Dr J C Barker - The auto-suggestive power of curses and death prayers
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Dr J C Barker MD, MRCP, DPM – Scared to Death – An examination of fear, its cause and effects
Broadly speaking, it would seem that persons who are scared to death exhibit two types of behaviour.
- Firstly, following an appropriate suggestion a panic reaction can set in so that the individual literally appears to die from fright.
- Secondly, a person may seem to accept the suggestion quite calmly and then lie down and prepare for death without apparent panic.
The former reaction seems to be essentially applicable to ‘sophisticated’ persons who are scared to death; the latter is for some reason more frequently encountered among ‘primitive’ peoples. There appear to be important cultural reactions to these circumstances; the white man seems terrified to die; the native on the other hand resigns himself to his fate often without overt evidence of fear.
Perhaps, however, the essential difference between the reactions of ‘civilised’ people and of ‘primitive’ men to suggestions of death lies in the degree of credulousness of the individual concerned. ‘Primitive’ tribesmen are notoriously gullible and appear to accept unconditionally everything that the witch-doctor tells them. As a result of their uncritical attitude they are extremely vulnerable to bewitchment, enchantment, broken taboos and various forms of sorcery.
Belief in magic and an implicit faith in witch-doctors form an essential part of the life and culture of these people even today. Frequently they retain their beliefs, even when they have lived in ‘civilised’ countries for long periods and have otherwise become "Westernised".
For instance, I recently learned of a 23-year-old Ghanaian university student who had a "curse" planted on him by a former girlfriend, who claimed he had jilted her. Convinced he was going to die, he was literally pining away and had two mental hospital admissions before the real cause of the trouble was ascertained.