In 1349, when Black Death was ravaging Europe, many of the day’s best and brightest banded together in pursuit of a common cure. They had little choice. Black Death was rapidly spreading across the continent. Nothing could stop it.
Boils were lanced with precision. Blood was let with vigor. But there was no escape from the plague’s instant death. It was efficient. It was relentless. People would go to bed at night perfectly healthy; by morning, they’d wake up perfectly dead.
Then, at the exact moment of maximum death and despair, flagellants came to the rescue. Processions marched to and fro, seeking relief through forcefully whipping themselves in public displays of self-mutilation. According to the History Channel:
“Some upper-class men joined processions of flagellants that traveled from town to town and engaged in public displays of penance and punishment: They would beat themselves and one another with heavy leather straps studded with sharp pieces of metal while the townspeople looked on.
“For 33 1/2 days, the flagellants repeated this ritual three times a day. Then they would move on to the next town and begin the process over again.”
This may seem strange, weird, and, quite frankly, a bit nuts. But something miraculous happened. The Black Death epidemic soon exhausted itself. The flagellants saved Europe from the mid-14th century onslaught of Black Death.
Or did they?
Probably Nothing, Possibly Everything
To be clear, flagellants had no influence on the eventual relenting of Black Death. Remember, correlation does not imply causation. Post hoc ergo propter hoc – “after this, therefore because of this” – or simply the post hoc fallacy, recognizes that just because one event happened to follow another, doesn’t mean the initial event caused the later event to occur.
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