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Saturday morning quotes 8.6: Music is medicine

November 28, 2020


Musica mentis medicina mæstæ [Music is medicine for a sad mind/soul.]

This Latin inscription seems to have been quite popular in the late 16th century, and the words are carved on a sandstone slab marking the grave of one William Walker, Batchelor of Music and Clerk of the Parish of Leyland, died April 20, 1588 (gravesite located approximately 20 metres south of chancel of Church of St. Andrew, Leyland Church Road in Lancashire.)  The Latin phrase also appears on the front endpaper of the earliest lute manuscript penned by Mathew Holmes (Cambridge University Library MS Dd.2.11), likely begun sometime during the same decade of William Walker’s demise.  The point being, in the slightly less polarized past, music was known to have curative properties and was commonly used to relieve the symptoms of a great many medical conditions.

Of course, the late 16th century was also a time of serious pandemics, including the plague known as the Black Death, and modern medical science has advanced to the point where some diseases can be effectively treated or cured with seemingly miraculous pharmaceuticals, mainly developed through taxpayer-funded research grants.  But the seemingly miraculous effectiveness of allopathic medicine makes absolutely no difference if the miracles of modern science are not made available to the entire population, which is currently the case in the US.

Editorial commentary aside, it has long been known that epidemics develop and spread as much through individual perception and a very human tendency toward hypochondria as through the actual presence of a particular pathogen.  This is known as sociogenic illness, and an excellent historical example called St. Vitus’ Dance is depicted in the illustration at the top of the page.

We quote from Robert E. Bartholomew and Simon Wessely, “Protean nature of mass sociogenic illness: From possessed nuns to chemical and biological terrorism fears,” British Journal of Psychiatry (2002).

“Mass sociogenic illness is an under-appreciated social problem that is both underreported and often a significant financial burden to responding emergency services, public health and environmental agencies and the affected school or occupation site, which is often closed for days or weeks.”

– p. 300

“Prior to the 20th century, most reports of sociogenic illness involved motor hysteria incubated by exposure to long-standing religious, academic or capitalist discipline. Between the 15th and 19th centuries, exceedingly strict Christian religious orders appeared in some European convents. Coupled with a popular belief in witches and demons, this situation triggered dozens of epidemic motor hysteria outbreaks among nuns, who were widely believed to have been demonically possessed. Episodes typically lasted months and in several instances were endured in a waxing and waning fashion for years.”

– p. 300

“The social, psychological and economic impact of mass sociogenic illness and associated anxiety may be as severe as that from confirmed attacks.”

– p. 303

“No one is immune from mass sociogenic illness because humans continually construct reality and perceived danger needs only to be plausible in order to gain acceptance within a particular group and generate anxiety. As we enter the 21st century, epidemic hysteria again will mirror the times, likely thriving on the fear and uncertainty from terrorist threats and environmental concerns. What new forms it will take and when these changes will appear are beyond our capacity to predict.

– p. 304

We believe that the powers that (unfortunately) be should immediately fund a “warp speed” project that identifies and distributes music with curative properties.  We have a suggestion for a place to begin.

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