(1986) proposed a systems model of treatment after surveying both Western
and non-Western healing practices, concluding that both are about equally
effective. For him, the nature of effective treatment inevitably contains
one or more of four fundamental factors : (a) a shared world view by
healer and patient, which makes the diagnosis or naming process possible ;
(b) certain personal qualities of the practitioner that appear to
facilitate the client's recovery ; (c) positive client expectations that
assist progress ; and (d) a sense of mastery that empowers the
Lynn & Krippner, 2000, p.381.
to Clement of Alexandria (second century CE), the fourty-two books of
human knowledge of the Egyptians included six of medical content (n° 37 -
42), the so-called "secrets of the physicians". These
books discussed the structure of the human body & its diseases, the
medical instrumentarium, possible remedies, the eyes & their diseases
and the diseases of women (Nunn,
1996). Some insight into the medical practice of
Ancient Egypt may be derived from human remains, from representations of
bodies showing disease, from occasional references in non-medical papyri
& stelae and, last but not least, from medical papyri. Here, we shall
briefly discuss the more magical aspects of their medical discipline.
Although Herodotus wrote the people of Egypt were healthy, the fact
is, that as a whole, the opposite was true. Indeed, their mummies and
skeletal remains tell a painful story. Many Egyptians suffered from
malnutrition, arthritic conditions and bilharzia (a disease contracted by
walking barefoot in contaminated water), eye diseases, hardened arteries
(through stress), infections, tetanus, diabetes, smallpox, polio,
tuberculosis and various plagues. The omnipresent sand caused lung
problems and wore down tooth enamel, causing abscesses & poisoning.
Infant mortality was very high. Operations were seldom performed, not even
tooth extractions (Luban,
2003, pp. 110 - 111). Although the wealthy probably lived longer than
most, the large majority, irrespective of social class, never made it to
Although in general, ante-rationality is unable to define sharp divisions
in abstract (for all cases), specific, local (contextualized) distinctions
are possible and operative. Hence, Ancient Egyptian medicine was able to
draw a sharp contrast between trauma (cf. industrial accidents) and internal medical disorders. The
causation of the latter was all too obvious and the outcome could be
predicted. The same precision and certainty was also realized in
monumental architecture and artistic representation.
But internal medical disorders presented an entirely different picture.
Infections, tumours and heart failure had no obvious causes and their
outcome was difficult to predict. They had few drugs which could have a
decisive influence and their surgical repertoire was limited. In these
cases, disorders were attributed to supernatural causes and magic was an
important factor in treatment. It was deemed essential that the healing ritual acted
against the principle of suffering itself, called "wekhedu"
("wxd"), or "be painful, suffer, endure". As this term
is also used with the feminine termination ("wekhedut"), two
spirits of suffering are suggested. A person suffering from
"wekhedu" is referred to as a "wekhedy".
These spirits had the capacity to move about (traverse, pull through) the
body (cf. the Book of Wanderings of Wekhedu in the medical papyri).
To do so, they used the "metu", the plural of "met"
("mt"). Its meaning is unknown, but the "metu" are
vessels, including bloods vessels, various ducts, tendons, muscles and
nerves. The "metu" transport blood, air, mucus, urine, semen,
desease-bearing entities, malign and benign spirits.
of rituals and ceremonies, such as drumming, dancing, chanting, expressive
arts and practices such as fasting and sensory deprivation, have been
associated with reports of healing in various cultural contexts. To the
extent that they can be integrated into a belief system (without violating
the cultural underpinning of the traditions), these elements may link
anomalous healing experiences with clinical and research
Lynn & Krippner, 2000, p.374.
The therapeutic value of
- "HkA") can be summarized as :
* response expectancy : the deities were such an accepted part of daily life, that
invoking their help would have been the first rather than the last option
considered. Because of the rule of the divine king, people expected their
gods to be present in their temples. Thoth was of central significance to
Egyptian medicine, because of his role as the god of writing, wisdom and
balance. Because a person expected to be healed, his or her own immune
system was reinforced, which rebalanced the internal disorder. As
contemporary studies have shown, this auto-immune reaction can be very
* suggestion : the "power of suggestion" is unmistaken,
and subliminal influence on the mind has been attested in marketing and
publicity. The key to suggestion is a triadic sequence : (a) original
intention (conscious), (b) ritual procedures to repress the intention in
the unconscious, (c) automatic projection of the intented goals by the
unconscious (either as a state of mind, or as an intended effect like
instantaneous healing or spontaneous remission) ;
* placebo effect : a placebo is a biomedically inert substance
given in such a manner as to produce relief. The resulting patient effect
is the placebo effect, a response to the act of being treated. The
patient's state of mind is the critical variable here. However, not the
patient's faith in the curative powers of the substance is important, but
his or her confidence that the healer is convinced of the efficacy of the
intervention. This effect is not confined to substances, for the attention
of the priest or magician to the curative spells and ritual actions, may
also increase the expectation of a cure (hand in hand with the
administration of drugs) ;
* hypnosis : the physical effects of hysteria and the subsequent
cure by depth-psychological investigations of the psychic trauma through
hypnosis (and later free association) was one of the stepping-stones to
Freud's system. The effects of hypnosis can be quite spectacular (like
walking on burning coal and the like). The long-term effects of implanting
suggestions is one of the reasons why public hypnosis shows have been
prohibited. Repetitious ritual activity enduces a hypnotic state, allowing
for the healing suggestion to penetrate into the unconscious ;
* homeopathic effect : selecting a herbal remedy from a particular
plant or mineral because of its resemblance to the organ requiring
treatment or to the precise nature of the disease, is the
"sympathetic" link needed in the "similia similibus"
principle (like is cured by like) ;
* paranormal healing effects : lastly, through
action-at-a-distance, i.e. telekinesis, healing power can be transferred
from healer to patient. This is the most controversial approach, involving
a violation of the known laws of energy conservation and transmission.
Although some evidence exists, there is (as yet) no consensus in the
scientific community as to the real existence of Psi events.
The neurological consequences of ritual activity has been studied
In Ancient Egyptian
medicine, these phenomena (incorporated in general healing spells and
incantations) could be coupled with practical treatments, such as
bandaging, fumigations, potions, rubs, poultrices, enemas, douches and
suppositories. Spells were said over a cake which had to been swallowed or
during the drinking of a medicine. All medicine was a kind of
"magic" that drove away harmful substances and demons from the
body. The fight between Horus and Seth was often invoked in the context of
fighting the morbid spirits that had entered the body and the ultimate
restoration of the Eye, the return of "wellness",
"Wedjat". Thoth presided over all these activities. But even
Seth was invoked to counter powerful demons that possessed the body.
In general, healing rituals followed the pattern of magical rituals,
which, when approached from an operational angle, pertain to two
fundamental processes (defining the two classes of magic : lower and
higher magic) :
evocation : the calling forth of a spirit lower than the spiritual level of
: the calling in of a spirit higher than the spiritual level of man.
understand magic, one has to grasp its hylic pluralistic groundstructure.
The material universe has more than one layer of reality. Although these
levels interpenetrate, they are strictly separated. Hylic pluralism
elements may be found in all major religious systems of the world. On the
basis of this pluralistic view on matter, Ancient Egypt (as in Hinduism, Buddhism,
qabalah and theosophy) developed a subtle anthropology and
The first layer, plane or "sheet" (cf. the Sanskrit
"kosha") was the "ka" ("kA") or
"double", causing the physical body to be vital. Related
to breath (cf. "prânâ" and the Greek "pneuma"), the intake of food and
sunlight, it regulated health.
The Egyptians did not offer to idols, but to the doubles and souls of the
deities that dwelled in them (inhabited them). This was pleasurable to the
gods, who's spirits looked down from the sky. Pharaoh was the only
"god on Earth", i.e. a god who's spirit had not (yet) risen to