Reclaiming the Spirit of Healing

by His Royal Highness Charles, Prince of Wales

This chapter taken from 'The Heart of the Healer' *(1) (pages 9 to 13) and is based on a speech given to the British Medical Association on the 14th of December 1982.

"I have often thought that one of the less attractive traits of various professional bodies and institutions is the deeply in-grained suspicion and outright hostility which can exist towards anything unorthodox or unconventional. I suppose it is inevitable that something which is different should arouse strong feelings on the part of the majority whose conventional wisdom is being challenged or, in a more social sense, whose way of life and customs are being insulted by something rather alien.

I suppose, too, that human nature is such that we are frequently prevented from seeing that what is taken for today's unorthodoxy is probably going to be tomorrow's convention. Perhaps we just have to accept it is Gods will that the unorthodox individual is doomed for years of frustration, ridicule and failure in order to act out his role in the scheme of things, until his day arrives and mankind is ready to receive his message: a message which he probably finds hard to explain, but which he knows comes from a far deeper source than conscious thought.
The renowned sixteenth century healer, Paracelsus, was just such an individual. He is probably remembered more for his fight against orthodoxy than for his achievements in the medical field. As a result of his unorthodox approach to medicine in his time he was equated with the damnable Dr. Faustus.

Of the barbers, surgeons and pharmacists, he complained that "they begrudge the honour I won healing Princes and noble-men and they say my powers come from the devil." And yet in his day and age he was criticising abuses among pharmacists and attacking the quack remedies - viper's blood, "mummy" powder, unicorn horn and so on.

In 1527, by an act of which I am sure today's younger doctors would be proud, he burnt the famous textbook of medieval medicine, the Canon of Avicenna, which became a symbol of rebellion against pedantry and unthinking acceptance of ancient doctrines.

But what kind of man was Paracelsus? A charlatan or a gifted healer? In my view he was far from being a charlatan. We could do worse than to look again briefly at the principles he so desperately believed in, for they have a message for our time: a time when science was tended to become estranged from nature and that is the moment when we should remember Paracelsus.
But what kind of man was Paracelsus? A charlatan or a gifted healer? In my view he was far from being a charlatan. We could do worse than to look again briefly at the principles he so desperately believed in, for they have a message for our time: a time when science has tended to become estranged from nature and that is the moment when we should remember Paracelsus.
Above all, he maintained that there were four pillars on which the whole art of healing rested. The first was philosophy; the second astronomy (or what we might call psychology): the third alchemy (or bio-chemistry), and the four, virtue (in other words the professional skill of the doctor). He then went on to outline the basic qualifications for a doctor: "Like each plant and metallic remedy the doctor, too, must have a specific virtue. He must be intimate with nature. He must have the intuition which is necessary to understand the patient, his body, hid disease. He must have the 'feel' and the 'touch' which make it possible for him to be in sympathetic communication with the patient's spirits."

Paracelsus believed that the good doctor's therapeutic success largely depends on his ability to inspire the patient with confidence and to mobilize his will to health. By the way, he also recommended chastity and fasting to heighten diagnostic sensitiveness and to intensify one's hypnotic power.

I know that there are a considerable number of doctors, who operate by these kinds of basic principles, because several have written to me, but nevertheless the modern science of medicine still tends to be based, as George Engel write. "…on the notion of the body as a machine, of disease as the consequence of breakdown of the machine." By concentrating on smaller and smaller fragments of the body, modern medicine perhaps loses sight of the patient as a whole human being, and by reducing health to mechanical functioning it is no longer able to deal with the phenomenon of healing.

And here I come back to my original point. The term "healer" is viewed with suspicion and the concepts of health and healing are probably not generally discussed in medical schools. But to reincorporate the notion of healing into the practice of medicine does not necessarily mean that medical science will have to be less scientific.

Through the centuries healing has been practiced by folk-healers who are guided by traditional wisdom that see illness as a disorder of the whole person, involving not only the patient's body, but also his mind, his self-image, his dependence on the physical and social environment, as well as his relation to the cosmos.

Paracelsus constantly repeated the old adage that "Nature heals, the doctor nurses" - and it is well to remember that these sorts of healers still treat the majority of patients throughout the world. Some of them, in the form of black Christian bishops in Africa, are subjected to the most appalling kind of misinformed abuse and censure, which so characterized the worst elements of missionary activity among populations whose childlike acceptance of the symbols of life and of nature is one of their most endearing qualities.

I would suggest that the whole imposing edifice of modern medicine, for all its breathtakingly successes is, like the celebrated Tower of Pisa, slightly off balance. No one could be stupid enough to deny the enormous benefits which the advances of medical science in this century have conferred upon us all. To take only one example - penicillin administered in a case of infective heart disease leads to survival in an illness otherwise uniformly fatal. Anyone who has had this kind of experience is likely to be a powerful supporter of modern methods in medicine, but nevertheless the fact remains that contemporary medicine as a whole tends to be fascinated by the objective, statistical, computerised approach to the healing of the sick.

If disease is regarded as an objective problem, isolated from all personal factors, then surgery plus more and more powerful drugs must be the answer. Already the cost of drugs supplied to patients by the British National Health Service alone is well over £2,000 million [U.S. $3,500 million] a year. It is frightening how dependent on drugs we are all becoming and how easy it is for doctors to prescribe them as the universal panacea for our ills. Wonde
rful as many of them are, it should still be more widely stressed by doctors that the health of human beings is so often determined by their behaviour, their food and the nature of their environment.

The last word on this subject remains with Paracelsus, whose name should be synonymous with the common health. He hoped to show, above all, that the "light of Nature" was in the hearts of men, not in books. With all the conviction of a man who follows his inner voice he made a desperate supplication that "would we humans knew our hearts in truth, nothing on earth would be impossible for us."


[1] The Heart of the Healer With Prince Charles, Norman Cousins, Richard Moss, Bernie Siegel & Others.
Edited by Dawson Church & Dr. Alan Sherr Aslan Publishing New York, New York Mickleton, England 1987 ISBN: 0-944031-12-9





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