“I had a little bird,
Its name was Enza,
I opened the window,
For years, this now-forgotten nursery rhyme was the only commemoration of the great influenza epidemic of 1918. Although every family had a story about it, no one told the stories. In one family, a daughter attributes her father’s emotional distance as related to the illness. He was sent away to live with his aunt in Ohio, where they thought he would be safe from the flu. He was taught not to touch anyone or get close to them during that time for fear of dying.
Mentioned only peripherally in scientific and cultural literature for nearly 100 years, the 1918 influenza pandemic nonetheless has driven much of the medical research and public health activity since its occurrence. No one talked about it but when probed, elders would admit that they were deeply affected by their experiences of the flu.
It was an event that flew under the cultural radar for the most part until the pandemic scares of the last three years, as SARS, then avian flu, hit the headlines. Now it has revealed itself as the source of all the fear, the benchmark to which we compare all viral outbreaks. Here are the facts about the 1918 flu:
• More than 25% of the US population became ill in late 1918. 36–40% of those in the military were afflicted.
• It killed an estimated 20–100 million people worldwide, a number that is so uncertain because it was impossible to keep mortality records in many locations. By comparison, World War I (which was raging at the time) was responsible for 15 million deaths (in and out of combat). In 1918, more soldiers died of flu than in combat.
• The death curves were W-shaped, affecting those under age 5, those aged 20–40, and those aged 70–74.
• It killed 2.5% of its victims and was 25 times more deadly than any other influenza. If a comparable pandemic occurred today, it would kill 1.5 million people in the US within a matter of weeks.
• It killed so many people that there was often no one to bury the dead. Entire cities shut down. Entire families and villages were wiped out in some locales. People died within hours of contracting the flu.
As with all flus, the 1918 flu attacked the lungs and upper respiratory tract. Its victims died by suffocation as their lungs filled up with fluid and dead cells. The deadly outbreak of this influenza occurred in the last third of 1918 and the first quarter of 1919.
A new strain of influenza typically mutates in the winter and spring of the year before it reaches the human population. It lies dormant until colder weather creates the biological environment for the newly developed strain to flourish, in the fall and winter of every year. If it catches hold while schools are in session, children become the primary means for its spread. In the spring of 1918, the influenza that would become deadly later that year spread as a mild and relatively harmless virus in February–May that infected an extremely high percentage of those whom it contacted. This flu followed the same pattern as in the later pandemic, causing symptoms in young, healthy adults while missing children and the very old. It struck quickly and widely, closing down businesses, government offices, and public transit. The difference was that people recovered after three days and resumed normal activities. It was called the “three-day fever” among the troops.
In examining the astrological factors of this influenza, we will need to look at the planetary movements for late 1917-early 1918 when the virus might have mutated, February-May 1918 when the first, mild outbreak occurred, and August 1918-April 1919 when the deadly, final epidemic spread.
The First US Outbreak
To start, let’s look at the chart of the first recorded US outbreak of the fall epidemic, after which the crisis rapidly escalated. This event reveals the role of the planets in the incubation and first mild outbreak as well. The flu arrived in the US with a group of sailors who docked in Boston in August. On August 28, eight of them got the flu. The chart for this untimed event is shown below. Where the first worldwide outbreak occurred is debated, but this is a clearly documented event that reveals core astrological qualities.
In such a situation, the usual suspects are the planets beyond Mars, with possible Mars involvement as the ruler of inflammation. Neptune is associated with the stealth attacks that diseases make, as well as the drowning deaths that these people experienced. Saturn and Pluto are associated with death, Uranus with sudden and erratic influences. Jupiter enlarges whatever it touches. So, what happened here?
Jupiter conjoined Pluto.
Jupiter had just passed (on August 10) its conjunction with Pluto in Cancer at the time of the Boston outbreak, and these were sesqui (135̊) to Uranus. Pluto rules death, while Jupiter magnifies of the affects of all it touches. In Cancer, we expect a watery influence (recall that the patients drowned in their own fluids). Families and daily family life were deeply affected. In some instances whole families were wiped out in a matter of days. Fear of the flu broke down family support systems as well. Children were sent to stay with relatives in remote locations, and many were unable to return when their family was destroyed. Although Jupiter had passed Pluto when this outbreak occurred, it remained in Pluto’s vicinity and retrograded back to within a degree of Pluto’s location until March 1919, within orb through the end of the final outbreak.