Magic and medicine
367 - 10 (2)
|Since disease was sometimes a punishment for sin, spiritual
methods could sometimes produce a cure. The Church of England's
authorities advised prayer and repentance for the sick.
|After the Reformation, the Church of England rejected all forms of recourse to Saints, relics, holy water, and so on, which the Roman Catholic Church had recommended.|
|Touching for the King's (/Queen's) Evil
did survive the Reformation. This practice involved the ruling
monarch curing victims of scrofula (a disfiguring disease characterized by swellings of the lymphatic glands,
especially in the neck), and of similar ailments.
|James I frequently performed this ceremony, although in 1616 he did issue a proclamation forbidding people to come to Court for healing between the Feasts of Easter and Michaelmas (i.e. between late March and late September - the summer months when risk of plague was greatest).|
|Charles I continued to perform the ceremony in the Banquetting House at Whitehall, but it fell out of use during the Interregnum.|
|Charles II revived the ceremony and it was immensely popular. He touched as many as 90,000 people during his twenty-year reign.|
|William III was extremely skeptical about the whole procedure and refused to touch anyone - unlike his wife Mary, who may well have contracted the smallpox that killed her while performing the ceremony.|
|Queen Anne was the last monarch to touch for the King's/ Queen's Evil, and the ceremony was removed from the Book of Common Prayer in the eighteenth century.|
|The ruling monarch was not the only person to claim innate
powers of healing. The seventh son of a seventh son was also reputed
to be able to heal by touch. Others also sometimes claimed special
powers as healers.|
|Valentine Greatrakes was a wealthy gentleman, a friend of Anne Viscountess Conway and other powerful people including Henry More and Robert Boyle, but most healers were poorer and humbler.|
|Valentine Greatrakes also made no claim to magical powers - he believed his cures stemmed from natural causes.|
|In the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries, some zealous puritans claimed various cures - particularly dispossession or exorcism - by the "prayer and fasting" methods recommended in Mark 9:29. They acted without official permission and faced immediate punishment by the Church of England's hierarchy. The most notable of them - John Darrell - was deposed from the ministry and imprisoned for a while.|
||"What say'st thou, man? hast thou
as yet conferr'd
With Margery Jourdain, the cunning witch,
With Roger Bolingbroke, the conjurer?
And will they undertake to do me good?"
(Henry VI ii, 1.2)
|Cunning men were usually from the lower ranks of society and
made money by fortune-telling, finding stolen goods, and tracing
thieves. Female "white witches" sometimes provided similar services,
and both sometimes healed illness.|
|Various tools were used to assist in the detection of thieves.
The cunning man would place a crystal ball before the victim of theft, for example; in it, the victim would then see the features of the thief.
|The victim of theft might also be asked to hold a pair of shears on which a sieve was balanced. When the guilty culprit was named the sieve would shake violently. (This method was also used to discover who had bewitched someone). Both relied on tapping the victim's subconscious suspicions.|
|Casting figures was another technique that appealed to hidden suspicions - a handful of gravel or earth was thrown down and the patterns it made used to detect the location of the stolen goods|
|Another method was to write the names of suspects on small pieces of paper, and drop these into water wrapped around clay balls - the name which unwrapped first was the guilty party.|
|Healers, blessers and cunningmen often chanted rhyming prayers to help in their efforts: The established church condemned these rhymes as "spells."|
|The complaints of ministers and moralists suggest that quasi-magical practitioners
of all kinds were numerous. Local constables were instructed to
arrest as rogues "all idle persons going about the country, either
using any subtle craft, or unlawful games, or being fortune-tellers,
or jugglers, or using any such crafty science.".
|Many educated men of the late sixteenth century believed in "natural magic" - the notion that there were hidden (occult) connections between all parts of the world.|
|Sir Kenelm Digby was one of many early scientists who thought that action at a distance might be possible through these hidden forces. He accepted, for example, that the weapon-salve was a real possibility - i.e. that a wound could be cured by anointing the weapon that caused the injury.|
|A prime example of action at a distance was the magnet (or loadstone/ lodestone). Sir William Gilbert's great work De Magnete (1600) was one of the most important early scientific works, but Gilbert believed that magnetism was an emanation from the earth's "soul."|
|Belief in spontaneous generation was widespread - mushrooms were thought to sprout naturally from earth, worms from carrion, even rats in ships. All these were supposed to stem from the natural "generative and seminal powers" of the world.|
||Many of these beliefs were founded in the
Hermetic tradition, that purportedly preserved the ancient
wisdom of the Egyptians (conveyed from God to man by Hermes
Trismegistus) in a series of Greek astrological and alchemical
In 1614, drawing on earlier scholarly work, Isaac Casaubon showed that these texts were mere forgeries. This (and the growing tendency to see all matter as inert mass subject to quantifiable laws) undermined the belief in alchemy and natural magic amongst intellectuals.
|Beliefs in natural magic and recourse to natural healers and cunning men survived amongst ordinary people in England well into the eighteenth century and even beyond. However, the elite increasingly dismissed all unofficial medicine and cures as mere superstition.|