Sunday, April 26, 2020

Mass Hysteria: Salem Witch Trials and the Dancing Plague of 1518

Mass hysteria is a condition affecting a group of people, characterized by anxiety or excitement, irrational behavior or beliefs, or inexplicable symptoms or illnesses. The earliest example referenced in the lecture of mass hysteria was the Salem Witch Trials of 1692. After a group of young girls started to act "strange", they were accused of possession and panic spread quickly through the town of Salem, Massachusetts. This led to the spread of irrational behaviors such as mass trials, torture, imprisonment, and even executions of those accused of witchcraft. This immoral behavior was caused by the widespread panic that the purity of those in Salem was being threatened due to witchcraft. Another example of mass hysteria I have found interesting for a while now is the Dancing Plague of 1518. This occurred in what we now know as France and about 400 people took to dancing for weeks with no breaks. The combination of exhaustion, dehydration, and other medical issues you would associate with dancing for several days and weeks with no breaks, caused many deaths. It is still unknown as to why these events occurred, but what started with one woman dancing led to hundreds of people dancing aggressively and uncontrollably. Some current theories suggest this mass hysteria could have been caused by the ergot fungi, a psychoactive chemical that commonly grows on grains. The ergot fungi was also discussed in later theories regarding the cause of the behaviors during the Salem Witch trials. Below I will add a video about the Dancing Plague of 1518. Super interesting topic to think about while in quarantine.

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