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Dancing In The Middle Ages

Castle Life

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Dynamics of the Middle Ages

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Dancing Mania Of The Middle Ages
Author: Hecker, J. F. C.
Translation: Babington, B.G.

Dancing Mania Of The Middle Ages

1374

 



The black death, which originated in Central China about 1333, appeared
on the Mediterranean littoral in 1347, ravaged the island of Cyprus, made the
circuit of the Mediterranean countries, spread throughout Europe northward as
far as Iceland, and in 1357 appeared in Russia, where it seems to have been
checked by the barrier of the Caucasus.

Scarce had its effects subsided, and the graves of its 25,000,000 victims
were hardly closed, when it was followed by an epidemic of the dance of St.
John, or St. Vitus, which like a demoniacal plague appeared in Germany in
1347, and spread over the whole empire and throughout the neighboring
countries. The dance was characterized by wild leaping, furious screaming,
and foaming at the mouth, which gave to the individuals affected all the
appearance of insanity.

The epidemic was not confined to particular localities, but was
propagated by the sight of the sufferers, and for over two centuries excited
the astonishment of contemporaries. The Netherlands and France were equally
affected; in Italy the disease became known as tarantism, it being supposed to
proceed from the bite of the tarantula, a venomous spider. Like the St.
Vitus' dance in Germany, tarantism spread by sympathy, increasing in severity
as it took a wider range; the chief cure was music, which seemed to furnish
magical means for exorcising the malady of the patients.

The epidemic subsided in Central Europe in the seventeenth century, but
diseases approximating to the original dancing mania have occurred at various
periods in many parts of Europe, Africa, and the United States. Nathaniel
Pearce, an eye-witness, who resided nine years in Abyssinia early in the
nineteenth century, gives a graphic account of a similar epidemic there,
called tigretier, from the Tigre district, in which it was most prevalent. In
France, from 1727 to 1790, an epidemic prevailed among the Convulsionnaires,
who received relief from brethren in the faith known as Secourists, very much
after the rough methods administered to the St. John's dancers and to the
tarantati. About the same period nervous epidemics of a similar character,
largely propagated by sympathy, were very prevalent in the Shetland Islands
and in various parts of Scotland, but were for the most part eradicated by
cold-water immersion.

An epidemic of chorea sancti Viti, recorded by Felix Robertson of
Tennessee (Philadelphia, 1805), found vent in an unparalleled blaze of
enthusiastic religion, which spread with lightning-like rapidity in almost
every part of Tennessee and Kentucky, and in various parts of Virginia, in
1800, being distinguished by uncontrollable and infectious muscular
contractions, gesticulations, crying, laughing, shouting, and singing. To
similar epidemics are attributed the uncontrollable acts which, till late in
the nineteenth century, were a feature of North American camp meetings for
divine service in the open air, and which exhibited the same form of mental
disturbance as did the St. Vitus' dance in mediaeval Europe.

So early as the year 1374, assemblages of men and women were seen at
Aix-la-Chapelle who had come out of Germany, and who, united by one common
delusion, exhibited to the public both in the streets and in the churches the
following strange spectacle. They formed circles hand in hand, and, appearing
to have lost all control over their senses, continued dancing, regardless of
the bystanders, for hours together in wild delirium, until at length they fell
to the ground in a state of exhaustion. They then complained of extreme
oppression, and groaned as if in the agonies of death, until they were swathed
in cloths bound tightly round their waists, upon which they again recovered,
and remained free from complaint until the next attack. This practice of
swathing was resorted to an account of the tympany which followed these
spasmodic ravings, but the bystanders frequently relieved patients in a less
artificial manner, by thumping and trampling upon the parts affected. While
dancing they neither saw nor heard, being insensible to external impressions
through the senses, but were haunted by visions, their fancies conjuring up
spirits whose names they shrieked out; and some of them afterward asserted
that they felt as if they had been immersed in a stream of blood, which
obliged them to leap so high. Others, during the paroxysm, saw the heavens
open and the Savior enthroned with the Virgin Mary, according as the religious
notions of the age were strangely and variously reflected in their
imaginations.

Where the disease was completely developed, the attack commenced with
epileptic convulsions. Those affected fell to the ground senseless, panting
and laboring for breath. They foamed at the mouth, and suddenly springing up
began their dance amid strange contortions. Yet the malady doubtless made its
appearance very variously, and was modified by temporary or local
circumstances, whereof non-medical contemporaries but imperfectly noted the
essential particulars, accustomed as they were to confound their observation
of natural events with their notions of the world of spirits.

It was but a few months ere this demoniacal disease had spread from
Aix-la-Chapelle, where it appeared in July, over the neighboring Netherlands.
In Liege, Utrecht, Tongres, and many other towns of Belgium the dancers
appeared with garlands in their hair, and their waists girt with cloths, that
they might, as soon as the paroxysm was over, receive immediate relief on the
attack of the tympany. This bandage was, by the insertion of a stick, easily
twisted tight. Many, however, obtained more relief from kicks and blows,
which they found numbers of persons ready to administer; for, wherever the
dancers appeared, the people assembled in crowds to gratify their curiosity
with the frightful spectacle. At length the increasing number of the affected
excited no less anxiety than the attention that was paid to them. In towns and
villages they took possession of the religious houses; processions were
everywhere instituted on their account and masses were said and hymns were
sung, while the disease itself, of the demoniacal origin of which no one
entertained the least doubt, excited everywhere astonishment and horror. In
Liege the priests had recourse to exorcisms, and endeavored, by every means in
their power, to allay an evil which threatened so much danger to themselves;
for the possessed, assembling in multitudes, frequently poured forth
imprecations against them and menaced their destruction. They intimidated the
people also to such a degree that there was an express ordinance issued that
no one should make any but square-toed shoes, because these fanatics had
manifested a morbid dislike to the pointed shoes which had come into fashion
immediately after the "great mortality," in 1350. They were still more
irritated at the sight of red colors, the influence of which on the disordered
nerves might lead us to imagine an extraordinary accordance between this
spasmodic malady and the condition of infuriated animals; but in the St.
John's dancers this excitement was probably connected with apparitions
consequent upon their convulsions. There were likewise some of them who were
unable to endure the sight of persons weeping. The clergy seemed to become
daily more and more confirmed in their belief that those who were affected
were a kind of sectarians, and on this account they hastened their exorcisms
as much as possible, in order that the evil might not spread among the higher
classes, for hitherto scarcely any but the poor had been attacked, and the few
people of respectability among the laity and clergy who were to be found among
them were persons whose natural frivolity was unable to withstand the
excitement of novelty, even though it proceeded from a demoniacal influence.
Some of the affected had indeed themselves declared, when under the influence
of priestly forms of exorcism, that, if the demons had been allowed only a few
weeks more time, they would have entered the bodies of the nobility and
princes, and through these have destroyed the clergy. Assertions of this
sort, which those possessed uttered while in a state which may be compared
with that of magnetic sleep, obtained general belief, and passed from mouth to
mouth with wonderful additions. The priesthood were, on this account, so much
the more zealous in their endeavors to anticipate every dangerous excitement
of the people, as if the existing order of things could have been seriously
threatened by such incoherent ravings. Their exertions were effectual, for
exorcism was a powerful remedy in the fourteenth century; or it might perhaps
be that this wild infatuation terminated in consequence of the exhaustion
which naturally ensued from it; at all events, in the course of ten or eleven
months the St. John's dancers were no longer to be found in any of the cities
of Belgium. The evil, however, was too deeply rooted to give way altogether
to such feeble attacks.

A few months after this dancing malady had made its appearance at
Aix-la-Chapelle, it broke out at Cologne, where the number of those possessed
amounted to more than five hundred, and about the same time at Metz, the
streets of which place are said to have been filled with eleven hundred
dancers. Peasants left their ploughs, mechanics their workshops, housewives
their domestic duties, to join the wild revels, and this rich commercial city
became the scene of the most ruinous disorder. Secret desires were excited,
and but too often found opportunities for wild enjoyment; and numerous
beggars, stimulated by vice and misery, availed themselves of this new
complaint to gain a temporary livelihood. Girls and boys quitted their
parents, and servants their masters, to amuse themselves at the dances of
those possessed, and greedily imbibed the poison of mental infection. Gangs
of idle vagabonds, who understood how to imitate to the life the gestures and
convulsions of those really affected, roved from place to place seeking
maintenance and adventures, and thus, wherever they went, spreading this
disgusting spasmodic disease like a plague; for in maladies of this kind the
susceptible are infected as easily by the appearance as by the reality. At
last it was found necessary to drive away these mischievous guests, who were
equally inaccessible to the exorcisms of the priests and the remedies of the
physicians. It was not, however, until after four months that the Rhenish
cities were able to suppress these impostors, which had so alarmingly
increased the original evil. In the mean time, when once called into
existence, the plague crept on, and found abundant food in the tone of thought
which prevailed in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, and even, though in
a minor degree, throughout the sixteenth and seventeenth, causing a permanent
disorder of the mind, and exhibiting, in those cities to whose inhabitants it
was a novelty, scenes as strange as they were detestable.

Strasburg was visited by the dancing plague, or St. Vitus' dance, ^1 in
the year 1418, and the same infatuation existed among the people there as in
the towns of Belgium and the Lower Rhine. Many who were seized at the sight
of those affected, excited attention at first by their confused and absurb
behavior, and then by their constantly following the swarms of dancers. These
were seen day and night passing through the streets, accompanied by musicians
playing on bagpipes, and by innumerable spectators attracted by curiosity, to
which were added anxious parents and relations, who came to look after those
among the misguided multitude who belonged to their respective families.
Imposture and profligacy played their part in this city also, but the morbid
delusion itself seems to have predominated. On this account religion could
only bring provisional aid, and therefore the town council benevolently took
an interest in the afflicted. They divided them into separate parties, to
each of which they appointed responsible superintendents to protect them from
harm and perhaps also to restrain their turbulence. They were thus conducted
on foot and in carriages to the chapels of St. Vitus, near Zabern and
Rotestein, where priests were in attendance to work upon their misguided minds
by masses and other religious ceremonies. After divine worship was completed,
they were led in solemn procession to the altar, where they made some small
offering of alms, and where it is probable that many were, through the
influence of devotion and the sanctity of the place, cured of this lamentable
aberration. It is worthy of observation, at all events, that the dancing
mania did not recommence at the altars of the saint, and that from him alone
assistance was implored, and through his miraculous interposition a cure was
expected, which was beyond the reach of human skill. The personal history of
St. Vitus is by no means unimportant in this matter. He was a Sicilian youth,
who, together with Modestus and Crescentia, suffered martyrdom at the time of
the persecution of the Christians, under Diocletian, in the year 303. The
legends respecting him are obscure, and he would certainly have been passed
over without notice among the innumerable apocryphal martyrs of the first
centuries, had not the transfer of his body to St. Denis, and thence, in the
year 836, to Corvey, raised him to a higher rank. From this time forth, it
may be supposed that many miracles were manifested at his new sepulchre, which
were of essential service in confirming the Roman faith among the Germans, and
St. Vitus was soon ranked among the fourteen saintly helpers (Nothhelfer or
Apotheker). His altars were multiplied, and the people had recourse to them in
all kinds of distresses, and revered him as a powerful intercessor. As the
worship of these saints was, however, at that time stripped of all historical
connections, which were purposely obliterated by the priesthood, a legend was
invented at the beginning of the fifteenth century, or perhaps even so early
as the fourteenth, that St. Vitus had, just before he bent his neck to the
sword, prayed to God that he might protect from the dancing mania all those
who should solemnize the day of his commemoration, and fast upon its eve, and
that thereupon a voice from heaven was heard, saying, "Vitus, thy prayer is
accepted." Thus St. Vitus became the patron saint of those afflicted with the
dancing plague, as St. Martin of Tours was at one time the succorer of persons
in smallpox.

[Footnote 1: "Chorus Sancti Viti, or St. Vitus' dance; the lascivious dance,
Paracelsus calls it, because they that are taken with it can do nothing but
dance till they be dead or cured. It is so called for that the parties so
troubled were wont to go to St. Vitus for help; and, after they had danced
there awhile, they were certainly freed. 'Tis strange to hear how long they
will dance, and in what manner, over stools, forms, and tables. One in red
clothes they cannot abide. Musick above all things they love; and therefore
magistrates in Germany will hire musicians to play to them, and some lusty,
sturdy companions to dance with them. This disease hath been very common in
Germany, as appears by those relations of Schenkius, and Paracelsus in his
book of madness, who brags how many several persons he hath cured of it. Felix
Platerus (de Mentis Alienat. cap. 3) reports of a woman in Basel whom he saw,
that danced a whole month together. The Arabians call it a kind of palsie.
Bodine, in his fifth book, speaks of this infirmity; Monavius, in his last
epistle to Scoltizius, and in another to Dudithus, where you may read more of
it." - Burton's Anatomy of Melancholy.]

The connection which John the Baptist had with the dancing mania of the
fourteenth century was of a totally different character. He was originally
far from being a protecting saint to those who were attacked, or one who would
be likely to give them relief from a malady considered as the work of the
devil. On the contrary, the manner in which he was worshipped afforded an
important and very evident cause for its development. From the remotest
period, perhaps even so far back as the fourth century, St. John's Day was
solemnized with all sorts of strange and rude customs, of which the originally
mystical meaning was variously disfigured among different nations by
super-added relics of heathenism. Thus the Germans transferred to the
festival of St. John's Day an ancient heathen usage, the kindling of the
Nodfyr, which was forbidden them by St. Boniface, and the belief subsists even
to the present day that people and animals that have leaped through these
flames, or their smoke, are protected for a whole year from fevers and other
diseases, as if by a kind of baptism by fire. Bacchanalian dances, which have
originated in similar causes among all the rude nations of the earth, and the
wild extravagancies of a heated imagination, were the constant accompaniments
of this half-heathen, half-Christian festival. At the period of which we are
treating, however, the Germans were not the only people who gave way to the
ebullitions of fanaticism in keeping the festival of St. John the Baptist.
Similar customs were also to be found among the nations of Southern Europe and
of Asia, ^1 and it is more than probable that the Greeks transferred to the
festival of John the Baptist, who is also held in high esteem among the
Mahometans, a part of their Bacchanalian mysteries, an absurdity of a kind
which it but too frequently met with in human affairs. How far a remembrance
of the history of St. John's death may have had an influence on this occasion
we would leave learned theologians to decide. It is of importance here to add
only that in Abyssinia, a country entirely separated from Europe, where
Christianity has maintained itself in its primeval simplicity against
Mahometanism, John is to this day worshipped as protecting saint of those who
are attacked with the dancing malady. In these fragments of the dominion of
mysticism and superstition, historical connection is not to be found.

[Footnote 1: The Bishop Theodoret of Cyrus in Syria states that, at the
festival of St. John, large fires were annually kindled in several towns,
through which men, women, and children jumped; and that young children were
carried through by their mothers. He considered this custom as an ancient
Asiatic ceremony of purification, similar to that recorded of Ahaz, in II
Kings, xvi. 3. Zonaras, Balsamon, and Photius speak of the St. John's fires
in Constantinople, and the first looks upon them as the remains of an old
Grecian custom. Even in modern times fires are still lighted on St. John's
Day in Brittany and other remote parts of Continental Europe, through the
smoke of which the cattle are driven in the belief that they will thus be
protected from contagious and other diseases, and in these practices
protective fumigation originated. That such different nations should have had
the same idea of fixing the purification by fire on St. John's Day is a
remarkable coincidence, which perhaps can be accounted for only by its analogy
to baptism.]

When we observe, however, that the first dancers in Aix-la Chapelle
appeared in July with St. John's name in their mouths, the conjecture is
probable that the wild revels of St. John's Day, A.D. 1374, gave rise to this
mental plague, which thenceforth has visited so many thousands with incurable
aberration of mind and disgusting distortions of body.

This is rendered so much the more probable because some months previously
the districts in the neighborhood of the Rhine and the Maine had met with
great disasters. So early as February both these rivers had overflowed their
banks to a great extent; the walls of the town of Cologne, on the side next
the Rhine, had fallen down, and a great many villages had been reduced to the
utmost distress. To this was added the miserable condition of Western and
Southern Germany. Neither law nor edict could suppress the incessant feuds of
the barons, and in Franconia especially the ancient times of club law appeared
to be revived. Security of property there was none; arbitrary will everywhere
prevailed; corruption of morals and rude power rarely met with even a feeble
opposition; whence it arose that the cruel, but lucrative, persecutions of the
Jews were in many places still practised, through the whole of this century,
with their wonted ferocity. Thus, throughout the western parts of Germany, and
especially in the districts bordering on the Rhine, there was a wretched and
oppressed populace; and if we take into consideration that among their
numerous bands many wandered about whose consciences were tormented with the
recollection of the crimes which they had committed during the prevalence of
the black plague, we shall comprehend how their despair sought relief in the
intoxication of an artificial delirium. There is hence good ground for
supposing that the frantic celebration of the festival of St. John, A.D. 1374,
only served to bring to a crisis a malady which had been long impending; and
if we would further inquire how a hitherto harmless usage, which like many
others had but served to keep up superstition, could degenerate into so
serious a disease, we must take into account the unusual excitement of men's
minds and the consequences of wretchedness and want. The bowels, which in
many were debilitated by hunger and bad food, were precisely the parts which
in most cases were attacked with excruciating pain, and the tympanitic state
of the intestines points out to the intelligent physician an origin of the
disorder which is well worth consideration.

The dancing mania of the year 1374 was, in fact, no new disease, but a
phenomenon well known in the Middle Ages, of which many wondrous stories were
traditionally current among the people. In the year 1237, upward of a hundred
children were said to have been suddenly seized with this disease at Erfurt,
and to have proceeded dancing and jumping along the road to Arnstadt. When
they arrived at that place they fell exhausted to the ground, and, according
to an account of an old chronicle, many of them, after they were taken home by
their parents, died, and the rest remained affected to the end of their lives
with the permanent tremor. Another occurrence was related to have taken place
on the Mosel bridge at Utrecht, on June 17, 1278, when two hundred fanatics
began to dance, and would not desist until a priest passed who was carrying
the host to a person that was sick, upon which, as if in punishment of their
crime, the bridge gave way, and they were all drowned. A similar event also
occurred, so early as the year 1027, near the convent church of Kolbig, not
far from Bernburg. According to an oft-repeated tradition, eighteen peasant,
some of whose names are still preserved, are said to have disturbed divine
service on Christmas Eve by dancing and brawling in the church-yard, whereupon
the priest, Ruprecht, inflicted a curse upon them, that they should dance and
scream for a whole year without ceasing. This curse is stated to have been
completely fulfilled, so that the unfortunate sufferers at length sank knee
deep into the earth, and remained the whole time without nourishment, until
they were finally released by the intercession of two pious bishops. It is
said that upon this they fell into a deep sleep, which lasted three days, and
that four of them died; the rest continuing to suffer all their lives from a
trembling of their limbs. ^1 It is not worth while to separate what may have
been true and what the addition of crafty priests in this strangely distorted
story. It is sufficient that it was believed, and related with astonishment
and horror, throughout the Middle Ages, so that, when there was any exciting
cause for this delirious raving, and wild rage for dancing, it failed not to
produce its effects upon menose thoughts were given up to a belief in wonders
and apparitions.

[Footnote 1: Beckmann makes many other observations on this well-known
circumstance. The priest named is the same who is still known in the nursery
tales of children as the Knecht Ruprecht.]

This disposition of mind, altogether so peculiar to the Middle Ages, and
which, happily for mankind, has yielded to an improved state of civilization
and the diffusion of popular instruction, accounts for the origin and long
duration of this extraordinary mental disorder. The good sense of the people
recoiled with horror and aversion from this heavy plague, which, whenever
malevolent persons wished to curse their bitterest enemies and adversaries,
was long after used as a malediction. ^1 The indignation also that was felt by
the people at large against the immorality of the age was proved by their
ascribing this frightful affliction to the inefficacy of baptism by unchaste
priests, as if innocent children were doomed to atone, in after years, for
this desecration of the sacrament administered by unholy hands. We have
already mentioned what perils the priests in the Netherlands incurred from
this belief. They now, indeed, endeavored to hasten their reconciliation with
the irritated and at that time very degenerate people by exorcisms, which,
with some, procured them greater respect than ever, because they thus visibly
restored thousands of those who were affected. In general, however, there
prevailed a want of confidence in their efficacy, and then the sacred rites
had as little power in arresting the progress of this deeply rooted malady as
the prayers and holy services subsequently had at the altars of the greatly
revered martyr St. Vitus. We may, therefore, ascribe it to accident merely,
and to a certain aversion to this demoniacal disease, which seemed to lie
beyond the reach of human skill, that we meet with but few and imperfect
notices of the St. Vitus' dance in the second half of the fifteenth century.
The highly colored descriptions of the sixteenth century contradict the notion
that this mental plague had in any degree diminished in its severity, and not
a single fact is to be found which supports the opinion that any one of the
essential symptoms of the disease, not even excepting the tympany, had
disappeared, or that the disorder itself had become milder in its attacks. The
physicians never, as it seems, throughout the whole of the fifteenth century,
undertook the treatment of the dancing mania, which, according to the
prevailing notions, appertained exclusively to the servants of the Church.
Against demoniacal disorders they had no remedies, and though some at first
did promulgate the opinion that the malady had its origin in natural
circumstances, such as a hot temperament, and other causes named in the
phraseology of the schools, yet these opinions werethe less examined, as it
did not appear worth while to divide with a jealous priesthood the care of a
host of fanatical vagabonds and beggars.

[Footnote 1: Dass dir Sanct Veitstanz ankomme ("May you be seized with St.
Vitus' dance").]

It was not until the beginning of the sixteenth century that the St.
Vitus' dance was made the subject of medical research, and stripped of its
unhallowed character as a work of demons. This was effected by Paracelsus,
that mighty, but as yet scarcely comprehended, reformer of medicine, whose aim
it was to withdraw diseases from the pale of miraculous interpositions and
saintly influences, and explain their causes upon principles deduced from his
knowledge of the human frame. "We will not, however, admit that the saints
have power to inflict diseases, and that these ought to be named after them,
although many there are who in their theology lay great stress on this
supposition, ascribing them rather to God than to nature, which is but idle
talk. We dislike such nonsensical gossip as is not supported by symptoms, but
only by faith, a thing which is not human, whereon the gods themselves set no
value."

Such were the words which Paracelsus addressed to his contemporaries, who
were as yet incapable of appreciating doctrines of this sort; for the belief
in enchantment still remained everywhere unshaken, and faith in the world of
spirits still held men's minds in so close a bondage that thousands were,
according to their own conviction, given up as a prey to the devil; while, at
the command of religion as well as of law, countless piles were lighted, by
the flames of which human society was to be purified.

Paracelsus divides the St. Vitus' dance into three kinds: First, that
which arises from imagination (Vitista, chorea imaginativa, aestimativa), by
which the original dancing plague is to be understood; secondly, that which
arises from sensual desires, depending on the will (chorea lasciva); thirdly,
that which arises from corporeal causes (chorea naturalis, coacta), which,
according to a strange notion of his own, he explained by maintaining that in
certain vessels which are susceptible of an internal pruriency, and thence
produce laughter, the blood is set in commotion, in consequence of an
alteration in the vital spirits, whereby involuntary fits of intoxicating joy,
and a propensity to dance, are occasioned. To this notion he was, no doubt,
led from having observed a milder form of St. Vitus' dance, not uncommon in
his time, which was accompanied by involuntary laughter, and which bore a
resemblance to the hysterical laughter of the moderns, except that it was
characterized by more pleasurable sensations, and by an extravagant propensity
to dance. There was no howling, screaming, and jumping, as in the severe
form; neither was the disposition to dance by any means insuperable. Patients
thus affected, although they had not a complete control over their
understandings, yet were sufficiently self-possessed, during the attack, to
obey the directions which they received. There were even some among them who
did not dance at all, but only felt an involuntary impulse to allay the
internal sense of disquietude, which is the usual forerunner of an attack of
this kind, by laughter, and quick walking carried to the extent of producing
fatigue. This disorder, so different from the original type, evidently
approximates to the modern chorea, or rather is in perfect accordance with it,
even to the less essential symptom of laughter. A mitigation in the form of
the dancing mania had thus clearly taken place at the commencement of the
sixteenth century.

On the communication of the St. Vitus' dance by sympathy, Paracelsus, in
his peculiar language, expresses himself with great spirit, and shows a
profound knowledge of the nature of sensual impressions, which find their way
to the heart - the seat of joys and emotions - which overpower the opposition
of reason; and while "all other qualities and natures" are subdued,
incessantly impel the patient, in consequence of his original compliance, and
his all-conquering imagination, to imitate what he has seen. On his treatment
of the disease we cannot bestow any great praise, but must be content with the
remark that it was in conformity with the notions of the age in which he
lived. For the first kind, which often originated in passionate excitement,
he had a mental remedy, the efficacy of which is not to be despised, if we
estimate its value in connection with the prevalent opinions of those times.
The patient was to make an image of himself in wax or resin, and by an effort
of thought to concentrate all his blasphemies and sins in it. "Without the
intervention of any other person, to set his whole mind and thoughts
concerning these oaths in the image;" and when he had succeeded in this, he
was to burn the image, so that not a particle of it should remain. ^1 In all
this there was no mention made of St. Vitus, or any of the other mediatory
saints, which is accounted for by the circumstance, that, at this time, an
open rebellion against the Romish Church had begun, and the worship of saints
was by many rejected as idolatrous. For the second kind of St. Vitus' dance,
Paracelsus recommended harsh treatment and strict fasting. He directed that
the patients should be deprived of their liberty, placed in solitary
confinement, and made to sit in an uncomfortable place, until their misery
brought them to their senses and to a feeling of penitence. He then permitted
them gradually to return to their accustomed habits. Severe corporal
chastisement was not omitted; but, on the other hand, angry resistance on the
part of the patient was to be sedulously avoided, on the ground that it might
increase his malady, or even destroy him; moreover, where it seemed proper,
Paracelsus allayed the excitement of the nerves by immersion in cold water.
On the treatment of the third kind we shall not here enlarge. It was to be
effected by all sorts of wonderful remedies, composed of the quintessences;
and it would require, to render it intelligible, a more extended exposition of
peculiar principles than suits our present purpose.

[Footnote 1: "This proceeding was, however, no invention of his, but an
imitation of a usual mode of enchantment by means of wax figures (peri
cunculas). The witches made a wax image of the person who was to be
bewitched; and in order to torment him, they stuck it full of pins, or melted
it before the fire. The books on magic, of the Middle Ages, are full of such
things; though the reader who may wish to obtain information on this subject
need not go so far back. Only eighty years since, the learned and celebrated
Storch, of the school of Stahl, published a treatise on witchcraft, worthy of
the fourteenth century." - Treatise on the Diseases of Children.]

About this time the St. Vitus' dance began to decline, so that milder
forms of it appeared more frequently, while the severer cases became more
rare; and even in these, some of the important symptoms gradually disappeared.
Paracelsus makes no mention of the tympanites as taking place after the
attacks, although it may occasionally have occurred; and Schenck von
Graffenberg, a celebrated physician of the latter half of the sixteenth
century, speaks of this disease as having been frequent only in the time of
his forefathers.
 

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