Magical ideas about the causes of the disease dictate the appropriate methods of treatment. If the disease can move into the body, why not try to force or cunning to drive it out of the patient? Historians and ethnographers have documented in detail the incredible ingenuity with which mankind has tried to move the disease to another, more appropriate place.
Almost any objects, plants or animals could become the new receptacle of the disease. The ancient Egyptians put pork to their sick eyes, so that evil spirits moved there. For the same reasons, migraine was treated by applying fish heads to its head. The weakened inhabitants of the Moluccas beat themselves with stones, which they then threw away, believing that the weakness had moved from the suffering body to the stone. Magical treatment is often painful. As early as the nineteenth century, there was a fever-taking oak in Hertfordshire. Treatment was quick, but accompanied by pain: it was necessary to tie a strand of hair to a tree, and then jerk his head sharply. Disease remained on oak together with part of hair. Not less traumatic popular in Europe around the same time a popular method of treatment of a toothache: the need to break off from the tree bark splinters to pierce her gums in a sick place, and then insert the blood-stained sliver back, well camouflaged with mud.
Although, of course, the more likely the disease goes to the animals. Another ancient historian Pliny the Elder recommended to treat abdominal pain, passing it to a duckling or puppy. And in Scotland, the water, which washed the patient, poured on street cats – with her illness was transmitted to the cat, which after such treatment ran away with her away from the house of the patient. In the XVIII century patients with gout  recommended to sleep in the same bed with a dog. And in nineteenth-century Nevada, asthma patients surrounded themselves with cats. It was believed that if you infect nine Pets with asthma, the disease will leave a person alone .
Of all the animals, frogs and toads got the most: they passed whooping cough, warts, stomatitis and thrush. Still living at the junction of IV and V century Roman physician Marcellus Empiricus advised to treat toothache, spitting into the mouth of a frog. Sometimes the ritual is to hold the unfortunate amphibian in your mouth for a while. Suitable for this role and fish. This story was published in the American journal Notes and Queries in the second half of the XIX century.
I was walking along the Skullkill river in Pennsylvania. The day was sultry, and I sat down on a rock to enjoy the cool breeze from the water. Nearby stood two fishermen with rods. A young woman appeared, holding a child about two years old. She went to one of the fishermen and asked him for the fish he had just caught. Americans are usually incredibly kind to the weaker sex, so he immediately took off the hook and handed her the fish he had caught. Sitting down on the Bank, she forcibly opened the child’s mouth, and, in spite of his resistance, thrust the head of the fish into it, and held it there for a minute or two. Then she took out and released the still-living fish into the water. Intrigued by this behavior, I asked her to explain what she was doing. She told me that her child was sick with whooping cough and that putting the head of a live fish in the patient’s mouth was a reliable and effective method of treating the disease.
It is unlikely that many animals have suffered from such magic: it is usually as harmless to them as it is useless to the patient. But the same cannot be said about the rituals associated with the transmission of the disease to people. For example, there was a long time belief that the only way to get rid of syphilis and gonorrhea – to infect them as many people as possible. In some developed countries, this was believed until the beginning of the XX century.
Another, safer way to get rid of the disease is known since biblical times: it was believed that sleeping in the same bed with someone younger helps to get rid of senile diseases. It was assumed that old age passes into a younger body, taking age problems with it .
Diseases were transmitted to other people through mediating objects that had been in contact with the patient, or through amulets with nails, hair or blood of the patient. These rituals, separated by centuries and distances, have incredibly many features in common. The ancient Romans treated fever by cutting the patient’s nails and attaching clippings to the door of neighbors at night. In seventeenth-century Scotland, the nail and hair of an epileptic patient were wrapped with a coin in a cloth and left in a conspicuous place for the disease to pass to the first finder. Tribe bahima in Uganda rubs abscesses with herbs and burying the knot with them, that the abscess has moved to the first stepped through it. Orkney islanders poured water at the entrance of the village, in which the patient was washed – the disease was to get the first who will pass through this place.
☛ If an attempt to infect unsuspecting neighbors is revealed, it can end in failure for both the doctor and his patient. Therefore, it is easier and safer to move the disease to those who do not care. For many centuries, the deceased before the funeral passed rheumatism, boils, goiter, epilepsy, warts and other diseases. Usually it was enough to touch the sore spot to the dead body. It was believed that as the corpse decomposes, the disease will disappear.
A special force attributed to the bodies of recently executed criminals. The 1793 issue of the Sporting Magasine describes the execution of a convict named Hubbard in Newgate. At the same moment, as the executioner knocked out from under the feet of the stool of the convict, to the gallows led the child and began to attach to his neck still convulsively hand executed. And the Stamford Mercury of March 26, 1830 reported that the execution of three criminals gathered a huge crowd. Breaking through to the place of execution, people began to RUB themselves with the hands of the dead, trying to get rid of goiter and fat.
Magic medicine proceeds from the fact that people, animals and objects exchange not only diseases, but also useful properties. Popular legend claimed that doctor Cleopatra cured her lover Julius Caesar from alopecia: the preparation (expected) were manufactured using bodies covered with animal fur, mouse, horse, bear and dog. The Roman medical treatise Liber Medicinalis recommends that those suffering from infertility in women is the vulva of Zaichik, known for its fertility and to stimulate the birth – slippery snails. The seed-throwing mad cucumber, which has a real laxative effect, for which symbolism would also be appropriate, was not used in accordance with it, but to terminate an unwanted pregnancy.
Medicinal properties of plants have long been associated with the fact that they resemble in appearance. In the early sixteenth century, this idea was framed by the physician and mystic Paracelsus in a concept later called the doctrine of signatures. It said that nature had provided all plants with human-readable symbols-signatures indicating their properties. Paracelsus, for example, noted that cyclamen is ear-shaped and can therefore be used to treat ear pain. And Helleborus niger blooms in winter and, therefore, is shown to the elderly.
The doctrine had many followers until the nineteenth century. One of the books on medicinal plants reported:
Walnut kernels exactly repeat the shape of the brain, so it is very useful for him and work as an antidote: if you mash the kernel, moisten in wine and put on the forehead, they are very helpful to the brain and head. Lily of the valley in accordance with its signature treats apoplexy: the disease is caused by the fact that the body fluids drip into the main ventricles of the brain, and the flowers of this plant, hanging like drops, – a wonderful remedy in this case. Small holes, which are covered with leaves of Hypericum, resemble pores of the skin, so it is useful for injuries and wounds.
Some historians believe that the doctrine of signatures was only a mnemonic rule – a way to remember and orally transmit from generation to generation the real medicinal properties of plants. However, recommendations do not match these properties, even if they exist. For example, Eupatorium perfoliatum may be effective against malaria, but Paracelsus recommended it for the treatment of fractures: the leaves passing through the stems resembled a splint applied to a broken limb.
To this day, homeopathy is widespread-a variant of symbolic magic invented in the XIX century by Samuel Hahnemann. Homeopathy uses ultra-high dilutions of substances that cause symptoms similar to those of the disease. The symptoms are often understood not literally, but symbolically. So, for example, repeatedly divorced particles of the Berlin wall recommend to treat “feeling of abandonment, disunity and horror”, and also to appoint them to victims of political, religious and sexual violence .
The similarity of these and many other rituals, separated by thousands of years and kilometers, helps to understand how a person talks about diseases and treatment when he does not know how the body works. The idea of purification is, in a sense, an intuitive, instinctive view of health and medicine, underpinned by our everyday experience. We are familiar with the sense of relief that comes when something bad-vomiting from poisoning or tears caused by grief – comes out of the body. And the desire to clean from foreign pollution of the body-innate, it is characteristic not only for people, but also for animals.
Symbolic thinking is also absolutely natural for a person and in no case speaks of low intelligence or lack of education. Even if you do not stick needles in the dolls of your enemies in the evenings, you will certainly refuse to throw Darts at photos of smiling children or burn photos of your loved ones. Studies have shown that even very educated and adhering to the scientific picture of the world, people either refuse to commit such actions, or experience from them the strongest irrational discomfort. Other, equally educated people, faced with the need for organ transplants, prefer to get them from donors who are considered good, rather than from criminals. Or they may give up the organs of those who have died of a non-infectious and non-damaging transplanted organ disease, as if bad tendencies or non-contagious disease can be transmitted with a transplanted kidney.
Magic has certain advantages. First of all-a sense of control over the situation. Let illusory, but it helps to cope with the stress caused by the disease. People who think they are in control are known to tolerate stress more easily and are less susceptible to associated mental problems.
Understanding what is happening is a prerequisite for gaining this much-needed feeling. It is believed that this is why experiencing stress begin to actively build causal relationships. Why did this happen to me? What’s the danger?” What can I do to solve the problem? Magic gives simple and internally consistent answers. And simple explanations that allow you to imagine what is happening are always more convincing.
Compare these two statements.
- Cancer-a violation of the regulation of tissue growth caused by a mutation of either stimulating or suppressing its genes. There are more than a hundred known types of cancer, the causes and mechanisms of which are different. There are dozens of risk factors that affect the likelihood of cancer. Even if you are not exposed to these factors, it does not guarantee that you will not get sick. If you are sick, no treatment can guarantee a positive result.
- Cancer is caused by polluting toxins (toxins, evil spirits, negative thoughts). Toxins can be removed from the body by a therapeutic enema, which guarantees a cure for cancer.
Although the former corresponds to modern ideas, it is vague and does not give a person the feeling that he can take the situation into his own hands. The second statement is detached from reality, but if you are far from medicine, it is more likely to give a sense of understanding of the problem and a sense of control over the situation. And so it will be easier to believe. A well-known correspondence dispute between two seventeenth-century philosophers, Rene Descartes and Boruch Spinoza. Descartes believed that understanding and faith are two different processes that occur in consciousness sequentially, while his contemporary Spinoza argued that understanding and faith are one and the same, without the first the second is impossible. Modern psychological experiments confirm that Spinoza was right in this correspondence dispute. People are more willing to believe what they think is clear. We need simple answers to all the questions and methods of guaranteed solutions to unsolvable problems.
Anthropologist James George Fraser believed that magic, religion and science are the three stages that humanity successively goes through. However, contrary to his predictions medical magic continues to exist: we find it not only in the distant tribes or ancient treatises but also in all phases of medical history, including today. Moving from one Chapter to another, we will encounter magic in the most unexpected places and gradually learn to separate it from scientific medicine. What Fraser was right about was that magic and science have one thing in common – both try to control the world around them – and one big difference: magic doesn’t work.
However, always science works? Let’s go back to antiquity, to the beginning of modern civilization and professional medicine, and see if scientific medicine was so different from magic.