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Hatred of Women and the Rise of the Black Death

posted May 6, 2010, 8:13 PM by Layne Lawless   [ updated May 6, 2010, 8:47 PM ]

It is no coincidence that the years of the beginning of the Burning Times and the arrival of the Black Death in Europe are the same. Bubonic plague, commonly known as the Black Death, due to the severely dark bruising in its victims, began in 1334 in Constantinople, and spread West, decimating the population of Europe within 20 years. Periodic epidemics followed for the next 400 years.

Estimates of the number of people killed by it range from 30% to 90% of the population. Concurrent with the Black Death were the Crusades, with many knights going to fight and bring Christianity by the sword to the near and Middle East. These returning knights also carried with them the beginnings of the bubonic plague.

As the Crusaders returned home, they brought with them a deadly cargo: rats. The rats themselves were suffering from plague, caused by the Oriental Rat Flea. As the fleas bit them and then jumped off, they found other blood hosts in the nearby humans. Once bitten by the Oriental Rat Flea, a human could become sick, be covered in suppurating boils, and die an agonizing death within 3-4 days. The sicker they got, the more they pulled their clothing around them, providing a virtual cafeteria for the fleas.

The wealthier an individual was, the more clothes he had, and the more likely he was to provide a haven for fleas. People didn’t wash too often back then, and public sanitation was unknown, so every house, ship, and meeting place was a breeding ground for vermin.

At about the same time, the Catholic Church had unleashed its war against women. The Inquisition began, and women were tortured and killed for their alleged association with the devil. As the Church grew increasingly impotent at stopping the plague, it began to accuse women of spreading it, and numbers of women were killed merely for being accused of spreading the plague.

Cats became very unpopular at the same time, probably because of the Church’s view that they were the familiars of the witches. Anything female or feminine in nature became a grotesque exaggeration, a wicked temptation for the weakness of men, incorporating centuries of men’s paranoia about the power of women.

It has been observed by many that cats are very much like women; they are often indirect, and they seem to have a certain aloofness. Dogs are in-your-face, I need you desperately, let-me-be-your-slave, master! Dogs are like men, and cats are more like women.

At the same time that women were being rounded up and killed for being witches, it is my suspicion that the same thing was happening to cats. Anything that was suspected of being in league with the devil was eliminated. I’m sure if we knew the truth, we wouldn’t have to be members of PETA to shrink in horror at the thousands of poor cats who were done away with, simply because they had the misfortune of being felines.

Cats kill rats. If the rats carrying the plague-infested fleas are killed, at some point the plague will die out. Since the powers that be had seen fit to rid themselves of the epidemic-controllers (cats) that they had at the time, the Black Death continued to spread.

Think of it this way: a cat kept on board a ship could kill and eat all the rats; a cat kept in a tavern would have plenty to eat, while protecting its patrons from the deadly Oriental Rat Flea. It makes sense, doesn’t it? After all, cats were often kept to control vermin. It’s only in the 20th century that they began to be pampered and given special food. Before that, they were fed scraps and expected to earn their keep by killing vermin.

As the people began to see that the priests’ prayers were not keeping away the Black Death, they began to fall back into pagan practices and folk remedies to keep away the deadly illness. In one town a protective furrow was plowed around the outskirts by a four oxen plow, drawn by 6 naked virgins and a woman who had been widowed for 7 years. In other towns, the people heaped clothing from the dead onto a scapegoat and sent it out of town, hoping it would carry away the plague.

During the Burning Times, some villages were so reduced in population as to be non-existent. And one asks, how does a village get down to no people? My answer is that between the witch-killing craze and the Black Death, it was very difficult to stay alive in Europe between the years 1300 CE – 1600 CE! And if they hadn’t killed all those cats, plague might not have been such a problem!

Economically, the plague created a chronic and severe labor shortage. Someone had to bury the dead bodies, someone had to tend the fields, and harvest the crops. Ironically, the people who were left were able to hire themselves out for a good wage, as those with money were desperate to get help. Women and small children did very heavy labor, while the burying was left to the lowest strata of society: beggars, vagabonds, and criminals.

Ailurophobia (fear or hatred of cats) and misogyny are kissing cousins.