Ceremonies for Gathering Plants and Preparing Medicine

There are a number of ceremonies and regulations observed in connection with the gathering of the herbs, roots, and barks, which can not be given in detail within the limits of this paper. In searching for his medicinal plants the shaman goes provided with a number of white and red beads, and approaches the plant from a certain direction, going round it from right to left one or four times, reciting certain prayers the while. He then pulls up the plant by the roots and drops one of the beads into the hole and covers it up with the loose earth. In one of the formulas for hunting ginseng the hunter addresses the mountain as the “Great Man” and assures it that he comes only to take a small piece of flesh (the ginseng) from its side, so that it seems probable that the bead is intended as a compensation to the earth for the plant thus torn from her bosom. In some cases the doctor must pass by the first three plants met until he comes to the fourth, which he takes and may then return for the others. The bark is always taken from the east side of the tree, and when the root or branch is used it must also be one which runs out toward the east, the reason given being that these have imbibed more medical potency from the rays of the sun.

When the roots, herbs, and barks which enter into the prescription have been thus gathered the doctor ties them up into a convenient package, which he takes to a running stream and casts into the water with appropriate prayers. Should the package float, as it generally does, he accepts the fact as an omen that his treatment will be successful. On the other hand, should it sink, he concludes that some part of the preceding ceremony has been improperly carried out and at once sets about procuring a new package, going over the whole performance from the beginning. Herb-gathering by moonlight, so important a feature in European folk medicine, seems to be no part of Cherokee ceremonial. There are fixed regulations in regard to the preparing of the decoction, the care of the medicine during the continuance of the treatment, and the disposal of what remains after the treatment is at an end. In the arrangement of details the shaman frequently employs the services of a lay assistant. In these degenerate days a number of upstart pretenders to the healing art have arisen in the tribe and endeavor to impose upon the ignorance of their fellows by posing as doctors, although knowing next to nothing of the prayers and ceremonies, without which there can be no virtue in the application. These impostors are sternly frowned down and regarded with the utmost contempt by the real professors, both men and women, who have been initiated into the sacred mysteries and proudly look upon themselves as conservators of the ancient ritual of the past.

Cherokee, Medicine,

Mooney, James. Sacred Formulas Of The Cherokees. Published in the Seventh Annual Report, Bureau of Ethnology, pp. 301-399. 1886.

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