The Singapore Lodge Theosophical Society
The following articles are reproduced from the June 2020 Newsletter to members. Non-members may or may not be able to relate to the contents.
H.P.B. on Influenza
In Volume XII of H. P. Blavatsky’s Collected Writings, there is an article on influenza that was first published in Lucifer, Vol. V, No. 30, February, 1890 in an article entitled THE LAST SONG OF THE SWAN. Following is an extract from the article:
Let us apply the fictitious idea rather to things than to men, by remembering that the swan—a symbol of the Supreme Brahm and one of the avataras of the amorous Jupiter—was also a symbolical type of cycles; at any rate, of the tailend of every important cycle in human history. An emblem as strange, the reader may think, and one as difficult to account for. Yet it has its raison d’être. It was probably suggested by the swan loving to swim in circles, bending its long and graceful neck into a ring, and it was not a bad typical designation, after all. At any rate the older idea was more graphic and to the point, and certainly more logical, than the later one which endowed the swan’s throat with musical modulations and made of him a sweet songster and a seer to boot.
The last song of the present “Cyclic Swan” bodes us an evil omen. Some hear it screeching like an owl, and croaking like Edgar Poe’s raven. The combination of the figures 8 and 9, spoken of in last month’s editorial, has borne its fruits already. Hardly had we spoken of the dread the Caesars and World-Potentates of old had for number 8, which postulates the equality of all men, and of its fatal combination with number 9—which represents the earth under an evil principle—when that principle began making sad havoc among the poor Potentates and the Upper Ten—their subjects. The influenza has shown of late a weird and mysterious predilection for Royalty. One by one it has levelled its members through death to an absolute equality with their grooms and kitchen-maids. Sic transit gloria mundi! Its first victim was the Empress Dowager of Germany; then the ex-Empress of Brazil, the Duke d’Aosta, Prince William of Hessen-Philippsthal, the Duke of Monpensier, the Prince of Swarsburg Rudolstadt, and the wife of the Duke of Cambridge; besides a number of Generals, Ambassadors, Statesmen and their mothers-in-law. Where, when, at what victim shalt thou stop thy scythe, O “innocent” and “harmless” Influenza?
Each of these royal and semi-royal Swans has sung his last song, and gone “to that bourne” whence every “traveller returns,”—the aphoristical verse to the contrary, notwithstanding. Yea, they will now solve the great mystery for themselves, and Theosophy and its teaching will get more adherents and believers among royalty in “heaven,” than it does among the said caste on earth.
À propos of Influenza—miscalled the “Russian,” but which seems to be rather the scapegoat while it lasts, for the sins of omission and commission of the medical faculty and its fashionable physicians—what is it? Medical authorities have now and then ventured a few words sounding very learned, but telling us very little about its true nature. They seem to have picked up now and then a clue of pathological thread pointing rather vaguely, if at all, to its being due to bacteriological causes; but they are as far off a solution of the mystery as ever. The practical lessons resulting from so many and varied cases have been many, but the deductions therefrom do not seem to have been numerous or satisfactory.
What is in reality that unknown monster, which seems to travel with the rapidity of some sensational news started with the object of dishonouring a fellow creature: which is almost ubiquitous; and which shows such strange discrimination in the selection of its victims? Why does it attack the rich and the powerful far more in proportion than it does the poor and the insignificant? Is it indeed only “an agile microbe” as Dr Symes Thomson would make us think? And is it quite true that the influential Bacillus (no pun meant) has just been apprehended at Vienna by Drs. Jolles and Weichselbaum—or is it but a snare and a delusion like so many other things? Who knoweth? Still the face of our unwelcome guest —the so-called “Russian Influenza” is veiled to this day, though its body is heavy to many, especially to the old and the weak, and almost invariably fatal to invalids. A great medical authority on epidemics, Dr. Zedekauer, has just asserted that that disease has ever been the precursor of cholera—at St. Petersburg, at any rate. This is, to say the least, a very strange e statement. That which is now called “influenza” was known before as the grippe, and the latter was known in Europe as an epidemic, centuries before the cholera made its first appearance in so-called civilized lands. The biography and history of Influenza, alias “grippe,” may prove interesting to some readers. This is what we gather from authoritative sources.
The earliest visit of it, as recorded by medical science, was to Malta in 1510. In 1577 the young Influenza grew into a terrible epidemic, which travelled from Asia to Europe to disappear in America. In 1580 a new epidemic of grippe visited Europe, Asia and America, killing the old people, the weak, and the invalids. At Madrid the mortality was enormous; and in Rome alone 9,000 persons died of it. In 1590 the influenza appeared in Germany, thence passed in 1593 into France and Italy. In 1658-1663 it visited Italy only; in 1669, Holland; in 1675, Germany and England; and in 1691, Germany and Hungary. In 1729 all Europe suffered most terribly from the “innocent” visitor. In London alone 908 men died from it the first week; upwards of 60,000 persons suffering from it, and 30 percent dying from catarrh or influenza at Vienna. In 1732 and 1733, a new epidemic of the grippe appeared in Europe, Asia and America. It was almost as universal in the years 1737 and 1743, when London lost by death from it, during one week, over 1,000 men. In 1762, it raged in the British army in Germany. In 1775 an almost countless number of cattle and domestic animals were killed by it. In 1782, 40,000 persons were taken ill on one day, at St. Petersburg. In 1830, the influenza made a successful journey round the world—the only time—as the first pioneer of cholera. It returned again from 1833 to 1837. In the year 1847 it killed more men in London than the cholera itself had done. It assumed an epidemic character once more in France, in 1858.
We learn from the St. Petersburg Novoye Vremya that Dr. Hirsh shows from 1510 to 1850 over 300 great epidemics of grippe or influenza, both general and local, severe and weak. According to the above given data, therefore, the influenza having been this year very weak at St. Petersburg, can hardly be called “Russian.” That which is known of its characteristics shows it, on the contrary, as of a most impartially cosmopolitan nature. The extraordinary rapidity with which it acts, secured for it in Vienna the name of Blitz Catarrh. It has nothing in common with the ordinary grippe, so easily caught in cold and damp weather; and it seems to produce no special disease that could be localized, but only to act most fatally on the nervous system and especially on the lungs. Most of the deaths from influenza occur in consequence of lung-paralysis.
All this is very significant. A disease which is epidemic, yet not contagious; which acts everywhere, in clean as in unclean places, in sanitary as well as in unsanitary localities, hence needing very evidently no centres of contagion to start from; an epidemic which spreads at once like an air current, embracing whole countries and parts of the world; striking at the same time the mariner in the midst of the ocean, and the royal scion in his palace; the starving wretch of the world’s Whitechapels, sunk in and soaked through with filth, and the aristocrat in his high mountain sanitarium (like Davos in Engadine*), where no lack of sanitary arrangements can be taken to task for it—such a disease can bear no comparison with epidemics of the ordinary common type, e.g., such as the cholera. Nor can it be regarded as caused by parasites or microscopical microbes of one or the other kind. To prove the fallacy of this idea in her case, the dear old influenza attacked most savagely Pasteur, the “microbe-killer” himself, and his host of assistants. Does it not seem therefore, as if the causes that produced influenza were rather cosmical than bacterial; and that they ought to be searched for rather in those abnormal changes in our atmosphere that have well-nigh thrown into confusion and shuffled seasons all over the globe for the last few years—than in anything else?
It is not asserted for the first time now that all such mysterious epidemics as the present influenza are due to an abnormal exuberance of ozone in the air. Several physicians and chemists of note have so far agreed with the occultists, as to admit that the tasteless, colourless and inodorous gas known as oxygen—“the life-supporter” of all that lives and breathes—does get at times into family difficulties with its colleagues and brothers, when it tries to get over their heads in volume and weight, and becomes heavier than is its wont. In short—oxygen becomes ozone. That would account probably for the preliminary symptoms of influenza. Descending and spreading on earth with an extraordinary rapidity, oxygen would of course produce a still greater combustion; hence the terrible heat in the patient’s body, and the paralysis of rather weak lungs. What says Science with respect to ozone: “It is the exhuberance of the latter under the powerful stimulus of electricity in the air, that produces on nervous people that unaccountable feeling of fear and depression which they so often experience before a storm.” Again: “the quantity of ozone in the atmosphere varies with the meteorological condition under laws so far unknown to science.” A certain amount of ozone is necessary, they wisely say, for breathing purposes, and the circulation of the blood. On the other hand, “too much of ozone irritates the respiratory organs, and an excess of more than 1% of it in the air kills him who breathes it.” This is proceeding on rather occult lines. “The real ozone is the Elixir of Life,” says The Secret Doctrine, Vol. I, p. 144, 2nd footnote. Let the reader compare the above with what he will find stated in the same work about oxygen viewed from the hermetic and occult standpoint (Vide Vol. II, pp. 113 and 114) and he may comprehend the better what some Theosophists think of the present influenza.
It thus follows that the mystically inclined correspondent who wrote in Novoye Vremya (No. 4931, Nov. 19th, old style, 1889) giving sound advice on the subject of the influenza, then just appeared—knew what he was talking about. Summarizing the idea, he stated as follows:--
. . . . . . . It becomes thus evident that the real cause of this simultaneous spread of the epidemic over all the Empire under the most varied meteorological conditions and climatic changes—are to be sought elsewhere than in the unsatisfactory hygienical and sanitary conditions . . . . . The search for the causes which generated the disease and caused it to spread is not incumbent upon the physicians alone, but would be the right duty of meteorologists, astronomers, physicians, and naturalists in general, separated officially and substantially from medical men.
This raised a professional storm. The modest suggestion was tabooed and derided; and once more an Asiatic country — China, this time — was sacrificed as a scapegoat to the sin of FOHAT and his too active progeny. When royalty and the rulers of this sublunary sphere have been sufficiently decimated by influenza and other kindred and unknown evils, perhaps the turn of the Didymi of Science may come. This will be only a just punishment for their despising the “occult” sciences, and sacrificing truth to personal prejudices.
Meanwhile, the last death song of the cyclic Swan has commenced; only few are they who heed it, as the majority has ears merely not to hear, and eyes—to remain blind. Those who do, however, find the cyclic song sad, very sad, and far from melodious. They assert that besides influenza and other evils, half of the civilized world’s population is threatened with violent death, this time thanks to the conceit of the men of exact Science, and the all-grasping selfishness of speculation.
In April 1891, Madame Blavatsky became ill with influenza. It was the last sickness that she did not survive. She died on May 8, 1891.