Throughout history, there have been several puzzling events of neurologic and psychiatric symptoms involving a large group of people. This is called “mass hysteria,” which has continued to confound the medical community. Sometimes, a single unusual incident with a logical explanation escalates into an epidemic causing chaos and killing people. One of the most famous is the Dancing Plague of 1518 when hundreds of people danced together for days. And in wild delirium, the dancers collapsed and fell to the ground. Most of them were exhausted, groaning and sighing in the agonies of death.
However, there are several more cases of mass hysteria that have happened in history. Here are some examples:
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Tanganyika Laughing Epidemic
In 1962, almost a hundred students were uncontrollably laughing for more than two weeks. It started with only three students. During those days, victims experienced bouts of crying, fainting, and pain. The school was forced to shut down for two months because they were unable to conduct lessons. Unfortunately, the hysteria spread throughout the surrounding villages and schools, affecting over 1,000 people.
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It is no secret that women during medieval times were forced to enter convents where they were condemned to a life of austerity and manual labor. Thus, it is no surprise that this caused strange behaviors among them. For instance, a nun in a large French convent started meowing like a cat in 1431. According to List Verse, an online site that publishes lists that intrigue and educate, specializing in bizarre or lesser-known trivia, the other sisters followed and later created a “cat imitation” plague. A platoon of soldiers was ordered to stay outside the convent because people became bothered. The nuns were also told that they would be beaten with rods if they continued to meow.
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Salem Witch Trials
In 1962, girls in the small town of Salem Village started to experience seizures that couldn't be explained by medical science. The hysteria started with two young girls who claimed that they were being assaulted by supernatural entities. Trials were promptly enacted and those who did not confess were sentenced to death. Reports showed that there were more than 20 people executed and more than 100 jailed during that time.
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The Miracle of the Sun
In May 1917, three young children from Fatima, Portugal, claimed that they saw an apparition of the Virgin Mary. according to Mother Nature Network, a website with news and information related to sustainability, health, lifestyle, technology, money, food, home, and family. They claimed that Mary told them that she would appear to them for the last time. She said that she would create a miracle with which everyone would believe her existence. Several subsequent supernatural visitations happened after that. Many people gathered to witness the promised miracle. They reportedly saw the sun light’s abnormality and that the sun changed colors and spun around in the sky.
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Meissen Trembling Disease
In 1905, a student in Meissen started trembling and twitching. Over 200 students at surrounding schools were afflicted with the unexplained twitching episode by May the following year. It was reported that whenever students were given writing tasks, they would experience tremors. They were “treated” with electric shocks to “cure” their twitching episodes. Eventually, it was concluded that the students, who were high performers, were experiencing the stress of having to achieve good grades.
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Strange Flu-Like Symptoms
The most recent example of mass hysteria happened in Sri Lanka last 2012. It was reported that many children experienced rashes, headaches, intestinal problems, and other flu-like symptoms. Eventually, more than 1,000 people were admitted to local hospitals due to the same reasons, causing widespread panic throughout the country. However, there was no medical cause that could be found to explain the events. The “disease” also vanished as quickly as it had appeared.
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Wurzburg Screaming Epidemic
In 1749, a convent in Wurzburg, Germany, was hit by a screaming epidemic. It all started when Sister Maria Renata, the sub-prioress, didn’t allow a young woman who was prone to convulsions to enter the convent. However, her decision was overturned by other nuns. After that, other sisters within the community began imitating the young woman’s behavior. Reports showed that they exhibited signs of “demonic possession” during services. They experienced episodes of writhing, screaming, foaming at the mouth, and entering a trance-like state.