The great trio - Hahnemann, Boenninghausen, and Hering - made very singular contributions to the science and art of Homoeopathy. Hahnemann gave us the basic principles and the beginnings of the Homoeopathic Materia Medica. Boenninghausen gave us the genesis of Homoeopathic Repertory and Hering gave us the 'matured' Materia Medica. The Homoeopathic Materia Medica came of age only when Hering published his work. Before that, the works on Materia Medica were collections of innumerable symptoms from provings and poisonings; not applied Materia Medica as Hering's Guiding Symptoms is.

For Hering, a symptom did not acquire the status of a guiding symptom unless, apart from its appearance in a prover or provers, it was verified at the bedside a number of times. Hering laid down the criteria for the value of symptoms on that very basis. In his "Guiding Symptoms", he set the evaluation of symptoms at four grades, just as Boenninghausen had done in his repertory. Hering admitted this idea was borrowed from Boenninghausen, but he was the first to apply it to the Materia Medica. This was a great practical advance as it introduced some guidance for the practical application of the enormous Homoeopathic Materia Medica to the ills of mankind. Before Hering, Hahnemann had introduced rough evaluations depending more upon the occurrence of a symptom in different provers. Dr. T.F. Allen, in his Encyclopaedia of Pure Materia Medica introduced similar evaluations, but the number of confirmed or verified symptoms was proportionately much smaller compared to other symptoms obtained from provings or toxicological symptoms.

In Hering's Guiding Symptoms, the emphasis had shifted to confirmed symptoms. Consequently, the proportion of confirmed symptoms to others is much greater. Because of this work, smaller works on Materia Medica, based on characteristics, were born. Does anybody know that Dr. HC. Allen's "Keynotes of Leading Remedies" is based entirely on the "Guiding Symptoms"? Hardly a sentence or word has been changed. This latter book became popular and had numerous reprints, but people forgot the original source. For each drug, Allen selected some of the symptoms from "Guiding Symptoms", according to his sense of priority and his own personal experience. Yet, there are quite a few symptoms that should have been replaced by other more important symptoms, which are lying unnoticed in "Guiding Symptoms".

One can imagine the amount of work done by Hering. He spent his lifetime producing this work, trying to collect verifications and confirmations from all reliable resources. Hering died after publishing the first two volumes and completing part of the third volume. His trusted students and colleagues, Drs. C.G. Raue, C.B. Knerr, and C. Mohr, completed the remaining volumes. Hering knew he would not live to finish this huge assignment. He had trained his successors, and a few weeks before his death gave them the manuscripts and all the instructions for completing his labour of over fifty years. In his humorous way, he said to them, "Perhaps, from my place in Heaven, I may peep through a little hole and see that my work is well done!"

The first volume was published during Hering's life in 1879. The second volume appeared in 1880. After that his successors published the later volumes from 1881 to 1891. It took them ten years to complete the work. Not only Dr. H.C. Allen, but Kent also based his lectures on Hering's "Guiding Symptoms". When he mentions "The Text" in his lectures on Materia Medica, he quotes only the Guiding Symptoms. In his repertory, Hering's symptoms were taken without exception. The greatest debt, however, owed by Kent to Hering, in the construction of his repertory, was the evaluation or grading of the remedies. This was based mostly on Hering's evaluation of the symptoms for a particular drug in his "Guiding Symptoms".

Another beauty of the "Guiding Symptoms" is the mention of various pathological conditions or diseases in which a particular symptom was cured by a particular drug. Hering, at the end of the symptoms in brackets, mentions this. These are confirmations of the provings in particular conditions of disease. The reliability of the symptoms is doubly insured by repeated observations and confirmation on the sick in certain conditions of illness. At the end of the description of a drug in the "Guiding Symptoms", the author has given references for relationship of drugs and hints for comparative study. This again was quite an innovation at that time. The remedy relationships in Allen's "Keynotes" are copied entirely from this source. Thus, Hering also laid the foundations of comparative materia medica. Later on Dr. Farrington and Dr. Clarke enlarged on the comparative study of drugs for a given symptom.

Hering made a very careful and judicious selection of symptoms to be incorporated in his materia Medica. His judgment was influenced by the test of time and experience. There are symptoms appearing in Hahnemann's Materia Medica Pura and Allen's Encyclopaedia, which Hering ignored. Yet, Hering emphasized others, which, though having comparatively lower gradation, were verified and confirmed more often in actual practice. Let us take a minor example regarding Aconite. In "Materia Medica Pura", Hahnemann mentions in bold type "Weakness and laxity of the ligaments of all the joints". This symptom is missing in "Guiding Symptoms". On the other hand, Hering highlighted the symptom: "Numbness of left arm; can scarcely move hand; tingling of fingers. This symptom was confirmed in cases of heart disease. If one reads the Materia Medica Pura of the encyclopaedia, one misses the significance. Hering saw from his own experience, as well as from the experience of others, interesting probabilities and possibilities and confirmed them in practice. Hence he placed such symptoms on a higher pedestal.

Any deep student of Homoeopathic Materia Medica will come to the conclusion that the works like "Guiding Symptoms" need to be revised and allowed to grow in the hands of competent authorities. I cite an example. In studying Aesculus Hipp., under the section "Locality and Direction", he has mentioned a preponderance of symptoms on the right side. Whereas, on the left side, he mentions only four or five symptoms. Kent, in his repertory, in Generalities, followed a similar bias and listed Aesculus as a right-sided remedy in the second grade. However, if one carefully studies Hering's "Guiding Symptoms" one finds the following symptoms on the left side which were not listed under "Locality and Direction; Left side".

  • Left knee, painful and swollen-stiff.
  • Left ankle-tension.
  • Burning left toe.
  • Burning in the dorsum of left toe.
  • Drawing and tearing in left arm extending to tips of fingers.
  • Neuralgic pain in the left arm.
  • Numbness, left arm and hand; left eye and left ear.
  • Soreness left hip and knee joints.
  • Shooting pain in left arm.
  • Twitchings in left arm; left shoulder.
  • Shooting pain in left kidney and left ureter.

One can see how we can reach wrong conclusions through mistakes such as this. There are a few other places where similar omissions have occurred. The writing of a Materia Medica like this is a gigantic task and it is the duty of later generations to revise and improve, adding to what the early giants had contributed. Moreover, this book requires further extension of the existing remedies and an introduction of new remedies, which have not found their place so far. I have proposed to the Publishers that they should bring out additional volumes as appendices so that we make such a book as complete as possible. So much material must have accumulated since 1891. It is discouraging that we are not able to incorporate it. I am, however, glad that the publishers have agreed with my view and may publish subsequent volumes as additional data.

In my study of Materia Medica, and its application in actual practice, I have found that Hering's set has been most invaluable. To own "Guiding Symptoms", I had to pay a fantastic price for each volume in my student days. I have never been sorry for it. I am sure that every Homoeopathic student and practitioner wants to own this set. The profession should be grateful to the Publishers for making it available to everybody. This is an invaluable treasure. The more I study it, the more I am over-awed by the genius of our pioneers.

DR. JUGAL KISHORE
New Delhi-3 B.S.C., D.M.S. (CAL)
August 21, 1971

Further Reading:
If you appreciated this article, you may also enjoy:
Hering's Instruction on the Study of the Materia Medica
Biography of Constantine Hering