Scapegoats: Transferring Blame

Scapegoats: Transferring Blame

Scapegoats: Transferring Blame

Scapegoats: Transferring Blame


In this book the author examines the process of scapegoating from the perspectives of victims and perpetrators, tracing its development from earliest times as rite of atonement to the modern forms of the avoidance of blame.


Scapegoat—Any material object, animal, bird or person on whom the bad luck, diseases, misfortunes and sins of an individual or group are symbolically placed, and which is then turned loose, driven off with stones, cast into a river or the sea, etc., in the belief that it takes away with it all the evils placed upon it.

(Maria Leach 1950)

In 1590 Robert Kers was stricken with a disease which was believed to have been laid upon him by a warlock while he was at Dumfries. Agnes Sampson, a witch, cured him by taking the disease upon herself and then attempted to transfer the disease to either a cat or a dog, by means of laying cloths upon these animals. However, Alexander Douglas of Dalkeith apparently touched the cloths before the animals and as a result wasted away and died. Agnes Sampson was later convicted of witchcraft. This story, recorded by Frazer, describes very clearly another major aspect of the scapegoating procedure, the belief that evils, disease, bad feeling, etc., can be transferred from one person or object to another by the performance of the appropriate rituals. Of course, the fact that the poor soul who caught the disease and died was a member of the family of Douglas adds a certain piquancy to the tale for me.

Dr George Habash, a leader of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, was allowed into France at the end of January 1992, ostensibly to seek treatment in a Paris hospital after having had a stroke. Habash, described as a terrorist and a man wanted by the Israeli government, was admitted to France while President Mitterrand and his Foreign minister were on a state visit to Oman. . .

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