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No two cases of the same-named disease are treated alike. The remedy, when correctly chosen after careful observation and questioning, sets the patient on a natural path to self-healing and improved resilience.
The selection of a homeopathic remedy can be plainly circumstantial, as in Apis Mellifica for insect bites or Arnica Montana for impact injuries and bruising. Or it can involve an intricate investigation of a whole lifetime, rather like breaching a fortress of a thousand doors with something as subtle as a whisper. I have seen those same two remedies used in constitutional cases, where Apis was critically instrumental in treating a middle-aged woman's brain tumour, and Arnica, a young male officer verging towards bipolar disorder. These are examples of the difference between circumstantial and constitutional prescribing.
So how does a prescriber orient themselves in an ocean of possibilities that is the homeopathic materia medica? How to weigh up the questions of source or kingdom (animal, vegetal, mineral, etc.) repertorization (going from a morass of symptoms to the weighted values of remedies that cover them); modalities (seasonal to diurnal, digestive to temperature to emotional factors precipitating alleviation or aggravation); miasm (depth of disease, heredity or predisposing factors); the timeline of physiopathology; the nature of the patient etc.?
Let's start with the source of the remedy. Source: a small word but a vast subject, not readily encompassed in a few crude brush strokes. Homeopathic remedies are sourced from several kingdoms. Generally speaking, patients calling for an animal remedy are mainly concerned with matters pertaining to that kingdom: shelter, play, progenitor, competition, sexuality, bravado/timidity, show/preening, etc. From the mammals, their most defining or characteristic substance could be said to be milk. So we have Lac Vaccinum from a cow, Lac Caprinum from a goat, Lac Maternum from a human, and so on. It is not hard to imagine how different would be someone calling for Lac Lupinum, wolf, from someone calling for Lac Lepaninium, rabbit! Then from the reptiles and insects, we have venoms, as Lachesis, the Crotalids, etc., or from some spiders a venom from some the web as in Aranea Tela or from some insects the whole creature as in Apis Mellifica Cuubensis.
As examples from my case notes: a 50-year old woman, a pediatric nurse who never wanted children of her own suffering from uterine fibroid and sleeplessness, and now finding herself overwhelmed with the care of three aging relatives, responding beautifully to Lac Maternum.
Or a 60-year old man; ex-navy, carpenter, climbing instructor, collector of pulleys, and outdoorsman extraordinaire. He averted any further knee surgeries and resumed distance skating and hiking after a course of Aranea Diadema, the cross spider.
Or the 45-year old woman suffering severe hot flashes and right-hand paralysis every morning. With a short course of Lac Delphinium, she was clear of those complaints, along with the habit or perpetually rearranging the furniture, and her long-standing dream of going around and around the block of her childhood home. Think of the behaviour of dolphins who circle and circle their pod. Lac Delphinium is, I think, the most playful remedy of our materia medica. "But what's the point," she said, "if one is not curious." Re-reading A Short History of Everything. It's a colourful world!
Patients calling for mineral remedies are much more concerned with hierarchies, relationships, order, method, and career/monetary success. Consider a 4-year old girl who loves puzzles, draws very intently, but communication by speech is sporadic, she is very self-possessed and assertive at times, then bashful and uncertain and literally hiding behind her mother's skirts, afraid to sleep on her own. Her growing repertoire of quirky gestures and tics drive the parents to the consult. She is doing very well with Baryta Carbonica, a mineral salt. Generally speaking, a salt of two elementals is called for when the case presents a strong polarization at the core of an individual's dilemma. In this instance, Baryta, stage 2 in the periodic table (observing, evaluation, criticising, unsure) of the gold series (power, leadership, maturity) is joined to carbon (individuality, value, meaning, child). Or to consider a 60-year old man with prostate cancer, afraid to go to sleep since childhood for his own nightmares; he sorts these things, along with the mayhem of three children in their 20's, multiple relationships and scattered lives, all come to order over 18 months of Baryta Carbonica.
As a third example in the mineral realm, I would like to sketch for you the case of a 24-year old (female) graduate student whose eczema resurfaced with a fury each time she felt profoundly nervous (manifesting also in sickening anxiety attacks) about her place in the world. Her first summer away from home at 17 – working with Habitat for Humanity – her applications to college, her starting at university, applications to grad school, being accepted at same: "But what will my students think with those horrible hands?!" And that's where we pick up the case, going into her second year of teaching creative writing to undergrads. She said, "I come from a family of scientists. It's hard for them to accept that I'm a poet. I realize poetry is not an obvious way to expect to earn a living, but I know I can, somehow. And my fiancée is in training for the diplomatic corps. But most of most of my students are not nearly as fortunate as I and some of them younger than me are returning war vets. I fear for their well-being. I come home and I’m always thinking of their problems, so now my eczema is intolerable!" With Molybdenum in ascending potencies, her eczema and other attending physical symptoms gradually disappeared, and her anxieties eased and self-confidence became more settled.
Molybdenum, stage 6 (they're up to the challenge, have a great need to prove themselves, the pain of initiation, the fear of the task being too great, but also the inevitable) in the silver series of the periodic table: ideas, art, communication, voice, hearing. What marvels there are encoded in the stages and series of the periodic table of elements!
Now we come to the largest kingdom of all represented in the homeopathic material: the plant kingdom. Fortunately, there are many centuries of lore and literature to help us sort them into different botanical families, species, and orders. Think how different the liliacea from the conifers but that I shall leave for another article, space is running out!
Please feel free to contact me with any questions or comments.
In a previous article we looked at selecting a remedy from the plant realm, where the primary issues are those of sensitivity, adaptability and endurance. An overview of the Compositae (Daisy/Aster) family of plants led us through Arnica to Echinacea, in terms of pace and depth of medicinal action, the range of physiopathology, and personal traits of the subject who might be calling for such a remedy. A similar schema will be helpful in organizing the vast amounts of material, botanical, physiological, psychological, to have a look at the Ranunculaceae (Buttercup) family, equally extensive worldwide to the Compositae, and likewise well represented in our homeopathic materia medica.
The Ranunculaceae family, “comprising over 1,000 species in about 50 genera is centered in temperate and cold regions of the northern and southern hemispheres”. We shall try to find common themes, moving through this plant order’s most familiar members, Aconitum (Aconite), Helleborus (Christmas or Lenten Rose), Ranunculus (Buttercup), Pulsatilla (Anemone, Wind Flower), Staphysagria (Delphinium), Hydrastis (Golden Seal), Clematis (Virgin’s Bower), which ordering could be said to be a movement from most sudden and acute to most deeply chronic.
With Aconite, growing as it does in rarified air of high mountains under strong sun and cold winds, we find sudden fever, dry burning heat, extreme thirst preceded by chill with shivering over entire body. Or cold over whole body with internal heat, sensation of cold and numbness of limbs with alternating cold and heat of face. There is nervous excitability with anguish, cries, tears, reproaches, shortness of breath, pulse hard, accelerated, alternately slow, imperceptible; fearful anticipation, ailments from fright, fear, vexation, fevers in the nursery, with great alarm but passing quickly: the storm is over.
Kent says, “Aconite is like a great storm: it comes, it sweeps over, and it passes away. It is short-acting… [with] no chronic diseases following.” And we shall see in what follows, a testament to Hahnemann’s three signal insights, the first of which most ancient traditions recognized:
1. What is medicinal in a substance is precisely its toxicology;
2. Which therefore to be medicinal must precisely match the “whole disease” to be cured;
3. And which in the attenuations (or dilutions, or potencies) are not only safer but much more effective when correctly prescribed.
“Used as an arrow poison by early stone-age cultures, Aconite is very fast acting… [in ancient Greece] its origin [is attributed] to the foam spilling from the mouth of Cerberus, the watchdog of hell, [as he] was killed by Hercules… his 12th and final labour… Aconitine, the main representative of a group of similar alkaloids contained in the plant is … the swiftest acting… such overwhelming power if released in the human economy can evoke only one kind of mental reaction: fear.” Interfering swiftly in the most vital processes, cardiac and respiratory, whether of toxic or mechanical origin, give the rubric “fear: predicts the time of death.”
[Vermeulen Frans, Prisma, Emryss Press, Haarlen, the Netherlands, 2002.]
Hellebore growing as it does out of thawing ground, (Christmas or Lenten Rose), in contrast has as much slowness and stupefaction as tall Aconitum, flowering at the height of summer, has “sudden strenuous activity.” Hahnemann says: “Though the sight is good, one sees only imperfectly and does not observe what one sees; though the auditory apparatus is good, one hears or comprehends nothing distinctly; though the gustatory organs are all right, one relishes nothing… has no pleasure in anything, slumbers but lightly… [works without attention].
Ranunculus, because of its photosensitizing compounds can produce sunburn-like rashes, inflaming & blistering the skin, with attending rheumatic or neuralgic pains. It can therefore be useful in shingles, intercostal or rheumatic pains, especially in small joints; fingers, toes, vertebrae, lower margins of scapulae, and especially when the patient is gouty, “hasty, irritable, quarrelsome.” Again the themes of vexation, irritation, sensitive to slights. But that soreness can also be “stitching, shooting pains”, “as of deep ulceration.” Generally Ranunculus symptoms can be cyclic, with long periods of abatement, but recur with attending irritability & vexation.
Pulsatilla, the Wind or Pasqual flowers of Anatolia, N. Europe, N. America & Japan, are very similar in their toxicology. Famed for their “affectionate, mild, yielding disposition, “Pulsatilla is noted for the changeability of symptoms: variable digestive symptoms: (“no two stools alike”, “painless, watery stools alternating with obstinate constipation”, or “abdominal cramping driving her to tears” – or to bed), now changeable genito-urinary symptoms, now wandering rheumatic complaints, now headache alternating with coryza, etc. Though Pulsatilla will rarely be a character to force an argument or bluster with the best of the Loganiacea, they are in my experience singularly resourceful (note: changing symptoms rather than seated disease) and tenacious, once decided of a purpose. (“Convinced against her will but of the same opinion still.”) Anyone who has tried to dig one of the Japonica variety out of their garden will find it coming back year after year at the same, and other places! Think of the long, and multiplying tap roots, plus “Wind flower”, as it propagates on the breeze. The alpine or other European varieties will simply vanish, unless the micro garden conditions are just so. Affectionate she may be but just try dissuading her when her mind is made up; or see how quickly she responds to betrayal of that affection. “Easily vexed, many emotions all at once.” Are those tears of anger, of injured pride, or of injured trust? (“Forsaken feeling.”)
Staphysagria, the stately Delphinium, likewise, has many emotions at once, but you won’t know what they are, for Staphysagria keeps a shining (or withering!) dignity even when suffering deeply (“too dignified to fight”) and their physical symptoms, like their emotions, are kept strictly out of sight. Thus they are far more dangerous to themselves as they refuse to manifest either their indignation or any other feelings behind it. While early on Staphysagria will show much irritation in the eyes, to teeth, to skin, to mucous membranes, to digestive or urinary tract, very soon we will see cysts, tumors, neuralgias, abscesses, bone diseases, infection of ovaries or spermatic chord, prostate or testicles. In short, Staphysagria’s is a much more deeply affected economy, generally with prolonged restraint of “many emotions at once”, vexations, peevish disposition, inclined to be displeased, appearing morose & indifferent or haughty & dismissive.
Of Hydrastis Canadensis, Clarke notes: “The medicinal properties of Hydrastis were known to the aborigines of America.” First mention of it in medical literature is by Rafinesque (Medical Botany. 1828). In Hydrastis, we find “irritation [to the point of rawness] in almost all mucous surfaces, nasal, pharyngeal, brochial, gastric, duodenal, intestinal, urethral, vaginal, “with attending poor appetite and digestion, a feeling of constant nausea, sometimes jaundice or enlarged liver. The disposition is similarly “raw”: “anger from contradiction [or] at his own forgetfulness, disposed to be spiteful [note: aggravation of Staph’s state “inclined to be displeased] alternating with buoyancy, cheerful in the morning, then taciturn, gloomy, fear of disease, of going out…”
Clematis, says Clarke, “like other Ranunculacea, is a direct irritant to the skin, producing inflammation and vesication [blisters]. It was used by Stoerck before Hahnemann’s time in cancerous affections and other foul ulcers, inveterate skin eruptions, syphilis and rheumatism. In the provings, [scalp], eyes, teeth, skin, urinary and male sexual organs show the greatest number of symptoms… with swelling of inguinal glands and testicles. Vermeulen notes: the presence of protoanemonin [a highly irritant alkaloid] has been demonstrated in the genera Anemone, Clematis, Helleborus… Pulsatilla and Ranunculus.
Summing up, with Aconite we see sudden fevers with great alarm but passing quickly; with Helleborus, sluggishness, inability to focus with either eyes or mind; with Ranunculus, rheumatic or neuralgic complaints; with Pulsatilla, a remarkable changeability of all symptoms, with Staphysagria, more deeply seated but still variable symptoms following upon restrained indignation; with Hydrastis, rawness of all mucous surfaces; and with Clematis, old ulcers, cancerous or syphilitic affections, ie., destruction of tissues. The progression thus shows movement from sudden and acute to chronic, more deeply disturbed states, with a progressive degree of disturbance to the sensorium, and thereby to disposition.
Author’s note: I am greatly indebted to the works of Frans Vermeulen, J.H. Clarke and Rajan Sankaran for the information collated in this article.