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Year : 2006  |  Volume : 7  |  Issue : 4  |  Page : 153 Table of Contents     

The Gaze: "Powerful Medicine"


Date of Web Publication17-Jun-2010

Correspondence Address:
Rachel Hajar

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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

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How to cite this article:
Hajar R. The Gaze: "Powerful Medicine". Heart Views 2006;7:153

How to cite this URL:
Hajar R. The Gaze: "Powerful Medicine". Heart Views [serial online] 2006 [cited 2021 May 11];7:153. Available from: https://www.heartviews.org/text.asp?2006/7/4/153/64200

Primitive medicine is rooted in magic. Certain objects were believed to have magical or miraculous properties and were used as a charm to avert evil, protection from diseases, and to bring good fortune. Such an object is called talisman, from Arabic tilsam and from Greektelein, which means "to initiate into the mysteries."

The strong belief that talismanic charms held healing powers is entrenched in the medico religious system of many primitive cultures and societies. In these societies, the artist plays an important role. Replicas and graphic representations of talismans in paintings or drawings are much in demand. Often, the artist is the healer as well as priest or shaman. Based on the diseases or disorders described by the patient, the talismanic healer-painters make a disease and - person specific drawing that is supposed to help restore order and harmony to a patient's disturbed physical and spiritual equilibrium.

The paintings on the opposite page are examples of talismanic art from Ethiopia. The motif is striking - large eyes that compels the viewer's gaze on those eyes. The image's gaze radiates out, with the scroll's recipient being at their center. The technique is a means of focusing the drawing's power: the viewer is forced to submit to the eyes - the gaze - in the picture. The priest-healers call

this the "talisman's eye."

In many cultures, the eye is a powerful symbol of protection, wisdom, health, and prosperity. Therefore, it is not surprising that graphic representations of the eye occupy a prominent place in the medico-religious art of ancient civilizations. For example in ancient Egypt, the Eye of Horus or Eye of Ra was believed to have healing and protective power and it was used as a protective amulet and as a medical measuring device, using the mathematical proportions of the eye to determine the proportions of ingredients in the preparation of medications. Our modern "Rx" pharmaceutical symbol has its origins from the Eye of Horus.

The eye is an organ for seeing, a function expanded and exploited in talismanic medicine. The eye is an ancient symbol of the sun, source of light and life. Historically, it has been used as a symbol of omniscience, a word from Latin which means universal or complete knowledge. But who possesses complete knowledge? The obvious answer, of course, is God - He who sees everything. Thus, the eye emblem was used to represent God. Numerous examples can be found in Christian art. This concept - the "all-seeing-eye" - has its origins from the ancient Egyptians who equated the eye with their sun-god Ra.

The power of "the gaze" continues to modern medicine. The practice of medicine employs a clinical gaze - to inspect, analyze, assess, diagnose, as well as convey a range of emotional attitudes. Patients permit or give consent to the physician to explore the exteriors and interiors of their bodies in exchange for explanation and relief of suffering. The gaze is multidimensional: observational, diagnostic, analytical, behavioral, and psychotherapeutic. It is also bidirectional: doctor to patient and patient to doctor. Thus, the gaze is central and vital to the patient-doctor relationship.

Modern medicine, with its sophisticated tools, has enabled the physician "to see" deeper and understand better the mechanisms and pathophysiology of disease and consequently, tailor

potent and effective therapies. However, the highly technical nature of modern diagnostic and therapeutic tools has also alienated patients. More than ever, it is important for physicians to expand the gaze to see beyond symptoms and signs and high-tech images. The physician must "see" the suffering of patients and empathize or identify with the patient. In doing so, he becomes The Healer, possessor of The Gaze - of wisdom and knowledge.


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