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Installment 13 of a series on case analysis

© Will Taylor, MD 2001 (bio)


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Section 2

Refining the Process of Proving

Hahnemann collected pathogenic symptoms from a variety of sources. As the science and art of homeopathy grew under his care, he refined his notion of what constituted the most useful and reliable ways of bringing out proving symptoms. Early provings were dominated by the use of crude, toxic or near-toxic doses, from both intentional and accidental exposures.

Hahnemann did not need to look far for "accidental" provings of such remedies as the Arsenicum and Mercurius salts, or botanicals such as Jalapa or Belladonna. These substances were widely used in old-school medicine, and we have only to reflect on such comments as Benjamin Rush's shouts to a street crowd of Philadelphia during a cholera epidemic, "give them all calomel - give them calomel until they drool" to harvest proving symptoms of Mercurius dulcis (Mouth-salivation: Merc-d[2] ).

A New Rationale
- not a New Pharmacopoeia

Many of Hahnemann's early remedies were substances in use by the old-school medicine of his day; his contribution was not a new pharmacopoeia, but a new rationale for the use of existing medicinal substances, based on the symptoms brought out in the healthy.

In The Medicine of Experience (1806), Hahnemann recommended "to ascertain the effects of the medicinal agents, we must give only one pretty strong dose to the temperate healthy ... when the action of the first dose is fully over, a similar or even a stronger portion ... For medicines that are weaker we require ... a considerable dose ..."

HelleborusIn a letter in the Neues Archiv. (1813), he gave Stapf directions for the proving of Helleborus: "Add a drop of the tincture to eight ounces of water and one drachm of alcohol; shake well, and take an ounce every hour and a half or two hours until some decided effects are produced."

These crude-dose provings often included exposures to substances that may not appear to shine of scientific sophistication, but they do bring an element of humanity and humor to our practice.

Among the provers of the following compounds, we have:

  • Cuprum:
    (must be read with a British accent)
    A lady, aet. 67, her daughter, aet. 39, a maidservant, aet. 22, ate a fricassée of fowls that had been cooked in a badly-tinned copper pan
    [Hughes, Cyclopaedia of Drug Pathogenesy]
  • BufoLatrodectus mactans:
    September 4, 1853 I was called to see Mr. D. at Old Point, who had been bitten by a small, black spider on the prepuce, whilst on the privy seat at 12.30 O'clock.
    [Dr. Samuel. A. Jones; Homeopathic Recorder, July, 1889]
  • Bufo:
    Effects of a toad jumping into the mouth and entering the stomach during sleep [in TF Allen]

The Proving of Sepia

Ernest Farrington chronicled for us the fortuitous initial proving of Sepia, in his Clinical Materia Medica:


"It is stated on the authority of Dr. Hering that an intimate friend and patient of Hahnemann, an artist, was in the habit of wetting his brush, containing India ink, with his saliva. Failing to cure him of his chronic ailments, Hahnemann suggested the ink as the probable cause of his persistent symptoms.

The artist doubted this, but nevertheless modified his custom by covering the lips with a thin layer of sponge moistened with water, the mouth being protected by an impervious though pliable shield, and his obscure illness shortly passed away. Hahnemann then instituted provings with the Sepiae succus."

Next : Hahnemann Publishes His Provings

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