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  Principles of Action II

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By: Otto Wolff, M.D.
Principles of Action II:
Homo-Therapy, Homeopathy, Vaccinations, Anthroposophical Medicine

It happens quite frequently in history that a trend that has gone on for too long or has gone too far will sooner or later be superseded by the opposite trend; initially this is almost always rejected and opposed, but it will finally win through and may indeed gain the upper hand. There are many ex­amples of this in the history of science, and the phenomenon may also be seen in the subject under discussion—which is principles of action. Hah­nemann met Galen's onesided contraria contraries curare with a principle that is the direct opposite: similia similibus curentur. The story of how this principle was discovered has been presented in various ways. It finally came to be accepted as a method of therapy known as homeopathy, but having no scientific basis it has never gained scientific recognition. Even to this day the method is, as a rule, thoroughly misunderstood. The general idea is that homeopathy consists in treatment with "dilute" substances. That is not the principle of action, however, but merely a method of ap­plication. Exposure to red light for local inflammations is homeo-therapy, for example. It involves the use of one form of heat to treat another form of heat—the inflammation. The principle thus is to cure like with like, the very one we are considering. It has been used side by side with the op­posite principle since ancient days. If your hands are about to suffer frostbite the application of heat will prevent this—that is taken as a matter of course nowadays. On the other hand, it is possible to develop reactive heat by rubbing the hands with snow and preventing frostbite in this way. The method is known but requires some skill, which is why the younger generation rarely uses it. In general terms this is the principle on which the cold water applications introduced by Kneipp, Hahn, Priessnitz and others are based. In the pharmaceutic application of the principle, Hahnemann used the method of potentization, or dynamization, as he also called it. This is based on dilutions of 1:10 (decimal potencies), 1:100 (centesimal potencies) or 1:50,000 (LM potencies).1 Every step in the process thus consists in dilution on one of those scales, yet Hahnemann rightly and firmly opposed the idea that the method was merely one of dilution, for dilution is not the point here; it is merely a means to an end. As is evident from the terms 'potentization' and 'dynamization', it is a matter of developing powers, and it is these powers that are the heart of the matter. Drugs produced by this method act not through the original material but by the powers that have been liberated. The development of this process meant the realization of a spiritual impulse. Recent investigations have shown that the method of rhythmical dilution of a substance was known in earlier times; it appears to have been part of ancient mystery wisdom. In our consideration of the prin­ciples of action it is of no relevance whether Hahnemann actually read those ancient manuscripts or whether he conceived the idea himself. The point is that the 'spirit-like' or 'essential' powers of which Hahnemann spoke repre­sent the active principle, and not the original material. It is of course true that the powers liberated differ according to the original material used.

It is important to realize that 200 years ago, when Hahnemann evolved the principle, the situation was very different in the field of science. Hah­nemann had extraordinarily subtle powers of observation. He established that there are practically no limits to the process of potentization and that the specific dynamics grow more intense the higher the potency. Objections were raised in his day, and even more so later, that the drug given to the patient no longer contained the active substance; but they were raised by theorists. It was perfectly easy to calculate, at a later date, that a "dilution" to the 23rd decimal stage will no longer contain a single molecule of the original material. It would be pointless to cast doubt on such calculations or even oppose them, for they are perfectly correct (provided they are properly done). The crux of the matter is that these calculations are beside the point, for they can and will only relate to physical matter. The active principle belongs to another sphere, however, to Hahnemann's "spirit-like power." This cannot be measured or evaluated in material terms, nor does it fit into the system of energies as we know them today. Because of this, it would be quite impossible to introduce a method of this kind in the present time. 200 years ago it was still just possible. At that time abstract thinking had not yet developed to the high degree it has reached today, theory did not determine practical application, and validity did not depend on experimental verifica­tion requiring statistical significance to be established.

Above all, however, matter was not yet defined in terms of atoms and molecules. There was still a feeling that physical matter was "where the ways of God end" (Oettinger); i.e., the point where powers became matter. Modern physicists do, of course, consider matter in terms of energy, and put such views into practice (atomic energy). But the process is a sudden one, with force used to "liberate" the powers of light that are bound to matter. At the purely physical level this can only be done by making use of the powers of decay inherent in matter (radioactivity). Forcing the lock results in the sudden unleashing of uncontrollable powers of destruction (atom bomb, production of radioactivity).

The process of potentization does not involve the use of power; the transi­tion from matter to power occurs gradually in a rhythmic process of evolu­tion and may be applied to any kind of material.

The methods used in atomic physics are entirely governed by quantitative and energetic aspects, which is in line with modern thinking in that field; qualitative aspects do not come into it. Potentization, on the other hand, in­volves the liberation of the specific quality of the powers inherent in a sub­stance. The modes of thinking of present-day atomic physicists therefore have no relevance when we wish to gain further insights into the process of potentization.

The similia similibus curentur principle of action bases itself on the similarity, or inner relationship, of disease and medicinal agent. To the modern way of thinking, where opposing forces are practically the only ac­cepted principle of action, the use of the very element that has provoked the presenting disease must seem downright absurd, for that element, one would think, must surely make the condition worse. That would indeed be the case if the medicinal agent were given in material doses. It does happen in the case of "initial aggravations." An experienced physician will know that the right drug has been chosen in that case; he will wait until the reac­tion has died down and then repeat the drug in a higher potency. It will be immediately obvious that such aggravations will be less common if cen­tesimal potencies are used and hardly ever occur with LM potencies (1:50,000). Apart from this, it depends on the individual case; initial ag­gravations may even occur after a 20x potency.

The active principle in potentized drugs is not the original material but the powers inherent in it. The action therefore addresses not the physical or­ganism and its material components but the powers inherent in it. These may be clearly differentiated into etheric body, astral body and ego-or­ganization. Effective powers are exhibited, and they are recognized by the corresponding force organizations of the human being. This is not a process of conscious recognition, for that would be at the level of mind and spirit; nor is it a physico-chemical effect, for matter is not involved. A dynamic principle is exhibited and at a profoundly unconscious level the organism perceives it to be identical with the disease process. At this level the organism accurately perceives the nature of its disease to be like the mirror image of the dynamics exhibited by the drug. Homeopaths are therefore right in referring to the disease by the name of the drug: they are identical. A homeopathic drug will therefore be all the more effective the closer the clinical picture corresponds to the drug proving. Homeopathic drug diag­nosis is based on the identity between pathological syndrome and drug proving. It is therefore perfectly justifiable to look for the specific drug that corresponds to the syndrome and give only this one drug, for it matches the idea of the syndrome in its totality. The problem is that correspondence is very often incomplete.

It should indeed be possible to find a drug for every illness. However, the number of substances, plants, animal products, etc. is legion, and the prob­lem is not only to produce all relevant drug pictures but also to find the ap­propriate drug in a given case, the number of clinical pictures being equally vast. Much work has been done in this area (repertorization, Kent), but the increasing volume of data is setting limits to their practical application.

The greater the correspondence between clinical syndrome and drug pic­ture the higher may be the potency selected, and the action will be more in­tense. Ideally, the drug picture should contain the whole clinical picture. That is also the reason why there are no side effects with homeopathy. The whole of the symptomatology is the principal action.

Lower potencies may be used if agreement is only partial, and somewhere or other the point will clearly be reached where the action is that of a material dose. A 1x potency is no more than a 10% concentration. Potentiz­ing involves rhythmical processing, and after the first step (1x) this has not yet come into effect. Several steps are required for this. The borderline be­tween material and potentized action lies at a different point for each sub­stance. Extremely active substances such as hormones or poisons are after all power centers and may be considered dynamized in this sense. Thus Apis or Belladonna already show dynamic activity in the 3x; quartz on the other hand does not develop dynamic, as distinct from substantial, activity in the lower potencies. It depends on whether a substance is more sulphuric or salinic.

It is perfectly possible to make "homeopathic" use of conventional drugs such as Phenacetinum 3x or Glonoinum (= Nitroglycerinum) 4x. If they are very powerful, 0.1 or 0.01 per dose will be sufficient to achieve the desired effect. One would, however, be deceiving oneself and misleading others by calling this homeopathy. There can, of course, be no doubt that sensitive subjects will sometimes respond better to such attenuated doses than to the powerful doses that are generally used. Extremely active substances may still be effective in dilutions corresponding to the 16x or even 18x (acetyl­choline, for example). This has nothing to do with potency action; it is a material effect. In this case it is quite correct to speak of dilutions, and it is possible to do so up to the 23x at the most. Yet for as long as homeopathy is considered to have to do with the activity of attenuated doses we remain at the level of material substance and fail to see the essential point. Hah­nemann understood this perfectly well, but many of his followers who want to be up-to-date, and for this reason use only low potencies (up to 6x), do not.

On the other hand, we would be deceiving ourselves if we were to think that Digitalis 6x will do just as well in the treatment of congestive heart failure as a standardized tincture. The drug picture of Digitalis, and relative­ly high potencies are indicated with this, does not relate to congestive heart failure.

The homeopathic principle is based on profound insights into the inner connection between human beings and nature. Hahnemann made no specific reference to this, however, and his followers have shown little inter­est in the deeper reasons. Most of them have been practitioners, and they be­came so fascinated with the tremendous therapeutic potential that was part of everyday experience that they never inquired into the whys and wherefores, particularly also because scientific progress has meant that fun­damental questions were increasingly considered of less importance than is­sues of practical application.

It was Rudolf Steiner who showed the way in which real understanding could again be gained of the relationship between human beings and na­ture, between spirit and matter. The formative impulses that have given rise to individual organs can be traced back to their cosmic origins in real terms. These impulses influenced the earth, and in the process of evolution plants and/or metals have developed that correspond to the development of par­ticular organs. Thus digitalis purpurea came into being as the human heart was evolving. In the same way, equisetum corresponds to the image of the kidney in the plant world. In the sphere of metals, copper corresponds to the kidney, gold to the heart, etc. The same applies to the animal world. Every animal represents an isolated trend in human evolution. In other words, the human being is the summary of the animal kingdom. Such in­sights into the connection between human beings and the kingdoms of na­ture are the basis of the anthroposophic way of choosing the appropriate drug.

Due to the state of the art in his time, Hahnemann was unable to use such a basis. Instead, he used an experimental method, basing himself on the syndrome produced in drug tests. He was ahead of his time in using an ex­perimental basis. Since his day, development has taken a direction that has led to the experimental approach being completely overvalued, so that today it is considered more or less the only valid source of knowledge. In this respect the anthroposophic way of choosing the appropriate drug, which rests on direct spiritual insights and not on experiment, is an ap­proach that overcomes a onesided development and is ahead of its time in taking an essential step forward in human evolution.

In what way can a drug capable of evoking a specific syndrome cure the same syndrome when it arises spontaneously as a disease? The best known attempt at explaining this makes use of the Arndt-Schulz law, according to which strong stimuli inhibit or abolish physiologic activity while weak stimuli increase it. This law can certainly be shown to be true in very many cases, particularly where low potencies are concerned. What happens in the case of higher and indeed very high potencies, however? Does the stimulant effect still apply? The first to consider this question systematically and on an experimental basis was L. Kolisko. Studying the effect of substances on plant growth, in potencies up to 30x, she was able to show that a number of peaks and troughs occurred. To date no work has been done with unbroken sequences up to, say, 200x or above, and it is easy to see why, since the amount of work involved would be prodigious. At the same time, such an experimental series would not contribute much to our understanding of potency action; it would merely show that something does happen, not what it is and why it happens. That is a question of epistemology.

An example may help us to gain insight into this mode of action. In the prodromal stages of influenza, a cold or the like, people develop chills, neuralgic pain, weariness, etc. The same symptoms are noted after taking Aconitum nap., and the drug is therefore indicated for this type of syndrome. Massive doses would undoubtedly cause an aggravation. Why, then, does a 30x help, and how does it do so? Careful observation will show that it does not simply make the symptoms disappear; instead the subject grows warm and may even sweat. It means that the influenza or cold is ac­tually running its course, but within a shorter period of time and in a very mild form. The drug elicits a reaction that is very much to the point; without it the organism would produce the same reaction at a later point in time and in a much stronger form. The indicated drug enables the organism to develop all such reactions much earlier and therefore less acutely. It is evi­dent that the organism will only "notice" the chill or infection it has sus­tained at a much later point in time. Defense mechanisms come into effect when the chill has persisted for some time, or the viruses have taken firm hold. The indicated drug can be said to show the illness to the organism at an early point in time, enabling it to take the right steps in good time. This mode of action may be called "anticipation," for an effective reaction is begun in time. It relies on the fact that the drug helps the organism to recog­nize its illness. Such "recognition" is not at the level of the conscious mind, of course; it proceeds at the organic level, though there are various strata to this. If the morbid process is just starting, relatively high potencies such as the 30x will be required, for it has not yet descended to the actual physical or organic level. When that is the case, i.e., when physical reactions such as a raised temperature, increased tissue iron levels and so on are occurring, the medicinal action has to be at the metabolic level, in this case with the aid of low potencies (Aconitum 4x).

Anticipation can also be seen if we consider the medicinal action of Phos­phorus. It is indicated in febrile conditions but will stimulate combustion, i.e., one would expect it to enhance the fever. In reality Phosphorus stimu­lates combustion and thus anticipates the febrile reaction which is then no longer necessary. This means that the indication of Phosphorus in homeopathic doses for febrile conditions is not based on the fact that larger doses cause a rise in temperature and dilution weakens or reverses this ef­fect, but on the fact that the action is exactly of that kind, but coming ahead of time makes it unnecessary to produce a high temperature reaction at the physical and organic level. In general terms it may be said that the homeopathic healing principle consists in facing the organism with its own illness by exhibiting the drug, thus enabling it to recognize and overcome the disease at the organic level.

It is evident that this relates in some way to vaccination. The use of active immunizing agents stimulates resistance to a specific disease, which then develops to some degree but does not become overt. There are some points in common, but on more careful observation it is evident that the mode of action is completely different. In the first place, vaccination is done at a point in time when the organism may not necessarily be susceptible to the disease (this is, of course, considered one of the advantages). A much more important point is that the organism is forced to react to vaccination, even though it may not be prepared for this. The problem of the variable degree of protection afforded by vaccination has to do with this. A homeopathic medicine is used when the symptomatology presents itself, or at an early stage and in that case in higher potency. As has been shown, the mode of ac­tion consists in presenting the disease to the organism, so that it becomes recognizable. There is no coercion, however, and freedom is maintained. That is probably, the most striking difference from other forms of medica­tion, and particularly chemotherapy. In the latter case, a dose-dependent drug action will always occur, as shown in the last paper, using a hypnotic as an example. In other words, vaccination prevents the disease and no ef­fort is made to come to terms with it. Homeopathy, on the other hand, makes morbid symptoms unnecessary by anticipating them; the organism is coming to terms at a higher level.

This also helps us to understand the action of high and very high poten­cies. The reversed effect we have been referring to occurs after relatively few potentization steps. We are indebted to W. Pelikan for experimental evidence that it is not the degree of dilution that determines the action but the potentizing stage; i.e., it essentially makes no difference whether decimal or centesimal potencies are used. The difference does matter at low potency levels, because one is still dealing with material doses. With reference to the concentration of original material, a 3x is in fact equivalent to a 6x. With higher potencies, on the other hand, it is pointless to speak of dilution in any sense and make calculations on this basis.

As already mentioned, Hahnemann himself had found that there are practically no limits to potentization. He used c potencies only, but found that administration of a 200c, for instance, could have irreversible effects. Toward the end of his life he published the method for producing LM potencies in the 6th edition of his Organon 2, "to achieve the best possible development of powers." These potencies do not produce an initial ag­gravation, nor do they lead to undesirable reactions. It was due to Hering that decimal potencies came to be generally used in Germany; the French on the other hand continued to use centesimal potencies, which also came to be widely accepted in the Western world. In South America, for example, homeopathic physicians tend to use extremely high potencies (200c to cmm = ten million); these are machine-made, which takes only a relatively short time but is deviating completely from the directions given by Hahnemann.

As already stated, near to material doses may provoke initial aggrava­tions, a phenomenon that on the whole is limited to low potency stages. Higher and extremely high potencies may elicit quite a different type of reaction; earlier illnesses may recur, for example. This is not an initial ag­gravation but an essential stage in the healing process. In past times physicians were very much aware that chronic diseases can be cured by first of all taking them into the acute stage which is then properly cured and not suppressed. It is generally the custom to suppress diseases nowadays by symptomatic treatment; chronic diseases or secondary and tertiary condi­tions are the consequence. "Unwinding" the disease; i.e., retrogressive metamorphosis of the morbid process, is a principle of therapeutic action. It may be achieved with relatively high potencies, but also with a mustard pack, for instance (to activate chronic bronchitis), with sulphur given per os, hot baths, and other measures.

Why is it that a relatively high or very high potency can have this effect? Hahnemann spoke of "spirit-like powers" that are liberated in the process of dynamization or potentization. Reading the original text, one senses the problems he had in defining the quality of these powers. It would be an un­acceptable simplification to call them etheric powers and say that they act on the ether body, though it is true that the ether body forms the transition to the physical body. A genuine cure also involves the astral body and the ego. In my earlier paper, iron served as an example to show that the over­coming of "non-self" is an ego problem. Basically this applies to every ill­ness. Etheric, astral, and ego powers are, of course, completely different from each other, but they all relate to the kingdoms of nature and thus to physical substances and their powers. When substances came into being, powers were bound to matter (e.g., Mars powers in iron, and so on); the potentizing process releases these powers. The higher the potency the far­ther we are from matter and the closer to the essence. With reference to the human organization this means—to quote Rudolf Steiner—that material doses up to the 4x or 6x act in the material and metabolic region, medium potencies (8x - 15x) in the rhythmic system, and higher potencies (20x - 30x) in the neuro-sensory system. The functions of the latter do indeed relate to powers (light, sound, thought) rather than substances. Yet the human being does not come to an end at this point, for he is an open system, open to the regions of the spirit as well as those of matter.

The process of substance coming into and going out of existence may also be considered in relation to the incarnation process. The essential human being is spiritual; it unites to some degree—though never completely—with matter and substance and then leaves it again. It has been suggested that potentized medicines present the disease to the organism as though in a mirror, enabling it to recognize and overcome it at the organic level, and in­deed making it in a sense superfluous. The use of extremely high potencies has this kind of effect at a very high level, no longer at the organic level but in some instances in spheres that are not even incarnated; these are spheres where the foundations for the illness are laid by higher powers with the aim of giving the individual an opportunity to correct things by overcoming the illness. When an illness is come to terms with at the organic level, the in­dividual is doing the work himself; if on the other hand this happens at high levels where there is no longer any connection to the organic process, it is entirely probable that the illness is taken away from the individual, who will miss out on the experience, evading the issue. This may well be the reason why Rudolf Steiner said that with the use of high potencies the ac­tion was beyond comprehension.

In a way, extremely high potencies and symptomatic treatment or vac­cination have gone through a similar kind of evolution, an enhancement of action based on onesidedness. The higher the potency the more spiritual and powerful its action, but at the same time the indication is greatly nar­rowed down and must be extremely accurate. The principle of selecting the strongest by chemotherapy has also led to undreamt-of intensity and rapidity of action, again in the direction of highly specific, narrowed-down indications. Both are highly effective in use if indicated, there can be no doubt about that. Both will inhibit the disease, though in different ways. Extremely high potencies cause the karmic foundations of the disease to be taken away at their point of origin, so that the human being is relieved of them; symptomatic therapy and vaccination inhibit the process at the material, substantial level, and reaction on the part of the organism is block­ed. Genuine therapy has its sphere of action in the middle between these two. It helps the individual to overcome the illness and emerge stronger than before. The medicament mediates the physician's therapeutic idea for the patient. The medical man is thus the medium, the mediator of cosmic healing powers for human beings. In past ages healing was felt to consist in finding and regaining the center, the middle. It is not matter that is the true medicament, nor is it spirit grown completely independent of the earth and the processes relating to matter. The true medicament "heals because it is on the way to the spirit," as Rudolf Steiner put it.4

*Based on lectures given at the Easter Conference for Anthroposophical Physicians. Part I appeared in Beitr Erw Heilk, 336:3, pages 78-85,1983.


1. See also Daems, W., "Die Entwicklung des Potenzierungsverfahrens von Hahnemann bis heute" in Potenzierte Heilmittel, V. Itschner ed. Stuttgart: Fr. Geistesleben, 1971.

2. Ibid., "Wirkungsnachweis potenzierter Substanzen durch Pflanzen­wachstumsversuche."

3. See Spiess, Beitr Erw Heilk; 17:94, 1964

4. Steiner, R., The Four Seasons and the Archangels, 1923 (GA 229), Tr. C. Davy, D.S. Osmond, London, Rudolf Steiner Press, 1968.

Author's address: Auf der Hohe 10, CH 4144 Arlesheim, Switzerland.

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