Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Native American Medicine Men

Native American Medicine Men



   The medicine man is an important functionary among all the tribes of North America and medicine practices constitute an important element in the daily life of the Indian tribe. But medicine practices cannot be differentiated from religious rites and observances. The doctor is the priest and the priest is the doctor; the medicine man is priest-doctor. In studying the medical practices of the North American Indians from the standpoint of medicine, the subject may be advantageously considered in three parts : First, au effort should be made to discover the Indian's idea or conception of disease, i. e , what is Indian pathology ? Second, an attempt should be made to discover the Indian method of curing or avoiding diseases, i. e., what is Indian therapeutic? And, third, an effort should be made to discover what knowledge the Indian has of the medicinal properties of minerals, plants, and other remedial agencies, i. e., what is the Indian material medical In systematically examining the subject among various tribes of North America and in reading the literature of the subject, the following general conclusions are reached: First, The Indian's pathology is largely, if not wholly, myth- ologic. Diseases are attributed to evil beings, the malign influence of enemies, and to various occult agencies. Second. Indian remedies are largely, if not wholly, magical, and constitute an integral part of their religion. This paper by Dr. Matthews clearly illustrates this point and derives special value therefrom. Third. Various tribes of Indians seem to have a knowledge of certain medicinal properties of certain plants, I. e., they know of emetics, purgatives, and intoxicants; but they do not seem to use this knowledge in any reasonable system of remedies. Purgatives, emetics, and intoxicants are used more frequently by the priest than by the patient, and still more frequently by the clan or by bodies of persons engaged in the performance of rites which are rather of a religious nature, but which are yet designed to ward off disease or to cure those actually suffering; but no rational system of medicine has been discovered and authentically described as existing in any North American tribe. On these subjects a large body of material has been collected by the Director and other officers in the Bureau, which, when properly systematized and published, will shed much light upon the subject.
    In the details set forth in the present paper numerous practices — for instance the incantation to images, the sacred fumigation or incense, and the supposed absorption of the body of divinity by the patient or devotee — are analogous to observances of the same description — intended for physical or spiritual benefit, or for both — still in use by many nations and individuals throughout the world whose philosophies cannot be traced to a more common origin with those of the Navajo than the general principles governing the evolution of human thought by graded stages. All who practice these observances declare them to have descended to them from above, that is, from some concept of divinity, as may be explained by the principle of ancientism; but the evidence shows that they all have arrived from below, that is, from a lower plane of humanity.