By ANDREW DICKSON WHITE, LL.D., L.H.D.,
FORMERLY PRESIDENT OF CORNELL UNIVERSITY,
"DEMONIACAL POSSESSION" AND INSANITY.
OF all the triumphs won by science for humanity, none has been farther-reaching in its good effects than the modern treatment of the insane. But it is the result of a struggle long and severe between two great forces. On one side have stood the survivals of various superstitions, the metaphysics of various philosophies, the theologies of various religions, the literal interpretation of various sacred books, and especially of our own — all compacted into a creed that insanity is mainly or largely demoniacal possession; on the other side has stood science, gradually accumulating proofs that insanity is always the result of physical disease.
I purpose, in this chapter and the following, to sketch, as briefly as I may, the history of this warfare, or rather of this evolution of truth out of error.
Nothing is more simple and natural, in the early stages of civilization, than belief in occult, self-conscious powers of evil. Troubles and calamities come upon man; his ignorance of physical laws forbids him to attribute them to physical causes; he therefore attributes them sometimes to the wrath of a good being, but more frequently to the malice of an evil being.
Especially is this the case with diseases. The real causes of disease are so intricate that they are reached only after ages of scientific labor; hence they, above all, have been attributed to the influence of evil spirits.
- On the general attribution of disease to demoniacal influence, see Sprenger, "History of Medicine," passim (note, for a later attitude, ii, 150-170, 178); Calmeil, "De la Folie,"