Concept: Social anthropology
ETHNOPHARMACOLOGICAL RELEVANCE: While scorpionism is not a serious public health problem in Spain, traditional Spanish knowledge has retained a large number of plant-based and animal-based remedies for scorpion stings. Additionally, this arthropod plays an important role in the treatment of its own sting and has become a significant therapeutic resource in the treatment of several human pathologies. These remedies are distributed across a large number of references. MATERIALS AND METHODS: A thorough review of Spanish literature has been conducted in the fields of folklore, ethnography, ethnomedicine, ethnobotany, ethnozoology, social anthropology and medical anthropology from the early twentieth century to the present. Automated searches in national and international databases have been performed. RESULTS: The results include more than 110 traditional remedies for scorpion stings. Forty- eight remedies are based on the use of 29 vascular plants in 19 different botanical families. This listing of useful plants is broader than that provided by other researchers studying neighboring areas. Seventeen remedies based on the use of nine animal species, including humans, are also reported. Remedies have also been documented involving mud and water, while other remedies indicate the use of scorpions (crushed and applied directly). Many remedies emphasize the topical use of “scorpion oil” (i.e., oil from fried scorpions). Two remedies are based on the maceration of scorpions in alcohol. In most cases, topical remedies are applied locally on the affected area. There is also some use of magical remedies as well. The scorpion has also been used as a major component in 22 Spanish remedies and healing rituals associated with 17 human pathologies. CONCLUSIONS: The present study demonstrates the importance of the scorpion in Spanish folk medicine. In general, the remedies evaluated mix magic and empiricism. The data we obtained may represent relevant background knowledge for studies aimed at developing and applying new therapeutic remedies for scorpion stings and other human pathologies. The data also invites further research to determine the validity of these folk remedies.
This commentary calls on medical anthropology to become programmatically non-secular. Despite recent anthropological critiques of secularity, within and outside of anthropology, most contemporary medical anthropologists continue to leave deities and religiosity out of their examinations of healing practices, especially in their accounts of biomedicine. Through a critical, relational constructionist lens, which traces how all entities are both constructed and real, a non-secular medical anthropology would insist that when deities are part of medical practice, they are integral to analysis. Importantly then, within the symmetrical nature of this same constructionist lens, biomedical entities like germs and petri dishes need to be accounted for just as much as deities.
Medical anthropology has long appreciated the clinical encounter as a rich source of data and a key site for critical inquiry. It is no surprise, then, that a number of physician-anthropologists have used their clinical insights to make important contributions to the field. How does this duality challenge and enhance the moral practice and ethics of care inherent both to ethnography and to medicine? How do bureaucratic and professional obligations of HIPAA and the IRB intersect with aspirations of anthropology to understand human experience and of medicine to heal with compassion? In this paper, I describe my simultaneous fieldwork and clinical practice at an urban women’s jail in the United States. In this setting, being a physician facilitates privileged access to people and spaces within, garners easy trust, and enables an insider perspective more akin to observant participation than participant observation. Through experiences of delivering the infants of incarcerated pregnant women and of being with the mothers as they navigate drug addiction, child custody battles, and re-incarceration, the roles of doctor and anthropologist become mutually constitutive and transformative. Moreover, the dual practice reveals congruities and cracks in each discipline’s ethics of care. Being an anthropologist among informants who may have been patients reworks expectations of care and necessitates ethical practice informed by the dual roles.