

Regarding the first proving, Dr. Hahnemann wrote:

“I took, for several days, as an experiment, four drams of good china twice daily. My feet and finger tips, etc., at first became cold; I became languid and drowsy; then my heart began to palpitate; my pulse became hard and quick; an intolerable anxiety and trembling (but without a rigor); prostration in all the limbs; then pulsation in the head, redness of the cheeks, thirst; briefly, all the symptoms usually associated with intermittent fever appeared in succession, yet without the actual rigor. This paroxysm lasted from two to three hours every time, and recurred when I repeated the dose and not otherwise. I discontinued the medicine and I was once more in good health.”

After his first experiment, Dr. Hahnemann experimented with other medications at various strengths and found similar experiences: the medication which was supposed to “heal” someone who was having specific symptoms was in fact creating those very symptoms in him…a healthy individual. He concluded therefore, that the substance which created symptoms in a healthy person could be used to treat those very symptoms in a patient that was experiencing those pathological symptoms.

Dr. Hahnemann wished to experiment with many different substances but what would happen if he ingested substances that were poisonous? Obviously, his outcome would not be a positive one…toxicity and even death were certainly possible. Dr. Hahnemann used this logic to dilute poisonous substances so that he could experiment with them. This is where his reasoning for the dilution of remedies arose. Since Dr. Hahnemann diluted the substances he experimented with (to avoid any potential negative side effects from ingesting the crude form) and he closely monitored the reactions he had to them and kept a diary. His dilutions were often beyond Avogadro’s number (or the mathematical constant for the number of particles in a unit.)

Through the process of dilution, Dr. Hahnemann noticed that the substance needed to be succussed (succussion is simply “banging” the remedy onto a hard surface to “wake it up”) each time he diluted the substance as to maintain its healing properties. The processes of dilution and succussion made Homeopathy a dynamized (or effective) medicine. Hahnemann did these two things to eliminate their possible toxic effects and to maintain their therapeutic properties. With each of his experiments and with a variety of homeopathically prepared substances, Dr. Hahnemann noticed different symptoms arising for him and created what we now call “pictures” of the substances. Each individual substance that he experimented with therefore had its own “picture”. It is this remedy picture that we are able to reference when we examine a patient who has a certain set of symptoms and it is through provings that we understand the healing properties of the medicine.

Some of the symptoms that Dr. Hahnemann experienced were interesting and peculiar and it is these specific symptoms that distinguish each homeopathic medicine. Thus, Dr. Hahnemann had established the basic precept of homeopathy, foreshadowed by Hippocrates, Aristotle, Galen and Paracelsus. Dr. Hahnemann recognized that the individual patient needed to be treated, not the disease of the patient per se. A physician’s responsibility therefore became solely to restore the patient’s health; their entire health, not only the physical pathology that they were experiencing. It is the duty of physician to distinguish subtle variations of every individual case, that is, to specialize and individualize in each personal case, instead of treating the disease…when we do this, we can examine the mental, emotional and physical symptoms and prescribe one medicine to treat the patient in their entirety. Homeopathy is holistic medicine.

In 1806 Hahnemann published the New System of Medicine Based on Experience. This was a compilation of his thoughts on medicine and on the provings he conducted. The Organon (explained below) is regarded as a more methodical and aphoristic form of this original and important essay which Dr. Hahnemann published in Hufeland’s Journal der practischen Arzneykunde und Wundarzneykunst in 1806 called, “The Medicine of Experience” In 1810, Hahnemann published “The Organon of Rational Healing” – 1st edition.

In 1878 the British Journal of Homeopathy published this commentary on it:

“Hahnemann’s sentences are very involved, tautological, and pleonastic, but this is evidently owing to his excessive straining after accuracy, and in his endeavor so as to frame his phraseology that no two meanings could be put upon it. This leads him to load his paragraphs with endless repetitions, which, while they detract from the agreeableness of his literary art, prevent the reader from making any mistake as to his meaning, and this perhaps is an advantage that counterbalances the want of elegance and the offence to literary taste.”

Over the next several years, Hahnemann published his Materia Medica Pura, which took 10 years to write. He spoke as a Faculty member in the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Leipsic where he lectured on his new system of medicine and voiced his skepticism of the era’s medical methods, writing and publishing his objections in the medical journals of the day. His lectures did not go unnoticed!

“The year of 1813 was one of triumph for Hahnemann. The contagious typhus fever that raged through the camps, prevailed throughout the length of Germany. Hahnemann attended cases of this terrible disease with a success that silenced his critics, and proved the superiority of the new method and of the truth of his principle.”

From Thomas Lindsley Bradford’s “The Life and Letter’s of Hahnemann”

Homeopathic medicines are safe

Dr. Constantine Hering

Dr. Hahnemann acquired many followers…and critics! Homeopathy came to America in the 1820s through German speaking immigrant physicians, with roots in NY and PA. In 1833 Dr. Constantine Hering, who is known as the father of American Homeopathy came to the USA. He was asked to write a paper exposing Homeopathy as a fraud and he decided to repeat Hahnemann’s experiment with Cinchona: “For the purpose of proving it, in order to more thoroughly attack the new folly”. Except, Dr. Hahnemann had meticulously recorded all aspects of his proving and invited critics to repeat his experiments!

Dr. Hering read through Dr. Hahnemann’s work and came across the famous ‘nota bene for my reviewers’ in the preface to the third volume of  ‘Materia Medica Pura’, which said, among other things:

“The doctrine appeals not only chiefly, but solely to the verdict of experience – ‘repeat the experiments’, it cries aloud, repeat them carefully and accurately and you will find the doctrine confirmed at every step’ – and it does what no medical doctrine, no system of physic, no so-called therapeutics ever did or could do, it insists upon being judged by the result”

So, Dr. Constantine Hering did just that. He began to experiment the way Dr. Hahnemann did. In his preface to Hering’s Guiding Symptoms he wrote:

“It has been my rule through life never to accept anything as true, unless it came as near mathematical proof as possible in its domain of science; and, on the other hand, never to reject anything as false, unless there was
stronger proof of its falsity.”

Dr. Hering conducted 104 provings in all and he opened the first homeopathic medical school in the USA. Homeopathy made steady gains in the US geographically, economically, and institutionally throughout the 19th century. It spread across the US and was used primarily by urban middle class families and intellectuals. Homeopathy attracted advocates among patients and physicians, and especially mothers. Children preferred remedies to the disagreeable and painful treatments of the “Regulars”. Enthusiastic converts to the profession built medical schools, homeopathic societies, asylums, dispensaries, and hospitals, and published popular and professional texts, introducing and explaining the new system of Homeopathy to patients and physicians.

Several scholars had noted that in their attention to precise methods of observation and exactness in accumulating data for provings, homeopaths appeared more scientific than the regulars:

“The regulars efforts to achieve orderliness and numerical precision seemed bumbling and feeble compared to the homeopaths”

-J. H. Cassedy, American Medicine and Statistical Thinking, 1800-1860.

A Quiet Perseverance

In 1844 the first US National Medical Association, the American Institute of Homeopathy (AIH) was established. A Charter to license homeopathic physicians & maintain standards of education and practice was put into place and Dr. Herring was the first president. Over the next several years, a Homeopathic Pharmacy was founded (Boericke and Tafel Pharmaceutical Company), International Homeopathic Conferences were held and the Homeopathic Colleges were in full operation. At the turn of the century, there were 20 Homeopathic Medical Colleges and more than 100 homeopathic hospitals in the US with more than 900 practicing Homeopaths.

The physician’s role was to restore the patient to a natural state of health, using techniques based on an individual’s symptoms; knowledge of the person’s health history and family background; individualizing factors (moral status, constitution, and temperament); an assessment of contributing factors such as the patient’s environment and how they engage with it.

It was inevitable…problems began to arise within the Homeopathic communities. Homeopathy is difficult to learn and practice; it takes a lot of diligent study and dedication. Some homeopathy schools began to move away from the methods of Dr. Hahnemann and taught homeopathic therapeutics as an easier means to treating patients. Practitioners argued about the potencies that could be used as well as how they could combine homeopathy with conventional treatments. With the increased popularity of homeopathy, the allopathic medical community were not exactly happy. The pathological state of the patient became what most physicians considered
important in their prescription and the idea of totality of symptoms was all near abandoned.

It was reported in the “Homeopathic Physician” in 1887, that if the practitioner could not select between four possible remedies in given case, that all four should be given at the same time – ”the prescriber is criminal if he does not”. A series of events over the following decades resulted in most homeopathic medical colleges closing, which meant that physicians were not training in homeopathy!

However, homeopathy survived and thrived in a quiet, unassuming way under the medical radar. Many people started their own self-evaluation, searching for ways to find fulfillment in work and through helping others. Some were medical students searching for their own answers, others seasoned professionals disillusioned by their practices.

Over time and through exceptional success, Homeopathy survived and now thrives in the western world. More and more patients are seeking the help of homeopathic practitioners and homeopathy has become one of the most widely used systems of medicine in the world.

There could only be one reason for this perseverance and success: it works!

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