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Erasmus Darwin – Zoonomia – The power of a spell to do harm



Type of spiritual experience


Zoonomia; or the Laws of Organic Life (1794) is a two-volume medical work by Erasmus Darwin dealing with pathology, anatomy, psychology, and the functioning of the body. The book incorporates early ideas relating to the theory of evolution that were later more fully developed by his grandson, Charles Darwin.

The case was intended to demonstrate the power of Fear in sustaining the morbid sensation of cold:

A description of the experience

Zoonomia ; or, the Laws of Organic Life. By Dr. Darwin, F.B.S. 2d Edition. 1796, II, p. 359

"A young farmer in Warwickshire, finding his hedges broken and the sticks carried away during a frosty season, determined to watch for the thief. He lay many cold hours under a hay-stack, and at length an old woman, like a witch in a play, approached, and began to pull up the hedge ; he waited till she had tied up her bottle of sticks, and was carrying them off, that he might convict her of the theft, and then springing from his concealment he seized his prey with violent threats.

After some altercation, in which her load was left upon the ground, she kneeled upon the bottle of sticks, and raising her arms to heaven beneath the bright moon, then at the full, spoke to the farmer, already shivering with cold,

' Heaven grant that thou never mayest know again the blessing to be warm.'

He complained of cold all the next day, and wore an upper coat, and in a few days another, and in a fortnight took to his bed, always saying nothing made him warm ; he covered himself with very many blankets, and had a sieve over his face as he lay ; and from this one insane idea he kept his bed above twenty years, for fear of the cold air, till at length he died"

The source of the experience

Scientist other

Concepts and Symbols used in the text or image


Observation contributed by: Henry Ibberson