Anvil therapy

The following passage is from p107 of the excellent but sadly out-of-print history book Mental Disorder in Earlier Britain (ISBN 0708305628) that explores mental and neurological illness in times past.

As well as discussing the theories of the times, it also charts many of the treatments used to try and cure disturbances of the mind and brain.

This is a particularly terrifying example of a (probably 16-17th century) folk treatment for depression that involved the local blacksmith pretending he was going to flatten your head on an anvil:

A highly specific treatment for ‘faintness of the spirits’ was attributed in a well-known passage by Martin Martin to a blacksmith in the Skye parish of Kilmartin. Like other shock treatments which have tried to elicit a ‘natural’ total reaction by creating a physical or physiological emergency, it had its risks.

“The patient laid on the anvil with his face uppermost, the smith takes a big hammer in both his hands, and making his face all grimace, he approaches his patient; and then drawing his hammer from the ground as if to hit him with full strength on his forehead, he ends in a feint, else he would be sure to cure the patient of all diseases; but the smith being accustomed to the performance, has a dexterity of managing his hammer with discretion; though at the same time he must do it so as to strike terror in the patient; and this they say, has always the desired effect.”

Perhaps unsurprisingly, it’s a little vague on what the ‘desired effect’ was supposed to be.

It wasn’t all hammer wielding blacksmiths though, some gentler treatments are noted. Apparently, dried cuckoo was used to treat epilepsy.

2 Comments

  1. Posted February 2, 2008 at 4:37 pm | Permalink

    “… else he would be sure to cure the patient of all diseases” :-) :-)

  2. Posted February 4, 2008 at 11:16 pm | Permalink

    I wonder if a blacksmith can be sued for malpractice?


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