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A Frog Under the TongueJewish Folk Medicine in Eastern Europe$
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Marek Tuszewicki

Print publication date: 2021

Print ISBN-13: 9781906764982

Published to Liverpool Scholarship Online: September 2021

DOI: 10.3828/liverpool/9781906764982.001.0001

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Diseases as Demonic Beings

Diseases as Demonic Beings

Chapter:
(p.213) Chapter Eleven Diseases as Demonic Beings
Source:
A Frog Under the Tongue
Author(s):

Marek Tuszewicki

Publisher:
Liverpool University Press
DOI:10.3828/liverpool/9781906764982.003.0012

This chapter discusses how Jews view diseases as manifestations of demons. The Jewish culture of eastern Europe saw diseases either as autonomous entities whose existence was closely bound up with that of humans or as entirely separate beings that could take possession of the human body and manifest themselves in the form of various symptoms (pain, stabbing sensations, swelling, redness, etc.). Some of these 'lived' in the body of their host as congenital to it, even vital for its proper functioning. Others were seen as harmful intruders. This anthropomorphization of physical misfortunes had a variety of consequences for therapeutic practices. The demonic character of diseases invading the human body occasioned the use of remedies designed to confuse, frighten away, disgust, bribe, or starve the anthropomorphized complaint. Diseases that were imagined as unclean beings would be treated with a vast arsenal of magical remedies, including popular apotropaics. In the popular conception the human body was the natural seat of all manner of beings, without which it could not exist. These were normally dormant, but in certain adverse conditions they would awake and make their presence painfully felt in some way. Jewish sources contain examples of magic incantations to drive out worms, conjurations in Yiddish borrowed from the language of the Christian environment, biblical quotes, and so on. In the folk understanding, it was in the nature of some diseases to 'attack' whole populations. Mystical methods were ubiquitously employed to combat plague, the most widespread being symbolic isolation.

Keywords:   diseases, demons, Jewish remedies, Jewish apotropaics, Jewish magic incantations, Jewish mystical methods, plague, Jewish culture

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