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Homeopathic proving

Misha Norland

This article first appeared in Homeopathic Links in June 2000 in the form of an open letter concerning an ongoing debate following comments made by George Vithoulkas. Here the letter has been slightly abridged.

Our understanding of the action of homeopathy, being predicated upon the concept of the vital force, is based on non-materialist principles. However, like any science, it is grounded upon observation, recording, theory and experimentation. This empirical integrity has kept it on a straight and narrow path.

As in any other field of human endeavour, there are a range of diverse views, agreements as I like to call them, driven by our historical and cultural traditions. Different approaches coexist even in ‘hard’ science. For instance there is the structured yet mystical approach of Einstein and the uncertainty of Heisenberg. Each teaching has its followers. This is normal and healthy. I believe that it is unhealthy when we get into mortal combat over such things. I am reminded here of Jonathan Swift’s satirical story, Gulliver’s Travels, where the people of Lilliput went to war over a dispute of how to crack open an egg!

In this paper, I shall be writing about a few contentious issues, about that business of ‘creating’ an influence by putting a glass of water upon the remedy name and potency written on a piece of paper and about provings. I shall briefly touch upon the large subject of signatures. (On the subject of provings I shall be quoting from a previous article I wrote which appeared in 1999 winter edition of The Homeopath. )

George Vithoulkas stated (Links 2000) that making remedies over a name written on paper has to be non-sense. While serial succussion and dilution has to make good-sense! But why? In neither of these cases can a dial on any known machine detect anything, because the influence is not material, yet the sick organism can be healed with a medicine which is homeopathically indicated, given at the right time and has been ‘prepared’ in either way. Let me tell you the story of my first experience of the ‘paper potency’ method. It was almost thirty five years ago, when I was still a very inexperienced prescriber. A mother phoned me. She lived in a remote area in Wales. Her daughter had swallowed a bee which had stung at the base of her tongue. Her throat was swelling rapidly. What should she do? I figured that in the absence of immediate medical help or homeopathic remedies, I had two choices. The first I did not mention, as it was literally too bloody. The second was …. you will have guessed, the paper potency! This ‘magically’ prepared medicine (is not the pharmacy procedure equally ‘magical,’ I asked myself, in order to justify my suggestion) should be spooned into the child’s mouth (no need to swallow, I explained) every two minutes. “Phone me back very soon,” I said trying not to sound anxious. Although my homeopathic teacher had told that in extremis one could produce remedies in this manner, his instructions had involved the drawing of a ten-sided figure within which the remedy name and potency were to be written. He also suggested ten minute waiting time for the remedy to be prepare. For the child in Wales, there was neither time to draw nor to wait. The mother rang again in about ten minutes: her daughter had started to feel better from the first dose, and now after three more doses, she was out of crisis. This was probably not placebo effect, I told myself!

Two lessons arose from this: to trust the experience of my teacher enough to put the teachings into practice, seeing if they succeeded or failed, and to be guided by the ‘spirit’ of the teaching, not necessarily by the detail. In order to test both the basic precepts and the relevance of the detail, experimentation is in order. By accruing empirical evidence, confidence is built up or theories are disbanded. 

With regard to potentising, the idea is to increase medicinal action on the vital plane, while reducing the quantity of material substance and hence gross poisoning effects. With this intention in mind the method which Hahnemann gives us is more than adequate – in fact, it is a master-stroke of genius. Despite the fact that it is the very rock against which the materialist mind shipwrecks itself, it has delivered excellent medicines for homeopathic use for over two hundred years. I would therefore be the last to throw this baby out with the bath water. However, the in extremis example given above, which I and others have repeatedly reconfirmed in our practices, leads us to the consideration of the modus operandi of vital influence.

Tied into this question is the experience of provings. When we carry out a proving, the experience is analogous to becoming temporarily ill; it is similar in its action to epidemic contagion. In both instances, the influence overwhelms individuals, and many personal idiosyncrasies are temporarily submerged under the common symptoms of the influence. Insofar as this is the case, a proving group reacts and speaks as if it were one person. While each individual reveals only some aspects of the proving, the group of provers reveals most. The influx alters inner states which are apprehended initially through changed sensations, the emergence of images, feelings, and dreams, and later through the production of physical symptoms.

Since the development of microscopy, materialists have become solidly wedded to germ theory.  Yet homeopaths have another spin on disease causation which is confirmed through the experience of provings in which no material dose is given. We understand that it is the derangement of the spiritual vital force which expresses itself in the production of symptoms. Without going into details about causation (a difficult thing to try to pinpoint, since there are usually a number of conditions which conspire together) we have no trouble in agreeing that symptoms are the result (effects) of an interplay of inimical affects (proving substance or contagion, or miasm) and the vital force whose station it is to maintain homeostasis. This drama is played out in the invisible interior of the organism, as Hahnemann expresses it, in the vital field, before the defense mechanism kicks in and other tangible effects are noted. This drama gives rise to dynamic disturbances such as altered sensations and feelings before physical and measurable changes manifest.

It is the vital plane, the field of dynamic action and reaction with which a homeopath concerns him/herself. Homeopathically prepared remedies address this field because they are likewise of a spiritual/vital nature. I believe that all homeopaths agree with this.

Let us review a few other examples of dynamic action. A good performance of music affects the audience, who, as if one, respond to its influence. Another example is afforded by any powerful orator, who like a magician (this is how Hitler described his powers), affects the crowd. As is clear from the example of Hitler, it is not so much the words, it is the intention, the delivery and the ritualistic aspects of the meeting which together inform the prevailing wind of influence. When we do a group proving, some aspects of ritual are inevitably and usefully  present. The intention to convey the influence is there, as well as the intention to receive it. When we administer a remedy to a fellow sufferer (our patient), a similar grouping of influences are present. I am referring here to the patient/practitioner dynamic, as well as the dynamic of remedy administration. (Placebo effect accounts for much curing because some of these ritual elements are present, although not the similimum one.)

At the School of Homeopathy, where we meet once a month, we have achieved results in group provings since 1991 using a variety of stimuli: by using material substance; by holding it; by looking at it; and by meditating upon it. We have achieved results with potencies from 30C to 200C. We have invoked group provings by one member ‘holding’ the concept/image of a thing in their mind (the sender) while the group has sat in a period of silence and self-observation (the receivers).

Naturally, we felt obliged to run a proving of placebo. You see, we had speculated as to whether we were proving ourselves, our group psyche, whether a group’s theme or themes would emerge. The result was that no theme emerged within the group. This was a distinctly different experience from being under the influence of the proving of a thing, where common imagery, feelings and sensations dominate.

We have consistently laboured to be rigorous in our published proving data. These provings have all been obtained by using unit doses of substances prepared in the Hahnemannian manner at the Helios Pharmacy or by the Korsekov method carried out by the individuals comprising the proving group. This stimulus, perhaps because it is amplified by the many co-experiencers, and because it is ‘reawakened’ at our monthly gatherings when experiences are recounted, is sufficient to produce long-range effects in many of the provers.

The action field set up by the proving manifests immediately. Once established within an individual prover’s economy, it continues for as long as it takes to exteriorise itself. From my and Peter Fraser’s observations as joint proving coordinators of hundreds of provers, we would put forward the following observation:

The length of time a proving persists is directly proportional to:

1.    The remedy’s innate pace – in other words, its capacity to reach into the organism and derange it, and

2.    The resistance it meets during its movement outward from centre to periphery.

Should the prover provide, as it were, an unblocked passageway, then the proving experience is swift. If the passage is cluttered by past unresolved material, old pathology, then the proving experience may linger.

A proving begins, in a literal sense, with the intention to prove a thing, with it being imagined, identified, obtained, and possibly potentised. Should the name of the thing be kept under wraps, double blinded, or picked at random out of a hat, or should the proving date be sprung upon the proving group, nonetheless the event field of the proving is the moment in time that intention arose. It is similar to dropping a pebble into a pond where the surface of the water ripples outwards into time from present to future.

Let me give an example. It is common experience amongst provers that certain individuals (who later reveal cardinal symptoms because of their affinity to the thing under test) develop symptoms which subsequently are confirmed as belonging to the proving before anyone else had ‘taken’ the thing.  I have parenthesised ‘taken’ because those who meditate upon the thing come up with results which are no less pertinent. Furthermore, we have found that those individuals within the group who wished to remain outside of the proving have been unable to do so; they are automatically included (provided they are susceptible).

The concept of participation mystique comes to mind in order to afford a description of this phenomenon. In the case of the School of Homeopathy, provings have become a recognised corner stone of homeopathic training. This plus familiarity, shared endeavour and healing ideals combine to engender group consciousness and participation mystique. That those who did not ‘take’ the thing, that those who did not even know that the proving would take place within the group, had been affected demonstrates the dynamic nature of the phenomenon.

It is only matter that is bound to space and time. The immaterial essence of the thing, actuated by the intention of the proving group constellates the action field. Forgive me labouring the point: the thing that we are dealing with is essence, spirit, call it what you will, and is not bound within the constraints of space and time. Those who key into it are part of it irrespective of distance or time; they know it telepathically, which means literally, feeling the suffering of another at a distance.

Physics abounds with examples of similar effects where vibrating electromagnetic fields travel through space. These phenomena are neither mystical nor supernatural; they obey innate laws which took some time for man to understand but which are scientifically valid despite our backwardness of understanding. In fact, the more we investigate the laws of quantum physics, the more we come to realise that what appear to be particles (matter) are rather manifestations of electromagnetic waves, which in turn are merely vibrating fields of energy. Einstein himself, who is surely not lacking in ‘hard’ scientific credentials, said, “We may therefore regard matter as being constituted by the regions of space in which the field is extremely intense… There is no place in this new kind of physics both for the field and matter, for the field is the only reality.”

We experience the truth of Einstein’s observations with every group proving of a homeopathic remedy. A group proving generates a gestalt to which everyone associated with the provers is connected. Anyone within this group gestalt may be affected, depending upon their personal affinity with the thing being proved; their susceptibility and therefore their resonance. There are other biological and chemical illustrations of this kind of effect. For example, once one certain Pacific Ocean monkey discovered that a sea washed tuber was nicer to eat than a soiled one, other monkeys on other islands, who had not witnessed the event, also found themselves washing tubers. Another example is afforded by the well documented event, especially noted during the Victorian era, of inventors rushing to patent offices hot on the trail of an invention before another got there, because once an idea was thought of, it was out ‘on the ether’. Another example cited by Rupert Sheldrake, was noted by crystalographers who saw that a new salt ‘found’ a characteristic crystalline structure simultaneously in laboratories situated in different global locations. Once one solution developed its particular crystals, all others followed suit. Similar field effects seem to commence once the intention to prove a thing arises, therefore individuals susceptible to this influence and belonging to the group may experience proving effects ahead of the formal proving event.

The spiritual dynamis of intention, having no material substance, is not bound to either space or time. Should we accept this, then it follows that proving experiences may predate a proving. However, the experiencer would not know what to make of these experiences, for they must be held within the framework of the proving and given its context to make sense. (The same is true in the case of clairvoyant premonitory experience or dreaming; an out of context vision cannot be analysed or its information be made sense of.)

Taking orally or sniffing does not necessarily set up the action field of a proving, nor is it necessarily either substance or potency. It may be derived from and by these means or not. Directed meditation and attentive listening are sufficient to initiate and sustain a proving. We have invoked group provings by one member ‘holding’ the concept/image of a thing. Similarly, many students experience symptoms when they study a remedy: they enter into its state. Although this does not constitute a proving because the substance is known, it does highlight the well-understood phenomenon of empathy. As an aside, practitioners often find themselves ‘proving’ their fellow sufferers! This is what occurs when we become en rapport with them and empathise with their suffering. Where this ‘proving’ of another keys into our own pathology, our own state is intensified (if this is the case, we may need to take ourselves into supervision where there is potential for our personal learning). Rajan Sankaran experimented with provings of music, while at the School we have experimented with ‘thought’ provings. In none of these was pharmacy involved. There was no use of potency, no ‘memory’ of water, no nuclear or crystalline patterning, because there was no substance.

In order that provings occur there has to be a receiver or receivers and something which is sent and actuated by dynamisation or another kind of intention. Obviously there also must be innate susceptibility to rouse a response. This is analogous to resonance. To quote from my old Encyclopaedia Britannica: “Resonance: a term used in physics and related fields denoting initiation, prolongation or increase of sound due to sympathetic vibration of some body capable of moving in the proper period”—in other words, at the same or an harmonic frequency.

The task remains, how to explain the experience of curing with ‘paper potencies’? In accordance with the discussed observations and postulates, it could be framed thus: as requiring focused intention in order to create a telepathic field which resonates with the patient. The method involves the following elements:

1.    The practitioner’s desire for the wellbeing of the fellow sufferer in order that the mind be set upon its homeopathic task of finding the similimum and establishing a suitable posology;

2.    Summoning the spiritual/vital essence of the substance using the ritual of writing (such powerful magic!) and the dynamic of the need/desire for recovery to actuate the evocation of the remedy; and

3.    Administering the remedy – putting it into the mouth.

As we are all aware, putting the remedy into the mouth is one of a number of ways of delivering the dose. Hahnemann himself wrote about olfaction: sniffing the remedy. Many years ago, the French homeopathic fraternity, faced with governmental restrictions, developed the practice of putting the dose in bathtub water and lying their patients in it. Radionic practitioners do it at a distance. We usually prefer to place the dose in the mouth, a place where the outside enters the inside. Yet the mouth and stomach are not the action centres of the dose. The dose addresses itself to the vital force. I am suggesting that this is no more or less than a ritual: yes, a ‘magical’ ritual, marking the onset or continuation of remedy action. I use the word magical here in its true meaning of invoking a secondary action by means of a related primary action according to the law of correspondences. The correspondence referred to here is the place (the mouth) where the outside enters the inside, by analogy and correspondence, where the remedial influence enters the seat of the vital force and the ‘hidden’ interior where the dis-ease resides.

Analogical thought processes derive their power to solve problems by noting and working with correspondences. This is known in Herbal Law as the doctrine of signatures. It has been much misunderstood, misused and ridiculed. Yet many homeopathic practitioners and teachers have used the analogy of the substance with the disease in order that the substance’s medicinal attributes be better understood. To do this it is appropriate to examine its properties, functions and uses (including the stories and myths with which certain substances are associated), not merely surface appearances and physical symptoms. When we carry out provings we are drawn into the multifaceted world of analogy, where images and dreams of the provers attest to the nature of the proving substance; this is through its correspondence with the deeper strata of our subconsciousness where archetypal traces of past experiences reside.

A few more words concerning ‘actuation’ as in subsection 2. above, where I suggested that the dynamic of the need/desire for recovery is the force which actuates the evocation of the remedy. Referring to the incident of the bee sting at the base of the tongue, we can state in simple language, that desperation drove the potency home! What is required here is energy. The form most readily available to us (which requires no development of special powers) are our e-motions – the hyphen points out the word’s derivation. Emotion is the outcome of a desire which moves us into action – in this case, the action of summoning the remedy in its potentised or vital/spiritual essence. This is analogous to the often recorded incidence of hauntings by ghosts being associated with the presence of hysterical, adolescent women – the ghost literally uses the vitality of the emotionally labile subject in order to manifest itself. To place Einstein’s  quote in another context, “We may therefore regard matter as being constituted by the regions of space in which the field is extremely intense.” The point I am making is that perceived need drives the remedy potentising force. In extremis a ‘paper potency’ works.

It is not only in ‘paper potency’ making that ritual resides. The ritual and magical basis of remedy production at a pharmacy is, I contend, that which accounts for and overrides the major problem concerning purity in traditional pharmacy. This begins with trituration sac lac itself, including its impurities, porcelain, alcohol, water and glass-ware utensils and continues to include trace adulterations which enter along the way. After reading a scathing anti-homeopathy article on I decided to quote the following section on adulteration: “Imagine how many compounds must be present, in quantities of a molecule or more, in every potency of a homeopathically prepared remedy and which are successively run up into ever higher dynamisations. Even under the most scrupulously clean conditions, airborne dust in the manufacturing facility must carry thousands of different molecules of biological origin derived from local sources (bacteria, viruses, fungi, respiratory droplets, sloughed skin cells, insect faeces) as well as distant ones (pollens, soil particles, products of combustion), along with mineral particles of terrestrial and even extraterrestrial origin (meteor dust). During the step-by-step dynamisation process, how is the emerging remedy supposed to know which of the countless substances in the container is the One that means business? How is it that thousands (millions?) of chemical compounds know that they are required to lay low while the Potent One is anointed to the status of Healer?”  I believe that it is the ritual and magical aspect of the dynamisation process which accounts both for the efficacy of traditionally and ‘paper’-produced potencies.

Why then do we not scrap pharmacy? Personally, I would not consider this because I appreciate the ritual of hand making things. In my opinion the ‘science’ of homeopathic pharmacy is a wonderful example of the ‘science’ of ritual magic. The purpose of remedy making is to increase medicinal action on the vital plane, while reducing material substance. What better ritual (entirely within the definition of magic: working the law of correspondences) than serial titurations and/or serial dilutions and succussions? And note that we mostly prefer hand-made to machine-made remedies. Why should this be so? Is it because we believe/feel that in non-mechanical pharmacy, another element has entered into a remedy’s manufacture? and is this not a vital element, driven by human will and intention?

In conclusion I wish it to be noted that I have resisted the currently fashionable term ‘complementary medicine’ because I believe it to be inaccurate and a copout. Homeopathy is an alternative medicine based on non-materialist principles. Now is a good time, it seems to me, to come out of the closet. Yet, as I said in the introduction to this letter, we can travel too far out and lose empirical rigour. I believe that we should subject all our work to rational scrutiny and empirical research. I also believe that we are entitled to dare to say and write about these things and in so doing bring the true science of homeopathy and healing out of the dark ages of dogmatic materialism into a new age of enlightenment in the twenty first century.

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