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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 49.djvu/567

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EPIDEMICS OF HYSTERIA.

pophagy—that is, the delusion that the devil and his worshipers lived on human flesh. Men were believed to live in the neighborhood of Berne and of Lausanne who had given themselves to the devil, and who ate their own children. Hundreds of men were for this stretched on the rack or burned at the stake. Indeed, there were a number of insane persons who thought that they themselves were in league with the devil, and that they slew children.

The bull of Innocent VIII, which appeared in 1484, showed how deep-rooted the devil-delusion was in Germany. Everywhere people talked of how there was a great league with devils whose votaries committed deeds of shame in their assemblies; of how they were under obligation to destroy and consume newborn babes before they were baptized. In one year after the publication of the bull, forty-one women were executed in Burbia because in their nocturnal assemblies they always strangled, boiled, and ate a child. Toward the middle of the sixteenth century there broke out in many places in Germany, especially in convents, epidemic convulsions which exhibited the typical image of la grande hystérie and were connected with symptoms of religious delusions and of sexual excitement. Of one convent we read: "It was singular that as soon as one nun had her fit, the others, even in distant parts of the building, would immediately go off into fits as soon as they heard the noise of a person falling. The nuns had no power of will at all; they bit themselves, struck and bit their mates, knocked against one another, and endeavored vehemently to wound strangers. Upon any attempt to control the indecency of their conduct, their tumult and exaltation would become more angry. If they were left to themselves, they would soon come to biting and wounding without seeming to feel the least pain." Such subjects were considered to be bewitched or possessed of the devil. They were treated by exorcisms and conjurations which often increased their sufferings.

Not women alone were attacked by the disease; men were visited in the same way. Gilles de la Tourette gives an account of such an epidemic, according to a description by Hecker. We read: "In Aix-la-Chapelle, in 1574, troops of men and women from Germany were seen laboring under a common madness and displaying in the streets and churches this singular spectacle. With clasped hands, and carried away by an inward compulsion which they could not master, they danced for hours and kept up the spectacle without being abashed by those who were about, until they would fall exhausted to the ground. Then they would complain of their great agony, and would groan as though they were going to die, until people wrapped their abdomen with linen cloths, whereupon they would come to themselves and be free for