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January 2022

Soc Sci Med. 1984 ; 19(5): 523-33.

How to stay well in Tzintzuntzan.

Foster GM.

In this paper the basic principles of humoral pathology in Tzintzuntzan, Michoacán, Mexico are outlined, and related to the strategies people follow to avoid illness. It is suggested that most Latin American accounts of humoral pathology are deficient in their failure to give due weight to thermal temperature, as well as to the metaphoric qualities embodied in the 'hot-cold dichotomy'. Emphasizing preventive rather than therapeutic measures highlights a basic, usually overlooked, characteristic of humoral pathology: whereas the well-known 'principle of opposites' explains therapies, a diametrically-opposed 'principle of the avoidance of opposites' explains most behavior when people are well. Although scientific medicine is now first choice for villagers for therapy, explanation of illness continues to be based on humoral principles. Since people believe humoral principles account for what has happened to them, and since they believe that humoral precepts in prevention give them a high degree of control over their health, it is likely that humoral pathology--at least as a belief system--will flourish for a long time to come.


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