by Robert Davidson & Su Palmer-Jones
Remedies as characters
When homeopaths talk about homeopathic remedies, they sometimes sound as if they’re talking about people:
‘Mag Phos likes to be pampered.’
‘Silica has weak ankles and is poor at Maths.’
‘Pulsatilla has blue eyes and fair hair, and cries a lot.’
‘Sulphur will walk a hundred mental miles to avoid one physical step.’
‘Nat Mur is always falling in love with inappropriate men: she chooses a love object who is unattainable and must reject her.’
‘Anacardium suppresses his anger and mulls it over. He may whine, moan and complain but he’ll probably only admit to frustration rather than anger. This is quite different from the deep offence and hurt felt by Staphisagria, who can get quite violent in her indignation – kicking chairs over, pacing up and down, wringing her hands and getting cross with the practitioner. Staphisagria has more pride than Anacardium.’
(Nobody talks like this about aspirin, penicillin or cortezone.)
Every homeopathic remedy has its distinctive character or ‘picture’ as homeopaths call it. A remedy picture has mental, emotional and physical attributes which include temperament, behaviour, appearance and body functions/malfunctions. Some remedies are suppurating, some itching; some have headaches, some haemorrhages, and so on. Between them, the remedies cover all physical ailments.
To say that a remedy ‘is’, ‘does’ or ‘has’ certain things is homeopaths’ shorthand for saying that these characteristics or symptoms are part of the total picture of that remedy. Any symptoms that a patient has will be compared with the symptoms that a remedy ‘has’ when the prescriber is choosing a remedy to suit the patient.
A remedy picture also includes what are known as the ‘modalities’ of the remedy. Some remedies love hot weather (ie, the people for whom the remedy would be appropriate love hot weather) while others find it uncomfortable. Some like the seaside, others feel better in the mountains. For some, waking up is the worst part of the day; others feel bad in the afternoon. There are remedies which have specific times of day attached to them (eg, worse at 3-4pm). Some love chocolate or cheese, some hate meat, some crave wine while others find it does not agree with them, and so on. As in the nursery rhyme:
‘Jack Sprat could eat no fat,
His wife could eat no lean.’
She was probably Hepar Sulph. while he, poor fellow, was Pulsatilla. This is one of the worst combinations for a marriage: the spiteful, vicious Hepar Sulph, who is chilly and sensitive to draughts, with the meek, weak, yielding Pulsatilla who loves the windows open. Life in the Sprat household must have been miserable, for Jack at any rate. Dickens’ reprehensible Mr Quilp, in The Old Curiosity Shop, was probably another Hepar Sulph, while poor Mrs Quilp, plump, tearful and ever anxious to be obliging and agreeable to her frightful husband, was the Pulsatilla of the pair.
Remedy-spotting among fictional characters is a fascinating exercise for students of homeopathy. To illustrate some features of a few of the remedies, we give some examples below.
Remedies for characters
Shakespeare, because he presents archetypes, provides many remedy pictures. Here are some of them:
Lady Macbeth – Syphilinum : sleepwalking, constantly washing hands, deep sense of guilt.
Hotspur – Nux Vomica: the young warrior.
Prince Hal – Arsenicum: the cool manipulator.
Ophelia – Pulsatilla: docile, obedient, trying to please her father, her brother, and Hamlet. Pulsatilla is the Latin name for the windflower and in her final scene Ophelia seems to personify the delicate white windflower with its drooping head, while her changeable mood – singing melancholy songs one minute, telling bawdy jokes the next, handing out flowers while making snide comments, her behaviour fluctuating from moment to moment – is very characteristic of this remedy.
Of course Ophelia was not plump like Mrs Quilp (at least Shakespeare does not refer to her as being so). But while plumpness is a part of the Pulsatilla picture, a Pulsatilla patient does not have to be plump. For the purposes of prescribing, a remedy must cover all the symptoms and characteristics of the patient. But the patient does not have to display every aspect of the remedy; indeed, as many remedies have thousands of symptoms, it would be rare for any individual to do so.
The remedies are bigger than people. Lycopodium is an example of this. The keynote of Lycopodium is cowardice. Lycopodiums are afraid. They may express this in various ways. They fear responsibility, so they remain in humble jobs, not attempting to rise. They tend to be conformists because they fear the consequences of being unconventional. On the other hand, they may be the types who sleep around; the Lycopodium sailor has a wife in every port because he fears the responsibility of commitment.
The remedy Arsenicum provides another example of how remedies are ‘bigger than’ people. We quoted Shakespeare’s Prince Hal as someone who fits this remedy picture. Another, apparently very different, Arsenicum is Hercule Poirot. Agatha Christie’s detective is in many ways a textbook Arsenicum. Miss Christie says of him: ‘The neatness of his attire was almost incredible…a speck of dust would have caused him more pain than a bullet wound.’ Not only is Hercule Poirot impeccably groomed, he is very fussy about his food – another Arsenicum characteristic. Readers familiar with Shakespeare’s Henry IV plays will argue that Prince Hal never showed any signs of being particularly concerned with his appearance or his diet. But the essence of Arsenicum is their need to order their environment to suit themselves. This need may express itself in the way they dress – no frayed cuffs for them – and in the way they organize their physical surroundings. An Arsenicum housewife has a place for everything and everything in its place. This doesn’t mean she would necessarily be capable of Prince Hal’s political deviousness. But the Arsenicum’s need to have his environment just as he wants it will include the people in that environment, whom he will manipulate for his own ends. Cool and mentally detached, Arsenicum is the emotional manipulator par excellence. If you know one, you are quite likely to find yourself (without quite knowing why) doing the things that he or she wants you to do.
Not all Arsenicums are like this. Some are just fussy; but they are usually very ‘together’ people (unlike Sulphurs, the most untogether people as we shall describe later). Arsenicums are so cool, calculating, manipulative and attentive to detail that they are capable of coolly planning and executing murder. Agatha Christie’s books have an Arsenicum atmosphere about them, in total contrast to the Tuberculinum atmosphere of the Brontë novels which are full of Tuberculinum’s love of thunderous weather, the elements, the great dramas of life and the stimulus of love affairs. Wuthering Heights is probably the ultimate Tuberculinum novel. The tubercular period in literature was very romantic, unlike the later cancerous period which produced a different kind of literature.
James Bond is a Nux Vomica. He might be suspected of being an Arsenicum, as he is always so suavely dressed and particular about his favourite cocktail being shaken not stirred, but essentially he is a man of action. Nux Vomica is the boy who runs away to sea to be where the action is. Nux Vomicas can also be impeccably dressed and very fussy, but they are not as cold and calculating as Arsenicum. They have a sense of right, of justice, and they use violence to accomplish it. ‘The way to establish peace is to kill anyone who stands in your way.’ For this reason Nux Vomica used to be known as ‘the Irish remedy’. If someone’s making too much noise in a pub, the Nux Vomica would get up and wallop him, to shut him up, because he wants to establish peace in the environment.
The Incredible Hulk was Anacardium. (This was a TV character in the 1980s. He was a normal bloke who without warning would suddenly turn into a large green monster and wreak havoc. During the transformation, the monster seemed to erupt from inside the normal man’s skin.) His peaceloving and embarrassed alter ego continually searched for an antidote to his condition. The scriptwriters never allowed him to meet a homeopath. Anacardium would have cured the suppressed anger which occasionally broke out and smashed everything.
Anacardium has a split personality. It is the Jekyll and Hyde remedy. The Anacardium patient is always in conflict with his conscience, which never wins. He has, as it were, an angel on one shoulder and a devil on the other. The devil part goes out and does terrible things, then the angel part surfaces and bitterly regrets what the ‘other’ has done – or cannot remember, since weak memory is another attribute of this remedy.
Anacardium has limited powers of self-expression. In the case of the ordinary, everyday Anacardium that you might pass in the street, this manifests as a constant stream of bad language as he has no other way of expressing himself. The Incredible Hulk could not even swear, he simply grunted.
Gollum, in The Lord of the Rings, is another Anacardium. In this scene outside the gates of Mordor, Gollum’s behaviour illustrates perfectly the Anacardium symptom of having two wills, one telling him to do one thing and the other to do ssomething else. Tolkein uses the character’s proper name, Sméagol, for the voice of conscience and his nickname, Gollum, when the tempter speaks:
‘Gollum was talking to himself. Sméagol was holding a debate with some other thought that used the same voice but made it squeak and hiss. A pale light and a green light alternated in his eyes as he spoke.
“Sméagol promised,” said the first thought.
“Yes, yes, my Precious,” came the answer, “we promised to save our Precious, not to let Him have it…What’s the hobbit going to do with it, we wonders, yes we wonders.”
“I don’t know. I can’t help it. Master’s got it. Sméagol promised to help the master.”
“Yes, yes, to help the master; the master of the Precious. But if we was master, then we could help ourselfs, yes, and still keep promises.”
“But Smeagol said he would be very good…”
“Very very good, eh, my precious? Let’s be good, good as fish, sweet one, but to ourselfs.”
“But the Precious holds the promise,” the voice of Sméagol objected.
“Then take it,” said the other, ‘and let’s hold it ourselfs! Then we shall be master, gollum!..Perhaps we grows very strong, stronger than Wraiths: Lord Sméagol? Gollum the Great? The Gollum! Eat fish every day, three times a day, fresh from the Sea. Most Precious Gollum! Must have it. We wants it, we wants it, we wants it!”
‘But there’s two of them. They’ll wake too quick and kill us,’ whined Sméagol in a last effort. “Not now. Not yet.”…
‘Yes! We wants it! We wants it!”
Each time that the second thought spoke, Gollum’s long hand crept out slowly, pawing towards Frodo, and then was drawn back with a jerk as Sméagol spoke again. Finally both arms, with long fingers flexed and twitching, clawed towards his neck.’
After this tense and spooky scene, it is a relief to turn to:
Winnie-the-Pooh – Calc Carb. A bear of very little brain, likes honey. Calc carbs are stout, slow-moving, slow-thinking, and love sweet things.
Andy Capp (a cartoon character in the post-war era) – Sulphur. Lazy, clever at avoiding work, always down at the pub at 11 am.
Flo (his wife) – Sepia. Dumpy, hardworking, putting up with things, resigned to her lot, and needs a does of Sepia when she reaches the end of her tether.
Hjalmar and Gina Ekdal, in Ibsen’s play The Wild Duck, are a more sophisticated version of this pair. The following extracts from the play illustrate certain aspects of Sulphur well. Sulphur is vain, self-centred, and glib at justifying anything he has done or (more likely) failed to do. In this scene, Hjalmar has just returned from a dinner party. His daughter Hedvig has been waiting eagerly for him because he has promised to bring home some treats. Hjlamar begins by dazzling his family with a recital of all the brilliant things he said at dinner – all lies, as they were things that other people said to him. Sulphurs are good at recreating conversations and incidents in a way that is favourable to themselves; they do it so well that they soon believe their own version of events.
Hjalmar changes out of his tails and immediately asks to be admired:
Hjalmar: Loose-fitting clothes suit my figure better, don’t you think, Hedvig?
Hedvig: Yes, father.
Hjalmar: When I loosen my tie so that the ends flow like this – Look! What do you think of that?
Hedvig: Oh yes.
(This goes on for a few minutes until Hedvig can bear it no longer. She tugs at his jacket.)
Hjalmar: Well, what is it?
Hedvig: Oh, you know quite well what it is.
Hjalmar: No I don’t. Really.
Hedvig: (laughs and whimpers) Oh yes you do, father! You mustn’t tease me.
Hjalmar: But what is it?
Hedvig: Oh stop it! Give it to me, father! You know! All those nice things you promised me!
Hjalmar: Oh dear! Fancy me forgetting that!
Hedvig: Oh no, you’re only teasing, father! Oh, it’s beastly of you! Where have you hidden it?
Hjalmar: No, honestly, I forgot. But wait a moment – I’ve something else for you, Hedvig.
Hedvig: (jumps up and down, clapping her hands) Oh mother, mother!
Gina: There, you see. Just be patient and –
Hjalmar: (holds out a card) Here it is.
Hedvig: That? That’s only a piece of paper.
Hjalmar: It’s the menu, Hedvig. The whole menu. Look, here. It says ‘Déjeuner’. That means menu.
Hedvig: Is that all?
Hjalmar: Well, I forgot the other things. But believe me, Hedvig, they’re not much fun really, all those sickly sweet things. Sit over there at the table and read this menu, and then I’ll describe to you how each dish tasted. Here you are now,
Hedvig: (swallows her tears) Thankyou.
Hjalmar: Really, it’s incredible the things a breadwinner is expected to remember! If one forgets the slightest little thing, there are sour faces all round….
Hjalmar is not ‘the breadwinner’ although he frequently declaims things like, ‘I’ll work as long as there’s strength in these arms!’ Sulphurs are empty dreamers. They have an obscure sense of inventive genius but never do anything to put their dreams into action. In the Ekdal household it is actually Gina who does the work and earns the money, as Hjalmar’s friend Gregers observes:
Gregers: It’s your wife who runs the studio, I suppose?
Hjalmar: I generally leave the details of the business to her. Then I can lock myself away in the parlour and think about more important things.
Gregers: What kind of things, Hjalmar?
Hjalmar:….As you can imagine, when I decided to give up my life to the service of photography, it wasn’t because I wanted to take portraits of the bourgeoisie…I made a vow that if I was going to dedicate my powers to this craft, I would exalt it to the level of both an art and a science. And so I decided to make this astonishing invention.
Gregers: But what is this invention, what’s the idea behind it?
Hjalmar: Oh my dear fellow, you mustn’t ask me about details yet. It takes time, you know. And you mustn’t think it’s vanity that’s inspiring me to do this. It isn’t for myself that I’m doing this. Oh no. I have a mission in life….
Gregers: How soon do you expect this invention to be ready?
Hjalmar: Good heavens, you can’t expect me to work to a schedule! An invention is something that even the inventor himself isn’t completely master of. It depends largely on intuition – on inspiration – and it’s almost impossible to predict when that’s going to come.
Gregers: But you’re making progress?
Hjalmar: Of course I am. I think about it every day. It’s always with me. Every afternoon, after I’ve eaten, I shut myself up in the parlour where I can meditate in peace. But I mustn’t be rushed…
Sulphurs do sometimes invent things – gadgets to amuse themselves or devices to save themselves labour. Sulphur will put an enormous amount of mental effort into avoiding physical effort. But when he does not have a Gina to keep him clean and tidy, his laziness often results in squalor. The thumbnail sketch of Sulphur is ‘the unkempt philosopher’ – ragged and dirty, the philosophizing tramp. He may care about his appearance because he is vain but he can always find some mental trick to justify his worn and filthy clothes: he is above such pettiness as grooming; he has a romantic image of himself as a poet or a wandering gipsy; he doesn’t want to look like a bourgeois, etc. (Whereas the Arsenicum who doesn’t want to look like a bourgeois will be the most sharply dressed member of his street gang.) Sulphur often dislikes washing but, again, he can justify this by some verbiage or other: ‘Washing is bad for you, it removes essential oils from the skin’ or ‘If I have a bath it reminds me of being in prison’. He may be proud of his dirt or detach himself from it as if his body was nothing to do with him.
Woman (to Dr Johnson): Sir, you smell.
Dr Johnson: No, Madam, you smell, I stink.
Sulphurs we have known
The authors of this article used to live in the same street and shared a neighbour who was a Sulphur. He installed electricity in his squat because he needed it for his gadgets but he never got round to installing running water – water was not important to him. He did invent things, however. One of the authors saw him leaning out of an upstairs window using a gadget with a long handle to scrape paint off the front door from above – this to avoid the effort of going downstairs, standing in the street, putting up a stepladder and scraping the paint off in the usual way. The other author visited him one day and, picking a path through the piles of rubbish, odds and ends from skips and building sites etc. that cluttered his flat so that it looked more like a shed than a home, found him sitting in an armchair holding a Heath-Robinson type contraption whose chief feature was an empty washing-up-liquid bottle.
Visitor: What’s that?
Sulphur: A gun.
Visitor: A gun!
Sulphur: Yes, you see, these are the telescopic sights and if I put a match in here, and fire it, I can kill flies without having to get up and swat them…
For a mercifully short time, one of the authors had a lodger who was a Sulphur. He was ‘too poor’ to pay any rent (Sulphurs tend to be scroungers: it was probably Sulphurs the Victorians had in mind when they dreamed up the concept of the ‘undeserving poor’). Instead, he was supposed to do jobs about the house but, being a Sulphur, he rarely did them. He expended his energies by talking into the small hours about his hitherto unrevealed potential and wondering what branch of art or science was sufficiently elevated to be worth his making an effort to master it. His payments for the food he ate were accompanied by dissertations on how it was possible to live on £10 a week, all bills included, if one lived ‘purely’ on a diet of health foods (ie the food which the author was cooking for him was not pure enough).
One day he asked for a remedy and was given Sulphur in the 10m potency. Homeopaths know what their remedies do but, as most of their patients go home and take their remedies there, practitioners are not often privileged to watch a remedy working. It can be a miraculous experience.
This particular Sulphur, after taking his 10m, sat for an hour in silence – which in itself was, for him, unsual enough – then got up, cleaned his boots, washed all his clothes (which badly needed it), had a bath, stated that his overcoat (which he had previously justified as interesting, romantic etc.) was too disgusting to wear, had his hair cut and went out to look for a job.
Of course, not all presctiptions can be seen to work in such an obvious and dramatic way as this.
The Remedies and Personality
Anyone who has had the experience of seeing someone close to them go mad/have a nervous breakdown will be familiar with the sensation that the person has become a stranger. It is easy in these circumstances to appreciate to the old idea of possession by devils. There stands the well-known, well-loved physical form, with a horrible, frightening entity speaking out of its mouth. At the same time, friends and relations can look back and say, ‘Well of course he/she was always a bit like that,’ remembering incidents in the past which were overlooked at the time or were, at least, balanced by the fact that on the whole, the person was likeable, comprehensible, easy to get on wtih. In a state of insanity, all the person’s negative characteristics seem to come to the fore and stay there, while the positive ones are so submerged that often no appeals can reach them.
The remedies reverse this process, allowing health to bring the positive aspects to the fore while the negative ones drop away.
We’ve heard it said of a patient who had received homeopathic treatment: ‘She’s become the nice person she used to be when she was a little girl.’ This does not mean that every person treated reverts to childhood or becomes moulded to some imaginary conventional ‘norm’. On the contrary, the remedy allows the individual to develop the energy to find and express his or her natural individuality. An individual’s character does not essentially change as a result of taking a remedy. In a sense, a Sulphur will nearly always be a Sulphur, an Arsenicum always an Arsenicum and so on. But each remedy and each individual has a positive as well as a negative side. The effect of the remedy is not to ‘push’ the patient into ‘being good’ but to release him into freedom of choice. He is no longer dominated by his negative aspects and is free to express his positive ones. The negative ones may not disappear entirely but they will dwindle, change their emphasis and become less negative in the process.
A Sulphur under treatment, for example, will not lose his ability to use his great abstract intellect, to take the broad view. He will become able to use it more constructively. Many Sulphurs are enthusiasts for various causes. A Sulphur is unlikely ever to be as impeccably dressed as an Arsenicum, not because of laziness but because a cured Sulphur does not have the time to devote to being immaculate. He is she is too busy working from morning till night on something that has engaged his/her intellectual energies – something real, not a Hjalmar Ekdal ‘invention’.
The Nux Vomica may stop throwing bombs and hitting people in pubs but he will not lose his sense of justice. The Arsenicum will find positive channels for his detachment, his sense of order, his ability to plan. The Lycopodium may always be conventional but, given a conventional framework within which to operate, he will accept and enjoy responsibility. His former fear of it, by a shift of emphasis, will become a conscientious devotion to duty; he is the ideal ‘company’ man.
There are cases where an artificial personality has been imposed on the individual through drug abuse or allopathic suppression. LSD, for example, produced a lot of semi-Sulphurs; and people on tranquilizers appear (and feel) stupider than they really are. In such cases a series of different remedies may have to be prescribed in order to clear away the debris and let the individual’s light shine out from under its bushel.
Here are some examples of the positive aspects of the remedies operating in a social context:
Nux Vomica, the ‘warrior’ with a strong sense of justice, is the kind who rows out in a rubber dinghy to stop cannisters of nuclear waste being dumped in the sea.
Lycopodiums tend to follow staid professions. They are the accountants, solicitors, bankers. They don’t need imagination; they build a structure or enter an existing one and are happy within it, keeping it secure. They provide the foundation on which society functions.
The great entrepreneurs, the leading figures and prime movers, are Arsenicum. Their ability to manipulate helps them to operate successfully in the business world. Their need to order their environment, to make it right for themselves, is still a part of them so that if they are governing a country, for instance, they will order that country to suit themselves. But as the positive Arsenicum has impeccably good taste and keen moral perceptions, what is good for them is good for the people they are governing. (The Patrician in Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series is an Arsenicum while Commander Vimes is a Nux Vomica.)
Sulphurs are the ones who provide the Arsenicums with ideas and ideals. They might be rather scatty, not so worldly and ‘together’ as Arsenicum; they may not be very keen on exercise nor put on a clean shirt every day; but this does not matter. The positive Sulphur has normal perseverance so that there is a channel between his mind and the world. He is the thinker, the inventor, the philosopher, sometimes the genius.
Homeopathic remedies do not only apply to personalities, behavioural characteristics and mental symptoms. They also cover all the physical symptoms you can think of. This will be the subject of a separate article.