Tremblers of the Cevennes
A Protestant caste of convulsionaries, who during the sixteenth
century grew in numbers from their center in the Cevennes
(south of Lyon, France), over almost the whole of Germany.
They possessed many points of resemblance with cases
of obsession and possession, and are said to have been insensible
to thrusts and blows with pointed sticks and iron bars, as
well as to the oppression of great weights. They had visions,
communicated with good and evil spirits, and are said to have
performed many miraculous cures similar to the apostolic miracles.
They made use of modes of treatment called grandes secours
or secours meurtriers, which were authenticated by the reports
of eyewitnesses and by judicial documents.
Although they were belabored by the strongest men with
heavy pieces of wood and bars of iron weighing at least thirty
pounds, they complained of no injury, but experienced a sensation
of pleasure. They also were covered with boards, on which
as many as twenty men stood without its being painful to them.
The Tremblers even bore as many as a hundred blows with a
twenty pound weight, alternately applied to the breast and the
stomach with such force that the room trembled; they begged
the blows might be laid on harder, as light ones only increased
their sufferings. It seemed only when the power of these blows
had penetrated to the most vital parts that they experienced
real relief.
Joseph Ennemoser explained this insensibility to pain by
stating that in his experience
TREAT Encyclopedia of Occultism & Parapsychology • 5th Ed.
‘‘. . . spasmodic convulsions maintain themselves against
outward attempts, and even the greatest violence, with almost
superhuman strength, without injury to the patient, as has
often been observed in young girls and women, where anyone
might have almost been induced to believe in supernatural influence.
The tension of the muscles increases in power with the
insensibility of the power, so that no outward force is equal to
it; and when it is attempted to check the paroxysm with force,
it gains in intensity, and according to some observers not less
psychical than physical. . . . I have observed the same manifestations
in children, in Catholics, Protestants and Jews, without
the least variation, on which account I consider it to be nothing
more than an immense abnormal and inharmonic lusus naturoe.’’
(See also Convulsionaries of St. Médard)
Ennemoser, Joseph. The History of Magic. 2 vols., 1854. Reprint,
New Hyde Park, N.Y. University Books, 1960.