A brief history of folk medicine from antiquity to today
Author: Vladimir Tonkov
Translated from Russian by Elena Shoshkina
Edited by Ivan Gesse
Modern day notions about the ancient systems of health improvement and restoration of the human organism
Modern day notions of an average historian or scientist about the ancient systems of health improvement and restoration of the human organism are quite naive and for the most part are marked not so much by attempts of the researches to actually live through the situations existing in the ancient days, but by ascribing certain uncharacteristic features to that particular epoch.
Most often an average researcher studying the history of folk medicine will not only lead an average modern man to his (the researcher’s) own notion of the ancient man in his reflections, but will also transfer his own opinion of the ancient healing and folk medicine techniques onto this new notion.
Thus the researcher of folk medicine becomes convinced that he has come to comprehend the motives, the ways and the results of the healing experience of a particular ancient healer which of course is as far from reality as the knowledge of the ancient healer concerning electronic elements and the nuclear energy.
It is absolutely clear, regardless of how sad the knowledge of it may seem to us today, that the psychology of that ancient healer is far from the psychology of the modern Papuan or of the Amazonian Indian, since modern technology has already reached, either directly or indirectly, even those remote parts of the Earth, thus drastically distorting their notions of the world and causing a landslide of barely predictable consequences in their attitudes toward the special and sacred and therefore easily destructible notions of life, health and the way one feels, which attitudes are the fundamentals underlying whatever types of both folk medicine and healing.
The systems of the natural psychical beliefs of the ancient healer constitute the most complex problem which the modern researcher has to face, because he finds it so hard to naturally trust the system of the ancient healer’s beliefs.
The modern researcher of folk medicine and healing tries not so much to describe the very system of the healing practices, methods and approaches in their natural, real or probable forms, but rather to:
– Criticize the inaccurate notions of the ancient healer about the surrounding world,
– and based on the inaccurate notions of the ancient healer about the world, build up his own conclusions of the ancient healer’s methods of the health protection and recovery.
One of the greatest mistakes of the modern researcher is his failure to consider a very important fact that the ancient person being healed:
– first of all, to some degree shares the contemporary beliefs of his epoch;
– and secondly, either wants or does not want to go back to the healthy life style in the context of that particular epoch and the existing relationships.
Based on this, the following conclusions can be made:
– the ancient person being healed inevitably becomes an adherent of the forms of historic beliefs contemporary specifically to that day, undoubtedly including atheism (godlessness), religions, independent mystic notions, being in his convictions absolutely different from the modern atheists, believers or adherents of mystics and esoterics. It is hardly likely that the modern atheist in his motivation and subsequent conclusions will ever be able to understand the ancient atheist; it is more likely they will soon realize that even though they are both atheists they believe in absolutely different types of godlessness;
– undoubtedly, the fact that is well-known to the modern academic medical worker and gains momentum in folk medicine is that an individual who does not want to go back to the existing reality surrounding him will provoke, both morally, psychologically and as a result physiologically, his self-suppression and self-destruction by every possible means – from the ordinary autosuggestion to seemingly accidental consequences, i.e. self-destructing circumstances around himself.
Hence a perfectly legitimate conclusion can be made:
Any form of folk medicine or healing is a cooperation of the healer and patient aimed at returning to the person being healed his interest to exist in the circumstances, conditions and prospects surrounding the patient at that particular moment in time.
Therefore another philosophical parallel related to a different type of healability may be drawn :
Any form of academic medicine is a compulsory return of a patient to the circumstances, conditions and prospects surrounding the patient at that particular moment in time.
One of the initial mistakes the modern researcher of the ancient forms of folk medicine and healing falls into is the total misunderstanding of the fact that even in the ancient days just like today the art of human healing was subdivided into two categories:
– the ancient form of the “academic medicine” contemporary to the epoch and intrinsic of the location in question, comprised of the methods, approaches and prescription formulas that were repeatedly adjusted and unequivocally confirmed their physical and chemical effect in compulsory healing of a person during a rather protracted healing application, including the methods of contemporary psychotherapy and psychiatry;
– the ancient form of the “folk medicine” contemporary to the epoch and intrinsic of the location in question, quite arguable – same as today, with scandalous reputation and ambiguous results, quite effective in one and absolutely failed in other areas of ancient health care;
– as well as the ancient form of the “pseudo folk medicine” contemporary to the epoch and intrinsic of the location in question, where just like today the infinite confidence of the person being healed in the healer, sometimes a quack, sometimes a real master of the “pseudo folk medicine” capable of bringing about a mass of processes in the human psychophysiological stratagem of his patient to recover and improve his health condition using the means comprehensible for the master alone, played a crucial role in the health recovery and health improvement…
Undoubtedly, what introduces much confusion to this rather complex issue concerning the ancient forms of healing is the fact that the “folk medics” and “pseudo medics” themselves claiming alleged succession of many generations in this professional practice that most often is:
– either undisguised lie which the cheats are very well aware of, but due to certain reasons prefer to hide the truth,
– or unconscious lie, the so-called wishful thinking. Thus, for example, an apprentice or a successor relies on the word of the teacher who in turn relied on the words of his predecessors;
– or an intricate network of correlations obscuring both the very issue about succession of any knowledge and the issue about the individual healers who contributed to this confusion.
An honest researcher is honest only because he is aware of the fact that:
The great number of “outsiders” in folk medicine and healing does not prove its inefficiency, but rather indicates a mere absence of any culture and legal regulation in this professional area.
Based on the above a certain fact should be recognized: when studying the ancient notions of folk medicine and healing of a particular epoch a modern researcher is sooner carefully examining the views of a contemporary layman about the work of the professional, appearing to be so vague for the layman since the notions of the professional healer are most often left out of the description.
The next most important cause of the probable mistakes of a modern researcher could be and commonly is a wrong concept of health care in general, which is propagated everywhere by representatives of academic medicine for absolutely obvious reasons.
The falseness of this notion comes from the inaccuracy well known to the specialists and intentionally ignored by their opponents who are trying to guard the accessibility of the very system of health care against possible competitors and deliberately complicating the very complex situation around folk medicine and healing.
When a healing of a person is examined as a process that is really taking place and is absolutely detached from its verbal description, provided that all notions, interpretations and inconsistencies that have accompanied the healing process are omitted, the system of health improvement will very naturally be divided into three areas simply and comprehensibly described below:
– “academic medicine”, “meaning the methods, approaches and prescription formulas that were repeatedly adjusted and unambiguously confirmed their physical and chemical effect in compulsory healing of a person during a rather protracted application including the methods of psychotherapy and psychiatry” – analogous to the previous descriptions;
– healing in the from of “folk prescription medicine” or medicine-man practices meaning a number of those methods, approaches and prescription formulas that:
– either insufficiently proved their repeated efficiency in application, but are still effective,
– or have not been statistically tested as to their efficiency, though their efficiency is obvious;
– or happened to be outside of the “academic medicine” due to the squeamish attitude of the “academic medicine” in connection with the very different forms of this “squeamishness”;
– healing as such in the form of “para-healing” by means of the biosensoy and psycho-energy-informational intervention into the life-sustaining processes of the human organism.
As of today many facts from recent history of medicine are known, yet the rest still remains far beyond the perception of a modern medic, scientist or a practicing healer.
An average professional receives most of the information from sources affected by political, public and social regulation of the information received sometime earlier, though already distorted.
It is natural that, except for historians or particularly inquisitive researchers, the specialists very rarely take the courage to examine ancient sources to personally make sure that Pythagoras was not so much a mathematician, but rather a mystic numerologist, Archimedes was not so much a geometrician, but rather a mystic of perspective projection techniques, Paracelsus – was not the father of modern academic medicine, but rather an esoteric healer: from the present medical approach viewpoint.
Instead of exposing wishful thinking, one could conduct an independent study to make his own individual research into this area with careful and meticulous examination of the personal works of these authors, descriptions of them and their activity as given by their contemporaries.
Modern variants of ancient systems of health improvement and restoration of the human organism.
In order to comprehend the real state of affairs in the area of modern forms of ancient systems of health improvement and restoration of the human organism it is necessary:
– First of all: to identify and list the basic differences intrinsic of the contemporary stage of human existence in general, as well as particular features characteristic of a member of the modern health care community – regardless of their association with a particular healing approach as a result of their professional activities: academic medicine, folk prescription medicine or parahealing in forms of psychosensory practice, biosensory practice, bioenergy practice, etc.
Among them are:
– overall technological dependence of modern society: existence of the complex equipment, mechanisms, devices, as well as specific thinking and reactions characteristic of man who creates, uses or suffers as a result of using same in terms of personal, i.e. individual or global i.e. universal use thereof;
– high level of technical awareness of the public: basic technical knowledge necessary for a modern man to live in the modern techno-oriented world, available in preschool, school and university curriculums and inevitable projection of the technical views onto the human organism in general and in particular, as well as onto the surrounding world globally;
– existence of a developed pharmaceutical industry producing an enormous number of chemical substances used everywhere on a daily basis, as well as unrestrained use of such substances by academic medicine specialists;
– Secondly, to identify and list the basic forms of healing practices and movements typical of the modern stage of human history with its characteristics and distinct features in the particular health care systems, be it on a world level or narrow local one.
Among them are:
– academic medicine as characterized by a technical approach to man and viewing a patient as a fairly complex, though a limited set of typical processes, organs and systems, as well as by mechanistic methods of compulsory health improvement: long lists of surgical treatments, often unjustified use of strong pharmaceutical medications, suppressive forms of psychotherapeutic and psychiatric help;
– folk prescription medicine or medicine-man practices, in general retaining its former approach to a person as a human being needing periodic “home” care and home remedies supplemented by the modern, though simple, accessible and potentially safe pharmaceutical means;
– healing as such in the form of parahealing based on the natural human ability for curing himself and for personal health improvement through his natural ability for biosensory identification and psycho-energy information regulation;
– religious confessionality in the forms of psychotherapeutic and psychophysiological regulation based on propaganda of healthy abstinence and psychotechniques aimed at health improvement and health recovery;
– Thirdly, identify and list the basic principles, ways and specifics of teaching the health care participants, as well as manifesting individual abilities of a healer and bringing them up to a professional level.
The question of the motives and ways of how the prospective healers of physiological and psychological ailments (doctors, healers, folk prescription medicine practitioners and priests) come into the profession is fundamental for any system of human heath recovery and improvement because it predetermines the depth of the professional concern of the prospective specialists inasmuch as it defines:
– their future professional practices which in the end will determine the depth of their professional involvement and professional orientation;
– their attitude toward their profession and as a result their attitude toward
– the patient, client or simply a person needing help;
– the type of help they can offer to the person being healed and the intensity of their desire to help;
Thus academic medicine recruits a number of contenders for the prospective title of a physician based on:
– the contender’s application to become a medical worker in the future;
– contender’s permissible mental capacity as determined by the medical board;
– results of the psychological examination based on rather arguable psychological tests – sometimes, but not always;
– and never based on the real professional aptitude of a contender and his human motivation.
Folk prescription medicine or medicine man practice recruits new specialists based on the following criteria:
– the closeness of the contender to the folk prescription healer – a medicine man:
– either accidental: accidental acquaintance, request for help, etc;
– or natural: a prospective medicine man happened to be a relative of his predecessor, a close friend, a person intentionally seeking, or any other person;
– the deliberate selection of a candidate by his compliance with special criteria and subsequent persuasion of the claimant to medicine-man practice;
– and always – based on the teacher’s idea of the professional qualification of the candidate for medicine-man practice;
– furthermore; medicine-man practice includes many elements of the healing training in various convents, monasteries and other socially limited mystic and religious societies and communities;
– and here a question arises: and what if a person educated himself or herself by books or other sources bypassing the medicine man succession? Undoubtedly, in this case the candidate himself or herself determines his professional qualifications based on his ideas of the future profession, acquiring it independently by trial and error method and at his own risk.
Healing in the form of parahealing, i.e. biosensory therapy is gaining adherents based on:
– the focused training:
– group training: in the form of socialized training courses or religious and mystic practices of some confessions – Bönpo, Buddhism, Yoga, etc;
– individual training: in the form of long-term discipleship;
– event and situation based training whereby the prospective healer accidentally joins the training process in conjunction with:
– his personal recovery from a serious sickness through biosensory therapy, and the new capabilities revealed as a result;
– an incidental “breakthrough” toward previously unused psychophysiological capabilities in biosensory healing in connection with sicknesses of his close ones or of strangers;
– going through some critical situations necessitating the use of previously hidden properties of his organism;
– religious and mystic maturity whereby as a result of the consistent heed to its superior manifestations the psychophysiological system of the human body releases its biosensory potential to paranormal healing;
– and always – provided there are personal, personal and only personal abilities; theoretical ideas of the study subject are welcome, but are not fundamental for using same.
It is the biological abilities rather than the superficial education that separates biosensory healing from medicine;
– this may cause a problem: an individual may be given access to activate his biosensory activity by:
– the teacher: based on his personal notion of the person’s entitlement to such activity, which is certainly possible and controllable, but is antidemocratic and unconstitutional; or
– the nature of the human organism based on its own consistent patterns.
Religious confessions represented by the various organizations so much different in their interests and adherence provide the society with extremely diverse methods of healing as well: varying from certain techniques of the academic medicine and its closest neighbor – the medicine-man practice – to the very arguable and surprising methods of biosensory healing, characteristic of and unique to only them.
Inasmuch as the healing methods typical of healers from religious movements may easily be correlated with the three above areas, the only issue remaining to be solved is the recruitment of candidates for performing their professional activities within such movements. This issue is described above in sufficient detail because the subject of recruitment of candidates for performing professional activities easily corresponds to this activity.
Modern society and extra-academic health improvement techniques: the basics of modern relations.
Society at all times defined its relations with certain areas of human practices depending on the basic assessment criteria resulting from the attitude toward such practices on the part of:
– the governing religious and confessional communities, being the best-consolidated from among non-government organizations and therefore shaping the attitude toward such practices of their parishioners’ which as a matter of fact are only the “influence agents” of such confessions as pertains to the public opinion of such practices;
– the society as a whole and separate rather influential public and social groups, acting as the guarantors of government power and its subdivisions and therefore entitled to and theoretically able to control the decisions of the authorities when it comes to certain types of practices;
– state apparatus and its law enforcement agencies, in particular those subdivisions of the government power bodies that are authorized by the government power bodies based on the powers granted by the government power bodies to supervise over the legitimacy of the public practices and their compliance with the public agreements compiled in forms of laws corresponding to the particular location, time and the public and political formation having approved such laws for its use and application.
Considering the fact that due to the ignorance of the relevant state bodies and their individual representatives modern folk medicine (healing) is today commonly associated by the public with two absolutely distinct areas of health improvement, namely: folk prescription medicine in the form of medicine-man practice and healing as such in the form of biosensory interaction, the relations of either of the two with the above listed categories of public and social institutions will be viewed separately.
Religious and confessional communities in Europe throughout the last millennium have accomplished a lot in order to destroy and suppress folk prescription medicine and healing, the only difference being in the intensity of such pressure exercised against the healers and medicine men varying from the strong to the hideous, depending on the country, area, community and the government.
In the modern civilized world the situation has changed to some degree, since the existing division of the state and religious-confessional practices does provide certain protection to the healers or the medicine men from being burned at the stake as in the days of the Inquisition or being drowned in ice-holes of the “Russian truth” (translation note: the “Russian truth” or “Russkaya Pravda” was the legal code of old Russia; in its variants and developments generally attributed to the XI-XV centuries) and being sentenced to death by the decrees of Peter the Great aimed at fighting witchcraft and sorcery.
Undoubtedly, it is impossible to ensure full protection from church tyranny inasmuch as you will find people with extreme convictions and unpredictable behavior in any confession; moreover the representatives of such confessional communities will from time to time use such believers as the live weapon.
Today the attitude of the religious-confessional communities towards medicine-man practices and biosensory healing is ambiguous, arguable and diverse. It is derived from from the specific features typical of such religious communities, the doctrines and convictions characteristic of them today and initially laid in their foundation by their forefathers.
The religious and confessional communities such as Buddhism can quite easily and reasonably be classified as pertaining to the healing and medicine-man practices inasmuch as the Buddhists themselves have initially been involved in many such practices thus spreading them to their parishioners and the surrounding society.
Western religious and confessional communities have a different attitude toward folk prescription medicine (medicine-man practices) and biosensory healing. For example, Christianity being an extremely disunited and heterogeneous organization actually consisting of a great number of very contradictory movements, does not welcome such practices, to say the least, substantiating their viewpoint by the fact that any intervention into the human psyche should be strictly prohibited. However such “unfavorable attitude” on the part of Christianity practically does not affect those medicine men and biosensory healers acting with the blessing from the very same Christian church justifying their practices by their personal and narrow confessional concerns, while the very church history itself is halfway riddled with numerous stories of wonderworkers and healers. Undoubtedly, there is a great number of religious and mystic confessional organizations and the two above examples only show the two extreme attitudes to medicine-man practices in form of folk prescription medicine and biosensory healing, while there are other religions and confessional communities adhering to various different points of view.
The society in general, as well as influential social and public groups and individuals always looked upon the medicine-man practices and biosensory healing as extremely necessary though quite controversial professional practices, emphasizing not so much the very subject of the practices, but rather their practical focus, as that being either a constructive or a destructive one.
It is a well known and an irrefutable fact that at all times numerous conscious quacks or specialists with very low qualifications have been the cause of the most complex problems in the relations between the folk prescription medics – the medicine men and the biosensory healers.
It is a different matter that healthy relationships between the medicine men and healers can exist only provided there is a harmonious system of communication, retraining and social warranties, a system that exists in the majority of professional communities, but due to the historical undertakings of the European community given the prevailing role of Christianity, no such system could appear in the preceding centuries for it created a lethal hazard – in the proper sense of the word – for its potential participants.
Today just like at other times the society turns for help to medicine men and healers just as often as it does to doctors and psychologists which is obviously bothersome for representatives of the academic forms of health care, thus creating a serious confrontation with the non-academic forms of health care on the level of legislation.
On the other hand, the academic disciplines developed their own language for communication that is incomprehensible for an average person and a special theory-based manner of addressing the problems and the lives of people in general; and thus created a situation where a client can hardly understand what is going on and the very medical recommendations of the doctor become difficult to implement – either psychologically, emotionally or from the simply practical side.
Moreover, the practices of a medicine man and a biosensory healer always imply a certain theatrical effect supplementing his practical task and in essence being the only major irritant for academic professionals, for this reason nicknaming all medicine men and healers as quacks and cheats. At the same time, a person turning for help to the healer or the medicine man does not in the least worry what exactly it is that cures his health or psyche: a theatrical show performed by the healer and really constituting a well advanced form of art therapy or the prescriptions given by the medicine man.
However, this very same “art therapy” does not give any grounds to suspect a medicine man or a healer of their complete professional failure claiming it to be the only proof – and at that a very shaky one – of their incompetence. Moreover, history knows many well-known academic doctors successfully using the so-called “placebo”, a neutral drug substitute, throughout their brilliant medical careers and never considered quacks, but on the contrary having won their positions with the help of the “placebo”.
The medical organizations will often blame medicine men and healers in making their patients delay their visit to the clinics and hospitals with severe sicknesses thus entailing extremely grave consequences; however, academic medicine acts no different itself if not worse when it comes to medicine men and healers, though the law does not prohibit a person from seeking help wherever he chooses, except for special cases associated with infectious diseases.
By the efforts taken by both confronting parties an individual as a representative of a services-oriented society is as a result left without a standardized market of services wherein all participants realize the limits of their competence and based on that awareness can send a patient to those specialists which appear to be the most logical and effective in the given circumstances and in a timely manner, complementing each other rather than creating some unreasonable ideas in the head of the patient regarding overall ignorance on the part of the specialists of the folk health improvement or academic medicine.
The state apparatus and its law enforcement agencies are comprised of the same citizens, the participants of the public and social relations with the only difference being that these “citizens” have an important commission from the other participants of these relations, to control the general social situation and solve disputes arising in the process.
Since in the disputes that occur between the two parties the same participants are involved, this creates a fairly difficult situation for the state apparatus: on the one hand, the conflict should be resolved, on the other hand, it should be done in a special third method simultaneously meeting the needs of all participants and not infringing the interests of any confronting parties.
Considering the historical attitudes, social and mystic customs of the public, political conditions and professionally monopolistic aspirations of the ministries and government agencies, the state apparatus cannot alter the age-old though not the most decent traditions inasmuch as such alterations will not only fail to defuse the tension, but will aggravate the situation and primarily in relation to those who wanted to change it in one go.
Therefore we have a fairly clear picture of a gradual upsurge of the folk prescription medicine, the medicine-man practice and biosensory therapy manifested through healing in the modern society:
– the folk health improvement professionals gradually demonstrating their organization, desire for improvement and legal regulation with concurrent development of methods and ways to reduce the number of false healers and medicine men;
– the state and law enforcement agencies articulately fulfilling their duties on:
– the civil protection from the fundamentalistic claims of religious and confessional communities;
– the bilateral regulation of the labor law in the sphere of non-academic health improvement forms.