Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 31.djvu/776

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756 THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

such medicine-cups are greatly esteemed in Thibet, where they are mounted in gold, silver, or copper.

Such details as all these are apt to sound to us strangely unreal as we read them somewhat in the light of travelers' tales, with reference to far-away lands ; but it certainly is startling when, for the first time, we realize how exactly descriptive they are of the medicine-lore of our own ancestors in truth, to this day we may find among our- selves some survivals of the old superstitions still lingering in out-of- the-way corners. Thus it is only a few years since the skull of a sui- cide was used in Caithness as a drinking-cup for the cure of epilepsy. Dr. Arthur Mitchell knows of a case in which the body of such a one was disinterred in order to obtain her skull for this purpose.

It was, however, accounted a more sure specific for epilepsy to re- duce part of the skull to powder and swallow it. Even the moss which grew on such skulls was deemed a certain cure for various diseases. Nor was this simply a popular superstition. In the official Pharma- copoeia of the College of Physicians of London, a. d. 1678, the skull of a man tcho has died a violent death, and the horn of a unicorn, ap- pear as highly approved medicines. Again, in 1724, the same pharma- copoeia mentions unicorn's horn, human fat, and human shidls, dog's dung, toads, vipers, and worms, among the really valuable medical stores. The pharmacopoeia was revised in 1742, and various ingre- dients were rejected, but centipeds, vipers, and lizards were retained.

Nor were these strange compounds prepared for human subjects only. In the "Angler's Vade Mecum," published in 1681, anglers are recommended to use an ointment for the luring of fish, consisting, among other horrible ingredients, of man's fat, cat's fat, heron's fat, asafoetida, finely powdered mummy, camphor, oil of lavender, etc. ; and it was added that man's fat could be obtained from the London chirurgeon3 concerned in anatomy.

Of ordinary skulls, multitudes are known to have been exported from Ireland to Germany for the manufacture of a famous ointment. But as regards the more precious skull of the sinner who has died by his own hand, some faith in its efficacy seems still to linger in various parts of Britain. The Rev. T. F. Thiselton Dyer quotes an instance of it in England in 1858 ; and some years later, a collier's wife applied to the sexton at Ruabon in Wales for a fragment of a human skull, which she purposed grating to a fine powder, to be mixed with other ingredients as a medicine for her daughter, who suffered from fits. Scotland likewise furnishes a recent instance of the same strange faith, which about thirty years ago happened to come under the notice of Sir James Simpson, in the parish of Nigg in Ross-shire, where, a lad having been attacked with epilepsy, which his friends vainly sought to cure by the charm of mole's blood (the blood of a live mole being allowed to drip on his head), they actually sent a messenger nearly a hundred miles to procure a bit of the skull of a suicide.

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