Navajo Medicine Men making a Healing Sandpainting
To most American Indians, medicine had/has a different meaning than we give it. It comes with an entire array of ideas and healing concepts, as well as remedies and treatments.
An explorer, George Grinnell, wrote something that we’d like to share with you:
“All these things that we speak of as medicine, Indian people call mysterious. And, the word mysterious is used to mean that their healing properties is beyond anyone’s power to account for.”
Isn’t this what the power of prayer or positive thinking amounts to? Positive thoughts that we send up to the skies, or hopes and dreams that may or may not come true. And if they do come true? It comes from the center of the great mystery–probably whichever form of religion we ascribe to.
He continues: “We say that Indian people call whisky ‘medicine water.’ Translated, it is really called mysterious water, meaning water that acts in a way that’s not understandable. And, in the same way, some tribes call the horse ‘medicine dog,’ and the gun ‘medicine iron‘. Both are a mystery.
“People who we call a medicine man may be a doctor, a healer of diseases. If he does something like juggle, he may be a worker of magic. Either way, he is a mystery man.
“All Indian languages that we know of have words which are the equivalent of our word ‘medicine’, sometimes with curative properties. But, the Indian’s actual translation of ‘medicine,’ used in the sense of magical or supernatural, would be ‘mysterious, inexplicable, and unaccountable.'”
Medicine is a mystery, almost any Western doctor will agree. Sure, there are formulas to make the medicine and give it. But, in the end, the same medicine works differently on everyone. And that is a mystery. We all understand that, and the best doctors will agree that, in the end, there is a magic inside the patient, whether we call it will, fate or chemistry, that will cause healing.
As an afternote, and a description of how much the term ‘medicine’ covers, John James Audubon, the great American painter and naturalist, said, “I think it’s notable that the Missouri valley Indians called the steamboat “great medicine.” Truly, moving across a mighty river, with or against the current, certainly is mysterious.
So, let your mind roam the world of mysteries and wonders. See how much comes down to the word “medicine.” It’s just about everything imaginable!