Some fun ideas from the Middle Ages for staying healthy


From "Jewish Magic and Superstition: A Study in Folk Religion" by Joshua Trachtenberg:


"As a remedy for insomnia, induce a louse captured on the patient's head to crawl into a hollow bone, seal the bone, and hang about the patient's neck."

"Still another remedy for weak eyes was to gaze fixedly into the mirror for a while; 'some scribes set a mirror in front of them when they are writing, and occasionally stare into it, so that their sight may not be dimmed."

"Frightening a patient was another sovereign remedy. An invalid afflicted with chills was startled out of his ailment with the news that his friend had died suddenly, and in an even more wonderful cure, a man who had been eviscerated by a sword-thrust groaned so lustily when he beheld what purported to be the slaughter of his children, that his bowels were drawn back into his body, and it was possible to sew up the wound and save his life."

"'When a bone sticks in one's throat he should place a similar bone on his head and say, One, one, gone down, swallowed, swallowed, gone down, one, one.'"

"A poultice to halt excessive bleeding after a circumcision was made of flax that had been smeared with egg-yolk, the mother's public hairs, and the ashes of a feather and a bit of cloth that had been steeped in the blood."

"There is a demon known to Jews as the 'neck-twister,' who attacks children; moonstruck youngsters suffer alternatively from chills and fevers because the morbific demons who pervade the moon-shadows are constituted of fire and hail."

"However determined their formal resistance to the practice of magic may have been, the rabbis were obliged to recognize the logic of such a medicine. Two of the leading authorities of the Gemara, Abaye and Raba, who were so often in heated opposition, concurred in the rule that 'nothing done for the purposes of healing is to be forbidden as superstitious.' ... On the basis of this decision Solomon Luria vouchsafed a still broader license: 'If a serious illness is caused by magic or evil spirits one may even resort to a non-Jewish magician for a cure.'"

"Medieval remedies, whatever their therapeutic value, were often accompanied by incantations... One which has aroused considerable interest is the fourteenth-century rhymed Bärmutter charm against colic and labor pains, in which the bowels and the womb are directly apostrophized: 'Bärmutter (womb), lie down, you are as old as I am...'"

"Another such spell runs: 'I conjure you, wound, by our dear Lord, that you neither bleed nor swell, as the wound which our dear Lord produced when He extracted a rib from Adam's side to make him a wife did not bleed nor swell...'"

"Concerning Israel Isserlein it is reported that 'the only remedy he used for his gout was occasionally to rub some warm urine over the aching area.'"

"Human spittle, especially from a person who had gone without food for some time, was considered a prime cure for ailments of the eye."

"During the Middle Ages the belief that changing the name of a sick person can save his life and effect his cure by hoodwinking the angel charged with bringing his ailment to a fatal conclusion was very pronounced and much more generally accepted than in earlier periods."

Love,
Ellie
(Image via the British Library)