Compulsion to Flee

By Harold Stearley At Earthwalking

I often write about my travels and the things I experience while traveling.  The adventure of it. 😊  Particularly getting back to Nature and hiking in the wilderness.  Something I do whenever possible.  And the urge to travel, or to continue traveling once on the road, is always at the surface.

Lingering, like a Tiger ready to pounce on its prey.

Frankly, I like that feeling.  For it drives me to drive.  Gives me reason and purpose.  An impetus to greet Grandfather Sun each day.

Now, you all know how I love words, and I was recently introduced to the word “Dromomania.”  It means an abnormal and obsessive desire to roam.  Another definition is: “an irrational impulse to wander or travel without purpose.”

Dromomania, also called “traveling fugue,” is also defined as an uncontrollable psychological urge to wander.  A condition which drives people to “spontaneously depart from their routine, travel long distances and take up different identities and occupations.”  This “abnormal” desire also apparently causes people to “travel beyond their means and sacrifice job and partner or security in the lust for new experiences.”

I found this word in a book that my friend Supernatural Hippy suggested I read, Ghost Riders: Travels with American Nomads by Richard Grant.  It’s a great read!

I’m about half-way through the book.  Already past that point of no return. Roaming through the pages. 😊

Also mentioned was “Drapetomania.” Today considered to mean an uncontrollable desire to wander away from home.  But, the origins of this word are a bit dark, to say the least.

Drapetomania was coined by one Samuel A. Cartwright in 1851 as a “mental illness” causing black slaves to flee captivity.   Its derivation is from the ancient Greek δραπέτης (drapetes, “runaway slave”) + μανία (mania, “madness”).

Cartwright was a U.S. physician and an outspoken critic of germ theory.  Needless-to-say, his so-called disease theory has been discredited.

I love to look at the origins of words.   They give us a clue as to their true meaning.  Just what were those folks back then trying to describe.  Words are wonderful, but they can also be limiting.

Both of these terms include the suffix “mania,” which is defined as a “wild or violent mental disorder; specif., the manic phase of bipolar affective disorder, characterized generally by abnormal excitability, exaggerated feelings of well-being, flight of ideas, excessive activity, etc.”  Or, “an excessive, persistent enthusiasm, liking, craving, or interest; obsession; craze.”

The origin of the word “mania” is said to be from Middle English derived from the Late Latin, which in turn comes from the Greek word “mainesthai” or to “rage,” and akin to the Greek “menos” or spirit.

The raging spirit!

In Roman and Etruscan mythology, “Mania” or “Manea” was a goddess of the dead and chaos.  She along with Mantus, ruled the Underworld.  She was said to be the mother of ghosts and the undead, and other spirits of the night.  In Greek Mythology, “Mania” is the goddess of insanity and madness.

Well, in both cases, these words’ origins imply that it is “abnormal” to have a “compulsion to flee.”  Or as I would say, the desire to hit the road and have a bit of adventure.  In fact, from the roots of these words, this is a mental illness.  An illness where one abandons their partner and discards their identity along with their productive occupation.  To have this disease means you’ll have rage, be prone to violence, and surely you’d be insane.

So, from the classical and historical definitions of getting the “bug,” the “travel fever,” it is an extremely dangerous illness and the people with it are not only ghostly, chaotic, and violent, but they are inexplicably running away for no conceivable reason and lacking any sense of purpose.

Humm, so afflicted . . .

I’m not sure what I am supposed to be “fleeing” from.  Perhaps it’s boredom.  But I’m certainly not filled with rage or crazed to commit violence.  Nor am I abandoning anyone or casting aside my identity.  And I don’t think that I’m insane.

Well, maybe pleasantly unbalanced. 😊

A more colorful and more descriptive alternative to dromomania and drapetomania might be the word “wanderlust.”  But there are many other terms, such as: nomadism, wandering, wayfaring, flitting, vagabondism, roving, drifting, peregrination, train fever, rambling, hoboism, cruising, trekking, pererration, bumming, itinerancy, straying, traipsing, globe-trotting, and expeditioning.

Where am I going with all of this?

Well, I hadn’t heard of dromomania and drapetomania before this book.  Nor of its implications of being a dangerous disease, or that involving people who wanted to escape slavery.

Nor had I heard the story of Alvar Nunez Cabeza de Vaca.  Let me repeat that name.  Short form.  Cabeza de Vaca.  Ever hear of him?

Me neither.  And that’s where we’ll pick up tomorrow . . .

Until then.

In Metta


Photo: The open road.  Somewhere in the Southwest.

21 thoughts on “Compulsion to Flee”

  1. The picture certainly makes me want to climb into a car and drive who knows where. I think it’s possible that most people think about going walkabout on occasion. Most of us whack that feeling on the head to knock it unconscious and carry on. I guess those who don’t have dromomania. Cool word.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. I have several books about the origin of words. I love to look up words and phrases to see how they came about. I also love of book of strange words called
    Mrs. Byrne’s Dictionary of Unusual, Obscure, and Preposterous Words. I have an old copy and looked it up to see if you can still find it and was stunned to discover that it is really, really expensive. We use it to play a word game with someone choosing a word and the other players coming up with a definition. Really fun!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Maybe part of this desire to flee comes from our survival instincts….fight or flight….humans have been doing it for eons…i myself have no desire to travel anymore…but am in a constant state of fight or flight….

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Interesting! I definitely have the gene for travel. There’s a great blog/podcast/youtube channel you might like called Ultrarunning History and he has very well-researched stories of people who took off on journeys across the US or the globe on foot, leaving wife and kids behind. Quite like you described.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. I love words too but have to say thete are new onesvto me. I love the qote, ” All who wander are not lost”. I would love to wander more than I am able to atm, but maybe after this virus is under control.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. I never look at it as fleeing. Humans are curious, always in search of something new, the intrinsic desire to discover. It’s not fleeing… it’s ‘going to’ find. Anyway that’s my old hitch-hiker hippy fix on the lust to wonder and the lust to wander.

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s