How did superstition come about

I. Superstition in general and its origins.

In trying to define what a superstition is, one encounters considerable difficulties. The answer seems easy at first: a superstition is an erroneous, a false belief. But if you ask what an erroneous or a wrong belief is, you immediately get very different answers. One will consider something to be a false belief that the other declares to be a good and genuine belief. In reality there is nothing so foolish or so obviously inaccurate that does not find its representative somewhere in the world. One only needs to pick out a superstition that is widespread, e.g. B. the fact that the weather changes with the full moon. It can be proven with absolute precision that the full moon has absolutely nothing to do with the weather, and yet there are an infinite number of people who believe so firmly that they cannot be convinced otherwise. A certain definition of superstition has therefore been developed and said: Superstition is belief in the supernatural consequences of natural things or in supernatural causes of natural events. But little is said with this, because the question of what is natural and what is supernatural comes up again and again, and in individual cases one will always have to rely on the belief or the unbelief of the individual people. That something is believed or not believed at all is the crux of the whole question, because where one does not believe, there can be no superstition either. But if I can prove something, I no longer need to believe, because then I know, and the areas where one knows and does not believe are called sciences.

One can therefore logically conclude that if there is no belief in the sciences, there can be no superstition in them either. In reality, however, this is not the case because there are few sciences in which everything is based on certain evidence and belief is completely absent. Such sciences are called exact sciences as opposed to the others, which are called empirical, empirical sciences. Strictly speaking, there is only one absolutely exact science, that is mathematics. Mathematics is built on the simplest of principles through established absolutely certain conclusions and proofs. In it there is only knowledge, no belief and therefore no superstition.

Physics, applied mathematics, is very close to mathematics. In physics, experiments are added to the mathematical proofs. The experiment is subject to observation and therefore also to deception, but the experiment in physics can be checked for correctness by means of mathematical calculation. And if the experiment does not agree with the calculation, it can be seen from this that the experiment was incorrect. That is why we no longer find superstitions in physics today.

Mechanics, on the other hand, is very close to physics, and this, too, lacks superstition these days. But it wasn't long ago that there was a well-known mechanical superstition, that was the so-called perpetual motion machine. By perpetual motion machine one understands a machine that moves independently without human intervention and is able to generate other movements, i. H. a machine that takes its power out of itself again and again. Countless people have tried to invent this perpetual motion machine, and many have lost their minds and their money over it, although physics had long since proven that the perpetual motion machine is an impossibility. Yes, today there are still people who try to invent the perpetual motion machine. But they were viewed as deranged or at least eccentric, and therefore they no longer receive any attention.

Astronomy is also a science that is based on mathematics. But in astronomy much is already established by observation, and one can be mistaken in such observations. So there are z. B. Astronomers who believe that living beings exist on Mars as well as on Earth, maybe even humans. Evidence of this is, of course, completely lacking, and it may as well be a correct or an erroneous belief.

In earlier centuries there was a kind of astronomers who went by the special name of astrologers and who were concerned with relating the stars to the fortunes, life and health of men. It was assumed that every person possesses a star, that from the position of this star at his birth, the fate of the person could be predicted, and that then the person would be able to avert previously mentioned calamities, illnesses or his premature death. When a person was born, astrologers determined the star concerned and its position in a constellation. It was called setting a person's horoscope. One might think that such superstitions have completely disappeared nowadays, but in reality it is not, it lives on in various forms today. It is of course no longer practiced by special astrologers, but it is practiced by many midwives. Of course, I am not aware of any case here from Berlin that a midwife has given the newborn child the horoscope and announced its fate. But such cases have become known from various regions of Germany, and in some regions this is even widespread.

So you can see how the superstitions of the Middle Ages have survived in a certain form to this day, and we will see this repeatedly in the course of our discussion, how old superstitions of the Middle Ages and prehistoric times can be found in the same or in a different form up to the Keep track of now.

Chemistry is also counted among the exact sciences, but here too there has been a lot of superstition for a long time. In particular, the so-called alchemists, those people who dealt with chemically producing gold or even a person making the homunculus, were very common. Today, of course, there are no longer such alchemists, but chemistry is still widely used by certain people to arouse and maintain superstition among the people by using chemical means that are not known in broad strata of the people, and the same as miracles or Spend sorcery. In reality, however, we are dealing with completely natural things that can be easily produced in any laboratory.

In this connection, electricity has also been used in many ways to support and generate superstitions, even at a time when people did not yet know what electricity was and when the name electricity did not even exist.

What about medicine now? Medicine does not belong to the exact sciences, although some branches of it are also worked on with mathematical, physical and chemical methods. In these branches superstition has in fact ceased, at least among those who know. But most of medical science is based not on such rigorous evidence, but on observation. The observation is again subject to human error. One observes differently than the other. Some people have a particular talent for properly observing, and others have a great ability to observe incorrectly. And so it happens that in medicine, false beliefs have always been widespread, which later developed into true superstitions. But once such superstitions are taken up by people, they stick, even if science has long recognized their inaccuracy, and so it happens that today many wrong views about medical matters are still spread in lay circles, which are downright superstitious and which have their origin in the medical notions of antiquity and the Middle Ages.

Since the middle of the last century, medical observation has been secured by the invention of numerous useful instruments and examination methods, e.g. B. through the microscope, auscultation and percussion (that is the listening and tapping of the sick), through instruments that enable us to look into the body, e.g. B. in the eye, in the ear, in the stomach, in the urinary bladder, etc. So nowadays we can speak of certain observations, which are equivalent to mathematical proof, and which are carried out and learned by every doctor, even a less gifted one can be. But this always presupposes that the observation is made by someone experienced in medicine.

In medical science there is something else that is likely to spread false beliefs and superstitions. This is the multiple occupation of laypeople with medicine. There is probably no area, perhaps with the exception of politics, in which everyone, even those who understand absolutely nothing about it, feels more entitled to a judgment than the area of ​​medicine. It is only natural that all human beings have a special tendency to occupy themselves with medical matters. What could be more natural to humans than preoccupation with themselves, with their own body, with their well-being or ill-being, health or illness, life or death. And so it happens that everyone observes himself and others, that he tells his observations and lets others tell his observations. But deep observations by people who are not knowledgeable about medicine and who are usually referred to as laypeople must naturally be quite uncertain. It is of course not excluded that even a lay person will make correct observations, but he will not be able to recognize the real context and the conclusions that can be drawn from the observations without being fully medically educated.

There is also something else. If a person makes an observation and interprets it in a certain direction, and he now makes the same observation again, this remains in his memory indelibly, while he forgets observations that show the opposite. This very general human characteristic of keeping one thing and forgetting about the other is the cause of innumerable superstitions. I come back to the previously mentioned example of the influence of the full moon on the weather change. One observes perhaps three times a year that the weather changes with the full moon, but the other times that the weather does not change at this time. The three times will be kept and taken as evidence of your wrong view, but the remaining times will be forgotten. If you really keep a book and make a note of what the weather was like for each full moon and how it is after the full moon, you will come to the conclusion that the full moon has no influence on the weather. It happens to everyone at one point or another that he thinks of a personality or speaks of it and that it appears soon afterwards, like the wolf in the fable. Or it happens that one thinks of some possible event, the death of a person or a misfortune, and soon after this death or misfortune actually occurs. Then one gains the superstition that one suspected it or that the person was brought about by thinking about him. In reality, however, the matter is different. One very often thinks of people or speaks of them without them then appearing. But you soon forget that, while you see it as something very strange when the person you were talking about really comes, or when the misfortune you imagined actually happens. This is how many other superstitions emerge, too. B. that one is unlucky when one meets an old woman or runs into a cat, etc. If that really applies, one never forgets it again and sees one's superstition confirmed without considering that the same is infinitely often not the case .

It is the same with many other things and especially in science. I shall have an opportunity later to list a large number of superstitions that have arisen in this way.

For all these reasons, it has come about that there is no field of knowledge in which there is so much superstition as there is in medicine. Yes, not only that, you can also say the other way around, the greatest amount of superstitions are related to life and death, to health and illness of people.

It is of interest to trace where such superstitions came from and how they originally arose. Of course this is no longer possible for all of them, but for many you can very well follow it. It will be found that some superstitions date from the dreadful past and are contained in the first traditions that we have. Some of the superstitions that are widespread among the German people can already be read in the oldest Indian writings, which appeared several thousand years before Christ. There is evidence that other superstitions first emerged with and through the Christian religion. Still others come from the pre-Christian religions, and especially in Germany there is a large number of superstitions that can be traced back to the old Germanic doctrine of gods. Some superstitions have remained unchanged from the pre-Christian Germanic times to the present day. Still other superstitions come from the Middle Ages and still others from more recent times. Yes, it can be said that new superstitions are constantly being formed, and every wrong view or misunderstood idea can condense into a superstition.

It is of course not possible here to even come close to compiling a complete compilation of all the superstitions of medicine. That would go far beyond the purpose of this writing and would be able to fill a number of books. Rather, I have to limit myself to picking out a few characteristic examples and explaining their meaning.

One of the most common superstitions is the one attached to the number 13. It has been assumed that this superstition stems from Christ and the disciples, and since they celebrated the Lord's Supper together and one of them died - that was of course not Christ, but Judas Iscariot - it was assumed that if 13 people were sitting at the table one of them must die. It is not entirely certain whether the explanation of the origin of this superstition is entirely correct. Some want to assume that the number 13 was considered a particularly unfavorable number long before Christ, and this was derived from the fact that the number as such is only divisible by 1 and immediately after that by 1, 2, 3, 4 and 6 divisible 12 is coming. This made the number 13 uncomfortable and from this the concept of the evil number developed afterwards. But in the superstition one has gone far beyond referring it only to sitting at the table; instead, wherever the number appears, it is viewed as a special unlucky number that means death for people. How widespread such a belief is, is shown by the fact that many people do not want to live in a house with the street number 13, or not in a hotel room with the number 13, or that they do not want to do anything important on the 13th of the month. The spread of this superstition is so widespread that even authorities take it into account. And so you will look in vain for pavilion 13 in hospitals that consist of individual pavilions, as many patients would be shy about being catered for in such pavilion 13.

The number 7 is also considered a bad number, and has been so since ancient times. It appears to us everywhere as particularly unfavorable in ancient medicine and also in popular belief. But it was not applied to the devil until 1562, and a woman as evil 7 was mentioned for the first time in 1662. The emergence of this superstition is directly due to medical observation. There is one disease, pneumonia, in which the fever suddenly drops on the 7th day. On this day the patient is particularly at risk, and it is up to the doctor and the care of such a patient to pay special attention to this day so that the patient does not die on this 7th day. It's not a superstition, it's a fact. This pneumonia was already a widespread disease in ancient times, and the old doctors, who often observed very well and precisely, had to pay special attention to this 7th day on which many patients died. So gradually the number 7 has also become a number of bad significance in general, and in superstition it often occurs twice as 77 and is used here especially for fever. The sayings that superstition invented to drive away fevers, and with which people turned to goblins and trees, to bodies of water or other objects, and which still often apply today, always ask for the elimination of the 77 fevers. Of lesser importance are other numbers that are described as unhappy, but sometimes also as happy, e.g. B. the three, the ten and the fifteen.

It is known that Friday also plays a special role in superstition. Here, too, one has to do with a German superstition that goes back to German mythology, because Friday is the day of Freya, and Freya still plays a major role in popular superstition today. In many areas she still meets us now as Frau Frigg, or Frau Holda or also as Frau Holle and plays a major role in fairy tales and legends. Whom she appears to, gets sick or dies. In some areas one finds this superstition passed over to the appearance of the white woman or the ancestor, and it is known that the appearance of this white woman also played a role in the legend of our Hohenzollern family.

These superstitions cited here, which could be multiplied by numerous examples, now all have something in common, which also applies to many others, namely that they previously point to misfortune, illness and death, i.e. H. they are closely related to the method of fortune-telling, which is still very common today. There are still a large number of such superstitions today. B. if the tawny owl cries over a house, one will die in it. Or when downpours or shooting stars occur, comets or northern lights appear in the sky, death, disease, or in earlier centuries plague or malformations follow. At the same time connected with this is what can be done to avoid these evil consequences, and therefore one finds that in some areas it is the custom to nail a tawny owl or a bat over the door in order to prevent illness and misfortune.

It expresses the superstition of the signatures, the explanation of which I will go into later, and of which we shall see that it ultimately led to homeopathy.

The superstition associated with the horseshoe is still very widespread today. A horseshoe found in the street must not be left lying around, but must be brought home with you, and then, in order to keep misfortune and illness away from the house, it must be nailed to the door in such a way that the closed one Facing outwards. In this superstition, two memories are apparently linked. One goes back to the legend of Christ, who picked up the horseshoe that his disciples had left behind, sold it afterwards and bought cherries for the proceeds, which he distributed among them when his disciples were tormented by thirst. The nailing in front of the door is undoubtedly connected with the devil, and the particular direction is supposed to mean that the devil is going out of the house and cannot go back in. This is where the legend of the Drudenfuß belongs. The Drudenfuß is a star-shaped drawing that is affixed in a certain way to the threshold of a door, and the drawing has to be a little crooked so that the devil cannot get inside. If you put the dog's foot in such a way that the opening falls outwards, the devil can go into the house and cause bad luck there, but he cannot get out again, and then you have to remove the dog's foot first. This superstition is so beautifully processed in Goethe's Faust.

Such and similar superstitions are now readily followed by real fortune-telling and card-reading. Fortune-telling is as old as the human race in general and continues to exist today to an undiminished extent. Even in Berlin, the so-called city of intelligence, there are still quite a number of fortune tellers and fortune tellers who make a good living with this profession. Strangely enough, women have always been engaged in this so-called art, and it is rare for men to divine fortune. In earlier times, especially in pre-Christian times, this was the case more often and it still occurs now in non-Christian countries. Fortune-telling and card-reading are of course not very closely related to medicine, even if illnesses or the cure of illnesses that already exist are occasionally predicted. Usually, however, it refers to other human things, and almost always to pleasant ones. Only in exceptional cases do such fortune tellers predict death. In general, they endeavor to communicate only pleasant things to their clients, because everyone wants to hear pleasant and not unpleasant things for the money they have to pay these women. Fortune-telling nowadays is mainly done from cards or from the lines of the hand. The superstition that the latter can be used to infer the character of people and their good or bad constitution is still quite widespread today. In earlier times, however, divination was made from all sorts of things, and in ancient times there were official fortune tellers, e. B. the augurs in the Roman Empire, who announced the future from the blood of the sacrificial animals and many other things. The fact that they themselves often did not believe in what they said is evident from many historical reports and also from the well-known saying "the augurs laugh". This is supposed to mean that when the fortune tellers are among themselves, they make fun of their own art.

It is not uncommon for doctors to be able to practice some kind of divination; H. For scientific reasons and observations, they make the so-called prognosis of an illness, they predict whether the illness will turn into healing or not, and whether this healing will occur soon or later. There is an old and very pretty legend that a doctor became famous because he always made a correct prognosis, and he got there through a pact with death. If the patient had to die, then death appeared to him at the head end of the patient, but if the patient remained alive and soon recovered, then death appeared to him at the foot end. Because he was always able to predict the right thing, so the legend goes, he became the most famous doctor of his time.

The well-known legend of the mandrake root also belongs here. Mandrakes are the goblins of the old German saga, and the word comes from Nuna, the secret, or knowledgeable about secrets. The root itself comes from a plant (Madragora) that grows in southern Tyrol and the Orient and has a certain human-like shape, which, however, is usually only made visible through artificial carving with fraudulent intent. The legend tells that if you pull it up, it will scream so loudly that the person standing by it will be deaf. The mandrake root is therefore tied to a black dog and then pulled out by it, which causes the dog to die every time. This mandrake root is then sold for expensive money to those who cling to this superstition, and who of course are in any case the deceived. From the color of the mandrake root and from other properties of the same, which occasionally changes due to the humidity of the air, one can then see whether one will stay healthy or get sick, whether one will live a long time or die soon, etc. Also diseases should be smeared with the mandrake root is healed and births are facilitated.

In all these and similar superstitions one finds a need of man everywhere not only to know his death and his illness in advance, but also to research the causes of the illness, and the less one knows about a thing, the more one has a tendency to attribute it to any external circumstance whatsoever. Hence it is that superstition, when illness occurred, tended to attribute it to the action of some special external circumstances or to the action of humans and animals. A great number of such superstitions clearly show their origin, and at times they are based on nothing but the most superficial comparison. So z. For example, it is very common that you cannot look at a mole, which is known to be very poor in sight, without going blind. The same is said of the ferret, and it is considered particularly dangerous to health if one is breathed on by the ferret. In earlier times this belief in the symptoms of disease in humans and animals was particularly linked to the idea of ​​witches. The witches themselves, of course, only gradually developed into popular belief. Before that, it was all sorts of evil spirits and fiends, among the uncultivated peoples it is called fetishes, which cause misfortune and are therefore worshiped as deities in order to favor them. So z. B. also the appearance of the wild army war or plague. The idea of ​​the wild army that passes by during strong storms is linked to the old vodan announcement, to the old Germanic god. Later, when such legends faded, and when people were less inclined to believe in evil spirits, the witches took their place. The witches were people who were thought to have made a pact with the devil. They could make themselves invisible, they could take on various forms, and their main activity was to harm their fellow men or their cattle, i.e. H. that they bewitch them.

The ancient witch burnings are so well known that they do not need to be mentioned here, and it is not that long ago that the last witches were burned. The last German witch was burned in Landshut in 1756. The witch's effect was supposed to be nullified by this burning, so that the burning was not only a punishment for the witches' making a pact with the devil, but also a protection against their evil influence. The belief in witches has often so little dwindled among the people that witches would probably still be burned now if this were not forbidden by law. In reality it can occasionally still happen that old women are decried as witches by the people and, since they must not be burned, are ostracized and contact with them is avoided. This belief in witches has been preserved in the still very widespread superstition of the evil eye. This superstition says that certain people have the ability to cause damage through reputation and to bring bad luck to other people, including cattle. This is why in many countries people carry objects with them against the evil eye, which will be discussed in more detail later when discussing the amulets. So you wear z. For example, in Italy there is often a twisted coral to avert the evil eye, and if you meet a person who is being followed by the reputation of having an evil eye, you make a certain hand movement against him by using your index finger and your little finger reaching out towards him while clenching the other fingers into a fist. For this purpose the Mohammedans carry the so-called hand of Fatme, the sister of the Prophet. It is a piece of jewelry that is available in various designs, made of ordinary and noble metal, also with enamel and stones.

This bewitching is generally connected with an idea of ​​illnesses which is still widely present in the people today. Diseases are viewed as independent beings, as beings that can enter and leave people. You drive out the evil spirit, they say, and we will have to come back to this view several times later. In some areas the belief in witches has taken on a very specific shape, and so a legend was spread in prehistoric times that still occurs today in many places, especially among the Little Russians, that is the vampire legend. The vampire was imagined as a being that sucks the blood out of humans. Usually somebody was called a vampire even during life, and when he died it was imagined that his soul could not come to rest and he walked around at night and now chose his victims, from whom he sucked the blood, and who then also got sick and eventually died. Numerous crimes can be traced back to the fact that people have been referred to as witches and vampires. Turgenjeff has turned the vampire saga into a novella. The soul of the vampire was brought to rest by poking a large nail or stake through the head of the corpse, and this custom is still used today by the Little Russians when they suspect a person to be a vampire. That it is so extraordinarily old is evident from the fact that skulls with a large iron nail were found in prehistoric graves in Silesia. Such a skull is z. B. in the Wroclaw Museum. Now one could believe that our belief in witches has completely disappeared. But that is by no means the case. We can still find some areas of Germany where, in the case of human or animal diseases, certain personalities or certain external circumstances are accused of having caused these diseases. Yes, even where one no longer believes in witches and vampires, the tendency to make such accusations has persisted.

We doctors can often experience in our practice that when a person becomes ill, he or his family or relatives accuse some external circumstance or some other person of having caused the disease. In part, such an opinion is based on entirely correct documents, and modern legislation has taken this fully into account by creating the accident laws; for there is actually a great amount of external influences that can make people sick. Of course, the direct impact of an accident on the human body must be considered first and foremost. If you cut or squeeze yourself, get a bump or blow or fall from any height so that individual bones break, the connection between the illness and the accident is of course immediately clear. However, this is followed by other illnesses that do not follow the accidents immediately, but rather arise later from the accidents. It is of course not easy for the layperson to correctly assess such a connection between accident and illness. And this is where the doctor's opinion comes in. Now, in reality, there are a great number of diseases that can be caused by accidents and that the doctor knows from experience or animal experiments that such diseases are caused by accidents. In such cases, the doctor's opinion is sufficient to assess the connection with the accidents, so that the connection is then also recognized by the referee. The really existing possibility that not only direct injuries, but also other illnesses can result from accidents, has, in connection with the accident laws, given lay people the idea, which is not entirely remote from superstition, that every illness that affects one Accident follows, and illnesses caused by a third party should be the direct or indirect consequence of this accident. There are many people who are particularly exposed to accidents as a result of their job, be it that they have frequent opportunities to injure themselves directly or that they are exposed to toxic substances, e.g. B. lead or mercury. So, of course, such people cannot easily contract any disease without first being exposed to some kind of harm in their job or having an accident. Not infrequently, they will only remember this damage or this accident when they have become ill, and now they develop the firm idea that the illness must necessarily be traced back to this damage or the accident. However, this is by no means necessarily the case in reality, because it goes without saying that people who are exposed to a lot of damage can also get sick regardless of these damage. However, it is extremely difficult to judge these things, and the layman will probably never be able to decide in each individual case whether an illness is the result of an accident, an occupational injury, or has arisen independently of it. In fact, this does not only include extensive medical knowledge, but also a great deal of special experience about those diseases that can be caused by accidents or occupational damage. In practice it has now been found that laypeople are very little amenable to the advice of doctors in this regard. With the prospect of being compensated for their illness, they claim, without making any further inquiries, that the illness must be traced back to such an accident, while any expert doctor could give them information beforehand whether this is actually the case or not. Then the matter comes before the arbitration tribunals, and ultimately it leads to lawsuits that drag on for a long time and which of course involve great expense. Finally, when the plaintiffs are turned away in such trials, these expenses have not infrequently caused them considerable harm.In such cases, it will be particularly useful if the patients or their relatives, before taking legal action in an accident, first contact a trustworthy doctor who is experienced in the matter and ask for information as to whether such an accident lawsuit is really a prospect to succeed or not. In reality, however, this necessary trust in doctors often does not exist. Although I have repeatedly succeeded in dissuading people from suing other people because they suspected they would have caused the illness or death of one of their relatives, one still reads often enough about such lawsuits in particular against doctors themselves. When a person gets sick and dies, there are many people who believe that the doctor is to blame for the patient's death and that he has neglected something. Of course, I do not want to deny that this happens occasionally, but how very often we hear such complaints that are absolutely unjustified, all doctors and many lawyers know to tell. This superstition, which is directed against doctors, is still extremely widespread among many non-European peoples. We hear that riots have broken out repeatedly, caused by hygienic measures by European doctors. In the Orient, protection against cholera and the plague is made so difficult because the people believe that these diseases are caused by doctors.

You can see how many other things have taken the place of witches in modern life, even doctors under certain circumstances.

In reality, one can also see in these excesses that have arisen from the otherwise so useful accident insurance, a last remnant of the superstition that follows on from the belief in witches.

In many areas, including Germany, where the people are still poorly educated and live in superstition, which is sometimes particularly nourished by exaggerated religious beliefs, there is also the old belief in witches and the belief in the evil spirits with which the sick are possessed today still unimpaired. Yes, there are areas where even today the expulsion of the evil spirit is carried out by all kinds of apparently religious measures, even by clergy. We can proudly state that such incidents in Germany only occur in Catholic countries, and that Protestantism has thoroughly cleaned up these things. The driving out of the evil spirit, which is the personification of the disease, as well as the discussion with all possible superstitious formulas is practiced in many areas by certain people who are described by the superstitious people as particularly suitable for it. And just as there have always been people who were believed to have a special power to do this, so even today there are people in some areas who are believed to have such a special power. The fact that these are particularly represented by the clergy in Catholic countries can be explained by the great influence that the Catholic clergy exert on their communities, and from the fact that in large areas they are often the only more educated people, who are thus uneducated to the rest of the world People appear to be particularly worthy of worship. We will come back to this later in the chapter on Superstition in the Treatment of Diseases.

On this occasion I would like to point out a misunderstanding that is widespread even among otherwise educated people. For many practical situations in life it is of the greatest importance to know with certainty which illness relatives died from. This is not only important for the now so widespread accident insurance, because the connection between illnesses and accidents can often only be determined by the dissection. This can also be important for some other situations in life. If z. If, for example, it turns out that a person has died of a contagious or hereditary disease, it may be possible to prevent transmission to other family members and descendants by taking preventive measures. In many cases, even in later years, there is a desire to know exactly what a relative suffered from who died earlier. Very often, however, a deceased person's illness is not sufficiently well known, be it that the death occurred suddenly without a thorough examination by a doctor beforehand, or be it that the illness was of such a complex nature that the doctor had a could not make a reliable diagnosis. The diagnosis of a disease can now be proven under all circumstances after death by an anatomical examination of the corpse. However, there is often a superstition that such a subsequent investigation would result in disrespect for the deceased. In the Middle Ages, such openings were forbidden as desecration of corpses, and it is because of the fact that doctors were unable to gain experience of the internal structure of people and of the diseases that caused great harm to the entire human race. Yes, one can almost say that the absolute failure of medical science in the Middle Ages is due to this fact. With the moment that anatomical examinations of cadavers were again permitted, science increased, and every expert knows that it has essentially derived its present height and its ability to increase for the future from these anatomical examinations. Nowadays, such examinations are widely practiced in hospitals and university institutes. But it is not uncommon for such investigations to be prevented by the prejudices and superstitions of relatives of the deceased, especially in the most important cases. This is now z. Partly because of the fact that laypeople imagine something completely wrong under such anatomical examinations, something that may have happened in earlier centuries but no longer occurs today, namely the idea that such an anatomical examination would dismember the corpse to the greatest possible extent or would be disfigured. One can easily convince oneself that this is not really the case when one sees that laypeople often do not even notice the corpse when the anatomical examination has been carried out, and that this does not result in any real distortion or dismemberment needs to bring. The layperson should realize that such an anatomical examination will never harm the deceased, that the piety of the relatives will be fully preserved, and that such an anatomical examination will cause great damage to the relatives and descendants of the deceased and all of humanity Benefit is created. In reality, one finds that it is almost always otherwise superstitious people who prevent their relatives from dissecting. The truly educated and enlightened should not oppose such an important measure.

The movement against so-called vivisection is closely related to the superstition of people, which causes them to rebel against the anatomical examinations of human corpses. In the audience there are very wrong ideas about it, especially because of the tendentious agitation that started out from some people who were stubborn in their views. Initially it is often assumed that vivisection would be practiced to the greatest extent by every medical student. From the writings of the anti-divisectionists it emerges that they are of the opinion, but at least spread the same, that every student of medicine is able to make experiments on living animals for the purpose of study in his room or anywhere else. That is absolutely out of thin air. Animal experiments can only be carried out where the necessary facilities are available, namely in scientific institutes. Animal experiments of this kind are quite costly and this alone makes it impossible to do more in this area than is urgently necessary. Of course, it does not occur to any head of the institute to let any student conduct animal experiments, but only those who are specifically authorized and qualified to do so, who know exactly which questions they have to answer and how they want to do it, conduct animal experiments The course of their investigation. There is no question of a wild vivisection, as emerges from the writings of the anti-divisectionists.

The way in which the animal experiments are carried out is also completely misunderstood by laypeople. There is no question of systematic cruelty to animals; rather, the animal experiments are carried out with the greatest possible care for the animals' sensations. But it seems obvious to every rational thinker that the sensation of animals, which, by the way, is often very overrated, has to take a back seat to the benefit that emerges from such experiments for humanity. And this benefit is tremendous. One would not be able to test any remedy for its value if one did not use animal experiments to do so. In reality, these experiments would then have to be made on humans and it is not difficult for anyone to admit that animal experiments are more permissible than experiments on humans under all circumstances. All basic knowledge about the normal activity of the organs, from which conclusions can be drawn about the pathological activity of the organs and the elimination of the pathological activity, has only been gained from animal experiments. The whole of modern healing science of serum therapy and bacteriology, the fight against infectious diseases, many hygienic facilities, these are all blessings that we would not have been able to partake in without animal experiments. The consequences of the anti-divisectionists would therefore harm people themselves to the utmost, and if animal experiments were to cease, an exceedance of all human cruelty would begin. If a layperson imagines that such an animal experiment is a particular pleasure, he is greatly mistaken. On the contrary, it is found that those who have to deal with animal experiments are often the greatest animal lovers and always treat the animals as gently as possible. I cite as an example the late professor of physiology in Leipzig, the famous E. Ludwig, who created infinite benefits for mankind through his animal experiments and who was chairman of the animal welfare association in Leipzig for many years.

Incidentally, people in their ordinary lives, and very often the antivisectionists themselves, are much more cruel to animals than any physician who has been scientifically engaged in animal experiments has ever been. There are probably few people who do not like to eat foie gras, and I have also found many among the antivisectionists who enjoy the foie gras pate with great pleasure. But there is no greater cruelty to animals than the preparation of the foie gras, because for this purpose the geese are locked in such a small cage that they can neither stand up nor otherwise move, often they are even nailed to the base with their feet. In this barbaric situation, they are said to be stuffed with food. As much food is stuffed into their open beak as can be brought in mechanically.

Hunting is also associated with the greatest cruelty. I fully acknowledge that if the animals are not to kill humans they must be killed themselves, but there is no more cruel method of killing animals than by killing them with guns. Yes, if it could be guaranteed every time that the shot kills the animals immediately, but that is not the case at all. How often are the animals shot at, how often do they run around in a sick state for a long time before they die miserably in the thicket. What is more cruel than a fox or rabbit baiting, in which the animal is chased until it collapses, exhausted. I still put up with the hunt for wild animals, even from the standpoint of the antivivisectionist, because here man is putting his own life at risk by trying to rid the world of these dangerous beasts. There is a kind of reciprocity. But a driven hunt in which the unfortunate, sometimes almost tamed animals are driven past only to be gunned down, that can only be described as an act that goes far beyond any other animal cruelty, especially since the moral background is missing here, too is available in the case of scientific animal experiments.

For all these reasons, however, one will not give up the hunt, and one cannot simply reproach a person who goes hunting for being a brutal animal crueler. But to rebel against scientific vivisection is a superstition which, if it spreads more widely and eventually becomes the ruling principle, would cause the greatest harm to the human race.

A widespread superstition that I would like to mention here on this occasion is that of being buried alive. So many horror stories exist about it that there are multitudes of people who think in horror that they might be buried alive themselves, and some directly urge their descendants to take special care not to be buried alive. There is no doubt that cases of being buried alive really did occur in earlier centuries. Adore I don't believe that this happened through real errors, but that one may have deliberately buried unconscious people as dead in order to get rid of people. This may have occurred particularly in large epidemics, where precise control may have been lacking in some cases. But it is quite unthinkable that such a thing happens in cultural states nowadays when an expert, i. H. a doctor doing an inquest. A living person is so completely different from a dead person that even the deepest unconsciousness is not to be confused with death. The color of the skin, above all the texture of the eyes, the softness of the skin, the shine and everything changes suddenly at the moment of death. It is widespread in lay circles that there are certain forms of fainting, in which people hardly give any signs of life, breathing completely stops and the heart stands still. These are all imaginations and there really is no such thing. It is true that breathing can stand still for a while, but that does not go beyond a few minutes, and even if the breathing is so slight and superficial, it is still easy to recognize as such. It also happens in reality that the heart sometimes stops beating without death having occurred, but that too never lasts for a long time, only for a fraction of a minute. Now, of course, the pulse can become very weak, so weak that it can hardly be felt. But at least an expert will still be able to feel the pulse easily if the layman is no longer able to do so. When a person dies, in addition to the sudden changes that develop within about half a minute at the moment of death, there are also changes that make the difference between death and life even clearer. This includes the so-called rigor mortis. Rigid corpse consists in the muscles becoming stiff and hard, and it is due to a very rapid chemical change in living matter. In this rigor mortis it is very difficult to bend the joints, and it would only be possible to do it with a certain amount of force. After a while the rigor mortis subsides again, namely with the onset of putrefaction. Then the so-called corpse marks are already forming, which consist in the fact that the blood in the corpse is not evenly distributed, but rather accumulates in the dependent parts of the body according to its severity. So when the corpse lies on its back, as is usually the case, these red spots appear on the back of the body, while the front side tends to be pale. The further changes that still occur belong so much to the field of decomposition that they do not need to be considered in greater detail here. From all of this it can be seen with certainty that there is such a significant difference between life and death that in the vast majority of cases even discerning laypeople can recognize it, but under all circumstances doctors can recognize it. Specifically, it can be described as a superstition that there are mental illnesses, so-called cataleptic states, in which life is so much like death that it is difficult to distinguish between them. The cataleptic states do exist, but by all of the facts just quoted they differ from death as completely as any other deep faints.I believe that all the occasional newspaper reports about being buried alive belong in the territory of the doggie ducks and sea snakes.


This chapter is part of the book Superstition in Medicine and its Danger to Health and Life.