On hearing that I was holding my end of summer party at the weekend here on Smorgasbord, Paul Andruss donned his dancing shoes and volunteered some suggestions for music that we might play. As always with Paul you get a lot more that you bargained for and in this post we are warned about the dangers of getting carried away with the conga….
It’s a Party: Let’s Dance by Paul Andruss
Everyone likes to dance at parties, but, believe me you might not be too keen on joining this line dance. Peter Gabriel’s Moribund the Burgermeister tells of the sinister outbreaks of dancing manias afflicting Europe during the Middle-Ages, often between bouts of the Black Death. These dancing plagues were named St Vitus’ or St John’s Dance as they were believed to be curses sent by those respective saints.
People, sometimes even one person, would start dancing erratically. Soon, others joined in, until in some cases thousands of men, women and children were dancing in procession across the countryside for days, weeks or even months until they collapsed of exhaustion and dehydration. Many even died dancing. Often musicians were sent in the hope music would sooth the savage breast. Sometimes it had the opposite effect causing even more to join.
We still have no satisfactory explanation what caused these spontaneous outbreaks that occurred between the 1300s and the 1700s. Or why they suddenly stopped. But there are clues in the fact they happened during the Black Death.
Bubonic plague is caused by rat flea bites. The fleas are hosts to the plague bacteria Yersinia Pestis which lies dormant in the gut until activated by climatic changes such as drops in temperature. Once active the bacteria prevent the flea swallowing, causing it to regurgitate bacteria into the victim’s bloodstream. Once the victim succumbs, the bacteria spreads through sneezing or touch.
The first reported case of dancing mania followed the outbreak of bubonic plague across the Mediterranean world: the Justinian plague of the 600s. This outbreak was triggered by massive volcanic explosions causing a period of global cooling which affected the harvests.
The Middle-Ages were also affected by a period of cooling, called the Mini Ice Age. The Thames and Venice Lagoon froze so solid ice fairs were held on them, people feasted, skated and even raced sailboats fitted with skies.
The cool wet summers caused ergot mould to grow on crops. Ergot, when ingested through eating bread made from infected grain, produces a toxic substance like L.S.D. that causes hallucinations, irrational behaviour, convulsions, unconsciousness and even death.
The same substance is found in Morning Glory seeds: Hippy hierophant, Timothy Leary’s, psychedelic of choice – ‘Turn on, tune in and drop out.’
The effects of dancing mania would be exaggerated by hysteria and compliance.
Compliance is the strong human instinct to conform to a group. It is used to explain incidents of mass hysteria, such as why many normal decent Germans became rabid Nazis.
Hysteria or conversion disorder is now virtually eradicated in the West, except for some isolated, strongly religious, rural communities. In earlier times it was deemed demonic possession. In the late 19th century it affected many people causing hysterical blindness and paralysis. Sigmund Freud began his medical studies in Paris under its foremost expert, neurologist Jean-Martin Charcot.
The condition had been recognised since Ancient Egypt. It was believed to mainly affect women (probably because of the social conditions women lived under in many societies), hence it was named Hysteria: the Greek word for womb.
Mass hysteria could explain why many joined in St Vitus dance processions when only a few were genuinely affected by ergot poisoning.
Moribund the Burgermeister* by Peter Gabriel uploaded by ChrisMcRae
Caught in the chaos in the market square
I don’t know what, I don’t know why, but something’s wrong down there
Their bodies twistin’ and turnin’ in a thousand ways
The eyes all rollin’ round and round into a distant gaze
Ah, look at that crowd!
Some are jumping up in the air say “We’re drowning in a torrent of blood!”
Others going down on their knees, seen a saviour coming out of the mud
Oh Mother! It’s eating out my soul
Destroying law and order, I’m gonna lose control
What can I do to stop this plague, spread by sight alone
Just a glimpse and then a quiver, then they shiver to the bone
Ah, look at them go!
Bunderschaft, you are going daft? Better seal off the castle grounds
“This is Moribund, the Burgermeister, I’m gonna keep this monster down,
Somebody sent the subversive element; going to chase it out of town.”
No-one will tell what all this is about
But I will find out.
This thing’s really outrageous, I tell you on the level
It’s really so contagious must be the work of the devil
You better go now, pick up the pipers and tell them to play
Seems the music keeps them quiet, there is no other way.
Ah, close the doors!
“We’ve tried potions and waxen dolls, but none of us could find any cures,”
Mother please, is it just a disease, that has them breaking all my laws,
Check if you can disconnect the effect and I’ll go after the cause
No-one will tell what this is all about
But I will find out
Mother you know your son.
When I say I will, I will!
* Moribund- someone who is dying
Burgermeister- German town mayor
About Paul Andruss
Paul Andruss is a writer whose primary focus is to take a subject, research every element thoroughly and then bring the pieces back together in a unique and thought provoking way. His desire to understand the origins of man, history, religion, politics and the minds of legends who rocked the world is inspiring. He does not hesitate to question, refute or make you rethink your own belief system and his work is always interesting and entertaining. Whilst is reluctant to talk about his own achievements he offers a warm and generous support and friendship to those he comes into contact with.
Paul Andruss is the author of 2 contrasting fantasy novels
Thomas the Rhymer – a magical fantasy for ages 11 to adult about a boy attempting to save fairy Thomas the Rhymer, while trying to rescue his brother from a selfish fairy queen.
Finn Mac Cool – rude, crude and funny, explicitly sexual and disturbingly violent, Finn Mac Cool is strictly for adults only.
Connect to Paul on social media.
You can find all of Paul’s posts in this directory: https://smorgasbordinvitation.wordpress.com/writer-in-residence-writer-paul-andruss/
Thank you for dropping by today and please feel free to share the post on your own blog and networks. Thanks Sally
I hope that whatever your plans this weekend you will be able to spare a few minutes to drop in and sign the guest book in the comments.
My intention is to mention as many of those people who have been with me since the beginning of my blogging adventure in September 2013, with some specially prepared snippets. I also plan to do some introductory pieces on my regular guests as well with interludes for music, humour and of course food and drink. There will be a post each day and in the tradition of all good parties, mingling and exchanging details in the comments is to be expected.