Wrath of the Wehedu
By Selina Tan
It was in 1570 BC that the Ebers Papyrus, the oldest and most important medical record of ancient Egypt, was written. The early natives were extremely religious and believed that life was created and dictated by the gods. For example, they subscribed to the notion that their god Thoth made human beings and that childbirth was the area of jurisdiction of the god-demon Bes.
They developed a theory of physiology that saw the heart as the centre of a system of 46 tubes, or “channels”. They identified these channels as metu.
However, metu was only used to label the good elements like the blood vessels and respiratory tract that aided life; they lacked a term for its counterpart that alluded to the dynamics of gods and ghosts. Following the observation of damage done to farmers’ fields when an irrigation channel became obstructed, they finally came up with the idea that disease occurred when an evil spirit, known as the wehedu, emerged to wreak havoc on one of the body’s channels.
Unlike other spirits in their culture, these ancient people could not put a face to this malevolent demon that sabotaged people’s health. They simply visualised it as a harmful figure that clogged up the body’s natural orifices. It explained everything: for example, if a woman was infertile, it was because the sexual channel was clogged.
Historians deduce that a variety of bizarre tools and contraptions were likely to have been aimed at exorcising this evil spirit. With the influence of Islamic and Hindu beliefs throughout the Middle Ages, supernatural forces were seen as the main cause of maladies.
However, with the rise of the wehedu, a crucial breakthrough was eventually made in the history of medicine, leading doctors to examine trauma from another angle and abandon spiritual cures for practical cures.