P. Edronkin

Natural Medicine At Work For Good And Evil



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In primitive societies, knowledge of medicine develops only along two different lines: belief and empirical practice. The first has to do a lot with superstition, ideology and religion, and I perhaps should add that even political ideology can be thought to produce allegedly miraculous results in the department of spontaneous cure, like what happened during the cultural revolution, in China: then and there, some people believed that Mao's Red Book would even save them from death and cure them from any infection.

Religion works in this regard and to a great extent in the same way: miraculous cures, otherwise unexplainable by believers and witnesses, are assumed to be the result of some godly work. And then, there are raw beliefs that come out of sheer desperation: during the Black Death of the fourteenth century, a lot of people believed that they would escape the plague by inhaling large quantities of air coming out of a latrine.

But empirical practice does have its merits: natural medicine and many survival medical techniques are based on it. For example, Gui de Chaillac, the Pope's physician at the time of the black plague not only studied the infection, contracted it and survived, but also prescribed an empirical remedy that saved the life of the pontiff: he said that in order to escape the effects of the plague, you should stay isolated, indoors and surrounded by the biggest possible fires. That, indeed, would sterilise the whole environment around you and despite that in the fourteenth century medical knowledge in scientific terms was utterly primitive, this method worked.

Within many tribes and small cultures we an find other examples of such practical medicine: the coca plant, used to make cocaine by drug dealers is actually a very good natural remedy. The 'trimate' is a tea made from coca, which is excellent for curing headaches, digestive problems and a lot of different pains. It does work as it has been doing so for thousands of years: no wonder that Indians don't want to surrender their coca plants to ATF and local authorities.

What is good for some can be bad for others: all depends on the use made of knowledge and its symbolic power: an autopsy - a perfectly acceptable practice in cases of dubious death causes - was considered heresy during the time in which Leonardo da Vinci used to practice it: the issue was that the Old Testament stated that man should have one rib less than woman, but if anyone bothers to count, that emerges not to be the true case.

Religion sometimes becomes medicine too: kosher food is a religious public health prescription. Things can work to the advantage of people, or their disadvantage, depending whether the prescription remains updated and valid or not.




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