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Medicine of the Creek Indians
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When a person was taken ill his near kindred appointed one of their number to take an article he had worn to the prophet who subjected it to a searching examination (by means of certain drugs?) for the purpose of ascertaining the cause of the illness. If he succeeded he told his clients the name of it but he himself gave no medicine.
Diseases were carefully classified, and as soon as the disease was
known the remedy was known and recourse was had to the medicine man or a medicine woman. This person possessed a pouch, usually made of the whole skin of some animal, which was well filled with the remedies known to him or her. Some were compounded from roots, leaves, or herbs as well as pebbles, shells, or other strange objects, each of which had been acquired in accordance with certain esoteric formulae known only to an inner circle of the medical fraternity of the community. Each drug was prepared during the singing of a song peculiar to it, and it is added that this took place during a meeting of the medicine men of the community, but I feel uncertain regarding this. Usually the words of this song describe the preparation of the medicine in great detail, although in terms which are largely metaphorical.
Many diseases were attributed to the influences of animals, such as the bear, buffalo, beaver, and deer. If a person had stomach trouble it might be said that the beaver had built a dam across it. If he was afflicted with boils it might be said that ants had raised small anthills on his flesh. Another animal was said to cause diarrhea. If a person touched an eagle without using the proper medicine he would have a wry neck. Rheumatism was caused by a fabulous monster. When one sneezed it was said someone was talking about him.
In order to become a medicine man or a medicine woman a person must fast a certain number of days, must learn the prescribed songs, must prepare medicines (and charms) according to well-established formulae, must remain in seclusion at times, and must then use the medicines which had been thus prepared when called to minister to the sick. This process of instruction and initiation continued four moons in each year for four successive years. Each medicine must be learned in four days. Some practitioners would refuse to administer remedies for certain diseases and would send the patient to another who was regarded as a specialist in that subject.
Four was a sacred number among the Creek. It will be remembered that the novice in medicine fasted for four days. One must sing a song for four days detailing the virtues of the medicine and teaching what it would do. Thus the number four appeared in numerous places. There were four days assigned in which to learn each remedy and four months in each year of a four-year period for completing the medical course. Again, a man might not have sexual relations with his wife for four months after the birth of a child. A sick man must use a remedy during four consecutive days. Mr. Porter said that, certain herbs were collected one at a time on four successive days, and successively on exposures toward the east, the south, the west, and the north.
The medicine man or woman was exempt from all manner of work except the preparation and administration of remedies. The head medicine man of the town must prepare and kindle the council fire, although, in a figurative sense, this was supposed to be burning always.
The chief prophet of the tribe (or town), who might be at the same time the medicine man, had charge of the war medicines, which are said to have been prepared at a secret conclave of the medical fraternity. He was much feared because of his supposed power to cure or cause fatal illnesses. It was believed that he had one medicine potent enough to make the ground quake, another to cause the enemy to lose their way, another to make the ground swampy, another to bring on a rainfall that would obliterate all tracks, others to lengthen or shorten distances another to bring on heavy fogs, another to make arrows go straight to the mark, another to transform men into certain animals such as the wolf (fox) or owl, so that they might spy out the enemies’ camp without being detected, and still another, the greatest of all, to cause the warriors to have an aspect terrifying to their enemies.
This great medicine man would stanch the flow of blood and heal wounds received in war. The first thing done to such a wounded man was to have him eat certain kinds of earth, one of which was the clay or mud brought up by the crawfish (fakkitali, lit. “raw dirt”). This crawfish earth was also applied to the wound externally. Then he was secluded so that no woman might see him, lest one in her catamenial period should lay eyes on him. It was believed that, if such a woman should lay eyes on him, his cure would be impossible.
Grayson added that the medicine man could make a medicine capable of transforming the human body into a sieve so as to allow an arrow or bullet to pass through him without occasioning injury. This condition of the body was known as E-sar-la-weatch-e-toh.
It was commonly believed that a man who killed another was haunted by the latter’s spirit and would become insane, meaning “troubled by the spirit,” unless he was purified. It was also believed that a person who merely associated with an unpurified murderer must himself be purified lest he lose his sanity.
Insanity was treated as follows. First, four clear white pebbles were selected and placed in a cup of clear water. Over this certain ceremonies were performed and certain songs sung. Then the medicine man took some of the water into his mouth and spurted it violently upon the head of the insane man, also causing him to drink from the cup four times. It was believed that this performance gave the medicine man power over the insane person who thereafter was compelled to do his bidding and was treated in various ways until finally cured.
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