EPIDEMICS OF HYSTERIA.
subject of deep investigations agree in this: that suggestibility (using this word approximately in its psychological sense) is a particular mark of the state of soul of the hysterical.
No doubt hysterical epidemics based upon religion continue even to this day. The last century was by no means poor in such phenomena.
The principal causes of the spread of epidemics of insanity and of the so-called secular hysteria are, then, suggestibility, emotionalism, the impulse to mimicry, and the tendency to mysticism.
Secular hysteria has by this time gradually assumed a different character. Belief in the devil and witches has faded quite away. Nowadays phenomena that seem unaccountable are produced in great variety by the hysteria which still subsists, and lead to crazy doctrines and errors, but they are new ones. Spiritualism, which flourished most in the middle part of the century, had such an origin. All those surprising phenomena that in earlier times had been referred to the agency of the devil and of witches were now treated as evidences of spiritual presence, telepathy, etc. Hysteria and religious superstition had formerly communicated each vitality to the other; now hysteria and pseudo-science intensified and propagated one another. The literature to which spiritualism has given rise is perfectly enormous, and forms a pendant to the old books on witchcraft. Scientific men of standing write in our times thick books to discuss the evidences of the most incredible theories about spirits, about veracious dreams, about prophecies, about telepathy, about clairvoyance, about premonitions, etc.
With our present knowledge of hysteria, its causes and symptoms, men of science and all who are enlightened by its teachings are under a positive obligation, which can not be shaken off and must not be shirked, to combat everything which tends to further superstition or to nourish the inclination of the people toward mysticism. Our duty it equally is to set our faces against those pernicious practices which are calculated to favor and augment that fatal symptom of hysteria, a heightened suggestibility.