A Healing Touch

Wako, a Healer, 1894, courtesy Library of Congress

Wako, a Healer, 1894, courtesy Library of Congress

Many early European and U.S. physicians realized that it was their presence, rather than their ineffective treatments, that brought comfort to patients. Psychologists today also recognize the power of the mind, and know that expectations of a cure can have a positive effect.

Medicine Man and Wife, 1871, courtesty Library of Congress

Medicine Man and Wife, 1871, courtesty Library of Congress

Medicine men, with their proven herbs, probably offered as reliable a cure for illness as any other group of healers. They also helped their patients by using rituals that undoubtedly put them in a frame of mind to be cured.

In a typical treatment, a medicine man built a fire and burned a twisted piece of sweet grass so he could cleanse his hands in the smoke. Then he sang, applied medicine, and then perhaps sucked on the place of illness through a buffalo horn or other instrument. The medicine man thus sucked out the evil in the patient, and usually spat “it” on the ground. The physical demonstration of an illness or evil spirit leaving the body did much to help the patient feel better.

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