In addition to health issues such as the experience of chronic pain, conceptions of particular diseases and disabilities also change based on time and place. Epilepsy is one of the clearest examples of how cultural beliefs can influence people’s views of certain conditions. In ancient Greece, epilepsy was often referred to as the ‘sacred disease’, since many people believed that supernatural influences caused an epileptic’s seizures. Several writers suggested that the condition was a punishment for sin and could be contagious, and as a result sufferers of epilepsy often found themselves subjects of public scorn.
Similarly, in traditional Hmong culture, epilepsy has long been viewed as a form of spiritual possession (the Hmong are an ethnic group originally from southern China). The spirit involved, known as a dab, temporarily traps a person’s soul and makes him or her sick with seizures and pains. Though the Hmong believe the spirit to be malevolent, they also view the condition as special, since it allows the sufferer a closer connection with the spiritual world. As a result, many epileptics in the Hmong culture have become shamans, which are like priests, and have enjoyed a high level of respect from the society in which they live. Read more>>