There is a very scientific explanation behind one woman's history of intense spirituality and religiousness. Yet, it was not until the 48-year-old patient was admitted to the hospital with self-inflicted stab wounds inspired by two "heavenly voices" that doctors discovered the slow-growing brain tumor behind her extreme piety.
The patient arrived at the University Hospital of Psychology in Bern, Switzerland, with several self-inflicted stab wounds up to 7 centimeters (2.7 inches) deep. According to the case report, recently published in Frontiers of Psychology, she told medics she had cut herself in religious sacrifice and had been encouraged to do so by two spiritual voices who spoke to her regularly.
While the woman had always had an above average affinity for spirituality, she also experienced bouts of profound religious devotion on a 9 to 10 year cycle, suggesting the progression of the tumor was actively affecting the extent of her religiosity. During these episodes, she would join the Jehovah's Witnesses only to quit after a year or two, citing a significant decrease in religiousness.
As for the auditory hallucinations, the patient said she didn't begin hearing the divine voices until 2012 – three years before she was admitted to the university hospital. These hallucinations occurred frequently (sometimes more than once a minute) and would take the form of a command or a dialogue between the woman and the two voices. The conversations and demands tended to be religious in nature but were also enjoyable, said the patient. At times, they could continue for hours.
Later, MRI scans revealed a brain tumor affecting areas of the brain associated with auditory processing, emotional regulation and, most tellingly, spiritual experiences: the posterior thalamus, the posterior putamen, the dorsal internal capsule, and the left external globus pallidus.
However, due to the current lack of tumor growth, the team did not perform any surgical interventions. Instead, doctors prescribed antipsychotic meds, which seemed to reduce symptoms. As soon as her dosage was lowered, however, the symptoms returned and the patient spoke of a renewed closeness to God. She also expressed concerns about her changing attitudes towards religion.
This is not the first time a brain tumor has been linked to religious belief. Earlier this year, a 60-year-old woman from Spain was diagnosed with cancer after she started "speaking" to the Virgin Mary.