When 'evil' got in your head...
Enraged spirits, the punishing hand of a God or a witch’s spell are logical explanations for something as incomprehensible as mental illness.
In so-called traditional cultures, whether the Congolese Twa or the ancient Belgae, these kind of external causes were often used to explain insanity.
There were many ways of curing someone from his or her madness.
It was nearly always a case of driving the evil spirits out of the body, preferably in a supernatural way.
Herbs were used that were believed to relate to insanity because of their name or appearance.
Potions with several magical ingredients, offerings for the gods, or ancestral invocations were also never far away in such a world of magic.
Ritual exorcisms of the evil spirit or devil were also a traditional solution to insanity, and song, dance and prayer were often combined with all of the above.
Earthly solutions were sometimes sought, however. In cases where mental illness was attributed to an evil spirit living in the patient’s head, this spirit was given the opportunity to escape through trepanation (also written as trephination).
Many trepanated skulls have been found in several cultures, where new cartilage has often grown around the edge of the wound. This proves that the person in question lived for quite some time after the intervention, despite the lack of anaesthesia and disinfection.
Whatever the solution to madness, the cause of the disorder was always sought outside man in those traditional cultures.
Only in Ancient Greece have sources appeared that locate the reason for insanity within the sick person him- or herself.