#37 Psychological Suicide
     (B. W. Aginsky, 1934-1935)

The Pomo Indians of Northern California cannot comprehend suicide as we know it….

Although suicide, as we are familiar with it, did not occur among the Pomo, this form of “psychological death” occurred frequently. It was a form of self-destruction on the basis of mental processes…. The varieties of anxieties which the Pomo indulged in were instrumental in bringing about psychotic states equivalent to what we call suicide. In our society we have cases of individuals “drinking themselves to death,” of individuals taking their own lives, that is, being the cause of their own death due to emotional upsets. No one would say that the Pomo pattern of self-death was the same as ours, but nevertheless it was self-death if no one interfered.

As we have seen, there were two important categories concerning death. In the first category, the individual, by being full of anxiety and apprehension, brought about a psychological condition in himself whereby he reacted to a fancied meeting with a malevolent supernatural which resulted in a state somewhat resembling catatonia, or had what we call an accident and fell out of a tree or fell down a mountain, etc. The illness resulted from the retaliation by the supernaturals for the negative or positive infringement of a taboo…. The illness resulting from impregnation by poison was the retaliation by a person for some real or fancied wrong…. [hexing?]

Enquiries concerning suicide as we know it brought forth responses showing that the Pomo not only could not conceive of such a thing, but that they explained it in other societies because the supernaturals or the doctors in the cultures discussed, had caused the individual to do the act. As for themselves, they had never heard of anyone in their history who had ever committed suicide.

[#37] B.W. Aginsky, “The Socio-Psychological Significance of Death Among the Pomo Indians” in American Imago (1940) vol. IC, pg. 1

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