Paul's question as to the possible bewitching of the Galatians, and Simon the magician's bewitching of the people of Samaria,
Naturally, such leaders had a large body of adherents in that class—so large in all times—who find that
"To follow foolish precedents and wink
With both our eyes, is easier than to think."
It must be owned that their case seemed strong. Though in all human history, so far as it is closely known, these phenomena had appeared, and though every classical scholar could recall the wild orgies of the priests, priestesses, and devotees of Dionysus and Cybele, and the epidemic of wild rage which took its name from some of these, the great fathers and doctors of the Church had left a complete answer to any skepticism based on these facts; in their view the gods of the heathen were devils—these examples, then, could be transformed into a powerful argument for diabolic possession.
But it was more especially the epidemics of diabolism in mediæval and modern times which gave strength to the theological view, and from these I shall present a chain of typical examples.
As early as the eleventh century we find clear accounts of diabolical possession taking the form of epidemics of raving, jumping, dancing, and convulsions—the greater number of the sufferers being women and children. In a time so rude, accounts of these manifestations would rarely receive permanent record; but it is very significant that even at the beginning of the eleventh century we hear of them at the extremes of Europe—in northern Germany and in southern Italy. At various times during that century we get additional glimpses of these exhibitions, but it is not until the beginning of the thirteenth century that we have a renewal of them on a large scale. In 1237, at Erfurt, a jumping disease and dancing mania began and afflicted a hundred children, many of whom died in consequence; it spread through the whole region, and fifty years later we hear of it in Holland.
But it was the last quarter of the fourteenth century that saw its greatest manifestations. There was much reason for them. It was a time of oppression, famine, and pestilence: the crusading spirit, having run its course, had been succeeded by a wild, mystical fanaticism; the most frightful plague in human history—the
- As to eminent physicians, finding a stumbling-block in hysterical mania, see Kirchhof's article, page 351, cited in previous chapter.
- As to the Mænads, Corybantes, and the disease "Corybantism," see, for accessible and adequate statements. Smith's "Dictionary of Antiquities" and Lewis and Short's "Lexicon"; also reference in Hecker's "Essays upon the Black Death and the Dancing Mania." For more complete discussion, see Semelaigne, "L'Alienation mentale dans l'Antiquité," Paris, 1869.