Magical Uses for Drugs

 In The Chemical Muse:  Drug Use and the Roots of Western Civilization,Hillman states that the earliest human healers used magic and herbal drug lore standardly as part of their thriving tools; moreover, it has been suggested that the shamanistic medicine men have actually been women for the most part which aids in the explanation of the roots of the Circe myth (Hillman 39). In The Pharmacology of Sacred Plants, Herbs, and Roots, John Scarsborough states that "since Nature is divine, plants and drugs derived from them are divine, which can be fitted within a class of tradtional religion of deistic character, an 'interpretation which accepts the divinity of the plants because of the diviniy of the intellect in the human being who applies them'" (150). Scarsborough continues with the ridicule, "magical belief... sorcery and such nonsense.... All the great pharmacologists rejected those things" (150).

Scarsborough continues that from Homer and Theophratus to Galen and the Papyri Graecae Magicae-- all "encompass aspects of magic, empiricism in its strictest sense, religion as understood in its context of historical observation" (150). Scarsborough also states that calling some drugs, "divine remedies or sacred stuff" like Galen does in his writing Compound Drugs according to Place in the Body, simply says that a substance acts in a godlike manner (151). He also continues with a quote that claims that not understanding the molecular chemistry of a drug action does not may a person a "superstitious layman"(151).

Riddle states that, often, diet was the main emphasis in medical therapy while drug therapy was associated with "purifications, magic, and charlatanism" (Riddle). Many philosopher doctors worked hard to grow the study of medicine which depended on age-old traditions; however, several ancient physicians worked diligently to standardize rational medicine by making it secular and professional. Superstitious beliefs, combining the activity of demons with the course of disease, were completely rejected by Hippocrates (Hillman 39).

Hillman also addresses the parallels that exist between the food of the gods and the drugs of everyday men (91). He cites an example from the Iliad, when Ambrosia gave Achilles-- the son of a goddess--great strength and made him comfortably numb where it made him forget the horrible loss of his dear friend (Hillman 92).  So in reality, there are some shamanistic employments of drugs that Hippocrates wanted to separate from, but also in literature there are plenty examples of drug use.

Ultimately, there was always an extremely powerful current of folk medicine present in cults to the saints in the Byzantine Empire states Scarsborough (154). He continues, "Two aspects of how pharmacology was perceived for sacred plants are illustrated by pharmacological astrology and the widespread acceptance of magical properties exemplified by the formulas and doctrines of the Thessalus of Tralles and the collection of texts in Greek, Coptic, and demotic known as the Papyri Graecae Magicae"(154).

 Hermetic pharmacology traditions and texts are defined in an astrological-pharmeceutical text written by Thessalus called Powers of Herbs which dates back to the reigns of Claudius and Nero, between 41 and 68 A.D. (Scarsborough 155). It is revealed that herbs were named in association with the planets and zodiac signs. Powers of Herbs represent medical astrology and pharmacology and how astrology "pinpoints both diagnosis and prognosis in diseases"(Scarsborough 155). Scarborough continues that if Galen thinks that medical astrology is a diagnostic technique then the Hermetic writeres believes that herbal and medical astrology are revelation which explains how certain plants have healing powers (155). However, Scarsborough continues, "Such herbal astrology is marked by simplicity-- a deceptive simplicity from the standpoint of modern pharmacology" (155). Scarsborough inserts a section from A Plant of the Sun: Chicory which states, "Is someone  looking toward the sunrise smears the juice of chicory, invoking the presence of the [god] Helios, and begs to give him praise, he will be most favored  among all men on that day. One prepares from the chicory's root little pills for heartburns and disorders of the stomach"(156). Scarsborough continues that folk medicine employs chicory, mastic and anise (156). Ultimately, Scarsborough writes that Roman law frowned upon "the application of astrology to political ends (156).

For the Greco-Egyptian, Scarsborough claims that ritual is essential (157). Scarsborough includes an illustration from the Papyri Graecae Magicae, "Spell for picking a plant:  Use it before sunrise. The spell to be spoken:  I am picking you, such and such a plant, with my five-fingered hand, I, NN, and I am bringing you home so that you may work for me for a certain purpose. I adjure you by the undefiled name of the god: if you pay no heed to me, the earth which produced you will no longer be watered as far as you are concerned-- ever in life again, if I fail in this operation [then follow magical words]; fulfill for me the perfect charm" (157). Scarsborough then goes on to say that the invocation, "proceeds by naming a number of gods, goddesses, powers, and properties, thus assuring the herbalist of his sacred function as well as the primary acknowledgement of awe regarding the god-given properties of such plants. In many respects the act collecting herbs is an act of worship, and the herbalist understands that the powers contained in these plants emerge from the divinity within each part collected and that the plants conversion into 'drugs' simply extends their powers for the kindly benefit of man" (158).


Other Drugs and Their Uses
Magical Uses for Drugs