Controlling the Crowd: Mass Hysteria

I’m not a psychologist, or by any means an expert, but anyone can learn and document the behaviors of others without going to college and earning a degree, or learning all of the ‘fancy’ terminology that goes with it.

Unfortunately for us, there exist times in the world where people tend to use the ‘supernatural’ as a means to gain control over others. I am not bashing experiences that you may have had, and I recognize that there is some truth in all experiences and perceptions. However, there is also powerful magic at play in group situations, and that powerful magic can wreak havoc on the spiritual, emotional, and physical grounds of play.

Mass hysteria is well documented in history – the Salem Witch Trials, the hunt for Communists, the “War on Terror”; as well as in pop media, culture, and everyday life. Here, I am defining this ‘mass hysteria’ as a group atmosphere, which upon the suggestions and actions by its group members creates a different atmosphere or different rules which is/are separate from an outsider’s perception. Please note that what I am talking about is relating specifically to ‘supernatural’ hysteria. Hauntings, things following you around, etc. I do recognize that there are things out there which will haunt and hurt us – but I also recognize that 99% of those astral creatures don’t care whether we live or die, and want nothing to do with us.

My first experience with mass hysteria was several years ago, with two friends of mine. One, slightly mentally unstable (as all teenagers are), began to slip in and out of trances. Eventually, she worked up to a full possession of her body by a man who wanted to have sex with me (No joke.). We spent the entire night, wrapped up in the idea that she was possessed and trying to fix her.

When I spoke to my high priest later that night (Who I don’t believe was my high priest at the time) he told me to get my head out of my own ass and go play cards – or something to that effect. He told me she was fine. He was right.

How did I find myself down that dangerous road of delusion? Simple. Breaking it down, we find that the instigators of mass hysteria follow a similar pattern.

  1. Gaining Trust. The instigator will gain trust of the others or will have already established trust with the other group members. This may be through close contact (hanging out together all day and acting sane) or verification of sanity through name/information dropping(Ex: my friend who’s a cop told me once that; the teacher said; my high priest/ess said; I read in a book that).
  2. Establishing Grounds and Baiting the Hook. The Verification of Sanity is actually part of the second step. The instigator will slowly lead into a topic which the others are “not informed of” yet. They may use the name dropping skill or, in the case of themselves being possessed, begin to lapse in and out of conversations, or do something dramatic, like changing voices or accents.
  3. Gaining Control. If the group – even one person – accepts the bait – its a downward slope. Once the instigator has the attention or partial attention, they will focus their efforts on maintaining the attention. How far can they string you along? If it is a “third party haunting” – a creature inhabiting the room – they will get chills, or a cough, or something will have moved – the lights outside of the room might have ‘shut themselves off’ according to the instigator. If it is the instigator’s haunting, then they may employ any and every trick. They may laugh or cry, or play with knives, or do something classified as creepy.
  4. Maintaining Control. The instigator will try to do everything in their power to keep the group on the subject at hand. As the group drifts from the topic, the claims or actions will get more outrageous. Following the instinctual rule, “Where attention goes, energy flows”, the instigator will get ridiculous in attempts to keep the focus on them.
  5. Losing Control. If the instigator loses control, they will either drop the subject and never speak about it again, or, becoming desperate, try to rally others to their cause, through telling the truth or confiding in them.

How does this relate to my trip? One of the places we stayed at was a family owned, remote and rustic lodge in the mountains of Costa Rica. We, for the most part, had ice cold water only. The door to our cabin wouldn’t shut. There were half-doors for crawlspaces and curtained windows leading to planks and nails because the building had been expanded. Our bathroom door was temperamental and locked itself. Because of high winds, our outside door was constantly opening and closing itself.

Prime territory for someone to come and play instigator with the group. Which, they did. There was myself and three other girls staying in this particular cabin. One of the girls began the process with a one-liner from a scary movie: “Did you hear that?”

Unfortunately, I was ill at the time, and had completely lost my voice. I kind of wheezed the entire time, and I couldn’t make out more than a word or two at a time. I was coughing every minute or so and my throat was on fire.

The door had slammed – the first of many times. Ensued a discussion about how creepy the place was. How they didn’t want to be in there alone. I tried to interject and explain that nothing was going to happen – I was a witch, etc. I was trying to disarm the situation quickly.

Two hours later, the entire group had entered our cabin to play a friendly card game of “Spoons”. When all had gathered, we played a round, and then the girl spoke up again.

“Guys, I have something to tell you, but I promised (Professor) I wouldn’t say anything.”

People vie for information. She refuses for a few minutes, then proceeds in a hushed voice.

“(Professor) said this place used to be a barn used to slaughter horses and cows.”

[[Collective opinion: Not so creepy. Instigator tries again.]]

“She said that the couple used to have a child before (child’s name). They had bought the place, even though the locals said it was haunted.”

[[The couple who owned the place were not Costa Rican. They have one daughter, an adorable two year old. Group takes the bait.]]

“I guess a bunch of weird stuff used to happen here. Doors would slam, and windows would break, things would go missing. And then their first daughter, she fell down a well and died.”

[[Group mutters. Someone asks why they stayed.]]

“Well they had this second daughter, (child’s name), and it was a really lucky day that she was born, and they did a bunch of things to be lucky, and they named the cabins and the place after her to keep away evil.”

[[Instigator’s boyfriend rises, and goes to shut the door which has slammed, loudly. He walks back in and leaves the door open. Someone notices that the lights are off outside of the room, and they should be on.]]

“I don’t know, they were off when I got there.” [[Instigator’s boyfriend]]

[[Instigator becomes freaked out, muttering and rambling about how she doesn’t want to stay there, practically screaming. Place calms down as I choke out, “Why don’t we play cards?”]]

This continued on until everyone left and the Instigator ‘confided’ in us that it had all been a ‘joke’ – the energies with which I had to deal with, silently, for four hours.


How can we as witches, or as concerned members, who recognize what’s about to happen, disarm the situation?

  • Change the subject. By focusing the attention on yourself – “Ow shit, does someone have a bandaid? …. So did anyone hear about the new regulations at…” – you take attention away from the to-be-instigator.
  • Silence. Not participating in the discussion – at all – can sometimes disarm the situation. Complete disinterest is not what the instigator wants. Its a fine line, though, between being interpreted as indifferent and being interpreted as fearful.
  • Self-validation. Not the best decision, but can work in some instances. Saying to them, “I’ve dealt with these situations before, just relax” takes power away from the instigator. However, depending on the group dynamics, you may be marked and filed as either crazy or not part of the conversation, or not ‘qualified’ enough.
  • Leave. If all else fails, the least you can do is remove yourself from the situation.

Keep in mind that staying does feed the unstable energy. And when enough of that unstable energy is around, things will start to happen in the group perception. This time, I chose self-validation and then silence, for lack of a voice and energy to do anything but let the issue run its course.

Got any fun stories?  Feel free to share!