Victorian Ideas about Pathogenic Winds

a-gust-of-wind
John Singer Sargent – A Gust of Wind (1887)

I feel like of all the four core elements, Air gets the shortest shrift. I use Fire, Water, and Earth far more often than Air. To help me with some air/wind related ideas, I made some game reference notes after reading “A Medical Perspective on Winds and the Victorians” by Vladimir Jankovic.

Generally, fresh air was widely considered to be a core requirement of a healthy space or healthy home. However, the reliance on fresh air left one vulnerable to ill winds or to problems associated with the absence of wind. Winds were described as forces able to purify, pollute, transmit, herald (ill wind as ill omen), or ventilate. 

Winds are often described as carrying the worst elements of foreign soils, so winds that blew from Asia or Africa were described with prejudicial terms linked to those locales. They were also described by the geographies relative to England. Winds from the African desert, the moist sea, or the cold mountains were described with terms appropriate to those regions and were believed to carry contagions linked to those respective places.

d6 Pathogenic Winds

  1. Samiel – victims seem asleep with limbs separated from bodies
  2. Khamsin – corpses remain warm, swollen, and blue as if struck by lightning
  3. Harmattan – a dry wind that kills plants and parches skin but cures fevers and the bleeding fatigue
  4. Senegal – scorches as by a blast from a furnace
  5. Falkland – causes cramping and the inability to perspire
  6. Sirocco – stops digestion and kills over-eaters

South wind

  • Causes disease, specifically cholera
  • Warm & humid
  • Gluts of rain
  • Stinking fogs

North-east Wind – “Black North-Easter”
“When the wind is in the east / It’s neither good for man nor beast”

  • Cold, piercing, snowy
  • Causes discomfort and illness but not disease – croup, sore throat, swollen glands, pulmonary ailments, paralytic attacks
  • Saps strength & rids the mind of thoughts and ideas
  • Causes heaviness, swelling and tightness in the head.
  • People exposed to it feel faint, short of breath, without strength or appetite
  • Described with verbs like: howled, roved, moaned, crept, cut, froze

Calm (lack of wind) aka “The Calms” or “Dead Calms”

  • Stillness
  • Moistness
  • Gloomy, cloudy, grey – this mist is called “scumbling” after the artist technique
  • Disease mist – the idea of a contagion that lingers in mist is called “miasma”

Gruff Boreas, Deadly Calms: A Medical Perspective on Winds and the Victorians
Author(s): Vladimir Jankovic
Source: The Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, Vol. 13, Wind, Life, Health: Anthropological and Historical Perspectives (2007), pp. S147-S164
Published by: Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland
Stable URL: https://www.jstor.org/stable/4623126

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