The armourers and the goggles: history of superstitions and ignorance in medicine

by Federico Quagliuolo

If today we get angry for the many fake medical news published on some amateur blog of santoni who promise who knows what miraculous cures or truths, we just stumbled upon version 3.0 of the armourers. In Neapolitan, 'signer.

Were well-known figures throughout Campania, even if the Benevento area held the primacy of these figures dai almost shamanic traits which, after all, they were scammers posing as doctors taking advantage of the credulity of the people. There was also the female version, the occhiarola: it was a woman who performed complex rituals to check if anyone had launched the evil eye on the house, on the family or even on a single object.

In short, the demonstration that the world never changes. Only the means on which we build ours evolve social schemes eternally the same, irrational and bizarre.

inciarmatori medicina sanniti

The southern people divided between fantasy, occult and metaphysics

It is a must a little introduction, as it is very complex to descend into the Neapolitan soul and touch keys as delicate as the relationship between reality and intangible beliefs. Campania, on the other hand, has always been land halfway between the true and the metaphysical, where each place is associated with imaginative and symbolic folk legends at the same time. Next to a deeply philosophical soul, what then gave rise to the mysteries of Egyptian school, to the Sansevero and to Neapolitan Freemasonry, there is a popular level made of anecdotes, stories, superstitions and famous people.

Right in the middle of this very thin limine between true and unreal have been moving for centuries gray figures: some are scammers, other times they really are convinced of their own supernatural powers, other times people strange ended up in the popular imagination without their knowledge. Here then is a Salerno the magician Pietro Barliario, to Naples the mystical Eusapia Palladino it's at Benevento the figures of wizards and witches, also nourished by the presence of the Church in the city. Or let's still think about assisted, to the esoteric values of the cards, at fictional stories that ended up in street names. Everything in this land has many, many values and interpretations.

But let's get to the armourers: were very famous in the country realities (then they also spread to the capitals, especially Benevento, Avellino and Caserta), they were in great demand from the peasant people and the most ignorant people, terrified of doctors (and it is ironic to think that the first medical school in the western world, and the Samnite one is one of the most authoritative medical schools in Italy).

These gurus they proposed bizarre rituals, other times potions, other times again they issued prophecies not different from those you read in versions of Greek and Latin, with the difference that theirs were figures peacefully accepted by the people up to 50s of the last century.

De Blasio assumes that the success of the armourers is due to the fact that, despite being gods charlatans and often their care had no effect, they made good use of the suggestions of the people And "they spoke their language", Compared to the doctor he was a person clearly of higher culture and was viewed with distrust.

Dear combà Pietro,
Agio learned from Nunziatella the daughter of Tomaso that your daughter Cungettella is ill and that you have no scruple from the awareness of the vuliva to have me observe too . I, from what marraccundato Nunziatella subbito agggio, understood that his daughter holds the wormy fever.
What I recommend is to leave all the medicines that that f ... (censored insults) doctor writes to you. Because another vote for Combà Cosimo's daughter, for example if she takes certain pinnulilles, if she was having the field (she was about to die, ed). Lassa all the medicines and instead squash the canned food that you eat, make a small piece of it and put it in the cup to the mellicuro and you see that it passes immediately bona. If you want me to come, then send me in the car.
Your fight, Filippo

Sanframondi Guard, 8 September 1891

A letter from a landlord
inciarmatori medicina medioevo medici
A nice potion for a sick person

The arsonists, between pseudomedicine and scams

Today again the word "'leave”Exists in everyday Neapolitan speech. Originally it referred to the activity of "do witchcraft, sleight of hand“, While today it is applied more generically to all shady activities that are taking place near an object or with other people. It comes from the French "charmer, which means "enchant, fascinate“.

Abele De Blasio explains that this figure has very ancient origins: since the time of the ancient Greeks they are often mentioned. In this regard, for example, there are edicts of the Emperor Constantine who they prohibit divination and the creation of talismans and potions by fake mages and healers, with very severe penalties that go up to death, in addition to confiscation of assets. Even in the comedies by Scarpetta there is the figure of the 'signer, demonstrating the spread of the figure in throughout the Campania region.

There was no skill or requirement to join the category: the armourers were figures known for miraculous healing abilities, which they prepared concoctions or potions, at other times they advised recite nursery rhymes or do bizarre rituals to overcome pain and disease. And their popular consensus made them very famous, so much so that at times they are also called at the noble houses. De Blasio says that these semi-illiterate gurus they were welcomed in the homes of the people with almost a do religious. They often dispensed advice on medicine, they gave opinions and judgments which, understandable to the ears of those who had not studied, they had a sacred value. Mostly, in fact, they were excellent storytellers.

On the other hand, in the supreme ignorance and simplicity of some people, doctors were believed to work to keep people from healingotherwise they would all be out of work. Let's not forget that too the treatments of past centuries they were far from tender, often with bloodletting, expensive medicines or very painful operations. In short, a lot better to rely on some placebo effect. What if the patient died, evidently it was the will of the good Lord.

Some custody of the arsonists were codified, such as the "nolarch”(Jaundice), which was cured with a decoction of black chickpeas mixed with old brick dust. Or the bronchitis, curated with horse nails incinerated and smeared on the patient's chest.

Femmena 'ngrata, benign man
Under water and under ligno
He said Mighty God
That he was hurting him and a tooth

A rhyme to be repeated three times touching the sick tooth with a straw of wheat every morning, makes the toothache go away
inciarmatori demoni streghe benevento
Devils, witches and wizards who feast happily thinking about the next one to propose

Look at them to understand if you are subject to the evil eye

There female version of the armourers was represented by eye circles, which instead relied on another type of popular belief, namely the evil eye.

Also in this case De Blasio relates one of these rituals to assess whether a sick person is in those conditions a cause of the evil eye: the occhiarola fills a dish with water and passes it through three times on the sick person's head. Then pour some drops of oil in the water: if the drops remain in the center of the plate, the evil eye is not there. If they disperse, then the person certainly is jetta and you must immediately move on to purification of the person who has had the curse.

Their payment for the exorcisms consisted of products of the earth or a few pennies e they even charged more than regular doctors precisely because they were perceived as problem solvers.

If, from the top of our "technological superiority" of our smartphone we consider ourselves away from these past stories, we have very little to laugh about: we only found that the importance of marketing and the cult of crook on duty they simply evolve with us.

-Federico Quagliuolo

Abele De Blasio, Carriers, wizards and witches from Benevento, Luigi Pierro, Naples, 1900
Francesco De Bourcard, Uses and customs of the Neapolitans, Polaris, La Spezia, 1990
Lucio De Giovanni, the emperor Constantine and the pagan world, D'Auria, Naples, 2004

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