Sometimes I sit and wonder at how amazing and advanced our medicine is. At other times, when I have a cold and it seems that nothing can cure me, I conclude that nothing has changed since the Dark Ages.
In many ways the ideas of the ancient Far East, Greeks and Romans have stood the test of time. Back then they knew the importance of a good diet and drinking plenty of fluids and their holistic approach of bathing, saunas and meditation is really quite a trendy medical phenomenon.
Sadly, some of the more unsavoury and unsympathetic theories to illness are also still with us. Only a few years ago, some people blamed the severe floods in England on homosexuality. The devastating tsunami that occurred on Boxing Day in 2004 in the Indian Ocean was thought by some to have been God's punishment for the sins of people. A manager of England's national football team claimed that disabled people were born that way because of their own bad deeds. And so it goes on. (This is an idea I cover in Crushed.)
This attitude stems from the fact that nobody knows why these natural disasters happen. In the same way, for thousands of years, no one was sure what caused disease. Bacteria and viruses were undiscovered until the late nineteenth century and so different causes had to be explained. The Greeks, Romans and Egyptians were keen to develop medical knowledge and made great strides in these areas. But the growth crumbled along with their empires.
What replaced them was the Roman Catholic Church. Rome became the capital of Christianity and the head of all learning, medical included. Everything that wasn't Christian was dismissed as superstitious and untrustworthy, pagan, Godless and useless. In effect, Europe had entered the Dark Ages.
And as the answer to everything in the universe was God, God must responsible for disease. The Roman Catholic Church emphasised this by telling people that God punished them for the sins by making them suffer through illness. The only cure, therefore, was to live a good life. Often, clean living was the answer, but not always.
Most people relied on herbal potions to cure themselves but the significance of the moon and constellations persisted. The months and seasons were integral to worship and feasts within the Christian calendar as they had been to peoples throughout the world from prehistoric times. Their potency was hard to shake off, despite the Church claiming that astrology (and therefore birthdays) were pagan. As with Judaism and Islam, the Church eventually absorbed astrology.
So what does astrology have to do with medicine?
The ancient peoples of Greece and Asia believed that the planets were made up of four elements: earth, fire, air and water. So was the human body. The secret to good health was to keep these all in balance. The moon and planets influenced the fluids in our bodies and so it was important to note where these were in the sky when making a diagnosis. It was also relevant where the stars were when you were born. If there was too much fluid in your body then bloodletting was necessary. Yes, cutting the flesh to let the blood out was considered a cure. Or maybe using leeches if just a bit of blood was enough.
The 'Zodiac Man' is a concept first used in Babylonian times, which treats the body as a kind of a 'little world'. Examples of the 'Zodiac Man' have been found in various forms in China, South America and the Middle East. It serves a guide to medical practitioners.
And the astrological guides:
Aries Avoid incisions in the head and face and cut no vein in the head.
Taurus Avoid incisions in the neck and throat and cut no veins there.
Gemini Avoid incisions in the shoulders, arms or hands and cut no vein.
Cancer Avoid incisions in the breasts, sides, stomach and lungs and cut no vein that goes to the spleen.
Leo Avoid incisions of the nerves, lesions of the sides and bones, and do not cut the back either by opening and bleeding.
Virgo Avoid opening a wound in the belly and in the internal parts.
Libra Avoid opening wounds in the umbilicus and parts of the belly and do not open a vein in the back or do cupping.
Scorpio Avoid cutting the testicles and anus.
Sagittarius Avoid incisions in the thighs and fingers and do not cut blemishes and growths.
Capricorn Avoid cutting the knees or the veins and sinews in these places.
Aquarius Avoid cutting the knees or the veins and veins in these places.
Pisces Avoid cutting the feet.
Hope that's useful for next time you get a cold.