Wednesday 9 February 2022
"If this is 'all in the mind', then all I can say is the mind is a very fertile field." That was a comment made to me by a missionary in Papua New Guinea about some of the bizarre effects of sorcery and folk religions he had noticed in his work. Well, the mind is a very fertile field, and outside the western world it often manifests in strange culture bound syndromes. Koro, for example, is a mental disorder which causes Chinese and Southeast Asian men to imagine that their penises are retracting into their bodies. Malays run amok. In much of the Muslim world women find themselves possessed by what they call zar spirits, but the syndrome in not necessarily seen as pathological, because many of them make quite a bit of money out of it, just like spiritualists over here. Just the same, one wonders how far the 'fertile field' theory can be stressed before we wonder whether something alien has sprouted there.