Compared to what medical science thought it knew about superstition just a few decades ago, the emerging medical consensus summarized below is nothing short of revolutionary.
Death from a voodoo hex or curse is an extreme form of the nocebo effect, the ‘evil twin’ or reverse energetic force of the better known placebo effect. Some people can literally wish themselves into a better state of health to forestall death (the placebo effect), while others can turn their worst fears into a rapid physical decline that leads to death (the nocebo effect).
How does that happen? How can words or symbolic actions cause a physically healthy person to quickly die, or to cause a person near death to rapidly recover?
What kind of bio-molecular model of reality can explain it? And does the phenomenon have broader implications for entire groups of people, such as the elderly who are brainwashed into believing and expecting the self-fulfillment of prophecies about their inevitable degeneration and death?
Here is a summary of just three of the studies that are helping to bring about this sea change in attitudes about how the human body can take thoughts and words to literally reshape physical reality.
1) “Hex Death: Voodoo Magic or Persuasion?” March 1992; Southern Medical Journal; Clifton K. Meador, MD. This Vanderbilt University School of Medicine physician presented two provocative case studies. In the first, a poorly educated man was near death after a hex pronounced by a voodoo priest, but he recovered almost overnight when a physician did a ritual he claimed would lift the curse. The second case involved a man who had wrongly been diagnosed as having metastatic carcinoma of the esophagus and died within the short time frame predicted by his physician. An autopsy later uncovered the fact that the man didn’t have esophageal cancer or any other medical condition that should have killed him. His mere expectation of death had brought about his death.
2) “Psychogenic death: individual effects of sorcery and taboo violation.” November 2003; Mental Health, Religion & Culture; S Dein. This author also reported two cases from his own clinical experience. In both cases the victim of ‘sorcery’ lost all hope and began a steady physical decline. One recovered once the curse was removed, while the other person died. Symptoms observed in the victims after the curse was leveled included lethargy, lack of motivation, extreme guilt, social withdrawal, reduced appetite, and then death. This progression was identified as being similar to depression.
3) “Moving Through Time.” January 8, 2010; Psychological Science; Lynden K. Miles, Louise K. Nind and C. Neil Macrae. These researchers from Britain demonstrated that mental ‘time travel’ has observable effects on the human body. When people reflect back on the past, for instance, their body movements subtly reflect the thought metaphor by leaning backward, whereas they lean forward when fantasizing about the future. This finding has greater implications than you might at first assume. It means that we process information not just in our brains, as was long thought, but also directly throughout our entire body. The research field emerging around this revelation is called ‘embodied cognition.’
A Radical Idea to Consider
Have you ever visited an elderly person at a nursing home or an assisted living facility? It can be a sobering yet enlightening experience.
Over the past few years I’ve had occasion to spend a few hours visiting people in several such settings. Each time I came away feeling as if I had been inside a dark, heavy cloud of palpable despair. Most of the people that I encountered within these institutions exhibited lethargy, lack of motivation, guilt about being a ‘burden’ on loved ones or society, social withdrawal, and reduced appetite. Their obvious physical infirmities and limitations only served to heighten these psychological symptoms.
Does any of this sound familiar?! These are the same sort of symptoms observed in people who had been placed under a voodoo curse or hex.
Aging is not just about genetic programming, though that certainly plays a primary role. Aging can also be influenced by a state of mind that can trigger, or delay the triggering, of genetic predispositions.
It’s my suspicion that elderly people in Western cultures languish under a curse placed on them by the societal beliefs and expectations that took root in their youth. It’s the expectation that we all have been given a death sentence at birth. It’s the judgment that the elderly must accept as inevitable that their health will deteriorate and then they must die. It’s the youth culture conceit that past a certain age, people should neither be seen nor heard. It’s the idea that advanced age represents what is sad, ugly, degrading and humiliating about the human condition.
Most nursing homes and assisted living facilities reinforce this curse by warehousing the aged in settings that discourage them from challenging their perceived physical limitations. Whether it’s engaging in competitive sports, even if it’s just wheelchair racing (they might get hurt, oh no!) or attempting sexual activities with each other (they might stroke out, oh no!) the straitjacket of limitations imposed in these institutional settings serve to stifle the human spirit.
Just as the nocebo effect can condemn an individual to manifest his worst expectations into physical degeneration and death, so can it curse an entire generation with the expectation that life must navigate a single narrow path to ultimate destruction.
Just as the placebo effect can heal the body and mind of an individual, so can it be a force for healing an entire generation.
Old age may be mostly a mass psychogenic illness for which the antidote is the harnessing of our collective imagination to create a Disneyland for the soul.