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Monday, May 6, 2013

Folk Medicine was an essential part of life

Medicine to the primitive mind was what we might now call folk medicine.  In our minds we think of it as mythical, even irrational, although that's not a fair way of viewing it.  Primitive man had no way of knowing what we know today, and to rationalize medicine they came up with "theories" as to what might cause disease.  We refer to it now as folk medicine.

Folklore are essentially easy to remember and recite tunes.  We think of them as fun for kids, although for most of human existence they were simple truths.  For most of human existence people were ignorant of real truths, and therefore had no way to explain what happens when people die, and what happened before we were born.  So they rationalized the only way they could: through folklore.  They shared these at night, perhaps by the flicker of the fire.

The Epic of Galgamesh was one of the first stories ever put to writing, and was probably told for centuries before it was written down sometime around 3200 B.C by the Sumerians.  It was the story that pretty much highlighted the gloomy view held by the Sumerians about life and death.  Galgamesh made a good friend, and his friend was taken from him by the gods, and he sought the stone of eternal life, only to have it taken from him by the serpent.

While folklore provided entertainment, folk medicine provided hope.  To the primitive mind, hope was medicine.  The primitive mind had primitive knowledge; he was ignorant of what we might refer to as basic facts.  Even the primitive doctor had scanty knowledge of anatomy, and therefore had no real concept of disease.  For this reason, the symptoms was the disease.  You had chest pain.  You had leg pain.  You had a runny nose.  You had shortness of breath.  You had a broken leg.  

External injuries may have been classified accurately because they could be seen.  A broken leg was a broken leg, and a cut finger was a cut finger.  But what is going on when a person suddenly becomes confused?  The primitive mind, having no knowledge of internal anatomy nor disease, begins to speculate.  These speculations, then, work their way in to easy to recite little tunes, and are recited from one generation to the next by the flickering light of the fire.

Folklore provided entertainment, while folk medicine provided hope.  To the primitive mind, which was ignorant by our standards (but not theirs) accepted this way of living.  In fact, it was essential to their survival in an otherwise arduous, dark and vicious world.  There were evil spirits, dark demons, and angry gods lurking amid the dark trees, in the sky, and in dark corners (like the closet and under the bed) of homes.

Many of the superstitions we heard as kids (and knew were myths) were thought up in the primitive world (like the boogie monster) , maybe as far back as 30,000 B.C.  Lullabies were recited as prayers that the evil wicked lady Lilith would not take away their child as he slept:  This was both folklore and folk medicine

There are many examples of folk medicine that exist to this day, although we normally don't think of it as medicine.  Some examples are as follows:
  1. Handling a toad may cause warts
  2. That warts can be removed by touching them with pebbles or muttering charms over them
  3. Stump water will remove freckles
  4. Bad eye sight can be remedies by the water into which the blacksmith has dipped his red-hot iron
  5. Malaria is cured by wearing a spider hung around one's neck in a nutshell
Another example of folk medicine is the use of amulets.  It was believed that by having certain things on your possession, or in your home, would work to cure diseases.  Examples include any of the following:
  1. Bone chip from a trephinization
  2. Bone from an animal, such as a rabbit
  3. A dried rabbits foot
  4. A claw of a hawk
  5. An Irish Potato
  6. A leather strap previously worn by a horse
  7. A ring made out of a coffin nail
  8. Peony root carried in a pocket
  9. Precious stones
  10. Birth stones
  11. Beads
  12. Any of the above worn as a necklace, bracelet, or earrings
  13. Words like Abracadabra, generally written in a patterns
Talisman were similar such objects, although they were generally left in a home, or building, or temple, and guarded.  They were not meant as cures but as objects that brought good luck and fortune.  In the modern world these may all be in fun and game, but in the primitive world this was your preventative medicine.  In the modern world we take Advair to prevent asthma, in the primitive world you carried a dried rabbits foot. 

None of this would have provided any real remedy, although there have been many recent studies that show that hope breeds happiness and this increases mental vitality and health.  Happiness can cure diseases.  Hope can cure diseases. Hope can keep a person healthy.  Faith can keep a person both happy and healthy.  Hope and Faith can even ease the mind and cause healing.

Education was an esoteric gift to the privileged few until only recently.  I think people should lie in their beds every night with their eyes shut and show appreciation for the knowledge they have, because it is a special gift.  People should take advantage to the modern methods of learning, because it is a special honor for us to be privy to such knowledge.

Folklore gave men and women for many centuries hope to carry forward in this life, and folk medicine these good folks hope for health and healing.  This gave them an incentive to be good, productive members of whatever society they were a part of.  Hope was needed for a society to survive (it still is).

Garrison, Fielding Hudson, "An Introduction to the History of Medicine," 1921, pages 31-41

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