Sunday, May 21, 2017

Urine, Dung and Folk Medicine, article in The Medical Age 1892


FOLK-LORE IN MEDICINE 1892 - For a list of all of my disks and digital books click here

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Under the title of "Skatological Medicine," the British Medical Journal, June 11, 1892, editorially discusses this subject. Religious rites and folk-medicine are so intimately associated among primitive folk that it is impossible to study the one without learning much of the other.

If we commence the history of medicine with Hippocrates, we shall take but a partial and very imperfect survey of the origin and progress of our art. The teachings of anthropology and the increased attention paid to folk-lore throw so much light on many obscure practices connected with our profession that no man aspiring to be a cultivated and well-informed student of medicine can well afford to neglect them.

Probably most of us who have studied ancient prescriptions, and read with disgust the list of horrible ingredients which patients in the olden time had to swallow, thought that the Greek, Roman, and mediaeval physicians had very nasty ideas, and prescribed filthy remedies without any other reason than caprice and the desire to be mysterious. Investigators of folk-medicine are not inclined to dismiss the subject of the pharmacy of the past quite so contemptuously, and as the ethnologist does not call anything "common or unclean" which throws light on the habits and ideas of the human race, it is scarcely surprising that learned treatises are being written on "Ordure and Urine in Medicine."

Occult influences have been everywhere ascribed to ordure and urine and other excrementitious remedies. Hair, human saliva, ear wax, human sweat, after-birth and lochia, catamenial fluid, human semen, human blood, brain, moss growing on human skulls, lice, the tartar from human teeth, renal and biliary calculi, human bile, bezoar stones, and a host of other disgusting "remedies" have been used from time immemorial, and some are used at this day as medicines for various ailments. Pills made from the dung of the Grand Llama of Thibet are used as infallible antidotes to disease.

Dr. Mew, of the United States army, recently had the opportunity of analyzing some of them, and he stated that he found "nothing at all remarkable" in them. These sacred pills had been preserved in a silver reliquary, elaborately chased and ornamented, and they came into the possession of W. W. Rockhill, Secretary of the Legation of the United States in Pekin, through whom they were transmitted to Dr. Mew. Strange as this may seem to those who have not studied the subject, it is not at all remarkable to the ethnologist. Human and animal dung has always been a favorite medicine in some quarters of the world. Such things are never considered disgusting; the Grand Llama offers his excrement to a suffering world as a precious remedy, and the material is provided with great and solemn ceremonies and many prayers. It is not considered by any means a mere excrement, but as a symbolical alvine dejection of miraculous virtue. From the days of Pliny, the dung of almost every kind of animal has been used in medicine. Dog dung mixed with honey was prescribed for sore throat, and wolf dung as an anti-colic. Goat dung was considered of great value in tumor of the spleen, and cat dung for gout in the feet. Lion dung was an anti-epileptic, and mouse dung was used in the constipation of children. Dr. Jacob Hunerwolf, in 1694, actually wrote a treatise on mouse dung as a laxative, in which he very highly extolled the remedy. Human urine is considered in many places as a most valuable tonic medicine. Daniel Beckherius, in his "Medicus Microcosmus," published in London, in 1660, recommends a drink of one's own urine, taken while fasting, for obstruction of the liver and spleen, for dropsy and jaundice. The urine of boys was recommended in fevers, and a "spirit of urine" was distilled for the gout.

Boyle, the great philosopher, esteemed human urine so highly as a medicine that he declared that a full account of its virtues would fill a volume. Dr. Neale, in the Practitioner, November, 1881, p. 343 et seq., wrote a paper on urine, and compared it with beef-tea and Liebig extract. "Many writers have endeavored to impress the public and the profession with the true value of beef-tea, namely, that it is not a nutrient but a stimulant, and that it mainly contains excrementative materials." Dr. Brown-Sequard's remedy for the invigoration of the aged and debilitated would not be considered at all remarkable by those savage Australians of whom P. Beveridge tells in his "Aborigines of Victoria and Riverina." Pliny mentions the use of human semen as a medicine, and Avicenna prescribed it for gout. Paullini advises the dirt from soiled stockings as a remedy for epistaxis (p. 52). Dried and powdered after-birth was used as an anti-epileptic, and secundines were used for the same purpose. The curious investigator of the odd proposals and practice of men of medicine and medicine-men will find in Capt. Bourke's "Scatological Rites of All Nations" a vast amount of information on this and kindred subjects. He has compiled his great work from one thousand authorities, and, though not intended for general perusal, it is one that will interest and inform those at least who consider that the "proper study of mankind is man."

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