To give you a brief introduction to homeopathy, the fundamental principle from which this holistic medicine originates is 'similar' (homois) 'suffering' (pathos).

Based on reasoning that like cures like, it is a system of healing that treats the symptoms of a sick person with a substance (or remedy) that would create similar such symptoms in a healthy person. It is “to treat with something that produces an effect similar to the suffering”. (Vithoulkas, p. 11)

How Homeopathy Developed

It wasn’t until the 19th Century that homeopathy made its true appearance in the world of modern medicine, thanks to a physician in Germany, by the name of Samuel Hahnemann. In 1779, he qualified as a doctor and in the years following, grew discontent with his career in medicine.

Choosing instead to focus on his interest in chemistry and translating medical texts, he came upon a section of A Treatise on the Materia Medica written by Professor William Cullen, that highlighted the healing ability of Peruvian Bark.

Homeopathic substancesCredit: User:Ar291 / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain license

A substance well-known for treating malaria, Hahnemann, on impulse, gave himself a dose of Peruvian Bark and found that he, in full health, soon experienced the symptoms of that disease for which the substance was said to treat.

On this observation, Hahnemann began conducting experiments, administering particular substances to healthy people, whether himself, family members or colleagues.

These experiments were always carried out with normal human subjects in contrast to orthodox medicine which experimented on animals. The results, known as provings, involved in-depth observations of the range and frequency of physical and mental symptoms experienced by each person.

Hahnemann perceived the Law of Similars – let likes be cured by likes – as a basic truth and created a systematic method for identifying the curative properties of many substances (Vithoulkas, 1983). 

His research was compiled and formed the Materia Medica Pura, first published in 1811. It featured the causes and cures of many substances used in the provings, all of animal, fungi, plant and mineral origination.

Creating Homeopathic Remedies

Establishing homeopathy as a valid healing science, Hahnemann realised that finding the correct dosage for each remedy was paramount if it was to cure without adverse effect. Noticing strong side effects in some patients, he explored a method of diluting remedies via a process of potentization. This lessened the toxicity of a substance, while increasing its curative effect.

Making a remedy in homeopathy involves multiple stages. First beginning with the source material, often of high toxicity, the ‘mother tincture’ is made. This is a solution that is formed by dissolving a soluble substance into alcohol and water, or if using an insoluble substance, it is ground into lactose powder.

Potentization is a method that takes place through dilution and succussion. Dilution is measured by centesimal (1 in 100; 1c) or decimal (1 in 10; 1D) scale, and requires a single drop from the mother tincture to be added to 99 or 9 drops of an alcohol-water mixture, depending on the scale used (Saxton & Gregory, 2005).

Succussion involves strongly shaking the diluted solution in a controlled up-and-down motion. This action, although somewhat simplistic, enables the healing energy of a substance to be released into the solution, and creates the first potency of a remedy. Further potencies can be made from this first potency by repeating the potentization process to create second, third, and higher potencies.

Samuel Hahnemann (detail) 1841Credit: User:arcimboldo / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain / {{PD-1923}}

The Vital Force

The concept of an energy being present within a substance, animal or person, is another central idea in homeopathic medicine. Aware of a vital energy existing in material forms, Hahnemann believed it to have a significant role in a person’s health and their symptoms

In Organon of Medicine, Hahnemann (1921, p. 95) wrote, “the material organism, without the vital force, is capable of no sensation, no function, no self-preservation; it derives all sensation and performs all the function of life solely by means of the immaterial being (the vital principle) which animates the material organism in health and in disease.”

Totality Of Symptoms

For Hahnemann, it seemed the next logical step to take, to realize symptoms as more than merely physical and that they could be analysed collectively. Hahnemann considered a disease symptom to be part of a greater whole and coined the term totality. This expression was used to describe the assessing of a patient in their entirety so as to prescribe with a single remedy.

In homeopathy, all underlying symptoms are taken account of, and seen in relation to the patient’s background, associated physical and mental states, and emotional well-being. Hahnemann knew from the full understanding of a patient, a symptom picture could be created, resulting in the most determinate way of pinpointing a curative remedy, through a ‘totality of symptoms’.

“The very foundation of homeopathic practice considers man not only as an individual, but as a complete unit in himself, of which all his parts comprise a well-balanced whole”. (Roberts, p. 21)

Next article: An In-Depth Guide To Homeopathy