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Could the Dancing Madness of 1518 Have Been a Massive Mind Control?

In 1518 one of the most mysterious illnesses to ever reach history books began sweeping a small community in a very localized crowd.  What began as one person seemingly losing control of her ability to stand still quickly propagated into a large crowd of individuals who had drawn the attention of several nobles and were being treated by medical authorities at the time.  The official cause?  Hot blood.  But what if the medical authorities at the time were actually merely pawns in an early attempt at social engineering in a primitive but effective experiment?

And of course an extraordinary question must be an answer to an extraordinary reason of asking it.  In 1518 the psychology of the standard citizen of Strausberg, France was quite different from the typical citizen there now.  The region had just recently been through a series of high stress events, including the destruction of crops and a series of mysterious seemingly magical illnesses that affected them profoundly.  In addition, conformity and the acceptance of the testimony from authority was overwhelmingly the order of the day in the Holy Roman Empire.

But Mind Control?  In order to understand the possibility of someone in authority performing a clandestine mind control experiment in the area, we would have to consider what psychologists have uncovered about mental conditioning and how simple some of the earliest thought control experiments were.  For example, the three principles of mass mind control discovered by Hippolyte Taine after the Franco Prussian war can be described in the actions of what unfolded in the Dancing Madness.

Consider the following.  If you were to see someone on the street dancing for no reason, they would be considered strange.  If, however, they were a group of people in the same setting it would be overwhelmingly normal.  In fact, those passing by may even be compelled to join in.  This is the submergence in the group dynamic described by Taine as mental unity.  Next, there is the contagious element.  In any social situation the actions of one individual inherently have an effect on the others involved, even if that effect is to purposefully distance themselves from the situation.  As groups congregate the will of the individual is effectively weakened.  But is this enough to drive up to four hundred people to dancing until they reach the point of death?  Think about the actions of sports players who exert themselves until death or the fact that those afflicted with the Dancing Madness were often elderly and suffering from malnutrition.

But who could have enacted such a grand gesture?  It’s hard to say, as the actions of the puppet-master would have left no evidence behind.  But there is one telling clue that may shed some light on the matter.  Robert Bartholomew’s analysis of the events highlighted the violence inflicted on some observers who would not join in.  The mind controller may not have been any individual, but rather the whole of the bystanders watching held together by an unspoken bond.  And their macabre union could have just as easily claimed them to join the crowd as well.  In this way it would have to be mind control from the masses inflicted on the masses and not mass hysteria.