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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 57.djvu/299

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THE PSYCHOLOGY OF CRAZES.

barking like dogs, fainting, crying, singing, praying and cursing. Sometimes whole companies were seized with uncontrollable laughing fits, called the holy laugh. At a meeting in East Tennessee, six hundred began jerking at one time. In many instances sensibility would be lost and the extremities would be cold, while the face was flushed. In some places the sufferers were laid out in rows and squares in the churchyard until they should recover. From a medical point of view we should call this epidemic chorea, but its more exact physiology I have already referred to. When closely examined, the phenomena lose a part at least of their mysterious character. We must remember that religious emotions are powerful, deep and ancient. The effect, furthermore, is increased by the general epidemic excitement, by the element of large and unwonted gatherings of people, by imitation, by the stimulating music and by the fearfully exciting power of human shrieks and wild cries and prayers. Such a nervous condition induced in an individual must have two results: first, the escape of the unusual nervous excitement in motor channels, giving rise to the choreic movements; and second, the paralysis of the higher brain centers, resulting in various hypnotic phenomena and reversionary morality and mentality.

Many of these scenes were repeated in the great revival that swept New York and the Middle States, beginning in the year 1832. In these meetings preachers who kept cool and reasoned logically were not listened to. There was rather a demand for the wild, impetuous, vociferous, physically impassioned oratory of the rude man. As an example of reversionary morals in this epidemic, we may notice the fact mentioned by Albert Rhodes that in response to visions many men put away their own wives and took others from their neighbors.

From the psychological point of view perhaps the most instructive of all epidemics is the demonophobia or witchcraft mania which raged from the end of the fifteenth to the end of the seventeenth centuries. The savage's fear of demons and of unseen supernatural agencies lurking in every forest and moor now took hold of the modern world and turned the people, not into brutes and devils as we figuratively say, but simply into the original savages from which they came, whose basal instincts they still carried in their lower nervous centers, to be brought out under the influence of a social craze. The ecclesiastical authorities, both Roman and Protestant, led in this homicidal frenzy, while sedate judges, learned jurors and wise legislators lent their zealous aid. It spread in true epidemic form all over the Continent and into England and Scotland, even to America. Distinguished jurists declared that ordinary methods of trial should not be used for this offence, for so difficult is it to bring proof of the crime of witchcraft, that out of a million of witches not one could be convicted if the usual course of