Natural Philosophy #6 The Weapon Salve

A couple of weeks ago I spent 4 days in hospital having a hip replacement, this was my 4th surgical procedure in 18 months so I’m feeling a little battered. But my reading of the history of science, especially just pre and during The Enlightenment, has kept my brain active and provided a few laughs along the way too. Here’s a new one for you:

Imagine you were coming out of a supermarket, or a pub, or your home, and some lunatic stabbed you with a knife in your arm! Some folks saw this, grabbed the lunatic, wrestled him to the ground and took the knife from him. The police and an ambulance were called, you were taken to a nearby hospital where you were quickly seen by a doctor and a nurse. The doctor turns to the nurse and says:
Take some moss growing on the head of a thief who has been hanged and left in the air; add a few bits from a real mummy; add some of the patients blood, still warm; add two ounces of human suet, two ounces; of linseed oil, turpentine, and two drachms of Armenian bole. Mix all well in a mortar, and keep the salve in an oblong, narrow urn.”

Paracelsus (1493-1541)

Feeling confident? It gets “better”!

“Once this ointment is prepared, recover the original weapon used in the attack and dip it in the ointment. In the meantime, the wound must be cleaned regularly with fresh water and clean bandages used each day after the removal of ‘laudable pus.’”

You might need to read that last paragraph again to realise that the ointment is rubbed on the knife, NOT on YOU! Probably a good thing too! This procedure and recipe was followed by many physicians up to and around the beginning of The Enlightenment approximately 1680 onwards. There were variations on it involving bear, boar and a myriad of ingredients. Until the arrival of “proper scientists” and science based on empirical methods, it was believed that there was some form of magnetic force that transferred healing power from the impregnated weapon to the injury it had caused. Blind belief prevented any experimentation or discussion on the efficacy or veracity of the process, of course this kind of prejudiced belief couldn’t happen today, all science is openly reviewed, questioned, debated and subject to counter argument …….. isn’t it?

Categories: Natural Philosophy, Philosophy

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14 replies

  1. Great post. We are writing up a series of posts which deal with the reforms around the advent of the Industrial Revolution leading into our present age which we think you’ll enjoy.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Or pre-written by the profiteers. Hopefully, the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th surgeries were not corrections and you are well on your way walking into another wine bar. 🙂 Warm wishes for a vibrant recovery!

    Liked by 3 people

  3. sending you healing vibes for your recovery. it seems witch doctor treatments were alive and well in the “civilized” world! lol

    Liked by 3 people

  4. That story caught my attention! At least the prescribing physician (Paracelcus?) had the sense to keep the wound clean. That’s the thing about science – it evolves, albeit sometimes slowly. Scientists may find themselves at a dead end, or duped by sham science, or even silenced or misused by political or religious forces, but eventually science self-corrects when others say, “Now, just a minute!”

    Liked by 3 people

    • It was keeping the wound clean that fooled them into thinking that it was putting that salve on the weapon worked. This is actually a perfect example of correlation NOT being the same as causation. A lot of untrained or politicised scientists try to pull the wool over our eyes with correlations. I remember a funny example when I was a student that correlated a child’s education attainment correlating with the number of bathrooms in their house, so, theoretically all you had to do to ensure your child got high grades at school was to add a couple of bathrooms to your house. 🤣🤣

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Good luck with your physical therapy, and I’m glad medical science has advanced over the last 500 years!

    Liked by 3 people

  6. Wishing you a speedy recovery.

    Liked by 3 people


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