With all the pandemics and outbreaks of the past two centuries, we as a collective, now look to science and modern medical experts to explain to us what is happening. To explain the 5 W’s and 1 H we all have (who, what, when, where, why, and how) of the present disease that is affecting us today. Of course, we have many questions that we want answers to. Straight forward, factual answers. However, in the past, both the questions and the answers laid in the secrets of the local European mythology and Catholicism.
One of the best examples of a major pandemic that struck fear into the hearts of men, left people turning to the church, and what changed to course of European history was the Bubonic plague. Better known as the Black Death! This plague was first believed to be the cause of evil demons, witches, and vampires by small towns and villages before it spread across the entirety of Europe. By the time the Black Death had engulfed Europe it was believed to be the Judo-Christian God’s punishment onto the world for the multiplied of man kind’s sins. Why else would 30%- 50% of the total European population end up dying?
No one was safe from the black death. It killed the lowest of peasants to the riches of royal families without mercy. People only guessed how it spread and prayed even harder for their loved ones to survive it.
Remember, at that time “science” as we would define it was not practiced then. The medical practices of that time were greatly influenced by the Catholic Church and some strange beliefs. A good example of this was their belief of Mercury being the cure for the sexually transmitted disease Syphilis.
Generally, in the smaller villages and towns when sickness came the people would look for connections between recent events and the “causes” or symptoms of the illness. They would ask questions such as the following.
1. Did someone recently die?
2. If so, were they buried with full religious blessings and rites?
3. Was someone who died in the past couple of months or years ex-communicated?
4. Were they buried in the holy ground?
5. Is someone using Dark magic?
6. Is there a vampire, witch, or demon nearby looking for revenge on “good Christian people”?
The smaller and farther a town or village was from a large city, the more inclined they were to go vampire and/or witch-hunting. Calling upon both witch and vampire hunters from near and far.
How the human body decomposed was not well understood in the past. When a vampire hunter found a vampire, normally back in the vampire’s own grave that they had just dug up, the vampire looked like he had just fed. The body was plump, pinkish in color, and there appeared to be growing teeth, hair, and nails. This was all the proof that was needed as confirmation of the undead. The body would be dealt with in a variety of ways. A popular way to kill a vampire that was used in the past is reflected in our movies today- cut off the head and burn the body. Another way to kill a vampire was to cut off its head and leave the head by the feet.
A different way of disposing of a vampire, or preventing it from rising, that has been found in archaeological sites in both Europe and parts of the U.S was to kick a large rock into the month and bury the body facing down words. This way the vampire would be too busy digging its way to hell- or you know China. Whichever happens first, I guess. Either way, peace was believed to be restored with the destruction of the vampire.
Now vampire hunting did not work for curing the Black Death, other plagues, and pandemics that would hit Europe over the centuries. It was not until the 1800s when church and state and science and myths started to separate that medical science could grow and discover the true underlying reasons for diseases that had killed so many in the past. Bacteria and viruses.