Vance Vanders and the Voodoo Curse

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In the winter of 1937, a sixty-year-old black farmhand, known to history as Vance Vanders, went to a cemetery in Alabama to meet with an evil Voodoo priest. There, they got into an argument with each other. At that point, the witch doctor waved a foul-smelling liquid under Vance’s nose. In the process, the priest put a death spell on him. Immediately after that, Vance started to get sick from the hex. He lost his appetite and grew very weak, eventually becoming completely bedridden. However, after a few months of suffering, the man’s wife felt that she had to do something. So, she made her husband finally see a doctor, in the spring of 1938. At that point, Vance became the patient of a physician named Drayton Doherty. The problem was that he was rather clueless as to what the diagnosis might be. Given that Vance had lost more than fifty pounds, the suspicion was that he must have tuberculosis or pervasive cancer. However, after running a battery of tests, everything came back negative. The bottom line was that Mr. Vanders was dying and Dr. Doherty had no idea why.

The physical examination showed nothing that could be causing distress. It seemed that the patient wasn’t afflicted by any known disease. So, in wanting to know everything that he possibly could about the patient, Dr. Doherty asked Mrs. Vanders about her husband’s medical history. Unfortunately, there was nothing in his past, or among his family, to account for the man’s present condition. In the end, she was forced to tell the doctor about the curse, but he dismissed it as hocus-pocus nonsense, just as she had feared. Eventually, though, Mrs. Vanders was able to convince Dr. Doherty that Mr. Vanders fully believed in the power of the curse, whether he did or not. So, the physician realized that behaving like a doctor would get him nowhere with this patient, so he decided to act like a witch doctor instead. This was the only way that he would be able to prevent the full onset of psychosomatic death, because Vance had reached a state of near stupor, and he was fading fast.

Therefore, once he learned of everything that had happened, the doctor left for some time. He was preparing to put on a little show for his patient. When he returned, Dr. Doherty told Vance Vanders that he had gone to confront the witch doctor. He said that he found out what kind of potion that the priest had used. Drayton told Vance that the evildoer had blown lizard eggs into his mouth, and down his throat. The doctor then went on to tell his patient that the reptile was going to eat him from the inside out unless he did exactly what he was told. At that point, the doctor gave the patient a drug to make him vomit. Then, he took the metal basin and slipped a lizard out of his pocket into it, with the use of sleight of hand. After that, he had the family look into the pale of puke to see what had come out, or at least so they thought. Following that, the doctor did away with the lizard and declared that the curse was broken. At that point, Vance Vanders suddenly fell into a deep sleep. The next day, he woke up, hungry and alert, feeling much better than before.

So, even though it was a witch doctor who put the curse on Vance Vanders in the beginning, it was a doctor who took it off in the end. The trick is that, for this to work, there must be an authority figure like a priest or physician to enact it. Since the nocebo effect is what made Vance ill in the first place, Dr. Doherty rightly used the placebo effect to make him well again. It was ancient sorcery versus modern science. Such is the power of belief, which can easily transform a curse into a cure. So, ultimately, the takeaway from this is that people need to be careful what they say, especially doctors. When someone like a shaman tells a lie it can become the truth, for better or worse. For instance, the textbook example of psychosomatic death comes from the Southern Medical Journal, in 1992. It cites a case in which a patient was given a diagnosis of cancer by a physician. Then, he was told that he only had a few months to live. When the man finally died, the autopsy report revealed that his cancer had not progressed. The fact is that there was no known cause for his death. In the end, it was just the patient’s belief that killed him. Had it not been for Dr. Doherty, this could have just as easily been the fate of Vance Vanders and the Voodoo curse.

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An Autodidact Polymath

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