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Old Medical Tradition


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There is an old tradition in Finland called bleeding, and people who practice the tradition are known as bleeders. The idea of bleeding is that it activates the circulation and cleans the blood. Some people think that bad blood causes many diseases and makes them feel ill. Some people want to reduce the amount of blood because they believe that too much blood in the body could kill them.

In olden times, instead of sucking the blood using the teeth, a cow’s horn was used. The head of the horn was sawed off and a pig’s bladder was tied to the horn. The bleeder went on until the blood faded and looked like milk. People believed that the treatment worked best if it was done at the end of the month. And bleeding was forbidden during the dog days from the end of July and the beginning of August.

Before the treatment began, the person had to warm the skin in the sauna to make the blood flow better. Then they had to wash up because they couldn’t wash later until the incisions had healed. The skin was covered with small cuts which followed the muscles in the back. When the blood began to flow, the cup was placed on the cuts and the bleeder began to suck the blood. Usually it was an old woman called the cup woman. The treatment began at the shoulders and the cups could be placed on the chest muscles, buttocks, feet or hands. People usually take the treatments four or five times a year because the body can’t stand to have it done every week.

There are probably 30 to 40 bleeders presently in Finland and they don’t think the tradition is doomed to die. In fact, interest is rising. Although bleeding is a typical Finnish tradition, it is also practiced in Switzerland where leeches are used instead of the sucking cup or horn.

Excerpts from an article by Kati Kettunen, “A New Journal for North American Finns” July 1999

June Pelo

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