Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Possessed women in Morzine, France

Between 1857 and 1870, in Morzine, France, a couple of miles away from my Alpine hometown, dozens of women fell victims of seizures, hallucinations, and mass hysteria. All claimed they were possessed by the devil. In these days, Morzine was totally isolated community from modernity and abjectly poor. My parents have told me at length about that story and even in the 1960s, continued to be terrorized by these stories of witchcraft, which did not fail to affect my young imagination.

It's only this summer that I took the time to read a number of books on this subject that a young lady from my hometown valley was gracious enough to pass along to me. Having spent a quarter of a century next to Morzine in a culture deeply influenced by the Catholic religion and widespread beliefs in witchcraft, until the middle of last century, I can appreciate all the trauma caused by these extraordinary events and I'm even surprised that this crisis could be solved by imposing modern scientific reasoning over popular superstition at a time when the science of psychology was still in its infancy.

I am also pleased to see how France – that had recently become a secular country – was, over 150 years ago, much more advanced than some of our American states are today in sorting out irrational faith-based beliefs and scientific knowledge. I came to the conclusion that some significant Morzine public servants had shown exceptional courage, both in terms of their intellectual independence and physical resistance in standing up against continued attacks and irrational pressures.

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