Demonic Possession or Just Epilepsy? by Dr Jack

Monsters and Demons (Ch4) investigates our ancestors’ supernatural beliefs and asks whether modern science can now provide alternative explanations. In episode 2 (Sat 3rd Dec 2011) Tony Robinson and I discussed how, in times before modern medical knowledge had figured out the facts and made them broadly available to all, certain forms of epileptic seizure could easily have been mistakenly attributed to evil spirits. In particular, temporal lobe epilepsy (these days better known as complex partial seizure disorder) can trigger vivid and sometimes deeply distressing hallucinations, whilst tonic-clonic seizures lead to grotesque-looking bodily contortions that, in times of old, could easily have been misunderstood and attributed to possession by malevolent spirits.