In the Brittany of yesteryear, there was a dearth of doctors in the rural areas and when one could be found, his services were not always affordable. Traditional healing treatments were therefore widely used; one of the local healers most commonly consulted was the Bonesetter.
Mysterious magical plants can be found scattered throughout the folklore and popular superstitions of Brittany. Noted for their extreme rareness, long and patient efforts were required to locate these mystical growths. A quest that would only have hopes of success if performed by certain select people or on the most propitious days of the year. The diligent seeker could hope to be rewarded with good fortune, vigorous health or true love.
For over two centuries, a remarkable phenomenon was once noted in central Brittany; a seemingly spontaneous outbreak of barking women that disappeared as suddenly as it had first appeared. The reasons for these strange behaviours have, at times, been attributed to causes ranging from demonic possession to sexual frustration.
The folk medicine and traditional remedies of rural Brittany changed little over the centuries; a fascinating blend of ancient superstitious practices, naturalistic beliefs, witchcraft, religion and empiric medicine. In an earlier post I highlighted some of the popular plant-based treatments once used in the Breton countryside; this post will therefore focus on other traditional natural remedies once found here.
In Brittany, the arrival of midsummer was traditionally celebrated by the lighting of massive communal bonfires and their attendant rituals; ancient practices that, despite the best efforts of the Church to suppress them, continued here well into living memory.
In the rural Brittany of yesteryear, where doctors were very rare, the populace were happy to utilise the healing power of plants and other natural remedies. Sometimes, the intervention of the local healer or witch was sought but often people were content to apply the ancient wisdom that had been transmitted within the family from generation to generation
The health and well-being of valuable livestock exercised the people of yesterday’s Brittany every bit as much as human health. Some of the popular remedies and traditional treatments for animal diseases used in Brittany during the 18th and 19th centuries have survived to us today even if their practice has long since died away.
Herbs and plants once played a key role in the traditional medicine of Brittany, being employed in a wide variety of remedies to treat all manner of diseases in humans and animals. Most proprietary recipes were tightly guarded, being handed down within the family from generation to generation. However, knowledge captured from the popular memory in the early 20th century and uncovered in the old pages of witch’s spell books and folklore, allow us to construct a Breton herbal pharmacopoeia.
People are increasingly turning to natural remedies for their therapeutic virtues. In many cases, we are merely rediscovering what our ancestors had long known and sworn by as effective. Herb and plant extracts have long been traditionally used for medicinal purposes but, in times gone by, other natural products were routinely used.
Some traditional beliefs and popular superstitions surrounding conception, pregnancy, childbirth and early years growth in Brittany.