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Dancing Manias and Mass Hysteria
June 23, 2009 3:36 PM   Subscribe

Dancing plagues and mass hysteria: how distress and pious fear have led to bizarre outbreaks across the ages. [Via]
posted by homunculus (32 comments total) 15 users marked this as a favorite

 
Also via Mind Hacks: Protean nature of mass sociogenic illness: From possessed nuns to chemical and biological terrorism fears.
posted by homunculus at 3:39 PM on June 23, 2009


Such as the deadliest plague of them all.
posted by msalt at 3:42 PM on June 23, 2009 [5 favorites]


The year was 1374. In dozens of medieval towns scattered along the valley of the River Rhine hundreds of people were seized by an agonising compulsion to dance.

And keep in mind that was five hundred ninety three years before the release of Cold Sweat. Good god, y'all!
posted by flapjax at midnite at 3:45 PM on June 23, 2009 [4 favorites]


q.v.: Glastonbury.
posted by GuyZero at 3:47 PM on June 23, 2009


Plagues rage on.
posted by filthy light thief at 4:10 PM on June 23, 2009


I'm not sure where I read it, as it's been years, (probably a magazine article) where research indicated these events of mass hysteria correlated with known wheat shortages that would have meant an uptick in rye bread consumption, hence ergot poisoning -- the conclusion was they were tripping their brains out.

I take it that this article is trying to refute that, but I haven't grasped how, yet.

Anyway, I've always assumed that Peter Gabriel's song Moribund the Burgermiester was about a village-wide outbreak of ergot poisoning, and the town's mayor is trying to get a grip on events, while beginning to trip out, himself. Great song.
posted by Devils Rancher at 4:17 PM on June 23, 2009 [2 favorites]


I was always a little disappointed in the dismissal of ergotism as possible tinder for the Salem Witch Trials; some part of me liked the idea of uptight Puritans trippin' testes. Pity, but the objections to the hypothesis, in particular that it would hit entire households rather than individuals, are fairly sound ones.

And now, off to watch The Devils again.
posted by adipocere at 4:26 PM on June 23, 2009


Footloose!
posted by geos at 4:43 PM on June 23, 2009


I thought I had read that ergot poisoning doesn't actually make you hallucinate, it just kills you.
posted by empath at 4:44 PM on June 23, 2009


The whole 'ergotism caused historical phenomenom X' meme seems to me to mostly be from people using LSD or shrooms and suddenly becoming convinced that every other creative person in the history of mankind must have been using drugs.

Sometimes people really do crazy, original and inventive shit entirely without the benefit of psychoactive compounds.
posted by empath at 4:52 PM on June 23, 2009 [2 favorites]


Apparently, ergotism does make you hallucinate, but not dance (despite the links to St. Vitus' dance). Though that same article lists convulsions and nervous spasms as symptoms, which are pretty close to dancing (especially mine).
posted by msalt at 4:54 PM on June 23, 2009 [1 favorite]


This seems related to various "disappearing penis" panics and mass delusions in Africa and Asia. Human beings are social animals, and it's quite apparent that social psychology can be a very powerful force.
posted by VikingSword at 5:04 PM on June 23, 2009


VikingSword, the author remarks on "koro" or genital theft at end of the article, as it relates to mass hysteria.
posted by lekvar at 5:17 PM on June 23, 2009


Well, I can only speak for myself, but if my penis disappeared, I would probably panic too.
posted by jamstigator at 5:18 PM on June 23, 2009 [1 favorite]


Swing flu.
posted by twoleftfeet at 5:25 PM on June 23, 2009 [6 favorites]


Oops, you are right, lekvar, I see it now, I missed that at the end. I think it's also actually been discussed at length in some post here in the blue some time ago.
posted by VikingSword at 5:26 PM on June 23, 2009


A few years back, my high school had an outbreak of mass hysteria that provoked this editorial in the New England Journal of Medicine. Then, last September, my hometown was involved in a gasoline shortage that was the result of a mass panic. Don't really know what that means.
posted by vibrotronica at 5:31 PM on June 23, 2009


Apparently, ergotism does make you hallucinate, but not dance

Are there any species of bread mould which synthesise compounds similar to MDMA?
posted by acb at 6:22 PM on June 23, 2009


This is a strange one, in that it happened in various locations via TV. This site claims it might have been mass hysteria.

On Tuesday night, December 16, 1997, Pokémon episode number 38, Dennou Senshi Porigon (Computer Warrior Polygon) aired in Japan at 6:30. The program, broadcast over thirty-seven TV stations, was already very popular in Japan, and held the highest ratings for its time slot.

At about 6:51, the flashing lights filled the screens. By 7:30, according to the Fire-Defense agency, 618 children had been taken to hospitals complaining of various symptoms.

News of the attacks shot through Japan, and it was the subject of media reports later that evening. During the coverage, several stations replayed the flashing sequence, whereupon even more children fell ill and sought medical attention. The number affected by this "second wave" is unknown.

posted by uncanny hengeman at 6:52 PM on June 23, 2009


No one will tell what all this is about but I WILL FIND OUT
posted by chimaera at 7:20 PM on June 23, 2009


Has anyone mentioned Morgellon's yet? *shudder*
posted by unknowncommand at 7:38 PM on June 23, 2009


Previously.
posted by YoBananaBoy at 8:15 PM on June 23, 2009


Pokemon seizures.
posted by SPrintF at 9:21 PM on June 23, 2009


That's why Pikachu is the toughest cartoon character of all time. His volt tackle is so hardcore, real kids got temporarily paralysed just from watching it on TV.
posted by RokkitNite at 12:57 AM on June 24, 2009


ergotism

and "koro" or genital theft

I've learned two interesting and one very disturbing terms so far in this thread...

I'm left wondering why koro-type hysteria is so much more common in Asia and Africa. I would assume European/American men have just as much of an attachment to their penises as their Asian/African counterparts, but they're less likely to hallucinate that they're disappearing?
posted by This Guy at 5:28 AM on June 24, 2009


Does this explain Twitter?
posted by From Bklyn at 6:14 AM on June 24, 2009 [1 favorite]


In "The New Kings Of Nonfiction" Jack Hitt has a story about a town that convinced itself all it's various woes and pains were caused by a local toxic waste dump ...except nothing in the dump would cause any of those symptoms but by now the case has become large enough and complex enough that it can;t be stopped or resolved.
posted by The Whelk at 6:42 AM on June 24, 2009


I am endlessly fascinated by this stuff. See also: Laughing epidemic (covered previously).
posted by etc. at 7:07 AM on June 24, 2009


The real reason: The Grig and their magic fiddles.
posted by munchingzombie at 8:08 AM on June 24, 2009


I'm left wondering why koro-type hysteria is so much more common in Asia and Africa. I would assume European/American men have just as much of an attachment to their penises as their Asian/African counterparts, but they're less likely to hallucinate that they're disappearing?

Clearly European/American men have more attachment to their penises, which is why they hang on to them better.
posted by msalt at 9:50 AM on June 24, 2009


I've always thought that there was some level of voluntary participation in events like this, if only on a subconscious level. There is sometimes a desire to add personal context to witnessed events, to frame it as "look what I was involved in" rather than "let me tell you what I observed". Doubly so when there is some sort of positive attention feedback reinforcing the activity - for example, see the recent post about the 'spontaneous' dance party, or outbursts of glossolalia at pentecostal churches. While the event may have started through one person's involuntary action, imitating it is an easy way to share in the attention and add to the social momentum of the entire happening, which then makes it even more likely for further adherents to join in.
posted by FatherDagon at 10:12 AM on June 24, 2009


I'm left wondering why koro-type hysteria is so much more common in Asia and Africa.

The author makes a point that cultural norms dictate the form that these folie à plusieurs take. The nuns, under stress and deprived of any creature comforts or intimacy, become possessed by lusty devils. The fact that genital theft is ingrained enough to be a named phenomenon makes me think that koro is ingrained in the local folklore or mythos. There has to be a bit of cultural sand in order for the pearl of madness to form around.
posted by lekvar at 11:39 AM on June 24, 2009


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