Beyond Epilepsy



Summerhall TV Interview

Interview with the Project Director shedding more light on our exhibition and what Beyond Epilepsy is all about.

Beyond Epilepsy goes on Bottle of Red

Drug addicts, prostitutes, juvenile delinquents, and epileptics. Which one stands out for you?

In last week’s series finale of Bottle of Red, our project director Rachel talks exhibition and ‘making up people’ with Ross Garner, and asks whether changes in medical knowledge equals a change in society.

Listen here now!

Our thanks to Bottle of Red for the interview. Do check out his website and Facebook page for more brilliant interviews and engaging discussion

Launch Night!

It’s been great seeing the exhibition progress. From a crazy idea in a pub to artist sketches and then finished artworks and seeing the exhibition come to life. We’ve had an excellent turnout and it’s been great seeing everyone enjoying the exhibition. If you missed out don’t worry, the exhibition is on for the whole duration of the Science Festival (until 19th) at the amazing CCA venue in Glasgow. And best of all – free entry!

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News & Press Features

Leading up to our exhibition we’ve got some exciting news to share with you. First of all, we’re excited to reveal our new poster, all bright and shiny.

Beyond Epilepsy Poster

We’re delighted to hear that our exhibition is gathering interest, and it hasn’t even started yet!

Beyond Epilepsy received the prestigious Magnusson Award from the Glasgow Caledonian University, awarded to the GCU researcher and Beyond Epilepsy Project Lead Rachel Hewitt. An article about the project and the award ceremony has been featured on the GCU Newsroom.

The story of our exhibition has also travelled all the way to Redditch, and has been featured in the Redditch Standard.

Our Project Lead Rachel has also been interviewed on the Bottle of Red Podcast. So pour yourself a glass (or a whole bottle) and listen to learn more about the historic links between epilepsy, hysteria and gender, and whether society has really moved on from looking at people with epilepsy as ‘the other’.

Going Beyond Epilepsy through art and history

We hope this whetted your appetite for the exhibition itself. Click attend on our Beyond Epilepsy Event on Facebook to make sure you don’t miss it.

First Artist Collaborative Exhibition Meeting

We’ve been incredibly busy here at Beyond Epilepsy keeping everything behind the scenes running, which is why it was such a pleasure to host an exhibition meeting with our artists, historians and collaborators. Our meeting was on November 12th at the GCU.

After a brief ice breaker session with tea and biscuits (thanks GCU!) Rachel Hewitt took us through the overview of the project aims. Rachel also gave an excellent presentation on the history of epilepsy, summing up all the important developments in just a few minutes! If you’re interested in the history of epilepsy and weren’t able to come to the meeting, don’t worry, we’ll be posting more of this information on the website.

For the ‘Beyond Epilepsy’ Exhibition we are hoping to use visual art and archive material, in addition to sound and light installations to engage and educate the public on epilepsy both in the past and in the present day. We are hoping to communicate the experience of people with epilepsy: for the visual side, this will be by using art to convey this experience. For the historian side, we are providing context in an engaging way to provide the narrative.



Olivia led the discussion, which started off as a word association based on the main titles of the areas, then broke into discussion about potential ideas that could develop out of this. We had an excellent and involved discussion. Here are some of our notes and mind maps:


Thanks to everyone involved for a great and hopefully inspiring meeting. We can’t wait to see the artworks!  And even if you’re not directly involved with the project, follow us and share the information to help us and the artists involved make an impact!


Demons and Possession

Prior to the development of neurology in the mid nineteenth century, the history of epilepsy was closely tied to cultural beliefs and folk medicine.  Some historians think that from the Greeks to the modern day, epilepsy was the perfect example of science triumphing over medicine. Greek doctors such as Hippocrates, and Roman doctors such as Galen knew that the cause of epilepsy lay in the brain. A collection of medical writings in 400BC ‘on the Sacred Disease’ argued that epilepsy was not a divine disease, to be attributed to the Gods, but was caused by a disturbance in the brain. Ancient Greeks believed that the body was made up of four humours: black bile, yellow bile, phlegm and blood. The imbalance of any of these was believed to cause disease, and idea which remained central to medical thought until well into the eighteenth century. The theory of four humours was in part the basis of the popular practice of bloodletting as a treatment for fevers In the case of epilepsy, convulsions were meant to be caused by too much phlegm in the brain which rushed into the body and produced the symptoms of an attack.  Hippocrates recommended the purging of phlegm, taking a hot bath and anointing the head with oils and salt.

However, popular beliefs about epilepsy at the time led it to be called the ‘sacred disease’, because it was believed that the condition was sent by a deity, or that a demon had entered the body of the sufferer.   Therefore, in addition to the balancing of the humours, many ‘cures’ were based on the supernatural beliefs.  The Romans believed that epilepsy was the result of vengeance from Mene, the goddess of the moon. There was also the strong association with epilepsy and the moon, and of seizures playing a part in omens in dreams. The avoidance of goats was recommended, because of the animals’ connection with the moon goddess and to Hekate.  Gladiator blood was used until the fifth century to strengthen and cure those who experienced seizures, partly due to the belief that it had magical properties.It was common practice up to the Roman times to spit on people experiencing a fit, in order to ward off contagion.

Christian writers and theologians in the late medieval period wrote frequently about sufferers’ unclean spirits and the activity of the devil causing seizures within the body. This led to the attempts to cure epilepsy through the medium of prayer and attempted exorcism of evil spirits. People relied heavily on help from saints and relics to ward off epilepsy, and to enact a cure. In part, this explains why there has always been a prevailing fear of people with epilepsy. In the nineteenth century, this was translated into the language of medical modernity. While neurology was being developed, elsewhere epileptics were being re-case in the language of lepers–not for fear of contagion through disease, but added into the dialogue of ‘deterioration’ of the urban population and the avocation of separate communities.

It’s important here to recognise that the development of medical knowledge does not necessarily mean that folk beliefs are eradicated. In fact, scientific studies still examine the link between seizures and the state of the moon, and although nobody is going around spitting on people having seizures (hopefully!) there remains a constant perception of epilepsy as the ‘epileptic cry’, foaming at the mouth and convulsions associated with a tonic clonic seizure. Its history, as its experience, is so much more than that.

The Borderland of Epilepsy Exhibition – Collaborative Meeting

If you’re interested in contributing to The Borderland of Epilepsy Exhibition we’re holding our first meeting this week!

It’s an open meeting where you’ll have a chance to learn more about this collaborative project as well as the history of epilepsy and the present care and understanding of epilepsy. Hopefully this will help you come up with ideas for your artwork. We’ll also answer any questions on the project or the methodology you may have.

The meeting will be a chance to meet each other and develop the direction of the project and your personal response to it. It will begin with a short presentation by the project leader Rachel Hewitt followed by group discussion and activities. There will be tea and biscuits as well!

Thursday, 12 November 2015 from 14:00 to 15:30 (GMT) Add to Calendar
CEE_3, Centre for Executive Education, Glasgow Caledonian University – Cowcaddens Road Glasgow, Lanarkshire G4 0BA GB – View Map

Curious? Please register to our event or email us at

If you know someone else who may be interested in attending make sure to share this page. We’re looking forward to seeing you on Thursday.

Olivia, Rachel & Sam

The Borderland of Epilepsy Exhibition – Call for Artists

Hello there!

We are looking for volunteer collaborators who would be willing to exhibit their work with the intention of raising awareness and challenging misconceptions about epilepsy. It will aim to use both historical material, modern understanding and artistic interpretation to present a timeline of change in medical and social contexts, throughout which people’s experience will remain central. The project will benefit from the involvement of Epilepsy Scotland, who will be forming a consulting role.

The exhibition is a collaborative project between visual artists and historians, exploring the history of epilepsy in an interactive and engaging way for audiences. We are aiming to use visual art to demonstrate the changes in medical belief and social context, from the Hippocratic ‘sacred disease’ to the present day, through an analysis of female hysteria and the discovery of the workings of the nervous system. It is part of a Wellcome Trust-funded PhD project on the history of epilepsy being undertaken by the project leader, Rachel Hewitt, at the Centre for the Social History of Health and Healthcare ( The project will also benefit from the input of a Creative Director, Olivia Vitazkova and a Technical Director, Sam House.

Unfortunately, we are unable to pay salaries or fees to members of the project, but materials and expenses for the production of new work will be reimbursed, and all intellectual property rights belong to the producers of the work. As it is largely a charitable project, it is being run not-for-profit through Glasgow Caledonian University and Epilepsy Scotland. Any proceeds raised through charitable collections will be donated to Epilepsy Scotland.

For more information contact us at:

Jean-Martin Charcot
Jean-Martin Charcot

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