Every era and every decade produces its own “brand” of misfit, abnormality, or outsider. It would appear that the historical context of life during that era or decade has great sway over the type of mental pathology or behaviour a person develops and how it is expressed. It also reflects our current concept about certain traditions and unexplained phenomenon.
Literally, this Greek term means werewolf, or the ability of a human to turn into a werewolf, or display wolf-like behaviour. In the original myths, lycanthropy is not given any specific cause other than being generally attributed to magic, which may be voluntary or involuntary. Today the notion of werewolves and other lycanthropes infecting humans through bites is a feature of modern fiction and films. Throughout history, people believed that the mentally ill and the dangerously pathological were, in secret, werewolves that stalked human society. Many mentally ill people were locked away for their entire lives. Many psychopaths were jailed or executed. Interestingly those afflicted with mental illness often displayed wolf-like traits by snarling, growing, spitting, and scratching others or committing self-harm by biting and scratching. These people were influenced by the superstitious beliefs of the day, and accordingly displayed abnormal behaviours expected of a person with lycanthropy. This is not to say ill people weren’t ill; far from it. We know mental illness has been with us for as long as there has been human civilization. The same is true of psychopathy.
Wolf people suffer from one of the world’s rarest genetic diseases: Their entire bodies are covered by a thick coat of fur. Only about 50 cases of the disorder have been documented since the Middle Ages. King Henry II was fascinated and amused by human abnormalities, as was the attitude of many during the Renaissance. The strangest thing that appeared in Henry’s astonished court was a 10-year-old boy who was half-human, half-animal. The boy’s face was covered in four inches of dark-blonde fur, revealing only his eyes and lips. His name was Pedro Gonzalez and he was born on the Canary Island of Tenerife. Pedro was given to Henry II as a gift by French corsairs. The young “wild man” showed a profound aptitude for French and Latin and within a few years, Pedro Gonzalez advanced to the position of servant at the royal table. Until the middle of the 20th century, carriers of hypertrichosis suffered fates similar to those of the Gonzalez family in the 1500s: they were displayed like rare wild animals at fairs, circuses and vaudeville shows.
This “curse of the hair” could be caused by a primeval gene stemming from animal ancestors. Scientists believe that these primeval genes lie dormant in the human genome, they have simply been switched off during the course of evolution. A mutation in the victims of hypertrichosis has led to this gene being awakened from its million-year slumber.Cases of the disorder have occurred in modern times. Both men and women affected by the mutation pass on the defective gene to 50 percent of their offspring. The line ends in family members who are born with normal hair growth.
A case in Germany involving a girl, now 14, whose face and back were covered with light-colored hair. The girl had to undergo time-consuming, full-body shaves once every two weeks to avoid a life of ridicule. It was reported that her body hair wasn’t very noticeable until a person was within 6 feet of her. Dermatologists have now turned to laser beams or tiny hyperthermia probes to destroy the hair follicles, at least those in the most visible parts of her face. But the treatment must be administered skillfully to minimize the tiny scars it produces. More radical procedures, such as chemotherapy or radiation therapy, are unacceptable because of the side-effects they would cause in victims of hypertrichosis, who are otherwise healthy human beings with normal life expectancy. Some victims experience uncontrolled growth of the fine, non-pigmented lanugo hair, which covers the entire body of the fetus, beginning in the fifth month of pregnancy. Fetuses normally lose this hair suit between the seventh and eighth months of pregnancy. In some victims of hypertrichosis, this natural process takes years and ends in adulthood.
Today throughout the world (including the Western world), there remains among certain religions a strong belief in demonic possession of a person’s soul. Some highly suggestive people believe in their own possession due to external influences such as strict religious philosophy, isolation by family and friends, and a personal belief in the possibility of satanic possession. These people aren’t necessarily experiencing a full-blown mental illness.
The Exorcism of Emily Rose
This film is believed to be based on the odd story of Annaliese Michel, a young Catholic woman, born in Bavaria, West Germany to a strict Catholic family. When she was sixteen, she began hallucinating while praying. In 1973, she suffered from depression and began to hear voices telling her that she was “damned”and would “rot in hell“. Michel’s “possession” occurred after the release of the movie “The Exorcist“, no doubt a strong influence on the vulnerable young woman. Another possiblility was the suggestion (not proven) that Annaliese had become sexually active and procured an abortion after becoming pregnant. Her guilt over this ordeal may have led to her belief in her possession as a type of punishment. Long-term medical treatment proved unsuccessful; her condition worsened with time. Michel was prescribed anti-psychotic drugs and was diagnosed as having epilepsy. She was prescribed anti-convulsive drugs,
Michel’s family sought out priests to perform an exorcism, all of whom refused. In September 1975, Father Renz received permission to exorcise. Renz performed the first session on 24 September. Sixty-seven exorcism sessionswere performed over ten months in 1975 and 1976. Purportedly, her behaviour became increasingly bizarre: she slept on the stone floor in the winter to atone for the sins of “wayward priests” and “drug addicts”; ate spiders off of the floor, and licked up her own urine. On 1 July 1976, Anneliese died in her home at the age of 23. The autopsy revealed the cause of death as malnutrition and dehydration from almost a year of semi-starvation.She weighed 68 pounds (30.91 kilograms).
Chan and Eng Bunker
Scientific evidence of conjoined twins, formerly known as Siamese twins, is plentiful and continues today. All conjoined twins are identical twins, or monozygotic twins. Half are stillborn, and a smaller fraction of pairs have abnormalities incompatible with life (meaning they’re still functioning better than some non-conjoined people I know). The overall survival rate for conjoined twins is 25%.The condition is more frequently found among females, with a ratio of 3:1. Two theories as to what causes conjoined twins include:
- The older theory is fission, in which the fertilized egg splits partially.
- The more accepted theory is fusion, in which a fertilized egg completely separates, but stem cells find like-stem cells on the other twin and fuse the twins together
The first documented case of conjoined twins was that of Chan and Eng Bunker. At that time, their condition was referred to as Siamese twins, since the two men were born in Siam., now Thailand.They were joined were joined by a band of flesh, cartilage, and their fused livers at the torso. In modern times, they could have been easily separated. Separation surgery in fact has become almost routine for conjoined twins although the complex surgery always involves a certain amount of risk. In classical times, gross anomalies were considered a warning from the Gods. St. Augustine took the view that they were a reminder from God of man’s imperfection and original sin. Scholars, including Aristotle, Hippocrates, Empedocles, and Pliny the Elder, thought that the unborn child was susceptible to external stimuli. Such extrinsic factors were blamed when a case of craniopagus twins were born in sixteenth century Germany after the pregnant mother clashed heads with a neighbor. Later in history, conjoined twins fascinated and repulsed people but they weren’t considered to be evidence of original sin.
In 2003 two women from Iran, Ladan and Laleh Bijani, who were joined at the head but had separate brains (craniopagus) were surgically separated in Singapore, despite surgeons’ warnings that the operation could be fatal to one or both. Both women died during surgery on July 8, 2003. It has been suggested that the surgical team in Singapore wasn’t qualified to undertake such a complex surgery, and the surgery should have been attempted in a more medically advanced country, such as the USA. Whether or not there is any truth to this is a moot point now.
Other famous conjoined twins are Abigail and Brittany Hensel. The girls have two separate heads and the appearance of one body. In fact, several vital organs are doubled up; each twin has a separate heart, stomach, spine, and spinal cord. Each twin controls her half of their body, operating one of the arms and one of the legs. This means that as infants, the initial learning of physical processes that required body coordination, such as clapping, crawling, and walking required the cooperation of both children. Despite the curiosity that their condition has generated, the Hensel twins have managed to live private lives with relatively little press attention. They live on a farm in Minnesota. At the age of 16, they gave an interview on The Learning Channel on December 17, 2006, in which they discussed aspects of their daily lives and plans for the future. They currently star in their own reality series on TLC. The knowledge of conjoined twins is quite widespread due to television and text-book information. However, in person, conjoined people often suffer stares, rude questions, heckling and bullying.
Multiple Personality Disorder (Dissociative Identity Disorder)
Personally, the jury’s out on this one. There have been very convincing documented cases of DID (formerly known as MPD), including those of Truddi Chase, Billie Milligan, and Sybil (Shirley Mason Ardell). There is no scientific evidence that DID exists and no proof beyond that of the patient him/herself. In historical times, MPD was diagnosed as demonic possession or possession by evil spirits, especially when violent and frightening personalities emerged. Today the concept of MPD or DID is not entirely accepted by many people, but accepted by others.
DID and MPD are very different diagnoses. DID is one of the most controversial psychiatric disorders with no clear consensus regarding its diagnosis or treatment.Research on treatment effectiveness still focuses mainly on clinical approaches and case studies. Dissociative symptoms range from common lapses in attention, becoming distracted by something else, and daydreaming, to pathological dissociative disorders. DID suggests that the patient believes there are many personalities inside the brain that handle various daily functions, but in reality these are dissociated states of the same person. Therapy aims to convince the patient that their various dissociative states aren’t separate entities, so the patient can learn to handle their issues and lives without dissociation. MPD supports the notion of separate people inside one body and brain. Therapy involves re-living traumatic memories that happened during early childhood and into the teens. Patients claim they have no memories whatsoever prior to an advanced developmental age, such as the teens or even into the twenties.
An interesting autobiography written from the perspective of one personality inside of a person with multiple personalities is entitled The Flock: the Autobiography of a Multiple Personality. Joan Frances Casey reveals 24 personalities to her therapist, Lynn. As therapy progresses many of the personalities “disappear” on their own and by the end of the book Joan supposedly integrates into one complete person. Lynne’s treatment method was highly criticized as she took Joan Francis into her home and raised her as her own daughter, something other psychiatrists and psychologists claim is extremely unhealthy for both therapist and patient. A personal reflection from one of the personalities in the book: “I get attached to people, but they have their own lives, their own problems, and really don’t give a shit about anyone else. I knew that was true, and it didn’t bother me most of the time. I had learned to be a friend without expecting anything in return. I had learned not to be surprised when people decided that I no longer fit into their lives.”
― Joan Frances Casey, Flock: The Autobiography of a Multiple Personality
DID became a popular diagnosis in the 1970s, 80s and 90s but it is unclear if the actual incidence of the disorder increased, if it was more recognized by clinicians, or if sociocultural factors caused an increase in iatrogenic presentations. The unusual number of diagnoses after 1980, clustered around a small number of clinicians and the suggestibility characteristic of those with DID, support the hypothesis that DID is therapist-induced. The unusual clustering of diagnoses has also been explained as due to a lack of awareness and training among clinicians to recognize cases of DID. Still, DID and MPD remains strictly a North American phenomenon, as very few European or Asian clinicians recognize this disorder in their patients.
Past life recall is one of the most fascinating areas of unexplained human phenomena. Science has been unable to prove or disprove its genuineness. Many investigate claims of past life recall are unsure whether it is an historical recollection due to reincarnation or is a construction of information somehow received by the unconscious. There is a propensity for fraud that an investigator must watch out for.
VIRGINIA TIGHE / BRIDEY MURPHY
The most famous case of past life recall is that of Virginia Tighe who recalled her past life as Bridey Murphy. Virginia was the wife of a Virginia businessman in Pueblo, Colorado. Under hypnosis in 1952, she told Morey Bernstein, her therapist, that over 100 years ago she was an Irish woman named Bridey Murphy. Bridey spoke with a pronounced Irish brogue and spoke of her life in 19th century Ireland. When Bernstein published his book about the case, The Search for Bridey Murphy in 1956, it became famous around the world and sparked an excited interest in the possibility of reincarnation. Over six sessions, Virginia revealed many details about Bridey’s life, including her birth date in 1798, her childhood amid a Protestant family in the city of Cork, her marriage to Sean Brian Joseph McCarthy and even her own death at the age of 60 in 1858. The results of investigations were mixed. Journalists found no historical record of Bridey but this could have been due to the poor record keeping of the time. But there were inconsistencies in Bridey’s speech and Virginia grew up near an Irish woman named Bridle Corkell. The case of Bridey Murphy remains an intriguing mystery.
Actress Shirley MacLaine has openly stated that instead of dying, people shed their bodies and literally pass on. “[You] go to another level of understanding until you decide to come back to the schoolroom again—Earth,” she says. “It could be that you decide to reincarnate on another planet. That’s why we’re so interested in star nations and extraterrestrials and so forth, because we probably had experiences there and it’s in our memory system. We have all been so many we’ve had so many lifetimes of different cultures and different religions and different points of view and different wars and different loves and different children.” In fact, Shirley believes that her dog was an Egyptian god. When she and then Swedish prime minister became lovers in the seventies, she recognised him immediately because she claimed they’d had sex together 1,200 years earlier when he was Emperor Charlemagne the Great and she was a Moorish peasant girl in Spain with a knack for curing impotence in men.
The re-birth of the soul in a new body. An overwhelming concept that millions of people firmly believe. The remarkable experiences described have nothing to do with current lifestyles, but rather lives lived hundreds and even thousands of years ago. Some people claim not to have been human, but to have been an animal of some sort. Others claim to have been the opposite sex.
CBC – Past Life Investigation
There exists an odd hypnosis to search for past lives. I chalk that one up to highly suggestible clients, rather like highly suggestible people who believe they have DID. People reveal all manner of interesting, frightening, moving experiences, however very few seem to reveal a long journey during that previous life. Seems pretty easy to fake a previous life when you only have to reveal snippets of it. If it makes life more interesting for some people, meh, probably no harm in it.
Life After Death
It seems to be quite trendy to upload your afterlife encounters, or even better, go on talk shows to discuss them. Umpteen people have done so yet completely without imagination – all of them:
- see a bright light that doesn’t blind them but is the brightest light they’ve ever seen
- crawl down a tunnel to get to the light
- hear a voice saying “go back” (that’s rather ambiguous)
Hell in a Handbasket
Those are the pure souls who seem to be suggesting they’ve never sinned. How noble. I remembered a pretty, blonde woman from the 70’s who was brave enough to admit that after her suicide she went to hell – of course for having committed suicide. Her hellish experience was creative but the whole notion of going to hell for committing suicide is a bit hard to swallow. This decade, I found a dude who was honest enough to admit he too went to hell. It was quite original and very creepy. It didn’t have those burning flames or Medieval torture that is the stuff of Biblical imagery and horror films which almost made it believable. Later he explained to the audience he was addressing that he had verbally and emotionally abused his family and taken them very much for granted. That was an interesting observation since his hellish visit didn’t actually tell him why he was being punished. Cool. Had a Medieval person who supposedly went to hell and returned described his experience, more than likely it wouldn’t have been as modern as this one. We could expect visions of demons and hellfire…the common belief of that day.
One statement in the documentary bolded above (Hell in a Handbasket) included a fascinating quote about going to hell:
(I remember) the agony and the pain but I believe the most painful part of it was the loneliness, and the depression was so heavy, that there was no hope, there was no escape, there was no way out of this place. And the smell was like sulphur, like an electric welder, and the stench was terrible, and as I looked at this, I had seen people killed.I had been involved in fights where people were killed. I’ve done time in prison for manslaughter myself. I grew up basically in a reform school, in a jail cell. I was beat unmercifully and as a child by a father that had temper problems, alcohol problems. I was a runaway at 12 years old and I felt like there was nothing in this world that could frighten me. My life was wrecked, my marriage was wrecked, my health was wrecked, but now I’m seeing something that literally scares me to death, because I don’t understand it…
I don’t believe there is a hell so much as I believe there is a suffering and a torment that we cannot put into words, so we just call it hell. Either way, who cares what we call it. I am reasonably certain I don’t want to be in it…if it actually exists. Dr. Sam Purnam, amedical doctor, prefers a biological approach to understanding what happens to the brain after death. When a person is dead, can his or her experience be explained as merely a dream? “You can’t explain away people’s experiences as being a dream, because you can’t dream or have a hallucination if you’ve flatlined on your brain,” Putnam insists. “In order to hallucinate you have to have a functioning brain. ”
Most definitely our centuries-old Egyptian ancestors not only believed in the after-life but spent their entire lives preparing for it. “Field of Offerings” and “Rushes` were typical terms for their after-life. Yet at the same time, they dreaded the journey: the underworld had its own tests which the individual had to overcome. This would take place in the Hall of Two Truths. Ancient pharaohs enjoyed particularly elaborate preparations for their deathly journey. Mountains of old and gems were buried in pyramid tombs for their corpses, just in case they needed to dip into their ghostly pockets from the grave. The poor also prepared their dead with evidence of a great belief in the existence of the afterlife. Their dead were wrapped in a coarse blanket hand-painted with images of their loved ones encompassed in the protective arms of gods and goddesses.
Things that go Bump in the Night (aside from banging your knee on the coffee table whilst heading to the kitchen for warm milk)
The age-old question, is there such a thing as ghosts, is a debate that will never be answered and never be proven…at least not scientifically. Personally, I snort with laughter at the concept, possibly because seeing is believing (and even then I still wouldn’t believe what I’m seeing. (Poltergeists don’t count – all kinds of ridiculous noises and things that go bump in the night plague us all. That one is easily explained away). I love the concept, however, of haunted houses. I even decorated a dollhouse recently as creepy as I could (yes, I like building and decorating dollhouses…get over it). I like the concept in movies. But I can’t believe this silliness as hard as I try. However, enough with that.
The Samhain Festival
Yes of course, a firm belief in spirits, ghosts and demons (that seriously includes the Pagan celebration of Halloween) has existed for thousands of years. The roots of Halloween might be traced 3,000 years ago to the Celtics and their celebration of Samhain, which occurred, of course, on October 31, the official end of summer in their neck of the woods. The Celts believed this was the night when spirits of their ancestors walked the earth. If you didn’t dress up like a witch, goblin, or ghost, they’d know you weren’t one of them and you’d be pulled down into the undead plane with them. That gave everyone an excuse to dress up and go door to door looking for – not candy – dinner. Although taken very seriously, the celebration was still a lotta fun. However, if a family refused to feed a “spectre” that came to their door, that angry disguised person could “curse” the house, and if there was a death during that year, that was the reason. If their wasn’t a death, I don’t know how that was explained….perhaps the ghost in question aimed at the wrong house. My bad.
I say this holiday might be traced to Ireland since it has been argued that it was Christianity that actually began the tradition. The night before Halloween in the Christian calendar is referred to as All Soul’s Day, a time when people go to church to pray for the souls of their dead loved ones. Supposedly Samhain evolved out of ASD, but I’ve heard the opposite, that the Church was unsuccessful in preventing people from taking part in Samhain so what the heck, you gotta know when you’re beat, and they came up with ASD to take part in all the fun, yet with a truly Christian touch. Meh, you can’t beat em’, join em’.
Perhaps ancient belief in the supernatural didn’t merely relate to a fear and ignorance of the after-life. It may also be that there was some comfort in the belief that seeing one’s loved ones again was possible, even after the long journey after the grave.
Genius vs Stupid
The Village Idiot
Most people are fucking idiots” beings the BBC Documentary – Stupidity”Full Movie“. This doesn’t refer to the average stupidity of the village idiot walking around your neighbourhood (not you, of course). The documentary examines the phenomenon of reality TV that entertains people in the most moronic of ways….JackAss being a prime (time) example. “I believe human beings are the stupidest organisms in history. I allow their could be stupidity in other species, but I think we’ve taken it to an extreme,” one observer states. I agree wholeheartedly. Who watches programs like Here Comes Honey-Boo-Boo? I couldn’t believe there was a program with that title. I flicked by it once (I swear it was an accident) and I saw a little pig (no, not the kid) in the disgusting, filthy house this Boo-Boo family lives in. I thought that was Honey-Boo-Boo. Later (not watching it again, I swear), I learned HBB was the obese girl living with her morbidly obese family. Say what? Who tunes in to see that and why? Americans. I mean, they’re the ones who invented it….safe to say most of them are the ones who watch it. Why?
In fact, the vast majority of American Reality TV is so stupid, you can feel your IQ points just withering away if you pause whilst channel-surfing for more than 4 minutes.
People in the documentary were asked what is stupidity? One intelligent man responds stupidity is not so cut and dried, “for one can be educated and at the same time be stupid.” He started out quite impressively. I’d rather he ended with “yet make incredibly stupid decisions“, or some such thing. Another man’s answer was “I wouldn’t, um, well, oh shit.” Stupidity is also our perception. ThomasEdison almost believed he was an “addlepate” (idiot). Edison’s teacher sent home a letter stating, “Your son is incapable of learning.” Albert Einstein’s teachers described him as lazy, and believed he would “amount to nothing.”Why? Both geniuses suffered from dyslexia, a form of learning disability, making it extremely difficult to read and write when a youngster. At that time in history, learning disabilities were unheard of. And these exceptional pupils were too bright, too restless to listen to the mundane curriculum of a typical public school. Einstein proved that not only are space and time not absolutes, Einstein discovered that energy and mass, once thought completely distinct items, were actually interchangeable. In his E=mc2 equation (E=energy, m=mass, and c=speed of light), Einstein created a simple formula to describe the relationship between energy and mass. This formula reveals that a very small amount of mass can be converted into a huge amount of energy, leading to the later invention of the atomic bomb. Einstein receive the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1921. Such a shame he didn’t amount to anything, isn’t it?
Sir Ken Robinson
Education and the curriculum
One reason, I am convinced, that people in my generation of schooling found obtaining a high school diploma very challenging, and being quite turned off of post-secondary education is that high school curriculum was so narrowly focused, that it didn’t address the many skills and interests of the students, that could lead to fulfilling careers. Our curriculum was mostly core subjects. We took art or typing because they were no-brainers and easy. We dreaded math and English because that was the real deal, and those marks determined whether or not we were Likely to Succeed. I’ve always wondered about that concept, in fact: high school yearbooks that nominate one student in each graduating class, each year, as most likely to succeed. What an insult. Everyone succeeds, in their own time and in their own manner. A hard-working housewife and mother, for instance, is a success. It’s extremely difficult to keep a household, manage a budget, raise children, emotionally and socially support one’s spouse, and work a helluva lot of overtime without so much as OT pay or a vacation. Believe it or not, Ontario secondary school curriculum now includes a valid high school course on parenting. It is now divided into academic and applied curriculum. There are flexible schedules and on-line courses for kids who have to work, or who cannot sit in the four dull walls of a classroom for 6 hours a day. Think of the students who went through school believing they were “stupid” or Least likely to Succeed.” What a nightmare. It’s about time you got it together, Laurel Broten.