End-of-year times always have at least a whiff of the apocalyptic about them—and no wonder. The Media feel obliged to compress the year just past into “reviews” and “highlights.” And the impact of these condensed disasters tend to reinforce the feeling that the center doesn’t hold—and never mind that Falcon 9 space rocket that actually returned to land standing up again—or is that a secular symbol of another kind of Return?
To change the image radically (but not really), we’ve observed, after out move to this lovely new house in Wolverine Lake, that this house has a hidden (occult is another descriptor) quality. We loose things and then, often for weeks, can’t find them again. One of those items was a favorite book entitled The Coming Plague, by Laurie Garret, subtitled “Newly Emerging Diseases in a World Out of balance” (1994). It has happened before; it happened again. I gave up searching and bought another copy. Now we have two, one present and new, another still occulted. Which brings us back to the theme—because, talking about that book again, we were again reminded of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, and I had to look up (again!) what those horsemen represent (Revelation 6:1-8).
They represent Conquest, War, Famine, and Death. And again I said to myself: Clean categorization is not one of the virtues St. John the Divine. Conquest typically strongly implies War—unless it was, say, Reagan’s conquest of Grenada in 1983. Therefore Conquest already implies War, so why waste a horse on it? For emphasis? The third horse, Famine, is symbolized by a rider holding scales, and the Revelation text speaks of measures of grain for a penny. Here the confusion is introduced by the interpreters of the revelation, not by its writer. The Third Horse could equally well symbolize Trade, what with pricing and exchange being its subject or, in modern terms, Capitalism. Finally, the last, pale horse is Death—which is equally already present in Conquest, War, and Famine—if the “famine” reading is taken as correct. Messy, messy, messy.
Now Brigitte and I were both at least intuitively sure that Plague was one of the horsemen—and were, again, disappointed—although some digging disclosed that an English clergyman, Edward Bishop Elliott, in 1844, issued Horae Apocalypticae, a commentary, in which he interprets the fourth horseman as the Black Death. There, finally we have the Plague.
But a cleaner updating of St. John the Divine would either forget the first or second horse and thus produce Three Horsemen: War, Capitalism, and Plague. Or keep all four and rename them Colonialism, Capitalism, War, and Plague. And if plague seems unlikely to the reader, we’d suggest a close study of Laurie Garrett’s book.