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Were Asclepian Centers Powered By Magical Ritual or Holistic Healthcare?

Were Asclepian Centers Powered By Magical Ritual or Holistic Healthcare?



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Doctors the world over take the Hippocratic oath swearing to do no harm to patients. In doing this, to quote the words of the oath itself, they “call upon Apollo the physician and Asclepius, Hygeia and Panaceia and all the gods and goddesses as witnesses, that [they] will fulfil this oath and this contract according to [their] ability and judgment.” Moreover, most people will be familiar with the rod of Asclepius, a symbol representing medicine and healthcare which depicts a serpent coiled around a staff. In this way Asclepius, the Greek god of medicine, and the Asclepian centers that sprund up in his name have achieved world renown.

The rod of Asclepius, a symbol representing medicine and healthcare. ( Roman / Adobe Stock)

The celebrity of Asclepius

In the past it was not just the man, but also the renowned Asclepian centers that flourished in the ancient world. From the 6 th century BC to the 4 th century AD there were around 400 sites across Greece, Asia Minor and the Levant. The most famous were at Olympia, Corinth, Kos, Epidaurus and Pergamum, with Epidaurus and Pergamum having theaters that could seat up to 14,000 and 10,000 people respectively.

These numbers far exceed the capacity of London’s Royal Albert Hall (5,272), New York’s Metropolitan Opera House (3,800) or even the Sydney Opera House (5,748). What was it that attracted these multitudes? The answer is simple. Asclepian temples existed at a time when state-funded medical care was absent. The record of success of these religious-medical institutions saw their human founder elevated to the ranks of the demigods and mythologized as the son of Apollo, the god of healing.

The Lure of Asclepian Temples

What specifically drew so many people to the Asclepian centers? According to a doctor from the 1940s, Asclepian medicine “was based on miracles and not upon medical arts”. More recent commentators have continued to play down the physical basis to Asclepian medicine, with Bragazzi (2019) referring to it as “magic-ritual.” Commentators discussing the special incubation sleep experienced by patients ascribe the benefits as arising from the dreams triggered in patients. Are they correct, or could there also have been a physical basis to the cures? A good place to begin any investigation into Asclepian medicine is with the medical constructs that underpin it.

Asclepian centers flourished in the ancient world, and their theaters attracted up to 14,000 people at a time. What was the allure? In the image, the ancient theater of Epidaurus in Greece is located to the southeast end of the sanctuary dedicated to the ancient Greek god of medicine, Asclepius. ( Iraklis Milas / Adobe Stock)

The Asclepian Family: Asclepiads and Their Unique Specialisms

Asclepian centers emphasized the Asclepian family, including the sons and daughters of Asclepius. These so-called Asclepiads were each endowed with their own unique medical specialism. Panaceia was the goddess of universal remedy, Hygeia was goddess of health and sanitation, Laso the goddess of recuperation from illness, and Aceso was known as the goddess of the healing process. Amongst his sons, Podalirius was a skilled diagnostician, Machaon a master surgeon, and Telesphorus the god of vegetation with an understanding of herbal remedies.

What we find when assessing the combined skills of the Asclepian family, real or imagined, is a systematic approach to healthcare which was rooted in accurate diagnosis, good sanitation, appropriate remedies (including herbal remedies and surgery) and recuperation. This fact suggests that there is more to Asclepian medicine than a purely psychological model, but that it was also rooted in physical factors. For a closer understanding, we should analyze each of these elements, starting with the area associated with his son Podalirius, “diagnosis”, before moving on to the province of his daughter Hygeia, namely “sanitation”.

Diagnosis

The so-called “Father of Medicine,” Hippocrates, was born in Kos (in circa 460 BC) and learned his medical knowledge at the Asclepian center there, with Plato describing him as “Hippocrates of Kos, the Asclepiad.” The terminology of diseases he used, on which diagnosis must have rested, is still applied in medicine today. It included terms such as diabetes, gastritis, enteritis, arthritis, nephritis, cholera, herpes, pleurisy, apoplexy, melancholy, carcinoma, tetanus, eclampsia, coma, paralysis, haematuria, mania, panic, hysteria, epilepsy, hepatitis, pneumonia and oedema. So, we have to assume a systematic rather than “magical” approach to understanding and diagnosing illness. The same applies to the next stage of the cycle, hygiene, associated with Asclepius’ daughter Hygeia.

Greek relief at the National Museum in Athens showing Asclepius with his sons Podalirius and Machaon and three daughters. (Wellcome Images / CC BY 4.0 )

Hygeia: Prioritizing Sanitation and a Clean Environment

Talk of a clean medical environment brings to mind Florence Nightingale, whose famous Notes on Nursing (1859) focused extensively on cleanliness due to the low levels of hygiene she saw in hospitals. It’s important to remember, however, that Asclepian centers were prioritizing sanitation two thousand years before Nightingale.

How did this priority manifest itself in practice? Well, the first step on arriving at the Asclepian center at Kos was to take cleansing baths before being examined by priests-therapists. At Epidaurus, the Asclepius baths were located next to the abaton, the building where special incubation sleep took place and quite possibly surgery too. Meanwhile, at Corinth and Oropos a wash basin and baths (respectively) were located adjacent to the abaton. These are striking examples of the way in which cleanliness was built into the system. There were four main remedies which took place in the abaton. These surgeries included water therapy, plant remedies, incubation sleep and finally recuperation. What does a close look reveal?

Aerial view of tourists snorkeling above the old sunken city of Epidauros in Greece. ( Max Topchii / Adobe Stock)

(i) Miraculous Waters: The Therapeutic Effect of Water at Asclepian Centers

Sources of water were abundant at Asclepian centers and visitors could use them in one of two ways: externally, through immersion (either total or partial) or internally, through drinking. Each allowed for different effects. Immersion, for example, allowed the absorption of minerals, especially in total body immersion. At high temperatures, the skin and the peripheral lymphatic and capillary circulation were most directly affected. On the other hand, drinking water allowed the digestive, metabolic, nutritional and growth aspects of the body to be affected.

One patient who took advantage of the waters was the orator Aelius Aristides Theodorus (117–181 AD) who, dogged by decades of illness, frequented several Asclepian centers and then recorded his experiences. Here he is describing the miraculous character of the water at Epidaurus:

The god uses this well as a kind of co-worker… for just as the servants of physi­cians and miracle workers are trained to ministrations, and, working with their superiors, astonish those who behold them and ask their advice, so is this well the discovery of the great miracle worker who does everything for the salvation of men ” ( Oratio XXXIX, 14).

He goes on to describe the effects of these apparently miraculous waters:

Many have regained their sight by bathing in it; many, by drinking it, have been cured of chest disease and recovered the breath we need for life ” ( ibid, XXX1X, 15).

Aristides was a famous orator, which begs the question of whether this is fact or the workings of an overactive imagination? Modern analysis has, in fact, revealed that many of the waters at Asclepian sites are rich in minerals. At Corinth, for example, balneological analysis has revealed that the six thermal springs are slightly radioactive with a very high mineral content. At Kos, in the Aegean, all the water troughs are fed by iron and sulfur springs and at Lissos in Crete the spring water is dominated by a calcium-magnesium-oxycarbonate (Ca-Mg-HCO3) mineral complex.

At Epidaurus, the Relia and the Hagia Anna springs have the same mineral content as the alkaline spring waters at Evian, and are therefore effective with conditions relating to the liver, urinary or digestive organs. Strangely, the locations where the cures took place in Epidaurus have recently been covered over, but inscriptions on the mouth of a well provide information on the type of cures that took place.

Asclepius acquired the reputation of being “one who could charm back the dead man.” Could this be due to the covert use of anesthetic drugs at the Asclepian centers? In the image, a mosaic depicting Asclepius in the center and being greeted by Hippocrates on the left. (Tedmek / CC BY-SA 3.0 )

Of course, none of this should come as a surprise since Aristotle, Hippocrates, the Roman Celsus and the Roman Vitruvius all documented the healing powers of water. Here, for example, is Vitruvius, the first century BC Roman architect and engineer, on the optimum location for temples:

"…for all temples, the most healthy sites (must) be chosen and suitable springs of water in those places in which shrines are to be set up, for Asclepius in particular and for Salus and for those by whose medical power a great many of the sick seem to be healed. For when sick persons are moved from a pestilent to a healthy place and the water supply is from wholesome fountains, they will recover more quickly " ( On Architecture, 1.2.7).

Hippocrates observed that waters were either rain fed (as in lakes or marshes) or from subterranean aquifers (as in mineral springs emerging from rocks), and he theorized that their curative properties derived from their mineral content. So, not surprisingly, the classic Airs, Waters and Places, probably written by Hippocrates, not only mentions the therapeutic effect of water, but also those of air and microclimate: “climatotherapy” in today’s language.

To appreciate how advanced this understanding was, we need to realize that it is not until the nineteenth century, with Bradshaw’s 1882 Dictionary of Mineral Waters , a book with an eight-fold categorization of water types and their cures, that we find a similar focus on the healing properties of water. Today, the scientific knowledge is available to appreciate the power of mineral-rich waters and the way that these can be used to supplement the body’s natural supply of minerals, whether of iron, lithium, manganese, lead, copper, sulfur, chlorine, potassium, sodium and calcium. This knowledge shows how the absence or deficiency in one or more of these minerals can trigger an illness and how the use of water, externally and internally (through bathing or drinking water), can reverse illness. (Moss, 2010)

Telesphorus, son of Asclepius, is the god of plant-life and recovery from illness. (Philipp Roelli / CC BY-SA 4.0 )

(ii) Plant-Based Medicines: Gifts from Telesphorus, the God of Plant Life

As we saw earlier, Aristides frequented Asclepian centers over a long period, describing his experiences in his Orations. There, we learn that one of Asclepius’s remedies was balsam juice, a medicine described as the gift of Telesphorus, the god of plant-life and recovery from illness, as well as being another of Asclepius’ sons. Interestingly, Telesphorus is occasionally shown in art holding a roll with medical prescriptions. Aristides also mentions the “king ointment” used for throat disease and containing the juice of the balsam tree and spikenard. The description also explains that Asclepius prescribed medicines he made himself, as well as medicines obtained on the market. This shows the wide range of herbal remedies available at the Asclepian centers.

This should not come as a big surprise since Asclepius was said to have been brought up by Chiron, the centaur, known for his healing skills. Chiron lived on Mount Pelion, which was referred to as the “healing mountain” on account of the medicinal plants grew there, including meadow saffron, hemlock, henbane, nightshade, mandrake, St. John’s wort, mullein and yarrow. Corroboration comes from the Greek author, Theophrastus (371-287 BC), who mentioned Asclepius’ use of herbal medicines in his Enquiry into Plants .

Dioscorides (40-90 AD), the Greek physician who travelled as a surgeon with the armies of the Roman emperor Nero, described the medical attributes of balsam and spikenard in his compendious work on herbal medicines, De Materia Medica , the leading pharmacological text until the 15th century. According to herbalist Christopher Robbins, “many of its recommendations have been verified today.”

Patients sleeping in the temple of Aesculapius at Epidaurus, Ernest Board. (Wellcome Collection / CC BY 4.0 )

(iii) Incubation Sleep and Surgery: Did They Use Anesthetics?

A further remedy was the form of sleep known as incubation sleep, something that patients would experience during the day or evening in a building known as the abaton, waking up to find themselves cured. Clues as to what was involved come from inscriptions, with case histories ranging from the cutting of a diseased eyeball, the removal of an abscess after cutting open the belly (with the floor of the abaton covered in blood), to the removal of an arrow point from a lung. One inscription describes how Asclepius appeared to patients in their dreams as a surgeon. Although some interpret the incubation sleep as operating at a purely psychological level, the reference to surgery may actually hold the key to what was really happening.

At the Asclepian center of Kos, twenty-four surgical instruments were found and several bronze medical instruments, including a saw and several scalpels. In fact, the evidence of both the inscriptions and the surgical instruments strongly suggests that surgery was carried out at Asclepian centers. There are three other clues which point in the same direction. First, as we saw earlier, one of Asclepius’ sons known as Machaon, was a specialist in surgery. Since dedications were made to family members at the centers, it would be strange if use had not been made of his skills. Secondly, the name Asclepius means “to cut open” and this epithet may have been applied to Asclepius because of his surgical skills and not simply, as some think, because he was the product of a Caesarean birth.

The name Asclepius means “to cut open.” Could this epithet may have been applied to Asclepius because of his surgical skills? ( zwiwbackesser / Adobe Stock)

Thirdly, could it be possible that incubation sleep was brought about by the covert use of anesthetic drugs? If the public was unaware of anesthesia, they might assume that someone waking from a deep, death-like sleep was actually resurrecting from the dead. This would explain how Asclepius acquired the reputation of being “one who could charm back the dead man” (Aeschylus) and “heal any illness and resurrect the dead” (Pausanias in 2 AD). So widespread was this point of view, that Asclepius was credited with resurrecting not only King Tyndareus, but also Glaucus the son of Minos, Lycurgus the son of Pronax, and most famously perhaps, Hippolytus, son of Theseus and Capaneus. That’s quite a list!

Of course, the $64,000 question is whether a suitable anesthetic existed during the lifetime of Asclepian temples? The answer is an unequivocal “yes”. The narcotic substances of opium and mandrake were described by ancient authors including Theophrastus (371-287 BC) and Dioscorides (40-90 AD). In terms of access to these plants, we have already seen that mandrake grew on Mount Pelion, the area in Thessaly where Asclepius learned the art of healing. Could it be that an understanding of mandrake was perhaps a part of this education?

Interestingly enough, elaborate legends sprung up around mandrake, with one warning of death to whoever uprooted the plant. As herbalist Christopher Robbins has written (1995), this may have been a strategy to keep people away from the plant and to enhance the reputation of the person using it. Of course, the ultimate way to enhance a person’s status was to keep mention of the use of anesthetic drugs under wraps and attribute the miraculous sleep and recovery to Asclepius. This example of medical wizardry is not a million miles from that of a professional who keeps the tricks of his trade to himself, declining to reveal the relatively simple methods used. In the case of Asclepius, the covert use of soporific substances would leave patients with the impression that the effect was achieved by the physician independently of any drug.

(iv) Recuperation: A Systematic Approach to Healthcare

Many Asclepian centers were situated on elevated sites with verdant surroundings, and included libraries, theaters and gymnasia. Canton has even written eloquently on the way that the trees, breezes and these other amenities facilitated recovery.

The elements that made up medical care at Asclepian centers created, collectively, a systematic approach to illness that embraced physical as well as psychological cures. All of these began with a physical diagnosis of the illness. It is this combination that explains the great success of Asclepian centers and their role as medical schools as well as hospitals, disseminating their systematic approach far and wide. Hippocrates based his medical school at the Asclepian center at Kos and Galen, the celebrated 2 AD Roman physician/surgeon, learned medicine at the Asclepian center at his birthplace, Pergamon.

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Asclepian healing centers enjoyed renown for almost 1000 years, and their remains can be found across Greece, Asia Minor and Judea. Modern commentators have assumed that the methods used worked at a purely psychosomatic level, but an examination of the evidence reveals a range of physical treatments as well, including the use of herbal plants, balneotherapy and surgery, all rooted in used in a clean and hygienic environment. It also reveals the covert use of anesthesia.

This new analysis restores a sense of the rich offerings of ancient healing centers. However, it leads us to ask why this information has been kept from us for so long. As Voltaire said, “history is the lie commonly agreed upon.” Now it’s up to us to ask what other secrets are concealed by medical and religious establishments both past and present.


Through India’s Long History, the Betel Leaf Remains a Constant

It was a motley crowd of patriarchs and elders seated in the inner circle on the floor. The kids played around, oblivious of the happenings. My cousins and I sat in the periphery, witnessing the event unfold. It was my maternal uncle’s son’s betrothal. The ritual of fixing an alliance between the soon-to-be bride and the prospective groom held my attention. Their fathers exchanged few items as per the Hindu tradition. But what cemented the relationship was the exchange of betel leaves with areca nuts.

The heart-shaped betel leaf (Piper betle) with reticulate venation, also called paan in Hindi, has played a vital role in Indian culture for many centuries.

“In the Assamese [people from the eastern state of Assam] culture, paan and betel nut are offered to guests while inviting them for marriage,” says food historian Tanushree Bhowmik. “In Bengali marriages, the bride enters the pavilion where marriage rituals are conducted by covering her face with two betel leaves. Among other items given by the groom's family to the Bengali bride, the paan holds a high position.”

But there is more to the betel leaf than marriage rituals. Indians love chewing the herby paan.

Bite Sized

Enjoyed by the erstwhile royals and the present-day common man as an obsession and a medium of pleasure that has health benefits, the paan continues to play many roles. Connoisseurs consider the making of a betel quid, also called paan or beeda, an art.

After the moist leaf is trimmed, the dorsal side gets a coat of earthy slaked lime and the red paste of catechu, an herb. Topped with umpteen colorful ingredients like coconut shavings, fennel seeds, betel nut shavings, paan masala, dry ginger, nutmeg, edible camphor, gulkand (sweetened rose petals), mint and cherries, it’s all deftly folded with practiced fingers a clove fastens the betel quid.

The quid could be called a representation of the culinary map of India. The best saffron of Kashmir, betel nut from the eastern state of Bengal, Kerala's clove and cardamom, Ajmer’s gulkand and catechu from the states of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar make up the juicy paan. One must understand each ingredient’s flavor profile, so that the finished product has a perfect balance of taste. Hot and astringent yet sweet due to its multitude fillings, the paan lends a fresh and cooling effect when relished.

Despite the cultural significance of paan in the country, it is surprising that the leaf does not have its origins in India. Late food scientist and food historian KT Achaya writes in his book, A Historical Dictionary of Indian Food, “betel leaf is of Southeast Asian origin.”

The ancient Hindu text Skanda Purana, which dates back to the sixth century, has references to the leaf. In the story of Samudra Manthan, the churning of the ocean by Gods and Demons to acquire the nectar of immortality yielded celestial objects, one being the betel leaf. The holy leaf also finds mentions in epics like Mahabharata, which is how it got a vital position in religious ceremonies. The Hindus believe that various gods and goddesses reside in different parts of the betel leaf, hence the need to offer it in entirety in ceremonies. Tambulam is the ancient Hindu ritual of offering various items to the deity - betel leaves, betel nut, fennel seeds, and slaked lime.

The leaf goes by many Indian names like tambul, tamalapaku, nagavalli and nagarbel. The Portuguese named the leaf betel, derived from the Malayalam and Tamil word vettile. In many households across the country, chewing paan is a ritual and a must-have after dinner.

“My mother would lovingly prepare paan for my father every day, which he would carry in a silver paan ki dibbi [box to store paan] in the pocket of his sherwani [a long, coatlike garment],” says Nawab Jafar Mir Abdullah, a resident of Lucknow, a city in the state of Uttar Pradesh, and a paan aficionado. “In the summer, jasmine flowers were wrapped in a wet cloth and kept inside the box, lending a rich aroma.”

There are more than 90 variants of betel leaves globally about 40 are cultivated in India. Symbols of love and hospitality, the well-known types are the hot Calcutta paan, the tough Bangla Patta, the tender Maghai and the neutral kapuri paan used for making chocolate paan.

The ubiquitous Benarasi paan, epitomized in Bollywood songs, cannot be missed by a paan buff. The delicate Maghai leaves cultivated in Bihar, Jagannathi from Orissa or the desi grown in Jaunpur go into making the Benarasi paan. Stored in bamboo baskets, kept in the dark and treated with smoke for three days, the cured leaves lend a melt-in-the-mouth quality. They last three to five days in summer and about seven days in winter. Too much water spoils it and too little dries it. The Hindi saying “Maghai paan ki tarah sambhal sambhal ke tumko paala hai,” means “I took care of you like how one takes care of Maghai paan.”

Power Packed

“It is a climber that bears no flower or fruit. The vine flourishes in tropical climatic conditions. After planting the cuttings, the waxy leaves are good to harvest manually in six months’ timeframe,” says Aparna Mhatre, who has a picture-perfect memory of playing in her parent's betel leaf farm in Vasai, a town on Mumbai's fringes, as a child.

“My grandmother would speak highly about the use of paan,” she adds.

Indeed, Ayurveda,- the ancient healthcare tradition of India, promotes the consumption of paan due to its medicinal properties and health benefits. High in carotenes, calcium, and vitamins like B3, B2, B1, and C, the leaves are power-packed. Munched by newly delivered mothers, it’s said to aid in digestion by stimulating the salivary glands and gastric juices, reducing the stomach’s bloating, and boosting calcium, much required for lactating mothers. Indian classical singers train their voices by consuming paan. It helps with throat infection, acts as a mouth freshener and an invigorator. For colic pain relief, betel leaf coated with castor oil is heated and placed on the baby’s stomach.

In Sushruta Samhita, the Indian text on medicine and surgery dating to sixth century BCE, it says each item in a meal should be savored in a specific order and finished up with paan.

The Urdu–Persian culinary manual Nimatnama (Book of Delights), penned in the 15th century and translated by author Norah M. Titley,it is told, “the qualities of the tambul are that the teeth are strengthened, diseases of the tongue, lips, gullet, throat, and windpipe are prevented, as is inflammation of the chest.”

“Paan is considered a sensual food that induces fertility and increases virility. It finds mention in the Kamasutra and is an aphrodisiac for men and women,” says Bhowmik. The reddening of a woman’s lips by chewing paan is part of the shringaar ritual, a holistic idea of beautifying the body to increase the overall appeal.

The book written for the Sultan of Malwa, Ghiyas al-Din Shah Khilji, provides a long list of rewards due to the paan's consumption called the mouth’s jewel.

But historic mentions of paan go beyond scientific and medical writings. Thirteenth-century Indian poet Amir Khusro has penned poems illustrating the taste and beauty of paan, while others noted its cultural prominence.

“Although most people avoided alcohol, many were addicted to chewing a leaf called tambur (paan), sometimes mixing it with camphor and other spices and also with lime,” Marco Polo wrote when he landed in the Coromandel Coast of Southern India in 1292.

Moroccan scholar Ibn Battuta, who visited India in 14th century, has written that the palace meals in the Delhi Sultanate ended with the paan. The leaf played a significant role in every kind of alliance. The exchange of tambulam finalized pacts between kingdoms.

“The idiom beeda uthana [to take the betel quid] means accepting a difficult or risky challenge,” says historian Ravi Bhatt. “Such tasks demand tremendous courage. During the war, whosoever is ready to take the enemy head-on would take the paan from the paandan [a container used to store betel quids], thus accepting the challenge.”

A Royal Touch

Islam reached India in the seventh century, and with it came numerous Muslim invasions, giving birth to the Urdu language. Over the centuries, Delhi and Lucknow became the two primary schools of Urdu literature in the country, promoting art and culture. Dance, music and poetry flourished in these centers and led to the emergence of renowned poets and nautch (anglicized form of the Urdu word ‘Nach’ meaning dance) girls, or tawaif. Paan was intertwined with these cultural developments.

Lucknow became the center of mannerism and etiquette. Sons from noble families visited the kothas of the nautch girls, which were social institutions of learning culture and sophistication. Tawaifs sang and danced in the evenings to entertain their audience of royals and nobles.

“The lane leading to Gol Darwaza Chowk in Lucknow was choc-a-bloc with the kothas of the tawaifs,” says radio jockey and Lucknow resident Prateek Bharadwaj. “The shops below the kothas sold paan, gajra [jasmine flower garland] and hookah. The nautch girls also prepared and offered paan to the patrons visiting the kotha,” It was common to see the nautch girls walking the streets carrying their silver paan ki dibbi. Men from affluent Muslim families gave their wives Kharcha-i-Pandan, which translates to betel box expenses. The wives were responsible for preparing paan for their husbands and the house guests. In Lucknow today, the preparation of paan is an elaborate affair. Each family has a unique recipe and gives a unique name to its creation. While some boil the betel nut in milk, others soaked it in milk or rose water. The ladies take pride in their innovations.

The paraphernalia used to store paan and the various ingredients that went into them were also works of art. It was a widespread practice for the royals to own paandaans weighing as much as 100 kilograms with intricate designs that moved on wheels. These were a symbol of status for the wealthy. They had cups to store the slaked lime and catechu and numerous receptacles to stock the many fillings. A large tray just below the lid of the paandaan held the wet betel leaves.

There were ugaldaan or spittoons to spit the saliva generated due to the chewing of the paan. Associated with royals and nobles of India, the economic paan was relished by the poor who emulated the rich.

“When the Nawabs ruled Awadh province, whose capital was Lucknow, the palang tod paan was invented,” says Ajay Jain, referring to extravagant leaders of the region and a betel quid said to enhance one’s performance on the bed due to the addition of a few ingredients that increase the libido.

In Thanjavur, a city in the southern state of Tamilnadu, paan consumption was prevalent in the royal and noble families in the pre-independence era.

“It virtually became a ritual among the wealthier class,” writes historian Pradeep Chakravarthy in his book Thanjavur: A Cultural History. “They [betel leaves] would be stacked into kaulis [a bunch of leaves, roughly around a hundred, stacked one over another] and wrapped in sheets stripped from the bark of the banana plant to keep them fresh. They would then be placed in a metallic box called chella-p-petti. Interestingly, the Tamil word Chella is indicative of affection or endearment.”

Paan found many other interesting historic uses. In the bygone era, it served to send and receive messages. The shape, fillings, fold and thread colors used to tie the betel quid conveyed distinct messages. There was a paan to break up, flirt, romance, seduce, express love, reject love and more.

“Paan, says the Kama Sutra, was the transition between foreplay and sex,” writes author Seema Anand in her book The Art of Seduction.

Modern Flavor

Today, every street and corner of India has a paan shop making and selling different kinds of paan.

“It is a meeting place for the common man like a coffee shop for discussion on topics like economy and politics,” says Bhatt.

The modern quid finds new additions like chocolate, strawberry, cherries, honey and almonds. Paan set on fire before consuming or filled with crushed ice, the options are many. Non-alcoholic chilled paan shots made by blending betel leaves, gulkand, fennel seeds and vanilla ice-cream are perfect in summer. The fad of consuming paan has reached American shores through the presence of its Indian diaspora. Mehul Patel prepares and serves 40 variations of paan from his outlet Mr. Paanwala in Philadelphia. He experiments with different ingredients to make melt-in-the-mouth betel quids. For the uninitiated, there are 15 paan mocktails like paan latte, paan chai, paan margarita. All you need to do is take a bite or sip of this primordial leaf to experience its history magic.

Rathina Sankari is a freelance writer from Pune, India, and loves to explore the intersection of history, culture, and food through words and pictures. Her work has appeared in BBC Travel, South China Morning Post, NPR, National Geographic Traveller, Roads & Kingdoms, Travel + Leisure, Forbes and more.


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I am a warrior queen and I’ve been down in those trenches, and I stood up and said this is not how the story ends. I am here for a divine purpose and so are you. Get excited, get busy, and get done feeling sorry for yourself. Queens don’t have time for self-pity. Warriors don’t have time for fear.

In my classes, we focus on sovereignty and we show up for each other, mirroring the queen archetype, until we feel strong enough to embody it without the mirroring back. It’s a process. But we’re all evolving out of the chasm, out of the darkness, out of the fear and self-loathing, out of the anger and abuse, into a bright, sophisticated, beautiful, elegant, and wise iteration of our goddess lineage. We hold sacred and profound space for each other’s divine transformation.

In short, we hold you up until you can hold yourself up, and fly.

If you are ready to become, to evolve, to grow, and to be seen by a community that is mature enough to show up fully for you on every level, then say yes. If you don’t know where to begin, write YES on a post-it and stick it on your bathroom mirror. YES. Write yourself a love letter. Anoint your beautiful body with oils and massage your skin with silken lotions after a long candlelit bath. Pour yourself a glass of champagne. Say YES loud and out loud, say it to the trees and also to the stars. Say it to the moon and also to your children. Say it to your mother, and say it to the plants in your garden. Say it to the wind, and whisper it to the oceans. I see you. You are unstoppable, you are beautiful, and you are my sister.

Upon completing the Holistic Healer program, every student will be awarded a personalized Certificate of Completion, presented by Sage Goddess.


Bilberry (Fraochán)

It’s easy to imagine the ancient Celts wondering through the forests or along the riverbanks and bogs of the south midlands of Ireland where Bilberry is abundant, gathering baskets of them to take back to their villages, munching handfuls of them as they delighted in their work. Places like Glenbarrow and the Slieve Bloom Mountains are excellent areas to experience this type of transportation back in time, where one can walk along nature trails and experience a glimpse of what life may have been like back then.

Among the natural remedies used by the Celts, Bilberry was probably one of the most beneficial and easiest to administer, as you merely have to chomp on a handful.

Otherwise known as Huckleberries or Whortleberries, Bilberries contain powerful antioxidants, protecting the venial and arterial walls from being populated by dangerous fats, and protecting veins from other damage. They are also believed to strengthen the blood brain barrier, a membrane that separates the brain from the blood flowing around it. This prevents harmful substances thought to accelerate aging from reaching the brain and therefore helps to prevent debilitating diseases like Alzheimers.

They are also very strong anti-cancer agents and contain anthocyanidins, a class of flavonoid, organic compounds widely distributed in higher plants some are pigments and others have physiologic properties. These anthocyanins also protect our immune systems and have anti-histamine properties as well. Bilberries are also good for the skin, helping it to maintain its elasticity and tone. During the war, pilots ate bilberry jam before night missions to aid night vision.

It’s easy to use Bilberry to implement Bilberries into your diet by simply eating a about a cup every day in a fruit salad, with your breakfast cereal, in a jam on toast, or as a delicious desert. If you don&apost have or can&apost get Bilberries in your area, don&apost worry, Blueberries make a great substitute and have similar properties and health giving benefits.

The Celts revered Bilberry so much that they celebrated their ripening with the Festival of Lugnasa which took place on the Sunday closest to the first day of August, and the harvesting of the berries was part of the celebrations. In some parts of Ireland they still celebrate this festival as Fraochán Sunday.


An established part of healthcare?

From the Bravewell report’s conclusion:

The strong affiliations to hospitals, healthcare systems, and medical and nursing schools as well as the centers’ collaborative work with and growing referrals from their own health systems reveal that integrative medicine is now an established part of healthcare in the United States.

Being “an established part of healthcare” is not the same as being accepted as valid in any important medical sense. I suppose one would be technically correct to write, “chiropractic is now an established part of healthcare,” but that would ignore the only interesting question about chiropractic.

There is no question that some of the centers looked at in this report are affiliated with hospitals and healthcare systems. Some that claim to be so affiliated are not, however. The Marino Center for Integrative Health in Cambridge and Wellesley, Massachusetts, is identified in the report as having a “hospital affiliation” with the Newton-Wellesley Hospital, which is where I work. In fact, some but not all of the Marino Center physicians have been granted staff privileges at my hospital—a mistake, in my opinion—but there is no institutional affiliation whatsoever. In two weeks I’ll look at the Marino Center in some detail.

More from the Bravewell conclusions:

…high levels of concordance of interventions for specific conditions suggests that integrative medicine practice is informed by a common knowledge base.

The naive reader might assume that a “common knowledge base” suggests something about medical validity. It does not. It suggests something about faddism.

The data from the survey reveals that integrative medicine centers embrace a group of core values that inform and radiate through their practice and interactions with their patients.

Ah, ’embrace,’ ‘inform and radiate’: you don’t need a baloney detection kit to notice that such metaphors inform and radiate through quack treatises everywhere.


Providing Comprehensive Care

But let’s not get too caught up in a history lesson. We simply want to remind readers that the history of medicine is long and complex. As critical care practitioners we are focused on science, and rightly so. Many questions fill our minds every day, such as the best way to optimize the interaction between patients and ventilators, how to improve organ perfusion, and how to fight sepsis. Ours is the technology of intubation, central lines, pressors, and antibiotics—tools that allow us to save people who would have died of “natural causes” in antiquity. Although these technologies enable us to save patients, do they also, in some small way, prevent us from providing comprehensive care? Therein lies a fundamental conundrum.


The Significance of Nature

Healing rituals are done at the most beautiful places in the rain forest, often a place where a river has been formed into a deep water whole by the streaming water in the rainy season, a place where clear, blue water full of fish and other life forms reflect the colors of the flowers, trees, birds and other life of the rain forest.

The aboriginals have a stunning sense of beauty, and the places they select for ritual purposes are according to the aboriginal&rsquos power places, places where it is easy to connect to nature, or more precisely to the spirit of nature, or to the &ldquospirit&rdquo for short.

For some reason the white man has had big difficulties understanding the aboriginal&rsquos relation to nature having lost closeness with nature himself it has been almost impossible to understand the way the aboriginal people live connected to nature, and as one with the greater wholeness and the universe at large.

To live in accordance with the spirit creates health, to live in conflict with the spirit creates disease. This is the core of the aboriginal belief when it comes to the causes of disease. It is close to the understanding of modern researchers like Aaron Antonovsky (the concept of &ldquosalutogenesis&rdquo) [44,45] and Mihaly Chiksentmihaly (the concept of &ldquoflow&rdquo) [46].


Yorubic Medicine: The Art of divine Herbology

Yorubic medicine is indigenous to and widely practiced on the African continent. Yorubic medicine has its roots in the Ifa Corpus, a religious text revealed by the mystic prophet, Orunmila, over 4,000 years ago in the ancient city of Ile-Ife, now known as Yorubaland. Within the last 400 years, this healing system has also been practiced in the day-to-day lives of individuals in the Caribbean, and South America, in large part, because of the traditions brought over by African slaves arriving in the Americas.

Orunmila’s teachings were directed at the Yoruba people which centered around the topics of divination, prayer, dance, symbolic gestures, personal and communal elevation, spiritual baths, meditation, and herbal medicine. This ancient text, the Ifa Corpus, is the foundation for the art of divine herbology. Although Yorubic medicine has been practiced in Africa for over 4,000 years, its fundamental principles are little known to Westerners around the world. Among the various medical techniques for diagnosis and treatment, Yorubic medicine provides an important and valuable system worthy of study. The purpose of Yoruba is not merely to counteract the negative forces of disease in the human body, but also to achieve spiritual enlightenment and elevation which are the means of freeing the soul.

As with all ancient systems of medicine, the ideal of Yoruba herbology is to condition the body in its entirety so that disease will not attack it. (The term Osain is also used to describe Yorubic herbology. The word “Osain” means “the divine Orisha of plants”. I will also use this term throughout the essay.) Many Westerners take it for granted that “African medicine” is a vague term for a collection of medical “voo doo”. This myth about African medicine creeped in over centuries of misunderstandings. What is left is the negative image of primitive “voo doo” witch-doctors. This “voo doo” mentality is devoid of the sacred realities born of African thought in respect to religion, philosophy, and medicine. Therefore, the reader must separate witch-doctor myths from the genuine article when considering African herbal medicine.

In order to understand the system of Yoruba medicine, it is important to have some knowledge of the historical conditions that gave birth to this African art of healing. Many factors and dynamics were involved which influenced the beginnings and the development of this indigenous medicine.

The Yoruba history begins with the migration of an East African population across the trans-African route leading from the mid-Nile river area to the mid-Niger. 1 Archaeologists, according to M. Omoleya, inform us that the Nigerian region was inhabited more than forty thousand years ago, or as far back as 65,000 B.C. 2 During this period, the Nok culture occupied the region. The Nok culture was visited. by the “Yoruba people”, between 2000 and 500 B.C. This group of people wer led, according to Yoruba historical accounts, by King Oduduwa, who settled peacefully in the already established Ile-Ife, the sacred city of the indigenous Nok people. This time period is known as the Bronze Age, a time of high civilization of both of these groups.

According to Olumide J. Lucue, “the Yoruba, during antiquity, lived in ancient Egypt before migrating to the Atlantic coast.” He uses as demonstration the similarity of identity of languages, religious beliefs, customs, and names of persons, places and things. 3 In addition, many ancient papyri discovered by archaeologists hint at an Egyptian origin.

Like almost everything else in the cultural life of Egypt, the development of science and medicine began with the priests, and dripped with evidences of its magical origins. Among the people, amulets and charms mere more popular than pills as preventive or curatives of disease. Disease was considered to them as possession by evil devils, and was to be treated with incantations along with the roots of certain plants and mystical concoctions. A cold for instance, could be exorcised by such magic words as: “Depart, cold, son of a cold, thou who breakest the bones, destroyest the skull, makest ill the seven openings of the head!…Go out on the floor, stink, stink, stink!” In many ways, this provided an effective cure, known today by various contemporary medicine as psychosomatic. Along side the incantations that were used, the sick patient was given a foul tasting concoction to help ward off the demon housed in the body.

The Egyptian principles of magic and medicine

There was a tendency of Egyptian physician and priest to associate magic with medicine. From such origins, there rose in Egypt great physicians, surgeons, and specialists, who acknowledged an ethical code that passed down into the famous Hippocratic oath. The Greeks derived much of their medical knowledge from Egyptian physicians around 750 B.C. The influence of Egyptian medicine was so great on European culture that even to this day Egyptian concepts still have its signature in modern Western medicine. For exemple, when a medical Doctor writes a prescription he uses the Egyptian symbol for health(Jupiter) with the symbol for retrograde= Rx This means, “I curse your health in retrograde” = death.

During the reign of King Menes, there developed a body of knowledge which centered around magic, medicine, philosophy and religion which is known as the Memphite Theolopy. Egyptian priest physicians saw the ideal of medicine as a magical principle: “that the qualities of animals or things are distributed throughout all their parts”. Consequently, within the universe contact is established between objects through emanations (radiation), the result might be sensation or cognition, healing or contagion. 4

There is no doubt the Memphite Theology played a major role in evolving Egyptian medical theory. To them, magic and healing was “applied religion”. The Memphite Theology is an inscription on a stone, now kept in the British Museum. It contains theological, cosmological, and philosophical views of the Egyptians. It is dated 700 B.C. and bear the name of an Egyptian Pharaoh who stated that he had copied an inscription of his ancestors.

According to the Memphite Doctrine, “The primate God Ptah, conceived in his heart, everything that exist and by his utterance created them all. He first emerged from the primeval waters of Idun in the form of a primeval Hill. Closely following the Hill, the God (Atum) also emerged from the waters and set upon Ptah…out of the primeval chaos contained 10 principles: 4 pairs of opposite principles, together with two other gods: Ptah, Mind, Thought, and Creative utterance. While Atum joins himself to Ptah and acts as Demiurge and executes the work of creation.

  1. Water is the source of all things
  2. creation was accomplished by the unity of two creative principles: Ptah and Alum, the unity of Mind (Nous) with Logos (creative utterance).
  3. Atum was Sun-God or fire-God
  4. Opposite Principles control the life of the universe.
  5. the elements in creation were fire (Atum), water (Nun), Earth (Ptah) and Air.

The gods whom Atum projected from his body were:

Who are said to have given birth to four other Gods:

The Egyptian concept of cosmology, like the Chinese doctrine of Yin and Yang, and the East Indian system of Tridosha (Pitta, Vata, and Kapha), offered a comprehensive explanation of the natural forces of the universe. There were other ideals which the Egyptians developed such as the Doctrine of the Soul. They believers that the soul and body were not two distinct things, but one in two different aspects, just as form related to matter. The soul is the power which a living body possesses, and it is the end for which the body exist, the final cause of its existence. By the time the Third Dynasty arrived during the reign of King Zoser, Imhotep, the great African physician had expanded on much of the earlier theories of medicine. Imhotep is regarded as the “real Father of Medicine”. He diagnosed and treated more than two hundred diseases. Imhotep and his students knew how to detect diseases by the shape, color, or position of the visual parts of the body they also practiced surgery, and extraction of medicine from plants. Imhotep also knew of the circulation of the blood, four thousand years before it was known in Europe. His sayings and proverbs, which embodied his philosophy of life, were handed down from generation to generation. He is best known for his saying, “Eat, drink, and be merry for tomorrow we shall die.”

Imhotep also promoted health by public sanitation, by circumcision of males, and by teaching the people the frequent ipse of the enema. Diodorus Siculus, the historian tells us: “In order to prevent sicknesses they look after the health of their body by means of drenches, fastings and emetics, sometimes everyday, and sometimes at intervals of three or four days. For they say that the larger part of the food taken into the body is superfluous, and that it is from this superfluous part that diseases are engendered.”

The habit of taking enemas was learned by the Egyptians from observing the “ibis”, a bird. that counteracts the constipating character of its food by using its long bill as a rectal syringe. Herodotus, the Jewish historian reports that the Egyptians, “purge themselves every month, three days successively, seeking to preserve health by emetics and enemas for they suppose that all diseases to which men are subject proceed from the food they use.”

We can see that the Egyptians recognized the connection between food (disease) and the cause of certain pathological diseases. In Africentric science, all life (i.e. elements) is created by harmony and recreates harmony. A disease is viewed as harmonizing healing crisis of the body. When a person gets overloaded with waste, toxins from constipating junk foods, drugs, alcohol, caffeine, nicotine, sodas, fried foods, bleach white flour, enriched flour, white rice, dairy products, cooked pig and blood in meat, salt, white suger, incorrect food combinations (i.e. protein and carbohydrates=meat and bread or potatoes) the body reacts with a healing crisis (cleansing reaction). This cleansing is called a disease by Western medicine. Actually, the disease is the “food itself”. Western medicine tries to cure the body from curing (cleansing) itself with a cure (drugs) and/or surgical mutilations. Oddly enough, Western doctors blame the cleansing reaction.

The concept of universal harmony is character istic to African thought. Africans believe there is a harmony in the universe – the circling of the planets, the tides of the earth, the growth of vegetation, the lives of animals and. people all are related. All that is in the universe emanated from the same source, one universal Mind.

The ancient Egyptian priest looked out at the universe, and noted the ratios of the different planetary cycles, and counted the rhythmic periods in nature. They also calculated the ratios of the human body. They put together a “sacred” geometry which were a set of mathematical ratios and proportions. They believed that these ratios if used in the sound of music and the architecture of buildings (pyrimids), this would resonate with the life forces of the universe and thus enhance life. The ancient physician/priests of the Nile Valley were said to have been instructed in temples which were called “Per Ankh.” In today’s language they would be called the “House of Life”.

Of the thousands of medical papyri originally written, less then a dozen have been discovered, and of that number, the Ebers Papyrus and the Edwin Smith Papyrus are deemed the most profound. The Edwin Smith Papyrus was published in 1930 by James Henry Breasted, who had spent ten years translating the document. This papyrus describes 48 different injuries to the head, face, neck, thorax and spinal column and the appropriate surgical methods for attending to them. It is suspected that the Eighteenth Dynasty scribe who was responsible for copying the original text only wrote the first 48 cases dealing with the upper third of the body. There are more than 90 anatomical terms referenced in the Edwin Smith Papyrus, and there are more than 200 terms listed in various Nile Valley medical literature.

This papyrus is also of great importance because of its use of the word “brain” and references to the neurological relationship between the brain (spinal cord and nervous system) and the body. The Ebers Papyrus (ca. 1500 B.C.) explores a broad range of medical science and includes chapters on the pulse and cardio-vascular system, dermatology, gynecology, ophthalmology, obstetrics, tumors, burns, fractures, intestinal disorders and much more. There is also considerable evidence that physicians in Egypt (also Kemet) practiced circumcision, brain surgery and were extremely well versed in gynecology and obstetrics. By 2000 B.C. physicians in Egypt had already created an effective organic chemical contraceptive. This formula consisted of acacia spikes, honey and dates, which were mixed in a specific ratio, and inserted into the vagina. Modern science has since discovered that acacia spikes contain lactic acid, which is a natural chemical spermicide.

Pregnancy and fetal sex tests were conducted by Egyptian herbalist who soaked bags of wheat and barley in a sample of a woman’s urine. Urine from a pregnant woman was known to accelerate the growth of certain plants if the barley sprouted, it meant that the woman was pregnant and was going to give birth to a female child, and if the wheat sprouted it meant that she would give birth to a male child. The urine pregnancy test was not rediscovered by modern science until 1926 and the wheat/barley sex determination teat was not developed until 1933.

In 1987, the National Academy of Sciences published a report by the National Academy of Engineers entitled Lasers: Invention to Application. In a chapter titled “Lasers in Medicine”, the author, Rodney Perkins, M.D., suggests that a form of laser therapy was actually used in Egypt. Dr. Perkins states that: “The use of the laser in medicine and surgery has a relatively short pedigree of less than two decades. Although the range of laser radiation extends both below and above the visible portion of the electromagnetic spectrum, that radiation is, in a sense, only a special form of light. The use of other forms of light in medicine has a longer history. There is documentation that the ancient Egyptians recognized and used the therapeutic power of light as long as 6,000 years ago. Patches of depigmented skin, now referred to as vitiligo, were cosmetically undesirable. Egyptian healers reportedly crushed a plant similar to present day parsley and rubbed the affected areas with the crushed leaves. Exposure to the sun’s radiation produced a severe form of sunburn only in the treated areas. The erythema subsided, leaving hyperpigmentation in the previously depigmented areas.” 5

When looking at Nile Valley Egypt and its contributions to natural and herbal medicine, it must be understood that we are not just talking about Egypt alone. We must consider the whole continent which extends over 4,000 miles into the geography of Africa. Many tribes and African nations contributed their share of herbal and medical wisdom. This would include the Sudan, Ethiopia, Nigeria, Mali, Libya, and dozens of other African nations. The Nile Valley, however, became something of a cultural highway which made it a great historical stopping place for wisdom and knowledge.

Out of Africa came the world’s first organized system of herbal and medical science. This knowledge was so profound, much of it passed from the Egyptians to the Phonicians, the Yorubas, India, Syria, Babylon, the Middle East, the Greeks, to the Romans, and from the Romans to Western Europe. The three major herbal systems, Ayurveda, Chinese Traditional Medicine, and Western herbology were extracted from the knowledge created by the priests and wise men in the Nile Valley. When this gigantic work is completed, I believe the evidence will reveal information that will amaze humanity.

Early in its history and its development, Nile Valley civilization created a basic way of life that attracted teachers, and priests from other parts of Africa, always enriching the original composite composition of the Nile Valley. By the time the Yoruba people made their journey to the Nile Valley, led by the mystic prophet Orunmila, Egyptian priests had accumulated centuries of herbal and medical knowledge. The Yoruba’s drew from this treasure chest of wisdom, and incorporated it into their own religious and cultural customs. The key point, in respect to the evolution of Yoruba medicine, is that Egyptian knowledge, coupled with the earlier Nok people, produced the outcome of Yoruba herbal practices.

From a conceptual standpoint, Osain herbalism is a religion, a philosophy, and a science, Born from this concept is the idea that oneness with the Creative Essence brings about a wholeness in the human essence. Seekers, or aspirants of the system of Osain, or Yoruba, seek to bring themselves into alignment (balanced health) with his spiritual being (immortal reality), and his relationship with the Divine Cause. This is achieved through herbs, spiritual baths, right living, diet, rituals, and self-development which are meant to maintain a healthy and happy life. Thus, Osain is a divine journey to the inner self which encompasses all aspects of life.

As envisioned by the ancient prophet, Orunmila, of Yoruba, the Ifa Corpus (Cosmic Intelligence) is the text of Osain herbalism. Orunmila saw that dual levels of potentiality existed in the human body. Through him, we understand that the study of animate and inanimate, manifest and unmanifest, visible and invisible worlds leads to fundamental understandings of the processes of growth and life cycles of trees and plants, the lives of insects, animals, and. human nature. Through the guidance of Orunmila, the principles of Yoruba Cosmology evolved: “The Self-Existent Being (Oludumare), or the One Source, who is believed to be responsible for creation and maintenance of heaven and earth, of man and women, and who also brought into being divinities and spirits (Orisha) who are believed to be his functionaries as intermediaries between mankind and the Self-Existent Being (Oludumare).” 6

It was through the Ashe (Nature) that matter and forces of creation evolved from. This was created by Oludumare for a divine purpose. The union of the Orisha (angelic forces) and Aba, (human development) gave birth to the dual potentiality of the human spirit. It is the goal of man to align his earthly consciousness with Ori (the physical and spiritual head) in order to connect with his divinity.

The Orisha, which are the angelic forces of Yoruba context: Elegba, Obatala, Oshun, Ogun, Yemoja, Shango, Oya, and others too numerous to mention. In the herbal context, each require special herbs and foods to bring out the life force energy that bring about their qualities. This “bringing about” is a dual endeavor as the herbalist need follow certain guidelines and practices to efficaciously heal or correct imbalance of physical health.

“Orisha” as a term, is actually the combination of two Yoruba words (I discovered that the root word is from the Egyptian god Osiris who had other qualities, “Osh”, meaning many, and “iri”, meaning to do or many eyed. Osiris came to mean Omniscient). “Ori” which is the reflective spark of human consciousness embedded in human essence, and “sha” which is the ultimate potentiality of that consciousness to enter into or assimilate itself into the divine consciousness. 7 From this idea, we can see that given the right encouragement of the human consciousness, man can heal himself along with the use of herbs and foods as special inducements. From this standpoint, the Orisha assist in the development of (iwa-pele) or balanced character. This is the premise of true Yoruba medicine. The connection between one’s consciousness (Ori) and one’s behavior (iwa-pele) is clearly seen as a way of maintaining a correct attitude towards nutrition and lifestyles in order to ward off sickness (negative spirits) and disease.

Disease according to the theory of the Ifa Corpus, is caused by oppressive forces known as “ajogun”. The Orisha are spirits of heaven-sent, to continually wrestle with the human nature in order to uplift it — to purify it. The “ajogun” are the “demonic” beings. They are all earthly and heavenly forces whose destructive intent is to off-set the human body. It is the job of the Oloogun (medicine healer) to help the patient overcome the opposing forces that disrupt their health.

When understanding the African’s use of demonic and spiritual agencies in medicine, it is important to understand that this concept is used merely as a cosmic-tool to explain physical phenomena in nature which is unique to African thought. When the Europeans came into Africa and saw the African dancing in a frenzy with their bodies covered in ashe, they did not understand or comprehend, so they labeled it primitive, savage and backward. They hadn’t made the connection between the Creator, spirits and their manifestation in nature as the African had done. The Western mentality couldn’t understand because of their materialistic way of seeing.

Because the Osain system have many Orisha which serve different purposes, we will only focus on Erinle-Orisha, the Orisha of medicine. The seven major Orisha are examined in table one. (The Yoruba’s were obviously inspired with the seven Orishas by the ancient Eygptian’s concept of the seven openings in the head.)

Table 1: The Seven Major Orisha

Creator of Human Form, White purity, Cures illness and deformities.

Messenger of the Orisha, Holder of Ashe (pover) among the Orisha, he is prime negotiator between negative and positive forces in body, enforces the “law of being”. Helps to enhance the power of herbs.

Orisha of Iron, he expands, he is divinity of clearing paths, specifically in respect to blockages or interruption of the flow vital energy at various points in the body. he is the liberator.

Mother of Waters, Sexuality, Primal Waters, Nurturer. She is the amniotic fluid in the womb of the pregnant woman, as well as, the breasts which nurture. She is the protective energies of the feminine force.

Sensuality, Beauty, Gracefulness, she symbolizes clarity and flowing motion, she has power to heal with cool water, she is also the divinity of fertility and feminine essence, Women appeal to her for child-bearing and for the alleviation of female disorders, she is fond of babies and is sought if a baby becomes ill, she is known for her love of honey.

Kingly, Virility, Masculinity, Fire, Lightning, Stones, Protector/ warrior, Magnetism, he possesses the ability to transform base substance into that which is pure and valuable.

Tempest, Guardian of the Cemetery, Winds of Change, Storms, Progression, she is usually in the company of her counterpart Shango, she is the deity of rebirth as things must die so that new beginnings arise.

In the body, the Erinle-Orisha can be understood in terms of metabolic energy which activates, or stimulates the other Orisha. Each Orisha is characterized by certain attributes and is in charge of specific organ functions. Each has its dual force of ajogun (demonic force) and Orisha (positive force). The Orishas also have special places or main locations in the body where they can accumulate, or cause havoc and disease. Therefore, it is important to use the corresponding herbal treatment to correct the derangement.

Table 2: Physical Correspondences

Physical Correspondences

brain, bones, white fluids of the body

sympathetic nervous system, para sympathetic nervous system

womb, liver, breasts, buttocks

circulatory system, digestive organs, elimination system, pubic area (female)

heart, kidney (adrenal glands), tendons, and sinews

reproductive system (male), bone marrow, life force or chi

lungs, bronchial passages, mucous membranes

The use of herbs and plants, called ewe in Yoruba, is of great importance. Herbs are picked for medicinal, and the spiritual powers they possess. In Yorubaland, herbs are gathered by the Oloogun, or by the various types of herbalists who inhabit the regions where Osain is practiced. The population can usually obtain herbs either by private practice or from the marketplace in town. In the Americas and the Caribbeans, Osain based practitioners are also directed to use herbs as medicine. Here the Oloogun or priests, as well as devotees alike gather herbs for medicine, baths, and religious artifacts. Because of the wide-spread practice of Osain in the New World, Nigerians and people from other African countries have begun to set up herbal businesses in increasing numbers. More and more indigenous herbs are now being made accessible to devotees here in the Americas. It is said that ewe (herbs) are for the “healing of Nations” and many health food stores provide them in powder, leaf, and capsule form. Adherents to the traditional practices of Osain are usually advised to use herbs as medicine before going to Western allopathic drugs for healing. There are many books written on the subject of herbology. Therefore, researching the possibilities of herbal use is recommended. Table 3 below shows herbal directives. They provide examples of the ewe based on the presiding Orisha correspondence. It is best that novices seek out divination before attempting to get and prepare herbal formulas. It is also advisable to rely on priests and qualified herbalists to begin the healing process before getting involved with the properties and powers of herbs yourself.

Table 3: The Ewe and Presiding Orisha Correspondences

Ewe (HERBS) for Medicinal Usage

Skullcap, Sage, Kola Nut, Basil, Hyssop, Blue Vervain, White Willow, Valerian

Yellow Dock, Burdock, Cinnamon, Damiana, Anis, Raspberry, Yarrow, Chamomile, Lotus, Uva-Ursi, Buchu, Myrrh, Echinacea

Kelp, Squawvine, Cohosh, Dandelion, Yarrow, Aloe, Spirulina, Mints, Passion Plower, Wild Yam Root

Eucalyptus, Alfalfa, Hawthorn, Bloodroot, Parsley, Motherwort, Garlic

Mullein, Comfrey, Cherrybark, Pleurisy Root, Elecampane, Horehound, Chickweed

Plantain, Saw Palmetto, Hibiscus, Fo-ti, Sarsaparilla, Nettles, Cayenne

The following is a recommended way to prepare these herbs: The herbs can be used along or in combination with other herbs. Add the herbs to a pot of mildly boiling water (to prepare a decoction). Let the herbs steep for about thirty minutes before straining. The remaining herbal solution is then prepared as a tea. In some instances the herbal solutions are used in diluted form for enemas. Enemas are among one of the most effective treatments in cleaning out the colon which is the seat of many diseases. In Osain, sugar should never be added to herbal solutions. Honey may be used, however, along with some lemon.

Diagnosis and Treatment

As one can see, we have a useful system of categorization which applies to all levels of disease and treatment. To understand the application of Osain herbology, lets’s take as an example a person suffering from a bronchial-pulmonary condition including cough, and spitting of white mucus. The approach of Osain herbology would be to determine which of the Orishas are out of alignment. Osain would do this by taking into account the patient’s manifest symptoms along with locating the main areas in the body where the mis-alignment (disease) occurs. Our patient would be considered to have a mis-alignment in the “Oya” and “Obatala” Orishas. Oya Orisha predominates in the lungs, bronchial passages, and the mucous membranes. The Obatala Orisha is responsible for white fluids of the body which is located in the throat region of Orisha/Obatala (also known in Yaga as the 5th Chakra, see diagram 3). The condition can be corrected by prescribing the patient with Comfrey and Sage, as an herbal tea, or applied externally by a spiritual bath.

From this example, one can get an idea of the wholistic treatment approach of Osain Herbology. However, the emotional and spiritual causes of disease would be taken into account in order to appease the negative forces of ajogun to make the cure complete according to traditional Yoruba religious practices. This would include herbs, spiritual baths, symbolic sacrifice, song, dance, ani prayer, as well as a change of diet.

Some may argue that there is a fine line between “medicine” and “superstition” in the rituals of Yorubic healing arts. The art of medicine, as Yorubic practitioners understand. it involves practices by which human beings hoped to be able to understand and control the forces of the universe. Myth, legend, drama, ritual, dance, in addition to whatever it may be, are vehicles for carrying profound knowledge about the human experience. Every culture has its roots in esoteric concepts, philosophies, and religious practices. Constructively using spiritual archetypes allows man to energize and intensify life to a surprising degree. A careful study of history will show that Europeans developed from a background of taboos, and superstitions, as well as mythical beliefs. The Chinese thought Westerners barbarians and made no attempt to learn from them until recent.

The Yorubas believed that the Orishas of the celestial world were emanations of Oludumare (The One Source) who conceived the universe by a series of emanations, and in this way it is possible to reconcile the unity of God with multiplicity. The One Source was the First Cause or Creator, the necessary Being in whom essence and existence were one. It is through incantations, drums and dance, and special herbs that one can communicate to the human body by awakening the internal Orishas, and thus return to unity, spiritual light, and health.

Western medicine deals in the area of eliminating the symptoms that have manifested in the physical body, while Yorubic healing deals with the elimination of the root source of the problem. All illness is the result of imbalance of the physical, mental, and spiritual aspects in the body. The Yorubic healer who cures the person of the symptoms has to dissipate the negative energies. Unless he addresses the cause of the disease, the sickness will eventually come back.

The only complete healing for a ailment must include a change of “consciousness” (Ori) where the individual recognizes the root cause and does not wish, or feel compelled to violate its pain. So the Western doctor, by removing the discomfort through drugs, has temporarily taken away the motivation (iwa-pele) for their patient to look for the true healing. However, as the patient’s state of consciousness asserts itself, they will again violate the same natural law and eventually have another opportunity to receive motivation in the form of a new ailment to learn what they are doing wrong. Whenever we listen to our bodies, it moves to provide us with the training and the appropriate knowledge that we need to regain our balance.

The Integration of Yoruba medicine into Planetary Herbology

I have tried in this essay to accomplish the first part of a pleasant assignment which I rashly laid upon myself about two years ago: to integrate African medicine into the scheme of Planetary Herbology. It is no exaggeration to say that this work would not have been possible without the pioneering work of Dr. Michael Tierra. My goal was to add to the tremendous work Dr. Tierra laid out in integrating Eastern and Western philosophies and the principles of Chinese, Japanese, Ayurvedic, and North American Indian herbal medicine.

After close study of the herbal principles applied in African medicine, I noticed the fundamental unity and similarities within and between other herbal systems. Namely, Ayurvedic, North American Indian herbology, Western, and Chinese herbology. This was due pertly because of the historical, and cultural links of each of these systems. Yet, it is well to remember that the meeting of cultures have also triggered tremendous creative explosions in medicine and philosophy. East Indian medicine was born in a meeting of the Black Dalilia (the Black Untouchables) and Indo-Europeans. Chinese herbology adopted some of its principles with the meeting of Egypt. Japanese medicine was born in a meeting with Chinese culture, and Western herbology sprang from a meeting of the ancient Greek and Egyptian priests. These are only a few illustrations much of what I find exciting and interesting.

Let us look at the correspondance between Western herbology and the Egyptian system. The Hypocritic humoural theory was taken from Egyptian Magical Principles (see diagram 1). The basis of this theory was the belief that the human body was made up of the four elements of which the whole material world was composed: fire, air, earth and water. It was also believed that each element possessed certain qualities: hot, dry, wet, and cold. These elements could be mixed in more ways than one, and the various mixtures gave rise to different temperaments and “humours”. The proper balance of elements preserved the health of the body, and a lack of balance led to illness which called for the doctor’s healing magic. The Yoruba priests adopted this same system with sleight modifications. In the Yorubic system, the four elements became: Shango (the fire element), Oya (the air element), Yemoja (the water element), and Elegba (the Ashe, or earth element).

Traditional Chinese Medicine places primary emphasis on the balance of qi, or vital energy. There are 12 major meridians, or pathways, for qi, and each is associated with a major vital organ or vital function. These meridians form an invisible network that carries qi to every tissue in the body. Under the Yoruba system, the major meridians are the 7 Orishas. The flow of vital energy is represented by Ogun, which is the divinity of clearing paths, specifically in respect to blockages, or interruption of the vital energy at various points in the body (see table 1). Upon close study, it becomes evident that the Orisha modes correspond very easily to the Chinese concept of qi. Also in Traditional Chinese medicine, the vital energy comprises two parts: Yin and Yang. They are considered opposites masculine and feminine, heavenly and earthly. The theoretical equivalent of Yin and Yang in Yoruba is represented by Oshun (the divinity of feminine essence), and Shango (the divinity of virility, and masculinity). It is interesting to note that just as Yin represents the quality of cool and Yang the quality of hot, Oshun represents the power to heal with cool water, and Shango is represented by fire (heat).

Physical and spiritual balance in Yorubic medicine is best described by the concept of “Aba”, or human development. Aba is a circle in the center which is aligned with the seven Orishas, each of which is represented by smaller circles of the opposite colors of black and white. The smaller circles represents the ever changing nature of Orisha (spirit) and ajogun (demon), and each Orisha demonstrate that each contains the potential to transform into its corresponding demon (or disease). (see diagram 4) It is the job of the African healer to bring the internal Orishas into alignment. This coincides with the Chinese belief that the universe is forever changing through Yin and Yang.

In the Yoruba system, the seven Orisha’s have many counterparts, or partners that bring about various qualities or spiritual forces. This reciprocal relationship, in turn, gives rise to the four elements, and other attributes which influence the physical world. (see diagram 5)

As in Western and Chinese herbology, the Yoruba system incorporates environmental and emotional states. Yoruba priests believe that the Orishas govern a law of human passions and desires which, if improperly indulged, or violated, will prevent a person from gaining spiritual benefit from the external acts of rituals. Demons, or negative spirits enters the body through the five senses, the imagination and the carnal appetites. The Chinese also recognize the “seven emotions” as causes to disease. The “seven emotions”, or “evil vices” approximates “the law of human passions and desires” in Yoruba medicine. For example, under the Yoruba system, someone suffering from guilt can bring on a multitude of evil spirits, or illnesses, The Elegba Orisha, is the primary negotiator between negative and positive forces in the body. The emotion of guilt can put Elegba into a negative disposition, which in turn, can effect the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system. Physically, the negative disposition can cause chronic digestion problems, and a weakening of the immune system.

  • Shango Orisha represents the fire element and is hot and dry in nature. It is considered to be the Protector/Warrior, and possesses the ability to transform base substance into that which is pure and valuable. It is associated with the color red. It’s season is summer.
  • Elegba Orisha represents the earth element and is dry and cold in nature. It is the Messenger of the Orisha, Holder of Ashe among the Orisha, and is associated with the colors red, black, and white,
  • Yemoja Orisha represents the water element and it is cold and wet in nature. It is the Mother of Waters, and is associated with the color blue and crystal. It’s season is winter.
  • Oya Orisha represents the wind, or air element and is hot and wet in nature. It is responsible for the winds of change, and is associated with the color reddish-brown. It’s season is spring.

The Oloogun (priest) may prescribe the patient various herbal combinations to be included in a spiritual bath to cleanse the person of negative influences which have impacted upon their aura essence. The spiritual bath is given along with prayers and incantations especially designed to help ward off the negative spirits. As in Tradition Chinese Medicine, the Yorubic priests help to cure physical symptoms by treating the emotional vice that lead to the ailment in the first place. Like other traditional medicines with a long history, Yorubic medicine focuses on the individual and what imbalances may be contributing to or causing illness or disease.

Now let’s look at Ayurveda in light of Yorubic herbal principles. I found that there were many comparisons between the two systems. As I mentioned earlier, racially and linguistically, the East Indians and Africans have a common origin, going back to the ancient Sumerians, Babylonians, Egyptians, Phoenicians, and Dravidians. Ayurveda developed in contemporary contact and mutual influence from these ancient societies. Note the startling resemblance between the linguistic terminology of Yoruba and Ayurveda, very often the same sounding words, meanings, and similar spellings. These similarities in names can hardly be coincidental:


Ayni’s Professional Tribe

Ayni collaborates with multiple Professional Practitioners of the Healing Arts to bring to you a full range of holistic services, events, teachings programs, and more to help you find your balance Body Mind and Spirit.

We do this to weave all our Medicines together and unite very talented healers into a sacred Medicine Web of Love.

Rev. Ellen Rochedieu
Advanced Shamanic Practitioner, Reiki Practitioner, Animal Healer, Intuitive Psychic Reader, Angel Card Reader, Spiritual Consultant, Wedding Officiant

I so enjoy watching my clients transform their lives into their dreams! I’ve taken a long journey on multiple converging paths that has led me to being my most authentic expression today.

Over the past 45+ years, I have studied the psychic, magic, and healing arts. I earned my Reverend title from the ISD Church in Sparta NJ. I am an accredited Advanced Shamanic Practitioner from Ayni Healing Arts Center in Newton NJ. I achieved my Reiki and Animal Healing Certification through the Montclair Metaphysical Center in Montclair, NJ.

My style in healing is dynamic, compassionate, and REAL. I get right to the chase, and do so with Love and Empowerment.

Dr. Rebecca Vicente, Ed.D, LCSW, CFTP
Advanced Shamanic Practitioner, Holistic Psychotherapist, Reiki Practitioner, Intuitive, Mental Health Clinician, Author

Dr. Rebecca from Spirit of Hathor, LLC is a psychotherapist , healer and author with a rich background in trauma and grief recovery with various populations and communities including LGBTQIA+, women, children, adolescents and couples. She has extensive training in the spiritual healing arts.

Dr. Vicente is also Reiki Attuned with a passion for card reading and energy balancing work. Her healing arts work combines spiritual wellness and counsel to provide her clients with results of balance, clarity and a sense of hope.

When you schedule your healing session with Dr. Vicente, you will receive detailed and direct interventions that cover the aspects of your life where you feel you need the most guidance, alignment and healing.

Kirsten de la Torre, LMT
Advanced Shamanic Practitioner, Licensed Massage Therapist, Sound Healer, Reiki Practitioner

Kirsten de la Torre is a New Jersey state licensed massage therapist and is insured by the American Massage Therapy Association. She has over 10 years of massage experience and is certified in Swedish, sport, hot stone, myofascial release, reiki, and cupping. Kirsten also has training in sound healing from The Tibetan Singing Bowl School in California since 2014, and with Gong Master, Don Conreaux. Lastly, Kirsten is a shamanic practitioner and received her mentorship from Ayni Healing Arts Center.

Natalie Lowry, CYT500, RMT
Reiki Master Teacher, Shamanic Practitioner, Certified Yoga Teacher

Natalie Lowry is Owner & Founder of Yemaya Yoga & Wellness. After starting her path with yoga, Natalie decided to leave her career in retail management after sixteen years. She became eager to deepen her practice and earned her certifications in Hatha Yoga 200hr & 300hr. She continued her education by earning both 50hr Aerial Yoga and 25hr Restorative Aerial Yoga certifications.

She is currently a student of Ayni Healing Arts Center, taking part in the Shamanic Mentorship program, as well as personal healing and developmental program, a Journey with the Spirit of Ayahuasca. Natalie is a Reiki Master that serves as a Healing Practitioner as well as a Reiki Teacher. She is excited to continue learning and growing to be able to share her gifts with others.

Veronica Cruz-Martinez, LMFT
Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, Holistic Psychotherapist

I am a passionate clinician with over 15 years of experience working with the LGBTQIA+ community, at-risk and marginalized youth and adults with trauma history. I have seen firsthand the difference a caring, empathetic, and attentive adult can make in a person’s life and feel honored when that can be me.

I believe in treating the mind, body, and soul and understand as well as acknowledge, the importance of a healthy lifestyle and why it is important to utilize all the tools we have (or have yet to find) because we all have the power within us to heal, sometimes we just need some help getting there. I believe in the importance of coping skills and can help you find them or strengthen the ones you already have. This can include meditation, exercise, utilizing crystals or essential oils to help heal and calm oneself, and seeking outside supports when needed.

I am a firm believer in working within my limits as a therapeutic clinician and love that I am able to work within a team like Ayni Healing Arts Center, so that I can bring in other healing professionals to support someone in their healing process. I aim to continue making that difference in the lives of others, using my expertise in trauma informed treatment and having an open mind.

Rev. Wanda Conboy
Eclectic Spiritual Practitioner, Ordained Minister/Wedding Officiant, Reiki Practitioner, Shamanic Practitioner, Bilingual Spanish Liaison, Local Artisan

I was born in Puerto Rico and arrived on the mainland when I was 6 years old. I was raised by my parents but the root of my spiritual path in this lifetime comes from my great and great great grandmothers. They practiced herb healing and one specifically identified as a witch. These things were dormant within me for a long time but once I became an adult and a mom I started to explore and learn on my own.

I was initiated in Santeria but am not a Santera. I practice witchcraft as well as many other spiritual paths. What I call eclectic is my inability to narrow my beliefs to just one since there are many truths.

As an ordained bilingual minister I have officiated over 100 ceremonies. They are always custom and hand-fastings as well as same sex couples are most welcome.

Hubby and I live on a mountain where we had my spiritual church built from scratch. Here, I hold classes of varying topics and I also custom create blends of soaps, candles, salves and bath salts to name a few. My shop is adjacent to the church and is open by appointment only.I will also be teaching classes here at Ayni and am also their student in multiple programs.

Ashley Oppon, RN
Advanced Shamanic Practitioner, Registered Oncology Nurse, Psychic Intuitive Tarot, Local Artisan

Ashley Oppon is a Shamanic Practitioner at Sankofa Healing Sanctuary. Through her work with shamanic healing, Tarot and Lenormand, she’s here to help people find solutions to their issues and live their best lives now. She also makes spiritual products such as baths, incenses, and other artisanal products. When she’s not reading Tarot, you can find her crafting and working full time as an oncology nurse.

Stephanie Ghostkeeper, CA, RMT
Certified Aromatherapist, Human Design Guru, Tapping Practitioner (EFT, Energy EFT, TFT), Reiki Master Teacher, Intuitive Holistic Practitioner, Local Artisan

My joy in life is helping others find their way back to their best selves. No two people are alike, yet all people have similar challenges in life that may benefit from complementary holistic therapies.

I am a certified aromatherapist with over a decade of experience in creating products to support physical, emotional, and spiritual wellness. I am also a reiki master teacher and accredited EFT/TFT practitioner. I love to combine essential oils with tapping and energy work to find unique solutions for my clients.

One of my greatest passions is Human Design, which uses your birth information to find your unique soul energies. Human Design can help you find your way back to your soul’s purpose, and bring harmony to your life and relationships. It is my honor to work with you to bring your best self forward!


Personal Care

BLK+GRN

Consider this as your vetted marketplace for non-toxic natural products by Black artisans. Inventory categories include grocery, home, bath + body, hair, beauty, skincare, menstrual care, and mom + baby.

MOVITA

Tonya Lewis Lee’s mission with this wellness brand is to better support women's health through a line of organic certified multivitamin essentials that are both accessible and affordable. Your body is in good hands with this longtime health advocate.

The Honey Pot Co

The first-ever plant-based feminine care system would be created by a Black woman and her name is Beatrice Dixon. The brand offers a line of natural cleansers, wipes, suppositories, pads, tampons, menstrual cups, pantiliners, sprays, balms, creams, and bath bombs, all of which can now be found at Wegmans, Target, Walmart, and more.

Golde

For millennials, matcha and masks are the ultimate duo. Golde just happens to offer both with an assortment of superfood powered products to choose from. This ethos is a reflection of co-founders Trinity Mouzon Wofford and Issey Kobori who are partners in business and life. This past week, the health and beauty brand pledged to donate 100 percent of their proceeds to the NAACP Legal Defense Fund and raised over $10,000.

Have you been itching to switch to more sustainable toilet paper? Look no further than Reel. This Washington, DC-based company offers tea-free and biodegradable bamboo toilet paper made out of 300 sheets of 3-ply for guaranteed strength and softness. Each roll is also wrapped with recycled paper.

Bevel

Shaving sucks, but most of us have already been doing it for so long so why quit now? Even though Bevel initially targeted men with its premium grooming products, there’s no reason why women shouldn’t be buying them too. I’ve been using the razors for about three years now and have no plans to switch brands anytime soon. In case you weren’t already aware, Bevel is a branch of Walker & Company, the start-up founded by Tristan Walker.

OUI the People

This progressive bodycare company has you covered from head to toe with razors, blades, sugar gel, hydrating gloss, bikini sheet masks, and more. Founder and CEO Karen Young has given us an extremely elevated experience to say the very least.

Grace Eleyae

Protect your heart and your head with a diverse selection of hair accessories, from bonnets and hats to scrunchies and silk pillows.