Witches, Nurses and Midwives - The Gypsy Nurse

By The Gypsy Nurse Staff

October 31, 2017

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Witches, Nurses and Midwives

There is a distinct correlation in history of Witches, Nurses and Midwives.  There are multiple documents that address this historical relationship.  The Witch trials of Northern Europe as well as the Salem Witch Trials all have some relationship to healthcare practices.

witches nurses midwives
Salem village witchcraft trials in the 1690s
Photo courtesy of: Library of Congress

There is one theory that lays the blame of the witch hunts and relationship of nurses to witches on the MEN.  Yes, sorry to all the men out there but; guess what?  It’s your fault!  All kidding aside,  ” The rise of the male medical profession in 19th century America”, is to blame according to the linked article, titled A History of Women Healers   During this time,  women were accused of being witches for multiple reasons.  One reason purports that  “…they are accused of having magical powers affecting health—of harming, but also of healing. They were often charged specifically with possessing medical and obstetrical skills.”

In the 18th and 19th centuries, most healthcare was provided by women.  These women were called ‘wise women’,  ‘midwives’ and sometimes ‘healers’.  These women held powerful status due to their healing ‘powers’.   Even today, women are often stereotyped with qualities of caregiver and nurturer.

These women were not formally trained.  Most were taught by their mothers, grand-mothers or other women in the community.  They utilized natural remedies and herbal remedies.  Many of which are still in use today.

Ergot was used for the pain of labor. Ergot derivatives are the principal drugs used today to hasten labor and aid in the recovery from childbirth.

“The neurotropic activities of the ergot alkaloids may also cause hallucinations and attendant irrational behaviour, convulsions, and even death.[7][8]Other symptoms include strong uterine contractions, nausea, seizures, and unconsciousness. Since the Middle Ages, controlled doses of ergot were used to induce abortions and to stop maternal bleeding after childbirth.[12] Ergot extract has been used in pharmaceutical preparations, including Ergot alkaloids in products such as Cafergot (containing caffeine and ergotamine[12] or ergoline) to treat migraine headaches, and ergometrine, used to induce uterine contractions and to control bleeding after childbirth.[13]”– –

Wikipedia

Belladonna was used to inhibit uterine contractions and is still used today as an anti-spasmodic.

“Atropa belladonna or Atropa bella-donna, commonly known as Belladonna or Deadly Nightshade, is a perennial herbaceous plant in the family Solanaceae, native to Europe, North Africa, and Western Asia. The foliage and berries are extremely toxic, containing tropane alkaloids. These toxins include scopolamine and hyoscyamine which cause a bizarre delirium and hallucinations,[1] and are also used as pharmaceutical anticholinergics. The drug atropine is derived from the plant.

–  Wikipedia

Digitalis (Foxglove) properties on the heart and circulation is said to have been discovered by an English witch and is still an important drug in treating heart ailments.

“A group of medicines extracted from foxglove plants are called Digitalin. The use of D. purpurea extract containing cardiac glycosides for the treatment of heart conditions was first described in the English-speaking medical literature by William Withering, in 1785,[8] which is considered the beginning of modern therapeutics.[9][10]It is used to increase cardiac contractility (it is a positiveinotrope) and as an antiarrhythmic agent to control the heart rate, particularly in the irregular (and often fast) atrial fibrillation.”

Wikipedia 

There is a multitude of herbs whose derivatives are still utilized in today’s medicine. If you’re interested in investigating more herbal lore that relates to witches, HERE is an interesting article listing some of the most potent herbs.

Famous Witches

Tamsin Blight (1798 – 1856)

She began practicing as a cunning-woman about 1830 and was certainly well known as one by the time she married James Thomas, another conjurer  in 1835. From the time of her marriage through until the 1850’s the two of them formed a remarkable magical double-act, and were widely consulted by their many clients. Many of Blight’s customers were farmers who came to see her about sick cattle, others were young women anxious about their marriage prospects. She performed great healing remedies for farmers of sickly animals using herbs, and many people visited her to receive a charm made by her to carry for healing. In most cases Blight was able to provide uncanny cures that confirmed her magical reputation.

Witchcraft and Witches

Moll Dyer (? – c.1697)

No historical record has ever been found of Moll Dyer’s existence, and not all stories agree on her origins. One popular story says she was an Irish noblewoman who came to the province of Maryland alone to escape a mysterious past, and settled in a cottage outside of what was then Seymortown (later called Leonardtown). Her isolated way of living and shadowed past, along with her reputation as a herbal healer, drew suspicion among the locals, who labelled her as a witch, and began blaming all the misfortunes and hardships in the town on her, despite her habit of giving cures to the townsfolk.

 – Witchcraft and Witches

Fortunately this stigma and relationship between medicinal herbs and witches no longer exists.  The utilization of medicinal herbs in modern medicine grows every day.  Many of the ‘folk-medicine’ treatments utilized for healing and cures still remain active today.

  • Garlic to cure a nagging cough
  • Apple Cider Vinegar for gout
  • Tumeric to stop diarrhea
  • Aloe Vera for burns
  • Banana peels to cure warts
  • Baking Soda on bee stings
  • Molasses for joint pain
  • Cayenne pepper to treat a sore throat

What home remedies do you love?  I promise if you share, I won’t report you as a Witch!

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