October 25, 2004

Voodoo Death: Thanatomania

Snapshots In My Time, Of My Time.....Hauntings.

1967 2nd Grade

What is thanatomania? It is belief that one has been affected by death magic, and resulting illness.

The immense force and domination of Fear in the first self-conscious stages of the human mind is a thing which can hardly be exaggerated, and which is even difficult for some of us moderns to realize. But naturally as soon as Man began to think about himself--a frail phantom and waif in the midst of tremendous forces of whose nature and mode of operation he was entirely ignorant--he was beset with terrors; dangers loomed upon him on all sides.

Even to-day it is noticed by doctors that one of the chief obstacles to the cure of illness among some black or native races is sheer superstitious terror; and Thanatomania is the recognized word for a state of mind ("obsession of death") which will often cause a people who are believers to perish from a mere scratch hardly to be called a wound. The natural defence against this state of mind was the creation of an enormous number of taboos--such as we find among all races and on every conceivable subject--and these taboos constituted practically a great body of warnings which regulated the lives and thoughts of the community, and ultimately, after they had been weeded out and to some degree simplified, hardened down into very stringent Customs and Laws.

Such taboos naturally in the beginning tended to include the avoidance not only of acts which might reasonably be considered dangerous, like touching a corpse, but also things much more remote and fanciful in their relation to danger, like merely looking at a mother-in-law, or passing a lightning-struck tree; and (what is especially to be noticed) they tended to include acts which offered any special pleasure or temptation--like sex or marriage or the enjoyment of a meal.

My grandmother died a voodoo death. She was born on one of the islands in the low country of South Carolina back in the 1910's or 20's. Times were very different then. On the islands there was still great connections to cultures that believed in voodoo and the practice of roots. From what I recall it was not a constant belief of hers....the ability of others to do roots. But in the end she did believe it and she died because of it.

She died in her early 40's and I do not recall alot about her. My earliest memories of her were going to her house in the summer and spending time there in the country. I lived in the city so when we went there is was a culture shock for me and my little brother.

The circumstances of her death are as follows.

My grandmother had 4 children all together 2 boys and 2 girls. There was some sort of rivalry between my aunt and another classmate of hers when they were in high school. There was some sort of school padgent coming up and the rivalry between my aunt and this classmate grew and it then spread to the parents.....my grand mother and the classmates mother. The mother of the classmate believed in roots and hexes all that magic.

About a week before the school padgent the rival's mother invited my grandmother over for tea. My grandmother went thinking they could talk about the 2 girls and the deteriorating friendship over the padgent. The other girl was very jealous of my aunt. So, my grand mother went and they talked. She was offered a glass of iced tea. She drank it. The two women talked and things did not go so well. The other women was kind of ...backward...and had a lot less education that my grandmother. When the tea was gone, my gramdmother decided to leave and got her purse to go.

As she was leaving the house of this woman, the woman said,"I've got you now. You drank the tea and will become sick. You will not recover." This woman was know for working roots and hexes so I guess what she told my grandmother was far more crptic that what I had here.

My grandmother was spooked. She came home and told the entire family about the meeting and the tea and soon after that within a week, my grandmother did become ill. She never recovered and she did die. There was something wrong with her stomach and there was no convincing her that there was not some sort of natural poison, root, hex on that tea. She tried all sorts of native remedies adn finally went to the doctor. I am not sure what she died of.

The doctors in town did not know what was wrong. My mother, moved her from the island to our house in the city. My grandmother died at home, at our house with my mother at her side. She died of some sort of stomach ailment caused by that tea. Since there was no convincing her that she could be cured with medicine, it was almost like mentally nothing would work..she would die because another woman willed her to die. My grandmother had just that much belief in her to belive that she could die a voodoo death. So she did.

My grandmother died a voodoo death. She died from thanatomania.


  1. Never heard of this.
    Until today interviewing an individual for life insurance underwriting. Apparently, her father died a similar, tragic end.