October is historically the season of crunchy leaves, less day light, and a certain fascination with the macabre due to the celebration of Halloween or Allhallowtide, a time of remembering the dead. The stores are filled to the brim with skeletons, spider webs, orange lights, and the witch.
Our fascination with witches is an old one and we have our own history of witchcraft hysteria emanating from the East Coast in the late 1600s when a group of young girls claimed to be possessed by the devil and accused many local women of witchcraft. Hangings ensued, properties possessed, with the fervor finally concluding after 150 men, women, and children were accused.
What in the world happened?
M.M. Drymon in her book, Disguised As The Devil, theorizes the unfortunate history of witches could have been caused by borrelia, a spirochetal infection, more commonly known as Lyme Disease.
Drymon, a historian and Lyme sufferer, makes a convincing case when she describes the details of the cases and symptoms of witches which include: lameness, photophobia, an argumentative, difficult, and anti-social personality, memory problems, confusion/hallucinations, poor word choice and difficulty with speaking, mixing up of words – such as an inability to recite the Lord’s Prayer, as well as numbness, and increased spontaneous abortion rates – all of which are common symptoms for Lyme Disease.
A physician of the time, John Cotta, was bewildered that the seemingly innocent voluntarily confessed to being witches. He believed they had some illness that caused delusions, thereby deceiving themselves. Lyme Disease when it has entered the Central Nervous System and infects the brain, can cause delusions, nightmares, insomnia, memory loss, rage, depression, and many other cognitive issues.
The author also draws a connection that many of the accused had red-hair. Evidently redheads have cells with a dysfunctional MC1R gene, which causes sensitivity to pain – particularly thermal pain, and she feels this made for a better show when witches were burned at the stake. Lyme sufferers have discovered through genetic testing that many have faulty mutations in their genes, particularly an inability to detoxify.
Drymon painstakingly went through ancient records and discovered that the colonists suffered with a disease of the forest edge. A number of things added up to a perfect storm including the practice of pasturing cows and horses in the woods, exposing them to ticks, as well as the practice of bringing into the home straw, eelgrass, and corn husks for bedding. Animal pelts from this time period and preserved in modern museums have been found to be infected with borrelia.
She also notes a connection with human health in the early 1600s, before the witchcraft fiasco, when pigs commonly occupied the area between forest and cleared land. Pigs notoriously dig through the dirt looking for food which would have upset leaf litter exposing tick eggs to freezing temperatures as well as pushing the deer population further away. Archeological work showed 371 bones from pigs reflecting pathologies consistent with Lyme Disease, demonstrating that in the earlier part of colonial settlement, the pigs were the ones who took the brunt of the infection, sparing the colonists, but it wasn’t to last. Gradually, domestic pigs were fenced in the farmyard.
Colonists also burned off the ground, typically in the winter or early spring, which would have helped bring the tick population down; however, for the crucial years (1690-1691) in relation to the witchcraft proceedings, it was probably neglected as it was a male chore and many of the men were off to the Quebec invasion as well as the fact it was a drought year making fires hazardous.
Also, 1690 was a “mast bonanza year,” causing mice, deer, and other acorn eating lovers to come closer to settlers’ homes. https://daily.jstor.org/can-the-acorn-crop-predictlymedisease/utm_campaign=sep+23+rawlsmd+newsletter%3A+Future+Diagnosis+%26+Treatment+no+rk+%28JsiThf%29&utm_medium=email&_ke=YWNhc2htYW5AY2hhcnRlci5uZXQ%3D&utm_source=All+Restore+Purchasers+ In this link, it is explained that this abundance of acorns attracts deer into oak stands in autumn and white-footed mice and eastern chipmunks the following summer – both top host choices for black-legged ticks. Adult ticks mate on the deer in the fall and lay eggs on the ground in spring, which turn to larval ticks in summer. These feed on mice and shipments attracted to the acorns as well as small birds. The following year, infected nymphs may land on human hosts, transmitting the disease. The following year, adult ticks can feed on deer and humans.
She claims a drought starting in 1681 until 1692 would also have brought tick carrying animals closer to water sources, where settlers would also frequent. The years of witchcraft hysteria were tough and stressful years due to war. Salem absorbed refugees from Maine, such as Mercy Lewis and Sarah Churchill. Stress is an important factor with health, particularly with Lyme Disease, and has been known to activate dormant spirochetes in birds.
By late 1691 an increasing number of afflicted people were recorded, many of them women who all wore long skirts. According to Drymon, these skirts worked much like the current method of tick dragging. These skirts were also commonly pulled over the head for warmth and protection from rain, bringing ticks closer to the head, creating a higher risk for neurological symptoms. They were often made from wool derived from sheep which also attract ticks.
History records marks on the skin.
So called devil’s marks and witches teats, which were circular rashes similar to the bulls-eye rash in LD, were found on the accused. The Goodwin children had red streaks on their bodies. Current science shows Bartonella, a common co-infection, to cause this type of streaking.
A few of the afflicted died while others seemingly recovered; however, some were mentally ill the rest of their lives, and some developed a chronic form of disease and continually suffered. This also happens with Lyme.
Shortly after the 1692 charter, the witchcraft hysteria ended and the colonial government voted to financially compensate victims. Official apologies followed, including the one given by the governor of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts in 1992.
Drymon aptly points out that in one party systems like the theocracy of early Massachusetts, the party represents the interests of the state as a whole with no representation for sub-state level groups, a situation that Lyme patients currently find themselves in due to the CDC’s one-party line preference in regard to the diagnosis and treatment of LD. The structure, Drymon contends, is backed by a firm belief in the “theology” of accepted science, derived predominately from those within the CDC, who ignore the worldwide science. The establishment opposes ANY criticism with demeaning labels such as Lyme cult, Lyme counterculture, Quacks, and imaginary affliction. This closed loop establishment “burns at the stake” doctors who treat people with the chronic form of Lyme by accusing them of medical misconduct, forcing patients to stop treatment until they can find someone else who dares to treat them, which furthers human suffering and offers no platform to speak or for recourse. These accused doctors have incredible stress placed upon them as well as huge legal fees to prove their innocence against a system that states chronic Lyme Disease doesn’t exist, despite worldwide science proving otherwise. Lyme patients and their doctors are victims like the accused witches in colonial times.
If ever there was a quagmire in medical history, this is it.
I predict that one day, similarly to in Massachusetts, there will be official apologies. It just may take 300 years.