Tuesday, February 25, 2014

from Dr. Morris Fishbein | essay on old wives’ tales

By Jesse Halsey
Dr. Morris Fishbein, the editor of the “Journal of American Medical Association,” and of “Hygeia,” the popular health magazine, says, “I have seen Eugene Debs dying in a naturopathic sanatorium which practiced the kind of medicine that was popular in the fourteenth century; I have listened for an hour to Upton Sinclair as he expounded his conceptions of electronic medicine, life and health; I have read how the faithful resort to Lourdes, St. Anne de Beupre, and the tabernacle of Aimee McPherson; I have seen thousands struggling for the ministrations of Emile Coue; I have seen Jewish rabbis repeat rituals which were essentially the exorcism of spirits; I have poured over the pages of “Physical Culture,” published by Barnarr Macfadden; I have watched colored Holy Rollers and heard the lectures of Dowie and Voliva; I have read thousands of letters from thousands of Americans concerning their ailments; I have seen the collection of cards cross indexing more than a hundred thousand nostrums, quacks and frauds in the headquarters of the American Medical Association; I listen on the radio to the services of the First Church of Christ, Scientist; I have read the textbooks of chiropractic, the autobiography of Andrew Still, founder of Osteopathy, Gilbert Seldes’ “The Stammering Century,” and Dakin’s “Life of Mary Baker Eddy.” As a result of all this I am not at all convinced that the reasoning powers and knowledge of the average man have improved tremendously as a result of the great discoveries made by modern medical science. His life has been made safer; his life expectancy has been raised from some thirty years at birth to some sixty years; and this has been done for him, not through his own volition, but because here and there leaders of men have arisen to work for man in spite of the invariable distrust that the average man has for expert knowledge.

Some people think that fish is a brain food and that a lot of mackerel in the diet will convert a moron into an Einstein.

Some people think it is dangerous to sleep in the moonlight; hence the word “luny.” In the mythology of the Egyptians, the moon was mistress of the brain, the sun, lord of the forehead; and to various constellations were assigned the tissues which they were supposed to govern. All this is without scientific substantiation. The causes of various forms of insanity vary from infection by germs of one type or another, to hereditary influences and malformation of the brain structure.

Some people believe that rubbing one eye will help to get a cinder out of the other eye. After all, that is better than rubbing the eye with the cinder.

The fact that there is rust on a nail with which one is scratched, will not particularly influence the wound, since this rust is usually merely oxidized iron, a remedy that is not infrequently taken internally to considerable advantage. Germs adhere both to rusty and to clean nails and the germ most usually found there is that of tetanus or lockjaw. There is no harm particularly attaching to the rusty nail.

Lots of people think whiskey will cure snake bite—but where can you find a good snake? The belief that drinking two quarts of whiskey will cure snake bite is probably symbolic magic, based on the idea that the whiskey will produce the vision of snakes and that the vision will remove the effects of the bite.

Some people believe that warts can be removed by tying knots in a string and burying the string at a cross-roads in the moonlight. In Cheshire, warts are rubbed with a piece of bacon and the bacon is then put under the bark of an ash tree. The villagers believe that the warts will appear as knobs on the tree.

There is an old story about an orator who was gesturing unnecessarily. Someone asked Senator Reed for an explanation of this phenomenon, and he replied that the orator’s mother had been scared by a windmill.

And remember, never eat an oyster in a month without an "r" in it.

If you drink from a garden hose you may get a snake in your interior. Every so often the newspapers tell about the girl who had one. Here is the simplest form of symbolic magic. A garden hose looks like a snake.

Snake oil is reputed to have all sorts of virtues for the cure of rheumatism.

If you break out with pimples and boils, it is just the meanness coming out.

Many people still believe that cutting the baby’s hair will weaken it—that is the baby.

Some people believe that if one’s left ear burns it is the sign that someone is saying mean things about one, and that if the right ear burns, something good is being said.

There is a common notion that bear’s grease rubbed on the scalp will prevent baldness. Experts say that, in most instances, baldness is idiopathic—which means that nobody knows the reason for it. There are all sorts of superstitions about the hair, and about every other matter in which scientific explanation is lacking. Some people believe that the hair is full of sap and that the ends must be sealed by singing or the sap will run out. The hairs has no more sap than a walking stick. In most instances baldness is hereditary and because of the constitutional condition the hair is bound to fall out.

In ancient Egypt, the medicine man cured baldness by a grease that was made from the fat of six different animals; the lion, hippopotamus, crocodile, cat, snake, and ibex. The idea was to get the strength and sagacity of the animals at the same time that the grease was supplied. In early American days, bear’s grease was used for the same purpose.

The folks in many states assert that a cat left alone with a baby will kill the infant by sucking its breath. In 1791, a jury at the coroner’s inquest in England rendered a verdict tot the effect that a child near Plymouth had met death in this manner. The myth is almost universal.

The Egyptians had a cat-headed goddess. The Phoenicians and Romans also had the moon goddesses who were associated with the cat. The cat is always associated with the moon because it is more active after sunset and because the pupils . . .

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