|VIEW THE MOBILE VERSION of www.homemedicine.ca|| Informational|
Medical ArticlesCardiovascular Renal Disease
With the strennousness of this era, this disease or conditi...
See Veins, Swollen, etc. ...
Let us suppose a swelling appears on some part of the body or ...
Sentiment _versus_ Sentimentality
FREEDOM from sentimentality opens the way for true sentiment....
Milk, Meat, And Other Protein Foods
Speaking of butter, how about milk? The dairy lobby is very p...
Diet Economy In
Dr. Hutchison, one of our greatest authorities on the subject ...
Technicalities Of The Pack And Bath
Let me give you its technicalities, and the rationale of its ...
(1) Nerve or imaginary chills. These are feelings of cold, whe...
Arterial hypertension may be divided into stages. In the fi...
The first sign of such an illness is a brief and slight attack...
Children's Healthy Growth
Often either the whole system or some part fails to grow prope...
Physics Of Aortic Lesions
Next in frequency to mitral insufficiency is aortic insuffici...
Burns Case Xxxiv
Mr. C. aged 51, scalded his leg ten days ago on the instep. H...
During the process of healing, wounds often give a great deal ...
The Surgical Dissection Of The Axillary And Brachial Regions Displaying The Relative Order Of Their Contained Parts
All surgical regions have only artificial boundaries; and the...
Where this is advised medically, it is often taken in a manner...
The Distinctive Diagnosis Between External And Internal Inguinal Herniae The Taxis The Seat Of Stricture And The Operation
A comparison of the relative position of these two varieties ...
Prejudice Of Physicians Against The Water-cure
The greatest, and the most serious, difficulty lies in the pr...
This is a dangerous, and with the ordinary allopathic treatme...
See Baths for Head. ...
Healing-spells In Ancient Times
Source: Primitive Psycho-therapy And Quackery
Neither doth fansy only cause, but also as easily cure
diseases; as I may justly refer all magical cures thereunto,
performed, as is thought, by saints, images, relicts, holy
waters, shrines, avemarys, crucifixes, benedictions, charms,
characters, sigils of the planets, inverted words, etc. And
therefore all such cures are rather to be ascribed to the
force of the imagination, than to any virtue in themselves.
RAMESEY, Elminthologia: 1668.
His night-spell is his guard, and charms his physicians.
BISHOP HALL, Characters of Vertues and Vices.
Certain Chaldean and Persian words were formerly believed to have a
particular efficacy against the demons of sickness. The languages of
men, it was averred, were not of human origin, but were gifts from the
gods; and inasmuch as magic had its source in Chaldea and other Eastern
countries, it was reasoned that certain words of the languages spoken in
those places were possessed of an inherent magical value. Hence
these words were used in invocations addressed to spirits. In the
popular belief of the ancient Babylonians, illnesses were caused by the
entrance into the body of divers aerial spirits, and incantations were
the chief means employed for their expulsion.
In Accadian medical magic, on the same principle, bedridden patients
were treated by fastening about their heads "sentences from a good
book." Naturally, among nations where such views prevailed,
physicians were but little esteemed, and the cure of disease devolved
upon exorcists and sorcerers. Medicine was merely a branch of Magic, and
not a rational science, as in more enlightened countries. Incantations
against the spirits of disease were usually recited by the priests, who
were supposed, by reason of their education and training, to be
specially expert in the choice of the most efficient formulas.
The Chaldean medical amulets were of various kinds. Frequently they
consisted of precious stones, engraved with mystic sentences; or strips
of cloth, upon which were written talismanic verses, after the manner of
Jewish phylacteries. But of whatever form, the chief source of their
supposed efficacy appears to have been the words and characters
inscribed upon them. Gradually, however, a system of therapeutics
was evolved, and the use of charms and incantations yielded in a measure
to practical methods. The later Assyrian cuneiform inscriptions (about
B. C. 1640) contain references to classified diseases; and
although healing-spells were still largely in vogue, the employment of
various herbs and potions became an important feature in Assyrian
The therapeutic methods employed by the priests of Finland in early
times were chiefly magical. They exorcised the spirits of disease by
means of sacred words and healing-spells, which they believed to be of
Adoration of the hidden forces of nature, and worship of superior
beings, gave rise to incantations. It was believed moreover that by the
use of appropriate formulas these mysterious powers could be rendered
subservient to the will of man. In the popular imagination, even the
moon could be made to descend to the earth at the command of an
enchantress, by means of an appropriate spell. For, as Virgil sang:
Carmina vel possunt coelo deducere lunam.
Among the ancient Aryan peoples, incantations were an important factor
in therapeutics, and naturally the use of the same methods persisted
among their descendants, after their dispersion and settlement in
different parts of the world.
Christianus Pazig, in his "Treatise on Magic Incantations," remarked
that the ancient origin of written spells is attested alike by sacred
and profane literature. According to tradition, Ham, the son of Noah,
inscribed mystic sentences on flinty rocks and metals at the time of the
Deluge, in order to preserve them, "being influenced perhaps by the fear
that he would not be allowed to take into the Ark a book filled with
these vanities." The secret art of preparing incantations is said to
have been imparted to others by Mizraim, the son of Ham, and as a result
Egypt and Persia were invaded by hordes of magicians, who aspired to
dominate universal nature, and to subject to their own wills not only
human beings and the lower animals, but even inanimate objects as well.
The Roman poet Lucan (born about A. D. 39) wrote in his
"Pharsalia," that by the spells of Thessalian witches, there
flowed into the obdurate heart a love that entered not there in the
course of nature. And to the same authority is accredited the saying
that even the world might be made to stand still by means of a suitable
incantation; a saying which voiced the popular belief in the miraculous
power of words.
There is abundant evidence to show that the phenomena of
psycho-therapeutics were known to the ancients, and that Assyrian
practitioners effected cures by the agency of suggestion, although they
were ignorant of the mode of its operation. The method of treating and
curing in a mysterious way has been a widely spread one. It was known in
Egypt; in Greece there was the temple of Asklepios or Esculapius; it
was prevalent in Rome; it was in vogue during the Middle Ages. There
were oracles and shrines and sacred grottos and springs; and their
existence and the matters and facts relating to the practices and cures
performed at them are quite as well established as are those of Lourdes
in France, or of Sainte Anne de Beaupre, in the Province of Quebec. Dr.
Pierre Janet is of the opinion that always and everywhere these cures
have been effected under the same laws. The maladies that can be cured
have always been the same. There are illnesses that could not be
vanquished at Asklepios; they are obdurate still at Lourdes. The same
things are done to-day that were done in the temples, and under the same
conditions and in the same way, and even in the same space of time. This
historic similitude shows us that the miraculous cures are all of them
subject to the same regular laws. In far-away Japan there exist
precisely the same miracle cures as elsewhere. In fact, it seems to have
been a matter of independent discovery by investigators all over the
world. Dr. Janet is of the opinion that it is not Asklepios that has
copied Assyria, or Lourdes that has patterned after the Greeks, but that
all have worked independently and have attained to a similar use of the
same natural laws.
The Anglo-Saxon clergy sanctioned the use of the relics of saints as
having curative virtues in nearly all diseases. A hair from a saint's
beard, moistened in holy water and taken inwardly, was a favorite remedy
Direct healing power was also ascribed to the tombs of saints, and
indeed to anything pertaining to the latter. In the popular view, sacred
relics were not only potent to heal, but also brought good fortune. This
was true in medieval times, but the early heathen nations had no such
beliefs. In a recent article in the "Century Magazine," March,
1908, entitled "Christianity and Health," Rev. Samuel McComb, D.D.,
averred that the relic of a dead superstition may achieve as much, in
the cure of physical disorders, as faith in the living God.
The ecclesiastical miracles in the Middle Ages, and the healing wonders
in our own time, attested as they are by the highest medical
authorities, show what curative power lies in the mere psychological
state of trust and confidence. Dr. A. T. Schofield says, in
explanation of the many seemingly miraculous cures worked at Lourdes and
elsewhere, that all the causative changes take place in the unconscious
mind, yet the patient is wholly ignorant of anything but the results in
the body. Therefore, in such cases, radical cures may be effected
In a lecture on "Temples and Cults in Babylon and Assyria," during his
Lowell Institute course at Boston, January 18, 1910, Dr. Morris Jastrow,
Jr., spoke of incantation as a popular custom in ancient times.
It is difficult, he said, to draw the line between public and private
cults. Divination by means of the liver was an official cult and bore
only on public affairs, and there was in its determination a ritual.
Astrology, on the contrary, was largely a private affair, and needed but
an observation of the heavens, which was done without religious
ceremony. When, however, a cult became very popular, the priests were
not slow to add its ceremonies to their own.
A most important cult of this nature was incantation. This was against
disease and misfortune. Disease was caused by a witch or demon who took
possession of the sick one, and cure depended on the ability to get rid
of the demon. The elements of fire and water had much to do with the
combating of disease, and the two chief deities appealed to were Ea, god
of water, and Marduk, god of the sun and fire. In both cases the idea
was one of purification. Extended rituals were recited, questions were
asked by the priests that demanded almost confessions for their replies.
The physicians of ancient Egypt blended science and superstition in
their prescriptions. While fully appreciating the benefit of a stimulus
to the patient's imagination, they did not, however, neglect the
employment of medicinal remedies.
In a papyrus medical treatise of the sixteenth century B. C., discovered
at Thebes in the winter of 1872-73, by the German Egyptologist George
Ebers, are to be found numerous incantations and conjurations.
Nevertheless the same treatise affords evidence of a careful preparation
of complex recipes. Some of the prescriptions in this document
are considered by Miss Amelia B. Edwards to be of mythological origin,
while others appear to have been derived from the medical lore of
Egyptian medical papyri contain both prescriptions for remedies to be
used for various ailments, and conjurations for the expulsion of demons,
together with petitions for the present intervention of deities.
The Chaldean magi also employed many formulas and incantations for
repelling evil spirits and for the cure of disease. Specimens of such
formulas are to be seen on clay tablets exhumed from the ruins of
ancient Nineveh. They consist chiefly in a description of some disease,
with the expression of a desire for deliverance from it, and a command
enforcing its departure. During the preparation of their
medicines the ancient Egyptians offered prayers and invocations, of
which the following is a specimen:
"May Isis heal me, as she healed Horus, of all the ills inflicted upon
him when Set slew his father Osiris. O Isis, thou great Enchantress,
free me, deliver me from all evil, bad and horrible things, from the god
and goddess of evil, from the god and goddess of sickness, and from the
unclean demon who presses upon me, as thou didst loose and free thy son
The Egyptians held the theory that many diseases were due to the anger
of Isis, who was also believed by them to have discovered various
remedies. Hence the propitiation of this goddess by invocations was a
So great was the fondness of the Egyptians for amulets, that they were
wont to hang them about the necks of mummies to ward off demons.
Apropos of this singular custom, we may remark, in passing, that
mummy-dust was prescribed by English physicians as late as during the
reign of Charles II, to promote longevity. They reasoned that inasmuch
as pulverized mummy had lasted a long time, it might, when assimilated
by their patients, assist the latter to do likewise.
The worship of subterranean deities, representing the hidden forces of
nature, is said to have been a chief feature of the religion of the
prehistoric Pelasgians inhabiting Greece; and it was believed that if
once the particular formula or spell, wherein lay the secret of their
power, could be discovered, these deities might be rendered subservient
to the will of man. Similarly, in many religions of antiquity,
the names of deities were invested with great power, and whoever uttered
them was "master of the god."
Cato the Censor (B. C. 234-149), in his treatise "De Re Rustica,"
chapter 157, recommended a written charm for the cure of fractures; and
Ovid (B. C. 43-A. D. 18), in his "Metamorphoses," wrote these lines: "By
means of incantations I break in twain the viper's jaws." In very early
times physicians were regarded as under the protection of the gods, and
the magical charms employed by them were therefore naturally invested
with supernatural curative power. Melampus, a noted mythical leech of
Argos, before the Trojan War, was said to have made use of
healing-spells in his practice.
Professor H. Bluemner, in "The Home Life of the Ancient Greeks," chapter
7, remarks that, in the early historic era, medicine developed
especially in two directions in Greece: namely, as practised by a
regular medical fraternity; and secondly, "as a kind of religious
mystery in the hands of the priests." The latter system was doubtless
connected with the worship of Esculapius. But quacks and charlatans were
much in evidence, even in that remote epoch. Francis Bacon, in his
"Advancement of Learning," chapter 2, says that "the poets were
clear-sighted in discerning the credulity of men in often preferring a
mountebank, or a cunning woman to a learned physician. Hence they made
Esculapius and Circe brother and sister, and both children of Apollo."
The Grecians believed that petitions offered in a foreign tongue were
more favorably received than those in the vernacular; and as a reason
for this belief it was alleged that the earliest languages, however
barbarous and strange to classic ears, contained words and names which
were somehow more consonant to nature and hence more pleasing to their
deities. Especial magical efficacy has always been ascribed to
certain Hebrew, Arabian, and Indian words.
Aetius, who lived at Amida in Mesopotamia in the fifth century, the
first Christian physician whose medical writings are extant, repeated
biblical verses during the preparation of his medicines, in order to
increase their efficacy. And until comparatively modern times,
the employment of verbal charms, curative spells, and formulas, was
believed to enhance the therapeutic virtues of medicines. No remedy, we
are told, was administered without mysterious ceremony and incantation.
According to Suidas, a Greek lexicographer, supposed to have lived in
the tenth century, the method of curing diseases by the repetition of
certain words had been practised ever since the time of the mythological
King Minos, of Crete. Indeed, among the peoples of antiquity, the
science of therapeutics was largely of a theurgic or supernatural
character, and Sibylline verses were in great repute. In this connection
it is interesting to note that, according to one authority, the word
carminative, a remedy which relieves pain "like a charm," is derived
from the Latin carminare, to use incantations.
Words of encouragement and a cheerful mien are good therapeutic agents;
and the physician of Plato's day, we are told, sometimes took an orator
along with him, in his visits to Grecian households, to persuade his
patients to take medicines. Such an expedient may have been
warranted in those days, but it is of course wholly unnecessary in this
age of palatable elixirs and chocolate-coated tablets.
Alexander of Tralles, a Greek physician of the sixth century,
recommended a verse of Homer for the cure of colic. In our advanced
stage of culture, we should hardly be content with such a carminative,
but should rather employ one of the modern aromatic remedies of the
pharmacopoeia. In the classic age, however, as well as at later
epochs, the use of verbal charms for the cure of disease was forbidden
under severe penalties. The case is recorded of a woman of Achaia, who
was stoned to death for attempting to cure a fever by the repetition of
spells. This was in the fourth century, during the reign of
The Greeks invoked Asklepios, the god of Medicine, and his daughters
Hygeia, the goddess of Health, and Panacea, the All-Healer, who
personified attributes of their father. Apollo, too, under the title of
Paean, was worshipped as a health-deity and physician of the gods. He was
addressed both as a healer and destroyer; as one who inflicted diseases,
but who likewise vouchsafed remedies for their cure. But there appears
to have been no incompatibility between the offering of prayers to these
heathen deities, and the use of magical spells, formulas and verses. For
religion, the healing art, and magic seem to have been inextricably
blended in the early days of Greece and Rome, notwithstanding the
teachings of Hippocrates, who first strove to liberate medicine from the
superstition which enslaved it.
The complex character of therapeutic methods in vogue among the ancient
classical peoples, finds a modern parallel in the case of American
aborigines. In various tribes the functions of priest, doctor, and
wizard are assumed by one and the same person. Under the
influence of civilization the leech and parson have their distinct
professions, and the role of the magician loses much of its importance.
In the present advanced stage of culture, many physicians devote
themselves to particular branches of their art, and each human organ,
when ailing, may invoke assistance from its own special Esculapian.
The Romans of the fourth century, says Edward Gibbon, "dreaded
the mysterious power of spells and incantations, of potent herbs and
mysterious rites, which could extinguish or recall life, inflame the
passions of the soul, blast the works of creation, and extort from
reluctant demons the secrets of futurity." They held firmly to the
belief that this miraculous power was possessed by certain old hags and
enchantresses, who lived in poverty and obscurity. The modern popular
ideas about witches having compacts with evil spirits, whereby the
former are enabled to operate supernaturally, appear to be of very
ancient origin, as is evident from the folk-lore of different peoples.
Magical arts, wrote Gibbon, although condemned alike by popular opinion
and by the laws of Rome, were continually practised, because they tended
to gratify the most imperious passions of men's hearts.
Among pagan nations prayers were somewhat akin to incantations, and were
not always regarded as petitions; but their value was supposed to inhere
in the power of the uttered words, a power which even the gods were
unable to withstand. The mystic verses by means of which Athenian
physicians anciently invoked supernatural aid, were called carmina,
charms, their magical nature was incompatible with a purely
devotional spirit, and they were therefore incantations rather than
prayers. Invocations of deities and magic spells have one point in
common; both are appeals to spirits believed to possess supernatural
powers. This very kinship may render verbal charms the more obnoxious to
devout people, on the same principle which led Lord Bacon to declare
superstition to be the more repulsive on account of its similitude to
religion, "even as it addeth deformity to an ape to be so like a man."
In the prayers offered by the Romans to their deities, the choice of apt
phrases was considered to be of greater importance than the mental
attitude of the petitioner, because of the prevalent belief in the
efficacy of appropriate words per se.
Hence, we are told, when prayers for the welfare of the State were
publicly recited by a magistrate, it was customary for a high-priest to
dictate suitable expressions, lest an unhappy selection of words provoke
divine anger. Popular credence attributed to the classic writer
Marcus Varro (B. C. 116-28), sometimes called "the most learned of the
Romans," the faculty of curing tumors by the direct expression of mental
force, namely, by means of words.
The Romans believed that the magical power of prayers was enhanced if
they were uttered with a loud voice. Hence a saying attributed to
Seneca: "So speak to God as though all men heard your prayers." Of great
repute among the healing-spells of antiquity was the cabalistic word
Abracadabra, which occurs first in a medical treatise entitled
"Praecepta de Medicina," by the Roman writer Quintus Serenus Samonicus,
who flourished in the second century. An inverted triangular figure,
formed by writing this word in the manner hereinafter described, was
much valued as an antidote against fevers; cloth or parchment being the
material originally used for the inscription.
Thou shalt on paper write the spell divine,
Abracadabra called, on many a line,
Each under each in even order place,
But the last letter in each line efface;
As by degrees the elements grow few,
Still take away, but fix the residue,
Till at the last one letter stands alone,
And the whole dwindles to a tapering cone.
Tie this about the neck with flaxen string,
Mighty the good 't will to the patient bring.
Its wondrous potency shall guard his bed,
And drive disease and death far from his head.
Another favorite therapeutic spell, no less venerable than Abracadabra,
was the mystical word Abraxas, which was first used by Basilides, a
leader of the Egyptian Gnostics in the second century. This word,
engraved on an antique precious stone, sometimes accompanied by a
magical emblem and meaningless inscription, was commonly used as a
medical amulet, and was well adapted to fire the imagination of ignorant
The following curious extract is taken from a rare book published by W.
Clowes, serjeant-surgeon to Queen Elizabeth, entitled, "A Proved
Practice for all Young Chirurgians," 1588:
It is not long since that a subtile deluder, verie craftely
having upon set purpose his brokers or espials abroade, using
sundry secret drifts to allure many, as did the syrens by
their sweet sonets and melody seduce mariners to make them
their pray, so did his brokers or espials deceive many, in
proclayming and sounding out his fame abroade from house to
house, as those use which crye, "Mistresse, have you any worke
for the tincker?" At the lengthe they heard of one that was
tormented with a quartaine; then in all post haste this bad
man was brought unto the sicke patient by their craftie means,
and so forth, without any tariance, he did compound for
fifteene pounde to rid him within three fits of his agew, and
to make him as whole as a fish of all diseases: so a little
before the fit was at hand, he called unto the wife of the
patient to bring him an apple of the biggest size, and then
with a pinne writte in the rinde of the apple Abracadabra,
and such like, and perswaded him to take it presently in the
beginning of his fit, for there was (sayeth he) a secret in
those words. To be short, the patient, being hungry of his
health, followed his counsell, and devoured all and every
peece of the apple. So soon as it was receyved, nature left
the disease to digest the apple, which was to hard to do; for
at length he fell to vomiting, then the core kept such a
sturre in his throate, that wheretofore his fever was ill, now
much worse, a malo ad pejus, out of the frying-pan into the
fire: presently there were physitions sent for unto the sick
patient, or else his fifteene pound had been gone, with a more
pretious jewell: but this lewde fellow is better knowne at
Newgate than I will heere declare.
Certain mystic sentences of barbaric origin, mostly unintelligible, and
known as "Ephesian Letters," engraved upon the famous statue of Diana at
Ephesus, were popular among the Greeks as charms wherewith to drive
away diseases, to render the wearer invincible in battle, or to purify
demon-infested places. Their invention was attributed to the fabulous
Dactyls of Phrygia, and they appear to have been held in equally great
esteem, whether pronounced orally as incantations, or inscribed upon
strips of parchment and worn as amulets.
In ancient Hibernia, the former western limit of the known world, the
Druids, in their medical treatment, relied much upon magic rites and
incantations. And the early Irish physicians, who belonged to the
Druid priesthood, were devoted to mystical medicine, although they also
prescribed various herbs with whose therapeutic use they were
familiar. In Ireland according to Lady Wilde, invocations
were formerly in the names of the Phenician god Baal, and of the Syrian
goddess Ashtoreth, representing the sun and moon respectively. . . .
After the establishment of Christianity, formulas of invocation were
usually in the names of Christ or the Holy Trinity, and those of Mary,
Peter, and numerous saints were also used. In Brand's "Popular
Antiquities," we find a long list of the names of saints who were
invoked for the cure of particular ailments; and the same authority
quotes from a work entitled "The Irish Hubbub," by Barnaby Rich, 1619,
these lines: "There is no disease, no sicknesse, no greefe, either
amongst men or beasts, that hath not his physician among the saints."
The devotion of the Teutonic tribes to magical medicine is not
surprising to any one versed in the mythological lore of Scandinavia,
which is replete with sorcery. And throughout the Middle Ages, although
medical practice was largely in the hands of Christian priests and
monks, yet sorcerers and charlatans continued to employ old pagan usages
and magical remedies. The German physicians of the Carlovingian era
pretended to cure ailments by whispering in the patient's ear, as well
as by the use of enchanted herbs. They inherited ceremonial formulas
from the practitioners of an earlier age, for the treatment of
ophthalmic diseases; and in addition to such spells, they made use of
various gestures, and were wont to thrice touch the affected
In Grimm's "Teutonic Mythology" is to be found an old German
spell against gout, as follows: "God, the Lord went over the land; there
met him 70 sorts of gouts and goutesses. Then spake the Lord: 'Ye 70
gouts and goutesses, whither would ye?' Then spake the 70 gouts and
goutesses: 'We go over the land and take from men their health and
limbs.' Then spake the Lord: 'Ye shall go to an elder-bush and break off
all his boughs, and leave with [such an one, naming the patient] his
Many old German healing-spells contain the names of our Lord and of the
Virgin, which probably superseded those of pagan deities and sacred
mythological personages, the formulas remaining otherwise the same. Such
spells are akin to pious invocations or actual prayers. Others exhibit a
blending of devotion and credulity, and appear to have degenerated into
mere verbal forms.
According to a tradition of the North, while Wodan and Baldur were once
on a hunting excursion, the latter's horse dislocated a leg; whereupon
Wodan reset the bones by means of a verbal charm. And the mere narration
of this prehistoric magical cure is in repute in Shetland as a remedy
for lameness in horses at the present day.
A remarkable cure for intermittent fever, in a marshy district of
Lincolnshire, is described in "Folk-Lore," June, 1898 (page 186). An old
woman, whose grandson had a bad attack of the fever, fastened upon the
foot-board of his bed three horse-shoes, with a hammer laid cross-wise
upon them. With the hammer the old crone gave each shoe a smart tap,
repeating each time this spell: "Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, nail the
Devil to this post, one for God and one for Wod and one for Lok. . . .
Yon's a sure charm," said she, "that will hold the Old One as fast as t'
church tower, when next he comes to shake un." The chronicler of this
curious incantation calls attention to the association of the name of
God with two heathen personages: Wodan, the chief ruler, and Loki, the
spirit of evil, in the mythology of the North.
The early Saxons in England knew little of scientific medicine, and
relied on indigenous herbs. They were much addicted to the use of wizard
spells, a term which originated with them; and were too ignorant to
adopt the skilled methods of the practitioners of Greece and Italy.
The invention of some especially forceful words for exorcising fiends
and illnesses was ascribed to Robert Grosseteste (about 1175-1253),
Bishop of Lincoln; and the fact that a learned prelate should devote
attention to the subject is strong testimony to its importance in
medieval times. There is indeed abundant evidence that throughout that
period verbal charms were very commonly worn, whether devotional
sentences, prayer formulas written on vellum, or mystic letters, words,
and symbols inscribed on parchment. For many centuries medical
practice consisted largely of prayers and incantations, the employment
of charms and talismans, and the performance of superstitious rites.
Until the seventeenth century these methods were more or less in vogue.
Thus, a verse from the Lamentations of Jeremiah was thought to be a
specific for rheumatism.
The Atharva-Veda, one of the ancient Vedas, or religious books of the
Hindus, contains hundreds of healing-spells, as well as formulas to
secure prosperity, in expiation of sin, and as safeguards against
robbers and wild beasts. They are repeated either by the person
expecting assistance therefrom, or by a magician for his benefit. Of the
therapeutic verses brief examples are here given:
(A charm against fever.) "O Takman (fever), along with thy brother
balasa, along with thy sister cough, along with thy cousin paman, go
to yonder foreign folk!"
(A charm against cough.) "As a well-sharpened arrow swiftly to a
distance flies, thus do thou, O Cough, fly along the expanse of the
(A charm against the demons of disease.) "O amulet of ten kinds of wood,
release this man from the demon and the fit which has seized upon his
While reciting the above formula, a talisman consisting of splinters
from ten kinds of wood is fastened upon the patient, and ten of his
friends rub him down.
The following translation of an old Scottish incantation against
disease is taken from a collection of charms, chiefly of the Outer
Hebrides Islands, and included by Alexander Carmichael in his "Carmina
Gaelica," Edinburgh, 1900.
Peter and James and John,
The Three of sweetest virtues in glory,
Who arose to make the charm,
Before the great gate of the City,
By the right knee of God the Son,
Against the keen-eyed men,
Against the peering-eyed women,
Against the slim, slender, fairy darts,
Against the swift arrows of fairies.
Two made to thee the withered eye,
Man and woman in venom and envy,
Three whom I will set against them.
Father, Son, and Spirit Holy.
Four-and-twenty diseases in the constitution of man and beast.
God scrape them, God search them, God cleanse them,
From out thy blood, from out thy flesh,
From out thy fragrant bones,
From this day, and each day that comes,
Till thy day on earth be done.
Next: Medicinal Runic Inscriptions
Previous: Styptic Charms