Epilepsy as caused by dark forces
In general, this falls into two categories: epilepsy due to possession, or epilepsy as a sign that there is a witch working black magic. Again, the seizures mentioned here will mostly be in reference to tonic clonic seizures.
The idea of epilepsy and seizures being caused by malevolent beings is widespread across many cultures; to the Anglo Saxons it might be a sign that the sufferer had been afflicted by elves – a short Saxon charm for use in exorcism goes “I conjure you demons and thieves, elves and the falling sickness”- and the Norse held similar beliefs. Many childhood illnesses common at the time would have had seizures as symptoms so frequently it was explained away as the child being stolen by elves. Christians in Medieval Europe declared epilepsy to have been caused by demons. In some areas of modern day rural Africa seizures will be assumed to have been caused by some kind of demonic possession or witchcraft.
When we think of a person who has been possessed there are certain things that often spring to mind: deepening voice, spastic motion of the limbs, perhaps frothing at the mouth, possible telekinetic powers and similar. With the exception of gaining super powers these can all be attributed to epilepsy. During a seizure the patient may yell out and scream and in The Exorcist one of Regan’s first symptoms when initially possessed is tonic clonic seizures (for a while the doctors actually diagnose her with a form of childhood epilepsy). Even today we still have that basic idea of what a possession looks like. Even though we now know the difference between epilepsy and something that has a supernatural cause, when we create images of that supernatural thing it has that more… traditional, shall we say, appearance.
The biggest issue with modern societies still attributing demonic possession as a cause of epilepsy is that the patient will go to a priest or some other person in a similar role rather than seek medical help (or the patient may be unable to do so). In a study on Voodoo possession (E. Carrazana et al, 1999) cases some were found where the priests’ methods had an adverse effect on the patient. While it is difficult to say how many cases are caused by an actual possession it is generally better to assume that the seizures have a natural root cause as opposed to supernatural.
“But there is no bodily infirmity, not even leprosy or epilepsy, which cannot be caused by witches…. For we have often found that certain people have been visited with epilepsy or the falling sickness by means of eggs which have been buried with dead bodies, especially the dead bodies of witches, together with other ceremonies of which we cannot speak, particularly when these eggs have been given to a person either in food or drink.”
Quote from the Malleus Maleficarum.
During the time of witch hunts (and unfortunately still in some rural areas) a seizure could be taken as the sign that the patient had been cursed. During the Salem witch trials the supposedly cursed girls exhibited convulsions and during the major period of witch hunts a person experiencing seizures might herald the start of hunts in that area. As with divine punishment and demonic possession it is not surprising that people without today’s understanding of neurology would leap to these kinds of conclusions, though it should be noted that many physicians of the time did recognise that epilepsy was caused by processes within the person’s body. Back then- as it is even today- it was the villages where this belief was most prevalent.
However, it should be noted that the majority of modern prejudices against epileptics and people who suffer from seizures appear based more on the misunderstanding that epilepsy may be contagious rather than reasons of witchcraft or demons- we can hope, then, that with further education on the topic epilepsy will become less of a stigma in the future.
Alaric Hall, Elves in Anglo-Saxon England: Matters of Belief, Health, Gender and Identity, Boydell Press, 2007
Daniel Anlezark, Myths, Legends, and Heroes: Essays on Old Norse and Old English Literature, University of Toronto Press, 2011
Louise Jilek-Aall, Morbus Sacer in Africa: Some Religious Aspects of Epilepsy In Traditional Cultures, Epilepsia volume 40, 1999
The Exorcist, William Friedkin, 1973
E. Carrazana, J. DeToledo, W. Tatum, R. Rivas-Vasquez, G. Rey, S. Wheeler, Epilepsy And Religious Experiences: Voodoo Possession, epilepsia, volume 40, 1999
Heinrich Kramer, Malleus Maleficarum, 1486
Bernice Wissler, Epilepsy and Witchcraft: a Brief History, epilepsy.com, September 15th 2003
A. K. Njamnshi, S. A. Angwafor, P. Jallon, and W. F. T. Muna, Secondary school students’ knowledge, attitudes, and practice toward epilepsy in the Batibo Health District—Cameroon, epilepsia, volume 50, 2009
Our writers are also skilled in the various writing styles such the MLA, APA, Oxford and Harvard style of writing. These are the most commonly requested writing styles by students and we have the skill of writing them on our finger tips. Our writers are also selected from broad spectrum of disciplines such as the humanities, arts, the sciences such as medicine and engineering. This diversity ensures that if the clients ask for dissertation help in any field he will get it and that he will be pleased with the final product that we present to him.