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"Evil Theory" the on Origins of Acupuncture

Published in The Art of Acupuncture, 1989 and Presented in 32nd Annual British Acupuncture Congress, Brighton, England – 1993

Acupuncture must have previously been in existence when it was somehow discovered in prehistoric times that there were certain points on the body surface which, if stimulated in some way either relieved pain or had beneficial effects on the body. It seems that there were techniques used in primitive societies to give such stimulation, including massage, heating, burning, scratching, etc, as well as puncturing with sharp stones and thorns. Exactly how the potency of the acupuncture points was originally discovered is unclear, but according to this theory it must have arisen through the widespread view of disease in primitive societies, as a manifestation of ‘evil” that had entered the body. The “evil” then had to be persuaded to leave, and such painful techniques as burning, puncturing, pinching, beating with rose sticks and twigs were used to get it to do so, as it can still be seen in many remote areas and many African tribes, Brazilian tribes, Eskimos, and among Indians. Over the course of centuries, it would have been recognized that certain points on the body surface were more effective than others, and certain points more appropriate than others for specific problems.

Of course, such a theory would suggest the possibility of a rather widespread knowledge of such techniques in primitive societies, and, in fact, comparable procedures have been used in such diverse examples as the Bantu, the Eskimos, and isolated Brazilian tribes. Certain traditional Chinese explanations of the origin of acupuncture seem to relate to later stages in history, and are probably subsequent rationalisations of thought. They may indeed account for the preservation and development of acupuncture in certain societies as they become more advanced.

One of these theories is the “arrow theory”, formulated during the bow-and-arrow stage of warfare, when it was noticed that certain superficial arrow wounds did, in fact, have a beneficial effect on the body. Another is the “punishment theory”, which hypothesises that some criminals may have been punished by having needles stuck into them and some beneficial effects of this might then have been noted. But these events happened at a time when country demarcations were laid down, and in the process of civilization there were more crimes and wars due to hatred, politics, and vested interests.