The fear of parasites – with their power to invade, infest, and transform the self – writhes and wriggles through cultures and religions across the globe, reflecting a very human revulsion of being invaded and consumed by both internal and external forces. However, in ancient China, the parasitic wasp and the worm illuminate the relationship between the sage and his pupil. On the Indian sub-continent, Hindu cultures worship Nagas, entities who protect sources of drinking water from parasitic contamination, and the reciprocal relationship between parasite and host is a recurring theme in Vedic literature and ayurvedic texts. In medieval Europe, worms are symbols of both corruption through sin and redemption through Christ. In traditional African American culture, disease is attributed to infestation by supernatural spiders, bugs, and worms, while in the rainforests of southern Argentina, parasitologists fight against very real parasitic invaders. The worm represents our Jungian shadow, and we fear their bodies for they are our own – soft and vulnerable, powerfully destructive, mindlessly living off the corpses of others, and feeding on the corpse of the world.
This book gathers together scholarly research from diverse disciplines, including anthropology, the health sciences, history, literature, the medical humanities, parasitology, sociology, and religious studies.