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Witchcraft, Blood and Poultry - Your Guide to The Plague
You’re lying in your straw bed with a chamber pot at your side. On the nightstand is a hen and the village priest is praying over your diseased body. Next door, your neighbors are being arrested for witchcraft because they attempted to heal their dying grandmother by throwing a bunch of herbs in a cauldron, and there is a big ditch full of bodies surrounding the town like a real-live river Styx.
Guess what? You’re in 1300’s Europe.
A lot of people don’t think much about the plague except “yeah, it was a bad time. Rats, right?” I’ve spent a good amount of recreational time learning up on the bubonic plague of 1348 (yes, I said recreational) and I want you to know just how hardcore this epidemic was and why it deserves both your respect and attention.
The first thing that happens when you contract the Black Death is a fever. After that there’s delirium and soreness. Kind of like the flu?
Well, let me tell you what isn’t like the flu.
Pick up a nice round apple.
Place it under your armpit.
Grab a softball.
Go ahead and put that between your legs.
Now tape some juicy grapes on your arms and legs and face. And imagine they’re all filled with green and white pus and a good amount of black blood.
That’s what having the plague is about. Oh, and add some nosebleeds. Enjoy your last 48-72 hours.
“But I don’t want to die!”
Okay, I understand. So, it’s 1348 –lets see what kind of treatment plan we can put you on. It looks like we’re fresh out of penicillin and Dayquil and sterilized medical equipment so, we’re going to cut open those big swellings and just let them bleed out. That should draw the evil right out of you.
No? Not feeling it? Well, I think I can stop the spread of it if you would allow me to simply cut the veins leading to your heart?
Still no? Man, you are just picky, aren’t you? I guess we’ll have to go a little off-book then.
Step one) Put this hen next to your bedside –it’ll suck all the disease out of you.
Step two) drink a glass of your own urine
Step three) Don’t eat smelly foods
Step four) Forsake the church and turn to witchcraft.
You think all of this sounds crazy? Farfetched? Completely ridiculous and no one would ever possibly do these things?
Well, you’re wrong. People had no idea what to do when their neighbors started swelling up all black and purple and bleeding and dying all the time. Medicine wasn’t advanced. Hey –trial and error, right?
But at the time, medieval doctors were equipped with all the latest and greatest medical get ups. They’ve got big ‘ol leather trench coats covered in wax for protection, a nice leather hat to show their superior status, a nice pointy beak mask to protect from evil (also to put herbs in the tip so they can’t smell your decomposing bodies –maybe some nice lilac scents?) and also a nice big staff to shoo away onlookers who just want to watch the show. Don’t worry you’re in good hands.
But, like 45-50% of the population in Europe –you’re probably going to die. It’s okay though, the Pope just decreed that everyone who dies of the Black Death is automatically forgiven. Look at that! You got a free pass to Heaven. Easy-peasy.
Have things really changed much since the 1400’s in terms of response to epidemics? Obviously medical advances have helped those who have access but today we’re seeing a very similar epidemic in West Africa. As of August 20th, 2014 it was reported there were 1427 deaths caused by an outbreak of Ebola.
Americans that contracted the virus were immediately flown back to the United States to receive treatment while thousands of Africans remain quarantined and forced into the medical dark ages.
It always seems like epidemics could never happen in a society as advanced as ours –that’s a worry of the past. But people are still dying because diseases and epidemics are always evolving. While witchcraft and superstition may seem like ridiculous notions to some, these things are more than alive and we need to be aware by learning from the past.
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