Can a person die as a result of a voodoo curse? Yes, absolutely. Reliable observers have reported many such cases. The suddenness of these deaths in previously healthy persons without any apparent injury, poisons, or infection suggests that death from extreme fright or fear is possible. “Curse” deaths have occurred immediately after a curse or several months later. Of course, the victim must know or suspect that he has been cursed and must believe that the curse will cause harm. Research about this type of death and about the effects of the nervous system on the heart has given rise to an area of medical knowledge called neurocardiology which is relevant to many important diseases.
“Root Doctors” in the United States
“Voodoo” deaths occur in cultures in which a medicine man gains the reputation of having supernatural power. The “root doctor” is believed to have the power to trick or curse a person, to cause illness, insanity, or death. He is also believed capable of curing a person who has been hexed. “Root doctors,” “jujumen,” and “hoodoo men” are not limited to primitive societies. These practitioners and beliefs in their voodoo spells exist in various subcultures and ethnic groups in the US and in other developed countries.
An Overactive Nervous System Can Damage Other Organs
Part of the explanation for voodoo death is the “fight or flight” response which is seen in man and lower animals in response to real or imagined danger. Fear causes an intense overactivity of the brain and nervous system. An intense nervous system outflow can cause malfunction or damage to other organs, especially the heart, or even death. It has long been known that heart damage can be caused by diseases of the brain and nervous system such as strokes, seizures, and brain injury.
Another example of heart disease caused by severe psychological stress is reversible heart failure, seen mainly in older women. In this syndrome, the inferior part of the heart, that part closest to the feet, is abnormally dilated or expanded, producing an appearance which has been likened to a Japanese octopus trapping pot (takotsubo). The disorder is called takotsubo-like cardiomyopathy (”cardiomyopathy” indicates disease of the heart muscle). Takotsubo-like cardiomyopathy is seen more frequently during the extreme stress associated with natural disasters such as earthquakes. It is likely that stress also causes or contributes to heart disease which is not as severe or as readily recognizable as takotsubo-like cardiomyopathy. Severe stress may play such a role in sudden unexplained death in adults, sudden infant death, sudden death during asthma attacks, cocaine- and amphetamine- related death, and in sudden death during alcohol withdrawal.
The Brain and Emotions Can Also Prevent or Delay Disease
It also appears that the mind and nervous system can influence the body in the opposite direction to delay death or disease. A study done several years ago examined the death rates of Chinese women with reference to the Chinese New Year, the most important of traditional Chinese holidays and an occasion for gatherings of family and friends. It was found that the death rates of older Chinese women decreased significantly on the holiday and then increased after the holiday. These results were interpreted as evidence that elderly Chinese women were somehow able to delay their deaths, by will or emotion, until they saw their families and friends on this important holiday.
Now that scientists are discovering the ways in which psychological and nervous system diseases affect other organs, research is underway to find ways to prevent these damaging effects of stress. Drugs which block some of the chemicals released by overactive nerves would be one example of a potential treatment.