The Unfortunate Scapegoats of the Black Death Were Mainly Heretics, Jews and Witches

By Shaina Lucas

During the period from 1348 to 1350, the scapegoats for the Black Death were mainly heretics and members of the Jewish faith. Lepers were also a part of the blaming game, but lesser than the latter.  After the plague had died down, during the 17th century another rise of a different kind of plague appeared in Colonial America during the 1690’s. This was the plague of witchcraft. People were blamed for any anomaly during this time and the excuse was witchcraft. The most extreme case of witchcraft accusation coincides with the extreme case of the Black Death. This paper will explore the extremes of the Black Death, and compare it to the witchcraft craze during the 17th century mainly in the year 1692 during the Salem Witch Trials. The scapegoats of both the Black Death and the witch craze will also be noted and explored.

In 1348 the devastating plague from China and India reached Europe. The plague was ultimately reported to have killed twenty-five million people in Europe alone. There had been plagues before, specifically in England, before 1348 e.g. in 1087 and 1221. It cannot be determined whether or not these outbreaks were of the same nature as the Black Death. The plague as described by the Pope’s physician from Avignon says “that for the first two months the disease took the form of blood-spitting and fever from which people died within three days. During the remaining months, the symptoms were carbuncles under the arms and in the groin, fever and possibly blood-spitting, both forms being highly contagious.”