Has a major branch of history been determined by one man's bout with epilepsy? I think so!

Epilepsy Toronto has, on its web page, a list of famous people who have had epilepsy. The idea of the list is that epilepsy doesn't need to stand in the way of achievement. On that list - along with such luminaries as Fyodor Dostoevsky, Joan of Arc, Napoleon and Newton - was Muhammad. Well, you guessed it . . . the incendiary email this organization received from indignant Muslims, prompted them to quickly remove Muhammad from its on-line list. By now, we all know that nothing gets results like Muslim threats.

This article reminded me of the connection between epilepsy and the "God Module". If you're not familiar with the God Module or "God Spot", here's a quick summary . . . It was discovered when scientists explored the association between epilepsy and intense spiritual experiences. It seems that some forms of epilepsy create electrical storms in the brain that stimulates an adjacent area (now identified as the God Module). Many of these epileptics are hyper-religious.

Anyway, I did a Google search for "Muhammad and epilepsy" and hit pay-dirt. There appears to be a strong correlation between the symptoms of epilepsy and the witness descriptions of Muhammad's condition while in his "trances". Epilepsy (the "sacred disease", also known as the "falling sickness") is what the ancients thought were demon possessions. Muhammad was known to have had epileptic symptoms from at least the age of 5. His guardians were (allegedly) afraid he was demon possessed and pawned him off on other relatives.

Epilepsy would explain Muhammad's visions and preoccupation with spirituality and his solitary retreats to the mountains for contemplative meditation. Many epileptics describe the spiritual sensations surrounding seizures as so exquisite that they actually look forward to these fits. Fyodor Dostoevsky claimed that he would not trade 10 years of life for a single epilepsy-induced spiritual experience.

Ignorant and superstitious people, especially in Muhammad's day, were easily impressed by these seizures. They seemed real, because they were. However, they weren't demon possessions or contact with God; they were epileptic fits. These fits are reported to have scared Muhammad until his wife (the first, ever, Muslim) convinced him that they were divine communiqués. That's right . . . Muhammad's wife was the first Muslim - Muhammad was the second to believe.

There is only anecdotal evidence that Muhammad was an epileptic. It's just a theory. But, due to the preponderance of evidence, many historians and researchers believe it. The first to suggest it was the Greek monk, Theophanes. Theophanes (752-817) wrote, in his "Chronography", that Muhammad suffered from epilepsy. In 1869, Sir William Muir, made the same connection in his book, "The Life of Mahomet". More recently, Clifford Pickover writes:
Dostoevsky, another famous epileptic whose works are filled with ecstatic visions of universal love (and terrible nightmares of uncanny fear and radical evil), thought it was obvious that Mohammad's visions of God were triggered by epilepsy. "Mohammad assures us in this Koran that he had seen Paradise," Dostoevsky notes. "He did not lie. He had indeed been in Paradise - during an attack of epilepsy, from which he suffered, as I do."
I guess it takes one to know one.

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I think so too! I read somewhere that in the bible, Paul may have also described a seizure as his religious transformation.

I had based my religious belief on what I thought were supernatural experiences. I actually described one as feeling like god was hugging me (ha!). It wasn't until later in life that my mother mentioned my childhood febrile seizures which prompted me to consider that those experiences were less likely supernatural and more likely seizures. I had frequent migraines as a teen and into my twenties and now have only recently discovered that migraines and seizures are related. The seizures really were a fantastic feeling but I value the experience more now that I know the real cause.
Hi Sheryl,

Thanks for your reply.

Yes, I've heard about Paul's (alleged) migraine headaches. I've even heard he suffered from epilepsy. The "blinding light" he saw could have been caused by either.

I think the point here is: there are physiological reasons for spiritual experiences (especially if you take drugs). The God module, epilepsy, migraines, LSD, psilocybin mushrooms, mescaline and peyote . . . even marijuana: all can cause spiritual experiences.

In my youth, I tried many drugs. Some caused profound spiritual experiences. However, I've never had a spiritual experience while "straight". To me, this reinforces the idea of a God module: the drugs must have stimulated it, somehow.

I have to say that the spiritual experiences were so powerful that there is no other experience that comes close to comparing. Despite the decades since those heady days, I'd drop acid again in a flash . . . just to re-experience those spiritual delusions. They truly were transcendent. I attribute, justly or not, my cerebral bent (such as it is) to those mind-altering experiences.

Yes, Moses too had a spiritual experience associated with a blinding light. Could it be that Judaism's great leader was an epileptic? Did all the great visionaries suffer from hyper-stimulated God modules?

I'm not sure what psychedelics or hallucinogens they had in that region, in that era. Maybe Moses took some psilocybin mushrooms with him, up the mountain . . .
Me too...my LSD experiences were more of a manifestation trip however, I could call people and they would show up in nothing flat. People catered to me in public places and businesses, I could manifest a taxicab to take me away from a bad scene as well as good. People pushed things on me and handed me things like money, books and the occasional cookie. I never could manifest a hot pastrami on rye however.
Hi Gerald,

I hope you know I was being facetious about Moses . . .

. . . Per your very interesting points, I've often wondered at what point cynical leaders realized the advantages and benefits of religion as a vehicle of mass control.

In the case of Jesus, his message and (literal) self-sacrifice seem to argue against cynical calculation for personal gain. In the end, he was hell-bent on self-destruction.

Muhammad, however, reveals a conspicuous pattern of receiving revelations that were very convenient for contemporaneous problems in his personal life. His wives noticed the pattern and teased him about it. I don't know if Muhammad started off cynical or if he later realized the potential advantages of his "messenger/prophet" status and then became cynical. After he moved from Mecca to Medina, and enjoyed a burgeoning power-base, his revelations definitely turned less tolerant.

Was Moses a real or mythical person? I don't recall ever hearing evidence (from Egyptian sources, for example) for his actual existence. If he really is a historical figure, then your interpretation of him as "a nasty piece of work", seems pretty straight-forward. I'm embarrassed to say I never thought of Moses as a politically-motivated ruler.

I would quibble with you, however, on your assertion that "successful religions always combine misinterpretation of quite mundane illnesses, observations, or facts, together with religious explanations confirming these observations". I believe what you're describing is merely superstition . . . and all ancient men (with or without religion) were thoroughly superstitious. Before the very first religion, people already attributed signs and omens (superstition) to spirits and gods. Successful or not, religions naturally incorporated these pre-existing tendencies.
there's also a GOD HELMET invented by Michael Persinger where he modified a SNOWMOBILE HELMET wired to create a magnetic field that can stimulate the right-hemisphere parietal and temporal lobes of the brain. The effect is similar to a spiritual experience where one can “see” God and some already dead persons (is this place heaven?). Some of those who tried thought they were dead while 1 female participant thought she gave birth to Jesus.
Hi Edwin,

I think I recall something about a guy up in Canada(?) somewhere, who was able to generate transcendent experiences via a helmet designed to electrically stimulate the area associated with the God Module.

That was a few years ago. I guess I'm off to Google "God Moudle" again. It would be interesting to see if anything more has been learned about the God Module.
Manic Depression (Bipolar disorder ) and schizophrenia also cause visions and delusions that appear very very real.

It is interesting that most religions probably have origins in what we now would call mental illness !
Hi Doug,

Yes, there appears to be some merit to the idea that most (all?) of the great prophets might have suffered one mental aberration or another.

  • Moses and St. Paul both saw blinding lights.
  • Jesus and Muhammad both isolated and deprived themselves for prolonged periods to "meditate".
  • The "visions" of Ezekiel, Zedikiah, Jeremiah, Daniel, Isaiah and St. John.
A more modern example is that of the 19th century prophetess Ellen G. White. She suffered from temporal lobe epilepsy dating from a childhood head injury incurred when she was struck on the head by a rock. By the age of 17 she was experiencing visions that were interpreted by her soon to be husband, James White, as revelations from god.

Her writings became a large part of the foundations of the Seventh day Adventist church. She was (and probably still is) read in the home alongside the bible.
Thanks for telling us this. This informed anecdote is new to me.
Check out the following which I have subsequently found on the internet:




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