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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 49.djvu/568

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POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

a time from their sufferings. The object of this was to dispel the wind which set in after the attack. People often resorted to the simpler method of planting blows of the fist or kicks upon their abdomens. During their dance the subjects had visions. They did not see or hear; but in their imagination they beheld spirits whose names they pronounced, or rather shrieked out. . . . fell snorting to the ground without consciousness, and foamed at the mouth. Then, all at once, they got up and began their dance with frightful wrenchings. In a few months this plague extended from Aix-la-Chapelle as far as the Netherlands." Like the men and women, children were likewise attacked.

A phenomenon often seen to-day in insane asylums is that patients think themselves to be beasts, such as dogs, cats, monkeys, wolves, etc., and behave accordingly. In the middle ages this gave rise to the superstition of the Werewolf. The word is formed from wolf and the obsolete word wer, in Gothic vair, in Latin vir, man. Such persons, who during epidemics were sometimes found in great numbers, ran about the woods on all fours, lived and behaved exactly like beasts, fell upon men who might pass by, attacked even riders and vehicles, and stole children and devoured their flesh. Such things were known to the ancients too.

The influence which hysterical subjects exercised upon the whole metaphysics, or view of the universe of those times, was tremendous. While superstition and fanaticism may truly be called the best fertilizers to yield a crop of hysteria—and they have vastly contributed to its extension and large growth—at the same time, hysteria, in its turn, with its astonishing symptoms, far beyond the classificatory powers of those ages, has had the effect of enormously feeding and propagating superstition. In short, the two phenomena, hysteria and superstition, played into one another's hands; each was alternately cause and effect; and between them they called forth that dismal period in which the human mind was loaded with fetters, and postponed for centuries its free possession of its heritage. The author who is capable of saying that before this our time "hysteria only occurred sporadically, and was of no importance for the life of society in general," is not acquainted with the history of insanity and the biography of the human race. In order to pass judgment upon the present times from a psychological point of view, the very first requisite is an acquaintance with times gone by, and a tracing out of the path which has brought our culture to its present height.

Before passing on to the study of the present, let us first ask why and how it was that diseases of the mind took on an epidemic character. Most of those authors who have made hysteria the