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by Archaeology Newsroom

The fear and panic of diseases and their personification

Fear and related notions hold an impressive position in folk proverbs and customs and in the conceptions and beliefs of common people. The lack of fear and, even further, bravery is a characteristic quality of the few and distinguished individuals (heroes, supernatural beings, mainly male but also female), while fear and consequently panic concern mainly the weak and the vulnerable. Cowardice, being the outcome of fear, is a typical feature of the psychically impotent person. Fear however, does not distinguish the strong and brave from the weak and cowardly, when they are confronted with a disease, particularly of a contagious one. In fatal diseases and epidemics (plague, cholera, smallpox, scarlet fever etc, personified as unsightly female figures) in particular as well as in turning points of life that are critical for health, such as pregnancy, childbirth or puerperium, fear, in various forms and intensities, becomes the fertile soil from which prejudices, superstitions, magic and magic-religious beliefs and rites spring and grow. For example, pregnant women and puerperae or particularly vulnerable persons used to avoid out of fear any contact with the deceased (attending funerals), consuming certain foods or staying out after sunset.