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Human Medicine and the Spirit of Wilderness

It's not going to be easy to investigate wilderness. Spirit as super natural suggests that the natural does not include it, but natural includes spiritual in every particular. The puritan wanted protection from the thing called spirit of wilderness. This notion was upside down in his mind. He thought he was a tantamount Hebrew in the wilderness, to be protected, not protected from, as in Mather's, Magnalia Christi Americana (1702).  Rituals of scapegoats inversely applied to the puritan in the wood. The text that closest approaches what this spiritual Hebrew describes is of the Leviticus scapegoat driven from the camp with sins pronounced on its head,  driven into the wilderness and delivered to the "spirit of the wilderness."


But the  ancient Greeks had the same custom with the pharmakoi, an annual rite of propitiation. Actors, pharmakoi, a man and a woman taken from the village, were ritually executed. They were given gifts of figs and cake in the village, then scourged and driven out. The people threw squill bulbs and stalks at them. These "victims" were volunteers chosen for their ugliness, meant to show the people's repugnance of their sins. The rite celebrated their emergence from barbarism, from when human sacrifice was a literal practice. Pharmakoi supposedly evince higher civilization.

Considering this expulsion of the man/woman some argue Adam and Eve are types of pharmakoi, driven out of the garden, except there was no society to be cleansed. The word for these celebrants translates literally, human medicine, which derives from the word for medicine, pharmakon. They were their own medicine, the means by which "people restore harmony to their world through scapegoat sacrifice i.e. blame and retaliation."

In other times a victim of this rite might have been a captive warrior cannibalized to steal his power. The medicine then was a cure for weakness. Newcomb recounts a ritual where Central Texas Tonkawas consumed a Comanche captive's heart. We're talking 19th century. The objective was to take the "spirit power. If the enemy were courageous he would thus acquire his courage" (W. W. Newcomb. The Indians of Texas, 152.) This human medicine is different from the Greek rite. The pharmakoi were a substitute for the entire people. To restore health to the tribe they transferred societal guilt to the representative man/woman. Rohde says that:

"The pharmakoi were the marginalized. That could include the king, but more commonly the pharmakoi were the unwanted, 'polluted' people such as murderers  the deformed, or foreigners. They were scapegoated by a community in order to avert evils such as disease and other catastrophes. They were ritually led 'outside' via a special gate of the city to purify that city; then they were either exiled or possibly put to death (Harrison: 96). Before they were hunted out of cities, they were 'cleansed' by being beaten with branches of a fig tree and with squills, which were believed to have purifying capabilities (Rohde: 590)." (Rick Strelan, Biblical Theology Bulletin: A Journal of Bible and Theology November 2003 vol. 33 no. 4 148-157.)

But Phamakoi weren't any such thing as the lower class, the poor of garbage dumps or murderers. They were the sin bearers of a sacrament, a purification. In discussion of the outside and the inside in the purging of the body politic, what was once inside, such as the pharmakoi in the town or the goat in the yard, is cast out as a scapegoat, to bear the sins of them all: "if the word pharmakos that Plato does not use still resonates within the text...if the outside is always-already part of the inside," a mystery of expiation is at work, but not "the status of the concepts 'present' and 'absent', 'body' and 'soul', 'center' and 'periphery', for of course all this is a play, not a reality, and the sins come back and again. Poison is also a cure embodied in Socrates expulsion as a scapegoat from the city to his death, in his execution. But not only Socrates. Beware Sociology  making all things into itself.

Mark R. Bredin
says, "Girard sees in Greek myth the phenomenon of people blaming others for the violence in themselves. This "other" is the pharmakos. Girard calls the pharmakos "the victim" whom we kill believing that we are rooting out violence and creating peace (1996: 163). Alison expresses it well: "We are all, always and everywhere, immensely violent creatures, and the only way which we have to control this violence is the search for collective unanimity against a victim" (1998:21). This phenomenon in society Girard calls "single victim mechanism.... In sum, the pharmakos is one who is blamed and is then condemned in order to restore peace to the community." It could be anyone different from the local norm. ("Hate Never Dispelled Hate: No Place for the Pharmakos," Mark R. Bredin, Biblical Theology Bulletin, 2004. )

The sacrifices' ugliness represents its sin, whether less human or more. The inevitable anthropomorphism of the scapegoat in the imagination is more than just a likeness from mammals. It projects outwards from the mind into the world. There is an inside and outside, understood poetically and they do not exclude each other. Spiritual scapegoats come in the form of a man, the malformation of a man, so called a monster. This monster has human likenesses even if it is a man lobster with jaws and legs. This imagination opposes to this a spirit that comes in the beatified form as an angel.