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by David Osborn, MH, L.Ac
Tuesday, April 14, 2020

This article discusses the spiritual dimensions of the current Coronavirus pandemic in order to give spiritual counsel, solace and understanding to my readers.

Introduction: Afflictions to the Body Politic

As I said in my previous blog posting, epidemics like the Coronavirus pandemic afflict not only the physical bodies of their victims, but also whole communities, societies and governments as well; you could say that they inflict grave afflictions on the body politic. This has been borne out by several conversations I have had with friends and acquaintances lately; all of them are under chronic stress from dealing with the incredible pressures of social isolation and disruption of their daily lives in ways that they could scarcely have imagined just a year ago. And sometimes, this chronic stress is just too much to bear, leading to meltdowns, either displayed in public, or tears of grief shed in private when things get overwhelming. It’s bad enough when one loses one’s job and is forced into economic hardship, especially if one has a family to support and care for as well. But when one contemplates all the death and destruction that is happening, or even worse, when a loved one or a family member comes down with Coronavirus and has to be hospitalized, or even dies, that grief and loss really hit home.

When a big tragedy like this global pandemic hits, there are basically two reactions that are open to you: Either you step up to the plate and rise to the occasion, or you sink ever deeper into grief and despair. Certainly this pandemic has brought out the heroism in many people, especially in our medical workers, whose bravery and heroism are almost beyond belief, but it has also brought out acts of kindness and goodwill towards men as well. The great disruption of the pandemic can either be something you never get over, if your old way of life, which was everything to you, is taken away; on the flip side of the coin, if one is flexible and adaptable enough, time away from work can mean more quality time spent at home with family, or the turning of a hobby or avocation into a new opportunity to do what you truly love. “When the body weeps for what it has lost, the Soul rejoices for what it has found,” is an old spiritual proverb, and quite true. The stay at home lockdowns could also be seen as a kind of remedy for the excesses of modern civilization, with its insatiable greed and materialism.

What do you really need in your life right now? The Coronavirus pandemic can give you the opportunity to dust off and return to old dreams and activities that you have neglected for far too long. It can also give you the opportunity to read some of the great books that you have in your library at home – or to start writing that book you’ve always wanted to write yourself. What is really necessary in my life, and what is superfluous, and can be discarded? The lockdown of the pandemic may have cost many people their jobs, but it has also led others, who were flexible enough to make the necessary changes, to take advantage of modern cyber technology and start to work from home, which could have been another needed change that was put off for way too long. And while the lockdown has deprived one of the usual outlets of social expression and interaction, if you are resourceful enough, you may be able to find new ways to connect and keep that feeling of community alive. You might not have realized just how important that feeling of community was until the lockdown took it away from you.

When confronted with the possibility of one’s own mortality, and the ultimate fragility and impermanence of all human existence, the commandment to love one’s neighbor as oneself takes on a new, special significance. It’s that love alone that can transcend narrow self interest and keep that feeling of community alive. Many might find a new interest in charity work, to help those who are less fortunate than oneself. “If you have done it to the least of my brethren, you have done it to me,” says Jesus in the gospels. And one of the most neglected groups in our society when it comes to the Coronavirus pandemic and the great lockdown that has ensued is the homeless. Just think of it – the usual directive given by businesses and community centers that have shut down, or that have severely restricted their scope of operation, is simply, “Do it at home.” But what if you don’t have a home? Then what? This may also be a good time to think of others who have been outcast or marginalized by society, and do something for them.

The Doom Prophets versus the Messengers of Mother Earth

The Christian faithful are sure likely to get out their Bibles right about now, and turn to the Book of Revelation and its dark apocalyptic imagery. After all, plagues and pestilences are listed therein as one of the four horsemen of the apocalypse. The image of a stern and wrathful God who is all too eager to punish wayward mankind does figure very prominently in the Christian spiritual tradition, supported by a heavy dose of doctrines like Original Sin. “We’ve all been such bad boys and girls, and now God is going to give us a big spanking,” may be the childish logic behind such feelings that we are heading into the “end times”, but one never appreciates the great degree to which these undesirable outcomes, like the pandemic we are now experiencing, might actually be self-fulfilling prophecy, and much more of our own making than we realize. Spiritual maturity ultimately means growing up and assuming responsibility for our actions. And taking responsibility for our wanton destruction of the Earth’s environment and ecosystem is one religiously neutral way for us to grow up and do something about the mess we are in.

In Greek mythology, there is the archetype of Mother Gaia, or Mother Earth; in the 1960s, James Lovelock formulated the Gaia Hypothesis, which states that we, as well as all other life forms on Earth, are actually part of the great body of Mother Gaia. As the living embodiment of our whole planet and its ecosystem, Mother Gaia’s primary concern is to see to it that this planet of ours continues to be a friendly and congenial place for life to go on. Any objective, realistic and scientific assessment of our current planetary situation would lead one to the conclusion that human civilization has come to threaten the ecological balance of our planet, even to the extent that we have become a clear and present danger to the viability of the whole ecosystem. Just take the issue of greenhouse gases and climate change, for instance; global warming is quickly approaching the point of no return, and what steps have we humans taken to correct this dire crisis? Next to nothing! And so, our recalcitrance to act on this issue might actually be forcing Mother Nature to take some steps of her own, like sending a big pandemic to “cull the herd” and drastically reduce our numbers, so that there are far fewer of us around to pollute the planet and emit greenhouse gases. Whatever works…

It has also become apparent that the drastic lockdown and stay at home measures are also exerting a beneficial effect on the planet and its ecosystem. There are less people out on the roads driving, with more people staying at home, and therefore less greenhouse gases being emitted. So this global pandemic and its resulting lockdown might actually be a blessing in disguise. And if enough people start to notice and like the beneficial changes to our environment, then perhaps they could pressure their political leaders to take stronger action to make some of these beneficial changes permanent. Definitely, I would say that it is quite possible that many more of us, in this age of cyber technology, could be working from home than have actually been doing so. And maybe many of those who are working at home for the first time now will actually like this so much more than commuting to work that they will ask their bosses to let them continue to do so. This will only mean another victory for Mother Earth, and for mankind as a whole. Other beneficial changes could also be sparked by this global pandemic lockdown.

I have seen videos on the internet that compare the current Coronavirus pandemic to the global warming crisis, drawing parallels between the two. Both crises have been dismissed as a hoax, or as grossly overblown, when actually they are not. And the responses to both crises by world governments have been woefully slow and inadequate. The main difference between the two seems to be that with the Coronavirus, the threat to human health and life is much more direct and immediate. I was also watching a video of a dialogue between TV host Bill Maher and global warming activist Al Gore, and he brought up an interesting ecological dimension to the whole Coronavirus crisis: Because of human overpopulation of the planet, the wilderness habitats of wild animals have been drastically shrinking, bringing wild animals into increasingly closer contact with humans. After all, what was behind the initial Wuhan outbreak of Coronavirus was animals, namely bats, coming into close contact with humans at a local wild animal market; COVID-19 is believed to have been transmitted from bats to humans.

Putting Pandemics into Historical Perspective

The current Coronavirus pandemic is by no means the first one that human civilization has experienced. In the recent past, about a century ago, there was the Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918. Actually, the name “Spanish Flu” may be a bit of a misnomer, because no one is really sure in which country the “Spanish Flu” originated; the countries involved in World War I, which was still raging, were reluctant to report infection and mortality statistics among their troops, and among the population at large, for fear that such depressing news might drive morale down. Spain, however was not involved in World War I, so they were unconstrained in their reporting of cases and mortality statistics, so the name, “Spanish Flu” stuck. There are actually several different theories as to what the actual country of origin was. It seems like the “Spanish Flu” was actually the H1N1 flu virus, which has been known more recently as the Swine Flu. It is estimated that about 500 million people, which was about a quarter of the world’s population at the time, was infected, and of those, about 50 to 100 million died. – 1.

The mother of all pandemics was, of course, the Bubonic Plague, also called the Black Death, which absolutely decimated the population of Europe in the mid 14th century. The plague is thought to have reached Europe from the East, traveling along the Silk Road, transmitted by fleas infecting rats that traveled on ships; the pathogenic organism is believed to be the bacterium Yersenia pestis. It was called the Bubonic Plague because of large lumps, or buboes, which appeared on the body around swollen lymph nodes, and these buboes were black in color. After the initial appearance of these lesions, the victim didn’t have long to live; death would usually ensue within two to three days. Although the most famous outbreak of Bubonic Plague was that which occurred in medieval Europe, there have been other outbreaks of this plague throughout history. It is estimated that anywhere from 30 to 60 percent of Europe’s population perished in the Black Death. – 2.

Like the current Coronavirus pandemic, the Bubonic Plague sent all of Europe into an upheaval on many different levels – economic, religious, social, and so on. Economically, it made land and other commodities cheaper, while making work and laborers more scarce and valuable, giving new status and dignity to the common man and the working class. As with the current pandemic, there was a lot of blaming and scapegoating going on, with Jews being common targets; it seems like this scapegoating of the Jews led to their migration to Poland in large numbers, where they were welcomed by Casimir the Great, a friendly monarch. In a way similar to what we are seeing now, a great depopulation of the cities and urban centers is thought by some to have driven the average global temperatures down, resulting in what has been called the Little Ice Age, which lasted until the nineteenth century. Some have even argued that the Black Death made possible the humanistic flowering and rebirth of the Renaissance. – 2.

What are the underlying causes for the emergence and spread of pandemic diseases? Most research narrowly focuses on the biological and epidemiological aspects of the actual process of transmission, in which chance mutations, occurring in the right time, place and circumstances, enable the novel virus or bacterium to be transmitted from animals to humans, and then to adapt to the new human environment well enough to be transmitted from human to human exclusively. But what are the deeper ecological and spiritual reasons for this emergence and transmission? In the Middle Ages, the Bubonic Plague definitely took advantage of the terrible public sanitation conditions in its spread. In the modern world, the ecological crowding together of animals and humans, as well as the great mobility offered by international jet travel and the like are definitely factors facilitating spread. But on a deeper spiritual level, these pandemics, and all the death and destruction they cause, bring about great upheaval in human society. A terrible reign of death can lead to an ensuing era of rebirth, as in the Renaissance. Perhaps it’s time for such an upheaval and regeneration in our modern world, where human effort alone has seemingly proved powerless to bring about the transformation we need.

An Update on Testing: Two Kinds of Tests

In my previous blog post on Coronavirus, I mentioned the great importance of testing. Without adequate testing, we are limited in our knowledge of the scope, extent and nature of the problem, as well as in our knowledge of the pathogenic behavior of the virus and its patterns of transmission. Ideally, the most illuminating option would be for everyone to get tested. More extensive or widespread testing would probably increase the total number of known cases, but more importantly, it would reveal who is asymptomatically carrying the virus and passing it on. And repeated testing, as often as requested or desired would also be ideal, as one never knows when one will be exposed to the Coronavirus. Yet testing is woefully insufficient in many countries, including the United States; definitely, many more tests and testing kits need to be made available. If we really want to study this pandemic in depth, there’s no substitute for widespread testing.

When it comes to testing for Coronavirus, there are basically two kinds of tests available. The first is the swab test, in which a swab sample from one’s nasal or bucal mucosa is taken; what is being tested for here is the presence or absence of the virus itself and its genetic material. The primary purpose of the swab test is to tell whether or not you have a current, active infection of the Coronavirus. A down side of the swab test is that there is a longer turnaround time for getting the results back – usually five to six days. The second kind of test is the serological test for antibodies in one’s blood serum; the turnaround time for this test is usually much shorter, like only about two days. Since the serological test tests for antibodies, it can also reveal if you have had the Coronavirus, in addition to being actively infected at present. Just how many people are walking around who have already had the Coronavirus, but just don’t know it? The antibody test could reveal that there are a whole bunch of people out there who are already Coronavirus survivors. And studying the case histories of these survivors would add a whole lot to our overall knowledge of the pathogenic behavior and spread of the virus, which can only be a good thing. We just might find that there is more light at the end of the tunnel than we realize.

Conclusion: Cleansing the Soul, and Counting Your Blessings

These are somber and tragic times indeed. Yet, the ancient Greek dramatists realized that there was a hidden spiritual value in tragedy; perhaps that’s why they considered tragedy to be the highest form of drama. First of all, they realized that tragedy and loss produces catharsis, or a cleansing of the Soul. Tragedy and loss also put into stark perspective what is truly important, versus what is just frivolous or superfluous; now is a great time to take stock of your life and do a little spiritual housecleaning, if you will. Another reason why tragedy was considered to be such a high form of drama was that it also brought into high relief and visibility the character defects and personal shortcomings of those who are involved in handling the crisis. This can only serve to teach important spiritual lessons to the survivors, to those who are left to pick up the pieces and carry on. And rebirth always follows in the wake of death and loss.

In Medical Astrology the somber and tragic times connected with a great epidemic such as this one relate most directly to the sign Scorpio, the sign of death and transformation. Death is undoubtedly the greatest transformation of life, for it is the shedding of the body like a caterpillar sheds its cocoon to emerge as a butterfly – and we will all make that final journey, and go through that final transformation sooner or later. In addition to ruling the organs of procreation, Scorpio also rules the organs of elimination, because how can you transform and receive the new, fresh and vital without first casting off or letting go of the old, outworn and toxic? You cannot fill your cup unless you empty it first. Although the way in which it happens might not be pleasant or agreeable, pandemics and the death and destruction they bring can actually clear the way for better things to come. “There’s got to be a morning after…” goes the theme song from an old disaster movie; after the dark storm comes a bright new dawn.

Those who have been carefully watching the world scene recently must admit, if they are honest and objective with themselves, that many changes and transformations in the way our modern world lives and does business are long, long overdue. And when governments and societies have not been stepping up to the plate to take responsibility and make those changes, Nature and outer circumstances, even somber or tragic ones like this global pandemic, may be forced to step in to clear away the dross of the old ways of doing things. Just look at the beneficial changes in the environment that have happened since the Coronavirus pandemic and its lockdown have happened. This global pandemic, with its clear and present danger to human life and health, has put the need for stark, radical change into very clear perspective. “When the body weeps for what it has lost, the Soul rejoices for what it has found.” All the world’s great religions have told us to never forget to count our blessings, and to look for the silver lining of any dark clouds that we may encounter. Transformation and rebirth are possible!

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Spanish flu

Black Death          


DISCLAIMER:  The information in this article is for educational purposes only, for general health maintenance and prevention, and is not intended to diagnose or treat any medical disease or condition. The reader assumes all personal responsibility and liability for the application of the information contained in this article, and is advised to seek the services of a physician or licensed healthcare practitioner should his or her symptoms or condition persist or worsen.