An Anthropological Study of the European Witch-Hunts- Second Printing
The Black Death: Prelude to the Witch-Persecutions 77
Chapter Three The Black Death: Prelude to the Witch- Persecutions It was a society obsessed with the fear of the Devil which took up the wholesale massacre of people for complicity in Satan's conspiracy to destroy the world, and this obsession can be traced to the social, economic, and psychological dislocations arising from the incessant outbreaks of the plague. This chapter begins with an examination of European society's encounter with one of the most extraordinary events in its history-the mid-fourteenth century visitation of the plague. The Black Death, as the first outbreak of the plague is called, was a "virgin soil" epidemic. This term refers to the onset of a virulent disease among a population with no previous exposure to the infective agent.1 Cross-cultural and historical data demonstrate that during virgin soil epidemics vast numbers of people quickly become infected, and casualty figures are often astronomical: one quarter to one third of those afflicted die? In terms of mortality, the Black Death was undoubtedly the greatest disaster to befall western Europe in the last thousand years-surpassing the two World Wars of the present century.3 Aside from being an unparalleled human calamity, the mid-fourteenth century plague epidemic was a decisive factor in the subsequent economic, sociopolitical, and religious development of medieval Europe.4 Few works have systematically examined the bearing of the plague on the preoccupation with witchcraft and the idea of a large-scale diabolical conspiracy of witches. Historians have generally rejected such a causal relationship. 5 Yet, the resemblance 78 WITCHCRAFT,...
You are not authenticated to view the full text of this chapter or article.
This site requires a subscription or purchase to access the full text of books or journals.
Do you have any questions? Contact us.Or login to access all content.