In rural areas of southern Italy, this is the time of year that some women fall prey to a mythical spider bite- an ailment that can only be cured by dancing. I’m Jim Metzner, and this is the Pulse of the Planet, presented by the American Museum of Natural History.
“The women would be working in the fields, usually in June, in the hot sun, and they would say they feel a bite and they fell down on the ground and fall into a trance and say the tarantula bit them.”
Alessandra Belloni is an Artist in Residence at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York City. She tells us that what the women were describing was their own unhappiness, expressed in the form of an imagined spider bite.
“It’s called now ‘morso d’amor,’ bite of love. Most of the times at the age of puberty, these young girls fell in love, and fell in love with men they could not have, because of their poor social status. Or, sometimes they were abused. On top of it, they were exploited by the landowners. They had a miserable life, a life full of sexual repression, so they were never really free. So, they hallucinate; they see the spider and they feel the bite, but it’s not there. It’s the bite of the subconscious mind, of all the things we can’t have.”
The remedy for the ‘bite of love’ is to dance to the music we’re listening to, called the Pizzica Taranta.
“So the dance mimes the spider movements, the tarantula. And it’s very, very erotic and very crazy. And the women danced for three days and three nights. Once in awhile they would collapse and they wouldn’t move then the musicians would start again, and they would move again.”
The women will be cured by dancing, but thereafter every June, they’ll experience the bite of the invisible spider.
Pulse of the Planet is presented by the American Museum of Natural History. Additional funding for this series has been provided by the National Endowment for the Humanities. I’m Jim Metzner.