The history of medicine has been incredibly varied. People living in Europe between 400 and 1200 A.D. had their share of scientific, religious, and strange traditions for taking care of illnesses. In many ways, they were advanced in their treatment of the sick and afflicted, who were integrated into society and taken care of. While it is blatantly untrue to claim that everyone in medieval times was backward, superstitious, dirty folk with no concept of hygiene or cleanliness, it is true that there were some very esoteric, interesting, and bizarre ideas of what would make you healthy. So without further ado, here are four of the most interesting medical aids used in the dark ages.
Use of Astrology –
You may be more familiar with modern astrology being used to determine your personality traits or even what kind of day it might be in store for you. Many doctors or healers in medieval times, however, would use astrology to diagnose illnesses and prescribe treatments. It was also used to determine the course of someone’s life. The placement of the stars, suns, and moons was supposed to help a physician determine what ailed a person. Another common use was to determine what you might suffer from in the future.
Precious Gems –
The use of precious gems was reserved for the wealthier classes in the dark ages. For example, a diamond jewelry necklace was supposed to ward off demons and evil spirits. Another common thought was that you could ingest the diamonds in order to heal your wounds or recover from an illness. Rubies and other types of red gems were believed to help stop bleeding. Opals were ground up and made into tonics in order to alleviate a variety of ailments. Talk about an expensive diet!
Bloodletting Procedures –
Bloodletting was the most common (yet unusual from percieved our modern sensibility) form of medicine that was used to treat all sorts of ailments. This practice wasn’t just confined to the dark ages but continued until the start of the modern medical age. The use of leeches was the most popular way of letting blood because it was more controlled in nature than just opening up a vein. It was even considered the only way to live because it was thought to alleviate the ill humors that often plagued your body.
Urine Cleanses –
Urine was used in order to clean out battle wounds and other types of injuries. It was thought to have antiseptic properties. This unusual thought process was actually fairly accurate for this time period because the water of the time wasn’t all that clean. You were more likely to die from drinking the water that was available than consuming wine or ale. And while urine is technically sterile, it is also full of bacteria and waste. Medical professionals have actually affirmed that while it is safe to flush wounds with urine, it’s hardly antiseptic and only safe if it’s freshly passed. It’s unclear whether this practice was widely held in the dark ages, but it has been documented to have been used on the royalty of old England.
Medicine and the medical aids available have come a long way since the dark ages, but learning about these medical practices helps us to better understand our history. These are just some of the unusual medical aids prescribed during the medieval era. The people in the dark ages did also have some very modern ways of thinking about medicine, as diseases were part of their everyday life. People encouraged each other to go to places of healing, caring for the weak was a community affair, and splendid burials for those with leprosy and Down Syndrome have been recorded, indicating that their lives were valued and cared for. Even if our scientific knowledge has improved, perhaps there are some things worth looking back for.
The guest post was written by Brooke Chaplan. Chaplan is a freelance writer and blogger. She lives and works out of her home in Los Lunas, New Mexico. She loves the outdoors and spends most of her time hiking, biking, and gardening. For more information, contact Brooke via Facebook at facebook.com/brooke.chaplan or Twitter @BrookeChaplan