Adrienne Mayor, “Mithridates of Pontus and His Universal Antidote,” in Toxicology in Antiquity (2nd ed.), 2019, 161-174.
Mithridates hypothesized that tiny doses of poisons could be ingested over time in carefully increasing amounts and thus ultimately make the body capable of tolerating larger doses that would normally be fatal – a dose-dependent protective mechanism, akin to modern vaccines. (He was right, about some chemicals at least – we call it hormesis, if you’re keen to learn more.)
Mithridates’ recipe for his inoculating toxin brew reportedly contained tons of things, from herbs to toxic skink skin to blood from a breed of poisonous ducks. It most likely also contained St. John’s Wort (hypericum). Mayor writes:
“Molecular scientists have recently discovered hypericum’s remarkable antidote effect, not yet completely understood. The herb activates the liver to produce a potent enzyme that is capable of neutralizing a great many potentially dangerous chemicals—as well as prescribed drugs for various conditions.”
Well, Mithridates lived into his 70s in an age when the life expectancy was around 45, surviving numerous assassination attempts, taking his toxin brew daily, and thriving, by all accounts — at least until he commited suicide in 63 BCE.
I don’t have time to summarize anything right now, but I’m hoping if I leave this here, it’ll spur me to do so later.
James H. Diaz. Atlas of Human Poisoning and Envenoming, 2nd ed. Boca Raton: CRC Press, 2014.
Hilda Roberts. “Louisiana Superstitions.” Journal of American Folklore 40: 156 (1927), 144-208.
We’re gonna have to talk about this one when I have some time. This sure does have some… stuff in it. I mean, totally aside from its being “a product of its age” and all that. The blanket conflation of hoodoo doctors and Cajun traiteurs is a pretty humongous one. This would never get published today, and it’s not because of the language. It’s because of shoddy scholarship / painting with too broad a brush.
F.A. de Caro. “A History of Folklife Research in Louisiana.” Louisiana Folklife: A Guide to the State. Nicholas R. Spitzer, ed. Office of Cultural Development, 1985.
John L. Gibson. Archaeology and Ethnology on the Edges of the Atchafalaya Basin: A Cultural Resources Survey of the Atchafalaya Protection Levees. Center for Archaeology Studies, University of Southwestern Louisiana. Final report to the Department of the Army, New Orleans District, Corps of Engineers, Jun. 1979 – Jan. 1982.
Maida Owens. “Louisiana’s Traditional Cultures: An Overview.” Swapping Stories: Folktales from Louisiana.Carl Lindahl, Maida Owens, and C. Renée Harvison, eds. University Press of Mississippi and the Louisiana Division of the Arts, 1997.
Alec Sonnier. Cajun Traiteurs: Faith Healing on the Bayou / The Cajun Traiteur and Transmission of Cajun Folk Healing Knowledge. Master’s Thesis, Dept. of Anthropology. California State University Northridge, May 2020.
A quick note that Alec Sonnier’s preface reprints two prayers that a Louisiana traiteuse shared on her Facebook page in early 2020 as the coronavirus epidemic was spreading across the country. You really, really gotta love at least a couple of things about the 21st century – at least a traiteuse sharing healing prayers from her personal practice on social media.
I don’t know if that was her private Facebook page or what, so I haven’t posted those prayers here. I don’t know if everybody’s the same way about this, but a lot of times those prayers are not for public consumption. I’m not gonna be the one to assume they are. But in his conclusion, Sonnier prints a prayer shared by another traiteur, Mr. George, who received it in a dream. Mr. George said it “can be used by anyone who wishes to be healed of an ailment” and he encouraged people to use it “to help themselves in the healing process” (131). It goes like this:
“Heavenly Father, I call on You right now in a special way. It is through Your power that I was created. Every breath I take, every morning I wake and every moment of every hour, I live under Your power. Father, I ask you now to touch me with that same power, for if You created me from nothing, You can certainly recreate me. Fill me with the healing power of Your spirit. Cast out anything that should not be in me. Mend what is broken. Root out any unproductive cells, open any blocked arteries or veins, and rebuild any damaged areas. Remove all inflammation and cleanse any infection. Let the warmth of Your healing love pass through my body to make new any unhealthy areas, so that my body will function the way You created it to function. And Father, restore me to full health in mind, body and spirit so that I might serve You the rest of my life. I ask this through Jesus Christ Our Lord. Amen.”
(Mr. George qtd. in Sonnier 131)
He cites a 2008 article on traiteurs by one Julia Swett, too, which is a name one or two of y’all might know :). But careful, y’all, look – this Sonnier’s father is kin to those Heberts, and you know you gotta watch out for those Heberts!