In the classic film The Exorcist, Father Damien Karras is asked, “How does a doctor end up as a priest?” Though the dual vocation of doctor-priest may have fallen out of favor in modern medical practice, societies have attributed death and disease to a higher power since time immemorial. For most of human history, the medical and the mystical have been one and the same.
This holds particularly true for dermatologic conditions. Readily visible, these conditions unfortunately generate disgust and result in the social rejection of afflicted individuals.1 The more stigmatizing the disorder, the greater the belief in a magical or religious etiology. For instance, the Ayurvedic medical system considers leprosy and vitiligo to be more serious and stigmatizing than tinea versicolor. Accordingly, while nearly half of patients with leprosy and vitiligo interviewed in 1992 attributed their disorder to supernatural causes, only 17% of patients with tinea versicolor did so.2
Hsiao C, Maranda EL, Estes WA, Soza GM, Nouri K. Dermatology and Possession. JAMA Dermatol. 2016;152(9):1034. doi:10.1001/jamadermatol.2016.0507
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