Five Incidents of Mass Hysteria Aug 22, 2015 23:47:05 GMT -5
Post by Joanna on Aug 22, 2015 23:47:05 GMT -5
Five Incidents of Mass Hysteria
Science has proven that some illnesses can be transferred from one person to another through bacteria and viruses. There is nothing mysterious about influenza and head colds spreading from close contact those who are sick. More difficult to explain, however, are incidents in which symptoms appear out of nowhere or seemingly impossible events are experienced by a large number of people. Such episodes fall under the blanket psychological term "mass hysteria," and following are a few examples.
The Salem Witch Trials. This is one of the best-known incidents of mass hysteria. It began when two young girls of the small settlement of Salem Village began to experience seizures that could not be explained by contemporary medical knowledge. Following their seizures, the girls proclaimed they were being assaulted by supernatural entities conjured by local women. Before long, additional girls were being afflicted and more townspeople (mostly females) were being accused. Justice was swift and the accused, who refused to confess, were sentenced to be hanged. Ironically, those who falsely confessed were not executed. Nineteen men and women were hanged and another man, Giles Corey, was pressed to death. The last executions took place in September 1692 and, eventually, all those imprisoned were set free. Theories concerning what happened in Salem run the gamut from a pathological fear of American Indians to rye fungus.
The Sun Miracle. Some would say this incident does not belong in the mass hysteria category because many believe in its authenticity. However, other researchers have concluded it is a genuine case of mass hysteria. In May 1917 in the environs of Fatima, Portugal, three young children claimed to have seen an apparition by the Virgin Mary. There would be several subsequent supernatural visitations before a complex and hotly-debated incident took place October 13, 1917. The Blessed Virgin reportedly told the children that on that day, she would appear to them for the last time and create a miracle so astounding that everyone would accept the reality of her appearances. What occurred is still debated.
A crowd of thousands gathered to witness the promised miracle. There was a steady rain until the sun broke through the clouds. Many witnesses insisted the light appeared abnormal and the sun itself changed colors and spun around in the sky. A Portuguese newspaper reported “... the sun trembled, made sudden incredible movements outside all natural laws – and the sun 'danced.'" Others insisted the sun appeared to drop from the sky and hurtle toward Earth. Many claimed to have witnessed these phenomena, but others denied seeing anything that could be deemed “unnatural” or unusual. Because there were no reports of unanimous agreement as to the solar events of that day, researchers have suggested mass hysteria or temporary eye abnormalities brought on by looking directly at the sun.
The Halifax Slasher. A localized case of mass hysteria occurred in the town of Halifax in West Yorkshire, England. Beginning in November 1938, police started receiving reports of a man attacking people, primarily women, with a mallet or knife. The number of alleged encounters increased to the point local authorities called in Scotland Yard. Investigators soon became suspicious because some of the “wounds” appeared to be self-inflicted and there were those who admitted they had, indeed, faked attacks by the phantom slasher. In early December, a local newspaper proclaimed: “The theory that a half-crazed, wild-eyed man has been wandering around, attacking helpless women in dark streets, is exploded .... There never was, nor is there likely to be, any real danger to the general public.” Finally, the authorities concluded that all the alleged victims had fabricated their claims to garner attention and pity – although they conceded many may have genuinely believed they had been attacked.
The Laughing Epidemic. In late January 1962, three girls at an all-girls school in Kashasha, Tanzania, began laughing uncontrollably and their teachers were helpless to stop them. The disorder spread and soon, in excess of 90 students (above) were laughing for no apparent reason. The laughing fits lasted anywhere from a few hours to 15 days. Officials attempted to find a cause, but came up empty-handed. This led to the closure of the school as well as other schools because the epidemic was spreading. The bizarre laughing episodes continued for approximately a year and then mysteriously ceased.
Hysterical Flu. In mid-November of 2012, strange, flu-like symptoms struck a country school in Sri Lanka. In addition to intestinal problems and coughing fits, some children, as well as a handful of teachers, experienced headaches and unexplained rashes. In the small town of Gampole alone, more than a thousand people were admitted to local hospitals. As the mysterious malady spread, people panicked. Physicians could find no medical cause for the illness. Then the condition vanished as suddenly as it had appeared. Because there was no other explanation, health officials concluded those afflicted were the victims of some form of mass hysteria serious enough to produce observable physical symptoms.
There are numerous examples of mass hysteria featuring everything from the dubious 1789 series of attacks in London by a man with knives on his knees, to the 1983 multiple episodes of girls and young women in Palestine losing consciousness for no apparent reason. The final analysis of such incidents seems to reinforce the scientific belief that the mind is a complex and powerful thing that can be affected by outside forces – both real and imagined.
Source: Douglas MacGowan, MNN, August 14, 2015.