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386                The Legacy to Modern Egypt
because the old is irreconcilable with the new. The only course
left is for the new to exterminate the old. But that is not easy
when the mass of the people are attached to the old. The old
custom can only be eradicated by eradicating the people, and
it is obviously impossible to wipe out several million people.
Persecution is ineffective, for it merely drives the old practices
into concealment.
Men are very tenacious of their hopes of salvation and health.
Possession by the spirits of the dead promises relief from the
ills of body and mind, and the sufferers will therefore defy bell,
book, and candle in pursuit of this relief. Hence the unimpaired
vitality of possession.
In antiquity many diseases were ascribed to it. It still holds
its ground as a theory of hysterical disorders, a theory clear-cut
and easy to grasp: the soul controls the body; let another soul
get possession of the body, and the patient will become to all
intents and purposes a new person. The theory does seem to
work, as many wrong theories do. It appears to act as a mental
cathartic, and while that is so the negative fulminations of the
learned are in vain. Only a positive policy of better scien-
tific treatment can hope to drive out this crude, but popular
It is the women who are the stronghold of possession. It is
they who generally hold out longest against new notions, the
more so in Egypt as Islam addresses itself especially to the
males. So long as the men almost monopolize the mosques
women feel its influence less. Thus they persist in wailing for
the dead according to the ancient custom, although this is for-
bidden by the Islamic Tradition. Worse still, they daub their
faces with blue, the ancient colour of mourning. Among the
men are some better acquainted with the law and they dis-
approve. Sometimes they are resolute enough to prevail, and
Islam wrests another conquest from the ancient culture even
now in the twentieth century; but the women can be very