A fanciful interpretation of the Salem Witch Trials. Is that light a comet or some other malignant force?
Comets in pre-modern belief were harbingers of ill. They wandered into the affairs of the orderly cosmos of man and brought about disruption. H. G. Wells wrote his In The Days of the Comet as a utopian vision of how mankind could benefit from an alchemical like transformation in which elements in the comet affected the atmosphere of the earth and humanity breathed in sanity and out irrationality. Certainly with World War One hovering over the heads of humanity, those were wistful and wise thoughts. Unfortunately, not to be, war resulted and la belle epoch had been consumed in bloodshed and the modern era, was born. The world of the Gatsbys, self made men, hucksters, and flim flam artists arose, the Great Depression resulted and the Second World War in which the old world powers were swept away leaving the Soviet Union and the United States to struggle for the hearts and minds of humanity, Equality, Liberty and Pursuit of Profits, over Equality, Community and Pursuit of Perfection. Profits, at least temporarily, won out over perfection, liberty and community still struggle with Equality, remaining a common value of the age, if only given lip service.
From BRITISH ART SHOW 7: IN THE DAYS OF THE COMET. Anja Kirschner & David Panos.
I found an interesting blog of Margherita Fiorello that deals in medieval astrology and it had a piece about an astrologer’s view of Hailey’s Comet’s appearance in 1301. This anonymous astrologer seems fairly typical, writing with some exactness about the position, and reading into it portents that can only be called interesting.
About the comet motion from North to South, I believe it’s the attraction motion, i.e. the Comet is attracted by Mars, from which was generated. Mars in fact, which was not exceeding the zodiacal southern latitude, was in aspect with the Comet, whose latitude was more than 20 N degrees. For these reasons the Comet seemed to move from North to South toward East, so its eastern longitude grew and grew while northern latitude decreased and decreased.
In the same way and for the same reasons its tail moved. In fact in the beginning of its appearance, its tail stretched toward North and following its motion moved Eastwards, inclining towards South to the stat which is called Altayr, i.e. Vultur Volans, which has a longitude of 21.15 Capricorn and a latitude of 29.25 N. And in this way, slowly, it moved towards Mars.
So, after having carefully considered the nature and the temperament of the producing planet and of the receiving sign of the comet and its motion and every other detail about its nature, which I omit in order to be brief, I will go to the judgement.
So I say that this comet, for its different and several causes, it means several accidents.
It means in fact strong winds and earthquakes in the regions which are in familiarity and sometimes a dryness of the air preceding profuse rains, but this because of “accidens”, i.e. because southern and western winds, which will cause clouds and rains.
And because of the corruption of the air, death and plague, famine and illness to the genitals, to the bladder and lungs and pains for parturient women and miscarriages and difficult deliveries and plenty of visions.
It means that there will be many fights between powerful people, wars and murders, and the religion of Moors will be weaker, and on the Earth thieves and robbers will be more and more.
It means wars, quarrels and massacre, the death of the kings, princes and nobles, the coming from the West of a King’s enemy and the King violence on his people and his lust for money. It means at last the destitution of courters and the unfairness of their acts that will correspond to a great hardship for them. So, Mars was in Scorpio, in which it has many rights because it has here the triplicity and the domicile: having 8 points (5 because of domicile and 3 of triplicity) will make stronger the meaning of the comet.
These judgements are based on the most important astrologers, Ptolemy and Albumasar and Aly Habenragel.
Giotto, Adoration of the Magi
Giotto’s Comet. This beautiful fresco named Adoration of the Magi on the walls of the Scrovegni Chapel in Padua, completed by the great Florentine Giotto di Bondone (1267-1337) has always been regarded as the Halley’s comet in its 1301 apparition. In 1993 Hughes et al.(Q.J.R. Astr. Soc. 34. pp.21-32) suggested instead that it could be the comet seen at the beginning of 1304 (C/1304 C1).
And many poets talked about the meanings of a comet. Virgil in facts wrote in the ninth book of the Aeneid:
“Sanguinei lugubre rubent de nocte comete”
Lugubre, gloomy: he used the name as an adverb. And he calls the comets “sanguineos”, bloody because they mean bloodshed.
Claudianus adds, talking about the comet:
“Et nunquam celo spectatum impune comete“
A comet was never seen in the sky without a disaster.
And Lucanus, talking about the wonders when the war between Pompeus and Caesar was near, says that the appearance of a comet means a change in the kingdom (Margherita Fiorello).
Drawing by Peter Apian of the Comet of 1532.
A more pedesrian interpretation sums up the ancient and medieval view of comets. This is from “Unexpected Visitors: The Theory of the influence of Comets.”
The ancient Greeks had a method to anticipate them from ingresses and ideas about their significance based on their colors and shapes but theirs was an astrology and astronomy of the naked eye and far freer of pollution and night light than ours. Atmospherics certainly played a role in their observations and their interpretation. The Greeks and later traditional Medieval and Renaissance astrologers thought them wholly malefic. These same astrologers held that comets and other portents in the heavens were fleeting appearances of the sublunary sphere. An event for our punishment or (very rarely) benefit from the Logos appearing in the space between the Earth and Moon. In their model of the heavens, change does not occur beyond the sphere of Luna except for the movements of the planets. The effects of comets were supposed to last for 1/8 of their period; to the ancients this would most likely have been their period of visibility, and to begin in earnest when the Sun or Mars transited their place of closest approach to the Sun or perihelion. Their appearance was heralded by disturbances in humans, animals, and the weather. The comets then dispensed, by perihelion position and their dispositor, their good or ill effects - usually ill. They also often heralded the rise of an agent. This agent could be a war leader but might, depending on the position of the comet, show a religious leader, reformer, or great trader (Jonathan Flanery).
I couldn’t resist adding this image of the reputed cause of the most famous conflict in Florence and Italian medieval history. I don’t know if it was preceded by a comet, but Villani does refer to the fatal statue of Mars, and Villani is a firm believer in astrology.
The Buondelmonte murder, from an illustrated manuscript of Giovanni Villani’s Nuova Cronica
in the Vatican Library (ms. Chigiano L VIII 296 - Biblioteca Vaticana)
“In the year of Christ 1215, M. Gherardo Orlandi being Podestà in Florence, one M. Bondelmonte dei Bondelmonti, a noble citizen of Florence, had promised to take to wife a maiden of the house of the Par. xvi. 136-144. Amidei, honourable and noble citizens; and afterwards as the said M. Bondelmonte, who was very charming and a good horseman, was riding through the city, a lady of the house of the Donati called to him, reproaching him as to the lady to whom he was betrothed, that she was not beautiful or worthy of him, and saying: “I have kept this my daughter for you;” whom she showed to him, and she was most beautiful; and immediately by the inspiration of the devil he was so taken by her, that he was betrothed and wedded to her, for which thing the kinsfolk of the first betrothed lady, being assembled together, and grieving over the shame which M.-122- Bondelmonte had done to them, were filled with the accursed indignation, whereby the city of Florence was destroyed and divided.
Here’s Giovanni Villani himself. Florence lost this gifted (if not always nonpartisan) historian in the terrible Black Death of 1348.
For many houses of the nobles swore together to bring shame upon the said M. Bondelmonte, in revenge for these wrongs. And being in council among themselves, after what fashion they should punish him, whether by beating or killing, Mosca de’ Lamberti said the Inf. xxviii. 103-111. Par. xvi. 136-138. evil word: ‘Thing done has an end’; to wit, that he should be slain; and so it was done; for on the morning of Easter of the Resurrection the Amidei of San Stefano assembled in their house, and the said M. Bondelmonte coming from Oltrarno, nobly arrayed in new white apparel, and upon a white palfrey, arriving at the foot of the Ponte Vecchio on Par. xvi. 145-147. this side, just at the foot of the pillar where was the statue of Mars, the said M. Bondelmonte was dragged from his horse by Schiatta degli Uberti, and by Mosca Lamberti and Lambertuccio degli Amidei assaulted and smitten, and by Oderigo Fifanti his veins were opened and he was brought to his end; and there was with them one of the counts of Gangalandi. For the which thing the city rose in arms and Cf. Par. xvi. 128. tumult; and this death of M. Bondelmonte was the cause and beginning of the accursed parties of Guelfs and Ghibellines in Florence, albeit long before there were factions among the noble citizens and the said parties existed by reason of the strifes and questions between the Church and the Empire; but by reason of the death of the said M. Bondelmonte all the families of the nobles and the other citizens of Florence were divided, and some held with the Bondelmonti, who took the side of the Guelfs, and were its leaders, and some with the Uberti, who were the leaders of the Ghi-123-bellines, whence followed much evil and disaster to our city, as hereafter shall be told; and it is believed that it will never have an end, if God do not cut it short. And surely it shows that the enemy of the human race, for the sins of the Florentines, had power in that idol of Mars, which the pagan Florentines of old were wont to worship, that at the foot of his statue such a murder was committed, whence so much evil followed to the city of Florence. The accursed names of the Guelf and Ghibelline parties are said to have arisen first in Germany by reason that two great barons of that country were at war together, and had each a strong castle the one over against the other, and the one had the name of Guelf, and the other of Ghibelline, and the war lasted so long, that all the Germans were divided, and one held to one side, and the other to the other; and the strife even came as far as to the court of Rome, and all the court took part in it, and the one side was called that of Guelf, and the other that of Ghibelline; and so the said names continued in Italy” (Villani).
Image credit: NASA/JPL
Woodcut showing destructive influence of a fourth century comet from Stanilaus Lubienietski’s Theatrum Cometicum (Amsterdam, 1668).
The above will give the reader some insight into Florence. There was no lack of disasters in Italy and in that year, 1301, the occupation of Florence by the French representative of the Papal authority and the loss of power on the part of the White Guelphs of which Dante belonged, to be replaced by the Black Guelphs who allied themselves to the Papal legate in order to gain control of Florence and persecute their enemies, the Whites. I also find the reference to Virgil to be satisfying and intend to return to that revolutionary period in Roman history with an eye to the literary angle, and focusing so much on the politics. Certainly Virgil, initially something of a pacifist and spiritual idealist, going off to live in an Epicurean community in Naples, to escape the conflict between Caesar’s adherents and those of the old Republican order. In my own life, after the conflict in Vietnam had ended, I temporarily left the life of radical politics to retreat to a commune in Colorado in an attempt to create some idealized cooperative society under the sheltering parental guidance of a gnostic spiritual vision. I eventually rebelled at the direction of the community, a certain Maoist anti-intellectualism and my own impatience with sitting out of world affairs, at least as I saw it, by not participating in the radical politics of the day. Perhaps that is what drove Virgil into the affairs of state, or perhaps it was merely self interest, desiring to regain properties that had been confiscated and given to war veterans of the victorious Octavian in his native Mantua. Dante, had upon exile from his native Florence, joined briefly in White and Ghibellines conspiracies to regain control of the city. He soon became disillusioned with their vain efforts and spent the rest of his life writing his famous literary works and advocating for the return of a worthy Emperor to restore order to Italy. I am now in my own way retired from active battle, and doing my part as a literary warrior.
Masonic initiation. Paris, 1745
I am still somewhat obsessed with medieval Florence. But this is about comets, and the times. Although I cannot say much about our own times, not aware of any particular comet, although I am sure there are comets galore with the advances in astronomy. Listening to an audiobook version of War and Peace as I write, I am captured from time to time by the plot and distracted from my writing. I found the descriptions of Pierre’s spiritual journey with the Masons, reminiscent of my own adventures with the Ministry. He also wanted to work on the political level rather than the boring and tedious task of self improvement. Youth wants change to be rapid and revolutionary, and for a young man to live in interesting times is not a curse but a relief. And as I have indicated previously, I in my own way continue my spiritual quest, expecting less, and with many regrets over failures especially in the personal realm of family. Family as Tolstoy constantly reminds us in his great work, is of such importance. Having just returned from the east coast and visiting my own mother and sister, confronting the remains of those youthful devils that still cling to the soul, like Pierre’s dream dogs biting at his heals (Tolstoy 408).
Pierre Bezukhov at Noble Assembly - illustration by artist A.P. Apsit from book “Leo Tolstoy “War and Peace”, publisher - “Partnership Sytin”, Moscow, Russia, 1914. - stock photo
But back to the comet issue Pierre riding home on a sleigh, observes the comet of the winter of 1811-1812, reflecting on its portending disaster, yet falling in some kind of love with the foolish Natasha, “in Pierre’s heart that bright comet, with its long luminous tail, aroused no feeling of dread” (Tolstoy 562). As well it should not have for the Russians, but for Napoleon, it was of course a very bad year.
Now I must move on, leaving Pierre to his thoughts, and consider, could the plague have come from outer space, via comets? I love digging around on the web and finding all these other people who are pondering the different angles. Makes it hard for copyright protagonists and academics will decry such public pandering without any fees attached, but I use my access to university sites as a student for some material, and google for the rest, seeking other seekers.
This is from Joseph and Wickramasinghe’s article “Comets and Contagion: Evolution and Diseases From Space.”
[P]lagues are all bacterial diseases which are spread by infected fleas, by contact with the body fluids of infected people and animals, and by inhaling infectious droplets in the air. How did fleas come to be infected? Were they also contaminated by pathogens in the air?
Bacteria and Viruses From Space?
Yersinia pestis is one of the causative agents of plague. Yersinia pestis are anaerobic and must live within host cells during the infective phase of its life cycle (Brown et al., 2006; Perry and Fetherston 1997; Wickham et al., 2007). Infection takes place through a syringe-like apparatus by which the bacteria can inject bacterial virulence factors (effectors) into the eukaryotic cytosol of host cells. Yet, as they are anaerobic, Yersinia pestis (and other pathogenic bacteria) are completely dependent on their host species, and cannot be propagated over evolutionary time if the host dies (Brown et al., 2006). Thus it must be asked: what is the origin of these plague-inducing bacillus which periodically infect and kill huge populations over diverse areas, and then reemerge hundreds of years later to attack again? In fact, Yersinia pestis is the causative agent responsible for at least three major human pandemics: the Justinian plague (6th to 8th centuries), the Black Death (14th to 19th centuries) and modern plague (21st century).
Yersinia pestis infected flea.
The keys to unlocking this mystery may include the fact that these microbes are anaerobic (Brown et al., 2006), resistant to freezing (Torosian et al., 2009), and they periodically obtain many of their infective genes from other bacteria and viruses such that their genome is in flux and undergoes periodically rearrangement following the addition of these genes (Parkhill et al., 2001). A major anaerobic, freezing environment is located in space. Therefore, could these microbes have originated in space?
A variety of microbes have been discovered in the upper atmosphere, including those who are radiation resistant (Yang et al., 2010), and at heights ranging from 41 km (Wainwright et al., 2010) to 77 km (Imshenetsky, 1978) and thus in both the stratosphere and the mesosphere which is extremely dry, cold (−85 degree C (−121.0 degree F;), and lacking oxygen. It is the mesosphere where meteors first begin to fragment as they speed to Earth (Wickramasinghe et al., 2010). Could these upper atmospheric microbes have originated in meteors or from other stellar debris? Or might they have have been lofted from Earth to the upper atmosphere?” (Joseph and Wickramasinghe).
Contours of the spread of the Black Death.
The Black Death (1334-1350AD) for example, has all the hallmarks of a space incident component or trigger. That this disease spread from city to city has been well documented (Kelly 2006; McNeill 1977). However, the progression of the disease did not follow contours associated with travel routes, displaying a patchiness of incidence including zones of total avoidance (Figure 6). Moreover, the pattern of infection appear to travel the course of prevailing winds (Figures 7 and 8). This does not accord with straightforward infection via a rodent/flea carrier as is conventional to assume. Hoyle and Wickramasinghe (1979) interpreted these patterns as indicative of a space incident bacterium.
1577 Great Comet Woodcut by Jiri Daschitzsky, Von einem Schrecklichen und Wunderbahrlichen Cometen so sich den Dienstag nach Martini M. D. Lxxvij. Jahrs am Himmel erzeiget hat (Prague (?): Petrus Codicillus a Tulechova, 1577).
I am not so sure I am convinced by this, but it is from an academic source, and so should be taken seriously. It certainly puts a different twist hon my previous posting. I am not going to list all their sources, so if you want to see them go find the article on line, I have info about it below.
I am also reading volume two of Hajo Holborn’s A History of Modern Germany, reading about the after effects of the Thirty Years War, the later I had read about in the last year or so. Incipient Germany and the shattered remains of the Holy Roman Empire, are such a complex jigsaw puzzle. It is impossible to read this history without recourse to a map, simply to place oneself in the setting, at least mentally. Only being a few chapters into the book, I find my pedantic side attracted to the satisfactory experience of placing the pieces of the German jigsaw in the appropriate places. And now I shall quote a line more or less at random, actually not, some comments about the aftereffects of the Thirty Years war reminds me of our own times.
The miseries of war; No. 11, “The Hanging” Jacques Callot 1632 (published in 1633).
In many respects it had been a new discovery to find that it was physically possible to siphon off so much money from the population. Public finance, including taxation, had been in its infancy before the war. Now it became a deliberate, if still clumsy, art. A century earlier it had been a widely held opinion that the prince was to defray the expenses of government with his own income from domains - mining rights, monopolies, tolls, etc. - usually called the ‘camerale,’ and that taxes were to be levied only for extraordinary purposes, such as defense… Throughout the war taxes had gone up, and even at the end of the war it was impossible to return to the earlier level. Payment of debts, resettlement of the population, land improvement, and maintenance of troops - all these called for revenue…The princes now demanded them as a matter of right and also claimed discretion in the use of the tax income (Holborn 43-44).
Comet of 1618 was associated with the coming “end of the world” and spreading death and disease, during the Thirty Years War.
Through concessions and compromises, the princes won the battle to establish standing armies. Once a standing army - a ‘miles perpetuus’ as it was called at the time - had been created with the assent of the estates, it became self perpetuating; it gave the prince a weapon that could be used against the estates, especially since it could sometimes be financed by foreign subsidies (45-46).
Bonus Army marchers confront the police.
This naturally brings to mind the military industrial complex, but even more, thinking back to history, Hoover called out the army to destroy the Bonus Marchers in 1932, who had Marched on Washington, DC to demand immediate payment of the Veteran’s Bonuses promised to soldiers who had participated in World War One. The DC police could not remove them from their encampments, and the army was called in led by Douglas MacArthur, who ordered Major Patton to clear the campsites. Patton did so with a cavalry charge followed by six tanks and then infantry who had fixed bayonets and used tear gas. Without a standing army this might have had a negotiated solution. Certainly it was one factor in Hoover’s defeat in that years elections. Roosevelt, the next year, upon another march, gave them a campsite, and meals. He sent Elanor Roosevelt to meet the marchers and she was able to offer them entry into the Civilian Conservation Corp. “One veteran commented: ‘Hoover sent the army, Roosevelt sent his wife.’” (Wikipedia Bonus Army).
I am not even going to look for a comet to determine the fate of the Bonus March, perhaps an intrepid astrologer can look up predictions from the time and see if they can post-prognosticate on this.
This photograph of Halley’s Comet was taken January 13,1986, by James W. Young, resident astronomer of JPL’s Table Mountain Observatory in the San Bernardino Mountains, using the 24-inch reflective telescope.
“Bonus Army.” Wikipedia. Bonus Army-Wikipedia.Web. 12 Jan. 2014.
Fiorello, Margherita. “A Medieval astrologer about Halley Comet in 1301.”heavenastrolabe.net. 24 Feb. 2009. Web. 12 Jan. 2014.
Flanery, Johnathan. “Unexpected Visitors: The Theory of the Influence of Comets.” Web. 11 Jan. 2014.
Holborn, Hajo. A History of Modern Germany 1648-1840. Princeton: Princeton U. P. 1964. Print.
Joseph, Rhawn, and Wickramasinghe, Chandra. “Comets and Contagion: Evolution and Diseases From Space.” Journal of Cosmology. 7 (2010). 1750-1770. journalofcosmology.com. Web. 12 Jan. 2014.
Tolstoy, Leo. War and Peace. Trans. Constance Garnett. New York: The Modern Library. 1931. Print.
Villani, Giovanni. Villani’s Chronicle. Trans. Rose E. Selfe. The Project Gutenberg eBook, Ed. Philip H. Wicksteed. casasantapia.com/art/nuovacronica/nuovacronica.htm. Web. 12 Jan. 2014.
Wells, H. G. In the Days of the Comet. London: The Century Co. 1906. In the Days of the Comet-Wikipedia. Web. 12 Jan. 2014.