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?