Devil entertainment: The curious cases of laughter and dance till death plague epidemics

There are two cases of a strange disease that has engulfed some regions of our planet, one of which occurred in the distant 16th century, but the second happened quite recently, in the 1960s. They have not found an explanation in official science, and the few attempts by scientists to somehow explain these facts look, to put it mildly, quite unconvincing.

On the evening of July 14, 1518 in Strasbourg, then territory of the Holy Roman Empire, incomprehensible screams and the noise of a large crowd were heard. A crowd gathered around a frantically dancing woman, whose face is distorted from pain and fatigue, for she has been dancing for the second day and cannot stop. She fell from exhaustion, and it would seem that everything was over, but after a couple of hours the woman stood up and began her frantic dance again. 

This continued for 6 days. Other people joined the woman, turning the surrounding space with their devilish dances into a kind of hell. Their number reached four hundred people, and many of them would not live to see the end of their dance, dying of heart attacks and physical exhaustion.

The story is not fictional, it has full documented historical confirmation, unlike other cases mentioned in history since 1374 and called “dancing plague”.

Not to say that this was a case of collective insanity, hypnosis, or exposure to laughing gas. The dance plague developed like a normal epidemic. It began with one person, then gradually began to capture the entire city and reached its maximum development only a month later, when 15 people a day began to die from it.

The then medical scientists rejected the mystical reasons for the development of such a specific disease and even recommended that the sick continue dancing, assuming that the plague, like a disease of hot blood, would come out of the body through them. Insanity reached the point that two dance floors and a stage were installed in Strasbourg.

When people began to die in batches, it became clear that dancing only exacerbated the problem, as a result of which a complete ban was introduced in the city on all entertainment from gambling to prostitution, and patients with the dance plague were herded into wagons and sent out of town, to the nearest monastery, where the rite of exorcism of the devil was carried out over them.

Either a coincidence, or the monastic prayers really helped, but the fact is: after that, the dancing plague began to wane and then disappeared altogether.

For many centuries, scientists and ordinary people have tried to find an explanation for what happened. Modern science believes that people were poisoned by ergot, a psychoactive plant on which the drug LSD is based. It’s just not clear who fed the whole city with ergot, and why the people didn’t get poisoned at the same time, and the disease process spread in a purely epidemic way.

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You can assume anything you wish, you can even classify this story over the years as a fairy tale, however, something similar that happened on January 30th, 1962 in Tanganyika really makes you think about the intervention of certain forces and processes that cannot be explained by modern science, because and in this case, science (again) was unable to establish what caused the already modern case of mass hysteria.

It all started in a women’s boarding school in the village of Kalash.

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Laughter and crying seized 3 students, and after a few hours, 95 out of 159 students of the school joined them. Laughter lasted from several hours to 16 days. Schools were forced to closure, but by that time the disease had already got out of the school and the village. As soon as the students were sent home, the epidemic began to spread to the neighboring village, and then to 14 schools of Kalash and Nshamba, spreading to more than 1,000 people.

For 18 months, this wild uncontrolled disease continued, causing people to faint, choke, scream and cry. And do you know what the official explanation has been put forward by modern science? The lack of comfortable chairs and the severity of the teachers, which led to laughter, as an expression of protest.

Similar bursts of laughter to tears have been reported in Zambia and Uganda. In 2008, several girls in a Tanzanian school fainted during their final exams, while others sobbed, screamed or ran around the school.

Although we don’t exclude the intervention of higher forces in people’s lives in a similar way, it seems that most likely, such epidemics arise as a result of the still unexplored chemistry of internal processes in the human body, which were released as a result of a unique coincidence of any natural factors. The unpredictability of the release of serotonin or cortisol is possible, but for it to be in the form of a mass phenomenon? More like mass hysteria. 

We also like the mystical origin, well, we just like it. After all, there are so many inexplicable and mysterious phenomena happening in life.

All in all, we are in the dark.


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