Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Die Karikatur und Satire in der Medizin: The Doctor's Cane and the Plague Doctor

I found this cool little book on archive.org. The book is called Die Karikatur und Satire in der Medizin. Even if your German is as poor as mine, you should understand this book is about caricature and satire in medicine.

There are many great pictures in the book. There is a picture in the gynecology section that shows bunnies all over the floor and toward the end of the book are a couple funny caricatures of Anton Mesmer, but that's not the topic of this post...

There are some pictures of doctors with canes to their noses. 

Imagine that the moment your doctor enters your home, he strikes his cane upon the floor and then holds the golden tip to his nose. The doctor keeps the cane to his nose, whenever possible, for the entire visit.

What's that about?

When he entered your home he struck his cane to disrupt the herbs and powders in the cane's tip. The effect of the herbs was twofold. First, the herbs probably smelled better than the patients. And second, the herbs were probably meant to keep the doctor from airborne infection.

The doctor's cane was probably an evolved form of the medicated rings of the ancient world.

The most extreme adaptation of this type of device was the mask worn by Plague Doctors. The plague doctors had a mask with a massive beak stuffed with herbs. I tell you what, if this was the only doctor that would come see me, I'd probably fling myself from a window.

But doctors were not the only people to get a cool cane. Whatever the patient had that killed them, it didn't get any better (or smell any better) once they were dead. Here is a picture called "The Company of Undertakers"

Sunday, July 10, 2011

The Ring of Eucrates

Earlier today I read Plutus by Aristophanes. A short while ago I found myself reading The Liar by Lucian.

Although I was amused by what appears to be the origin of The Sorcerer's Apprentice, that is not my main interest in this story.

The character Eucrates owns a very special ring:

'Do you suppose,' asked Eucrates, 'that he is the only man who has seen such things? Plenty of people besides Ion have met with spirits, by night and by day. As for me, if I have seen one apparition, I have seen a thousand. I used not to like them at first, but I am accustomed to them now, and think nothing of it; especially since the Arab gave me my ring of gallows-iron, and taught me the incantation with all those names in it.

These rings made of gallows-iron (nails or iron from a cross!), coffin nails, and other iron associated with the dead and graveyards gave the possessor the ability to command and dismiss spirits.

A little further in the story, Eucrates tells of a time he was confronted by a frightening entity (who he calls Hecate) three hundred feet high with the lower body of a dragon and the upper part and head of a Medusa! But, never fear! He's got a ring...

At the sight of her, I stood stock still, and turned the seal of my Arab's ring inwards; whereupon Hecate smote upon the ground with her dragon's foot, and caused a vast chasm to open, wide as the mouth of Hell. Into this she presently leaped, and was lost to sight.

The Ring of Eucrates, gotten from an Arab, was mighty enough to send Hecate straight to Hell!

Of course I know this is old Greek fiction, but the tall tales and ghost stories in The Liar were based on real stories and beliefs.

The Arab's ring was probably based on a ring or rings Lucian saw. The ring was made of gallows-iron, had a seal and was potent enough to send just about any kind of spirit down to Hades.

Later Arab stories attribute such a ring to King Solomon, but state that Solomon's ring was half brass and half iron with a seal on either side. You can see Lucian was aware of the power these metals have in the following quote:
apparitions, you tell me, take flight at the clash of brass or iron

King Solomon would never make his own ring of gallows-iron, but it is very likely he would have made it of iron. In an old book on rings (which I cannot find right now), I read about many such rings which were not just iron, but magnetized iron.

The Rings of Eudemus


You are laughing at me. Well, then I denounce you as their accomplice. Where did you steal that new cloak from? Yesterday I saw you with one utterly worn out.


I fear you not, thanks to this ring, for which I paid Eudemus a drachma.


Ah! there's no ring to preserve you from the informer's bite.

A short comedic intermission is inserted in today's quest for the Ring of Solomon. The quote above is from Plutus by Aristophanes. Eudemus was a physician who sold medicated rings to treat or prevent snake bites and other ailments.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Rooting Out Demons With Baaras

People are often spoken of as if they were plants. I probably don't have to explain myself when I tell you "My family has its roots in this country". You just know what I mean.

My family once had an over-sized Bible. It was not the kind you would pick up and carry off to church on Sunday. In the front of the Bible was a line drawing of a tree. On the tree were names. These were names of people in my family going back generations. After the page with the picture of the tree were even more hand written pages. These pages recorded births, marriages, baptisms, and important events. This family tree are called my "roots".

This concept of laying down roots is also applied to religious groups, political movements, and spy networks.

At times people get the feeling they don't know who they are or who they should be. They say "I need to find my roots." Or, if they are speaking for a family or church, they might say "We need to go back to our roots."

The Bible is filled with horticultural references that are actually about people. Grape vines, olive trees, the grafting of gentiles into Israel.

When things go wrong and something has "taken root" that we do not like or that might be harmful, what do we do? We "root out the evil", whether it be dissenters or heretics. But have you ever stopped to look at the symbolism as it appears in the Bible?

Although there are many references to the uprooting of evil, there are a couple whose imagery I would call to your attention. The first is Malachi 4:1:

"For behold, the day is coming, burning like a furnace; and all the arrogant and every evildoer will be chaff; and the day that is coming will set them ablaze," says the LORD of hosts, "so that it will leave them neither root nor branch." 

Here we have YHVH Sabaoth taking the evildoers and throwing them in a fire, leaving neither root nor branch.

And again in Isaiah 10:17:
The LORD, the Light of Israel, will be a fire; the Holy One will be a flame. He will devour the thorns and briers with fire, burning up the enemy in a single night.

In this imagery we find the evil weeds are rooted out and consumed entirely in flames. These are, of course, not references to weeds and trees, but men and demons and their eternal souls.

Compare this imagery with that given by Jesus in Luke 17:6:
And the Lord said, "If you had faith like a mustard seed, you would say to this mulberry tree, 'Be uprooted and be planted in the sea'; and it would obey you."

Here Jesus is also using the imagery of a tree being uprooted and cast in the see, but is actually talking about the casting of demons into the abyss. The imagery of the uprooting of plants and bitter roots applies to people, but it also applies to the spirits that are behind the evil actions of men.

With this in mind, read the description Josephus gives of the root baaras in The Wars of the Jews (7.6.3):
But still in that valley which encompasses the city on the north side there is a certain place called Baaras, which produces a root of the same name with itself its color is like to that of flame, and towards the evenings it sends out a certain ray like lightning. It is not easily taken by such as would do it, but recedes from their hands, nor will yield itself to be taken quietly, until either the urine of a woman, or her menstrual blood, be poured upon it; nay, even then it is certain death to those that touch it, unless any one take and hang the root itself down from his hand, and so carry it away. It may also be taken another way, without danger, which is this: they dig a trench quite round about it, till the hidden part of the root be very small, they then tie a dog to it, and when the dog tries hard to follow him that tied him, this root is easily plucked up, but the dog dies immediately, as if it were instead of the man that would take the plant away; nor after this need any one be afraid of taking it into their hands. Yet, after all this pains in getting, it is only valuable on account of one virtue it hath, that if it be only brought to sick persons, it quickly drives away those called demons, which are no other than the spirits of the wicked, that enter into men that are alive and kill them, unless they can obtain some help against them. 

The name of this root is baaras, which probably comes from the Hebrew ba'ar which means "to burn". The root baaras is uprooted and burns with a ray "like lightning". Baaras "quickly drives away those called demons". This is probably the root applied to Eleazer's ring which, if held to the nose of the possessed, "roots out" the demon.

(Note: there is an archaic connection of the words 'root' and 'rout' which fits the lore of this plant well. Both root and demon need to be routed carefully and then plucked out whole so no portion remains below the surface.)

Many people have pointed out how much the lore behind this baaras root matches up with that of the mandrake. Others point out that the mandrake was a common plant in Palestine whereas baaras grew in just one small area. Being a common plant, Josephus was well aware of mandrake and elsewhere used its common name. Baaras may be the common mandrake, it may be a specific type of mandrake (this is what I believe), or it might be another plant entirely.

Eleazar's ring is the prototype of the ring found in the Goetia. Applying baaras or mandrake to the Ring of Solomon is a restoration of the original practice of exorcism handed down by Solomon. Use it on Beelzebub, Astaroth, your in-laws, or wherever you find evil that needs to be uprooted.