Tag Archive: drugs

The Egyptians used hallucinogenic plants which permitted out-of-body travelling.

Bob Rame, a New York businessman of forty-four, is persecuted by frequent, violent migraines.  One day when he is in his firm’s laboratory, he accidentally breathes ether.  This makes him a bit drowsy but also relieves the pain.  As his migraines also prevent him from sleeping, he gets into the habit of taking a little dose of ether each evening.

Soon, however, reports his doctor, the famous Doctor Puharich, his sleep is accompanied by strange phenomena.  He has the very clear sensation of leaving his body, rising above himself and seeing himself in the position that he was at the moment of going to sleep…  a bit like standing on your balcony and watching yourself pass by in the street, which is what the positivist philosopher Auguste Comte had already decreed was impossible.

Our man at first thinks that he is dreaming.  He attributes to the ether the fact that his dreams allow him to traverse walls and rise to float above the roof of his house.

He is not at all troubled by the fact that during all of these exercises he has the impression of being perfectly lucid.

For nine months, Bob Rame continues using this far from banal therapy:  a whiff of ether, sleep, then the liberation of his body and wandering weightless in the air.  Finally waking, with the slightly disappointing sensation of being obliged to dress again in his garment of flesh.

And then one day, he has his liberating “hallucination” without the help of ether.

And it’s a lot better.

Now he can rise into the air until he no longer distinguishes the rooves of houses, and then plunge into the depths, still keeping the same impression of lucidity and control over all his faculties.


One day, after a voyage which appears to him to be unusually long, he finds himself in a dark place with several unknown faces bending over him.  In his head, astonishment is replaced by horror when he sees that these people appear to be very happy to see him wake up…  As if they had helped a dying man recover consciousness…  At the same time, he feels strong pain in his body.  He tries to cry out:  “I’m not who you think I am”, but he can’t.

Another time, he wakes up in the body of a drunkard whom his drinking companions are taking back home.

The very serious Doctor Puharich then proposes an experiment to him.

Boris, a friend of Rame, has fallen seriously ill.  Doctor Puharich suggests that Rame attempt to fly towards Boris, towards his villa, surrounded by a garden and situated on a neighbouring hill.  One afternoon, after having assured himself that Boris is in his bed, watched by his wife Lomar, Rame attempts the experiment.

He enters fairly rapidly into a trance, and at twenty-five past four exactly, he is above the villa.

Surprise:  Lomar comes out followed by her husband.  Still very conscious, Rame tells himself that has just proven the mistaken inconsistency of his dream.  Boris is in his bed.  He reports later:

“As they were coming towards me, I tried to draw their attention by some sign, but with no result”.

He has plenty of time to see that Boris is wearing an overcoat and a hat and that Lomar is dressed in a black skirt and jacket and a red jumper.  Before waking, Rame also sees Lomar open the garage door and the couple’s car leave.

Later, when he recounts it, Rame’s entourage is of course disappointed.

However, Puharich proposes telephoning Boris to make an exact comparison between the dream and reality.

Lomar answers and Rame asks her what she was doing between four and five.  She replies that she had gone to the Post Office.  On foot?  By car.  What time?  Around twenty or twenty-five past four.  Boris was in bed?  Not at all.  As it was a fine day, he had wanted to go out for a while.  Lomar had made him put on an overcoat and hat, but the little trip had tired him out.  How was Lomar dressed?  In a black suit with a red jumper, why?


Russian shaman from the XVIIIth Century with his ritual tambourin.

All the primitive cultures in Africa, Polynesia, northern Asia are founded on the existence of the “shaman”, this man, who is a sorcerer, a priest and a doctor, all at the same time, and who has the faculty of leaving his body and sending his “double”, his “soul”, or “spirit” to great distances.


It is true that drugs can play a role.  The Mongols and the Ancient Egyptians used a poisonous mushroom, the fly agaric, to translate to prophetic hallucination, and peyote, a poison drawn from a cactus, still serves the same purpose among certain Mexican Indians.


In Christian tradition, Christ was transported onto a high mountain on the Devil’s wings, but does without him for other “apparitions” in unexpected places.  Drugs do not appear anywhere in Christian tradition or practice.

On the other hand, strange manifestations of mysticism do.  On this subject, Catherine of Sienna’s powers are often cited, or the more recent case of Padre Pio, the Italian monk, who died in 1968.  Very numerous witness statements indicate that Padre Pio “travelled” outside his body and that he sent his “double” or something like it, to people who distinctly saw it.  Very serious accounts abound:  those of the Archbishop of Salto, Monsignor Barbieri, those of General Cadorna who, in 1917, lost the Battle of Caporetto against the Austro-Germans.

Victor Hugo was once seen by several honorable people walking for a long time in a Jersey square while other equally serious witnesses assure that he had never left his desk.  It is true that Hugo was an enlightened spiritist.


Let us go back to the three cases presented.  All three show striking similarity:  the three people appear to be in perfect control of their intellectual capacities.  In any case, none of them is “mad” or dishonest.

Parsus insists on the extraordinary appearance of reality in his dream.  Pat remains perfectly lucid the whole time of her “voyage” in Germany and even shows criticism of her own comportment.

As for Rame, all through his voyages, he has the impression of always remaining perfectly conscious and attentive.  He is capable of thinking, of being surprised, of asking questions and, apart from the “illusion” that he is moving in the air, he is the victim of no fantasmagory, no deformation of facts or things…


To be continued.


Saint Joseph of Copertino.

Other people famous for their levitations are Saint Dunstan, Archbishop of Canterbury, who rose to the vault of the cathedral, on the day of the Ascension…  There is Saint Etienne who was raised from the ground while he was praying in his tent, Saint Catherine the Admirable who, during her funeral service, rose to the vault of the church.  It was then noticed that she wasn’t dead.

Others are:  Saint John of the Cross whose friends often found him a few feet from the ground and who levitated one day in company of Saint Teresa of Avila;  Saint Peter of Alcantara, Reformator of the Franciscans who, the witnesses say, flew like a bird to the tops of the trees;  Maria of Agreda, the author of Cuidad de Dios, whose body, in the moments of ecstasy, was as light as a feather to the point that it was a game for the sisters to blow on her to make her float away;  Father Suarez, one of the greatest theologians of the XVIth Century;  Philippe of Neri, the founder of the Oratory;  Maria Villarri, a famous Dominican nun of the XVIIth Century;  Tommasso of Cori, who was raised to the roof of the Civistella Church with such force that it was feared that he would crush his skull on the rafters;  Pope Pius VII;  Mary Magdalene of Pazzi who, one day, at the Carmel of Saint Mary of the Angels, rose to a corniche ten metres high and remained balancing on a twenty centimetres wide ledge;  John-Joseph of the Cross who, in Naples in 1734, while he was going to venerate the blood of Saint Janvier, flew above the crowd;  the Venerable Antoine Margil, who was seen by the monks of the Franciscan Priory of Mexico levitating very high inside the steeple and “spinning round, his arms extended, at an incredible speed”;  Mary of Crucified Jesus, a Carmelite in Pau, in the XIXth Century, who went to perch on the top of trees and forgot her sandal one day in a lime tree;  etc.


All these people had the same attitude as Saint Teresa of Avila.  They all felt shame and were uncomfortable about it.  As Aime Michel writes in an article that he consecrates to levitation:

“It is evident that in their eyes, nothing is more incomprehensible, nothing is even more opposed to the gravity of an authentic religious sentiment than these evolutions in the air devoid of any apparent signification.”

Most of them, judging these phenomena absurd and derisory, never ceased praying to God to free them from them.


Levitation is not at all connected to sainthood.  Many saints have never levitated.  Only mystics or contemplatives are subject to this mysterious phenomenon, those who are called the ecstasy saints.


Saint Joseph of Copertino.

What is ecstasy?  This is an embarrassing question, those who experience it being unable to describe what they see and what they feel…  Let us say that it is a state of superior consciousness of which, scientifically speaking, we know nothing, but that scholars no longer deny.  Many physiologists now perform research which will allow us perhaps one day to know more about these illuminations – these states of awakening as Doctor Godel calls them – which are nearly always accompanied by surprising secondary phenomena.

Levitation is one of them.  There are others.  For example, irradiation.  We cite only two cases:  when Francis of Assisi is surprised “floating at the height of a beech tree”, he is surrounded by such light that he is barely visible;  and the day in April 1602 when Tobias de Ponte discovers Bernardi Realino “two and a half feet above the floor”, the monk is surrounded by a “light like that of a metalworker’s fire”.  These irradiations are accompanied by another, secondary phenomenon:  hyperthermia.  When Mary-Magdalene of Pazzi entered into ecstasy, she emitted heat “formidable like that of a stove”.  Renee-Paule Guillot, who has consecrated an article in Historia to these phenomena, tells us that Padre Pio, famous for his bilocations and his levitations, “made thermometres explode”.


This yogi, lying in the air, is leaning on a stick covered in material and simply placed on the ground. The fact that this photo exists excludes all possibility of collective illusion.

All these cases are connected to Christian mysticism but of course they have also been observed in other religions, in Hindu and Muslim mysticism, among others.    They are also found outside of any religious context.  For example, with mediums like Eusapia Palladino or Daniel Dunglas Home.


It is also possible to reach ecstasy by the use of drugs.  This ecstasy can be accompanied by levitation.  Blaise Cendrars, who wrote a remarkable book on Joseph of Copertino, recounts that he saw, in Amazonia, some Indians smoke a plant called ibadou, which provokes ecstasy and puts the body in a state of weightlessness, to the point of making it capable of rising in the air and moving around without any point of contact…


When Aime Michel asked an eminent French physicist if the human body could fly, he replied:

“Why not?  Physics have no reason to be reticent before the hypothesis of a phenomenon which does not violate the principle of the conservation of energy.  The trick is to determine where the mystic in levitation finds the energy which raises him from the ground, and on what it is applied.”

In conclusion, let us quote these words from Saint Augustin:

“Man has in himself something that even his own mind does not know.”


I should like to add a personal note to Guy Breton’s text.  When I was eight years old, I levitated in the street.  The phenomenon was preceded and accompanied by a wonderful feeling of joy and love for the world and all that was in it.  I wanted to hug the sky.  I only rose thirty to forty centimetres, I think, and did not immediately realize that I was no longer touching the ground.  As soon as I did, I started to worry about how I was going to land on the concrete footpath under me (I was on my way to a dancing lesson and was afraid of hurting an ankle) and if anyone could see me making a fool of myself.  This put an end to the levitation.  I landed safely and have flown many kilometres since then, but always inside an aeroplane.

I believe that our feelings alter the way in which our bodies vibrate and that this change can cause temporary (even permanent) physical change.  When I felt fear, the levitation ceased.  I think that the “walking on water” story in the Bible about Jesus and one of his disciples is a demonstration of this.  Exhilaration – realisation by the non-swimmer that he is above water – fear – fall.  (For those who don’t know the story, it has a happy ending.  He doesn’t drown.)

I should like to add that I have never, ever, at any time, been considered a saint by anyone and, while some very weird things have happened to me in my life, they only demonstrate that absolutely anybody can experience or perform “paranormal” things.  It would, however, be a lot better for the nerves if they didn’t tend to occur unexpectedly.



Hippocrates and Galien, portraits from "Oeuvres" by Ambroise Pare (1582).

Hippocrates was of Dorian origin.  His family came from Thessaly which is confirmed by several clues:  his name, which means “horse trainer” (Thessaly was the only region of Greece where horses were bred), the fact that he named one of his sons “Thessalos” and that his father was called Heracleid, a Dorian name.  More important, and also more delicate, is the question of knowing how Hippocrates elaborated his revolutionary conception of the medical art.  He received diverse influences from his family, Babylonian influences but also Indo-Germanic and Indo-Aryen.  From this, he kept a whole “magico-empiric” tendency.  Delving further into the question of the origins of Hippocratic Medicine, Charles Lichtenthaeler observes that Hippocrates could not have neglected the contributions of the pre-Socratic philosophers, and that he in fact took certain fundamental notions from them.  For example,

“the spiritual father of fluxion and catarrh is not Hippocrates but Empedocles of Agrigente (around 495-435) and one has the right to think that the four humours defined by Hippocrates – blood, phlegm, bile and atrabile – are born from the analogy with Empedocles’ four elements:  air, water, fire, earth”.

Like all innovators of genius, Hippocrates dipped into his immediate environment.  He observed the doctors who looked after the gymnasium athletes;  he interested himself in the specialists who had to draw up healthy, balanced menus for both well and sick people.  After having carefully studied the therapeutic actions of his time, he questioned them and proposed his own.  He begins by taking into consideration the patient’s environment, by studying the geology, the configuration, the cardinal orientation of the place;  then Hippocrates determines the type of climate to which his patient is submitted;  he then connects the illness and the seasons, the volume of precipitations and the temperature.  It is like this that he concludes that epidemics are ruled by the rhythm of the seasons.  But Hippocrates’ great contribution is to have demonstrated the existence of four primary temperaments in the human species:  the sanguine, the flegmatic, the coleric and the melancolic.  Once the patient’s temperament is recognized, Hippocrates is able to guess how the illness will evolve.  This is how he makes morale intervene in medical prognosis, with, for the first time, this affirmation which has not been refuted since:

“He who wants to heal gets better faster, he who loses all hope worsens the prognosis.”


Using the Egyptian and Mesopotamian contributions, Hippocrates draws up a systematic table – a nosology – of the illnesses which he repertories starting from their clinical symptoms.  But, by removing all magical and demonic intervention, Hippocrates is the first to look at the malady from the point of view of its external clinical signs.  Unfortunately, the Hippocratic pathology is less commendable and, visibly, the roles of the brain, lungs, heart, liver and kidneys are perfectly unknown.  Which doesn’t prevent Hippocrates from being right when he attempts to treat catarrh, rhumatisms and malaria.

However, the most admirable thing about Hippocrates is his humanity, his infinite patience, his attitude toward the patient.  This attitude is not only the fruit of ethical reflection, it also obeys the wish to make the attending doctor more efficient.  It is by minute observation that the process of treatments, and healing where possible, begins.  Hippocrates therefore observes all his patients, notes the symptoms and then tries to draw synthetic conclusions which he groups together in his works.  Here is how he reports the evolution of a malignant fever in a certain Philistes:

“At Thasos, Philistes had had a headache for a long time, sometimes he even fell into a carus [coma];  he went to bed.  After drinking, a continuous fever having been lit, the headache became worse.  Firstly, he felt the heat during the night.  On the first day, he vomitted bilious matters in small quantities, firstly yellow, then eruginous [rust-coloured] and in greater abundance.  He then rendered solid excrements.  Difficult night.  The second day, deafness, high fever, right hypocondra tense and retracted, urines scarce, diaphanous […]  He had a furious delirium around the middle of the day.  The third day was difficult.  The fourth day, spasms;  everything was exasperated.  The fifth day in the morning, he died.” (Epidemics III, from the French translation by C. Daremberg).

Hippocratic therapy reposes on four fundamental principles which are still worthy of meditation:

  –  “be useful or at least do not harm”;

  –  “combat the ill by its contrary”;

  –  “measure and moderation”;

  –  “each thing in its time”.

Hippocrates had no illusions about his capacities and did not claim to heal all illnesses.  His precept:  “be useful or at least do not harm” even appears rather discouraging, and in its time scandalised the most gifted of Hippocrates’ successors, Galien of Pergamo, who lived in the IInd Century of our era.  But Littre, proceeding to the modern edition of Hippocrates’ writings, estimed that these were

“grave and modest words where one discovers, when one penetrates them, a deep sense and useful teaching”.


The Romans, who had no serious medical tradition – old Roman Medicine took its remedies from the Etruscans, visibly more gifted in divination and magic than in a clinical approach -, greatly appreciated Greek doctors.  As early as the Ist Century before the present era, a certain Aesclepiade acquired great celebrity by treating his rich clients with massages, hydrotherapy and dietary advice, but it is Galien who gave all its brilliance to the Hippocratic teaching, on which he delivered a very prolix and very scholarly commentary.  What survives of this work contains no less than nineteen thousand pages.  It is difficult to separate his personal observations from those attributed by him to Hippocrates.  But, as they are, his reports constitute a highly colourful description of the Roman medical universe.  One learns the effects of wine on sleep, how to get rid of an elephantiasis, how to treat gladiators’ wounds, what sort of colics were suffered by the Emperor Marcus-Aurelius and how Galien cured them…  Only one regret:  that he had succeeded in treating the tonsilitis of the young Commodus, son of Marcus-Aurelius, for if he had not survived the operation, he would have spared the Antonius Dynasty from ending in bloody buffooneries.

Not very inventive in comparison to the Greeks, the doctors of the Roman epoch at least had the merit of generalising the use of anaesthetics when operating.  They mostly used mandragora.


The Greek or Roman Medicines, or even more ancient ones, have not disappeared.  Kept in the memories of the monasteries of the High Middle Ages or transmitted by the Byzantines and the Muslims, they came down to us, and still serve for medical reflection.


Medicine at the Time of the Pharaohs

If our knowledge of Mesopotamian Medicine is obviously full of holes, that of the Egyptians is much better known to us.  We have many, copious sources.  The most remarkable is uncontestably the papyrus baptised Ebers, the name of the Egyptologist who bought it from peasants-tomb robbers in 1872.  This papyrus dates from the beginning of the XVIIth Dynasty but it copies several older texts which have not come down to us.  These passages go back to the Ancient Empire (2800-2300 before the present era).  Because of this, the Ebers Papyrus can be considered as one of the oldest in the world, if not the oldest.  It is twenty metres long and comports no fewer than one hundred and eight pages of remedies.  We have here a sort of medical dictionary constructed according to a real plan, but where, from our point of view, the best and worst are side by side.

Another major, even capital, source:  The Edwin-Smith Papyrus, bought in 1862 by an American archeologist.  It measures 4.68 metres and is entirely consecrated to traumatic pathology analysed in forty-eight chapters.  It dates from the XVIIIth Dynasty.  For Ange-Pierre Leca, it is a model of its type which admirably anticipates Hippocrates’ medical treatises.  He exposes:

“Here, there is no black magic, but facts of an astonishing, clinical observation, no mysterious malady where incantation often takes the place of a remedy, but well-observed lesions, correctly described, to which were applied physical treatments.”

The language is that of today’s clinicians.  Circumspection is the rule, diagnosis is drawn from attentive observation of the symptoms.  Here is one example:

“If you examine a man having an open wound in his head, penetrating right to the bone and perforating his cranium, you must palpate his wound;  if you find him incapable of looking at his two shoulders and his chest, if his neck is painful and stiff… “

The treatment follows:

“Now, after having stitched it, you must apply fresh meat on the wound on the first day.  You must not bind it […]  You must then treat it with fat, honey and dress it each day… “

The great Medicine historian, Charles Lichtenthaeler, does not hide his admiration.  For him, the Edwin-Smith Papyrus is the first known document to class in good order all of the illnesses and traumatisms, according to the schema “from the head to the feet”.  The presentation of today’s medical manuals derives from this classification invented in Egypt, thousands of years ago.  He also points out that the Egyptian practicians were the first to highlight the causal relations between the clinical phenomena..  He cites this particularly pertinent observation of that which we call paraplegia:

“If you examine a man having a luxation in a vertebra of the neck and if you find that he can no longer control his two arms and his two legs because of this, while his penis is in erection because of this and that urine is falling from his member without him being aware of it…  You will say about him:  a man who has a luxation in the vertebra of his neck [this is] a malady for which we can do nothing.”

Apart from the Ebers Papyrus and the Edwin-Smith Papyrus which constitute major references in Egyptian Medicine, there are other sources which are more minor for they are specialised (in gynaecology, proctology, paediatrics) or very encumbered by medico-magical formulae, which reduce their interest, at least in our eyes.  For, from the Egyptians’ point of view, Magical Medicine was extremely important and exercised a seduction that was very much superior to the Empiric Medicine prescribed by the Edwin-Smith Papyrus.  But there again, we must not imagine that there was a distinct separation of the two.  In the same way that today, we can entrust the disappearance of our warts, either to the healer or the dermatologist, so could the Egyptian patient call upon either the doctor or the healer, both competences sometimes melting into one and the same person.

The magical action obeyed the homeopathic precept:

“Same attracts same”.

Therefore, an illness diagnosed as a cancer of the uterus, where the odour of the tumour smells like burnt flesh, was treated by fumigations of burnt meat…  Another action could guide the therapist:  that which sees in the illness the incrustation of demons inside the organism which must be chased out, in particular by incantations recited by the patient himself, his doctor, his family, his servants, and repeated according to a magical number, four or seven times.  Here are a few samples:

“Flow onto the ground, pus!  Flow onto the ground!”

“Disappear, larva which comes in the dark, which slyly enters through the nose […]  Have you come to embrace this child?  I will not permit you to embrace him… !”

“Turn back, serpent, take away your poison which is in the member of him whom you have bitten.  See, Horus’ magical virtue is stronger than yours!”

To chase away demons, they counted a lot on amulets which preserved from illness.  The most common are the ankh cross, the djed pillar, the oudjat eye, the knot of Isis…  All amulets which can be found in abundance in funeral furniture.  They do not prevent recourse to a pharmacopoeia based on diverse dejections of donkey, snake, lizard, hippopotamus, crocodile or ibis which act by “sympathetic magic”.  These excrements are supposed to push the illness which is devouring the patient, out of his body.  Such is the meaning of this exhortation:

 “Oh death, death, disguised, hidden, which resides inside my body, in my members!  Here, I bring you excrements to eat!”

To safeguard their health, all Egyptians placed themselves under the protection of divinities to whom they assigned a specific role:  Bes, the grotesque dwarf brought protection and comfort to him who was sleeping;  Thoueris, the goddess-hippopotamus concerned pregnant women;  Hekket, the goddess with the frog’s head provoked successful births…  But it is Horus who was the most frequently used:  it was enough to drink water in which the ink of a magical formula had been dissolved, or which had flowed over a stela representing Horus surrounded by crocodiles, serpents and scorpions, to be cured of one illness or another, or to be protected from bites and stings.


To be continued.

Alongside all the exorcist therapy, which became more and more complex over the centuries, the Mesopotamians elaborated an Empiric Medicine.  For example, they established a very meticulous, even finicky, list of symptoms with their appropriate therapies.  The Treatise of Medical Diagnoses and Prognoses studied by the French Assyriologist, R. Labat, offers no fewer than five to six thousand lines of text, distributed over forty or so tablets, of which at least half have come down to us.  It seems that nothing was left to chance.  For the nose alone, Labat draws up an impressive catalogue of infections:

“If the patient’s nose is bleeding […];  If the tip of his nose is wet […];  if the tip of his nose is yellow […];  if the tip of his nose has a red rash […];  if the tip of his nose has a white rash […];  if the tip of his nose has a red and white rash […];  if the tip of his nose has a black rash […]”

The enumeration of the symptoms is followed by the remedies to treat them.  They are indicated very briefly.  They precede the prognosis which is declared fatal or favourable.  The Mesopotamian pharmacopoeia known to us comports no fewer than two hundred and fifty medicinal plants, one hundred and twenty substances of medical origin and a good hundred of animal origin.  The remedies are usually absorbed with water, beer or palm wine.  Special jars with filters have been found, which were used for macerations or infusions.  But the medications were also absorbed or applied in the form of suppositories, enemas, ointments or collyria.  Certain illnesses seem to have been very well identified, such as paludism [malaria] with its

“recurring attacks, during which the patient alternatively presents accesses of fever, then chills and perspiration:  after which, he feels a sensation of heat in all his members, then is again taken with a strong fever, which then gives place to new chills and new perspiration…”,

or again epilepsy:

“If the person, while walking, suddenly falls forwards, keeping his eyes dilated, without them returning to their normal state, and if he is also incapable of moving his arms and legs:  it is the beginning of an attack of epilepsy…”

The medical act which combines the religious ceremony, the prescription and execution of treatment, is imprinted with great solemnity.  If it is to treat a high-ranking person, the priest doctor, dressed in ritual clothes, moves in procession in the company of “demons”, a choir and kettledrums, whose sound is supposed to chase away evil spirits;  the servants and family of the patient bring up the rear.  Once cured, the patient must pay homage to his doctor.  With praises formulated like this:

“He made the illness-demon, which was enveloping him in its outspread wings, flee.  He dispersed the ill which was hurting him.  He changed the man’s sufferings into joy;  he placed near him benefactory genies as guardians and tutors.”

Mesopotamian doctors formed a social corps with very high status.  They composed a whole hierarchy, at the top of which could be found the First Doctor to the King, himself.  Hammourabi’s Code (1750 before the present era) mentions the reglementation imposed on doctors.  Assimilating them to priests, it makes them practically untouchable and irresponsible.  However, Articles 215 to 240 are a lot stricter for the inferior categories of the medical corps, particularly the galfabu, or barbers, who practised minor surgery on the eyes, teeth, broken bones, war wounds.  There, the Code draws up sanctions as well as remunerations:

“If a barber has treated a free man for a serious wound with a bronze lancet, and if the man is cured;  if he has opened the cloud of the eye [cataract] of a man with the bronze lancet, and if the eye is cured, he will receive ten sicles of silver…”

What must we conclude about this Mesopotamian Medicine?  Good clinical observations, an attempt at classification, an attempt (still awkward though) to establish certain causal relations, an empiric pharmacopoeia which is already very complete.  But the Mesopotamians remain attached to a magical and expiatory conception of illness.  They attach extreme importance to rituals which have no chance of bettering the patient’s condition.

Despite everything, how can we not admire the contents of the Treatise of Medical Diagnoses and Prognoses which we have already mentioned?  This is a document in which the empiric approach supplants magic, and proposes an approach which can be qualified as rational, with no risk of anachronism.


To be continued.

The Opposition is getting impatient.  Stimulated by the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Devonshire, it fans the already burning debate about the Regency, claiming that the King is in fact more and more ill, and that all hope of a cure must be definitively forgotten.  Never has the power of the doctors been so great.  The future of the greatest people seems to depend upon their diagnoses.  But the doctors themselves, divided by rumbling rivalities, are unable to agree.  At the two extremes are Willis and Warren.  The first incarnates the absolute certainty of a total recovery, while the second refuses to envisage the slightest possibility of a remission.  If Willis is right, the Regency will escape the Prince of Wales’ clutches and Charles Fox will not take over from Prime Minister William Pitt.  If Warren is right, the contrary will be inevitable and probably permanent.

Under pressure to assure definitive victory, Fox and the Prince of Wales attempt a final effort to have the Regency Bill voted.  But Pitt is quite decided to defend the King’s cause, which is also his own.  His caustic eloquence disarms his adversaries more than once.  Above all, he wants to gain time.  He proposes the creation of a Commission destined to seek out the precedents from which inspiration might be taken.  He confronts Willis’ competence with that of Warren, which he of course judges to be inferior.  Then follows a furiously impassioned debate which is prolonged throughout the whole of December 1788.

Each of the Parties throws the optimistic or pessimistic reports of the different doctors in each others faces.  The pressure that is put on them stirs up their own quarrels.  Most of them, jealous of Willis’ increasing ascendant and worried about their own fate, soon refuse to recognize his competences, arguing that he is not a Member of the Royal Doctors’ College.  But Willis has a very strong character and does not allow himself to be moved by the daily attacks directed against him.  Supported by Queen Charlotte, he is determined to play a major role in his patient’s recovery.  To arrive at this end, he does not hesitate to crowd out his colleagues.  Soon, he forbids them to go to the King’s bedside in his absence, on the pretext that their visits are contributing to George III’s nervous agitation.

At the end of their tether, wounded as much in their pride as in their ambition, Baker and Warren decide to manifest their disapproval on 16 December, by refusing to sign the official health bulletin, which is now drawn up by Willis.  The preceding night, George III, who has been suffering from insomnia since the beginning of his malady, was able to sleep six hours in a row.  Enboldened by such progress, Willis proposes officially announcing that “the King had an excellent night”.  But the formula in question seems too enthusiastic to Baker and Warren who prefer:  “The King had a good night.”

Willis finally wins the battle, but the incident comes to Parliamentary ears.  It immediately contributes to inflaming the debate.  Could it be possible that the official bulletin does not represent the sovereign’s real state?  Could it be possible that Members of the Royal College have accepted to sign a report that they know to be false?  Baker and Warren are caught in their own trap.  Like their colleagues, they protest that they had never signed anything which had not seemed to them to be true, and Pitt is delighted to win points so easily.

At Kew, it is true that the King’s state is improving as best it can.  But George III is far from being cured.  His abnormally rapid pulse is still a subject for worry.  In the hope of reducing and regulating his heart beats, he is now prescribed six daily doses of digitaline.  The therapeutic virtues of this substance, which owes its name to the flower from which it is extracted, had been discovered only three years earlier by Dr Withering.  So George III is among the first patients to benefit from a treatment which is still used today in some cardiac cases.  Unfortunately, the doctors who assist him are not always so well inspired.  On Warren’s orders, they continue to apply salt, mustard and cantharides to his wounds.  His sufferings are therefore even more intolerable, and it has become very painful for him to sit down or to move from one room to another.

The Willises, father and son, condemn these practices, without admitting that they, themselves, are terrible torturers.  In the third week of December, George III again displays such agitation that he refuses to sleep, and on the morning of 20 December, Willis estimes that it is necessary to punish him for having slept only two-and-a-half hours.  The sovereign is hardly awake than the straightjacket is forcibly put on him.  He will only be delivered at lunch time.  All morning, his servants and his equerries are witnesses to a very painful sight.  The King, who is tied up in a way that prevents him from moving any of his members, seems to seek refuge in the memories of his lost happiness.  He calls upon the image of Amelia, his youngest daughter, then aged five, who is also his favourite.  With sobs in his voice, he murmurs:

“Why don’t you come to help your father?  Why must a King suffer such a horrible condition?  I hate all doctors, but most of all Willis, who treats me as if I were mad.”

Then he adds:

“Digby, Greville, good men that you are, come and free me!  Take this devilish thing off me!”

But his pleas are in vain.  John Willis, who has heard them, contents himself with concluding that the patient’s state is worsening, and that it would soon be necessary to administer a dose of quinine to him.

To be continued.

One of the King's doctors, Richard Warren will aggravate his illness and increase his sufferings.

In the first week of November 1788, Richard Warren, a doctor sent by the Prince of Wales, diagnoses the King’s illness without having been received by him.  Queen Charlotte, without news, awaits the doctor’s visit for a whole day, in vain.  Unable to wait any longer, she has Sir George Baker, one of the King’s doctors, called, but he refuses to speak to her alone.  She then turns to Mr Hawkins, the official surgeon of the royal household, but he too remains silent.  All now refer to Warren, but decline the responsibility of speaking in his name.  However, Warren cannot be found.  He had immediately gone to see the Prince of Wales, and it is to him that he delivers his terrible prognosis.  The King will certainly not recover.  Even if he survives, he will never recover his intellectual faculties.  Shattered and humiliated, the Queen will never pardon Warren this double affront.  But she has to submit when, a few days later, it is made known to her that, in the opinion of all of the doctors, she should move out of her apartments, and stay away from her husband.  From this moment on, the sovereign is entirely delivered into the hands of his doctors, who will unfortunately aggravate his sufferings more than they will relieve them.

Immediately, Warren’s ill-intentioned information is carefully transmitted to London.  Contributing to the agitation in people’s minds, it makes even more pressing the question of the Regency, which cannot be declared without having been voted by Parliament.  But the vote in question cannot be proposed without the King’s consent.  The Prince of Wales tries to avoid this procedural difficulty by putting the Houses before the fait accompli.  He is supported in his efforts by Charles Fox.  As soon as he returns from Italy, where he has been pursuing a love affair with Mrs Armistead, a former mistress of the Prince of Wales, Fox is quite determined to seize the chance offered him.

George III is still suffering from delirium, and the doctors fear that he has water on the brain, or that the membrane might sustain an ossification.  They prescribe only quinine, or what is then called “James Powder”, which is more or less the aspirin of the XVIIIth Century.  On the stiff and swollen members of their patient, they place cataplasms and unguents, without observing any amelioration, quite the contrary.

Meanwhile, the official circles prepare themselves for a change of government.  On 9 November 1788, the excitement is at its peak.  Ill informed, the playwright, Richard Brinsley Sheridan, who is also a Member of Parliament and one of the most illustrious leaders of the Opposition, sets off the rumour that the King has died during the night.  Already, the Prince of Wales’ partisans are distributing the different Ministeries among themselves.  But that’s going a bit fast, for George III has survived the night, in spite of spending part of it in a coma.  When he regains consciousness, his mind even seems considerably calmed.  He asks his faithful equerry, Robert Fulke Greville, how long he has been confined to bed.  He attentively observes those who are watching over him, and several times gives them a little smile.  Then he rises, and completely in his right mind, lets them know that it is time that his linen was changed.  A vague hope of a cure is then held, supported by the fact that the days were going by without Warren’s fatal prognosis occurring.

The Opposition then changes tactics.  It is no longer enough that the King believes himself to be married to Lady Pembroke, or that he is certain of having invented the telescope, through which he likes to contemplate the Hanover of his ancestors.  It is not enough that he has seen London submerged under water, and that he has found his son Octave, who died in 1783, at the age of four, very much alive.  To give more weight to these unfortunately true facts, other anecdotes are invented, which seem even more picturesque.  The beautiful and perfidious Duchess of Devonshire, a passionate admirer of Fox, spreads the most absurd stories:  the King wanders naked in the corridors of Windsor Castle, while playing the flute;  he makes Dr Warren sit on his lap to contemplate the stars with him.  Among the People, the sovereign’s folly is attributed to the supernatural.  The phantoms of the brothers David and Robert Perreau, two presumed forgers whom he had sent to the scaffold in 1776, are supposed to have so persecuted his soul, that they had succeeded in making him lose his reason.  As for the official health bulletins, they are as laconic as they are imprecise, and do not contribute to the calming of people’s minds.


At Windsor, the King again rapidly shows serious nervous troubles.  He has become violent again, and above all, refractory to the presence of the doctors.  On 19 November, after only two hours of sleep, he talks for around eighteen hours, without stopping for more than a few seconds.  Dr Warren finally indicates to him that he shouldn’t become agitated like that, but his patient boldly retorts:

“I know that as well as you do.  Cure me then of what is only my complaint!  Only then, will I feel better.”

From now on, George III has difficulty chewing and refuses to eat.  He also refuses to be shaven, or only on one side of his face, which makes his uncertain and pitiful allure even more grotesque.

The doctors are all the more powerless in that they are trying, as well as they can, to respect royal protocol.  Their situation is hardly enviable.  To treat a mad King is doubtless a privilege, but it is a privilege which is difficult to assume.  The publication in the Press of rumours which contradict one another, has finally discredited them in the eyes of the public.  They receive threatening anonymous letters, and also suffer pressure from the highest ranks, whose opposing interests are all tributary to the King’s health.  In the last week of November, another one of their colleagues is added to their number, Sir Lucas Peppys.  He displays a lot more optimism than Warren, and he is much more cordial and compassionate toward the Queen.

To be continued.

The Serment of George III.

Throughout the Summer of 1788, the King’s health had not been excellent, without anyone being particularly alarmed about it.  He was mostly suffering from digestive troubles, which sometimes led to very painful spasms, and his doctors had diagnosed a simple attack of gout.  On their advice, George III had spent several weeks in the little township of Cheltenham, famous at the time for the curative virtues of its waters.  He returned to Windsor on 16 August, enchanted with this little holiday, after which he was feeling perfectly well.

Despite a pain in his face, which had deprived him of sleep for a few days, the month of September passed by peacefully.  And the King had started to hunt and gallop through the countryside again, just like he had been doing for so many years now.  While out, he liked to pop in unexpectedly at nearby farms, and chat about his passion for Botany and Agriculture, as simply as possible with those whom he found there.  He generally received his Ministers in the afternoon, and spent his evenings playing cards, watching the Queen embroider, or listening to music, which he cherished the most among the Arts.

When, at the beginning of October, he is again suffering from violent colics and develops hives, there is still nothing to indicate the gravity of his case.  On Thursday 16th, he has a series of convulsions after an outing in the rain, during which he caught cold.  On the following days, his state barely improves, particularly as his first neurological troubles appear.  They can be seen through difficulties in writing, dressing and, above all, in concentration.  Already very weak, on the 20th, he is unable to succeed in an attempt to answer letters sent by William Pitt.  On the 22nd, he starts to become really delirious for the first time.  He is annoyed with Sir George Baker, his official doctor, who, the day before, had been unfortunate enough to prescribe a large dose of senna to his royal patient, to relieve him of his persistent constipation.  But the remedy’s effect had been more rapid than expected.  George III spent the whole night on the toilet, for his own discomfort and for the misfortune of Sir George, whom he detained for three hours, heaping vehement reproaches on him.

Despite precautions taken to keep it secret, mocking rumours begin to circulate.  It is said that the famous actress, Mrs Siddons, has received a signed blank cheque from the King.  After having sufficiently made fun of the royal parcimony, everyone immediately interprets this strange attitude as an evident sign of mental alienation.  And the official appearance of the sovereign at the “grand rising” of the 24 October, is impatiently awaited.  Sir George Baker had advised against it at first.  But, decidedly ill-inspired, he had just sold 18,000 pounds worth of State Bonds.  Public opinion sees in this the irrefutable proof of the aggravation of the King’s health, which leads to a spectacular drop in the Stock Market.  George III therefore goes to Saint James, and it is naively hoped that his presence will reassure those present, despite his sick look and his uncombed hair.  His voice is husky to the point of seeming strange, while his word flow is inhabitually rapid.

Officially, George III is still the victim of a simple attack of gout, but the King, himself, is not fooled.  With moving lucidity, he is doubtless the first to understand that his mind is tottering, and that his body is abandoning him, all at the same time.  His sight has already considerably worsened.  Soon, his hearing fails.  On the evening of 29 October, he declares to the Orchestra Conductor, who has just conducted a concert of Haendel in his presence:

“Sir, I fear that I shall never be able to listen to music any more.  It is as if it were affecting my head, itself.”

As for Sir George Baker, exhausted by these long weeks of royal malady, he is on the verge of a nervous breakdown, and can only admit that he is unable to do anything.  From the beginning of his illness, the King’s state has not ceased to grow worse.  He has lost weight with surprising rapidity, and has become so weak that he needs to use a walking stick to get around.  His accesses of delirium are now daily occurrences, and the excitation which animates him is such, that it is impossible for him to sleep.  As well as this, on 5 November, his aggressive comportment toward his eldest son definitively confirms the true nature of his illness, in everyone’s eyes.  There is no longer any question of hiding from the public that the King has gone mad, even if this word is pudically not pronounced.


The Prince of Wales is delighted with this situation.  His father’s folly is a providential event for him, and he plans on profiting from it as rapidly as possible.  To the delicious perspective of becoming the master of the kingdom, or at least its Regent, there is added another, which is not negligeable:  that of at last paying his debts and giving himself up freely to his own pleasure.  The austere William Pitt has effectively refused to ask Parliament for the necessary credits to resolve this financial problem.  The royal malady is also the occasion to take vengeance for this humiliation.

As early as the first week of November, the Prince of Wales had brought to Windsor a doctor who is very much in fashion in the worldly milieux of the Opposition:  Richard Warren.  For a few days already, Doctor William Heberden has been assisting Sir George Baker.  They both welcome this third colleague with open arms.  But the King refuses to receive him.  To his request for an audience, he objects that no man can serve two masters.  He hastens to add:

“You are the Prince of Wales’ doctor, you cannot be mine!”

Dr Warren effectively does not meet the King that day.  He satisfies himself with eavesdropping, from behind a door, on the elucubrations of George III.  Then he asks his colleagues about the sovereign’s pulse, judged to be high.  This seems to have been sufficient for him to form a diagnosis that same evening.  All await it with impatience, and he is aware of its capital value in the political stakes.

To be continued.

Twenty-eight year old Prince Felix Yussupov fights with all his will against being dominated;  but, completely paralysed, he has to wait for Rasputin to order him to get up, to be able to use his members again.

The “prophet” believes that the Prince will be in his power from now on.  He does not guess that the Prince, more and more convinced of being designated by Heaven to “deliver” Holy Russia from Rasputin, is preparing a trap for him.  Several plots are cooked up.  Finally, the house owned by Yussupov on the Moika quay is chosen as the place of execution.  And on the evening of 29 December 1916, in the cellar converted into a comfortable salon, the Prince and his friends make the last preparations for “appropriately” receiving the “prophet” who has accepted to come “to talk about the soul”.  They place pastry, bottles of alcohol, wines, a samovar in evidence on a table;  then one of them, who is a doctor, puts on rubber gloves and, crushing some potassium cyanide crystals to powder, sprinkles the cakes with a dose of poison which is sufficient to provoke the instantaneous death of several people.  Prince Yussupov goes to get Rasputin and brings him back by car.  The two men enter the cellar alone, settle themselves in front of the table and engage in a conversation on philosophy, as usual.

Prince Felix Yussupov.

While talking, Prince Yussupov offers Rasputin some of the cakes containing cyanide;  Rasputin willingly takes several of them and eats them.

A few minutes go by.  Pale with fright, the Prince watches the “prophet”.  To his great surprise, Rasputin does not collapse and continues to talk in a joyful voice.  Maliciously considering his host, he then swallows several glasses of poisoned wine…

Suddenly, he rises, and his eyes gleam, becoming frightening.  Is this the end?  No.  The next minute, he smiles and asks for music.  Then, the Prince, who can’t wait any longer, takes out his revolver, aims at the heart and fires.

Rasputin lets out a savage roar and collapses.  The Prince’s friends, who are waiting in a neighbouring room, immediately arrive.  The doctor leans over the body, notes that the bullet has traversed the region of the heart and that the “prophet” is dead.  Everyone goes back up to the ground floor to discuss the future of the country, now rid of its bad genie.

But, after half an hour, Prince Yussupov, suddenly anxious, and compelled by a sudden impulse, goes back down to the cellar.  Rasputin is still lying on the floor.  He considers him, and is about to go back upstairs, when his attention is drawn to an almost imperceptible trembling of the left eyelid.  “My spine icy”, as he will later write, he stares in terror at this eye which slowly opens.  A few instants later, the right eyelid starts to tremble as well, then opens, and the Prince sees Rasputin’s two eyes, two viper eyes, fixed on him with a satanical expression.  Hypnotised, he remains fixed to the spot without being able to cry out.  In a sudden movement, Rasputin leaps with a roar onto the Prince and tries to strangle him.  A terrible struggle begins.  Finally, Yussupov sends his adversary rolling onto the floor, and races upstairs to find his friends.

“Come down quickly, he is still alive!”

Before the three men have time to do anything, Rasputin, dragging himself on his stomach, appears on the stairs;  he is covered in blood.  With one bound, he gets up and runs towards a secret door which opens onto the courtyard.  The Prince had previously locked this door with a key, however, the “prophet” opens it, as if it were unlocked, and disappears into the night.

Is he going to succeed in escaping?  Panicked, Prince Yussupov leads his friends out of the castle.  One of them, Puvichkenitch, seizes his revolver and fires at Rasputin, once, twice, three times.  But the Tsarine’s extraordinary counsellor continues walking.  A fourth shot finally makes him fall.

The three men rush to him:  Rasputin is really dead this time.  Two hours later, his body is thrown into the river…


After having inexplicably survived cyanide poisoning and a bullet in the heart, Rasputin is finally killed by Yussupov and his friends.

Prince Yussupov went to bed.  But, the following day, he found on his desk a photo of Rasputin which he did not at all remember seeing before.  On the back was the following inscription in Rasputin’s hand:

“I bless you, child.  Live not in wildness, but in enjoyment, light and joy.  Gregory.”

Yussupov never found out who had placed this photo in his home…


Later, it was learnt that, at the precise moment of Rasputin’s death, curious perturbations occurred in Russian convents.  Nuns suddenly started screaming and raising their skirts with obscene gestures, and priests blasphemed while rolling on the floor, as if they had suddenly gone mad.  Further, Rasputin is said to have appeared to several people.  A few days later, Prince Yussupov went to visit an elderly nun who had a reputation for sainthood.  She received him, saying:

“It is you I was waiting for…  Do not torment yourself, you are under God’s protection.  Rasputin was a fiend of Satan that you brought down, like Saint George brought down the dragon.  And he, himself, is protecting you, for, by killing him, you have prevented him from committing the even bigger sins that he would have committed in the future…”


At Rasputin’s death, hundreds of women mourned him, of course;  but all those who had deplored the influence that he had had on the Tsarine were able to breathe more easily…  For them, Russia and the Romanov dynasty had been saved…  They did not know about a letter, written in 1915 by Papus (Doctor Encausse) to the Empress, which ended like this:

“From the cabalistic point of view, Rasputin is a vase, comparable to Pandora’s box, which holds all the vices, all the crimes, all the filth of the Russian people.  If this vase breaks, we will see its appalling contents immediately spreading over Russia.”

One month after Rasputin’s death, the Russian Revolution erupted…


Louis XIV in his coronation robes.

As the historian, Frantz Funck-Brentano, has noted,

“Louis XIV did not have a big enough character to sacrifice his self-estime for the public good, to consent to such an humiliation in the eyes of his subjects and of Europe, before whom he had never ceased to display his pride.”.

Meanwhile, the words of the Voisin’s daughter, Marie-Marguerite, and those of the Filastre – she is burnt on the same day that the Chambre is suspended – have raised questions in Louis XIV’s mind.  Their statements tend to lead to the belief that Madame de Montespan has attempted to poison another mistress of the King, the young and ravishing Marie-Angelique de Scoraille, Duchess de Fontanges, and perhaps even the King himself, through amorous revenge.  And the request that the Voisin had wanted to place with the King could have been prepared for this purpose…  Not much more will be known unfortunately, and Mme de Montespan’s guilt about this remains problematic, particularly as Louvois, always scheming, has probably done all that he can to make her look guilty.

Thanks to the removal of the “particular facts” which name her, the favourite will escape the claws of justice.  But during a glacial interview, her royal lover will sharply signify the end of their relationship to her, with no hope of a return.


The Marquise de Montespan became Louis XIV's mistress in 1667.

In hindsight, it is hard to imagine that Francoise Athenais de Rochechouart de Mortemart, Marquise de Montespan, really wanted the King’s death, which Colbert sensibly points out to Louis XIV.  On the other hand, she could have been manipulated in the framework of a plot coming from outside France, probably from England.  In this business, the role of her chambermaid, Mademoiselle Des Oeillets, is rather troubling.  It is she who, in spite of her denials, serves as the intermediary between her mistress and the Voisin.  But one day, according to Guibourg, she comes to see the Voisin with an “English lord” to take possession of a preparation susceptible of making “the King die in langour”.  A statement even more credible because it was amply confirmed by the daughter of the Voisin and, on 17 September 1679, Lesage had already declared to the lieutenant general de police, Gabriel Nicolas de La Reynie, that:

“During a certain trip that the King made to the frontier, Des Oeillets had a lot of commerce with the Voisin […].  The Voisin had a lot of money at this time, talked of leaving the kingdom, and that she would have 100,000 ecus.  These people were looking to do a job and go away.”

Mme de Montespan does not appear to know about this plot, which is well in the English fashion:  100,000 ecus to get rid of a King at the height of his power, and who is making Europe tremble, is not too expensive.  As for the deep motivations of the chambermaid, it must be remembered that Mlle Des Oeillets was formerly one of the King’s innumerable mistresses, and that she has never forgiven him for having dumped her.  Feminine vengeance associated with English politics, the scenario has all the appearance of probability.


The Poisons Case will come to an ambiguous end.  If the principal guilty people are executed, others, because of the “particular facts”, escape justice and will be locked up until the end of their lives in royal fortresses, like Abbot Guibourg – of whom La Reynie writes that he

“cannot be compared to any other in the number of poisonings, on the commerce of poison and malefices, on sacrileges and impieties”

and that he

“slit the throats and sacrificed many children” -,

or like Anne Guesdon, the chambermaid of the Marquise de Brinvilliers, who will die at Villefranche in 1717.  Others will not be bothered at all, starting with the Des Oeillets who will finish her life very piously, and who, in her Will, will ask that a perpetual Mass be said “for the health and prosperity of His Majesty”…

The Chambre de l’Arsenal was dissolved on 21 July 1682.  That same month, the King signed an important edict prepared by Colbert and La Reynie.  By severely controlling the commerce of toxic substances, by rigorously proscribing magical, alchemical or divinatory practices, and by forbidding anyone, except for doctors, apothicaries and chemistry professors, to possess a laboratory and to conduct experiments in them, this edict uncontestably constituted a very great progress.  The Poisons Case will at least have had this fortunate consequence.

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