ARIGO: Surgeon of the Rusty Knife
ARIGO: Surgeon of the Rusty Knife
In Sao Paulo a group of highly trained physicians and surgeons from the city's largest hospital-some of them graduates of the best medical schools in the United States-meets regularly to consult mediums. These mediums, they believe, draw on the skills and knowledge of doctors no longer living to bring them diagnostic and treatment information they could get nowhere else. The doctors claim that the clinical and therapeutic results are amazingly effective, and far beyond what modem medical techniques alone could produce.
These sessions are conducted not in an aura of mysticism, but in an atmosphere of pragmatism. The doctors of Kardecist persuasion do not believe that the use of trained mediums replaces skilled medical training; they believe it supplements it. Their rationale for the use of these methods springs from the theory that the swift advance of medical science left large pockets of unexplored truths in its wake. More specifically, the feeling is that the primitive witch doctor or medicine man, in spite of his wild gyrations and mysterious herbs, exercised some highly effective techniques that were discarded by materialistic science only because they were surrounded by such a large envelope of superstition and hideous black-magic rituals.
There is much evidence to support this theory. Many great modern tranquilizers such as reserpine (sold under many trade names) long lay dormant in modern pharmacology; the Indian snakeroot plant, from which reserpine derives, known as Rauwolfia serpentina, had been used effectively in India and Nigeria for centuries. Curare, one of the most effective adjuncts in modern anesthesia, is a resinous poison derived from several varieties of tropical plants. The Brazilian Indians used the poison on the tips of arrows. Scientists at the University of Ibadan in Nigeria have recently crystallized an herb concoction from a witch doctor that seems to have an amazing capacity to bring about remission in malignant tumors. Initial tests now being conducted at the university have shown it to bring 100 percent remission of such tumors in laboratory mice. For the first time in history, the ancient techniques of acupuncture are being taken seriously by science.
But most interesting are the recent studies at the same university regarding the methods that the Nigerian witch doctors have been using in psychosis. The new studies have uncovered considerable validity in this primitive tribal psychiatry, some of which seems destined to find its way into modem therapeutic use. A critical aspect of witch-doctor psychotherapy lies in the acceptance of the once-scorned concept of "possession," the taking over of the psyche of a living individual by an alleged deceased personality.
In Brazil, the picture is slightly different. The Kardec movement was brought there from France by intellectuals. Its first adherents in the mid-i8oos were attorneys, doctors, army officers, scientists, engineers, people from the creative arts, and educators. The movement was paralleled among the less educated bulk of the population by the strange mixture of African religious culture and enforced Catholicism, which ranged from the primitive rites of Quimbanda in macumba clearings to the less primitive mixture of Catholicism and Yoruba tribal beliefs called Umbanda. Both grew out of the early days of Brazilian slavery, both embraced the belief in spirit possession and magical rites. Umbanda, however, more softened by the Christian ethic and embracing both Catholic and tribal saints, rejected black magic as part of its creed. Quimbanda did not. Both forms were "spiritist" in character.
The result of all this has left modern Brazil with three strata of spiritist belief, from the primitive Quimbanda through the more refined Umbanda to the intellectually elegant Kardecists. And although Catholicism claims an enormous percentage of all these groups, the reality is that i