Halloween Special: Werewolves & Witches

Halloween Special: Werewolves & Witches - Aztec Group - Mould Testing Experts Calgary

Most Canadians know about the Salem Witch Trials. These infamous hearings and prosecutions took place in Salem Massachusetts between February 1692 and May 1693. They resulted in the execution of twenty people. Numerous more were imprisoned and all in all it was not a good time to be a woman or an outcast.

What the average Canadian may not know is that witch and werewolf trials didn’t start in Salem. There’s a long history of werewolf and witch trials in Europe. Thousands of people in Europe were tried as witches or werewolves between 1520 to 1630 and more than a few were executed.

So what was happening? Today, people understand that magic, witches, and werewolves aren’t real. But something was convincing the people of Massachusetts and across Europe that these things were a real threat.

One of the big differences is, that during the time, magic, witchery, and the power of satan was believed in literally. In fact, many religious people argued that not believing in demons, spirits, and witches meant not believing in God. Which at the time, was a pretty dangerous declaration to make. On top of that, people may not have been thinking straight in general. A variety of fungus that attacks rye — which was a fundamental part of the diet of poor European peasants and the residents of Salem — may have been a contributing factor.

Ergot fungi, like some varieties of mould, produce mycotoxins. These toxins can cause a variety of interesting effects in humans (as well as other mammals). First of all, the mycotoxins in ergot are hallucinogenic. In fact, the drug LSD was first synthesized from chemicals found in ergot. Hallucinogenic bread could explain why people were seeing things they couldn’t understand or thought were magical in nature. Between have a literal belief in monsters and suffering hallucinations from the food they were eating, it’s logical to assume fingers would start getting pointed as scared peasants tried to find the cause.

It’s also worth noting that the symptoms described by those cursed by witches in Salem and the symptoms caused by ergot poisoning are very similar. The victims of the witches described symptoms such as creepy crawling sensations in the skin, tingling fingertips, vertigo, tinnitus, headaches, disturbances in sensation, hallucinations, painful muscular contractions, vomiting, and diarrhea. All of these symptoms are also caused by ergot poisoning. Other psychological symptoms of ergot include mania, melancholia, psychosis, and delirium. This could explain the general histeria and craziness that was affecting those taking part in witch and werewolf hunts.

Historians and anthropologists are still arguing over the likelihood of ergot’s role in the trials at Salem and throughout Europe. Perhaps ergot played a large role, but perhaps it was only a small part of the insanity. At the end of the day, it doesn’t really matter, and it’ll be hard to ever really know.

What does matter is that over the centuries a lot of people have died from coming in contact and consuming mycotoxins like the ones found in ergot and mould.

So while we spend Halloween handing out candy or taking our kids door-to-door, let’s spare a little thought for the origin of Halloween as All Hallows’ Eve and remember the tried witches, werewolves, and all people who weren’t (and aren’t) fortunate enough to live in a time and area where mass ergot outbreaks don’t happen.

Asbestos: The History

Asbestos: The History - Aztec Group - Asbestos and Mould Experts Calgary

Asbestos isn’t a man-made material; it’s actually a group of naturally occurring minerals similar to garnet and other silicate stones. Asbestos has many useful physical properties such as being heat resistant, chemically innate, electrically resistant, strong, and sound absorptive. There are asbestos deposits occurring on each continent which means it’s also abundant and affordable.

Ancient World Asbestos Use. When people think back to the most primitive human tools and materials, they usually think of the stone age. Quite fittingly, as asbestos is a mineral and stones are made of minerals, asbestos has been found in stone age debris dating as far back as 750 000 years ago. Speed forward several hundred thousand years, and archeologists have discovered candles and lamps containing asbestos used as early as 4000 B.C.E. Asbestos was also used in the embalming process by Ancient Egyptians, found in clay pots (thought to make them more heat resistant) created by Ancient Finns, and spun into cloth by the Ancient Romans.

The ancient world was where the side effects of asbestos were first observed. Slaves who mined, sewed, and worked with asbestos were found to develop lung diseases. However, it would take until the modern age of the 2000s, for Canada to close their final asbestos mine for good.

Middle Age Asbestos Use. Many of the same uses found in the ancient world continued into the middle ages. Napkins and table runners were woven with asbestos, so they were resistant against fire. An important attribute when a castle is lit by candle light. The dead were wrapped in cloth made from asbestos, and it was used and mined across Asia by Russians, Mongolians, and the Chinese. As society approached the end of the renaissance and entered the modern age, asbestos fibers were also used in the clothing worn by firefighters.

Industrial Revolution Asbestos Use. The industrial revolution saw an explosion of asbestos use. No longer a novel material used in a few items, the industrial revolution fueled new inventions, and creators loved asbestos. Asbestos mining became mechanized, and by the early 1900s, more than 30 000 tons was produced annually. Everyone including women and children were involved in asbestos mining and product creation. During the height of its use some 4000 everyday household items like hair driers and toothpaste contained asbestos.

The Fall of Asbestos. With the end of the 70s and the beginning of the 80s, asbestos use began to decline world wide. While privileged individuals had noticed the link between asbestos and lung diseases as early as the ancient world, it took until the 20th century for the general public to realize that working with asbestos had major repercussions. Trade unions were demanding safer working conditions, and by 2005 asbestos was banned throughout the European Union, Australia, Switzerland, and the UK. To the south, our American neighbours had also effectively banned asbestos through legal deterrents and consequences. In 2011, after a long political battle to protect its asbestos industry, Canada finally closed its last mine.

Few materials have such a long or complicated history of human use. Despite our knowledge now, asbestos still lingers in many older Canadian homes and products. It’s important to be aware of how asbestos can still sneak into the air of your home or workplace. If you have any questions about asbestos, contact Aztec Group today!