Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 2.djvu/32

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tending from one nunnery to another; and they were obliged to resort to some such severe measures as I have mentioned to drive it out. It was set down in some instances to demoniacal possession, but the devil was very easily exorcised by some pretty strong threat on the part of the medical man. The celebrated physician Boerhaave was called in to a case of that kind in an orphan asylum in Holland, and I think his remedy was a red-hot iron. He heated the poker in the fire, and said that the next girl who fell into one of these fits should be burnt in the arm; this was quite sufficient to stop it. In Scotland at one time there was a great tendency to breaking out into fits of this kind in the churches. This was particularly the case in Shetland; and a very wise minister there told them that the thing could not be permitted, and that the next person who gave way in this manner—as he was quite sure they could control themselves if they pleased—should be taken out and ducked in a pond near. There was no necessity at all to put his threat into execution. Here, you see, the stronger motive is substituted for the weaker one, and the stronger motive is sufficient to induce the individual to put a check upon herself. I have said that it usually happens with the female sex, though sometimes it occurs with young men who have more or less of the same constitutional tendency. What is necessary is to induce a stronger motive, which will call forth the power of self-control which has been previously abandoned.

Now, this tendency, which here shows itself in convulsive movements of the body, will also show itself in what we may call convulsive action of the Mind; that is, in the excitement of violent feelings and even passions, leading to the most extraordinary manifestations of different kinds. The early Christians, you know, practised self-mortification to a very great degree; and considered that these penances were so much scored up to the credit side of their account in heaven; that, in fact, they were earning a title to future salvation by self-mortification. Among other means of self-mortification, they scourged themselves. That was practised by individuals. But in the middle ages this disposition to self-mortification would attack whole communities, especially under the dominant idea that the world was coming to an end. In the middle of the thirteenth century, about 1250, there was this prevalent idea that the world was coming to an end; and whole communities gave themselves up to this self-mortification by whipping themselves. These Flagellants went about in bands with banners, and even music, carrying scourges; and then, at a given signal, every one would strip off the upper garment (men, women, and children joined these bands), and proceed to flog themselves very severely indeed, or to flog each other. This subsided for a time, but it broke out again during and immediately after that terrible plague which is known as the "black death," which devastated Europe in the reign of Edward III., about the year 1340. This black death seems to have been the Eastern plague in a very severe form, which we have