Folklore refers to the traditional beliefs, legends, sayings etc of a people i. e. of England. It is often said that folklore medicine is now going ‘out’ but in my opinion this is wrong as I work in a chemist and the amount of so called “folk,” “natural,” “alternative,” “traditional,” “home” “organic” “holistic” and “other” medicines and therapies sold is astounding. Admittedly the whole ‘magical’ element behind it all is gone for most people as it was believed that diseases and ailments were caused by evil spirits or angry gods but most of these opinions are still held by the supposed ‘uneducated’ tribes people.
But yet again some people who still hold ‘pagan’ beliefs do believe that it is the planets that cause some diseases. Although we no longer believe in ‘medicine men’, ‘shamans’ and ‘witch doctors’ in the west we still have many deep seated superstitions, rituals and some medical practices that have been taken from our murky past. Such things as saying bless you when we sneeze originate from a time when it was believed that a sneeze was your soul attempting to escape your body and by saying ‘bless you’ you some how stopped it!
Even things such as funerals are believed to be based around a ritual that prehistoric man used to carry out. And if it hadn’t been for the inquisitive Greeks searching for the seat of the soul in the human body we may still not have discovered s much as we know now about human anatomy. Even medieval practices such as leaching have now been shown to actually have some medical value. The usual method of treatment amongst tribes are almost always kill or cure they literally believe that if the ‘gods’ don’t intervene and save the ill then they were destined to die at that time.
The belief of some people in these shamans is so strong that they take part in extremely dangerous and complex rituals to ‘heal’ the entire tribe. Rituals often include things like fire walking and snake handling. One ritual carried out by the Navajo Indians, The village prepares themselves for purification by building a great big fire in their Hogan or ritualistic hut. They then all strip naked and led by their shaman they enter a circle of fire while the shaman makes offerings of incense to the four quarters.
Then follows a ritualistic dance in which the woman shuffle round the edge of the fire while the men leap over and walk through the fire. The men and women then segregate themselves and the shaman heats long stakes of wood until they are charred and glowing, he then applies these first to his own legs then to each village member’s legs, anyone who suffers burns is considered in need of extra prayers. Each person then drinks a bowl of salt water and vomits into a bowl of sand, and again anyone who doesn’t vomit is considered impure and undergo the whole ritual again.
Finally all the village and the shaman goes into the Hogan and seals the door until the flames have died down and the ashes have cooled down. The ashes are then mixed with the vomit, taken outside left to dry and blow away on the wind, for the purification to be over for the year. Many scientific experiments have been carried out around the mystery of fire walking and handling and as it has been found that no protective substances are used science is left baffled. It is possibly explained best by the idea that it may be auto-suggestion (self hypnosis) and is in fact just a ‘placebo’ effect.
This is believed to be a possible explanation as in a study of hypnosis it has been shown that if a subject is told to hold their finger over a flame in a hypnotic state and told that it will not hurt or leave a mark then no pain will be experienced and no blister will form! This still however does not explain how shamans can stand in the It is now shown that the placebo effect is a very powerful thing as it seems to have the ability to ‘heal’ sick people with out any scientific basis.