Deities like to send plagues to, well, plague us. God, the one with the capital “G”, has done a lot of things, but one act is clear, it’s this popular deity who sent 10 plagues to Egypt as payback for Ramses II’s mistreatment of his Israelite slaves. He threw everything at the Egyptian kingdom, sort of a scatter-shot assault meant to convince Ramses that he’d better set his slaves free.
Well, it might not have been Ramses who got on God’s bad side; scholars disagree about the time period and the identity of the responsible ruler. However, Egyptians suffered along with the Israelites.
To get Ramses attention, God had to send 10 plagues one after the other: water turning to blood, frogs, lice, flies, livestock pestilence, boils, hail, locusts, darkness and the killing of firstborn children.
First he turned the North African land’s water into blood. Scientists have argued that this particular phenomenon could have been caused by ash-fall. Cinnabar granules in the air due to the eruption on a nearby Greek island might have contaminated the rivers and lakes of Egypt with red coloring. Volcanic clouds can produce circumstances that causes boils and livestock pestilence (acid rain), locusts and hail (heavy rain), darkness (ash-laden clouds), etc. But the story reads better if all this energy came from God’s personal vengeance.
Wen Shen, or more formally, the heavenly Ministers of Epidemics, were eager to provide pestilences such as the Black Death. This plague was a favorite of the Five Commissioners, as they were also known, because when they didn’t receive constant and numerous prayers and offerings, they unleashed two pandemics of bubonic plague. Small pox was another method of punishment they applied, but even though believers prayed and burned incense, the Mandarins sought a cure using science and did pretty well for themselves. The Wen Shen are still trying, though.
When measles swept through the Roman Empire in the first decade AD, Hariti was blamed. Her story is pretty interesting. She started out her life as a yakshi, a South Asian demon. Known as the Mother of Demons, she unleashed terror in the form of pestilences. But she was lucky. Buddha helped her see that destroying mortals wasn’t a very nice thing to do. Her reform was total. She became renowned throughout South Asia and the Roman Empire as the protector against small pox, and the goddess responsible for safety in childbirth.
The Mayan death gods supervised a group of deities who bring plague. One of them is “the pillar kicker”, causing the many earthquakes rattling the Yucatan. They can produce a year’s worth of mortality this way. The Spanish recorded a measles epidemic prior to their arrival, likely sent by the pestilence gang working for the death gods. The Aztec god “the jade turkey”—his name is impossible to pronounce and even spell—was the source of local scourges, but apparently only when he is not in his turkey form. Then, he can cleanse and heal. It’s all a manner of mood, I presume. When the Spanish brought small pox, the Aztec people begged the god to reverse its course. Even though, they said, the god may want to punish them for their lack of faith, why could he want his worshippers to perish? Who would worship him then?
Personally, I think Gaia is the one who sent COVID-19. She has never begged for offerings, or uses threats to get them. Ever-benevolent, she aligns herself with Demeter, the Greek goddess of agriculture. She is “the giver of gifts”. But I think she’s pissed.
In comparison with the gods previously mentioned, Gaia has tons of patience and subtlety. Never known to shower despised mortals with falling frogs, she takes seriously her stewardship of the earth. The novel corona virus now pummeling us belongs to only one class of the many pestilences the earth can bring on. It’s wily, smart, and talented, able to overcome a wide variety of our body’s cells. Gaia would have thought a lot about this; she’s watched us make a habit of destroying both ourselves and our habitat. Enough is enough.
I get how she feels. We’re living in a time of payback. Even the gentle, generous Gaia has had enough. She’s unleashed this on us, and at the same time she assures us that offerings and prayers are not going to be enough to stop it. Or denial, or conspiracy theories. Her plan is clear. We need to show respect for her, the earth, and each other. That’s all she wants.
If we don’t, next time she’ll turn the water to blood.