Students in the Philippines Begin Convulsing, So Authorities Arrange For Exorcisms Rather Than Medical Help November 23, 2014

Students in the Philippines Begin Convulsing, So Authorities Arrange For Exorcisms Rather Than Medical Help

Can’t immediately explain something worrisome? Must be the devil. Or evil spirits.

Some students of a public school in a mountain barangay in Cebu City [in the Philippines] were reportedly possessed by evil spirits.

The case seems to have started when

… 35 students from various grade levels suddenly collapsed and started convulsing while attending their classes. Mary (not her real name) said that before she was possessed, a spirit who identified himself as “Jake” spoke to her. Mary’s sister, a fourth grader, was also possessed by a spirit named “Maria.” Their mother believed that the possession may have occurred after the school reportedly cut down two mango trees to make way for the construction of a two-story building.

So with 35 kids exhibiting evidently neurological or psychological symptoms, medical attention was immediately called in, correct? Ha.

[O]fficials sought the help of the priests of the Mary Help of Christians Parish in Barangay Buhisan. Reverend Nicolas Ramos, a deacon assigned in the parish, responded. Ramos, who knows how to conduct the Roman Catholic rite of exorcism, ordered the barangay officials to bring some of the students to the Church where they would be prayed over. In an interview yesterday, Ramos said that some of the students responded violently when he sprayed them with holy salt and water.

They needed stronger measures, clearly. And so,

These students were brought to the Mary’s Little Children Community in Barangay Tabunok, Talisay City. A well-known exorcist, Msgr. Frederick Kriekenbeek, conducted the rite of deliverance [exorcism] on the children who were brought to his community in Tabunok. Some students responded to prayer and were brought to their homes to rest, Ramos also said. But while they thought that the possession was over, four more students started screaming and convulsing yesterday, just before a mass was to be celebrated on the school grounds.

A cool-headed assessment of what ails these students would have been the prudent thing to do, especially considering that we’ve long known about clinical mass hysteria. Students seem to be particularly susceptible.

According to a 2011 story in Time,

Mass hysteria [is] a bizarre yet surprisingly common phenomenon that is increasingly recognized as a significant health and social problem. For centuries it has crossed cultures and religions, taking on different forms to keep pace with popular obsessions and fears. In our post-9/11 world, it thrives on the anxiety caused by terrorist attacks, nuclear radiation and environmental gloom. “At any one time there are probably hundreds of episodes happening all around the world,” says Simon Wessely, a psychology professor at the Institute of Psychiatry at King’s College London. “They just don’t normally get reported.”

And anyone with an Internet connection — including, I presume, clergymen — can learn via the U.S. National Institutes of Health and other sources that

Epidemics of hysteria rely on the power of suggestion, but they are nourished by fear, sadness and anxiety. Victims tend to be subjected to severe psychological strain over the preceding weeks or months. One or more then develop a psychosomatic symptom, and those made suggestible by pent-up anxiety quickly follow suit. Before long, dozens are vomiting, fainting and screaming. The strain of exams is a common trigger.

But hey, what do scientists know?

The Filipino padres intend to get to the bottom of the phenomenon:

Msgr. Joseph Tan, media liaison officer of the Archdiocese of Cebu, said that the incident will be investigated. Tan said that the Church is considering the possibility that the incident may just have been a case of mass hysteria.

Thanks, Sherlock. Might it have been a good idea to consider that explanation before performing exorcisms, scaring the bejesus out of kids who already appear to be surrounded by all manner of spiritual poppycock?

(Image via Shutterstock)

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