Comparing SARS with the 1918 Spanish Flu Epidemic in Canada

[The following article appeared in the June 2003 issue of the Fraser Valley Astrology Guild's Newsletter.]

With the worst of the SARS outbreak apparently behind us, I thought it would be interesting to compare the Canada horoscope for the most serious health emergency in our history, the 1918 Spanish flu epidemic with the recent planetary configurations that coincided with SARS. While significant afflictions can be seen using western techniques such as progressions, I am taking a vedic approach to these charts, using the sidereal zodiac/Lahiri ayanamsha and vimshottari dasha system whereby certain planets exert disproportionate influence during their periods.

The 1918 "Spanish" flu which killed over 20 million worldwide and had the additional feature of killing apparently healthy young adults, unlike most flu bugs which typically target infants and the aged. The 1918 flu had a very high mortality rate of 2.5% and afflicted roughly one-third of the population in affected countries. Like most flu viruses, the Spanish flu likely originated in China and then was spread through Europe by soldiers towards the end of the war in spring 1918. While there was an outbreak in an army base in Kansas in the spring, it remained fairly isolated and actually appeared to die out in the USA over the summer. It only spread through the general population in September 1918 after the arrival in Boston of an infected ship of soldiers returning from France. According to the account I read, the first deaths in Boston were dated from Sep 8. The first deaths in Canada occurred on Sep 9. By Oct 1, it had become an epidemic in both countries, and went on to kill 50,000 people in Canada (out of a population of 6 million at the time) over the next 6 months. October to December was the period of greatest number of deaths.

In the Canada chart (Jul 1 1867 00.00 LMT Ottawa; Asc: 24Pisces53), The dashas of Saturn-Jupiter-Mercury were running at the outbreak of the epidemic, and in early November the 3rd level dasha switched to Ketu(south node). [Just to give an idea to those unfamiliar with this dasha system, the Saturn period lasts 19 years, the Jupiter sub period for about 3 years and the Mercury sub- sub-period runs for about 5 months.] Saturn has a mixed position in this natal chart. While it is a malefic house lord (12th), placed in a malefic house (8th), it is exalted and receives a very benefic Jupiter aspect. Jupiter's aspect is doubly good here because it rules Pisces, the first house. Jupiter is also in a mixed situation, although one must hasten to add that there is clear potential for health problems during its periods. That is because Jupiter is placed in the 12th house of loss, it is conjunct malefic Ketu and it is aspected by a 6th house Mars. Mercury periods will also hold the possbility of health problems since it is conjunct the Sun, the 6th lord of health in the 4th house of the people.

Basically there are two major transit afflictions for Sep 9: Tr Rahu 25Scorpio01 exactly aspected the Asc 24Pisces53 and transiting Ketu 25Taurus01 was applying to a conjunction with 8th lord (8L) Venus 23Taurus43. In vedic astrology, the north and south nodes of the Moon, known as Rahu and Ketu, are considered natural malefics but are very changeable depending on the influences to them by aspect and dispositor. Favourable influences on both can easily transform them into benefic planets just as negative influences can magnify their maleficence. Here Rahu's (north node) transit was particularly problematic because it is in a malefic's sign Scorpio, and natally it is placed in the malefic 6th house (6H) widely conjunct Mars in Leo and exactly square malefic 8L Venus and exactly trine Pluto. Rahu's transit dispositor Mars was transiting the 8L conjunct 12L Saturn.

An important additional factor in the nodal transits to lagna was natal Neptune 22Pi59 conjunct the Ascendant. I believe having Neptune in the 1st house afflicted by a malefic Rahu transit would further significantly weaken national health at this time. The Ketu transit to 8L Venus represents an increase in serious or chronic diseases ending in death. Interestingly, 6H and 6L Sun aren't so clearly afflicted here. That said, I note that Tr Pluto 13Ge45 is conjunct that 6L Sun 16Ge50, although given Pluto's slow speed and wide-ish orb here, it should be seen a background stressor rather than an astrological cassus belli. Important for the depth of the epidemic perhaps, but not a clear short- or middle-term timer of it. Another possible factor here was transiting 1st level dasha lord Saturn 1Le26 exactly opposed Uranus 1Aq31 on October 1. Saturn can cause problems since it is 12L placed in the natal 8H. And Uranus may have produced an extra layer of trouble here since it is the modern ruler of the 12H of loss. This may have represented the great speed at which the flu spread through the country.

The transits by faster moving planets also played a role in the timing of the outbreak of the epidemic. While the outbreak started while the 6L Sun was still in the 6th house, it accelerated when it had passed into Virgo -- directly aspecting the ascendant. Similarly, transiting Mars was in 8th house Libra closely conjunct 12L Saturn at the start but soon passed into Scorpio in late September, squaring the chart ruler Jupiter. In this way, the original afflictions by fast moving planets where not alleviated as they passed into new signs. They merely changed their aspecting to afflict key chart points in a new way. Furthermore, the transit of benefic Jupiter (18 Gemini) was already separating from the natal Sun (16Gemini) and natal Jupiter (15 Aquarius)at the outbreak. Thus, the potentially benefic transit influence of Jupiter had already passed the point where it could do some good. As the epidemic progressed, it was further diminished as it moved deeper into the late degrees of Gemini and on into Cancer.


In comparison, the current planetary configuration is not as afflicted and hence shows that the SARS outbreak lacked the severity of the 1918 flu epidemic. When the outbreak occurred in March, Canada was running Rahu-Moon-Jupiter dasha sequence. To see what these periods will bring we must first analyze their natal situation. Rahu is placed in the 6H of health and hardships conjunct malefic Mars, although it does receive a relieving aspect from Jupiter. Moreover, dispositor Sun is placed in the 4H showing a clear 4th house-6th house connection, clearly highlighting a possible health problem (6th house) for the population (4th house). 2nd level dasha lord Moon is also placed in the 4th house, widely conjunct 6L Sun, again pointing to the possibility of public health worries.  And 3rd level dasha lord Jupiter is conjunct malefic Ketu in the 12th of loss and confinement aspected by malefic Mars in the 6th house.

Transiting Saturn, made extra malefic by virtue of its lordship of the 12th house, made its direct station at 28Taurus in late February -- a mere 8 degrees from the natal Moon. Stations greatly intensify the power of planets, so even this relatively large orb could be bridged. By the time the first Canadian case was known on March 8, Saturn was still barely moving forward, not yet even reaching 29 Gemini. This could well have provided the astrological underpinning for the SARS outbreak since the Moon is significator for the masses and is placed in the 4th house of the people. That this planetary influence would have deleterious health effects on the the Canadian population could be seen in the fact that the Moon sub period was running and thus the Moon was more receptive to planetary influences upon it. In other words, afflictions to the Moon would more likely manifest as actual events.

In addition, Tr Pluto 25Sc59 opposes 8L Venus 23Ta43 -- not really pertinent but it does provide a malefic "floor" effect that the other influences at the time could build upon. Fast moving transits do tell some of the story for March. Tr Mars in Sagittarius was aspecting both the lagna and the 4H of population and contentment which includes 6L Sun and 5L Moon highlighting both the fear and the emerging health problem. Tr 6L Sun was in the Pisces Ascendant afflicting the national health. Tr 8L Venus in Aquarius was also aspecting 1L Jupiter again representing a clear affliction to national health. These fast moving transit hits were the important triggers for the outbreak which activated the longer term Saturn and dasha afflictions.