Everyone's heard of voodoo. It's not all like the James Bond film with Baron Samedi having the half-white, half-black face and working for SPECTRE, although Baron Samedi does feature in the real thing. It's a religion and to its adherents, it's as real as any other religion to their own followers. A very serious and important thing.
I'm sure everyone has heard mostly about zombies and voodoo curses. There's much more to it than that, but this isn't a treatise on voodoo beliefs. It's about the curses. Zombies are a separate subject, and they are real. Not raised from the dead, but drugged into catatonia so everyone thinks they're dead, then revived and kept in a drugged state to use as slaves. A perfect abduction because nobody is looking for someone they think is dead!
Anyway, those curses. A voodoo priest might lay a curse by various means, tell the victim they will die and all too often, despite having nothing medically wrong with them, they waste away and die.
It's psychological. They believe they will die so strongly that their bodies just give up. An extreme form of psychosomatic illness, perhaps, but they're still dead anyway. These people trust the priest so absolutely that if he says they will die, they will die.
I'm sure those reading this are thinking 'Pah. Primitive savages. No voodoo priest can convince me to die. I Am Civilised.'
No, you are human, the same species with the same body and brain as the voodoo follower. You too can have a psychosomatic illness. You too can be convinced to die on command.
No? Still claim to be more rational, more immune to suggestion, than anyone else?
I have a friend who delights in attempting to convince people of crazy things. I know he has been spreading the idea that the Romans built straight roads because they hadn't invented steering, because someone related it to me in deadly earnest. I knew where it had come from. Driving through the countryside, passing an area of felled trees, he explains that this is what is meant by the phrase 'out in the sticks'. 'These,' he says, 'are the sticks of which they speak'. I have been present when he convinced several city dwellers that sheep lay eggs, cows build nests and pigs live in burrows. His best is the traffic cones, which he insists are alive. The 'cat's eyes' in the road are cone eggs. Cones migrate to the middle of the road to lay these, which eventually grow into the straight, thin cones, then into full cones which migrate back to the side of the road where they are harvested by cone-herders and taken away to be made into microwave dinners. Stacked cones are mating. Cones with flashing lights are males in courtship display. He has this worked into such fine detail that he can convince people it's all real!
I hope he writes a book on it.
What he's proving is that people, even intelligent people, can be convinced of just about anything with the right delivery. He can keep a straight face throughout these manic rants. I can't. That's the basis of it all. Trust in that what the speaker is saying must be true.
So it is with the voodoo curses. The subject trusts the priest so deeply that when the priest says they will die, they believe it, and do.
Now, this can't happen in our civilised world, can it? All those sceptics and atheists have no truck with witchdoctors so must be immune.
What would you do if your doctor, backed by the most expensive tests medical science can get away with, told you you had three months to live? Really. What would you do?
You'd put your affairs in order. Maybe take that cruise you've been putting off. Make sure your will was up to date. Say goodbye to family and friends, especially those you might not have seen for years. You'd get ready to die. In many cases, right on cue, you'd die.
Sometimes doctors are right. Sometimes they are wrong. When faced with scans and X-rays and test results, few of us could say 'Nah, your voodoo curse won't work on me'. But it does.
New Scientist this week covers this with a main article. Well worth reading. It includes cases like the man who died on time even though an autopsy showed his cancer hadn't spread as predicted after all. As the article says, he didn't die of cancer. He died of believing he would die of cancer.
He died of a voodoo-style curse unintentionally laid on him by a modern doctor.
We are all the same. All human. We might scoff at people who don't have digital cameras and iPods and flat screen TVs but we are the same as them. We are not superior to those who believe things we don't believe in. We are not necessarily right. Nobody is. We're all just doing the best we can with what we have.
We are all susceptible to belief. We can all be fooled.
We can even be fooled to death.