This morning I read in the New Scientist book Nothing about the nocebo – “the placebo’s evil twin” and found myself in the world of Robert Burton.
Curses and Hexes can be classed as nocebos and the author illustrates their power by recounting the case of Vance Vanders, who in 1938 is cursed by a witch doctor in an Alabama cemetery. He is taken badly ill. initially Drayton Doherty his doctor can do nothing for him, but on learning that the cause of the malaise is a hex he comes up with a ruse which suggests he may well have read The Anatomy of Melancholy. He calls the family to Vanders’ bedside and explains that he has confronted the witch doctor and learned that the curse has cause a lizard to hatch in the patient’s stomach, it is the lizard eating his insides which is causing the illness. The cure is simple, Doherty administers a stronger purger, Vanders vomits wildly and with a slight of hand the doctor produces a live lizard as if from the vomit (in fact from his black medical bag) and pronounces the lizard removed from the body and the patient cured. Vanders falls into a deep sleep and wakes both hungry and cured.
The team spent Thursday and Friday rehearsing up (very) similar tales for your delight on the Spring tour of The Anatomy of Melancholy which starts in Aberystwyth on Tuesday. Good luck everyone.