Thoughts during the plague № 5. Nergal and Erra call us to notice the essential
Hello, you are watching the series “Thoughts during the Plague.” Today I would like to turn to a mythological story about the gods of the plague. In the Mesopotamian tradition, such gods were Erra and Nergal. It was believed that the beginning of a pestilence, an epidemic, a cattle plague, when it reached people, was implied by a certain epiphany, the discovery of a higher deity that invaded the human world.
I would like to draw attention to this strange peculiarity: when misfortune occurs, something tragic is happening, people and animals die, rivers are poisoned, starvation, suffering, poverty come up – people associate this with God.
The ancient Jews in the monotheistic tradition believed that the originator of pestilence or plague was a single deity – Yahweh – which gave people graceful gifts and at the same time punished them when they deviated from the ways of Gods, when they forgot about the deity, became too immersed in earthly concerns. For this, the biblical God punished the inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah and inflicted the Noachic deluge on them.
The origin of the plague in a polytheistic context is a certain epiphany, a manifestation of a deity that shows that a person is mortal, weak, miserable. Man already lives in a world of ashes. The gods Erra and Nergal just remind: you are dust, you are ash from ashes; your will, your pleasures, your sense of security and your joys are nothing in the face of deity. And if the deity wants, it will return you to the state of nothingness – to your ash. It is a mythological context.
Actually, the gods of the plague recall the scale of the human, which is incomparably smaller than the scale of the divine. If we pay heed to biblical stories, it turns out that the plague, epidemic, pestilence have the same function – God punishes people, demonstrating their narrow-mindedness, weakness. Actually, the epidemic of plague, cholera, and pestilence in the Middle Ages was understood in this way – despite the fact that the Christian God is virtuous and did not pity his son for the salvation of people, yet in some cases he brings people back to the right path adopting cruel pedagogy. If people do not understand in a good way, then God begins to interact with them in a rough way, showing the true path to salvation.
This interpretation of sacredness of a pest, an epidemic, a plague, a pestilence (both in Christian and pre-Christian – Jewish and even polytheistic context) – has one fundamental feature: the plague, natural disaster, catastrophe have a certain sense, and it is almost always the same: when the mankind’s humanness is overswollen, when people become too convinced of their omnipotence and almightiness, have a sense of grandeur about themselves – a deity who is at a higher level of being, consciousness, power and might, brings the humans back to their positions. You are dust, be humble. You are a servant of God, do not rebel against God. You have concluded an alliance with God (in Judaism), an union, a covenant, you must follow it, you must not rebel on a higher, spiritual, heavenly order. You must abide by certain rules (including family, political, state, hierarchical, religious). And if you say that you don’t want to know any of this, then you get the plague. One would think that the plague will have mercy on the righteous, and punish the sinners. Well no! A righteous man just doesn’t suffer too much during the plague – he is ready for death, for the service of God, he even understands why the Lord punishes humanity, and therefore sees this as a manifestation of divine justice. The righteous is strengthened in his righteousness when the gods of the plague come or when the one deity sends it.
And the therapy is directed specifically against the sinner – he thinks too highly of himself, he believes that he understands everything so well, he has such a developed science that he doesn’t need God, he can take care of himself. This is just a sinful thought – rebellion against God – and it is sent back to its bounds by the plague.
The plague has a certain meaning. The plague is a manifestation of the transcendental, divine, sacred dimension in the human world that forgets this dimension. Accordingly, if we now return to this view – to the sacredness of the plague – we can correctly interpret what is happening to us in the era of the coronavirus epidemic. Because it is the same – how do we differ from other eras? Our humanity relies on technological facilities, believes that it can calculate the genome, that it can organize the lives of billions of people on the planet according to the same liberal market logic, that humanity can do without God, without gods, without rite, without churches, without rituals, coping with any challenges only by virtue of the reason.
And here comes the coronavirus, which says – nothing of the sort! Friends, you are nobody, you are dust. You are small, dirty, weak, boorish insects that got a false idea of your own importance. Return to your proportion. Remember what the fear of the Lord is, what the scourge of God is. You sin, violate the framework assigned to you; violate the covenants that God has given you. You go beyond the bounds of humanity. You are caught up by the devil, Satan, titanism to rebel against the deity – get some: coronavirus, plague, punishment.
And this is the best of pedagogics – if you do not return again, I will destroy you, I will create another humanity, or even the world will come to an end.
This is what the divine principle of the plague means – this is the discourse of the plague, the message of the plague, the narrative of the plague: stop being those that you were, return to the path of the Lord, return to the proportion, the scale that is determined for earthly humanity. Stop, rethink your behavior.
Today, such an interpretation can be within Christian, Islamic, Jewish traditions, other religions (Buddhism, Hinduism). But the religious (in the broad sense) interpretation of the coronavirus epidemic is mostly non-mainstream. Basically, we are talking about how many masks we need, how many lung ventilators we need, how to build new clinics and what measures should be taken so that the virus does not spread further, how to save people.
Everything seems to be fine. But don’t you think that such an attitude, if you recall the gods of the plague, only aggravates our situation – we say: it’s overcomable, we can cope with it, there is no trace of God, we must rely on our strength, and we must deal with the plague by our human forces. But do we thereby aggravate our situation? Assuming the religious, metaphysical meaning of the plague, should this really be our answer? If the plague makes sense, if the pandemic wants to show that we were moving in the wrong direction, that we need to change the course and foundations of civilization, that we have gone too far in believing in the immanent, we don’t even believe in people, we believe in items, in objects, in technologies, in AI, in genomes, in a completely disembodied rational technocratic mind, which is no longer human and more and more resembles Satan and the devil.
Interestingly, Nergal - the god of the plague, the classical god of Akkadian mythology - descends to hell with the queen of hell Ereshkigal - and threatens to chop off her head. She tries to make him his captive, but he draws his sword, takes her by the hair and says - and now, swine, I will cut your throat. Then the queen of hell Ereskigal, who fell on her knees in front of the plague god Nergal, says – then I can only ask you to marry me. Akkadian stories end like this. But it is interesting that the solar god Nergal, the plague god Nergal descends to hell in order to put in place and put in order the mistress of hell who has risen against the divine order.
This is a very important myth. The plague comes for a reason, it comes for something – to make us be humble, to make our earthly, material beginning return to its rightful location in the hierarchy of being, in the hierarchy of creatures.
The plague gods teach us humility. God sends plague in monotheistic cultures so that a person remembers how insignificant and weak he is. And if we fight the plague by means of a state of emergency, a new number of masks, ventilators, only relying on doctors – then we, as Ereshkigal, say that we are not convinced – we will defeat the plague ourselves, we will not change our way of life, we will make fun and live as before, we will restore the capitalist economy, our secular values, our entertainments, our path of autonomous humanity, our research in the field of high technologies and AI, we will continue to modernize and digitalize our society, we will implant everyone during the epidemic and the quarantine with microchips, and thus overcome the plague ourselves.
Accordingly, we will simply make our doom inevitable. That's the problem. To fight – yes, to overcome the epidemic – yes, not to allow it to spread – yes, that's right. But most importantly, if we miss the issue, why this plague, why this coronavirus – and even if we manage to cope without an internal change in our life, our society, our values, will we not make ourselves and all of humanity worse?
All the best, let's think about this message of the gods of the plague in the era of quarantine ...