Homeopathy was founded by Dr. Samuel Hahnemann (1755-1843), a German physician of great intellect and dedication. Medicine as it was practiced in his day was based on a lot of purgatives, blood-letting and large amounts of toxic substances. There was very little agreement about the nature of disease and cure. Treatment was often haphazard and Hahnemann believed that people often got better in spite of treatment not necessarily because of it. As a result of this he quit the practice of medicine. He spoke and read a variety of different languages, so he started translating works of chemistry to earn a livelihood for his family.
He was continuously looking, however, for a system, a way to understand disease, why some medicines worked and how to apply medicines in a non-toxic, gentle and consistent manner. He read in one book of chemistry that Peruvian bark worked in many cases of intermittent (malarial) fever due to its astringent and tonic properties. Hahnemann questioned this, as he knew many other substances had these properties but did not have such success in intermittent fevers. He decided to take large amounts of the bark and after a couple of days he started developing the symptoms peculiar to malarial fever. As a result of this he formed the hypothesis: could it be that likes can be treated by likes? He called this approach homeopathy from the Greek words, homoios meaning similar and pathos meaning disease. If a healthy person takes a substance and develops symptoms, that substance will help a person who is ill and has similar symptoms.
Hahnemann took many other substances that were commonly used in medicine in his day and gave them to interested medical students, doctors and family members. He meticulously recorded changes that occurred after taking the substance. These changes were on all levels of the person: mental, emotional and physical. He recorded changes in relationship to weather, food, menses. He recorded all emotional changes and any new subjective sensations that happened. These records are known as the provings. When a person came along whose total symptom picture matched one of the provings he gave that substance and discovered that it worked. He also looked at disease as a state of the entire person.
Hahnemann focused on more than just the symptoms of the disease but on changes that occurred mentally and emotionally as well. He also gave importance to symptoms that arose at the same time in other parts of the body but were not necessarily part of the disease. Hahnemann saw no separation between the mind and body and said that the entire new symptom picture or state that arose had to be treated, not just the symptoms of the commonly known disease. This makes homeopathy a truly holistic approach.
The homeopathic remedies or medicines are so diluted that some substances that may be poisonous are not poisonous when used homeopathically. This makes homeopathy a truly safe non-toxic approach to healing. The remedies are prepared according to methods laid down by Hahnemann and are manufactured by homeopathic chemists.
Hahnemann also believed that the body has its own healing mechanism. He called this mechanism the vital force. He believed that disease was first of all a disturbance of this vital energy or life force and the symptoms are a result of this disturbance. The purpose of the homeopathic remedy therefore is to stimulate the vital force to help the organism to cure itself.