by Luke Archer
Tarantism is a phenomenon that was particularly prevalent in the south of Italy in the 16th and 17th centuries. Supposedly bitten by a venomous spider (a tarantula), women would enter a manic state that was only curable by dancing continuously. With no evidence of spider bites, speculation about the practice is rife. Whether or not it was born of venom, or societal issues, it is fascinating. It begot the Tarantella dance and style of music which, if you listen to, still maintains the percussive feel of a purging exorcism.
Women dressing up as brides of St. Paul (and rolling around on the floor of the church to rid themselves of their dancing demons), sounds a lot like a Brighton Halloween party. But, though Tarantism seems a tad outdated, my housemate has relatives that can recall seeing these women (Tarantulees): not as distant a practice as you might think.
As much as I’d like to claim expertise, I just watched a documentary about it. You should watch it too:
[N.B the video explores Tarantism from a musical healing perspective – not necessarily my bag – but the footage is excellent]