The Weapon Salve

Following from my post about “The Gonad Doctors,” Arno alerted me to a recent article translated from the German Newspaper ‘Speigel,’ about a forthcoming book by medical historian, Dr. Richard Sugg of Durham University on medicinal cannibalism. I particularly like the story about Pope Innocent VIII drinking the blood of three murdered boys. Now, if ever there was a name that was a misnomer.

In the book, Dr. Sugg’s makes the claim that pre-enlightenment medicine regularly used bodies parts for cures.

In SuperSense, I mention Paracelsus, one of the leading alchemists of the day and his particular recipe for a weapon salve. Weapon salves were thought to cure wounds inflicted by weapons by treating the instrument responsible for the injury. Paracelsus wrote,

” Take of moss growing on the head of a thief who has been hanged and left in the air; of real mummy; of human blood, still warm – of each one ounce; of human suet, two ounces; of linseed oil, turpentine, and Armenian bole – of each two drachms. Mix all well in a mortar, and keep the salve in an oblong, narrow urn.”

Once this ointment was prepared, it was important to recover the original weapon and dip it in the ointment. In the meantime, the wound was to be cleaned regularly with fresh water and bandages each day after the removal of ‘laudable pus.’ 

The logic of the weapon salve reveals a number of supernatural misconceptions. The weapon had a sympathetic connection with the wound by virtue of the fact that it had inflicted it. The various ingredients for the salve were chosen because they had sympathetic affinity with the healing process. Some ingredients may have been chosen because they were believed to counteract the negative aspects of infection by exerting antipathetic forces to cancel them out. The gruesome ingredients of the potion demonstrate essentialist thinking. The use of human tissue reflected the belief that it possesses essential forces that can affect the healing process. Particularly prized was the tissue from those who had died healthy and young; no one wanted rejuvenating fat and blood from either the ill or old. Hence, most recipes called for the use of those who had been executed, the younger and more virile the better, as the young had more life force in them than the sick and dying.

If any of this ancient witchcraft  sounds familiar then maybe you have been speaking to a homeopath recently. The logic behind most homeopathic cures involves the same magical laws of sympathy and antipathy. The only difference is that the dilutions are so weak that they are indistinguishable from pure water. But that’s another post for later.

With it’s medieval origins and wacky logic, you don’t get such supernatural thinking in today’s modern healthcare system, do you?



Filed under Essentialism, supernatural

14 responses to “The Weapon Salve

  1. poietes

    Thanks so much. I was doing my early rounds of visits to sites and dropped in on yours and followed the link to Dr. Suggs.

    What a wonderful read on an empty stomach without any coffee. How . . . colorful.

    Well, we’ve gone back to using maggots and leeches in some situations, maybe we’ll be using blood and skulls next. Who knows?

  2. You can’t get much younger than stem cells from aborted embryos and I hear that the storing of chord blood from new borns is a fast growing business.

  3. brucehood

    Ah yes and then there are the infamous Tai Bao capsules made from foetuses…

  4. Using blood and skulls next, poietes?

    I’ve been using mine for some considerable time now (quiet, Noseycow!) and to be honest, would have found life a tad difficult without them.

  5. poietes

    Ground up skulls mixed with blood . . . yuck . . .

    As far as using mine, quite obviously, I do not, at least on a regular basis . . .

  6. brucehood

    Congratulations Lawman2.. I’ll try and bear this in mind (oops) in future postings as pregnancy and birth is a time of great supernatural thinking. Heh, how about I do a post on baby superstitions after the big event? How long do I have to wait?

  7. We’ll have to be careful here, with all this talk of ground up body parts, mixed with blood and ‘other ingredients’.

    We could end up on the wrong end of some litigation from the major burger companies, for revealing the innermost secrets of their recipe vaults.

  8. Oh, and poietes; from reading your posts, you make better use of the stuff within your skull than I do with mine.

  9. hey there bruce!we just found out yesterday…it will be a long wait for the ol’ caveman here!i am 47 years old my wife is 37 this is our first child!post it and i’ll advertise it for you!not sure just how many hits our bloggers helping bloggers bring the blogs advertised on it…but might bring a few new readers anyway!
    i run that post every monday.i have one scheduled already to post…but i can make a few adjustments!

  10. poietes

    Lawman 2
    Congrats on baby making success. Here’s to hormonal swings and midnight cravings and funny dreams about soft furry animals. It will all be worth it. Stay safe and healthy, and I promise not to mention any more odd recipes . . . but it was Bruce’s fault.

    NobblySan, thanks for the nod. I appreciate it, even though I often feel as if I’m running on half cylinders or auto pilot.

  11. Niklashausen

    One small correction: Paracelsus lived in the sixteenth century, so his remedy was not technically medieval, but rather Renaissance. The Renaissance saw a great revival in both learned and popular magic, much of it based on pre-medieval Mediterranean traditions. Since the Renaissance is usually thought of the the beginning of the modern era in European history, Paracelsus’ remedy was technically modern.

  12. Anonymous

    Theophastus Bombastus Paracelsus Von Hohenheim traveled extensively and studied local plants/medicines and talked to healers…many times they were women. He knew the medical practices of his time needed reformation in tyheory and practice. He did not support the “wictch burning”. Although I’m glad medicine has progressed, but he was trying. He was a student of Johannes Triethemius. His alchemical work with plants was important…However I would not have liked to be dosed with his preparations made from heavy metals…On the other hand, if you survived you were probably cured.

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