- Interviewed by amy l. lansky, phd
|Roger Van Zandvoort|
VZ: My rule always has been to only include provings that are at least basically Hahnemannian. This means that they should be provings done in the way that Hahnemann said you should do provings. For example, dream provings, or contact provings, where you put the remedy under the pillow, sleep the night, and tell your dreams and other changes that you notice-these provings, up till now, I don't include. Group provings I also do not include. I do not say that they are necessarily not okay, but there is simply not enough experience among the proving masters to deal with them in such a way that the observed symptoms will be useful for homeopathic practice. It's a kind of doubt that I have, that I share with other people. It's a difficult field to make rules for. So this is mostly why.
AH: How do decide whether you are going to add a clinical symptom? Do you have a similar criterion?
VZ: I, in fact, have a preference for clinical symptoms. I value those symptoms higher than proving symptoms.
AH: Even if they didn't come up in the provings?
VZ: Yes, even if they didn't come up in the provings. Many times what you see when you compare clinical symptoms with proving symptoms is that, in fact, they did come up in the provings. But since you have different patients or different people telling about their subjective experiences, it doesn't sound the same. Very often, when you have a clinical symptom that doesn't come up in the provings in exactly that way, nevertheless, you can see it between the lines of the proving; you might expect a clinical symptom like the one the patient comes up with.
AH: Because it's similar to other symptoms or related to other symptoms?
VZ: Yes. After all, we are talking about the same remedy. But for me, a clinical symptom is valued higher because I prefer symptoms that really came from a cured person. As you can imagine, about 75% of the remedies in the repertory occur in the lower degree, the plain text degree, the first degree. This means that they only come from provings and nothing else. Because of that high percentage, the repertory is often not good enough to really push forward certain remedies in an analysis -because of that lower degree. There's too much to choose from. This is another reason that I prefer clinical symptoms-because with the clinical symptoms, you can at least change the degree of the remedy in the repertory to the second degree minimum. That means it comes from provings, plus it's clinically confirmed. When we have more of those, the repertory becomes a better tool for analysis.
AH: Now isn't the second degree also used when a lot of people in the proving got the symptom?
VZ: Ah, now that is a good one. That's true for Boenninghausen's second degree, but it's not true for Kent's second degree. In fact, in Kent's repertory, and in the repertories derived from Kent like the Complete repertory, you don't have a degree specifically for symptoms that come up frequently in provings. Kent has three degrees and Boenninghausen has four or five degrees.
AH: That's a misunderstanding most people have.
VZ: Yes, for sure. In fact, Kent's repertory is an exception. In Hering's Guiding Symptoms and Allen's Encyclopedia, they use Boenninghausen's system. There have always been difficulties translating the materia medica information into Kent's repertory, just because of this. Boenninghausen's system is actually a better system, because it makes sense to know that the second degree comes from frequently observed symptoms in provers. That's a good one, it makes it more valuable. But Kent doesn't have that-the second degree in Kent is often seen in provings plus in clinical cases. There's nothing in between the first and the second Kent degree.
AH: What do you think of essences, the themes that people extract from provings. Do you ever use that information in any way?
VZ: That's not bad, as long as it's based on well-chosen symptoms. Even the thematic approach is based on symptoms, and the symptoms that it's based on should be well chosen for a remedy.
AH: Do you think that people have gotten a bit too "touchy feely" about this though?
VZ: Yeah, for sure. In this respect, the more I learn about homeopathy and the more I read-especially in the old magazines- the more conservative, the more Hahnemannian I become.
AH: So how do you feel about today's provings?
VZ: Oh, about the provings I don't feel bad. I think the provings, when they are well conducted, should be added into the repertory. Even though I often feel that the things that are proven are not very worthwhile.
AH: What do you think should be proved?
VZ: This is only a theory, but at least it applies to the remedies that we know have a certain proven value in practice. We have a kind of vital force inside of us, a kind of instinct that drives our immune system. This instinct, this vital force, has been built up throughout our evolution into human beings. So it's much older than mankind itself, it's from the beginning of life. The most basic elements of our immune system, of our vital force, were already established in the time when we were still blue algae, so to speak. If you just think about that, then those external factors that were available in those days-things like oxygen, sulphur, salt-those are the things that obviously affect our immune system very deeply. These are the basic elements that our immune system learned to fight against. Of course, later on, other toxic elements were also important because they could kill you. So you need to have an immune reaction against them. So, I think basic natural elements and toxic elements, like snake poison, or whatever-those are the most important substances that should be proved.
AH: So just random birds or...
VZ: I don't think so.
AH: What about substances like plastic that have become very pervasive in our society?
VZ: If you realize dioxin is a waste product of burning plastics, then I wouldn't choose plastic-I would choose dioxin to do a proving with. Yes, of course, everyone can imagine that [plastics] are bad for us, since they are also bad for ecology in general. But there are certain parts of the plastic, certain derived chemicals, that really do the harm, not so much the plastic in itself.
AH: Many of the remedies aren't from poisonous things. For example, there are lots of food remedies...tomatoes, potatoes...
VZ: Yeah, one of the potatoes we have is, of course, Solanum Tuberosum Aegrotans-a diseased potato.
AH: So you really feel that that should be the criterion.
VZ: No, it shouldn't be a criterion-it's actually what happens. The tomatoes, the potato, they are all from the nightshade family; they are all poisonous plants. Listen, there has been a proving of Falcon, there has been a proving of Eagle. Of course, in the proving at least, you see that certain elements come out that have to do with our mythological picture about these animals. Things also come out that have to do with the infrastructure of the animal itself. But I doubt whether or not you will find a lot of people that come to you with certain symptoms that would react to these remedies.
AH: What about the Lacs? Lac Caninum, Lac Felinum, Lac Humanum-those have helped people a lot.
VZ: Those have helped people, and I think the element there is that most of them contain antibodies. I mean not everything is explainable because of the chemical constituents of something, this I don't believe. What I am saying is kind of a general rule. The reason the milks work is related to the fact that they contain high levels of antibodies; they are very stimulating to the immune system. But this is a guess really, I'm not a chemist. For sure, you can find examples where what I am saying is not correct. But I think, in general, these things that I mentioned-they are the most important things.
AH: Whereas many people feel that it's the symbolic or spiritual aspect that's important.
VZ: Sure, it comes out like that with Eagle, etc. You can aim for that, you can do a proving based on those ideas. But I think you should not forget that you are doing these things to help people. I think you have a kind of duty to search for things that have a high probability of curing people. You should search for things that you hope will cover certain aspects of diseases that we have today and then as many as possible.
...I think you should not forget that you are doing [provings] to help people. I think you have a kind of duty to search for things that have a high probability of curing people. You should search for things that you hope will cover certain aspects of diseases that we have today and then as many as possible.
AH: What about proving things like AIDS and other new disease nosodes?
VZ: Well, first of all, there is a whole discussion about whether or not AIDS really is a virus. It's a syndrome and a syndrome means it's a collection of symptoms where you don't know exactly where it comes from. With an everweakening immune system, you can develop all kinds of diseases. My understanding is that the people who die of AIDS die of these diseases. And, of course, they die because of the allopathic therapies. They are not dying from AIDS per se. For AIDS, you are proving the blood of a person who has a lowered vital force, so to speak. There has been a dramatic presentation of the woman from England who was treated with the homeopathic preparation of AIDS. But aside from that, I haven't heard personally of any further patients cured with this remedy. It is always good to publish [more of ] these things, especially for these kinds of remedies.
AH: What about reproving old substances?
VZ: Many people think that that has never happened in the past already. The funny thing is that this is not true at all! If you read the old Americans, the ones from your country from the days when homeopathy was great in the United States, you see these ideas about reproving things. Especially since they thought they were much more scientific compared to the way Hahnemann conducted provings. They thought things should be reproven because they would do the provings in a much more clinical setup, much more precise, etc. So reprovings have been done for many of our classic remedies. What came out was the same as what came out in the original Hahnemann provings.
Of course, there are some good reasons to do reprovings in cases where you have hints about certain remedies-where you see that they have potential, but you don't know enough about them since the old provings were only conducted with one or two people or they were only coming from toxicology. Then you have a good reason to do a reproving, of course.
AH: For lots of small remedies.
VZ: Exactly. And some of them are confusing, because we don't know exactly what kind of zoological or botanical substances were used really. Then it's good to do a reproving. One of my favorite examples of this is Curare. We don't know what was used in the past by Hering. If you ask for Curare now in the pharmacies, you get all kinds of different things that have a high level of toxicology. They are all paralyzing drugs and they come from plant species, but they can also come from animals. There is no fixed rule for the pharmacies for what to give if people ask for Curare.
AH: I didn't know that!
VZ: Ah yes, but Curare is a famous one, because it's a mix of things. Actually, in the Amazon and also in other places where they use arrow points to hunt animals, they actually do a brew that they make from the poisonous plants and maybe also the poisonous animals that live in their environment. This means that if you move 20 kilometers, to another place in the jungle, it's possible that since there's different life there, the local people use a different brew.
AH: You had said in a previous interview that you were still going through a lot of the old journals. Are you still doing that?
VZ: Yes, more and more. Not so much the American journals anymore-the original German ones. The German journals contain much more information that has never been used, so you find bigger jewels there.
AH: Oh, that's fantastic. Do you ever have trouble translating it into rubrics?
VZ: You mean from German to English? Well my German is better than my English, but nevertheless, you are reading old German texts-they use words in a different way. Sometimes the text is even Gothic, you know that bizarre way of writing. There are difficulties of course, but they are, in fact, the same difficulties you have with old English texts. What you need are old dictionaries to use them and to see the real meanings of words. Then only can you choose a modern word to use in the repertory.
AH: Going back to how people are conducting provings today, who do you think should extract the information? Who should pick the rubrics? Should it be you or should it be them?
VZ: The ideal situation would be that the person who is taking the cases, who has the best knowledge about the picture that is being proven, does the incorporation into the repertory-given that he or she has enough knowledge about the repertory.
AH: So the head of the proving.
VZ: Yes they know...But as soon as I get information from people that has been repertorized already-ready for cooking, so to speak-I am not in touch at that moment with the original terminology of the patient, of the prover. It means that already I am doing an interpretation into the repertory of an interpretation. So the amount of people between the prover and the repertory should be minimum.
AH: So you would prefer to have the raw proving?
VZ: Yes. But then I have to be honest-and I think this is true for everyone who does something with repertories-often we use that information just to save time. Doing a repertorization from the original proving material is more time consuming.
What would be very good is to work with computers to establish links between repertory, materia medica, and clinical cases. Permanent links. Then you can do what you want. Then the repertory would be an entrance to clinical cases and the materia medica-an easy entrance. The advantage of the repertory is that it contains simple language compared to the materia medica.
Actually, I have several things to do with the repertory-only one of them is incorporating new provings. In the last year there has been a big amount of information from new provings. In the Millenium Complete, which is coming out in a few weeks, I am updated only so so. I couldn't do anything about this because I would have to forget about the other things I have to do for the repertory. But I am fairly up to date. There are some provings from England that I couldn't do, some new material from Jeremy Sherr I couldn't do. But I have incorporated many things from Germany. I have actually incorporated some provings that are more than 100 years old that had been forgotten-never made it into the repertory-coming from the old journals.
AH: Is there any exciting new remedy you'd like to talk about?
VZ: Most of them are small provings, otherwise they would not have been forgotten. There's one I have found that was done by Yingling. It's one of these mimosa-type plants-it's sensitive to touch. In order to protect itself, the leaves fold against the stem. That could be interesting because, in our society, we have many people who, when you touch them even slightly, shrink away-they want to protect themselves. I don't know if it will really work like that in practice, but it was a nice remedy to add. It doesn't have a lot of symptoms, but it has some similarities with how we react psychologically.
AH: There's lots of things we can do with computers-like extract relationships between remedies, concordances, remedy families, things like that.
VZ: Well, remedy families, this is already happening. This is something that, I guess within two to three years, will be available to the homeopathic community. What would be very good is to work with computers to establish links between repertory, materia medica, and clinical cases. Permanent links. Then you can do what you want. Then the repertory would be an entrance to clinical cases and the materia medica-an easy entrance. The advantage of the repertory is that it contains simple language compared to the materia medica. The language of the repertory can be memorized, given enough experience. The language of the materia medica is too wide, there is too much to memorize. The repertory is, in fact, an index to the materia medica.
AH: And it should be used that way by the computer.
VZ: It should be used by homeopaths that way too. I mean, many homeopaths use the repertory as a kind of final tool to find the remedy prescription. But, in fact, it should only give you suggestions and with these suggestions, you should study the materia medica to see if you really have found the syndrome of a patient.
AH: This is why people have begun to use ReferenceWorks more than the repertories-because they want that link.
VZ: Yes. But the difficulty I always see with people using materia medica search tools is that they have difficulty finding everything they expect to find. They have no idea what synonym words they have to search for in order to find all the information they want to find. So, for example, they search for "fear of dogs" but then the program will find "fear of dogs" in all the occasions that the actual text is "fear of dogs." You have to tell the program that "fear" and "dog" should be within two words of each other, or "fear" and "dog" should be in the same sentence. But what if the word is not "fear" but "afraid"? Then you don't find it.
AH: That could be easily rectified.
VZ: Yes, because you know what you can do with computers. But then, tell me why it hasn't happened?
AH: It's a lot of work.
VZ: Ah, this is the point. It's a problem for the people who make homeopathic programs. I'm not one of them; I make data.
AH: I'm sure this is also why David is shy about adding those links in. Because he'd have to alter the entire data structure of the program to do that.
How do you feel about how free and available information is on the web? Some people feel that, with provings, people have to recoup their costs. Other people say it should be free on the web. You, for example, want to make money off of your repertory.
VZ: My repertory is free on the web; but in a way that you cannot just download the whole thing, because that would affect me financially-I'm trying to make a living. I'm the only person worldwide that does this kind of work full time. That explains why I have to protect my interests a bit.
AH: What about using the web as a data base for collecting symptoms. Would you trust those symptoms?
VZ: It would depend on protocols. If you are going to put information on the web, let's say provings, then I would like to ask you not to forget to inform your readers about which protocols have been used doing the provings.
AH: Do people ever just send you cured cases for extracting clinical symptoms?
VZ: No. I get clinical symptoms from publications. You have to have criteria for the way the cases were published and also, of course, you have to have criteria for the people publishing them. What is a cured case? Who is publishing the cured case? What is the education of this person, what is their success rate, etc.? There have to be criteria. You cannot just accept what anyone is going to send you. Many people love to have a certain fame and attention, and for them, this is the reason to send in what they call cured cases. Then, after half a year, the so-called cured patients need different remedies. They were not cured at all. So you have to be very careful about that.
AH: People complain that there were just too many rubrics added for Bamboo.
VZ: But Bamboo is actually pretty well-tested clinically. I already have the third improved edition from Bernd Schuster, the man who did the proving of Bamboo. This includes his and his students' clinical experience with the remedy. Of course, you can say that maybe this is from too small a group. But at least I know that Bernd is a very conscientious person.
And that's not the only remedy with lots of rubrics. There is a lot of information also for Falcon. That's a big proving. For the new provings, it's not only the provings but clinical confirmations for these remedies that are necessary. It's the same with Jan Scholten's information. Very exciting information that might induce a slightly different way of homeopathic thinking so that you can become more creative. But you need to see the results and the results can only come from good clinical cases.
AH: So we need to have more places to publish those cases and to make sure that they are good.
VZ: I'm not involved in this so I can talk about it professionally -there is a new homeopathic program called the Homeopathic Recorder, which is a data base designed especially for this aim, to encourage people to put their practical experiences inside and send them to one central address. When they participate, every two, three, four months they will get back the same database but updated, with all the information from all the people who participate.
AH: So that's a good incentive. It used to be that just getting a publication was incentive enough.
VZ: Yes, but not anymore. I estimate that 7000 people use the Complete Repertory, either as a book and/or electronically, with about 21,000 consultations on-line through the website per year. If I have ten people per year give me feedback, it's a lot.
AH: So you want more feedback.
VZ: Sure I want more feedback. All those people in homeopathy that do research, they definitely want more feedback from their colleagues that work in practice. Otherwise, everything becomes too theoretical. Even with repertories, I put a lot of information inside, but, in fact, I only have ideas about which parts of the repertory are most commonly used. Unless I get feedback from people, I don't know exactly, because I don't practice anymore-there's no time for that. But in order to keep in line with practice, I need to have feedback.
AH: Well, we all appreciate what you do.
VZ: This I know. I like to hear it's helpful and that you can cure more people with it. I sleep nicely when I hear that. But in order to improve my work, I need to hear from critical people, people who have useful feedback to give me.
Roger van Zandvoort is the creator of The Complete Repertory. He started practicing homeopathy in 1985, and now works full time on his repertory. His Complete Millennium Repertory is on its way to market, and French, German, Portuguese and Spanish versions are finalized or in the making.
If you are going to put information on the web, let's say provings, then I would like to ask you not to forget to inform your readers about which protocols have been used doing the provings.