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Terminal Tranquility

Terminal Tranquility

What happens to people when they violate their own personal worldview? Perhaps you are a member of a culture that forbids you to eat pomegranate fruit unless you are actively engaged in conceiving a child. Or perhaps your culture prohibits you from having sex with someone's husband or wife, even if at the time it seems like it is absolutely the right thing to do. Or maybe you have done something extremely violent against another person or taken great measures to commit blasphemy. Some of the people within your community might forgive and forget your indiscretions; others may contact a self-anointed spiritual or religious leader to intervene because they somehow have the power to connect with God directly and possibly save the day. But what might happen if you live in a primitive village with old world constructions? The outraged members of the community would contact the Medicine Man or Shaman that has the power to heal and destroy at the same time. He hears the cry from the villagers, so he does a naked dance around a bon fire that is burning sacred sacrificial animal carcasses under a full moon; then he places a hex on the accused person as he chants and dances into the wee hours of the night. Without surprise, the hexed person drops dead within several hours to several days of the event. We might say he or she died a Voodoo Death.

We in the westernized medical world do not formally recognize the term Voodoo Death, we civilized creatures renamed the mortal experience as Psycho-Physiological Death (PPD). The words have a lofty feel, one that perhaps has been created out of a marriage between science and spiritualism. Instances of Psycho-Physiological Death occur, regardless of your personal worldview. Non-ischemic strokes and heart attacks happen probably more than we really appreciate. Scientists have tried to unravel this mystery for years.

The progenitor of the flight or fight phenomenon Walter Cannon, theorized that PPD was a result of an overactive sympathetic nervous system. The Chinese might refer to PPD as too much yang energy. We all know people who have been frightened to death.

On the opposite side of the systematic teeter-totter is Curt Richter, who is best known for his contributions to the area of psycho-somatoform illness. He postulates that the parasympathetic nervous system goes into overdrive once a cursed person realizes that he or she has become a marked man or woman. Essentially, each and every system shuts down like the sequential disconnection of utilities in a condemned building just before demolition. Richter coined the phrase Vagal Storm. I think a better term for his theory would be Terminal Tranquility.

The team of ethnobotanists Wade Davis and Regis DeSilva suggest from their research that people who perish from Voodoo Death suffer dramatic versions of sudden cardiac death. That exaggerated concentrations of adrenaline (a.k.a epinephrine), secreted from the adrenal glands during tempestuous sympathetic nervous system activity, cause the heart to go into a non-obstructive ischemic state whereby fatal ventricular fibrillation occurs. In large amounts, cocaine and other stimulants can have the same effect on cardiac muscle as an overactive sympathetic nervous system. The microscopic pathological findings on heart muscle after these episodes of sudden death are contraction band necrosis. Maybe Cannon was on to something here.

One should marvel at the attempts by scientists to evaluate and explain the unexplainable. When people of a primitive society or tribe are asked if a Shaman has the power to curse someone to death, in unison they answer yes, absolutely. These people are resolute in their beliefs. Perhaps the elderly have a predisposition for Voodoo Death, since they may have become somewhat decrepit in the first place. But what about those who succumb to the curse when they are young and vibrant? It is a mystery to say the least. Davis and DeSilva noted that if faith can heal, faith can also kill.

Be careful in submitting your entire self to a harsh and morally rigid closed-culture. Who knows what silent cardiac risks are swimming beneath your seas of community consciousness.

Posted by Amanda Sanders at 9:55 AM
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