Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 35.djvu/16

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But, long before this form of "possession" had begun to disappear, there had arisen new manifestations, apparently more inexplicable. As the first great epidemics of dancing and jumping had their main origin in a religious ceremony, so various new forms had their principal source in what were supposed to be centers of religious life—in the convents, and more especially in those for women.

Out of many examples we may take a few as typical.

In the fifteenth century the chroniclers assure us that an inmate of a German nunnery having been seized with a passion for biting her companions, her mania spread until most, if not all, her fellow-nuns began to bite each other; and that this passion for biting passed from convent to convent into other parts of Germany, into Holland, and even across the Alps into Italy.

So, too, in a French convent, when a nun began to mew like a cat, others began mewing, and the desire spread and was only checked by severe measures.[1]

In the sixteenth century the Protestant Reformation gave new force to witchcraft persecutions in Germany. The new Church endeavored to show that in zeal and power she exceeded the old. But in France influential opinion seemed not so favorable to these forms of diabolical influence, especially after the publication of Montaigne's "Essays," in 1580, had spread a skeptical atmosphere over many leading minds.

In 1588 occurred in France a case which indicates the growth of this skeptical tendency even in the higher regions of the French Church. In that year Martha Brossier, a country girl, was, it was claimed, possessed of the devil. The young woman was to all appearance under direct satanic influence. She roamed about, begging that the demon might be cast out of her, and her imprecations and blasphemies brought consternation wherever she went. Myth-making began on a large scale; stories grew and spread. The capuchin monks thundered from the pulpits throughout France regarding these proofs of the power of Satan. The alarm spread, until at last even jovial, skeptical King Henry IV was disquieted, and the reigning pope was asked to take measures to ward off the evil.

Fortunately, there then sat in the episcopal chair of Angers a prelate who had apparently imbibed something of Montaigne's skepticism—Miron; and, when the case was brought before him, he submitted it to the most time-honored of sacred tests. He first brought into the girl's presence two bowls, one containing holy water, the other ordinary spring-water, but allowed her to draw a

    servations in Carpenter's "Mental Physiology," London, 1888, pp. 312-315; also Maudsley, "Pathology of Mind," p. 73 and following.

  1. See citation from Zimmermann's "Solitude," in Carpenter, pp. 34, 314.