Reduced to this

As sage Hippocrates is said to have said, “First do no harm.”

Consider the following cure for madness. The patient is taken to the cultists of Saint Maelrubh, at his island in Loch Maree, for the bull sacrifice; then to Saint Fillan’s pool by Loch Earn, during the third phase of the moon. Rounded pebbles are placed on what’s left of a saint’s cairn. Subject is then tied behind a boat, which circumnavigates an island. Still wet, and freshly hog-tied, he is placed in a stone coffin within a ruin, to spend the night with what’s left of any saint who was dwelling there.

Gentle reader may object that this is not modern. He may characterize it as “mediæval.” He will not find such cures in a “modern” psychiatry textbook. (Actually, he will. It is called “shock treatment.”) I came to it in the course of idle lockdown reading, on my noble Highland ancestors.

Their cure for jaundice seemed worse, for those against torture. I, for one, dislike being poked with hot irons.

But “mediæval” it was not. The memoir was from the 17th century, when the Presbyterian Enlightenment had already spread. Granted, medical practices were probably different in Edinburgh; but that was not yet the self-styled “Athens of the North.”

One could fill a book — indeed, two or more — with the enormities we assign to the Middle Ages, which didn’t happen then; but instead, like the witchcraft crazes, rose in the dawn of the modern age. Much that we assume, and is taught in our schools, is just like truth, only the opposite.

The “superstitions” of the earlier centuries were different in kind. They consisted of things like missionaries blessing wells, and naming them after Christian saints, when they saw that the primitive locals had a reverence for them. The mysterious powers of which they spoke came with prayer. They brought sophisticated learning with them, in their persons, and advanced towards the Northern Star; built churches and cathedrals like starships to Orkney, Trondheim, Greenland. Each became a centre of learning, in stone.

It happens I was once reading on genuine mediæval traditions in physic, some of which lasted at least as traces in the Highlands until the century before last. We still have fragments of their materia medica, in Gaelic. Not charms, often discouraged as pagan, but many herbal remedies, which have since proved efficacious. The Highlands had once been part of a higher culture. I read somewhere of Scottish physicians, in demand abroad in the 14th century: I mention them because they were all “Gaels.” Power, as well as literacy, tipped from Highlands to Lowlands in the cusp of modernity.

The campaign to stamp out the Gaelic language, the Gaelic œconomy, and ultimately the Gaelic race, was a distinctive feature of the modern centuries. By the 19th, they were very poor and miserable, not only in Scotland — and blamed by smug urban society for what had been done to them. Yet they remained proud.

To my mind, “Protestantism” was more a consequence than a cause of the many forms of nationalism that sprouted across the West, like acne. The more remote peoples, who did not think of themselves as “nationals” but just as souls, were being everywhere homogenized, and where they tried instinctively to resist, they were evicted, exiled, eradicated. The wars were not of religion, but of politics, seizing upon religion as a weapon to consolidate the new national units. “Reformations” proceed generally by iconoclastic force.

It is the history of many dispersed peoples, who in this age of electronic gizmos, have come to identify with each other. My fascination with Gaelic music, for instance, has taken me by video recently not only to Ireland, but to France, Spain, and Appalachia.

Through five centuries, Nanny State has been unable to leave the non-conforming peoples alone. It is a tale of “land reform” after reform. And that madness, uncured, remains with us into post-Christian times.