The penitential disease

Neither psychic nor somatic?
Abstract: Millions of people suffer from illnesses that defy explanation. It is argued that such symptoms emerge as an expression of the overall suffering of existence, a suffering that was earlier carried by the Godhead. Western mankind is becoming aware of the gloomy existential condition in a cold and meaningless universe. The solution is to tone down worldly-oriented consciousness; to gear down and invoke spiritual meaning in modern guise.

Keywords: sacrifice, penance, suffering, crucifixion, disease, Amfortas wound, spiritual, existential stress.


There is a branch of diseases which doctors seem unable to come to grips with and which causes great impairment in the lives of people. To this branch belongs fibromyalgia (fibrositis, here), IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome, here), CFS (Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, here). Forms of EHS (Electromagnetic Hypersensitivity, here), forms of migraine (here), and vulvar vestibulitis (here) may belong in this category, as well. Not seldom doctors have a contemptuous attitude toward people with such illnesses, and they often wish to get rid of them. In Sweden fibromyalgia, a debilitating pain syndrome, was earlier termed “kärringsjukan”, the “hag illness”. A common factor is that there is no cure, but sometimes psychotherapeutic techniques can have an alleviating effect. Sometimes somatic therapies can alleviate the symptoms, for a while. Also controversial therapies, such as acupuncture or hypnosis, can have a certain effect in individual cases. The symptoms may have a debilitating influence. In such case the sufferer cannot lead an active life, but must accept a rather reclusive lifestyle.

Research seems unable to find a cause, whether somatic or psychosomatic. For instance, IBS patients don’t generally seem neurotic but tend to be harmonious. So psychotherapists seem equally powerless as somatic doctors. Since patients don’t generally fit in a psychoneurotic category, researchers today focus on bodily research, but so far without much success. Typical for the above diagnoses is that patients have overall good health and fine blood counts. No matter what tests are performed, doctors can’t find anything suspicious. I contend that these diagnoses are symptomatically related. Migraine has characteristics of IBS as both can be triggered by certain foods, and migrainists often have stomach problems resulting in vomiting. IBS patients often get a headache similar to migraine, and may become tired and gloomy as the CFS patients.

A migraine attack can be triggered by a piece of chocolate, atmospheric pressure changes, the flicker of an old TV, noise in the subway, or by a pungent smell. But at other occasions, there is no reaction at all. EHS sufferers can become very ill by quite weak electromagnetic fields, despite the fact that fields of greater magnitude sometimes go undetected. Of course, such contradictory evidence makes no sense to school medicine. IBS seems irrational, too. It is triggered by diverse substances, which are normally harmless, like red meat. It is not an allergic reaction; nor is it regular food intolerance. A big group only reacts against these foodstuffs during a period of the year. In others the reaction is chronic, although it worsens in periods (recidivism). IBS could be denoted “intestinal migraine” because it has certain characteristics in common with migraine. However, at least in some forms, migraine has been found to have a genetic connection, although it is dependent on environmental factors to trigger pain centers.

Physically, there seems to be nothing wrong with patients suffering from such diagnoses; they simply become ill for no good reason, e.g., by inhaling a pungent smell, or by eating a tiny amount of blueberries. There is no evidence that virus or bacteria are involved, either. So how about accepting empirical facts? What if neither a psychic nor a somatic cause can be found? It is sometimes hard to accept findings of research, also in the physical science. By example, the Michelson-Morley experiment showed that, no matter whether the earth was travelling away from, or toward a certain star, the speed of light hitting earth was exactly the same. This should be impossible as the difference ought to be 60 kilometers per second. The only person who accepted empirical facts was Einstein. No matter how you move relative to a light source, the light always approaches you with the same speed. He applied some high school mathematics, and the Special Theory of Relativity was born. We might finally be forced to accept the impossible in the science of medicine, too, namely that some forms of illnesses are neither psychogenic nor somatogenic.

The spiritual level

Let’s look at suffering and illness from the viewpoint of theology. If it’s neither of the body nor the psyche, then the illness must be of the spirit. Stigmatization belongs to this ilk. The stigmata replicate the wounds of Christ (cf. Catholic Enc., here). There are people in the present day who suffer from wounds that cannot be healed. Not all find gratification in being elevated as religious saints, and they suffer greatly from the handicapping wounds. Reasoning in theological terms, I conjecture that they are carriers of the suffering of the Godhead. This was also the fate of Jesus of  Nazareth whose suffering depended on his preparedness to carry the full weight of the divine in earthly life. He encouraged his followers to do the same: “Place my yoke over your shoulders, and learn from me, because I am gentle and humble. Then you will find rest for yourselves” (Matthew 11:29).

These illusory diagnoses typically occur among highly educated and high achievers. I maintain that the spiritual problem is actualized in persons with advanced neural systems. Comparatively, the historical “peasant type” was buried up to his neck in the earth, that is, his problems concerned the body and mundane things. At a more sophisticated level, people began to have psychological problems, since life is more to them than working, eating, earning money, and chatting about earthly matters. At a yet more elevated level, the spiritual problem arises. That’s why symptoms tend to occur in educated town-dwellers. I hypothesize that they are much more common in introverts, as their neural system is more alert. [1]

What typifies the spiritual problem is that it does not belong to the individual, but to the wholeness (in other words, to God). That’s why it’s not really a psychological problem. Rather, it stems from a dangerous split in existence — a lost wholeness. The cause of spiritual suffering is the crisis of the world. The sufferers, most likely, cannot heal themselves by making a spiritual effort of any sort, because it’s not they who are wrong-headed — it’s the world. What underlies the spiritual malady is a far-out archaic and theological determinant. Contrary to the scientific rationale, theology and medicine coincide, something that will be hard to stomach for the average rationalist.

Existential stress

The causes can be discussed in terms of existential stress, a stress that would affect the avant-garde of a population, pertaining to an exceeding cerebral neural activity. A sensitiveness to the human condition, and the existential tragedy that goes with it, can have stressful consequences. Such stress may accumulate and cause disease. As long as the individual’s level of consciousness is low, he/she will remain insensitive to the existential condition, i.e., the omnipresent evil and ever-present suffering of the world. Modern humans are aware that science lacks proof of an afterlife, and that death is likely final. They also know that the human race cannot avoid extinction. Ultimately, the earth is doomed, and beyond the thin biosphere obtains a vast freezing universe that provides no shelter. In fact, Victor Frankl said that lack of meaning is the paramount existential stressor (Wiki, here).

Comparatively, the conscious level of medieval dwellers was characterized by notions of eternity. They lived in the center of the universe under the supervision of a fatherly God. Much has changed since then. People have become even more clever, and they know that the world is destined for destruction at all levels, from the personal to the universal. Human biology is frail, society and its economy is fragile, the climate is unstable, the biosphere is destructible, and the planetary system will eventually be combusted by the sun, if not already swallowed by a black hole. Facts such as these are not likely to cheer people up. The sensitive person’s awareness is sharpened by recourse to specialist literature and news media, which enlighten us about the harsh facts of existence. People register the ever-present hostility in their local environment, from scorn to physical violence.

Although medieval dwellers were conscious of the destructive forces, they had recourse to a mythological worldview that created equilibrium. To a child, death isn’t equally horrible as to an adult, because grandpa goes to heaven where he lives with the angels. Children aren’t equally “aware”. Although they are conscious of the destructive forces, their conscious level is lower. In medieval times the apocalypse was a time-transcendent event, but to modern dwellers it lacks these mythic qualities. We know about historical cataclysmic asteroid impacts. Recently, we were in the business of destroying the ozone layer with ozone-depleting substances. If the ozone layer were to disappear, all higher life on the surface of the earth would vanish, and not even algae in the sea’s surface water could survive.

Most people aren’t aware of this apocalyptic scenario. If scientists hadn’t detected the depletion of ozone then humanity would soon be but a memory. Some theorists argue that the coming centennial is critical to the survival of humanity. Homo sapiens faces a considerable risk of extinction, perhaps as high as 40%. Right now, one-third of earth’s plants and animals are at peril of extinction. We live in an era of mass-extinction. The situation for the tiger, and certain other big cats, is critical. The Siberian tiger is at the brink of extinction. It is an immense tragedy. The situation for the gorilla is becoming worse. They are likely to become extinct in a few decades. Africans have begun to eat them as “bush food”.

The destructive forces is ever at work. Haiti was once called “The pearl of the Caribbean”. It was a wonderful island, but now the rain forest is almost gone; less than 2% remains. The rains erode the earth and leave the bedrock bare, on which the African descendants raise their ramshackles. These hapless people are then supported by Western taxpayers so that they may multiply and continue laying waste to the environment. The consequences of mass-immigration is a constant worriment. If current immigration levels continue, white Britons will be in minority in the UK in little more than 50 years. In Sweden the cut-off point occurs already in 25-30 years. It is painful what is now happening in Western societies and in earth’s natural habitats. Unconscious people don’t have to carry this pain, but intelligent and perceptive people are plagued by the developments. It could be argued that the mass-immigration politics is driven by an unconscious impetus to bring about expiatory suffering in the population.

Imagine what kind of stressful symptoms sheep or pigs would develop if they were sentient of the cruel aspects of existence; if they knew that they were soon going to hang on hooks and be converted to cutlets. Their unconsciousness is a blessing to them. My point is that intellectuals are much more likely to develop symptoms of existential stress because they have attained an acute level of awareness, especially among introverts. It amounts to an awareness of horror. This explains why these patients cannot be cured in psychotherapy, because one cannot be cured of what one experiences. After all, these are not delusions but the effects of enhanced consciousness, intelligence, science, and rationality. The problem does not really belong to themselves but to the world. That’s why, in earlier epochs, their suffering was carried by the Godhead.

In medieval times this was all God’s responsibility. People tended to be more childlike, wholly content to leave over-arching responsibility in the lap of God. Central to Christ’s salvational message is faith, equal to blessed unconsciousness, which cured contemporary people of disease. The Christ could carry humanity’s suffering as long as the human race remained unconscious. (“Father, forgive them, for they know not what they are doing.”) But the average modern citizen has lost faith in the Christ’s vicarious suffering in humanity’s place. Certain modern individuals must carry the burden upon their own shoulder because they have acquired an elevated consciousness. The theological notions make sense, and the term ‘penitential disease’ is apt. However, the term ‘existential stress’ might be more acceptable to the scientific temperament.

The sacrifice

The Christ’s sacrifice was necessary to recompense for the chasm in existence, to atone for the dissociation of God and man. However, this motif is still at work. The penitential disease is a continuation of the Christ’s sacrifice. People are today suffering, and their lives are partly destroyed in mysterious afflictions, in order for the world to endure. Such a notion provides us with a new dimension in medicine. The gist is the following. Many cases of fibromyalgia, CFS, IBS, EHS, and migraine, depend on the same underlying motif: the alleviation of the suffering Godhead in the partial destruction of the individual’s earthly life. It is a sacrificial theme, well-known in historical polytheistic culture. The victim, by his suffering and death, pays back what humankind owes to the gods. It is a payback for the impairment that has befallen the gods in their great world-creating sacrifice, as explicated in Aztec theology.

What the Aztec priests were referring to was a central Mesoamerican belief: that a great ongoing sacrifice sustains the Universe. Everything is tonacayotl: the “spiritual flesh-hood” on earth. Everything — earth, crops, moon, stars and people — springs from the severed or buried bodies, fingers, blood, or the heads, of sacrificed gods. Humanity itself is macehualli, “those deserved and brought back to life through penance”. A strong sense of indebtedness was connected with this worldview. Indeed, nextlahualli (debt-payment) was a commonly used metaphor for human sacrifice, and, as Bernardino de Sahagún reported, it was said that the victim was someone who “gave his service”. (Wiki, ‘Human sacrifice’, here)

Analogously, in an early Hindu myth, creation takes place when the primal being, Purusha, allows himself to be dismembered. His eye becomes the sun, his head the sky, his breath the wind, and so forth. In Hinduism, Purusha became a symbol of the acts of sacrifice that kept the cosmos stable. Blood-letting, and other sacrificial practices, still occur in Hinduism. Historically, the Aztec priest provides a graphical example.

Every day he must make sacrifices of his own blood to the gods, not only from his ears like the common people, but also by piercing his tongue to offer blood. On all the greater ceremonial occasions he cut the calves of his legs or pierced them with cactus spines, so as to have blood to offer to the gods. His foreskin was pierced by cactus thorns, and torn until his penis was surrounded by a fringe of strips of flesh from which blood could easily be taken. Naturally, this implied, and was meant to assure, a celibate priesthood. (Burland, pp.105-6)

Sacrificial practices, as blood-letting, self-scourging, the knocking out of teeth, and to make painful incisions and tattoos, occur commonly in human history. In Europe the Flagellant movement practiced self-scourging with a spiked whip.

[The Flagellants] established their camps in fields near towns and held their rituals twice a day. The ritual began with the reading of a letter, claimed to have been delivered by an angel and justifying the Flagellants’ activities. Next the followers would fall to their knees and scourge themselves, gesturing with their free hands to indicate their sin and striking themselves rhythmically to songs, known as Geisslerlieder, until blood flowed. Sometimes the blood was soaked up in rags and treated as a holy relic. (Wiki, ‘Flagellant’, here)


Can we find a common cause behind these practices and how present-day young men and women are cutting themselves, using razor blades or knives to wound their limbs and bodies? Personal sacrifice and suffering is a central theme in religious history, not the least in Christianity, whose focal point this is. However, in today’s world the general population has lost contact with such strange rituals. It has sunk back into the collective unconscious. Instead, there is today an overwhelming focus on our own well-being. The gist is the following. What was played out deliberately in historical cultures, in sacramental torture and blood sacrifice, and in the self-scourging of medieval penitents, is today lived out unconsciously in the penance of mysterious maladies. It is as if reincarnation is again taking place, in all those suffering people whose lives are wholly or partly destroyed by illnesses that are beyond the grasp of medical science. Thus, modern-day sufferers are unwittingly replicating the work of Christ.

What is amiss? If these really are penitential diseases on the increase, why must yet more human lives be destroyed? It seems that we are confronted with a mystery that transcends intellectual understanding. In order to grasp at its meaning it’s necessary to depend on symbolic and ritual notions. But modern-day man is severely lacking in his theological consciousness. There is a poverty of symbolic consciousness, and the symbolical and ritual understanding of life is severely lacking (cf. Winther, 2009, here). Never in human history has the world seen so much worldliness.

Only the sufferers can motivate themselves to alter their consciousness to include the divine. The rest of humanity is too busy living their worldly lives. The suffering penitents must become aware of their role in the divine drama, to realize their own ongoing penitential sacrifice, the very myth in which they are unconsciously taking part. That makes a great difference; to realize that they suffer from a holy wound that continues to bleed, like the wound of Amfortas in the Parsifal saga, a wound that was delivered with the spear of Longinus, which had once wounded the Redeemer. It is only healed before the sanctuary of the Holy Grail.

Historical mankind has always wrestled with the spiritual problem. In order to satisfy the demands of the gods millions of people have been tortured to death, flayed alive, impaled, and crucified. The Celts killed and cannibalized the ritual king in order to maintain their health (cf. Graves, 1997, pp.125-6). The Norse pried open the ribs and pulled out the lungs on the back of the victim, who was kept alive during the ordeal (Wiki, ‘Blood eagle’, here). In Aztec culture it was regarded the finest thing to become a sacrificial victim, hallowed to the gods. Many a noble warrior made the sacrifice voluntarily. Allegedly, it is necessary to sacrifice life, and it is imperative that people are made to suffer grievously.

The sacrificial practices have been discontinued, and the intercessory sacrifice of Christ has, due to routinization and secularization, lost much of its vitality. So the expiatory theme awakens again, in another form. In the modern version, sacrificial victims are tormented by irrational afflictions, beyond the grasp of science. The destruction of earthly life somehow provides for the spirit. Although such reasoning was commonplace in earlier civilizations, it is today regarded as cloudy cucko talk. It is remarkable how dramatically human consciousness has changed. The thoughtways of earlier ages are today perceived as totally incomprehensible. Where has this once prolific concept gone? The answer is that it continues its existence in the unconscious.

The notion of the “penitential disease” adds yet another dimension to the etiology of diseases, so there is no obvious contradiction with traditional psychology or somatic medicine. The new concept (or rather, the renewed archaic concept) complements the conventional paradigm and is arguably of great import. The ability to conceptualize the ailings of the patient, instead of groping in the dark, has a salutary effect. To formulate the causes of suffering and to create an image of it, has an healing effect, in itself. It is possible to argue that this is not in fact a spiritual disease, but that it still belongs within the confines of depth psychology. But it seems that patients do not have a psychological and personal problem. Rather, they have a problem with the divine. In the psychology of stigmatics there is no inner urge to suffer and bleed. The theologies of many religions attest that the requirement derives from the realm of the divine. The gods demand sustenance in the form of expiatory offerings delivered by humanity.


The discussion builds on theological notions and evidence from comparative religion. I suggest that these maladies are related to the phenomenon of stigmatization, which is neither invoked by somatic causes nor psychological. Stigmatization is a concern of the officials in the Vatican. Doctors have no cure for it, nor will they ever find one. God demands propitiation, and people become ill with mystical diseases, such as fibromyalgia. From a Christian and a theological perspective, this is not far-fetched. Theological thought, drawing on Aristotle, Aquinas, et al., employs the notion of finalism, involving teleological (goal-oriented) causes (Wiki, here). The patient becomes sick in order to bring about conciliation, as this is God’s wish. He draws his children to himself, as the teleological goal. The sacrifice of Jesus Christ was wished by the Father. It is the prototype of the sufferings that befall patients.

These illnesses are related. A migraine sufferer can eat a banana, for instance, and the next day he/she suffers an attack of migraine. Hence, also migraine can be triggered by foodstuff. But neither IBS patients nor migraine patients are allergic to these foods, nor is it a case of intolerance, as in celiac disease. Sometimes a migraine sufferer can eat a trigger substance and have no reaction at all. IBS is a widespread condition. Perhaps as many as 10% of the world’s population suffer from it. However, in most cases it’s a mild form, and in other cases it occurs only during part of the year. During the rest of the year there is no reaction at all against these foodstuffs. This is typical. Such conditions tend to intensify in periods. So what physical condition of the body is only present during part of the year?

That’s why research cannot establish allergy or intolerance as causal factor. Nor do they have an “intermittent” psychological problem. If this is, e.g., internalized aggression, or repressed sexuality, how come their aggression or sexuality is only repressed in periods? Supposedly, during intervals their psychology is so hugely repressed that it gives rise to psychosomatic symptoms, whereas in other periods they are free of symptoms. Psychology cannot account for such intermittence. If psychotherapy had been an effective cure, then millions of patients would have beleaguered the psychotherapists’ offices. An enormous number of people, whose lives are virtually destroyed, would do anything to procure a cure. But psychotherapy cannot help them, because there is no underlying neurosis.

I put forth that the solution is on the spiritual plane. Many of these sufferers have had their worldly careers destroyed. So what remains is a spiritual career. During medieval times, those who were debilitated, or perhaps had lost a limb in war, were enrolled in the cloisters. So when they couldn’t continue a worldly career they turned to a spiritual career, instead. People who have had their worldly lives wrecked must instead find spiritual meaning. This helps them fight the illness. When worldly life offers no hope, a spiritual goal in life strengthens the individual psychologically. The spiritual path becomes a necessity. This is actually a form a sacrifice. The time of a living being is sacrificed to the spirit, but this keeps the sufferers up and going. It bestows a meaning on life that generates hope and zest — immensely important when fighting illness.


If it is correct that such conditions are coupled to an increased conscious awareness among people with greater cerebral neural activity, then it logically follows that the patient should strive to become more unconscious, i.e. more like the simple country people who are exempt from such sufferings. Medieval man never worried about the plight of the Third World and such matters, because he knew that it was God’s responsibility. If the patient could grasp that everything — the whole of existence — rests safely in the lap of God, then he has also found that blessed unconsciousness that Jesus speaks about in Matthew 18:3: “...unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven”.

Perhaps the sufferer must exist in a prolonged period of darkness, many years in a comfortable unconsciousness, away from the busyness of the world. There should be decidedly less cerebral activity, or perhaps an activity of a less idealistic kind, more pragmatic, as the brain needs a substitute for its previous constant activity. EHS sufferers actually do solve their problem by becoming like simple rural people. They move out to the country, away from electro-magnetic fields. It is symbolic in a way, as the electro-magnetic field can symbolize the damaging field of consciousness.

The proposed course of treatment corresponds to the way of the spiritual person, as represented in the great spiritual traditions, such as Taoism. An over-differentiation of consciousness in the area of worldly concerns has left the spiritual standpoint in the backwater. The unconscious spiritual urge shall be assimilated to acquire the blessed unconsciousness of the spiritual sage. This means that the individual removes himself from worldly concerns, i.e. makes himself unconscious of the collective conscious sphere. He leaves things in the lap of God. A new symbolical and spiritual awareness (“moon-consciousness”) is substituted for today’s acute worldly-mindedness (“sun-consciousness”) (cf. Winther, 2010, here).

This method appears to be antithetical to Freudian therapy. The latter strives to increase consciousness of personal content, whereas the proposed therapy strives to lower consciousness of collective content. I do not question that unconsciousness is the root of human evil, and also what underlies neurosis and much personal tragedy. It can be remedied by psychotherapeutic integration of the unconscious. I do not question the fundamentals of the psychoanalytic paradigm, but merely suggesting that when psychology is inadequate, the spiritual paradigm must take precedence.

The Taoist master Chuang-tzu refused a minister post when he was offered one (Wiki, here). He writes that society’s ambition to keep everything under control, characteristic of the strong society, is to no avail. Instead, politics should allow Tao to rule and people should try to harmonize with Tao instead of stuffing their heads with worldly concerns. Correspondingly, in medieval times the European intellectuals developed the notion of an holy unconsciousness. Nicholas of Cusa, in De Docta Ignorantia, (“Of Learned Ignorance”), refers to the negative or apophatic way of knowing God, that holy unconsciousness is worth aiming at, instead of merely striving after greater knowledge (Wiki, here). St John of the Cross said that the “dark night of the soul” must be evoked and that one should not bother about news of the world, because it only distracts the mind (Wiki, here). In the “Cloud of Unknowing”, an unknown 14th century author explains that the spiritual path equates to remaining in a state of unknowing (Wiki, here).


To reason on lines of “spirit” means that we take into account relations with the divine, in the way of theology. The sacrifice is a case in point. To make offerings of lifeblood to the gods is a central theme in human history. This raises the question where the theme has gone today. It is suggested that it comes to unconscious expression as the penitential disease. Critics will argue that this is merely another way of explaining away etiological causes as “magical”, simply because we cannot understand them. The problem is that the spiritual motif cannot be established as a scientific cause because the spirit cannot be pinned down. The wind blows wherever it pleases.

In religious history, life was ritually sacrificed in the form of blood. In order to keep things rolling, the crops growing, and health conserved, it’s necessary to furnish the gods with expiatory offerings. It is worthwhile to make use of this thought, in modernized form, as a complement to the somatic and psychological approach. After all, this is the way in which humanity has contemplated existence for the greater part of our history. Modern ways of sacrifice would preferably take the form of contemplative practices, or meditations on spiritual subjects. What was St John of the Cross (1542-1591) and other contemplatives in fact doing? They devoted their allotted time on earth to contemplation. In this, they sacrificed “life” to the spirit.

God, as the teleological cause, is drawing people to Himself by making them suffer in the world. Jesus is the prototype for this. Has anybody ever found God without going through suffering? That one’s life is laid waste is a prerequisite of spiritual success, it seems. This is the underlying meaning of the saying in Matthew 10:39: “He that findeth his life shall lose it: and he that loseth his life for my sake shall find it.” In fact, this argument can be used for practically any phenomenon that wrecks people’s lives. I view it as a contribution to the Book of Job debate. Why was Job made to suffer, and all his family and cattle wiped out by horrible disease? It’s evident that God is behind. So the argument is not very exotic. The same conundrum is expressed in biblical stories.

Christianity offers salvation without suffering, but this is for the populace. On certain people God puts greater demands. Christian history is replete with martyrs, mystics, recluses, penitents, monks and nuns, who have given up their personal lives and devoted their services to God. Evidently, there are people whose calling it is to perform godly works. However, since modern man is lacking in ritual consciousness, this calling is not heeded. Still, the sacrifice forces its way through in guise of penitential disease. Migraine can be associated with the crown of thorns, fibromyalgia with flogging, IBS with Longinus’s lance, CFS with the impoverishment of crucifixion, vestibulitis with sexual abstinence, so central in spiritual tradition.

I do not argue against the existence of physical factors, such as the function of neurotransmitters, nor that we should cease searching for remedies. Most illnesses can be mollified by diet, rest and sleep, medications, and therapies, but physical knowledge is unable to bestow meaning. (Concerning fibromyalgia relief, see Wong, 2011, here.) By placing an illness in a contextual frame, in terms of religious symbol, the illness acquires a meaning. The Amfortas wound is an apt symbol of the penitential disease. Perhaps the wound can be cured with faith-healing or by a renewed pious zeal.

It might, after all, be necessary to recognize a spiritual dimension of etiology. It is a hard pill to swallow for the scientifically minded because it presupposes the notion of an objective spirit, a reality independent of poetry and psychology. The penitential disease is a form of penance, a self-mortification on lines of medieval penitents who scourged themselves with a whip. The sufferer has become subject to the spirit of sacrifice. Spirit is a dimension of reality which is highly autonomous, albeit not wholly. But it is not psychic. Therefore traditional attempts at psychological cures seem inadequate.


© Mats Winther, January 2011

The Lord is my shepherd. I shall not want He makes me down to lie.
Through pastures green He leadeth me the silent waters by.
With bright knives He releaseth my soul.
He maketh me to hang on hooks in high places.

He converteth me to lamb cutlets.
For lo, He hath great power, and great hunger.
When cometh the day we lowly ones,
through quiet reflection and great dedication,
master the art of karate,
lo, we shall rise up,
and then we’ll make the bugger’s eyes water.

Bleating and babbling I fell on his neck with a scream.
Wave upon wave of demented avengers
march cheerfully out of obscurity into the dream...

(Pink Floyd: Animals)


1. The sufferers are people with advanced neural systems. What characterizes introverts is that the neural activity occurs at a higher frequency. Since any sensation gives rise to very much neural activity, the introvert has to restrict the inpouring of impressions. Hence they become introverted, as they shy away from the world, to a relative degree (cf. Wiki, here).


Burland, C., Forman, W. (1980). The Aztecs: Gods and Fate in Ancient Mexico. London: Orbis.

Graves, R. (1997). The White Goddess - a Historical Grammar of Poetic Myth. Carcanet.

‘Stigmatization’. Catholic Encyclopedia (here)

Winther, M. (2008). ‘The Blood Sacrifice’. (here)

   ---------    (2009). ‘Symbolic Poverty’. (here)

   ---------    (2009b). ‘The Unconscious Spiritual Nature. On the spiritual urge in mankind’. (here)

   ---------    (2010). ‘Critique of Feminism – On Women’s Collective Shadow’. (here)

Wong, W. (2011). ‘Fibromyalgia: Symptom Relief’. Life Enthusiast. (here)

Wikipedia articles:

‘Blood eagle’. (here)

‘Chronic Fatigue Syndrome’ (CFS). (here)

‘Chuang-tzu’. (here)

‘Cloud of Unknowing’. (here)

‘Electromagnetic hypersensitivity’ (EHS). (here)

‘Extroversion and introversion’. (here)

‘Finalism’. (here)

‘Flagellant’. (here)

‘Fibromyalgia’. (here)

‘Human sacrifice in Aztec culture’. (here)

‘Irritable Bowel Syndrome’ (IBS). (here)

‘John of the Cross’. (here)

‘Migraine’. (here)

‘Nicholas of Cusa’. (here)

‘Victor Frankl’. (here)

‘Vulvar vestibulitis’. (here)