Thursday, October 30, 2008

On this All Hallows Eve

An alternative view of the Black Death, biological warfare, and where we get the imagery of Death?

The following is taken from a summary published in 1682. The complete title is, A Chronicle of Prodigies and Portents that have Occurred Beyond the Right Order, Operation and Working of Nature, In both the Upper and Lower Regions of Earth, From the Beginning of the World up to these Present Times.
- Conrad Lycosthenes

(I guess they had a lot of time on their hands back in those days to write elaborate titles.)

"In Brandenburg [in Germany] there appeared in 1559 horrible men, of whom at first fifteen and later on twelve were seen. The foremost had beside their posteriors little heads, the others fearful faces and long scythes, with which they cut at the oats, so that the swish could be heard at a great distance, but the oats remained standing. When a quantity of people came running out to see them, they went on with their mowing."

The visit of the strange men to the fields was followed immediately by a severe outbreak of the Plague in Brandenburg.

This incident raises intriguing questions: who were the mysterious figures? What were the long scythe-like instruments they held that emitted a loud swishing sound? It appears that the "scythes" may have been long instruments designed to spray poison or germ-laden gas. This would mean that the townspeople misinterpreted the movement of the "scythes" as an attempt to cut oats when in fact, the movements were the act of spraying aerosols on the town.
Similar men dressed in black were reported in Hungary.

" the year of Christ 1571 was seen at Cremnitz in the mountain towns of Hungary on Ascension Day in the evening to the great perturbation [disturbance] of all, when on the Schuelersberg there appeared so many black riders that the opinion was prevalent that the Turks were making a secret raid, but who rapidly disappeared again, and thereupon a raging plague broke out in the neighborhood."

(Lord of Rings - Ring Wraiths)

Strange men dressed in black, "demons," and other terrifying figures were observed in other European communities. The frightening creatures were often observed carrying long "brooms", "scythes", or "swords" that were used to "sweep" or "knock at" the doors of people's homes. The inhabitants of those homes fell ill with the plague afterward. It is from these reports that people created the popular image of "Death" as a skeleton or demon carrying a scythe. The scythe came to symbolize the act of Death mowing down people like stalks of grain.

From the The Gods of Eden by William Bramley pg. 184-185 "The Black Death" Chapter 18.

Plague Doctor

No comments: