Wednesday, September 03, 2008

50 moons of Saturn and the force of Imagination

Johann Dieter Wassmann, Todesstrecke (Deathtrap), 1897. 16 x 16 x 7.5 cm.

“WHAT imagination is, I have sufficiently declared in my digression of the anatomy of the soul. I will only now point at the wonderful effects and power of it; which, as it is eminent in all, so most especially it rageth in melancholy persons, in keeping the species of objects so long, mistaking, amplifying them by continual and strong meditation, until at length it produceth in some parties real effects, causeth this and many other maladies. And although this fantasy of ours be a subordinate faculty to reason, and should be ruled by it, yet in many men, through inward or outward distemperatures, defect of organs, which are unapt, or otherwise contaminated, it is likewise unapt, or hindered, and hurt. This we see verified in sleepers, which by reason of humours and concourse of vapours troubling the fantasy, imagine many times absurd and prodigious things, and in such as are troubled with incubus, or witch-ridden (as we call it), if they lie on their backs, they suppose an old woman rides, and sits so hard upon them, that they are almost stifled for want of breath; when there is nothing offends, but a concourse of bad humours, which trouble the fantasy. This is likewise evident in such as walk in the night in their sleep, and do strange feats: these vapours move the fantasy, the fantasy the appetite, which moving the animal spirits causeth the body to walk up and down as if they were awake. Fracast. l. 3. de intellect., refers all ecstasies to this force of imagination such as lie whole days together in a trance: as that priest whom Celsus speaks of; that could separate himself from his senses when he list, and lie like a dead man, void of life and sense. Cardan brags of himself, that he could do as much, and that when he list. Many times such men when they come to themselves, tell strange things of heaven and hell, what visions they have seen; as that St. Owen, in Matthew Paris, that went into St. Patrick's purgatory, and the monk of Evesham in the same author. Those common apparitions in Bede and Gregory, Saint Bridget's revelations, Wier. l. 3. de lamiis, c. 11. Cæsar Vanninus, in his Dialogues, &c. reduceth (as I have formerly said), with all those tales of witches' progresses, dancing, riding, transformations, operations, &c. to the force of imagination, and the devil's illusions. The like effects almost are to be seen in such as are awake: how many chimeras, antics, golden mountains and castles in the air do they build unto themselves?

"I appeal to painters, mechanicians, mathematicians. Some ascribe all vices to a false and corrupt imagination, anger, revenge, lust, ambition, covetousness, which prefers falsehood before that which is right and good, deluding the soul with false shows and suppositions. Bernardus Penottus will have heresy and superstition to proceed from this fountain; as he falsely imagineth, so he believeth; and as he conceiveth of it, so it must be, and it shall be, contra gentes, he will have it so. But most especially in passions and affections, it shows strange and evident effects: what will not a fearful man conceive in the dark? What strange forms of bugbears, devils, witches, goblins? Livater imputes the greatest cause of spectrums, and the like apparitions, to fear, which above all other passions begets the strongest imagination (saith Wierus), and so likewise, love, sorrow, joy, &c. Some die suddenly, as she that saw her son come from the battle at Cannæ, &c. Jacob the patriarch, by force of imagination, made speckled lambs, laying speckled rods before his sheep. Persina that Æthiopian queen in Heliodorus, by seeing the picture of Perseus and Andromeda, instead of a blackamoor, was brought to bed of a fair white child. In imitation of whom belike, a hard-favoured fellow in Greece, because he and his wife were both deformed, to get a good brood of children, Elegantissimas imagines in thalamo collocavit, &c., hung the fairest pictures he could buy for money in his chamber, ‘That his wife by frequent sight of them, might conceive and bear such children.’ And if we may believe Bale, one of Pope Nicholas the Third's concubines by seeing of a bear was brought to bed of a monster. ‘If a woman (saith Lemnius), at the time of her conception think of another man present or absent, the child will be like him.’ Great bellied women, when they long, yield us prodigious examples in this kind, as moles, warts, scars, harelips, monsters, especially caused in their children by force of a depraved fantasy in them: Ipsam speciam quam animo effigiat, fœtui inducit: She imprints that stamp upon her child which she conceives unto herself. And therefore Lodovicus Vives, lib. 2. de Christ. fœm. gives a special caution to great-bellied women, ‘That they do not admit such absurd conceits and cogitations, but by all means avoid those horrible objects, heard or seen, or filthy spectacles.’ Some will laugh, weep, sigh, groan; blush, tremble, sweat, at such things as are suggested unto them by their imagination. Avicenna speaks of one that could cast himself into a palsy when he list; and some can imitate the tunes of birds and beasts that they can hardly be discerned: Dagebertus' and Saint Francis' scars and wounds, like those of Christ's (if at the least any such were), Agrippa supposeth to have happened by force of imagination: that some are turned to wolves, from men to women, and women again to men (which is constantly believed) to the same imagination; or from men to asses, dogs, or any other shapes. Wierus ascribes all those famous transformations to imagination; that in hydrophobia they seem to see the picture of a dog, still in their water, that melancholy men and sick men conceive so many fantastical visions, apparitions to themselves, and have such absurd apparitions, as that they are kings, lords, cocks, bears, apes, owls; that they are heavy, light, transparent, great and little, senseless and dead (as shall be showed more at large, in our sections of symptoms), can be imputed to nought else, but to a corrupt, false, and violent imagination. It works not in sick and melancholy men only, but even most forcibly sometimes in such as are sound: it makes them suddenly sick, and alters their temperature in an instant. And sometimes a strong conceit or apprehension, as Valesius proves, will take away diseases: in both kinds it will produce real effects. Men, if they see but another man tremble, giddy or sick of some fearful disease, their apprehension and fear is so strong in this kind, that they will have the same disease. Or if by some soothsayer, wiseman, fortune-teller, or physician, they be told they shall have such a disease, they will so seriously apprehend it, that they will instantly labour of it. A thing familiar in China (saith Riccius the Jesuit), ‘If it be told them they shall be sick on such a day, when that day comes they will surely be sick, and will be so terribly afflicted, that sometimes they die upon it.’ Dr. Cotta in his discovery of ignorant practitioners of physic, cap 8. hath two strange stories to this purpose, what fancy is able to do. The one of a parson's wife in Northamptonshire, An. 1607, that coming to a physician, and told by him that she was troubled with the sciatica, as he conjectured (a disease she was free from), the same night after her return, upon his words, fell into a grievous fit of a sciatica: and such another example he hath of another good wife, that was so troubled with the cramp, after the same manner she came by it, because her physician did but name it. Sometimes death itself is caused by force of fantasy. I have heard of one that coming by chance in company of him that was thought to be sick of the plague (which was not so) fell down suddenly dead. Another was sick of the plague with conceit. One seeing his fellow let blood falls down in a swoon. Another (saith Cardan out of Aristotle), fell down dead (which is familiar to women at any ghastly sight), seeing but a man hanged. A Jew in France (saith Lodovicus Vives), came by chance over a dangerous passage or plank, that lay over a brook in the dark, without harm, the next day perceiving what danger he was in, fell down dead. Many will not believe such stories to be true, but laugh commonly; and deride when they hear of them; but let these men consider with themselves, as Peter Byarus illustrates it, If they were set to walk upon a plank on high, they would be giddy, upon which they dare securely walk upon the ground. Many (saith Agrippa), ‘strong-hearted men otherwise, tremble at such sights, dazzle, and are sick, if they look but down from a high place, and what moves them but conceit?’ As some are so molested by fantasy; so some again, by fancy alone, and a good conceit, are as easily recovered. We see commonly the tooth-ache, gout, falling-sickness, biting of a mad dog, and many such maladies, cured by spells, words, characters, and charms, and many green wounds by that now so much used Unguentum Armarium, magnetically cured, which Crollius and Goclenius in a book of late hath defended, Libavius in a just tract as stiffly contradicts, and most men controvert. All the world knows there is no virtue in such charms or cures, but a strong conceit and opinion alone, as Pomponatius holds, ‘which forceth a motion of the humours, spirits, and blood, which takes away the cause of the malady from the parts affected.’ The like we may say of our magical effects, superstitious cures, and such as are done by mountebanks and wizards. ‘As by wicked incredulity many men are hurt (so saith Wierus of charms, spells, &c.), we find in our experience, by the same means many are relieved.’ An empiric oftentimes, and a silly chirurgeon, doth more strange cures than a rational physician. Nymannus gives a reason, because the patient puts his confidence in him, which Avicenna ‘prefers before art, precepts, and all remedies whatsoever.’ 'Tis opinion alone (saith Cardan), that makes or mars physicians, and he doth the best cures, according to Hippocrates, in whom most trust. So diversely doth this fantasy of ours affect, turn, and wind, so imperiously command our bodies, which as another Proteus, or a chameleon, can take all shapes; and is of such force (as Ficinus adds), that it can work upon others, as well as ourselves. How can otherwise blear eyes in one man cause the like affection in another? Why doth one man's yawning make another yawn? One man's pissing provoke a second many times to do the like? Why doth scraping of trenchers offend a third, or hacking of flies? Why doth a carcass bleed when the murderer is brought before it, some weeks after the murder hath been done? Why do witches and old women fascinate and bewitch children: but as Wierus, Paracelsus, Cardan, Mizaldus, Valleriola, Cæsar Vanninus, Campanella, and many philosophers think, the forcible imagination of the one party moves and alters the spirits of the other. Nay more, they can cause and cure not only diseases, maladies and several infirmities, by this means, as Avicenna de anim. l. 4. sect. 4. supposeth in parties remote, but move bodies from their places, cause thunder, lightning, tempests, which opinion Alkindus, Paracelsus, and some others, approve of: So that I may certainly conclude this strong conceit or imagination is astrum hominis, and the rudder of this our ship, which reason should steer, but overborne by fantasy cannot manage, and so suffers itself and this whole vessel of ours to be overruled, and often overturned… I have thus far digressed, because this imagination is the medium deferens of passions, by whose means they work and produce many times prodigious effects: and as the fantasy is more or less intended or remitted, and their humours disposed, so do perturbations move, more or less, and take deeper impression.”

Robert Burton
The Anatomy of Melancholy

50 Moons of Saturn
Curator: Daniel Birnbaum
Turin Triennale
6 November 2008 – 1 February 2009

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