Old English Medical Remedies: Mandrake, Wormwood and Raven's Eye Hardcover – 28 Feb 2018
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About the Author
Sin ad Spearing is a psychological historian specialising in the research of obscure beliefs. She worked as a professional musician before returning to university to study psychology and philosophy. Following a number of articles published in Journals including those of The British Psychological Society and Mensa, Sin ad began researching the bizarre world of Old English medicine, psychiatry and associated supernatural traditions.
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However, as a non-professional, I found the sections regarding Anglo-Saxon psychology heavy going especially when trying to relate this to nineteenth and twentieth century thinkers.
Overall I would recommend this book to anyone interested in Anglo-Saxon society.
Review from Jeannie Zelos book reviews
Genre: Health, Mind & Body , History
I'm kind of conflicted about this review. It wasn't at all what I was expecting, which was actual historical remedies and then a discussion on individual issues from them in the light of today's knowledge.
I'm fascinated by old ways, remedies that were surprisingly effective, gained from acute observation of patient, remedy and effects mixed in with what seems to us much weirdness, gathering herbs on certain days, standing in certain position, using different coloured materials and of course the ever present evils of the day....What I got was an intensely interesting read, but which was much more like an academic treatise, at times pretty hard going for a hobby historian like myself.
I think that really needs to be made clearer in the description as I can see from reviews several others felt the same.
I really enjoyed the remedies and discussions when they cropped up, learning about how many are finding their way into modern medicine. The discussion too on why practices that seem so irrelevant to us now, with our science knows all outlook, things like times, days, colours, that are all set down so precisely were so important and not the side dressing they appear.
It reminded me of the way I read years back that so many recipes called for “the water of a man-child” and that seems sexist. Did they really think male urine was somehow stronger, more special? No, but the penis naturally allows urine to remain sterile longer while female urine can get skin contamination more easily as its gathered. Simple but important stuff. They may not have know why, but observation and records will have shown them that male urine was more effective.
Then too we now have a whole school of theory based around bio-dynamics, incorporating moon schedules for planting etc.
I found fascinating the research now done on intention of thought, where research was done on stands of human DNA, one group were asked to hold the vial while maintaining a heightened state of emotional positivity, the second asked to mentally intend to unwind the strand of DNA and the third group asked to do both. There was a marked difference in the first two groups compared with the third, with that one showing material change. It lead to a conclusion that focused intention could produce a material change, a small study but certainly food for thought, and one that could explain why intention was regarded as so important.
We're so quick to dismiss what doesn't fit our current science theories that we often dismiss old words, and yet as shown on the MRSA antibiotic, we could be losing valuable cures. Just because there seems no science base, no logic doesn't mean a theory or remedy in invalid. I remember my shock years back when my PC/IT son told me about water being research for computer chips as water has a memory...I still find that hard to take ;-)
Its a fascinating read, but so intense and academic that I found it hard at times, and I've skimmed through, reading sections that catch my eye. Its certainly a read I'll dip back into for sheer interest, and its very clear the author has a real knowledge and passion for the subject. I had convinced that what she wrote had been thoroughly researched and checked, and wasn't just an opinion of hers, but something gleaned from thorough analysis of the texts available.
For me though a read that was a bit lighter, or a better description so I knew what to expect would have made me happier.
Stars: 4, a great read for anyone interested in old remedies and the history of why they were so used.
ARC supplied for review purposes by Netgalley and Publishers
At first glance, most (if not all) of the cures seem like outdated remedies drowned in mysticism and superstition, but when contemporary research is presented side by side, it is impossible to disregard these manuscripts as merely outdated information. Moreover, the historical and scientific background makes them easier to understand and brings you closer to this intriguing time period. For example, a remedy involving eating sheep’s dung sounds crazy and pointless, but when the author explains how it is specially rich in nitrogen and potassium and the healing properties these two have, it doesn’t sound as crazy anymore (still yucky though). The directions included that the healer should not to reveal the contents of the remedy to the patient… and I can totally understand why.
Spearing makes use of her vast knowledge (specially in psychology) and diverse analysis to question previous interpretations and submit her own alongside relevant context material. The remedies include the original Old English text, which I tried to read at the beginning because of the novelty, but ended up skipping for the rest of the book. Maybe some day, when I learn some ninth century English, I would go through them again. It was specially interesting to know about the important, yet forgotten, role of women in ancient healing, as well as the way mind and body were treated as a whole when curing an illness, a view that has recently gained renewed attention. This seemingly outdated manuscript might be more relevant today than what we thought at first, but if the medical side of it doesn’t interest you, its Dark Ages historical appeal is undeniable.
*I requested an eArc from Pen & Sword, Thank you!
Most helpful customer reviews on Amazon.com
The subject matter covers remedies and topics found in the Lacnunga and Bald’s Leechbook III. That said, there is plenty of folkloric material in here, with medical remedies being populated with Elves, Night Walkers, Hags, etc. What really ,makes this book shine, (much like Sinead’s former book) is the fact that she approaches the material from a psychological perspective. Specifically, she happens to discuss theories of Jung, and the notion of how they relate to the material presented within the Lacnunga and Bald’s Leechbook III. I found it particularly interesting when she pointed to a passage found in the primary material where a visualization process is mentioned. Her analysis has far reaching implications regarding the worldview of our ancestors.
I really appreciate that Sinead spent time independantly deciphering passages. She translates specific words much differently from those who came before her. She used the context of what was being written to assist in determining troubling and formerly insufficiently translated words. Suddenly the said passage in question made much more sense. I won’t give away any spoilers here.
When applicable careful analogies are given, borrowing depictions from Norse tradition. An example of this is when Sinead looks to Erik the Red’s Saga to flesh out her theory regarding the figures who created the charms and medicine found in the Leechbook and Lacnunga.
Sinead writes in an educated but extremely accessible style. This means that this is a relatively quick read (I finished it within a few hours). However, I have gone back several times now, making notes and revisiting certain sections.
The bibliography is extensive and gives many options for further reading. So if you find the subject matter of interest, I strongly advise you to purchase this book.
Since many of the remedies involve visualization, focused intention, transference, curses, sympathetic magic, and ritual, the author looked at other ancient traditions and modern things that we do which are similar and how it may help the sick. It's more a philosophical look at the rituals than a scientific one. However, he did consider the medical action of the various herbs and how it may have helped the person, as well as the psychological benefit of the rituals. He also looked at how the church tried to repress these remedies and the memory of the healing women who used them as the Christian Church came into power.
I received an ebook review copy from the publisher through Netgalley
Full Disclosure: I was allowed to read a copy of this book for free as a member of NetGalley in exchange for my unbiased review. The opinions I have expressed are my own and I was not influenced to give a positive review.