The small door in nineteenth-century pharmacies.
All pharmacies used to have a door between the room the public entered and the laboratory. It was often small and narrow, sometimes artistically hidden between the shelves.
For the profane it symbolised the boundary between the world of the public and the mysterious, secret and extraordinary world of pharmaceutical knowledge.
In professional and academic organisations, a door always separates the public area from the hallowed ground of the initiated. The door is narrow as a reminder of the difficulty that exists in gaining knowledge.
The area on the other side of the door is exclusive and only permitted to the scholar: it is the dominion of science – or the sciences.
It was very often the case that the remains of a crocodile and a tortoise would be kept in very old pharmacies.
Crocodiles are connected with water and luxuriant vegetation, in short, with the fertility of plants. In Mayan mythology plants useful to man flowed forth from the head of an alligator. In ancient Egypt the crocodile was thought of as the lord of the mysteries of life and death, and effective in the treatment of numerous ailments.
This fact was recorded in a papyrus written in approximately 1600 BC. Another papyrus of 1200 BC records a magical-therapeutic ritual to treat a headache: a model of a crocodile holding medicinal herbs in its mouth was tied to the head of the sufferer.
In ancient times medicaments derived from a crocodile were thought to have aphrodisiacal powers, and this belief has survived in Egypt today.
The therapeutic use of tortoiseshell is recorded in China since the 3rd c. BC and continues till this day. In the oldest books of Chinese medicine, the shell of a tortoise, like deer horn, is considered as raw material of animal nature. In the Taoist tradition, the gelatine provided by tortoiseshell balances the yin and yang principles of the organism. The curative properties of tortoiseshell symbolise the compassion of animals for human health.