Medicine in the Middle Ages

Medicine in the Middle Ages

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Folk medicine and magic

In the Middle Ages, the doctors studied in the West only looked after the wealthy - the poor, on the other hand, depended on practitioners: hangmen, herbalists or barbers. The subjects trusted healers more than the university doctors. It is difficult to draw a line between fraud, miracle medicine and real remedies, because curious medicine today corresponded to the world view.

The people declared themselves ill with the work of evil spirits and magic plants helped against witch's curse. The root of the verbena (Verbena officinalis) protected against imprecations. The black elder (Sambucus nigra) prevented demonic diseases, because the good spirits of the house lived in it. The priests burned valuable frankincense from the East, while the people smoked with juniper (Juniper communis) and thus drove away the harmful spirits. Demons hated strong smells: garlic, wild garlic, fennel, valerian and dill kept the plague bearers away. The garlic also kept the evil eye away. Sage (Salvia pratensis) cleaned the air in the death room.

The Merseburg magic spells

The theologians tried to draw the line between good prayer and superstitious magic, but the incantations kept masking themselves and breaking through the Christian make-up surface in the blessing of the saints.

The worm blessing was as omnipresent in the people as the aspirin tablet is today. We have known him from Old High German since the 9th century; but it comes from pagan times. Worm blessing and Merseburg magic spells are built up as well as healing magic of ancient India and Felix Genzmer even called them "Stone Age primitive formulas".

The worm should be in the body with its nine children and cause the diseases. The spell drove him to the surface, where the healer led him into an arrow. The wizard then shot the arrow with the worm into the forest where the demons lived: the worm returned home, the patient recovered.

The Saxon worm blessing translates: “Go out, Nesso, with nine Nesslein out of the marrow to the bone, from the bone to the flesh, out from the flesh to the skin, out from the skin, into this arrow, Lord, it be like this. "

Blaming worms for complaints is not a fool's imagination. Tapeworms and roundworms, hookworms and lung parasites are scourges of humanity. From itching in the anus to a long death, worms torture in many ways, and it is no coincidence that our ancestors called the evil dragon a worm. Worm science led to wrong and brutal therapies: From the state side until the middle of the 18th century, dogs were cut out of their tongues to prevent rabies to prevent rabies. It is a muscle that only the canids known as the main transmitters have. Cutting this rabies was a pointless and unnecessary cruelty to animals.

The second Merseburg spell is divine veterinary medicine. Baldur's horse has dislocated its bones. The other gods try practical methods first, then Odin comes. This god of magic succeeds in magic, the horse gets well. In the Middle Ages, the healers spoke the saying in short: "Blood to blood, leg to leg, vein to vein, in the name of God."

Quack and hiking magician

Quacks sold medicine. Today the term is synonymous with fraudsters. Quack is probably derived from mercury because it was considered a cure for diseases. However, sage can also come from anointing or from sage.

The quacks belonged to the traveling people and therefore had a bad reputation. They also dealt with pus, dead tissue, and blood: that brought them close to the magic of the dead. People hoped for their healing and at the same time mistrusted them, they needed these tooth breakers and bladder cutters, because nobody else alleviated their suffering. The heyday of these wandering and miracle healers was in the 16th century, while medicine also prevailed as science. Oculists stabbed the cataract and Steinschneider removed bladder stones. The Eisenbart folk song is reminiscent of Dr. Johann Eisenbart (1661-1727), who cured the “people according to his style”. Bartholomäus Friederich explicitly described himself as a stone cutter and occultist in Cologne in 1602 and also sold magic. A real scammer was Cyriacus Vense from Hessen. In 1611 he described himself as "artz" and "break teeth outside". He also sold an herb that would help against magic. The herb allegedly unfolded its effect through its prayer "I dig you well, well, blessed by our Lord Jesus Christ." He got his knowledge from Henker Urban from Wolfenbüttel. The herb served as a witch's test to see if there were any sorcerers around.

In 1545 the Cologne council ordered the medical faculty to examine the traveling doctors because "frembde medici and cyrugi" were hanging around in the city and those treated were "withered and wasted". Also the resident "Empiricis", ie practicing doctors should only be allowed to treat after they have graduated from the university. This does not prove the charlatanism of the quacks, but shows the competition between established and freelancers.

The quacks, however, produced a lot of noise and smoke: Herbal essences such as rosemary oil were used for miracle cures - meteorite rock, toad mucus or petroleum. Apparent healings arose from components like opium, the intoxication of which temporarily numbed. The "healing effect" was often suggestion, and when the cheated noticed the deception, such fraudsters had moved on.

As there were charlatans among the healers, there were also simulants among the sick. The Grantner were notorious for swallowing soap, rolling on the earth with foam at their mouths and hoping for alms. Pretending blindness, missing limbs and physical disabilities were also tricks for begging. Today's trip to India gives an insight into the sophistication of such practices.

Blood and bile

Blood was supposed to help against epilepsy and leprosy and was always important as the essence of life: Even in ancient Rome, citizens collected the blood of decapitated people to cure these evils. In medical science, diseases arose from an uneven distribution of body fluids. Blood was associated with Jupiter, the heart, and the hot sanguine. Louis XI drank children's blood to recover, but still died. The only way to legally procure human blood was to buy it from the executioner. “Outrageous relics” from the bones of those executed were considered miracle cures as well as hangman's tools. Its effectiveness resulted from the belief in an excess of the vital force of those directed before its natural end.

Strange meals sparked the passion. The lustful served her coveted food that she had rubbed on her genitals or bread, the dough of which she kneaded with her bare bottom. Fish choked in the vagina, drops of menstrual blood in the wine or pubic hair in the cake melted away the longed for. It remains to be seen whether women really implement such methods.

But the man's lust could also be killed with magic, either out of vengeance because he got involved with another one, or to keep out raw angry sex offenders. Testicles of a rooster under his bed let the lust cool down. Forty ants, cooked in nettle juice, made the man a eunuch forever. But this impotence brought on by damage spells could be reversed: fish bile smoked in the bedroom or blood sprinkled on the walls brought the pleasure back into the loins.

Means to prevent conception were not necessarily rational. A magic ritual recommended moistening cherry peas in the vagina of a menstruating woman, catching a frog, sticking the peas in its mouth, and then releasing the frog. Then the caster should dampen henbane seeds in mare's milk, wrap the mucus of a cow with barley in a deer skin, sew it into donkey skin and wear it on the body when the moon is waning. Magic was even better with the additional wax of a mule.

Lazy magic?

Modern science saw the magic of superstition of a dark middle ages; Hippies as well as esoteric feminists, on the other hand, glorify the "old wisdom" about the "forces of nature". Both made a mistake: the scientists did not understand that a half-blind enlightenment is not one; the "nature lovers" idolize the miracle belief of our ancestors instead of exposing the rational core. Sage and juniper, garlic and verbena, for example, have really healing properties.

Arrogance towards the Middle Ages has been missed, because we are not immune to lazy magic either: money makers today benefit from the unease about "conventional medicine" and sick people expect a magical nimbus from the doctor: the white coat replaces the priest's magic robe. The bourgeoisie put science in the place of the church, is just as pious towards it and "science" often means propaganda: therapists get their wages from pharmaceutical companies and invent "diseases" that fit the medicine of their donors. Plague and cholera, smallpox and syphillis, the "gods punishments" of our ancestors have been overcome for the time being; But childhood and old age, femininity as well as masculinity offer a golden artery for new cures for diseases. Menopause can be treated as well as puberty, and the fidgety philipple is no longer regarded as a hideous hideous hideous elf, but receives Ritalin. In the Middle Ages the "Word of God" counted, today any nonsense can be sold if it is "scientifically proven".

Magic also arose from the despair of finding remedies - just as cancer patients today try everything to master the "demon" in their bodies. Sheep droppings against goiter or blessed gingerbread against wolf attacks showed the insanity of the unenlightened? Not quite! Our ancestors grew mold on sheep manure and applied this paste to wounds. The mushrooms form penicillin, the main antibiotic. People didn't know that in the Middle Ages, but they did recognize that the molds healed. Experience was also part of magic healing. The medical historian Wolfgang Eckart even awards the sacred gingerbread real effect. The wolf was particularly starved around Christmas and the cattle were at risk. The spice cake contained the precious cinnamon; But cinnamon has an antibiotic effect and keeps "bad spirits", namely worms, mosquitoes and ticks. Scaring off the wolf is not without logic.

We face the Middle Ages like an ethnologist before a foreign culture. Like the subjects at that time, most contemporaries unreflectively understand our society as the best of all worlds: Even today, it is not in the interests of the rulers to promote the prosperity and thus the health of everyone. In this they hardly differ from the nobility and clergy of the Middle Ages. The anthropologist Marvin Harris rightly criticized: "Unlike its medieval predecessor, modern witchcraft also serves to make the forces of social progress stupid and to confuse them." Today, miracle healers collect their sheep in the middle class, which fears for their privileges ; Studied doctors discover angels who deliver suffering instead of criticizing unbearable work. The demon is in the beer and the cigarette that sweetens the maloch's end of the day; it must not be the exploitation that brings him an early end, and a burnt-out employee who seeks healing in the daily horoscope is more convenient than introducing humane working hours.

Health care in the Middle Ages

Health care and disease treatment in the Middle Ages often seem strange from today's perspective. The reason for this is often not that people were stupid than they are today, but that they had completely different ideas about how diseases develop.

The body was not seen as a unit, as a biochemical organism that the doctor repaired as an expert in disorders, as in modern medicine, but was in constant interaction between inside and outside: diseases could either be divine (St. Valentine's disease, epilepsy) , demonic (werwolfery, melancholy) or natural (cold piss, blockage of the urine). Calling saints and expelling demons did not preclude medication, but supplemented it. Fortune tellers were considered as serious as scientific doctors. The diagnosis also started in magical medicine. There was a means for every demon to fight them. A healer by the name of Johann Ravenich said he recognized the enchantments in the urine: “If the urine brings hair, then it is true, but if the urine is white, then it is cold, and when it is clear, it is hot applies. "Father Claes, known as devil's son, healed with the saying:" acha fara, foßa, kruka, tuta, mora, morsa, pax, max deus homo, imax. "

In addition, sensible preventive health care was known: the Middle Ages had a reputation for catastrophic hygiene, of cities that sank into dirt and garbage, of stench and omnipresent pathogens. That also corresponded to reality. Similar to people in the dirt of today's Indian metropolises, people were aware of the risk of illness. So toilets in Cologne were only allowed to be cleaned at night, and good ventilation was a precaution.

Those who had the opportunity to move to the places where the stench, garbage and thus the health burden were least, moved away from the city center or up. The social classes literally ran between top and bottom; the higher classes lived on the upper floors at a distance from the dirt on the street. Smell apples and rose water should purify the air as well as smoked herbs, burnt juniper berries and laurel.

People drank wine and beer, not because society was made up of alcoholics, but because they knew about the pollution of urban water. Mineral springs were also known. The foods that cause indigestion were just as well known as the hangover after excessive alcohol consumption. The beneficial effects of the bath prevailed particularly through the crusades. Wealthy families had their own bathing area, the public bathing houses were a social meeting point. Healing springs attracted visitors from all over the region and are still the center of health resorts today.

In times of epidemics, those who could afford to flee to the country. Nobody knew what bacteria or viruses were, but the risk of infection was known and this remedy was basically correct.

It was probably due to the failures in the treatment of illness that lifestyle and nutrition had a much higher priority as preventive health care than in modern times. There was no trust in an almighty medicine that could cure every disease. Self-treatment was more important than today. Gastric complaints, skin infections and headaches were mostly treated with home remedies. They fluctuated between sensible herbal medicine on the one hand and senseless means on the other. People shouldn't be too arrogant today: The healing properties of many native plants have only been rediscovered in recent decades.

Healing executioners - executioners as surgeons

The executioner is a myth, the reality of which surprises: Because the executors, also known as flayers or executors, not only executed, but worked as wound and bone healers and earned mortuary medicine. Cannibalism was common.

Corporal punishments of the Middle Ages were anything but arbitrary, because they created the divine order in legal understanding. The bloody theater of execution was capable of reducing the aggressions of the masses; the "art of right killing" followed a prescribed ritual. Botching up if a convict died of torture or bled to death after an amputation quickly led to a professional ban, deliberate violation of the regulations on punishment. An executioner who failed to behead when he was beheaded was in danger of becoming a lynch victim to the disappointed crowd.

Therefore, healing the wounds caused by torture, thumbscrews, mutilation, blinds or branding was just as much a part of the punishment as it was. Decapitations - freehand between two cervical vertebrae with the pointing sword - not only required skill but also knowledge of the anatomy, stretching on the rack and weaving the convicted into a wagon wheel. Assessing suitability for torture and thus a "medical" health diagnosis was subject to the executioner's judgment.

Unlike the learned doctors, who were prohibited from opening the human body, the executioner legally handled corpses. Wounded people were treated in his house. The Bavarian executioners were not allowed to sell medicine until 1736. The executioner Hans Stadler worked with ointments, healing oils and plasters, applied cupping heads and bloodletting, which shows that he practiced the "normal" medicine at the time. He obtained medicinal herbs such as valerian, gentian and juniper from the pharmacist; the peculiarity of his "healing art" was the use of human skin and human fat. In 1580, the Nuremberg judge Franz Schmidt allowed the executioner to “cut the decapitated body and, for his medical work, to take it off.” The executioners in Munich supplied the pharmacies with pounds of ointment for the manufacture of kilos. Human skin and human fat for medication was not in the magical realm.

In contrast to the executions, the executioners' women took part in the healing practice. Maria Salome treated the patients alone, while her executioner husband, who was in need of care, was dying away.

The executioner's importance as a healer lies both in his real knowledge and in the connection between medicine and magic. Execution developed from human sacrifice to the gods; Death ritual items such as the gallows knit were considered magically charged. The executioner was suspected of using the demonic powers of the dead for black magic.

Blood was supposed to help against epilepsy and leprosy and was always important as the essence of life: Even in ancient Rome, citizens collected the blood of decapitated people to cure these evils. “Arm sinners relics” from the bones of those executed were considered miracle cures as well as hangman's tools. Their effectiveness resulted from the imagined vitality of those who were directed before their natural end.

The hangman as a doctor is by no means a phenomenon of the “dark” Middle Ages, overcome by the “light” modernity. In today's terrorist systems, doctors assess the victims' suitability for torture. And compared to the medical doctor and mega-killer Josef Mengele, the executioners of the Middle Ages were philanthropists.

Animal healers become werewolves

It was not until 1765 that the first university of veterinary medicine was founded in Vienna in the German-speaking region, and in 1778 the TIHO Hannover was founded as a school for rose animals. Veterinary medicine, like human medicine, diversified widely in the Middle Ages and early modern times. Studied treated animals of the rulers such as hunting falcons, decorative birds, hunting dogs and riding horses. Executioners, butchers, coverers and shepherds looked after the farm animals.

The Arabs had preserved the knowledge of antiquity and were particularly concerned with equine medicine. In Europe, the superstition that witches, demons and spells trigger animal epidemics mixed with useful medicine: Friedrich II. Wrote the standard works for the healing of horses, falcons and hunting dogs in the 13th century and is considered a pioneer of veterinary medicine that drew conclusions from observations and questioned magical explanations.

Professional veterinary medicine began with the stable masters of the court stud farms: the health of the horses was not a hobby as with the hunting falcons and pack dogs, the treatment of which was subject to the hunters, but a decisive power factor. Horse diseases and the collapse of the cavalry could decide wars. The professional equine doctors were employees of the nobility; this privilege shaped the conservative mentality of the profession well into the 20th. The caring animal mother of the small animal practice, which has become a cliché, has only developed in recent decades.

Neutering was used to fatten the animals. The meat of oxen and capons was considered tender; the meat of uncastrated boars is inedible. Geldings and oxen are tamer than uncastrated stallions and bulls. But Sauschneider also neutered sows in order to prevent fertilization by wild boar, so they understood surgery. Emasculating was brutal, but easy. Grooms, farmers and shepherds cut the spermatic cord with knives or scissors, crushed the testicles with stones or tongs.

The butchers were responsible for the meat inspection and live diagnosis. Coverer (Wasenmeister) and animal healer was often the same profession. The Munich Wasenmeister Bartholomäus Deibler enjoyed such a reputation that he also cured the horses of the urban upper class; Executioner Hans Stadler treated horses like people with herbal tea.

The maskers' disgust must be taken literally: the smell of boiled and often already decayed animal carcasses must have been unbearable. In times of hunger, disgust limits hardly played a role. The coverers, carcasses, did business with carrion. Until meat inspection by official veterinarians, the edibility of meat was a matter of the wallet. As late as 1789, the masker Adam Kuisl reported that the meat from "kranck Vieh" was delivered to the taverns. In 1695, the Bavarian state authorities had banned the sale of horse meat to prevent the coverers from selling carcasses and thus spreading epidemics. Plague cattle did not produce any yield for the coverers, since they were also not allowed to use the skin, diseases such as anthrax represented a deadly danger.

The shepherds faced the stable masters on the social animal healer scale. They walked defenselessly and lawlessly with the herds in the wilderness, where the wolves and forest robbers were at home, were considered cattle thieves. Like the maskers and executioners, who handled sick and dead animals, they were close to the nimbus of black magic.

The shepherd, excluded from society, entered the forbidden terrain of his own sensory experience and found knowledge in the literally demonized nature about the healing effects of plants on sheep and goats; he experienced the self-healing powers of the animals and was the bearer of ancient knowledge. Like his predecessor, the shaman, this outcast found knowledge in real nature, without the distortion of church dogma. He enhanced the effect of the medicinal herbs with ritual magic.

The peasants were at odds with him. Just as executioners and barbers became the people's doctors, shepherds were the people's veterinarians. Life in the wilderness and how he dealt with death were scary to the farmers, but they did not want to do without his knowledge, neither his healing salves nor his magic. In addition to rational means, the shepherds sold the wolfsbane, put a protective spell on the herds so that the wolves stayed away. A double-edged sword, because if you have the power to keep the wolves away, you also have the power to rush them. Elmar Lorey writes: "If the village community felt threatened due to the personality of the sailor, it could easily become a werewolf process."

With the witch craze, magic entered the realm of the devil. The outsiders' counter medicine countered the omnipotence of the church through its success. The wolf banner became a werewolf, the helping shepherd a sorcerer, who ate animals in the form of animals. And shepherds who were tortured to have raged in pact with the devil in wolf form died at the stake. It was easy to find “evidence” like the witch's ointment, because the folk veterinarians had enough ointments. The shepherd Henn Knie from the Westerwald admitted that the devil had rubbed him with a harsh ointment, put on a white fur, and that he was “made up with his senses and thoughts as if he had to tear everything down.” The wolf he thought to drive out by baking a bread with the formula "The sorry forest dog, I conclude to his mouth that he does not bite my cattle or attack it." In 1587 a certain cows-Ludwig lost his head, in 1591 his knee became burned. In 1600 Rolzer Bestgen came before the witch's court and was executed as a werewolf: in addition to the wolf spell, he also used magic to heal tumors in horses and pigs. The old man actually threatened: He made his living by reading the gospel to pigs. If he didn't get any money for it, he swore to chase the wolf on foals.

The spectrum today ranges from small and large animal practices to reptile experts and zoo veterinarians, mostly women. There are also "animal healers" whose methods often seem strange. Few veterinarians know that their werewolf ancestors died at the stake.

Persian medicine

Persia is considered the cradle of modern medicine; and the Persian doctors were famous in the Middle Ages in Europe. The most important of them was Abū Alī al-Husain ibn Abdullāh ibn Sīnā - and since the Europeans could hardly say it, they called him Avicenna. He lived from 980 to 1037, at the time of the fictitious "Medicus".

As a typical Persian scholar of his time, he researched in various areas: music theory captivated him as well as alchemy, astronomy inspired him as well as mathematics, and when he was not dealing with legal questions, he devoted himself to poetry. His Qānūn at-Tibb, the canon of medicine, remained famous until today.

Ibn Sina gained less brand new knowledge here, but shone through his comprehensive insights into the healing arts of ancient Greece, Rome and Persia. He used a gigantic wealth of experience: Ancient Persia under King Cyrus was the first world empire in history and ranged from Africa to Afghanistan. The first road network from Egypt to India, the decimal fraction, the root word of paradise and magic; the garden culture, the Arabic numerals, the crown of the king, the birth of the Messiah by a virgin, the angels, the date of Christmas, the wine at the sacrament, the thousand and one nights, the mithra of the bishops, the cult of the assassins - a lion's share of civilizations the Middle Ages came from Persia; and the Persians were all too aware of it. The Persian scientists of antiquity drew on the spirit of Egypt and Babylon, India and China. Ultimately, even the Islamic Greater Caliphate was a religiously interpreted variant of the Persian "King of Kings".

Islam suppressed the ancient Iranian cult of Zarathustra, but the “Islamic” scientists adopted the knowledge of their ancient predecessors, while the Church in Europe pursued the research of antiquity as an “idolatry”. The Christian church took care of the "soul" - medical treatment and hygiene hardly played a role, while the Persians placed great emphasis on personal hygiene. Since the Christian clergy saw illnesses as the work of supernatural powers, there was a patron saint for every suffering and, from today's perspective, a psychosomatic placebo effect, but little precise healing. In the seventh century the church even banned clergymen from working as surgeons so as not to endanger their souls; the "bone work" was later reserved for the executioners - that is, amateurs who practiced 'learning by doing'.

Avicenna was not only a famous doctor, but his canon also summarized the medical knowledge of Persia at that time. Instead of demons, he recognized the climate, the environment and contagion as culprits: Among other things, he described that tuberculosis is contagious. Many of his methods are still recognized today: Avicenna instructed surgeons to remove tumors early and cut out any diseased tissue. He even recognized the heart as a blood pump.

In the Materia Medica, Avicenna described several hundreds of medications and gave prescriptions on how to use them. He - and this was unknown in the West at that time - laid down rules for how a new drug should be tested before it was used.

To this day, poetry has never been so important anywhere in the world as in Iran, and in the Middle Ages the Sufis, who shaped their mysticism in poetry, were popular heroes: the artistic word was considered a remedy for the soul. Ibn Sina recognized the interaction between psyche and body, which we now refer to as psychosomatics. While mental disorders in the West were considered demonic obsession, he recognized mental suffering in people, which makes people physically ill. Ibn Sina looked after the Prince of Gorgan, who was seriously ill in bed. He saw the prince get excited when he heard the name of his lover. Statt Dämonen auszutreiben, empfahl er, den Kranken mit seiner Liebsten zu vereinigen. Im Kanon schrieb er über die „Liebeskrankheit“. Gegen die körperlichen Symptome von Schwermut war für ihn die beste Medizin Musik.

Es dauerte bis zum 12. Jahrhundert, dann hielt Avicenna Einzug im Abendland. Gerhard von Cremona übersetzte ihn ins Lateinische. Ibn Sinas Erkenntnisse wurden das Standardwerk in Europa bis in die frühe Neuzeit hinein. (Dr. Utz Anhalt)

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