This book review is reprinted with the permission of the National Center for Homeopathy
Animal Mind, Human Voices
Provings of Eight New Animal Remedies
by Nancy Herrick, PA
1998, softbound, 407 pages, $39.95
Reviewed by Richard Moskowitz, MD, DHt
This is an important and useful book by one of the finest homeopaths in the world today. Arising from Hahnemann's first experiments with China in 1790, provings have always been part of the definition of homeopathy, distinguishing it from all other forms of medicine and healing, and providing an experimental foundation for the action of medicines on human beings that could be of great value to the medical profession as a whole. Most of all, they have given us a practical tool for the education and training-of students,
1) by cultivating students' inner awareness of the changes elicited by remedies in themselves as a basis for identifying and paying attention to the sufferings of their patients, and
2) by showing how detailed symptomatology of many individuals can be used to compose a portrait of the essential themes and common features of the remedy as a whole.
Yet in spite of the honorific status paid to them, usually in the form of lip service, very few practitioners bother to undertake new provings today. In our own defense, it could perhaps be argued that the herculean task of mastering known remedies must take precedence over adding yet more to the list since the huge quantities of time and energy consumed by provings must be subtracted from the already limited quota available for patient care.
In any case, the many new provings now being published represent a long-overdue return to fundamentals that is good cause for celebration. The work of Rajan Sankaran and his group in India and Jeremy Sherr and his students in the UK have provided useful insights into remedies both old and new, including Strontium carb Ambra grisea, Anhalonium, and Crotalus cascavella in the one case, and Scorpion, Hydrogen, and Chocolate in the other. Likewise, we all owe David Riley a debt of gratitude for his double-blind protocols, however vain and quixotic his dream of satisfying our fiercest critics in the New England Journal of Medicine and elsewhere.
But what is still missing from the literature of these provings, and what students are not likely to understand without actually participating in one of them, is the intermediate step between assembling the detailed symptomatology of the individual provers, the "raw data" of the providing, and its end result or "bottom line" of specific additions to the Repertory. This is exactly the same mysterious but indispensable process by which students must learn to grasp the whole or "essence" of each remedy from the sum of its parts. It is this pivotal issue around which every Materia Medica runs the risk of saying either too much, and losing the forest for the trees, or too little, by reducing remedies to pat formulae and ignoring the details on which their meaning is built. Such tricky navigation is of the nature of our art, and nobody ever said it was easy.
Nancy Herrick's book provides the homeopathic community with a welcome broadening of this narrow and often trackless path. Following in the footsteps of the old masters, Jeremy Sherr's elegant new provings remain largely silent about "essence," taking their stand on such definite rubrics as can be cast in Repertory language, and consigning the broad themes to an introductory section in which each remedy is discussed in a general way, including elements of chemistry, natural history, folklore, and common speech. In his diligence to avoid the second risk, he runs a little afoul of the first, of reducing the whole to a mere collection of items.
Much influenced by Sankaran in this respect, Herrick has managed to avoid both pitfalls by simply filling in and thus widening the trail that has to be marked out between them, doing full justice to the raw data of the proving and the rubrics and additions she could extract from it, but also taking the extra step of identifying several of the underlying themes that tie them together. Without such proving data to back it up, learned talk about "essences" can be as slippery as a President caught in the act, and as dangerous as a Special Prosecu- tor out for his blood. By contrast, when creatively identified and faithfully documented -from provers' actual experience, a few unifying features can provide a wealth of depth and enrichment to the dry and tedious litany of rubrics, however crucial they may be.
Each of her remedy pictures consists of 1) a general introduction to the biology and mythology of the animal, followed by 2) some basic ideas she has identified and singled out, with detailed illustrations of each, 3) rubrics both old and new, as translated into Repertory language, and 4) the complete verbatim journal entries of each individual prover. The importance and validity of her contribution thus rests very largely on the integrity and relevance of these fundamental issues, about which critical judgement will necessarily await more practical experience with them from her readers.
But simply from reading them, I can already attest to their value in studying the remedies as a whole and learning to recognize them clinically. In part, that is because they are more interesting to read that way, because they tally with and make sense of what we already know about these creatures and their place in Nature. For exactly that reason, their basis in actual symptomatology serves as a check on our own prejudices, no less than the author's. Herrick's uniquely empathic personal style is evident throughout the book, and her writing is admirably lucid and unpretentious.
A few methodological features deserve further comment. The first is her decision not to use either the double-blind or single- blind protocol, but only the original method of not telling the individual provers which remedy they were taking, with the implied assurance that they would be getting something, that there were no placebo controls. In my view, this is the better choice for several reasons, but how gutsy and controversial it must have seemed to her at the time is suggested by her inadvertent lapse into the double negative, "Neither supervisors nor provers do not know what the substance is," which is clearly shown to be an error a few sen- tences later, "Each prover [is] blinded totally as to the substance..."
She does not say so, but I get the feeling that her main reason for avoiding the placebo-control model is less ideological than empathic, and arises from her identification with her people, her wish to give them a genuine and shared experience and thus to prove worthy of their trust.
Indeed, her empathic gifts shine through all her teaching as well as her feeling for various remedies, perhaps even occasionally at the expense of her better judgment, e.g, in allowing her provers to ask for supervision if they feel they need it, rather than simply building it into the protocol of the experiment, as Hahnemannian purists have always insisted upon. One can only respect and admire the level of rapport and trust which her choice clearly presupposes, but in her place I might have played it safer.
Finally, and perhaps most important of all, I was curious about her selection of which remedies to prove, about which she says only, "Make sure your choice is a good one," i.e, is worth all the effort. In the brief Introduction, she says a bit more: "The substance is selected based on its relative importance to humans-something that people have a strong feeling about one way or another. For example, people love roses; they hate rats." Once again, although her considerable gifts of intellect and understanding are applied at every point in the structure of the proving, her ultimate criterion is simply a feeling, a direct, empathic connection with both the animal being tested and the human subjects participating in the experiment.
Indeed, all of the animals she has selected could be thought of as distinct archetypes or totems of our human relationships with the animal world in general:
1) rat's blood
2) elephant's milk
3) lion's milk
4) wolf's milk
5) dolphins milk
6) dinosaur bone (fossilized)
7) butterfly (whole insect)
8) mare's milk
Because six of the eight are mammals, Herrick used the milk in five of them, and would have done so in the rat as well, but could not obtain a specimen and settled for the blood. It is perhaps worthy of note that the blood of the Norway rat, as the source of all devastating plague epidemics in our history, may be partly responsible for its unsavory reputation, and was chosen for proving by Sankaran for much the same reason.
Of the other mammals, elephants, lions, wolves, and dolphins are all endangered species facing extinction from the ravages and depredations of human beings, while the horse survives marginally as a slave bearing human burdens. Indeed, Herrick seems to have chosen to prove them in part at least for our sake, moved by pity, grief, and shame from being implicated in the wholesale destruction of their natural way of life and the irreplaceable loss of their beauty.
Likewise in the case of the fossilized dinosaur bone, she characteristically selects a species well known for its strong maternal instincts, the Maiasaura or "good mother lizard," of which she says, "... the mother must have kept the young in the nest until they were quite well developed. She brought food and nurtured and protected [them] for a long time, until they were ready to forage for themselves. This is unusual in the dinosaur or lizard realm, where the eggs are usually abandoned after they are laid ... [It is thus] the only dinosaur to receive a feminine name using an -a at the end rather than an -us. ..." Here again, she exalts the concept of homeopathic similarity beyond the level of isolated symptomatology with an empathy of feeling, through identifying in this case with the maternal or feminine archetype, as precious and improbable in the ruthless world of Tyrannosaurus rex and its ilk as in our own.
Yet another wonderful touch is her choice of the butterfly, a fragile, delicate creature of gorgeous colors and ephemeral beauty that completes a full life cycle in the span of a few days, perhaps the crowning symbol of the transitoriness of life and all that is precious in it, much in the spirit of the Butterfly Dance which the Hopi tribes still perform every year. By some personal alchemy of her own, Herrick's trained intellect and fine aesthetic sensibility have transmuted her pure human feeling and love for other creatures into eight superb medicines from the animal world that remains so much a part of us all. For that achievement, and even more for the spiritual gift that envisioned it and carried it out, we again lie happily in her debt.