In some societies, supernatural powers can bring not only healing, but also death. When a malicious curse or spell is cast against you, antibiotics, surgery, and other treatments won’t help. But there’s a catch – you have to believe in it.
We all know that society influences the individuals who form it. However, it is not obvious that this influence can be total, and can literally send any person to their death. In a somewhat forgotten 1936 study entitled “Physical effect upon the individual of the collectively suggested idea of death”, the renowned sociologist Marcel Mauss examined cases of such deaths. The collected ethnographic material came mainly from the life of the Indigenous peoples of Australia and New Zealand. The described details were closely related to phenomena that are no longer present in Europe, in particular magic and taboos. The incidents I describe below were most often ‘magically induced’ or resulted from a breach of a tribal ban. As it turns out, there truly are mortal sins.
The material collected by Mauss was carefully selected and appears credible – the accounts came both from missionaries and explorers, as well as doctors and naturalists. The accounts made it clear that death did not occur as a result of suicide, but was a self-willed death caused by unconscious will. As a result of a malevolent spell or a curse, the individual felt a breakdown of communications or their good relationship with divine powers. In all cases, the person’s belief that they would shortly die was of crucial importance. This conviction was further intensified by the