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Saturday, February 20, 2016

Mooney - Origin of Disease and Medicine - Keeping the Public in Public Domain

The Rod of Asclepius
It's confession time here (no relation to Lent!).  Blogger lets me work ahead and recently I knew I was going to be on the road for a while so I took advantage of the Chinese New Year to work through February 13.  Little did I know I'd get sick while away and need every bit of that time.  Back when I still worked as a librarian full-time (I still sub. occasionally), I asked my mentor, Papa Joe, what storytellers did when they got sick.  He said, correctly, there is no such thing as sick leave.  Fortunately I fulfilled the storytelling needed right before getting sick and had no gigs scheduled while I've worked to get well.

Thinking about being sick reminded me of a great little tale collected by James Mooney in his Myths of the Cherokee.  Not only did a Cherokee storytelling friend once verify the accuracy of the book by saying it didn't even make the elders snicker much -- as in their respecting its getting the material right! -- but the versions often tell well exactly as Mooney wrote it.  Today's story is wonderfully tellable.

(By the way, I'm no snake lover, but after the story there's a bonus about the Rod of Asclepius and the Caduceus.)

Aren't you glad the Plants were friendly?  If you doubt the truth of the story, remember even something as basic as Aspirin goes back to Plants.  As Wikipedia notes: Plant extracts, including willow bark and spiraea, of which salicylic acid was the active constituent, had been known to help alleviate headaches, pains, and fevers since antiquity. The father of modern medicine, Hippocrates (circa 460 – 377 BC), left historical records describing the use of powder made from the bark and leaves of the willow tree to help these symptoms.

Of course there's more to the story and if you're curious, go to the Wikipedia link and read "Discovery of the Mechanism", "History", and "Trademark" for some interesting background before popping your next pill.

The Caduceus

I also promised a "bonus" bit of story about the Rod of Asclepius and the Caduceus.  While I would have preferred a Cherokee symbol appropriate to today's story, it was easier to look among more common medical logos.  The Caduceus is often thought of in the U.S. as that logo, but I discovered it's an incorrect usage.  The symbol goes back to both Egyptian and Greek mythology and was incorrectly linked to medicine by the U.S. Army Medical Corps.  The Rod of Asclepius, which I showed at the start of today's article, has only one snake and no wings and is the correct medical symbol complete with a far more interesting, if too little known, Greek myth. 

Wikipedia may have become the encyclopedia of our online lives, but while looking for the Rod of Asclepius, I was delighted to come across Symbolreader, a blog written anonymously by someone with a background in both English and Psychology, who shares a love of symbols and says its "where I can turn my sight inwards and marvel at the universal unconscious patterns that are shaping the lives of our souls."  Interesting stories are all around us in the symbols we use.

Hope you're not needing to fight off the ills plotted in Mooney, but if you are, thank goodness for the Plant World and its medicines.

UPDATE (April 2021):  The spiraea or spirea (both spellings are used) is a common garden bush.  For gardeners, a resource contacted me to talk about How to Grow and Care for Spirea, from Happy DIY Home, which uses "master gardeners" to advise on gardening.  The site also includes a wide amount of information on Home Improvement and Home Decor.  The site founder, Jen Stark, was the one who contacted me.  I can appreciate her starting the business after seeking "the information we wish we had when we started remodeling our 100-year old home, a 4,500 sf Victorian house."  The site says it pays "particular attention to content curation... We make sure each piece of content is:

  • Tried-and-tested, Research-Backed
  • Practical and Easy to follow
  • Written only by home improvement experts with significant personal and/or professional experience. Our team includes master gardeners, interior designers, professional contractors / handyman, and more

My past with Spirea has been, like most bushes, fairly trouble free, but my gardening sometimes leaves me worrying that plants quake in fear when they see me coming.  I found the Happy DIY Home site an encouraging resource worth my adding in an Update.  While this article was mainly related to medicinal botany and its Native American roots, I appreciate the way we still have so much to learn from those very Native American roots as well as other historical forms of botanical pharmacology.  Wish we had plants to help us through the current pandemic.

Stay well and enjoy the many wonderful stories found in the Public Domain!
This is part of a series of postings of stories under the category, "Keeping the Public in Public Domain."  The idea behind Public Domain was to preserve our cultural heritage after the authors and their immediate heirs were compensated.  I feel strongly current copyright law delays this intent on works of the 20th century.  My own library of folklore includes so many books within the Public Domain I decided to share stories from them.  I hope you enjoy discovering new stories.  

At the same time, my own involvement in storytelling regularly creates projects requiring research as part of my sharing stories with an audience.  Whenever that research needs to be shown here, the publishing of Public Domain stories will not occur that week.  This is a return to my regular posting of a research project here.  (Don't worry, this isn't dry research, my research is always geared towards future storytelling to an audience.)  Response has convinced me that "Keeping the Public in Public Domain" should continue along with my other postings as often as I can manage it.  

There are many online resources for Public Domain stories, none for folklore is as ambitious as fellow storyteller, Yoel Perez's database, Yashpeh, the International Folktales Collection.  I recommended it earlier and want to continue to do so.  He has just loaded Stith Thompson's Motif Index into his server as a database so one can search the whole 6 volumes for whatever word or expression he likes by pressing one key.

He also loaded to his server the doctorate thesis of Prof. Dov Noy (Neunan) "Motif-index of Talmudic-Midrahic literature" Indiana University, 1954, as a PDF file.
in the hope that some of you would make use of it.

You can see why that is a site I recommend to you.

Have fun discovering even more stories!

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