We have already ventured into the world of healers, focussing on the Anglo-Saxon era around the time of King Alfred. Indeed this topic and this time-frame is the source of Denny Bradbury’s new book ‘Borvo’.
One area Denny touches upon is the plight of folk-healers in the face of Christian dominance.
Within their communities, folk-healers were respected and a vital part of survival for the villages. Their tasks varied from nurses, midwives and counsellors to pharmacists and surgeons.
Indeed, they have been described as the ‘unlicensed doctors and anatomists of western history’ (Ehrenreich/English 1971).
As mentioned in ‘Anglo-Saxon Healing – Potions, amulets and chants‘, knowledge of anatomy and treatments tended to be handed down through generations of family; each person learning from their predecessor and adding their own refined methods to the vault of history.
Working with Mother Nature and using the forces around them was a main characteristic of folk-healing, and that was a form of pagan religion.
Unfortunately it is always the victor of any battle who will write its’ history and paganism got a raw deal at the hands of Christianity.
The Edict of Milan in AD313 sealed the fate of paganism and other druid religions, confirming Christianity as the religion of the Roman Empire.
Pagan healers were written into history as devil worshippers. Christians believed any illness was God’s will – pain was a form of punishment – and only faith and prayer for forgiveness would alleviate the condition if, indeed, it was God’s desire for them to be healed.
As such, should anyone try to heal by other means, such as folk-healers and their herbs, then they were working against God. Any successes were therefore attributed to the devil and any treatments were deemed ‘evil’.
Prayers vs chants; faith in God vs belief in Mother Nature. The two ‘religions’ were very similar yet on a political scale one was accepted; the other was to be feared.
The role of the physician as a profession only really came about in the 13th century. The Church up to this point was deemed to have hindered the development of medicine and anatomical knowledge: faith was preferred to science.
The folk-healers did not understand ‘science’ as such but they are respected in the present day for their understanding of ailments and cures.
It was only through the crusades an experience of the Arab world that medicine became recognised. From that moment, the idea of treatment was becoming more acceptable and the Church assisted in the improvement of knowledge.
Until this time any physicians used to treat royalty and the upper classes tended to get their training through reading Latin texts which based ideas on theology and astrology – monks and priests.
Peasants would not have had access to these ‘doctors’ and had all folk-healers been eradicated, which was the attempt during the witch-trials of 14th-17th century, then there is no doubt that society would be very different today.
It is a sorry state of affairs when the people call healers ‘wise’ yet the authorities term them ‘witches and charlatans’.
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