Thursday, October 8, 2015

What is Medical Superstition? by Dr Hugo Magnus

See also Folk Medicine, Alternative Remedies & Herbal Cures - 100 Books on DVDrom and Alternative Medicine & Spiritual Healing - 175 Books on DVDrom

FAITH and superstition are twin brothers. Altho the former leads humanity to its sublimest ideals and the latter only presents us with a caricature of human knowledge, both are children of the same family. Both originate in a sense of the inadequacy of human science in regard to natural phenomena. The fact that the most important processes of organic life can not be traced to their ultimate origin, but that their investigation will soon lead to a point of irresistible opposition to further analysis, has always called forth a feeling of impotency and dependence in the human mind. This consciousness of being dependent upon factors which are entirely beyond human understanding has thus given rise to the metaphysical need of reflecting upon these mysterious factors, and bringing them within reach of human comprehension. Humanity, in attempting to satisfy such a metaphysical requirement from an ethical standpoint, created faith, which subsequently found expression in the various forms of religion. It is not within the scope of this essay to consider how far Divine revelations have been vouchsafed on this subject. Superstition undoubtedly entered the scene when, simultaneously with these, endeavors were made to consider and to explain physical processes from the standpoint of such metaphysical requirements. It is true that this did not, at first, lead to a marked contrast between faith and superstition; for a period existed in which faith and superstition i.e., the metaphysical consideration of ethical values and the metaphysical consideration of the entire phenomena of life were not ouly^ equivalent, but even merged into one conception. This occurred in an age in which mankind considered all terrestrial processes, whether they were of a psychical or of a material nature, as immediately caused by the steady interference of supernatural powers a period during which the deity was held responsible for all terrestrial phenomena. During this period faith became superstition, and superstition, faith. A separation did not take place until some especially enlightened minds began to evolve the idea that it would be more reasonable to explain natural phenomena temporal becoming, being, and passing away by natural rather than by supernatural causes.

The reaction against this better interpretation, the tenacious adherence to the original association of terrestrial manifestations with metaphysical factors, created the superstition of the natural sciences. The birth of superstition in the Greek world must be placed about the seventh century, B.C., the period during which Thales of Miletus came forward with his endeavor to explain natural processes in a natural manner. This attempt of the Milesian is the initiation of a rational scientific conception of natural manifestations, and the ancient theistic consideration of nature became superstition only in opposition to such a view. It follows, then, that what holds good with regard to the interpretation of natural manifestations in general holds good in medicine especially. Here, also, superstition came into question only when, besides the original theistic conception of the functions of the body and besides the metaphysical treatment of the sick, a valuation of the normal as well as of the morbid phenomena of the human organism came into vogue which took into account terrestrial causes. Not until this stage was reached did theism and theurgy lose their title and become superstition; until then they could claim fullest acceptance in medicine as thoroughly logical consequences of the prevailing theory of life. This took place, so far as Greek medicine was concerned, at about the end of the sixth century, B.C. The Corpus Hippocraticum already shows us Greek medicine as being purified from all theistic sophistications and only reckoning with natural causes. When this separation must have taken place for pre-Greek, Indian, Assyrian, and Egyptian culture can not be at present determined with certainty. For the Egyptian and Babylonico-Assyrian manuscripts, so far known, show an intimate admixture of true observation of nature with theistic speculations i.e., a treatment of medicine which, altho it took account of physico-natural manifestations, was still deeply tinctured with superstition.

According to what we have stated, medical superstition might be defined as follows: "Belief that the normal as well as the pathological manifestations of organic life may be explained and eventually treated, without consideration of their physical nature, by means of supernatural agencies."

Medical superstition varies according to the kind and the origin of these supernatural causes, and therefore appears in the greatest variety of forms. If these causes were looked for in celestial regions, medical superstition became vested with the religious garb, and its source was in the religious cult; but if the belief prevailed that God shared the domination of the world with other mysterious elements, such as were embodied in different forms in accordance with the various philosophical systems, medical superstition bore a philosophical and mystical stamp whose origin is revealed in the history of philosophy. But if certain mysterious powers hidden in the womb of nature or active above the earth were considered to influence human life, medical superstition assumed a physical character. However, it frequently followed that the above three factors acted simultaneously or in varying combinations, or certain other elements which were inherent in human nature cooperated. For this reason it is sometimes not quite easy to decide as to the source from which this or that form of medical superstition principally derived its persistent currency. But, nevertheless, it is our intention to divide our subject in accordance with the sources from which the several forms of medical superstition spring, as it is absolutely impossible to obtain a satisfactory view of the extensive material without first attempting a systematic arrangement of the data at hand.

But before attempting to inquire why the purest and most valuable fountains of all human knowledge religion, philosophy, and natural science have at the same time become sources of medical superstition, it will be advisable to explain the character which medical science had assumed under the exclusive domination of theism, and how conditions shaped themselves when physico-mechanical philosophy appeared and began to do battle with the theistic conception of life. These conditions played such a special part in the development of medico-physical superstition that it becomes necessary first to examine their power and tendency before attempting to contemplate medical superstition proper.

See also Folk Medicine, Alternative Remedies & Herbal Cures - 100 Books on DVDrom and Alternative Medicine & Spiritual Healing - 175 Books on DVDrom

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