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The Scrivener: A Crocodile's Dog Tooth

'Some say that if you take the dog-tooth of a Crocodile from the left side of his upper jaw, and hang it over one that hath an Ague, it cures him, and it will never come again.'

Brian Barratt delves with delight into "'Eighteen Books of the Secrets of Art & Nature...''

By the way, do you know what a semitertian is? Do, do read on!

One of my favourite books has a long and elegantly formed title that deserves a paragraph all for itself:

'Eighteen Books of the Secrets of Art & Nature, being The Summe and Substance of Naturall Philosophy, Methodically Digested. First designed by John Wecker Dr in Physick, and now much Augmented and Inlarged by Dr R. Read.
Printed for Simon Miller at the Starre in St Pauls Church-yard. 1660.'

Dr Read writes in the foreword:

'Since that there is nothing that addeth more to the delight and satisfaction of Ingenious persons then the increase of knowledg; I have here endeavoured to Publish somewhat that may be a companion for solitude, and yield entertainment to vacant hours, this work being an Encyclipædia of Arts and Sciences, interwoven with facetious Conceits to recreate the fancy.'

Facetious conceits means amusing notions, silly ideas. And here are a few of them to recreate your fancy:

'Some say that if you take the dog-tooth of a Crocodile from the left side of his upper jaw, and hang it over one that hath an Ague, it cures him, and it will never come again.'

There are no instructions on how you find a crocodile in London and extract that particular tooth, of course. No doubt they were brought from exotic lands by merchants but how would you know it's the correct tooth? There were scams in those days, too.

'The youngest Brother of the King of France had a most filthy Ulcer, and extreme foul: he was cured by the continuall breathing upon it, of a Boy of twelve years old. And there is a reason for it; for the breath that proceeds from the Heart of a Youth that is healthful, is sincere, and may correct corrupt humours.'

Well, that might come as a bit of a surprise to parents in the 21st century.

'Serenus Samuonicus reports in his Precepts of Physick that if you write this word Abracadabra, diminishing one letter after another, by order of running backward, from the first letter to the last, if any patient be sick of a Semitertian or any other Ague, this Paper bound about him, and hanged about his neck, will recover his health, and the Disease will by degrees depart from him.'

A semitertian was a fever which occurred in an attack every day with a second stronger one every alternate day.

'To cure the pain of the Headach, I saw a handwriting hang over one, as you see written on the side, after that the Patient who could find no help by Physick had thrice said over the Lords Prayer.'

The drawing at the side is of a simple Lorraine cross with the wording 'Miland vah vitalot' which was a magical incantation in a secret mystical language. The Lorraine cross, with two horizontal bars, was used by the Crusaders. It was also used by alchemists to represent the material and the spiritual, 'as above, so below'.

Smiles and chuckles from 21st century readers. We don't believe in that sort of magic in this modern era. Or do we? At times, we might get closer than we realise. Have a browse on the Web and you can find advertisements for bottles of:

'Authentic Holy Water from the River Jordan in the Holy Land'

which will help you with:

'Prayers in the home, sick room visitation and during times of hardship.... Blessings, Healing, Purifying, Cleansing, Repentance, for the sick.'

Come to think of it, I actually have a small amphora shaped jar of water from the River Jordan. The inscription is in Hebrew. It was given to me by a Jewish friend about 60 years ago. Parts of the Jordan are now described as 'sluggish and sewage-choked'. I wonder if its water can still heal and cleanse?

You might prefer:

'Lourdes Water Medals — Each Medal has a capsule on the back which contains water taken from the Miraculous Spring of Our Lady Of Apparitions Grotto in Lourdes, France.'

Testimonials are on view to acclaim the miraculous effects of these medals. Apparently they have also been known to heal an affliction before it happens.

Perhaps we should also take note of:

'..Handkerchiefs which are taken to the Sanctuary at Materdomini [in Italy] and touched to his tomb carry blessings of the Saint to expectant mothers of the world, who, with the protection and help of St. Gerard, experience the purest joys of a healthy and safe delivery.'

If it's difficult for you to get to Italy, you can have a blessed handkerchief sent to you by post from England:

'We fast and pray and anoint each prayer cloth and send them to those who put their confidence and faith in Christ. Some are healed instantly and others progressively.'

The Bishop of Glastonbury, Primate of the Apostolic Church of the Holy Grail [sic], sometimes helps: 'Prayer cloths [are] anointed with chrism and immersed in water poured into the Nanteos Cup, an olive wood bowl thought by some to be the vessel used by Our Lord Jesus Christ at the Last Supper.'

That means that the olive wood bowl is the Holy Grail. Evidently it did arrive in England, after all.

Opinion is divided on whether such things as holy water and blessed handkerchiefs can have a proven medical effect. Perhaps they act as placebos. But they're a lot more appealing than a crocodile's dog-tooth or 'abracadabra' written backwards.

© Copyright Brian Barratt 2012


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