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Ergotism and witchcraft

Ergotism and witchcraft

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Ergotism and witchcraft

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  1. Ergotism and witchcraft • Key events in Seventeenth Century colonial America: • 1. the founding of Jamestown • 2. the voyage of the Pilgrims • 3. the first Thanksgiving • 4. the establishment of slavery just to name a few. • Another occurrence stands out among the others as a brutal and backward looking mistake in the course of American history--the Salem witch trials of 1692.

  2. Ergotism and witchcraft • In medieval times, there were two types of witches: • 1. Malefic—a witch that caused misfortunes • causing beer or cheese to spoil, • the family cow to dry up • the death of babies. • 2. Theological—witches that had made a covenant with the Devil to acquire their magical powers. • common for these types of witches to be marked with a “witches mark” such as an extra nipple from which familiars of the Devil could nurse.

  3. Ergotism and witchcraft • Witchcraft was also a legal concept. • There were laws in most places at that time against “Acts of Conjuracions, Inchantments and Witchcraftes.” • After 1604 the sentence was death, unlike some of the earlier statues where more lenient punishment could have been granted.

  4. Salem witchcraft affair of 1692 • the worst outbreak of witch persecution in America • It affected not only Salem Village but eight other communities of Essex County, Massachusetts and Connecticut. • It began in the kitchen of the Reverend Samuel Parris, in Salem Village, Massachusetts: • a group of young girls and a slave from the Caribbean named Tituba, were trying to determine what their future husbands would be like. • Utilizing a primitive crystal ball, the girls saw something that terrified them "a specter in the likeness of a coffin.” • Soon the girls began to experience “odd postures,” “foolish, ridiculous speeches,” “distempers,” and “fits, they began blasphemous screaming, had convulsive seizures and were in trance-like states.” • While at first Parris and others sought medical explanations, they soon determined the girls were under the spells of witches.

  5. Salem witchcraft affair of 1692 • to determine who had bewitched them, a witch cake was baked with the infected girls urine. • Consumption of such a cake would reveal to the girls who had bewitched them. • After consuming the cake, pressure was placed on the girls to reveal the names of the witches, which they did. • The girls initially gave up three names, Tituba, Sarah Good and Sarah Osbourne. • While the others denied the charges, Tituba soon confessed, and the women were locked up. • the girl’s fits did not stop. Sarah Good was hanged for witchcraft and Sarah Osbourne died in Prison.

  6. Salem witchcraft affair of 1692 • As the spring went on, more people became afflicted, and more people were accused of witchcraft. • The Salem jail began to fill with witches and the social status of the witches began to increase. • With the growing number of prisoners, the accusations began to move out of Salem and into surrounding communities. It was no longer a local affair. • The trials dragged on throughout the summer and when they finally ended in September, due to the direct intervention of several Massachusetts ministers, there had been 141 accusations and twenty people were executed. • Part of the reason that the trials were eventually stopped was that the accusers began to accuse people whose status and piety was so firmly established that people no longer believed them.

  7. Historical detectives • This has been the subject of several of books • The problem has been approached from a variety of disciplines and many explanations were provided for the cause. • 1. The teenage girls in Salem Village were feigning their symptoms • 2. The bewitched were suffering from hysteria

  8. Background • Typical witches in Salem were: • 1. Doctors or herbalists who were trying to help the victims. • 2. Middle aged, women • 3. Of humble social status • 4. Either married or widowed, • 5. And often somewhat less fecund than other women. • 6. Most had disagreeable or self-assertive personalities

  9. Background • 7. Many also owned property or stood to own property, • was against the laws that clearly specified male inheritance of property. • There were many conflicts between sons who believed that the real property of their deceased fathers was theirs, and widows who held that property (or whose new husbands held it • it was the cause of a great deal of resentment. • Typical victims in Salem • The victims in Essex County were mainly children and teenagers.

  10. Witches in Salam

  11. Witches in Salam

  12. Background • Pattern of Symptoms • The patterns of symptoms was distributed in a nonrandom way in space and time. • Ultimately twenty people were killed in Salem, • over ten thousand people were executed for witchcraft in Europe in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth centuries.

  13. Geography of the trials • In Scotland • witch persecution was concentrated in the northeast, along the coast—the country’s main rye-growing area. • Early Modern Europe • most trials were concentrated in: • alpine areas of France and central Europe • in the Rhine Valley. • In all these areas rye was the staple cereal.

  14. Witch trials in Scotland

  15. Witch trials in western Europe

  16. Geography of the trials • southern France • In 944 AD in 40,000 people died of ergotism. • The absence of persecution is significant. • Ireland • There were few witch trials in Ireland. • The Irish at this time consumed mainly dairy products, potatoes and oats, which may explain why they were not very susceptible to “bewitchment.”

  17. Background • Food prices were indicative • The higher the rye prices the more witch persecution trials were held. • Climate was indicative • The colder the spring and summer temperatures, the more witch persecution trials were held.

  18. Salem witch trials

  19. Background • Outbreaks of witchcraft were often accompanied by central nervous system symptoms: • tremors, • anesthesias • paresthesias (sensations of pricking, biting, ants crawling on the skin) • distortions of the face and eyes • paralysis • spasms • convulsive seizures • muscle contractions • Halucinations • manias • panics • depressions

  20. Background • There were also a significant number of gangrene cases and complaints of reproductive dysfunction, especially agalactia (inability of a nursing mother to produce enough milk). • Animals behaved wildly and made strange noises. Cows had agalactia. • Not every victim of “bewitchment” had all the symptoms, but most had abnormal experiences and behaved in abnormal ways.

  21. Background • 1670 • a French physician, Dr. Thuillier put forth the concept that it was not an infectious disease, but one that was due to the consumption of rye infected with ergot that was responsible for the outbreaks of St. Anthony’s Fire. • In 1976 psychologist Linda Caporael proposed that those who displayed symptoms of bewitchment in 1692 were actually suffering from ergotism.

  22. Ergot and ergotism • Is a disease of cereals, especially rye (Secale sp.) and occasionally other grasses caused by the fungus Claviceps purpurea. • When ingested by humans or animals in sufficient quantity, ergot produces a disease called “ergotism” which has in serious cases, two variants: • 1. convulsive--convulsive ergotism might better be labeled “dystonic ergotism”. It is characterized by nervous dysfunction, such as writhing, tremors, and wry neck, which in the past were frequently reported as “convulsions” or “fits. ” • 2. gangrenous--victims of gangrenous ergotism may lose fingers, toes, and limbs to dry gangrene, caused by a vasoconstrictive chemical (such as the alkaloid ergotamine) produced by the ergot fungus.

  23. Claviceps purpurea

  24. Claviceps purpurea

  25. Symptoms of ergotism • Cardiovascular system • constriction of arteries and veins • rapid, weak pulse • precordial distress or pain • muscle pain • skin cold • weakness, lameness • gangrene • cardiac arrest

  26. Symptoms of ergotism • Motor control • tremors, spasms, writhing • wry neck • eyes awry • loss of speech • muscular paralysis • renal spasm • permanent constrictures

  27. Symptoms of ergotism • Central nervous system • headache • dizziness • depression • confusion • drowsiness, unconsciousness • panic • hallucinations • delusions, psychosis

  28. Symptoms of ergotism • Gastrointestinal system • nausea • vomiting • diarrhea

  29. Symptoms of ergotism • Senses • unquenchable thirst • depressed or ravenous appetite • sensations of heat (fever) or cold (chills) • blindness • deafness • numbness • feeling of being pinched, choked, suffocated

  30. Symptoms of ergotism • Skin • tingling and itching (formication) • jaundice • redness • swelling • blistering

  31. Symptoms of ergotism • Reproductive system • fertility suppression • abortion, stillbirth • agalactia (inability to produce milk) • poisoning of mother’s milk • False convulsions

  32. Symptoms of ergotism • It is now known that ergot alkaloids do not produce true convulsions, in which consciousness is lost • some ergot alkaloids interfere with the activity of dopamine in the body • causing muscle spasms as well as confusion delusions and hallucinations. • Psychosis • Ergot might also produce a temporary or permanent psychosis.

  33. Symptoms of ergotism • Poisoned mother’s milk • Some ergot alkaloids can pass through the mother’s milk and poison the nursing infant who is especially vulnerable. • If lactating domestic animals in a community are also affected, there may be no alternative source of nutrition for human infants.

  34. Witchcraft and ergotism • Symptoms of bewitchment in Massachusetts • The victims did not have true convulsions because they did not lose consciousness (victims of convulsive ergotism writhe and have spasms but do not lose consciousness. • 24/30 victims of bewitchment in 1692 suffered from “fits” and the sensations of being pinched, pricked or bitten, all of which are common symptoms of ergotism. • Temporary blindness, deafness, and speechlessness, burning sensations, visions and the sensation flying through the air (out of body).

  35. Witchcraft and ergotism • Three girls said they felt as if they were being torn to pieces and all their bones were being pulled out of joint. • Some victims reported feeling sick to the stomach or weak, sensing a burning in the fingers, swelling and pain in half of the right hand and part o the face, and being lame.

  36. Symptoms of ergotism • Epidemics of gangrenous necrosis of the extremities and central nervous abberations swept through the populations of Europe from the ninth through the eighteenth centuries as a result of incorporating ergot-contaminated flour into bread. • Medical use of ergot in obstetrics began in China 5000 years ago and reportedly was prescribed by Hippocrates (ca. 400 B.C.)

  37. Ergot alkaloids • Among the known ergot alkaloids with hallucinogenic properties are: • 1. Ergine • 2. Ergonovine • 3. lysergic acid hydroxyethylamide. • It is relatively easy to extract lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) from lysergic acid, which is the basic ergot alkaloid. • through the action of other fungi, LSD may appear in natural ergot.

  38. Rye and ergotism • ergotism began with the cultivation of Secale cereale (Rye) • it is far more common on that host, • but Claviceps purpurea can infect other grains as well. • Rye was a weed grain and occurred wherever wheat was cultivated. • Often it became the dominant plant when wheat fields were abandoned. • wherever civilization became established, Rye would follow it there. • It was not cultivated for food until some time in the early Middle Ages (around the 5th Century), in what is now eastern Europe and western Russia.

  39. Rye cultivation England and Wales

  40. Alkaloid conc. in Russia

  41. St. Anthony’s Fire • The symptoms (but not the cause of the symptoms) were well documented during the Middle Ages. • It was at this time that it came to be called Holy Fire and later St. Anthony’s Fire. • Holy Fire because it caused burning sensations at the extremities from gangrenous ergotism, • St. Anthony’s fire because hospitals were set up, which were dedicated to Saint Anthony, to take care of patients with the disease.

  42. St. Anthony

  43. Geography of the ergotism • Epidemic-like outbreaks of ergot poisoning have been recorded in most European countries and Russia. • France • many waves of ergotism throughout history. • Between 800-900AD the Holy Roman Empire formed by Pope Leo III was one of the areas affected. • The area was populated by the Franks • during this time, the Vikings invaded the Holy Roman Empire. Because of their superior size and fighting ability they easily defeated the Franks who lived along the coastal regions. • Eventually the Holy Roman Empire was split into West Franks (France) and East Franks (Germany). • By 911 the Vikings hold on the northwest coast of France was complete and the king of France ceded to them what would become Normandy. • Through it all the Vikings were unaffected by the ergotism because Rye was not a staple food for them.

  44. Current uses for ergot alkaloids • Dihydroergotoxine (Ergoloid Mesylate)-- • increases brain metabolism and cerebral brain flow. • Used in age related mental capacity decline. • Ergonovine maleate-- • when used after placental delivery, ergonovine increases the strength, duration and frequency of uterine contractions and decreases uterine bleeding. • Used in the prevention and treatment of postpartum and postabortal hemorrhage.

  45. Current uses for ergot alkaloids • Ergotamine derivatives-- • to prevent or abort vascular headaches such as migraine, migraine variant and cluster headache • suppress fertility or stop lactation. • LSD--treatment of certain mental disorders. • The demand is so great that fields of Rye are now grown by pharmaceutical companies that are purposely infected with Claviceps purpurea in order to harvest the alkaloids.

  46. Toxicity of ergots • Grain containing more than 0.3 percent by weight of the grain may not be legally sold and milled for flour and human consumption. • It is also costly and quite often difficult to remove enough sclerotia to meet the legal standards, particularly in poorer countries, and the remaining traces are often toxic to livestock.

  47. LSD • Albert Hofmann-inventor of LSD at Sandoz labs in Switzerland–1930’s • Isolated an alkaloid called ergotoxine, which was thought not to be pure, but was really a mixture. • Isolated Lysergic acid as one of the base alkaloids. • He began to do a series of experiments where he combined lysergic acid with a variety of amines to make pharmaceutically important lysergic acid compounds. • The first was lysergic acid + prolamine; the result was ergonovine was a very useful uterotonic- hemostatic compound valuable in obstetrics. • Lysergic acid + butanolamine; the result was the compound with the trade name Methergine which today is the leading medicine for obstetrics.