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Trust, talk and touch in Balkan folk healing

  • Anthropology
  • Biology
  • Communication
  • Pharmacology


Broadly based in long-term anthropological fieldwork in the Balkans (in Serbia, Macedonia and Bulgaria), this discussion of folk healing techniques illustrates how convergence in the patient/practitioner relationship is of prime importance in effecting a positive outcome. Sumadija in central Serbia is selected as an example, and treatment for erysipelas, a common health problem which villagers call 'the red wind', is described and analyzed. Against a sociocultural background in which the collective wisdom of the past is retained and transmitted orally to contemporary healers, especially to the bajalica, or conjurer who heals with words, it is shown how shared communicative modes of trust, talk and touch are essential to the ritual psychomancy by which the treatment 'works'. Also considered are the ritual roles of women in this patriarchal society and peasants' perceptions of folk pharmacology as being extraneous to the eventual cure. Connections between cultural responses and physiological responses as manifested in the villages are suggested as counterparts of Western symptomatic treatments related to behavior modification.

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