A Secret Grave 62: Alchemy

 

So what was this knowledge? Certainly it had to do with the occult. Secret cures and remedies. A way of practicing medicine that took into account herbs and floral tinctures, the humors of the body, the vagaries and predilections of the mind. It involved prayer, repetition of words, mixtures of roots, berries, shell, bone, beak, claw, cartilage. I would think a certain portion was borrowed from the Chinese tradition of acupuncture, awareness of the electrical properties of the body, cupping and needling, pressure points, reflexology. One of the great tools was the heat and energy that emanated from the hands. The vibration of light, color and sound. The appearance of the tongue and quickness of pulse, texture of skin, shine of eye in any diagnosis.

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Reflexology, HAMZA BUTT, https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/

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Rudolf Gottlieb built a glass-walled shed in his back yard where he grew plants, herbs, flowers that he regularly used in his medical practice. Everything he knew he had learned from his own father, also a doctor, who had learned it from his doctor father who had learned it from his, an unbroken line including rabbis, metaphysicians, midwives, bloodletters, herbalists that went back generations.

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Bloodletting in 1860, one of only three known photographs of the procedure, The Burns Archive – Burns Archive via Newsweek, 2.4.2011

 

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It was Leonard’s intention to honor that line, and so, along with the hours he put into seeing patients and building his own medical practice, he spent a portion of each day receiving instruction from his father. Since there was ongoing friction between the two men because of Leonard’s marriage, their times together must have been complicated. But more important than anything else was the transfer of knowledge. Leonard was the good yeshiva boy when he was with his father. But when he was home with his wife and kids he was a normal dad who ate what he wanted, played basketball, went to the movies, told jokes, took the family on car trips, wore tee shirts, jeans, khaki pants instead of black rabbinical clothing. Victor had no idea what went on between his father and grandfather. When Leonard built a glass shed behind their house he thought it was just so they could have pretty flowers on the table. When Victor was sick and Leonard put his hands on him and made him feel better, the little boy saw that as a natural function of medicine. He thought his parents adored one another and he was the gift and object of that love (in his mind, his brother, Roy, was not necessarily part of the equation); he did not, as a child of five or six or seven, understand the stresses of their lives or the great mysteries that surrounded them. It wasn’t until his grandfather had died and they were living in Dallas that he witnessed Leonard, who kept a secret laboratory, burning materials and doing strange things in the middle of the night.

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To be continued…

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Cover photo ~ Alchemist, Lau Svensson, https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/

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