Rachel Neumeier

Fantasy and Young Adult Fantasy Author

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Historical manias

A very interesting link I spotted at Martha Wells’ website. The actual article is by Linda Rodriguez McRobbie, at Mental Floss, not a website I was familiar with before now.

I had never actually heard of any of these manias. I was thinking it would be like the tulip mania and things like that, things you can basically understand — crazy optimism driving insane bubbles — but no.

1. The Deadly Dancing Mania of the Middle Ages. Had you heard of this? Listen:

The plague swept the countryside and, almost just as suddenly as it had come, disappeared. Until July 1518, in Strasbourg, when a woman called Frau Troffea picked up the tune again and danced for days on end. Within a week, she was joined by 34 people; by the end of the month, the crowd had swelled to 400. If they’d been inmates in a Philippine prison, the whole thing would have been choreographed, set to “Thriller” and uploaded to YouTube, but since this was the Middle Ages, they just died. Dozens perished, having literally danced themselves into heart attacks, strokes, and exhaustion.”

That is so weird. That is SO WEIRD. I mean, it’s also a cleverly written essay, all that about the YouTube, but the actual phenomenon, who would DO that? What were the lives of these people LIKE, that they could be sucked into something like this? Actually McRobbie explains just how bad life was at the moment, and how once people got the idea of dancing plagues into their heads, then fear and depression could render them vulnerable to this kind of thing.

But still.

2. The Tanganyika Laughter Epidemic of 1962 — school girls who redefined the idea of a laughing jag. Poor kids. I can almost but not quite imagine.

3. Dromomania, or Pathological Tourism — an inability to stop traveling. Not sure I believe in this one, though it demonstrates the fads that hit mental health professionals. That’s useful right there.

4. Koro, or Genital Retraction Syndrome — damn those fox women! Actually, the psychological phenomenon does say a lot about the society where men (mostly) are afflicted with the idea that their genitals are shrinking. But it seems hard on the fox women. I always liked fox women.

5. Motor Hysteria — this one afflicted nuns, and I’m not surprised, considering how grim life could be for nuns in the Middle Ages, some of whom were not volunteers. No wonder there were occasional epidemics of nuns acting out symptoms of demonic possession.

Anyway, a very interesting article. Kind of makes you look around for epidemics of hysteria in the modern day. Internet lynch mobs spring to mind, but I doubt the symptoms last long enough to count; nothing like a sixteen-day laughing jag. I wonder if there are ever epidemics of, say, anorexia, that go through a particular high school?

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