Interview by Evelyn Einhaeuser
What is homeopathy and what are the origins of homeopathy?
Based on principles known and used since the time of Hippocrates in ancient Greece, homeopathy, as we know it, was first systematised by a German doctor, Samuel Hahnemann (1755 –1843) and has since spread worldwide. It is a safe and effective form of medicine that has stood the test of time and an invitation to live life in harmony with our deepest nature. It offers a real alternative to anyone looking for a more natural approach to healing. For more than two hundred years, homeopathy has proved itself to be extremely effective in treating a vast range of ailments, ranging from acute infectious illnesses to deep-seated chronic conditions.
Emotional states such as depression, as well as psychological disorders and psychiatric complaints, respond especially well to homeopathic treatment, as do challenges of a more specifically spiritual nature. The term ‘homeopathy’ was coined by Hahnemann, in the late 18th century from two Greek words: hómoios, “like” and páthos, “suffering” to describe the new system he had developed. Born out of deep dissatisfaction with medicine as it was then practiced, Hahnemann created a unique synthesis of alchemy, traditional herbal medicine and esoteric understanding which, in the hands of a qualified practitioner, has proven to be a powerful and effective tool for healing and transformation.
How does homeopathy understand the human structure?
It understands that humans exist as body/mind. We live and function on the levels of our physiology (physical body), our mental and emotional states (mind) and our consciousness (spirit). All of these are interrelated and impact the others. Our health and well being depend on the balancing and integration of these levels of being.
Homeopathy also recognises that there is a “higher purpose” to life than merely being consumers; that our lives are soul journeys, each individual bringing unique patterns of challenges and opportunities for growth.
A homeopath recognises that all symptoms of ill health, whether physical, emotional, mental or spiritual, are merely expressions of an underlying cause – an imbalance in the patient’s energy. We all have an inbuilt mechanism for healing that when blocked or imbalanced gives rise to what we call disease. This imbalance can be triggered by many common factors – genetic, upbringing, social status, trauma etc., but our reaction to these is uniquely personal.
No two individuals will suffer in exactly the same way, nor present with exactly the same symptoms. To a homeopath, these symptoms are the mechanisms a patient has developed for survival and need to be handled with great care. Suppression of these mechanisms chemically or behaviourally can be extremely damaging and leave a patient at great risk of developing more serious symptoms and ultimately prolonging their suffering.
Rather than controlling or indeed suppressing these symptoms with powerful, toxic and often mind-altering drugs, the homeopath will prescribe safe, natural remedies. These are individually selected and dispensed in minute doses, to stimulate the patient’s energies and thereby rectify the underlying imbalance. The homeopathically-prescribed remedy stimulates the energy, then the body/mind wisdom, the inbuilt healing mechanism takes over and continues the healing process. By treating the source of the illness in this way, patients experience a gentle return to health. Their symptoms gradually disappear without any of the potential complications or dangers of conventional medication and they emerge from their healing journey energetically stronger, more balanced. With this new strength and resilience, they will be healthier on all levels and better able to manage their life’s circumstances.
What was Hahnemanns’ view on the spirit and life force and how has homeopathy changed since Hahnemann in your view?
Hahnemann’s views on healing are expanded in great length in a series of aphorisms in his seminal work, The Organon Of The Medical Art. In aphorism 9 he states: “In the healthy human state, the spirit-like life force that enlivens the material organism as dynamis, governs without restriction and keeps all parts of the organism in admirable, harmonious, vital operation, as regards feelings and functions, so that our indwelling, rational spirit can freely avail itself of this living, healthy instrument for the higher purposes of our existence.”
This, for me, sums up his view clearly. He recognised, like the yogis and shamans before him, and the quantum physicists who came after, that that all existence is fundamentally energy. Health and disease on all levels are due to this energy being in or out of balance. From the above aphorism it is clear to me that Hahnemann considers this balance to be the prerequisite for our spirit’s freedom and the realisation of our own higher purpose. A noble vision indeed!
During his life, Hahnemann wrote six editions of his Organon, each one revising, often radically, what he had written before, constantly searching for the best possible way of practicing his new medical art. His work has been added to, expanded and revised since by many dedicated homeopaths and homeopathy has developed enormously. We now have a vastly increased store of remedies available to us; a much deeper understanding of their field of action and a much more sophisticated view of human nature. Computers and the internet have also made available to us the works of all the great masters of homeopathy and have become indispensable tools for our daily work.
You have also learnt from indigenous healing traditions that work with natural remedies. What is different in their understanding and usage of plants? What have you learnt from these traditions?
When I first travelled to Peru, the teacher I came to work with asked me about my work. In broken Spanish, I tried to speak about what I did and how I work with homeopathic remedies. He struggled while I tried to explain how these were energy medicines, made by a process of dilution and succussion, until finally he burst into a big grin of recognition. “You work with spirit medicine; you work with the spirits of the plants and animals!”, he said. “That’s what we do here in the jungle”. And he was right, we do the same things.
What the indigenous healers have (and what we have often forgotten) is a strong connection to the earth and all its web of life. For them everything is connected, all life is sacred. Illness is what happens when we forget our place in this hoop of life, lose contact with our true nature.
They use medicine from their natural environment to help their patients reconnect to themselves and to their place in the grand scheme of things. Their relationship to nature and spirit is both deeply intimate and respectful. Their teachers are the plants and animals themselves. They observe them carefully, listen to them and use their medicine to bring their patients back to themselves, to heal their bodies and souls.
Through travel and study with many indigenous healers I have learnt to trust nature and the environment to provide what is necessary for the healing process. I learnt about new plants and techniques for healing; came to understand concepts such as soul loss (where patients have lost part of their essential nature through trauma etc.) and the power of creating appropriate intentions and holding space for my work with myself and my patients.
Through your work with these indigenous healers you have rediscovered some plants like Tabernanthe Iboga. Can you say a little bit about these plants, how they are used by indigenous traditions, how you use them in your practice now and why they have not been used extensively in homeopathy in the past?
Plants have been used medicinally by traditional healers from the dawn of time. What interested me was how each tradition I came into contact with had certain plants that were considered to be teacher or master plants. These have been typically used ceremonially for millennia for initiation, deep healing and rites of passage and were considered to be the most important plants. Their exact nature may vary depending on the environment, but from Lapland to the Amazon and from India to the Andes the reverence of the teacher/master plant as a plant of the gods was universal.
Living in a culture without rites of passage, where people are experiencing soul loss and being challenged to open up to their true potential but have no appropriate context for this, I feel that there is tremendous need for medicine that supports this process. Patients often present to their doctors with these states only to be diagnosed as psychotic, delusional or even schizophrenic. In traditional indigenous cultures these would be recognised for what they are, spiritual emergence states and patients supported by these plants of the gods.
Traditional use of these plants typically involves formal rituals and often physically challenging purging through vomiting and diarrhoea. Patients are prepared mentally and physically for this by fasting and cleansing and supported by the healer and community in integrating the experience. The plants themselves are often intensely psychoactive and need careful handling and dosage.
Until the twentieth century these plants have been unknown outside of their local environment and so have not been included in traditional homeopathic texts. Because of their consciousness-altering characteristics, outside of their traditional context these are often considered to be drugs and legislated against in the same way as drugs of abuse, such as heroin and cocaine.
As a homeopathic remedy uses the energy of these plants rather than their chemistry, these can be used in a gentler, legally-sound way in homeopathic practice to bring about the kind of soul healing that traditional healers aspire to.
How can homeopathy support us in finding and connecting to our life path? (can you give examples from your practice)?
Homeopathy helps us reconnect to the parts of ourselves that we have forgotten and helps us re-integrate that which was lost. It gently releases trauma from our bodies and souls and helps us heal our pain. With deep homeopathic work our life path becomes clearer and we become empowered to live our higher purpose.
Patients present to my practice with a wide variety of diagnoses such as cancer, heart disease and all manner of psychological conditions, such as anxiety, obsessions, depression etc. Many will have suffered abuse (often sexual), bereavement and other deep trauma. Often they are looking to address ancestral wounds that have been carried through the generations. It is my privilege to work with these patients, to help them gently meet the challenges they are presented with and support them in their reconnection with the source of their healing.
What role does spirituality play in in the life of a healer according to your view?
The term spirituality itself is a tricky one! It means different things to different people. For me it speaks of a dimension beyond the physical, material world that supports and nourishes me, calls me home to my true purpose. It is my source of love and compassion and inspiration to live my life as fully as I can and what has sustained me in my work with patients.
As someone who works deeply with my patients, I feel the need to be resourced as deeply as I can. Part of the shadow (in the Jungian sense) of the caring professions is the “burnout” or exhaustion that many carers suffer from. It has been a source of great concern to me that many of the most caring healers that I have known have died from cancer, after having lived lives of sacrifice for their patients. My philosophy is that all care should be rooted in self-care; paraphrasing Jesus, loving our patients as ourselves. Spirituality is central to this in my world.
Understanding plants and the knowledge of natural remedies has had a long tradition in Europe, but much of the knowledge has been lost. What have we Europeans forgotten in our understanding and connection to plants and nature?
Much of our knowledge of plants and their usage in Europe was lost through the persecution and killing of traditional healers through the medieval Inquisition. Material science since then has fractured that connection further by focussing on the parts of the plants, their so-called active components. Nature provides plants where they are needed, in the form that they are most useful. Isolating these active substances from the others in the plant often produces a more powerful medicine but this processes increases the toxicity of their use and removes the patients and their healers from the natural order.
How can we regain the knowledge of the past? Can we reconnect to it in your view or receive it somehow?
We can learn so much by observing and studying indigenous cultures who haven’t forgotten their own past; who live and respect their own traditions. Each culture has its own expression, often determined by factors such as geography and climate. What interests me are the common threads that each of these share, and exploring how I can use them in my own life and work.
I have learnt so much from these cultures but I didn’t grow up in the Amazon or African rain forests. I grew up in Ireland, where we have a long and deep connection to the land and spirit. This connection has been fractured throughout our history through colonialisation by invaders and Christianity. Using tools and techniques that I have learnt from the indigenous cultures, I find that it is possible to reconnect to some of the lost knowledge of plants, healing and spirit that is is my heritage as an indigenous Irishman.
Homeopathy has always respected these traditions and learnt from them. Nearly all the remedies that Hahnemann and the early homeopaths gave us came from local herbal or alchemical sources. Hahnemann also gave us many tools that we can use to learn from the substances themselves. His methods of medicine preparation (potentisation) and testing (provings) give us deep insights into how these substances may be used and what their healing potential is. These methods have stood the test of time and have given us thousands of new remedies to use in our practices that have been previously unavailable.
What are the challenges for modern homeopathy?
Most of the literature in homeopathy dates from the last centuries, simpler times without the sophisticated understandings of psychology and medical sciences that we have today, Some of the language in the early writings is reactionary in its tone and these writings are often dated in their attitudes and mind-set. Much of this literature needs to be languaged more appropriately for the modern student.
From my perspective as a teacher of homeopathy, one of the greatest challenges is the lack of an energy model for our work. We recognise health and disease as energetic in nature; our remedies are energy medicines but our texts have no models (such as the Tantric chakra system or the meridians of Chinese medicine) to describe these phenomena. Essentially we are a 21st century science using often 19th century language and concepts. Much of my research work is about developing a new energy framework to meet this need.
Ironically, some of the other challenges for homeopathy are actually due to its successes. The profession has spread across the globe and has been accepted gratefully by millions of patients looking for a more gentle approach to healing. From its earliest days, homeopathy has been dismissed by those interests (medical or political) who were challenged by its ideas. These reactions have never deterred its public acceptance. In fact, the last thirty years have seen a veritable explosion in its use worldwide.
As a reaction to this, in recent years, homeopathy has come under sustained attack from a number of mostly web-based organisations, usually funded by large pharmaceutical companies. These have been loudly denouncing and ridiculing its philosophy and lobbying governments to restrict and even ban its practice. As homeopaths we have a wonderful opportunity to respond creatively to these attacks; to learn to use the new technologies available to present our work in a good light and allow it to shine brightly.
What have you personally learnt from your study and experience in homeopathy? What perceptions on health and healing that you have held maybe at the beginning of your practice have been challenged and changed?
My study and practice of homeopathy has given me a wonderful structure and context to meet life’s challenges. Like most people, I’ve had my share of challenges, bereavements, health and family issues. Homeopathy has eased my pain, helped make my soul purpose clearer and steadied my way along the path.
It has also given me a deep understanding of the soul patterns that we as individuals, as nations, humanity as a part of the global web of life, share. It has enabled me to see, share and hold for my patients the potential for healing and transformation in all that life presents to us, the greater the challenge, the greater potential for change.
My earliest thoughts about health and healing were coloured by my training in psychology. According to this patients’ problems were due to their upbringing, families etc. These were caused by something or somebody else outside themselves. I noticed that this often generated a “victim” mentality that left the patient stuck in cycles of blame and pain. Gradually I learned that it may not always be possible to choose our life’s circumstances but we can always chose our responses to these; we always have the potential to transform our pain, to change and heal our lives.
What do you feel is missing in the perception of healing nowadays?
Sadly what is often missing in this is the confusion about what healing actually is. We live in an culture where the “problem” (disease, terrorism, environmental issues etc) is always outside us, something to be fixed, gotten rid of, to be cured. Everything has to be fixed, short term results achieved. This focusing on the “cure” leads only to symptomatic relief and short term results. It is often toxic and suppressive in its nature and gives rise to the countless new diseases and global problems we see today.
From a patient’s perspective “healing” must involve the whole picture; the understanding that all symptoms of ill health, whether physical, emotional, mental or spiritual, are merely expressions of an underlying cause – an imbalance in the patient’s energy. This imbalance can be triggered by many common factors – genetic, upbringing, social status, trauma etc., but our reaction to these is uniquely personal. No two individuals will suffer in exactly the same way, nor present with exactly the same symptoms.
How to find a good homeopath?
Most countries worldwide now have registers for homeopaths who have undergone professional training, such as The Irish Society of Homeopaths http://www.irishhomeopathy.ie/homeopaths/
in my country. These will provide a good starting point for your search. Word of mouth and recommendations from current or past patients is also useful, as are web searches. In the end it will come down to the quality of connection you feel with your prospective homeopath. You will likely be sharing very personal and intimate details with him/her. Be sure that the energy is right for you, that you resonate and feel comfortable with this person. Ask whatever questions you need to have answered (fees, qualifications, experience etc.) before committing. It is your soul journey after all!
How can I become a homeopath?
If you feel called to become a homeopath, I suggest you contact the relevant professional body in your country for details of the local homeopathic training institutions. Have a look at their websites, interview the staff, ask for referrals to current and past students and once again, trust your gut feeling. Does this feel like a place that will support and nurture your desire to be the best homeopath you can be?
Can you say a little bit about your school, what is its scope, how long is the training, when did you start it, etc.?
The Irish School of Homeopathy http://ish.ie opened its doors in 1989 in Dublin, Ireland. Its courses were originally based on a Dutch teaching model, academic in its approach. I became involved in 1992 when we restructured the School to focus on clinical excellence, professional practice and personal development. The curriculum covers all the theoretical knowledge and clinical experience necessary to set up and run a successful, sustainable homeopathic practice.
The School’s basic professional training course takes 4 years. This offers a deep immersion in the study and practice of homeopathy and often a journey of great personal discovery for students. The School also provides post-graduate training and supervision for those already in practice and short courses for people new to homeopathy.
When the School started, homeopathy was a relatively unknown profession in Ireland. Over the last 25 years nearly 500 graduates have completed the professional training and countless more have been introduced to homeopathy through its beginner courses.
What is the future of homeopathy? What do you hope for homeopathy in the future?
I was introduced to homeopathy in 1976. At the time it was very much a niche medicine, practiced only by a handful of, often elderly, doctors. Since then schools have sprung up on every continent and thousands of excellent practitioners have qualified. It has become the second most widespread medicine practiced worldwide; is currently used by 1 in 4 EU citizens and (according to the Irish Times) is among the top ten careers of the coming decade.
If the profession can rise creatively to the challenges of the current onslaught of web-based attacks, I see the future of homeopathy as being extremely bright. As Mahatma Gandhi said: “First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win”.
Declan Hammond is co-founder and former director of The Irish School of Homeopathy, a homeopath, transpersonal therapist and shamanic practitioner. His life and work have been a passionate search for the most effective healing tools for himself and his patients. This journey has taken him all over the globe studying Eastern and Western approaches to healing, tantra yoga and traditional shamanic practices. Declan has developed a unique synthesis of these ancient and modern healing techniques and works with individuals and groups to empower deep personal growth, healing and spiritual transformation. Declan has a huge passion for teaching, sharing his experiences and skills. He began teaching shortly after he started practicing, first in Denmark, then in India and the Far East. He has since taught in England, Holland, Sweden, Iceland, Finland, Israel, New Zealand and Ireland and is a regular guest speaker at homeopathic conferences. He is co-founder and former director of The Irish School of Homeopathy in Dublin, where he also runs a successful practice (www.facebook.com/soulmedicineireland; firstname.lastname@example.org)