Halloween: The Truth Is Out There
Science says there's no such thing as vampires or werewolves -- doesn't it? Come with us now as we take a look behind the veil of legend. The facts may be scarier than you think.
After the Flood continued...
The ancients believed that the birth of a child with physical
deformities was a sign of evil. The word "monster" itself comes from
the Latin word "monstrum," meaning omen or portent.
But with the rise of evidence-based science in the 19th and
20th centuries, fear of the unknown began to wane, as exemplified in
Dracula. The book represents "a conflict between a modern way of
looking at the world and an ancient one," says Carol Senf, PhD, professor
of literature, communication and culture at Georgia Institute of Technology in
Atlanta. "I think that Stoker, two of whose three brothers were physicians,
was interested in thinking about that. He's up on transfusions for example, and
he's up on all kinds of scientific stuff."
Yet the death of Dracula -- with a stake right through his old
undead ticker -- didn't end the legend of the vampire. It lives on in countless
(no pun intended) movies, comic books, and even in the persona of the obsessive
enumerator Count Von Count from Sesame Street.
Nor are vampires the only reality-based specters that still
haunt our imaginations. Werewolves really exist -- or at least they do in the
minds of people with the rare psychiatric disorder known as lycanthropy.
In the March 2000 issue of the Canadian Journal of
Psychiatry, J. Arturo Silva, MD and Gregory B. Leong, MD describe the case
of "Mr. A" who suffered from a case of partial lycanthropy -- the
delusion that one is being transformed into a wolf.
"Mr. A is a 46-year-old male who experienced delusional
episodes that lasted up to several hours. During these episodes, he had
sensations of hair growth on his face, trunk, and arms. Occasionally, he became
convinced that the hair growth was real. He also complained that he experienced
structural facial malformations and lesions that took place within minutes and
remained for hours. He thought these changes would make him appear to be a
wolf, and avoided seeing his face or body whenever possible. However, he did
not believe that he was a wolf. He denied that his mind was changing into a
different mind or that he was a different person from his objective
Silva, who is a staff psychiatrist at the Veterans Affairs
Medical Center in Palo Alto, Calif., tells WebMD that lycanthropy, "can be
due to a hysteria or a psychosis -- in other words madness -- or it can be due
to other kinds of illnesses, such as depression associated with a lot of
self-deprecating thoughts. But often, once you start getting into a real belief
system where somebody says 'I think I'm turning into a werewolf,' and he looks
at his body and his hair, and the shape of his face changing -- once you get to
that level it usually is a clear loss of contact with reality."