Tree-Hugging Dirt Worship

April 14, 2013

On the belief in spirits in disease

Filed under: magic, science — Tags: , , , , , — paragardener @ 8:18 pm

Recently, I have read much of an ignorant superstition regarding disease: this, the concept of diseases being caused by malevolent spirits. These spirits are invisible creatures, which live in the air and seek to wreak mayhem on any human animal they come into contact with. They will attach themselves to a person, and even spread from person to person, or linger in the victim’s home. It is believed by the ignorant, that the home of the afflicted may be “cleansed” with herbs and smoke such as sage and wormwood, to drive the spirits out; for, these dark-minded individuals believe that the spirits of plants may be called upon to battle the evil spirits of disease. (Thus, the fools deny themselves the true and helpful medicines known to our doctors of today, such as preparations of arsenic and mercury.)

This belief in invisible agents of disease is known to be false by all Men of science, who know disease to be caused by an imbalance of the four humours (phlegm, black bile, yellow bile, and blood.) Thus, the barefoot primitive and the superstitious peasant will rely on the magical qualities of the witch-doctor’s plants, such as ephedra or belladonna, to treat asthma, to their great detriment, instead of looking to a medicine with the empirically-validated phlegm-drying virtues of “warmth” and “dryness,” such as Indian tobacco.

As one cannot argue with the willfully ignorant, I can only pray that our Legislators take decisive action for the licensing of doctors and pharmacists, and to punish swiftly and surely the selling of false and deleterious medicines.

[Disease really is spread by invisible organisms. Sage and wormwood are antiseptic. Arsenic and mercury were really put into medicines. Ephedra dilates bronchioles and belladonna reduces inflammations and spasms. And, tobacco was used to treat asthma under the Four Humours system of medicine, with rather limited success.]

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1 Comment »

  1. Very cool post! Some folks think George Washington was killed by preparations of mercury, overzealously applied to cure a bad cold.

    It’s interesting how, even before the Enlightenment, humans did notice patterns and did sometimes hit upon effective methods, even if their understanding of the concepts involved was incorrect. E.g. you could (if you were wealthy) protect yourself from the Black Death by maintaining a perimeter of fire around your abode, although it wasn’t evil spirits it was keeping out so much as fleas.

    Chinese medicine seems to be a collection of 5,000 years of empirical observation of patterns, saddled with some historical language that sounds like hogwash to most Western ears. My acupuncturist friend explained that the patterns come from observation, and if I don’t like the language involved (“yin deficiency” and “spleen qi stagnation” in my case) I could ignore it and just trust that for whatever reason, this cluster of symptoms responds well to these particular treatments.

    There really was some science before the Enlightenment, and during and after the Enlightenment there’s been plenty of bad science….

    Comment by freelearner — April 14, 2013 @ 8:36 pm


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