The vomiting or disgorgement of strange
or foul objects, usually associated with someone possessed
by or obsessed with the Devil or other demons
(see possession). Such actions also once were seen as
illusions or spells caused by witches or as attempts at
suicide by the mentally deranged. Most treatises on possession
written during the Renaissance and later included
the vomiting of unusual objects as an indication that the
Devil had entered a person’s body. The objects vomited
by the victim could be anything from live animals, such
as toads, snakes, worms or butterflies, to pieces of iron,
nails, small files, pins, needles, feathers, stones, cloth,
shards of glass, hair, seaweed or foam.
Simon Goulart, a 15th-century historian, tells of a
young girl whose abdomen continually swelled as if she
were pregnant. Upon receiving drugs, the girl began vomiting
a huge mass of hair, food, wax, long iron nails and
brass needles. In another account, Goulart says a man
named William, succumbing to the fervent prayers of his
master’s wife, Judith, began vomiting the entire front part
of a pair of shepherd’s trousers, a serge jacket, stones, a
woman’s peruke (hairpiece), spools of thread, needles
and a peacock feather. William claimed that the Devil had
placed the items in his throat. Finally, Goulart relates the
case of 30 children in Amsterdam in 1566 who became
frenzied, vomiting pins, needles, thimbles, bits of cloth
and pieces of broken jugs and glass. Efforts by doctors,
exorcists and sorcerers had no effect, and the children
suffered recurrent attacks.