Primitive Psycho-Therapy and Quackery
by Robert Means Lawrence
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From the beginning of time, the fortune-teller, the sorcerer, the interpreter of dreams, the charlatan, the wild medicine-man, the educated physician, the mesmerist, and the hypnotist, have made use of the patient's imagination, to help them in their work. They have all recognized the potency and availability of that force.[63:1]

Modern psychology explains the healing force of verbal charms as being due to the power of suggestion. For these suggest the idea of a cure to the subjective mind, which controls the bodily functions and conditions. Robert Burton, in the "Anatomy of Melancholy," said in reference to this subject:

All the world knows there is no vertue in charms; but a strong conceit and opinion alone, which forceth a motion of the humours, spirits and blood, which takes away the cause of the malady from the parts affected. The like we may say of the magical effects, superstitious cures, and such as are done by mountebanks and wizards. . . . Imagination is the medium deferens of Passions, by whose means they work and produce many times prodigious effects.

To give joy to the sick, said the Latin historian Cassiodorus, is natural healing; for, once make your patient cheerful, and his cure is accomplished. In like vein is an aphorism of Celsus: It is the mark of a skilled practitioner to sit awhile by the bedside, with a blithe countenance.

William Ramesey, M.D., in "Elminthologia" (1668), remarks that fancy doth not only cause but also as easily cureth divers diseases. To this agency may be properly referred many alleged magical and juggling cures, attributed to saints, images, relics, holy waters, avemarys, benedictions, charms, characters, and sigils of the planets. All such cures, wrote this author, are to be ascribed to the force of the imagination.

Written charms against toothache in Christian lands have usually a marked family resemblance; the theme being the same, but the number of variants legion. Saint Peter is represented as afflicted with the toothache, and sitting on a marble stone by the wayside. Our Lord passes by, and cures him by a few spoken words. The following quaintly illiterate version of this spell was in vogue in the north of Scotland within recent years: "Petter was laying his head upon a marrable ston, weping, and Christ came by and said: 'What else [ails] thou, Petter?' Petter answered: 'Lord God, my twoth.' 'Raise thou, Petter, and be healed.' And whosoever shall carry these lines in My Name, shall never feel the twothick."[64:1]

The following is a translation of a Welsh charm against toothache:

"As Peter was sitting alone on a marble stone, Christ came to him and said: 'Peter, what is the matter with you?' 'The toothache, my Lord God.' 'Arise, Peter, and be free'; And every man and woman will be cured of the toothache, who shall believe these words. I do this in the name of God."[65:1]

Another version of this charm is popular in Newfoundland. The inscribed paper, enclosed in a little bag, is hung around the neck of the afflicted person, from whom its contents are carefully concealed. "I've seed it written, a feller was sitten on a marvel stone, and our Lord came by; and he said to him, 'What's the matter with thee, my man?' And he replied, 'Got the toothache, Marster.' Then said our Lord, 'Follow Me, and thee shall have no more toothache.'"[65:2]

Still another form of this spell is in use among Lancashire peasants. The paper, inscribed as follows, is stitched inside the clothing: "Ass Sant Petter sat at the geats of Jerusalm, our Blessed Lord and Sevour Jesus Christ Passed by, and sead, 'What eleth thee?' He sead, 'Lord, my teeth ecketh.' Hee said, 'Arise and follow mee, and thy teeth shall never eake eney mour.' Fiat + Fiat + Fiat."[65:3]

Every one is aware that it is a common experience to have an aversion for certain articles of food, and to be affected unpleasantly by the mere thought of them. Whereas, if a person partakes of such food without knowledge of it, no ill effects may ensue. The sense of taste is affected by the imagination. A man sent the cream from the breakfast-table because it tasted sour, but found it sweet when it was brought back by a servant, supposing it to be a fresh supply. A laxative medicine may produce sleep, in the belief that it is an opiate; and contrariwise, an anodyne may act as a purgative, if the patient believes that it was so intended.[66:1] Dr. Robert T. Edes, in "Mind Cures from the Standpoint of the General Practitioner," remarks that mental action, whether intellectual or emotional, has little or no effect upon certain physiological or pathological processes. Fever, for example, which is such an important symptom of various acute diseases, does not appear to be influenced by the imagination. Typhoid fever runs its course, and is not directly amenable to treatment by suggestion; but nevertheless hope, courage, and an equable mental condition do undoubtedly assist the vis medicatrix naturae. The confident expectation of a cure is a powerful factor in bringing it about, doing that which no medical treatment can accomplish.

In recent works on suggestive therapeutics, the curative power of the imagination is emphasized and reiterated. "It is not the faith itself which cures, but faith sets into activity those powers and forces which the unconscious mind possesses over the body, both to cause disease and to cure it."[67:1]

Reference has been made to a certain similitude of religion and superstition. Oftentimes there appears to exist also a remarkable affinity between superstition and rheumatism, for these two are wont to flourish together, as in days of yore. Many a man of intelligence and education has been known to conceal a horse-chestnut in his pocket as an anti-rheumatic charm. A highly respected citizen, of undoubted sanity, was heard to remark that, were he to forget to carry the chestnut which had reposed in his waistcoat pocket for more than twenty years, he should promptly have a recurrence of his ailment.[67:2]

Daniel Hack Tuke, M.D., in referring to the systematic excitement of a definite expectation or hope, in regard to the beneficial action of totally inert substances, relates that a French physician, M. Lisle, especially recognized the efficiency of the imagination as a power in therapeutics. He therefore adopted the method of treating divers ailments by prescribing bread-pills, covered with silver leaf, and labelled pilules argentees anti-nerveuses. These pills were eagerly taken by his patients, and the results were highly satisfactory.

We may here appropriately cite one of several cases reported in the "British and Foreign Medical Review," January, 1847. A naval officer had suffered for some years from violent attacks of cramp in the stomach. He had tried almost all the remedies usually recommended for the relief of this troublesome affection. For a short time bismuth had been prescribed, with good results. The attacks came on about once in three weeks, or from that to a month, unless when any unusual exposure brought them on more frequently. Although the bismuth was continued in large doses, it soon lost its effect. Sedatives were given, but the relief afforded by these was only partial, while their effect on the general system was evidently very prejudicial. On one occasion, while suffering from the effect of some preparation of opium, given for the relief of these spasms, he was told that on the next attack he would be given a remedy which was generally believed to be most effective, but which was rarely used, owing to its dangerous qualities. Notwithstanding these, it should be tried, provided he gave his assent. Accordingly, on the next attack, a powder containing four grains of ground biscuit was administered every seven minutes, while the greatest anxiety was expressed, within the patient's hearing, lest too much be given. The fourth dose caused an entire cessation of pain, whereas half-drachm doses of bismuth had never procured the same relief in less than three hours. Four times did the same kind of attack recur, and four times was it met by the same remedy, and with like success! Dr. Tuke remarks that the influence of the mind upon the body, which is ever powerful in health, is equally powerful in disease, and this influence is exceedingly beneficial in aiding the vis medicatrix, and opposing the vis vitiatrix naturae.

He dwells upon the remarkable power exerted by the mind "upon any organ or tissue to which the attention is directed, to the exclusion of other ideas, the mind gradually passing into a state in which, at the desire of the operator, portions of the nervous system can be exalted in a remarkable degree, and others proportionately depressed; and thus the vascularity, innervation and function of an organ or tissue can be regulated and modified according to the locality and nature of the disorder. The psychical element in the various methods comprised under psycho-therapeutics, is greatly assisted by physical means, as gentle friction, pointing, passes, et cetera."

At the siege of Breda, in the Netherlands, A. D. 1625, the Prince of Orange, son of William the Silent, availed himself of the "force of imagination" to cure his soldiers during a serious epidemic then prevailing among them. He provided his army surgeons with small vials containing a decoction of wormwood, camomile, and camphor. The troops were informed that a rare and precious remedy had been obtained in the East, with much difficulty and at great expense. Moreover, so great was its potency, that two or three drops in a gallon of water formed a mixture of wonderful therapeutic value. These statements, made with great solemnity, deeply impressed the soldiers, and their expectation of being cured was realized. For we are told that "they took the medicine eagerly, and grew well rapidly."[70:1]

Thomas Fuller, in the "Holy State," book III, chapter 2, relates the following, which he styles a merry example of the power of imagination in relieving fatigue:

"A Gentleman, having led a company of children beyond their usuall journey, they began to be weary, and joyntly cried to him to carry them; which because of their multitude he could not do, but told them he would provide them horses to ride on. Then cutting little wands out of the hedge as nagges for them, and a great stake as a gelding for himself, thus mounted, Phancie put metall into their legs, and they came cheerfully home."

In his ward at the Hopital Andral, in Paris, Dr. Mathieu had a large number of tubercular patients. One morning, while making his rounds, he lingered before one of them and remarked to the house physician and the students who were with him:

That there had just been discovered in Germany a specific for tuberculosis—namely, "antiphymose." Next day he again spoke of this antiphymose, and, in the hearing of the patients, as before, told of the wonderful results it yielded when employed in the treatment of tuberculosis. For a week the patients talked of nothing but that wonderful antiphymose; they couldn't understand why "the chief" didn't try the new drug.

Their wishes were at last acceded to, and the experiments with antiphymose, which Dr. Mathieu said he had obtained from Germany, began. To judge of the action of that drug, which was injected under the skin, it was determined that the house-physician himself should take the temperature and register the weight of the consumptives under treatment.

This was done, and soon it seemed evident that a powerful and highly beneficent medicine was at work. Under the influence of this new remedy, the patients' fever subsided and their weight increased. Some gained a kilogramme and a half, some two, and some even three kilogrammes. Meanwhile the cough ceased, and those who had been unable to touch food began to eat; those who had been unable to sleep now slept all night. And if, to complete the test, the injections of antiphymose were stopped, the fever returned and all the old symptoms reasserted themselves. The victims grew thin.

Now this famous antiphymose, this marvellous drug procured from Germany, was nothing but water, ordinary water, but sterilized in Dr. Mathieu's laboratory! All that talk before the patients about the discovery and therapeutic virtue of antiphymose, all those little bluffs involved in the house-physician's taking the temperature and the weight of the patients, were simply a mise-en-scene designed to create a sort of suggestion and to reenforce it as much as possible. And it was manifestly suggestion, and not the injections of pure water, that checked the fever, arrested the cough, diminished the expectoration, revived the appetite, and increased the weight.[72:1]

A simple experiment, with a view to proving that a patient is accessible to auto-suggestion, is described by Professor Muensterberg. Some interesting-looking apparatus, with a few metal rings, is fastened upon his fingers, and connected with a battery and electric keys. The key is then pushed down in view of the patient, who is instructed to indicate the exact time when he begins to feel the electric current. The sensation will probably shortly be felt in one of his fingers; whereupon the physician can demonstrate to him that there was no connection in the wires, and that the whole galvanic sensation was the result of suggestion.[72:2]

Joseph Jastrow, in "Fact and Fable in Psychology," remarks that the modern forms of irregular healing present apt illustrations of occult methods of treatment which were in vogue long ago. And chief among these is the mental factor, whether utilized when the patient is awake or when he is unconscious, as a curative principle. The legitimate recognition of the importance of mental conditions and influences in therapeutics is one of the results of the union of modern psychology and medicine.


[53:1] Thomas Jay Hudson, The Law of Psychic Phenomena, p. 23.

[54:1] Christian Healing, p. 14.

[54:2] Ibid., p. 7.

[56:1] Dr. Hugo Magnus, Superstition in Medicine.

[58:1] McClure's Magazine, November, 1909.

[59:1] H. Bernheim, M.D., Suggestive Therapeutics, p. 196.

[60:1] Larousse, tome x, p. 1104.

[60:2] Edward Berdoe, The Healing Art, p. 248.

[61:1] Reuben Post Halleck, Psychology and Psychic Culture, p. 166.

[63:1] Mark Twain, Christian Science, p. 34

[64:1] Proceedings of the Society of Antiquarians of Scotland, 3d Series, vol. iii, p. 492. Edinburgh, 1893.

[65:1] The Academy, vol. xxxi, p. 258; 1887.

[65:2] Journal of American Folk-Lore, vol. viii, p. 287; 1895.

[65:3] John Harland and T. T. Wilkinson, Lancashire Folk-Lore.

[66:1] Alfred T. Schofield, M.D., The Unconscious Mind, p. 288.

[67:1] Alfred T. Schofield, M.D., The Unconscious Mind, p. 366.

[67:2] Boston Herald, February 20, 1909.

[70:1] Adams, The Healing Art, vol. i, p. 202.

[72:1] Dr. R. Romme, in La Revue.

[72:2] Psychotherapy, p. 213.



Malcolm. Well; more anon.—Comes the king forth, I pray you?

Doctor. Ay, sir; there are a crew of wretched souls That stay his cure: their malady convinces The great assay of art; but at his touch— Such sanctity hath heaven given his hand— They presently amend.

Malcolm. I thank you, doctor. [Exit Doctor.

Macduff. What's the disease he means?

Malcolm. 'Tis called the evil: A most miraculous work in this good king; Which often, since my here-remain in England, I have seen him do. How he solicits heaven, Himself best knows: but strangely visited people, All swoln and ulcerous, pitiful to the eye, The mere despair of surgery, he cures, Hanging a golden stamp about their necks, Put on with holy prayers: and 'tis spoken, To the succeeding royalty he leaves The healing benediction. With this strange virtue, He hath a heavenly gift of prophecy, And sundry blessings hang about his throne, That speak him full of grace. Macbeth, Act IV, Scene 3.

The healing of physical ailments by laying-on of hands was in vogue in the earliest historic times. Certain Egyptian sculptures have been found, illustrative of this practice, wherein one of the healer's hands is represented as touching the patient's stomach, and the other as applied to his back.[74:1]

From numerous references to the subject in Holy Writ, three are here given: "Neglect not the gift that is in thee, which was given thee by prophecy, with the laying on of hands of the Presbytery."[74:2] "They shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover." "And he could there do no mighty work, save that he laid his hands upon a few sick folk, and healed them."[74:3]

We are told that Asclepiades of Bithynia, a famous Grecian physician of the second century B. C., who practised at Rome, systematically employed the "induced trance" in the treatment of certain affections. Probably he considered this method to conform with certain principles which he advocated. For he professed that a physician's duty consisted in healing his patients safely, speedily, and pleasantly; and as he met with considerable success, his system was naturally very popular. It seems certain that the physicians of old had no true conception of the psychological and physiological principles of healing by laying on of hands. It is probable, on the other hand, that they used this method in a haphazard way, relying largely on the confidence of their patients and the expectation of cure.[75:1]

Tacitus, in his "History," book IV, chapter 81, relates that at the instance of the God Serapis, a citizen of Alexandria, who had a maimed hand, entreated that he might be pressed by the foot and sole of Vespasian (A. D. 9-79). The Emperor at first ridiculed the request, and treated it with disdain. However, upon learning the opinion of physicians that a cure might be effected through the application of a healing power, and that it was the pleasure of the gods that he should be the one to make the attempt, Vespasian, with a cheerful countenance, did what was required of him, while the multitude that stood by awaited the event in all the confidence of anticipated success. Immediately, wrote the historian, the functions of the affected hand were restored.

The priests and magi of the ancient Druids possessed a wonderful faculty of healing. They were able to hypnotize their patients by the waving of a wand, and while under the spell of this procedure, the latter could tell what was happening afar off, being vested with the power of clairvoyance.

But the Druidic priests also effected cures by stroking with the hand, and this method was thought to be of special efficacy in rheumatic affections. They also employed other remedies which appealed to the imagination, such as various mesmeric charms and incantations.[76:1]

John Timbs remarks in "Doctors and Patients," that any person who claimed to possess the special gift of healing, was expected to demonstrate his ability by means of the touch; for this was the established method of testing the genuineness of any assumed or pretended curative powers. Among Eastern nations at the present time, European physicians are popularly credited with the faculty of healing by manual stroking or passes, and the same ideas prevail in remote communities of Great Britain. In the opinion of the author above mentioned, the belief in the transmission of remedial virtues by the hands is derived from the fact that these members are the usual agents in the bestowal of material benefits, as, for example, in almsgiving to the poor.

According to the popular view, royal personages were exalted above other people, "because they possessed a distinctive excellence, imparted to them at the hour of birth by the silent rulers of the night." In view of this belief, it was natural that sovereigns should be invested with extraordinary healing powers, and that they should be enabled, by a touch of the hand, to communicate to others an infinitesimal portion of the virtues with which they had been supernaturally endowed. These virtues dwelt also in the king's robes. Hence arose the belief in the miraculous power of healing by the imposition of royal hands.[77:1]

There is nothing that can cure the King's Evil, But a Prince. JOHN LYLY (1553-1606), Euphues.

The treatment of scrofulous patients by the touch of a reigning sovereign's hand is believed to have originated in France. According to one authority, Clovis I (466-511) was the pioneer in employing this method of cure. Louis I (778-840) is reported to have added thereto the sign of the cross. The custom was in vogue during the reign of Philip I (1051-1108), but that monarch is said to have forfeited the power of healing, by reason of his immorality and profligacy.[77:2] During later medieval times the Royal Touch appears to have fallen into disuse in France, reappearing, however, in the reign of Louis IX (1215-1270), and we have the authority of Laurentius, physician to Henry IV, that Francis I, while a prisoner at Madrid after the battle of Pavia, in 1525, "cured multitudes of people daily of the Evil."

The Royal Touch was a prerogative of the kings of England from before the Norman Conquest until the beginning of the Hanoverian dynasty, a period of nearly seven hundred years, and the custom affords a striking example of the power of the imagination and of popular credulity. The English annalist, Raphael Holinshed, wrote in 1577 concerning King Edward the Confessor (1004-1066), that he had the gift of healing divers ailments, and that "he used to help those that were vexed with the King's Evil, and left that virtue, as it were, a portion of inheritance, unto his successors, the kings of this realm."

But the earliest reference to this king as a healer by the touch was made by the English historian, William of Malmesbury (1095-1143), in his work, "De Gestis Regum Anglorum." The story, wrote Joseph Frank Payne, M.D., in "English Medicine in the Anglo-Saxon Times," has the familiar features of the legends and miracles of healing by the early ecclesiastics, saints, or kings, as they are found in the histories and chronicles from the time of Bede, the Venerable (673-735). But there appears to be no real historical evidence that Edward the Confessor was the first royal personage who healed by laying on of hands.

John Aubrey, in his "Miscellanies," asserts, on the authority of certain English chronicles, that in the reign of King Henry III (1206-1272), there lived a child who was endowed with the gift of healing, and whose touch cured many diseases. Popular belief, as is well known, ascribed this prerogative also to a seventh son.

Pettigrew, in his "Superstitions connected with the History and Practice of Medicine and Surgery," said that Gilbertus Anglicus, the author of a "Compendium Medicinae," and the first practical writer on medicine in Britain, who is believed to have flourished in the time of Edward I (1239-1307), asserted that the custom of healing by the Royal Touch was an ancient one.

In the opinion of William George Black ("Folk-Medicine," 1883), the subject belongs rather to the domain of history than to that of popular superstitions.

Thomas Bradwardin, an eminent English prelate of the fourteenth century, and Archbishop of Canterbury, described the usage in question as already long-established in his time; and Sir John Fortescue, Lord Chief Justice of England, during Henry the Sixth's reign, declared that the English kings had exercised this privilege from time immemorial.

In a small tract published by His Majesty's command, entitled, "The Ceremonies for the Healing of them that be diseased with the King's Evil, used in the Time of King Henry VII" (1456-1509), we find that it was customary for the patients to kneel before the king during the religious exercises, which were conducted by the chaplain. After laying his hands upon them, the monarch crossed the affected portion of the body of each patient with an "Angel of Gold Noble." This coin bore as its device the archangel Michael, standing upon and piercing a dragon. In later reigns it was replaced by a small golden or silver medal, having the same emblem, and known as a touch-piece.

Andrew Borde, in his "Breviary of Health" (1547, the last year of the reign of Henry VIII), in reference to the King's Evil, wrote as follows: "For this matter, let every man make friendes to the Kynges Majestie, for it doth perteyne to a Kynge to helpe this infirmitie, by the grace of God, the which is geven to a king anoynted. But forasmuch as some men doth judge divers times a fystle or a French pocke to be the king's evill, in such matters it behoveth not a kynge to medle withall."

Queen Elizabeth, who reigned from 1558 to 1603, continued the practice, as we are informed by her chaplain, Rev. Dr. William Tooker, who published in 1590 a quarto volume on the subject, in which he claimed that the power of healing by touch had been exercised by royal personages from a very early period. He asserted that the Queen never refused touching any one who applied for relief, if, upon examination by her medical advisers, the applicant was found to be affected with the King's Evil. The Queen was especially disposed to touch indigent persons, who were unable to pay for private treatment. Although averse to the practice, Queen Elizabeth continued to exercise the prerogative, doubtless from philanthropic motives, and in deference to the popular wish. William Clowes, an eminent contemporary practitioner, and chief surgeon of Bartholomew's Hospital, London, in a monograph issued in 1602, wrote that the struma or evill was known to be "miraculously healed by the sacred hands of the Queene's most royall majesty, even by divine inspiration and wonderfull worke and power of God, above man's skill, arte and expectation."[81:1]

When, in 1603, on the death of Elizabeth, James VI of Scotland became King of England with the title of James I, he was sceptical regarding the efficacy of the Royal Touch. The Scotch ministers, whom he brought with him, urged its abandonment as a superstitious ceremony; while his English counsellors recommended its continuance, maintaining that a failure so to do would amount to a debasing of royalty. Unwillingly therefore he followed the advice of the latter.

We do not find many references to the prevalence of this custom in the reign of Charles I, but there is evidence that it was in use at that time. This is apparent in certain extracts from State Papers, relating chiefly to medicine and pharmacy, published under the direction of the Master of the Rolls, as follows:

April 10, 1631. John, Lord Poulett, sent a child, a little girl, to the King, to be touched for the King's Evil, and she has come home safely, and mends every day in health.

January 15, 1632. Godre, Bois, a Frenchman, prisoner in the King's Bench, takes upon him to cure the King's Evil, and daily a great concourse of people flocked to him, although it is conceived that if such cures have been, it is rather by sorcery and incantation than by any skill he has in physic. Endorsed: The Lord Chief Justice of the King's Bench is to call him for examination, to be indicted for cosenage.

June 7, 1632. Sir Thomas Richardson, Lord Chief Justice of the King's Bench, to the Council, thinks there is not sufficient evidence to convict Bois Gaudre of cosenage or sorcery, but thinks he has committed a contempt worth punishment, in taking upon him to cure the King's Evil. He has imprisoned him, of which he complains bitterly.

June 7, 1632. Examination of James Philip Gaudre, Knight of St. Lazare, in France. Is a Frenchman, and has been in England for seven years, chiefly at Sir Thomas Wolseley's house, whose daughter he married, until two years past, he was arrested for debt. By his experience in surgery, has recovered many poor persons of the King's Evil, some before His Majesty touched them, and some after. Never made any benefit by his skill, other than sometimes those whom he had done good to would give him a Capon, or small sums paid by him for herbs and other things. Used his skill often in France, and cured many. Did not cure any in England until Midsummer last, when a poor man, who had but one son, who was sick of that disease, made moan to him, and he cured him. Thinks that by reason he is the youngest of seven sons, he performs that cure with better success than others, except the King. Has no skill in sorcery, witchcraft, or enchantment, nor ever used any such thing.[82:1]

The ceremony of the Royal Touch reached its height of popularity during the reign of Charles II (1630-1685). From the "Diary of John Evelyn," we learn that His Majesty began to touch for the King's Evil, July 6, 1660. The King sat in state, attended by the surgeons and the Lord Chamberlain. The opening prayers and the Gospel having been read, the patients knelt on the steps of the throne, and were stroked on either cheek by the King's hand, the chaplain saying: "He put his hands upon them and healed them." Then the King hung a gold "angel" around the neck of each one. On March 28, 1684, so great was the concourse of people, with their children, anxious to be cured, that six or seven were crushed to death "by pressing at the Chirurgeon's door for tickets."

Dr. Richard Wiseman, favorite surgeon of Charles II, wrote that a belief in the Royal Touch was evidently a party tenet. It was therefore encouraged by the sovereign, and upheld by all who were disposed to please the Court. In commenting on the alleged efficacy of this treatment, Dr. Wiseman expressed his conviction that the imagination of the patient was doubtless powerfully affected by the magnificence and splendor of the ceremony. Failure to receive benefit was ascribed to lack of faith. It was said that Charles once handled a scrofulous Quaker with such vigor, that he made him a healthy man and a sound Churchman in a moment.[83:1]

Women quacks were very numerous at this period, and throve exceedingly. Their resoluteness in thrusting their ignorant pretensions upon the public, gave evidence of the same dogged pertinacity which characterizes the modern suffragettes in their fanatical efforts to obtain redress for alleged wrongs.

Thus the psychic healing forces are ever potent, so long as the patient has faith in the treatment employed.

Dr. John Browne, a surgeon in ordinary to Charles II, published a treatise entitled "Charisma Basilicon, or the royal gift of healing strumas, or king's-evil swellings, by contact or imposition of the sacred hands of our kings of England and France, given them at their inaugurations."

The elaborate ceremonies and the presentation of gold pieces were regarded by the author as evidences of the great piety, charity, and humility of the sovereign. He comments moreover on the admirable results of this treatment among people of many nationalities.

None ever hitherto mist thereof, wrote he, unless their little faith and incredulity starved their merits, or they received his gracious hand for curing another disease, which was not really allowed to be cured by him; and as bright evidences hereof, I have presumed to offer that some have immediately upon the very touch been cured; others not so easily, till the favour of a second repetition thereof.

Some also, losing their gold, their diseases have seized them afresh, and no sooner have these obtained a second touch and new gold, but their diseases have been seen to vanish, as being afraid of his majestie's presence.[85:1]

Of the vast numbers of patients who repaired to the healing receptions of Charles II, doubtless many were attracted by curiosity, and others by the desire for gold.

In the Parliamentary Journal for July 2-9, 1660, it was stated that the kingdom having been for a long time troubled with the evil, by reason of His Majesty's absence, great numbers have lately flocked for cure.

His sacred majesty, on Monday last, touched 250, in the banquetting house; among whom, when his majesty was delivering the gold, one shuffled himself in, out of an hope of profit, which had not been stroked; but his majesty quickly discovered him, saying: "this man hath not yet been touched." His majesty hath, for the future, appointed every Friday for the cure, at which 200, and no more, are to be presented to him, who are first to repair to Mr. Knight, the king's surgeon, being at the Cross Guns, in Russell Street, Covent Garden, over against the Rose Tavern, for their tickets.

The presentation of the gold was regarded as a token of the king's good will, and a pledge of his wish for the patient's recovery. Silver coins were sometimes used, but the sovereign power of gold was distinctly admitted, as the disease is reported to have returned, in some cases, upon the medal being lost. The presentation of a second golden touch-piece was alleged to be effective in subduing the scrofula.

The following announcement appeared in the "Public Intelligencer," under date of Whitehall, May 14, 1664:

"His Sacred Majesty, having declared it to be his Royal will and purpose to continue the healing of his People for the Evil during the month of May, and then to give over till Michaelmas next, I am commanded to give notice thereof, that the people may not come up to Town in the interim and lose their labour."

Charles II is said to have found the practice extremely lucrative. It is not surprising that many practitioners in those days were credited with having wrought marvellous cures.

We know that the undoubted influence of the mind on the body, and the power of suggestion and expectant attention, apply only to subjective states and functional ailments. Thus it is intelligible why so many people of education and culture, on the principle that seeing is believing, were able to testify to miraculous cures in their own experience.[86:1]

William Andrews, in "Historic Romance," says that the records of the Town of Preston, Lancashire, show that the local Corporation voted grants of money to enable patients to make the journey to London, to be touched for the evil. In the year 1682 bailiffs were instructed to "pay unto James Harrison, bricklayer, ten shillings, towards carrying his son to London, in order to the procuring of His Majesty's touch." Again, in 1687, being the third year of James II, when the King was at Chester, the Preston Town Council passed a vote, ordering the payment to two young women, of five shillings each, "towards their charge in going to Chester to get His Majesty's touch."

Thomas Cartwright, Bishop of Chester, wrote in his diary, August 27, 1687: "I was at His Majesty's levee, from whence, at nine o'clock, I attended him into the closet, where he healed three hundred and fifty persons."

Queen Anne (1702-1714) was the last of the English sovereigns who exercised the royal prerogative of healing by laying-on of hands. She made an official announcement in the London "Gazette," March 12, 1712, of her intention to "touch publicly." Samuel Johnson, then a child of about three years of age, was one of the last who tested the efficacy of this superstitious rite, and without success. Acting upon the advice of Sir John Floyer, a noted physician of Lichfield, Mrs. Johnson took her son to London, where he was touched by the Queen. When asked in later years if he could remember the latter, he used to say that he had a "confused, but somehow a sort of solemn recollection of a lady in diamonds and a long black hood."[88:1] George I, the successor of Queen Anne, regarded the Royal Touch as a purely superstitious method of healing, and during his reign the practice fell into desuetude.

The English jurist, Daines Barrington (1727-1800), in his "Observations upon the Statutes," relates the case of an old man whom he was examining as a witness. This man stated that he had been touched for the evil by Queen Anne, when she was at Oxford. Upon being asked whether the treatment had been effective, he replied facetiously that he did not believe that he ever had the evil, but that his parents were poor, and did not object to the piece of gold.[88:2]

During the reign of George II, a writer of a speculative turn of mind queried whether the disuse of this long-established custom might be attributed to the sullenness of the reigning prince, who, as was generally known, had received many evidences of his subjects' displeasure; or whether the alleged divine power of healing by the Royal Touch had been withdrawn from him. And it was replied that the sovereign had as good a title as any of his predecessors to perform this holy operation. Moreover, he was so much in love with all sorts of pageantry and acts of power that he would willingly do his part. But the degeneracy and wickedness of the times, which tended to bring all pious and holy things into contempt, and then into disuse, was the reason for this neglect.[89:1]

In the year 1746, or thereabouts, one Christopher Lovel, a native of Wells, in Somersetshire, but afterwards a resident of Bristol, being sadly afflicted with the King's Evil, and having during many years made trial of all the remedies which medical science could suggest, and without any effect, decided to go abroad in search of a cure. Proceeding to France, he was touched at Avignon by the eldest lineal descendant of a race of kings, who had, for a long succession of ages, healed by exercising the royal prerogative. But this descendant and heir had not at that time been crowned. Notwithstanding this fact, however, the usual effects followed, and from the moment that the man was touched, and invested with the narrow ribbon, to which a small silver coin was pendant, according to the rites prescribed in the office appointed by the Church for that solemnity, he began to mend, and recovered strength daily, arriving at Bristol in good health, after an absence of some four months.

Such, briefly, is an account of this remarkable case, as given in Thomas Carte's "History of England," published about 1746. But a contributor to the "Gentleman's Magazine," January 13, 1747, who signed himself Amicus Veritatis, wrote in reference to the foregoing account, expressing surprise that sensible people should give credit to such a tale, which was calculated to support the old threadbare notion of the divine hereditary right of royal personages to cure by touch. The then reigning sovereign, George II, wrote he, despised such childish delusions.

The report of this alleged wonderful case made a great noise among the ignorant classes. But the sceptic writer above mentioned argued that Lovel's cure was but temporary, and that the benefit was due to change of air and a strict regimen, rather than to the touch of the Pretender's hand at Avignon. For, queried he, can any man with a grain of reason believe that such an idle, superstitious charm as the touch of a man's hand can convey a virtue sufficiently efficacious to heal so stubborn a disorder as the King's Evil?

French tradition ascribes the origin of the gift of healing by royal touch, to Saint Marculf, a monk whose Frankish ancestry is shown by his name, which signifies forest wolf. This personage was a native of Bayeux, and is reputed to have flourished in the sixth century A. D. His relics were preserved in an abbey at Corbigny, and thither the French monarchs were accustomed to resort, after their coronation at Rheims, to obtain the pretended power of curing the King's Evil, by touching the relics of this saint. But according to the historian, Francois Eudes de Mezeray (1610-1683), the gift was bestowed upon King Clovis (466-511) at the time of his baptism.

In 1515, the year of his accession, Francis I laid his hands on a number of persons in the presence of the Pope, during the prevalence of an epidemic at Bologna, Italy. And in 1542 he issued the following statement: "On our return from Rheims, we went to Corbigny, where we and our predecessors have been accustomed to make oblations, and pay reverence to the precious relics of Saint Marculf for the admirable gift of healing the King's Evil, which he imparted miraculously to the kings of France, at the pleasure of the Creator. The grace we exercised in the usual way, by touching the parts affected, and signing them with the sign of the cross."

Louis XIII of France (1601-1643) is said to have bestowed upon Cardinal Richelieu all of his prerogatives, except the Royal Touch.

His successor, Louis the Great, is credited with having touched sixteen hundred people on Easter Sunday, 1686, using the words, "Le Roy te touche, Dieu te guerisse." Every French patient received a present of fifteen sous, while foreigners were given double that amount.[91:1]

According to the Swiss theologian, Samuel Werenfels (1657-1740), who published a treatise on "The Power of curing the King's Evil," this prerogative was shared by the members of the House of Hapsburg. And the same authority relates that the kings of Hungary were able to heal various affections by the Royal Touch, and to neutralize by this method the toxic effects of the bite of venomous creatures.


[74:1] Joseph Ennemoser, The History of Magic, vol. i, p. 209.

[74:2] 1 Timothy, iv, 14.

[74:3] Mark, xvi, 18; vi, 5.

[75:1] H. Addington Bruce, in The Outlook, September, 1909.

[76:1] Lady Wilde, Ancient Cures, Charms, and Usages of Ireland.

[77:1] J. Cordy Jeaffreson, A Book about Doctors.

[77:2] Chambers's Encyclopaedia.

[81:1] Pettigrew, op. cit., p. 132.

[82:1] John Morgan Richards, A Chronology of Medicine.

[83:1] Lord Macaulay, The History of England, vol. iii, p. 379.

[85:1] Thomas Joseph Pettigrew, Medical Superstitions.

[86:1] The Lancet, vol. ii, 1901.

[88:1] Once a Week, vol. xv (1866), p. 219.

[88:2] E. Cobham Brewer, A Dictionary of Miracles.

[89:1] Common-sense, August 13, 1737.

[91:1] Hon. Daines Barrington, Observations upon the Statutes, 1766.



As illustrative of the power of the imagination, the so-called blue-glass mania, which prevailed extensively in this country, affords a striking example. About the year 1868, General Augustus J. Pleasanton, of Philadelphia, made some experiments to determine whether or not rays of sunlight passing through colored glass had any therapeutic effect on animals and plants. His selection of blue glass as a medium was probably based upon the theory that the blue ray of the solar spectrum possesses superior actinic or chemical properties.

Experimenting first on plants, he adopted the method of inserting panes of blue and violet glass in the roof of his grapery, and noticed as a result an apparent extraordinary rapidity and luxuriance of growth of the vines, and later a correspondingly large harvest of grapes. Encouraged by this success, he built a piggery, having a glass roof, of which one portion was fitted with panes of blue glass, and the other with ordinary transparent glass. It was claimed that the pigs kept under the former developed more rapidly than those under the latter. An Alderney bull-calf, which was very small and feeble at birth, was placed in a pen under violet glass. In twenty-four hours it was able to walk and became quite animated. By the same method a mule was reported to have been cured of obstinate rheumatism and deafness. Again, a canary-bird, which had been an exceptionally fine warbler, declined to eat or sing, and appeared to be in a feeble state of health. The bird in its cage was placed in the bath-room of its owner's dwelling, the windows of which contained colored-glass panes. It was alleged that the little creature speedily improved; its voice became sweeter and more melodious than ever, while its appetite was simply voracious.

Notable cures of human beings were also reported. Cases of neuralgia and rheumatism were said to have been benefited, the development of young infants vastly promoted, while as a tonic for producing hair on bald heads, blue glass was a veritable specific. During the year 1877 popular interest in the craze reached its culmination. In this country the furore assumed national proportions. Peddlers went from door to door in the cities, selling blue glass, and did a thriving business; while many instances of remarkable cures effected by the new panacea were recorded in the newspapers. Then after a time came the reaction; the whole theory became a subject for ridicule and satire, and the public mind was ready to turn its attention to some other fad.

But in spite of the fickleness of the popular mind, this well-known fact remains, that a good sun-bath, with or without the medium of colored glass, is often of great hygienic value. There is truth in the Italian proverb: Dove non va il sole, va il medico: where the sunlight enters not, there goes the physician.

I have thus attempted briefly to describe the blue-glass mania, because it seems aptly to illustrate the healing force of the imagination. So long as people have confidence in blue glass and sunlight combined, to cure fleshly ills, these agents undoubtedly act in many cases "like a charm," and may be classed as mental curatives.

In recent years, however, efforts have been made to determine whether certain colored rays of the spectrum were more potent than others therapeutically. Under the caption "Light-Cures, Old and New," in "Everybody's Magazine," October, 1902, Arthur E. Bostwick, Ph.D., remarks that there was a germ of truth in the blue-glass craze, for it has recently been shown that the red rays are injuriously stimulative in eruptive diseases, and of course the blue glass strained these rays out. It goes without saying that if there were simply health-giving qualities in the blue rays and no injurious ones in the red and yellow, ordinary light would be as effective as that which had passed through blue glass; for the glass introduces no new quality or color into the light; it only absorbs certain rays of the spectrum, allowing others to pass. If blue light, therefore, is more healthful than white, it must be because the remainder of the spectrum has an injurious effect.

An Austrian physician, Dr. Kaiser, has recently asserted, in a paper read before the Vienna Medical Society, that blue light is effective in reducing inflammation, allaying pain, and curing skin-disease, especially by promoting absorption of morbid humors. He asserts that a beam from a powerful lantern, after passing through blue glass, will kill cultures of various bacilli, when directed upon them at a distance of fifteen feet for half an hour daily during six days.



It has been truly said that temples were the first hospitals, and priests the earliest physicians.[97:1] In the temples of Esculapius, in Greece, a main object of the various mystic rites was to exert a powerful influence on the patient's imagination. This was supplemented by practical therapeutic and hygienic treatment, such as baths, friction of the skin, and a strict diet. These primitive sanatoria were built in places carefully chosen for their salubrity of climate and healthful environment. Doubtless their founders were actuated by a belief that Esculapius was ever ready to help those who first helped themselves. In view, therefore, of the superior hygienic conditions, together with intelligent medical care, it is not surprising that seemingly marvellous cures should result, especially of impressionable persons affected with nervous disorders.

The walls of those temples were adorned with bas-reliefs, of which specimens have been preserved. One of these represents a recumbent patient, and a physician seated by the bedside. Near by stands a tall, erect personage, supposed to be the god of health, while the figures of two suppliants may be seen approaching him.[98:1] When a patient arrived at the gate of the temple, he was not allowed to enter at once; for strict cleanliness was deemed a prerequisite for admission to the god's presence. And in order to place him in this desirable condition with the greatest possible despatch, he was plunged into cold water, after which he was permitted to enter the sacred precincts. According to a poetic fancy of the Grecian pilgrim in search of health, the proper cure for his ailment would be revealed by the god of healing to his worshipper in the latter's dreams.[98:2] The interpretation of these dreams and the revelation to the patient of their alleged meaning was entrusted to a priest, who served as an intermediary between Esculapius and the patient. Several of these oracular prescriptions, inscribed upon a marble slab, were found on the site of an Esculapian temple near Rome. Translations of two of them may serve as examples:

"Lucius, having a pleurisy, and being given over by everybody, received from the god this oracle, that he should come and take the ashes off his altar, and mixing them with wine, apply them to his side. Which done, he was cured, and returned thanks to the god, and the people congratulated him upon his happy recovery."

"The god gave this oracle to a blind soldier, named Valerius Aper, that he should mingle the blood of a white cock with honey, and make a collyrium, which he should put upon his eyes three days together. After which he saw, and came publicly to return thanks."[99:1]

Although usually regarded as a purely mythological being, Esculapius is believed by some writers to have been an historic personage. According to tradition, he transmitted his professional knowledge to his descendants, the Asclepiadae, a priestly caste, versed in medical lore. For centuries the most famous Grecian physicians were members of this order; and the great Hippocrates, styled "the Father of Medicine," is said to have claimed to be the seventeenth in direct descent from Esculapius.[99:2] Although the god of healing may be said to have been also the first practising physician, his distinguished teacher Chiron, the wise Centaur, was without doubt the first medical professor whose name has been handed down. To Chiron is usually ascribed the honor of having introduced among the Grecians the art of Medicine, in the thirteenth century B. C. He was reputed to have been a learned chief or prince of Thessaly, who was also a pioneer among equestrians, one who preferred horseback as a means of locomotion, rather than the chariot, or other prototype of the chaise, buggy, automobile, or bicycle. Hence the superstition of that rude age gave him a place among the Centaurs. He is reported moreover to have imparted instruction to the Argonauts, and to the warriors who participated in the siege of Troy. From this hero is derived the name of the plant centaury, owing to a legend of its having been used with success as a healing application to a wound in Chiron's foot.

The worship of Esculapius, as the god of healing, was widespread among the Greeks, and lasted even into Christian times. Patients repaired to the temples, just as relief is sought to-day by a devotional pilgrimage, or by a resort to a sacred spring. The records of cures were inscribed upon the columns or walls of the temple, and thus is believed to have originated the custom of recording medical and surgical cases.[100:1]

The priests exerted a powerful influence upon the minds of applicants by reciting wonderful tales, as they led them through the sacred precincts, explaining in mystical language the miraculous cures which had been performed there, and calling attention to the numerous votive offerings and inscriptions upon the temple walls. It may readily be conceived, wrote Richard J. Dunglison, M.D.,[100:2] that these procedures made a deep impression upon the patients' minds, and the more so, because the priests were wont to dwell especially upon the cures which had been effected in analogous cases.

Moreover hydro-therapy was supplemented by massage, which often had beneficial results in nervous affections; and fumigation of the patients, before they received advice from the oracle, lent an air of mystery. Those who were cured returned to express their gratitude and to offer presents to the god, as well as to the priests. They usually also brought some ornament for the adornment of the temple.

The act of sleeping in a sanctuary, in order to obtain medical relief, either through revelations by dreams, or through a divine visitation, was termed incubation.

According to the philosophy of oneiromancy, or the art of taking omens from dreams, during sleep the soul was released from the body, and thus enabled to soar into spiritual regions and commune with celestial beings. Therefore memories of ideas suggested in dreams were cherished as divine revelations.[101:1]

The opinion has been advanced that the methods employed to procure "temple sleep" were similar to those in use at the present time for the production of the hypnotic state. A cure was effected by awakening a healing instinct in the patient's subconscious mind.[101:2]

So far as we are aware, no authentic rational explanation has been given of the phenomenal appearance of a god in the patient's presence. It seems plausible that Asklepios, the Grecian Esculapius, was personated by some priest of majestic mien, who gave oracular medical advice, which serves as a powerful therapeutic suggestion. Various attendant circumstances doubtless contributed to impress the patient's highly wrought imagination, such as the dim light, the sense of mystery, and, it may be, certain tricks of ventriloquism.

In the earliest days of temple-sleep, that is, probably about the seventh century B. C., this mode of treatment was practised without a tinge of superstition, the applicants' faith being deep and sincere. For in that era the belief was general that human art was powerless to cure disease, and the gods alone could furnish aid. Temple-sleep, wrote Dr. Hugo Magnus, was not degraded into superstition until the physicians had come to the conclusion that the phenomena of disease were not evidence of divine displeasure, but that they were due to natural causes. When therefore this new belief became established, temple-sleep degenerated into a superstitious rite. As early as the fifth century B. C., the celebrated poet, Aristophanes, in his comedy, "Plutus," severely criticized this ceremony, as practised in his time. And, although the more enlightened among the Greeks came to regard it with disfavor, the custom was never entirely abandoned by the ancient world.

Having bathed Plutus in the sea, says the servant Cario, we went to the temple of Esculapius; and when our wafers and preparatory sacrifices were offered on the altar, and our cakes on the flame of Vulcan, we laid him on a couch, as was proper, and made ready our own mattresses. When the priest had extinguished the lights, he told us to go to sleep, adding that if any of us heard the hissing we should by no means stir. We therefore all remained in bed, and made no noise. As for myself, I could not sleep, on account of the odor of a basin of savory porridge which an old woman had at the side of her bed, and which I longed for amazingly. Being, therefore, anxious to creep near it, I raised my head and saw the sacristan take the cakes and dried figs from the sacred table, and going the round of the altars, put all that he could find into a bag. It occurred to me that it would be meritorious in me to follow his example, so I arose to secure the basin of porridge, fearing only that the priest might get at it before me, with his garlands on. . . . The old woman, on hearing me, stretched forth her hand. But I hissed, and seized her fingers with my teeth, as if I were an Esculapian snake; then, drawing back her hand again, she lay down and wrapped herself up quickly, while I swallowed the porridge, and, when full, retired to rest.

The surprising cures frequently effected were inexplicable, even to the scientific minds of antiquity.

Victor Duruy, in his "History of Rome,"[103:1] relates the following instance, on the authority of the Greek writer AElian. A man named Euphronios, who had been an ardent follower of Epicurus, suffered from some obstinate affection which his physicians failed to cure. His relatives therefore carried him into a neighboring Esculapian temple, where in the night, during sleep, he heard the voice of an oracle, saying, "In the case of this man, there is only one means of restoration, namely, to burn the hooks of Epicurus, to knead these sacrilegious ashes with wax, and to cover the stomach and chest with the compound." These directions were carried out, and Euphronios was promptly cured and converted.


[97:1] J. B. Thiers, Traite des Superstitions, p. 385.

[98:1] Archives generales de Medecine, November, 1891, pp. 582 et seq.

[98:2] Frank Granger, The Worship of the Romans, p. 158.

[99:1] Daniel Le Clerc, The History of Physic, p. 84.

[99:2] Le Clerc, p. 109.

[100:1] Encyclopaedia Britannica, art. "Medicine."

[100:2] History of Medicine.

[101:1] Mary Hamilton, Incubation in Pagan Temples.

[101:2] Dr. Carl du Prel, Die Mystik der alten Griechen; Leipzig, 1888.

[103:1] Vol. vi, p. 399.



Fancy can save or kill; it hath closed up wounds, when the balsam could not, and without the aid of salves, to think hath been a cure. CARTWRIGHT.

With bandage firm Ulysses' knee they bound; Then, chanting mystic lays, the closing wound Of sacred melody confessed the force; The tides of life regained their azure course. The Odyssey, XIX, 535.

Probably the stanching of blood sometimes ascribed to the power of a verbal charm should be accredited to the vis medicatrix of Dame Nature herself. The mere sight of blood, as well as its loss, may induce syncope, a condition favorable to the cessation of hemorrhage. Where faith in a magic spell is strong, it is conceivable that a psychic or emotional force should influence the circulation of the blood, and affect its flow locally by a contraction or dilatation of the arterioles, through the agency of the vaso-motor nerves. Familiar instances are to be seen in the sudden glow or pallor of the cheek, under the stress of intense emotion.

In a curious English manuscript, thought to be of the fourteenth century, which is preserved in the Royal Library at Stockholm, are to be found many specimens of healing-spells; and among them one which was to be repeated in church, as follows: "Here bygynyth a charme for to staunch ye blood. In nomine Patris, etc. Whanne oure Lord was don on ye crosse yane come Longeus thedyr and smot hym yt a spere in hys syde. Blod and water yer come owte at ye wonde, and he wyppyd hys eyne and anon he sawgh kyth thorowgh ye vertu of yat God. Yerfore I conjure the blood yat yu come not oute of yis christen woman. In nomine Patris et Filii," etc.[106:1]

The following "Charme to Stanch Blood" is taken from a manuscript of the fifteenth century: "Jesus, that was in Bethlehem born, and baptyzed was in the flumen Jordane; as stente the water at hys comyng so stente the blood of this man N. thy serwaunt, throw the virtu of thy holy name, Jesu, and of thy cosyn, swete sente Jon. And sey thys Charme fyve tymes, with fyve Pater Nostirs, in the worship of the fyve woundys."

A popular medieval narrative charm for healing wounds and arresting hemorrhage, is to be found in the "Compendium Medicinae" of Gilbertus Anglicus, physician to the Archbishop of Canterbury toward the close of the twelfth century. The work was first published at Lyons, France, in the year of 1500.

"Write a cross of Christ, and sing thrice over the place these words, and a Pater Noster: Longinus miles lancea punxit Dominum, et restitit sanguis et recessit dolor."

Longinus or Longeus is the traditional name of the Roman soldier who pierced with a spear the side of our Lord, upon the Cross.[107:1]

Verbal styptic charms were much in vogue among the Irish people in early times. Translations of two such charms may serve as examples. "A child was baptized in the river Jordan; and the water was dark and muddy, but the child was pure and beautiful." These words were repeated over the wound, a finger being placed on the site of the hemorrhage; and then: "In the name of God, and of the Lord Christ, let the blood be stanched."

Another similar charm was as follows:

"There came a man from Bethlehem to be baptised in the river Jordan; but the water was so muddy that it stopped flowing: So let the blood! Let it stop flowing in the name of Jesus, and by the power of Christ!"[107:2]

Homer tells in the Odyssey how the sons of Autolycus cured Ulysses, who had been injured while hunting the wild boar, by stanching the blood flowing from a wound in his leg, by means of a verbal charm. "With nicest care the skilful artists bound the brave, divine Ulysses' ghastly wound; and th' incantations stanch'd the gushing blood."[108:1] We have also the testimony of the Grecian lexicographer, Suidas, that various maladies were cured by the repetition of certain words, in the time of Minos, King of Crete.

In Sir Walter Scott's "Lay of the Last Minstrel," there are frequent references to the use of curative spells; as for example in the following lines:

She drew the splinter from the wound, And with a charm she stanch'd the blood.[108:2]

Again, in "Waverley," the hero of that name, while on a stag hunt with some Scottish chieftains, had the misfortune to sprain an ankle. The venerable Highlander, who officiated as surgeon, proceeded to treat the injury with much ceremony. He first prepared a fomentation by boiling certain herbs which had been gathered at the time of a full moon, a charm being recited the while, of which the following is a translation: "Hail to thee, thou holy herb, that sprung on holy ground! All in the Mount Olivet, first wert thou found. Thou art boot for many a bruise, and healest many a wound; in our Lady's blessed name, I take thee from the ground."

The leech next applied the lotion to Waverley's ankle, at the same time murmuring an incantation; and to this latter procedure, rather than to the medicinal virtue of the herbs, the subsequent alleviation of pain and swelling was attributed by all who were present.

In the rugged, mountainous districts of western Ireland, a region inhabited mostly by shepherds and fishermen, medical practice still devolves largely upon "fairy-women" and "witch-doctors," who rely upon herbs, prayers, and incantations in their treatment of the sick. In Ireland, too, are individuals reputed to be masters of the art of "setting" charms for controlling hemorrhage; their method being the repetition of certain words arbitrarily selected, whose weirdness tends to impress the patient with a sense of the mysterious.[109:1]

Spells for checking the flow of blood are plentiful in the early literature of Germany, and are still employed to some extent. In Dr. G. Lammert's "Volksmedizin in Bayern" (Wuerzburg, 1869), many hemostatic formulas are given, which are popular among the peasantry in various portions of the empire. They are usually adjurations or commands addressed to the blood, considered as a personality. Thus a spell in vogue in the mountainous region of Odenwald in Hesse, is as follows: "Blood, stand still, as Christ stood still in the river Jordan."

In "Folk-Lore," March, 1908, reference is made to a styptic spell in use at the present time in northern Devonshire, among wise women who are skilled in the art of controlling hemorrhage by psychic methods. The spell consists in repeating the verse, Ezekiel, XVI, 6. In the locality above mentioned it is customary to seek the aid of one of these professional "stenters," instead of a surgeon or veterinarian, and the people have implicit faith in this mode of treatment. The presence of the wise woman is not essential. She merely pronounces the spell wherever she may happen to be, with the assurance that it will be found effectual, on the return of the messenger to the patient.

The prevalence of similar beliefs is shown in the following verse from a popular poem of the seventeenth century:

Tom Pots was but a serving-man; But yet he was a Doctor good; He bound his kerchief on the wound, And with some kind words stanch'd the blood.


[106:1] Archaeologia, vol. xxx, p. 401; 1844.

[107:1] J. F. Payne, M.D., English Medicine in the Anglo-Saxon Times.

[107:2] Lady Wilde, Ancient Cures, Charms, and Usages of Ireland.

[108:1] This is the earliest mention of a medical charm in classic literature, and hence originated the phrase "Homeric Cure," as applied to healing by magical verses.

[108:2] Canto III, section xxiii.

[109:1] James Mooney, The Medical Mythology of Ireland.



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.[111:1] 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."[112:1] 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.[112:2] 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;[112:3] and although healing-spells were still largely in vogue, the employment of various herbs and potions became an important feature in Assyrian Medicine.[113:1]

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 divine origin.[113:2]

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,"[114:1] 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.[115:1]

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 for fever.[116:1]

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.[116:2] 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,[116:3] 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 instantaneously.

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.[118:1] 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 Syria.[118:2]

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.[118:3]

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.[119:1] 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 Horus."[119:2]

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 natural expedient.[119:3]

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.[119:4] 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.[120:1]

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.[120:2] Similarly, in many religions of antiquity, the names of deities were invested with great power, and whoever uttered them was "master of the god."[120:3]

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.[121:1] Especial magical efficacy has always been ascribed to certain Hebrew, Arabian, and Indian words.[121:2]

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.[122:1] 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.[122:2] 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 Valentinian.[123:1]

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.[124:1] 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,[124:2] "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.[125:1] The mystic verses by means of which Athenian physicians anciently invoked supernatural aid, were called carmina, charms,[125:2] 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.[126:1] 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.[126:2]

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.

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