Monday, May 5, 2014

Medicine-Men as Healers

Medicine-Men as Healers


It was, however, as healers that the medicine-men were pre-eminent. The Indian assigns all illness or bodily discomfort to supernatural agency. He cannot comprehend that indisposition may arise within his own system, but believes that it must necessarily proceed from some external source. Some supernatural being whom he has offended, the soul of an animal which he has slain, or perhaps a malevolent sorcerer, torments him. If the bodies of mankind were not afflicted in this mysterious manner their owners would endure for ever. When the Indian falls sick he betakes himself to a medicine-man, to whom he relates his symptoms, at the same time acquainting him with any circumstances which he may suspect of having brought about his condition. If he has slain a deer and omitted the usual formula of placation afterward he suspects that the spirit of the beast is actively harming him. Should he have shot a bird and have subsequently observed any of the same species near his dwelling, he will almost invariably conclude that they were bent on a mission of vengeance and have by some means injured him. The medicine-man, in the first instance, may give his patient some simple native remedy. If this treatment does not avail he will arrange to go to the sufferer's lodge for the purpose of making a more thorough examination. Having located the seat of the pain, he will blow upon it several times, and then proceed to massage it vigorously, invoking the while the aid of the natural enemy of the spirit which he suspects is tormenting the sick man. Thus if a deer's spirit be suspected he will call upon the mountain lion or the Great Dog to drive it away, but if a bird of any of the smaller varieties he will invoke the Great Eagle who dwells in the zenith to slay or devour it. Upon the supposed approach of these potent beings he will become more excited, and, vigorously slapping the patient, will chant incantations in a loud and sonorous voice, which are supposed to hasten the advent of the friendly beings whom he has summoned. At last, producing by sleight of hand an image of the disturbing spirit worked in bone, he calls for a vessel of boiling water, into which he promptly plunges the supposed cause of his patient's illness. The bone figure is withdrawn from the boiling water after a space, and on being examined may be found to have one or more scores on its surface. Each of these shows that it has already slain its man, and the patient is assured that had the native Æsculapius not adopted severe measures the malign spirit would have added him to the number of its victims.
Should these methods not result in a cure, others are resorted to. The patient is regaled with the choicest food and drink, while incantations are chanted and music performed to frighten away the malign influences.