Would you like some croatoans on your salad?

Few things strike terror in the fragile human psyche like a virulent, unstoppable plague. To this day, nearly seven centuries after the event, say the words 'black death,' and I'd wager most people know what the hell you're referring to. In our Western high-tech age, we are lucky to have easy access to clean water (for now; You think wars for oil are trouble? Oh, just you wait, brothers and sisters), antibiotics and antivirals, better hygiene. Sure, there's been an uptick in allergies, but the trade-off is certainly worth it. We no longer have disease wielding the sword of Damocles over our brittle necks.

And what of our favorite imaginary world? After 86 episodes of fantastic storytelling, we finally learned what Lucifer's endgame is: the Croatoan virus. Walking tall, looking good, a nattily-clad star of the morning, shuffling around in Sam's meatsuit, spreading that vile pathogen around and, despite the valiant efforts of President Palin's (shudder) proactive blow-em-up campaign, humanity isn't looking too swell.

Let's not bicker about who killed who -- wait, wrong story -- let's not bicker about whether, given recent events and/or any shift in the plot dynamic and/or the stubborn resolve of Team Free Will and/or getting ready for the apocalyptic stretch run, this satanic microorganism is even going to rear its rotten egg. Instead, let us turn to that most trusted of sources. Magic 8-ball, will the Croatoan virus make a third appearance?

"ask again later"

Fine, but you all still have to read this essay. Preparation is the mother of conjunction junction, or something to that effect.

Nothing important happened today

Way back in season two, Sam's visions lead the brothers to a small town in Oregon where, on the lookout for the man that appeared in said vision, they encounter a telephone pole with the word "Croatoan" carved on it. I'll pause a moment to let you chuckle at the classic Schoolhouse Rock bit. Heh heh. Next, they take the frightened wife and the corpses of her husband and second son to a local doctor's office. John Carpenter-esque set pieces ensue and in time, the brothers commence completing the puzzle.

SAM: Yeah. And I think the infected are trying to infect others with blood-to-blood contact. Oh, but it gets better. The virus leaves traces of sulfur in the blood.
DEAN: A demonic virus?
SAM: Yeah, more like demonic germ warfare. At least that explains why I’ve been having visions.
DEAN: It’s like a biblical plague.
SAM: Yeah. You don’t know how right you are, Dean. I’ve been poring through Dad’s journal. I found something about the Roanoke colony.
DEAN: And?
SAM: Dad always had a theory about Croatoan. He thought it was a demon’s name –- sometimes known as Dever or sometimes Reshef. A demon of plague and pestilence. DEAN: Well, that’s terrific. Why here? Why now?
SAM: I have no idea. But Dean…who knows how far this thing can spread? We’ve gotta get out of here, we’ve gotta warn people.

Reshef, or Resheph, or Resep, was a deity of the Arameans, a Syrio-Canaanite people, a god of war and thunder, plague and the underworld. Assimilated into the Egyptian pantheon during the New Kingdom, he became associated with Set (or Seth), god of chaos and storms and assassin of Osiris in a myth that comes from this same time period. In Ugarit, a town on the Mediterranean coast, Reshef was associated with the Mesopotamian Nergal, lord of the underworld, who received many prayers in order to avert his dangerous influence. Nergal was initially sent down by heaven as atonement for his failure to properly observe divine order. Sound like anyone you know? In time, Nergal became associated with Mars, clothed in a frightful (read: bright) splendor. As for Reshef, he was usually represented brandishing a weapon in his right hand, a shield or ankh in his left, and the existence of his likeness in statue and on stelae continued down into the Ptolemaic period.

Reshef was sometimes named in spells to counter the power of the demon Akha who could cause abdominal pain. In alchemy, certain elements are often linked to various body parts: mercury to the head, sulfur to the heart and salt to the stomach. Throwing a little supernatural light on this, we can see how the god of plague would wish to counteract the puissance of salt, no? The Croatoan virus leaves behind sulfur traces and its victims certainly have their heart, their humanity altered. Now the pure element of sulfur isn't toxic, in fact, it's pretty damn necessary for a human to function like a well-elemented machine. Is demonic sulfur chemically altered in any way? Regardless of the answer because how the hell would I know, this virus certainly makes one loon, but in an almost orderly, Gestapo kind of way.

As for Dever, I hate to cast an evil eye at the naturally super Supernaturalwiki.com, but Sam clearly says DeveR, so it has nothing to do with deva/daeva, though those are wonderfully diabolical as well. Dever is an old Hebrew word that represents a demon of pestilence, and is mentioned in Habbakuk 3:5 and in Psalms 91:5-6.

Cause and effect

For many, plague conjures up the famous ten in the book of Exodus: the Nile turning to blood, frogs, gnats, flies, cattle plague (perhaps anthrax?), boils, hail and thunderstorms, locusts, a darkness that can be felt (how's that for spooky) and last and certainly not least, death of the firstborn.

Gnats and flies and locusts aren't all that scary unless they're turned into the protagonist of a television episode, but a few of those are, especially those that fill the mind with images of eerily glinting pustules, gooey pus and blood running everywhere. Now that's a plague.

One of the first famous, actually historic ones was that of Athens in the fifth century BC, whose effects were recorded by Thucidydes in his History of the Peloponnesian War. Due to the extreme virulence of the disease, and the already high-tension situation, the people lost all sense of society. The next great plague was the so-called Plague of Justinian which decimated Constantinople and the rest of the Byzantine Empire in 541-542 AD. The historian Procopius wrote:

For there ensued with some a deep coma, with others a violent delirium, and in either case they suffered the characteristic symptoms of the disease....but those who were seized with delirium suffered from insomnia and were victims of a distorted imagination; for they suspected that men were coming upon them to destroy them, and they would become excited and rush off in flight, crying out at the top of their voices.

And we all know and love the story of the fourtheenth century's Black Death, beautifully articulated in the allegory of La Danse Macabre, a series of paintings, frescoes, woodcuts, you name it by countless artists portraying dancing skeletons leading every stratum of society to the great equalizer. Dancing, too, is often equated with madness; think especially of the German Totentanz or the Italian tarantella, a frenetic dance that in certain folkloric strains was believed to be able to ward off death by spiderbite. Such dancing manias, a wonderful medieval trope, could be classified as a Mass Psychogenic Illness, the DSM-IV's Mass Hysteria, but such ruminations are a bit out of my league and I'll leave that up to the experts. Jas, I'm looking at you.

It’s madness I tell you, madness!

When I think of madness, forgetting the political class for a moment (zing!), a tried-and-true answer is syphilis. Like a lot of diseases these days, it's quite treatable early on. That wasn't always the case, and there's a whole host of famous folks who've suffered both confirmed cases and the always-fun rampant speculation. One of its most renowned sufferers and a fantastic writer to boot, was Guy de Maupassant, whose troubled characters reflected both himself and, ironically, his illness which later caused him to go mad, attempt suicide and be committed to an asylum. Now, in Supernatural, the Croatoan virus certainly makes those it infects quite mad, yet only from our point of view. It's George Romero's The Crazies all over again. We sober humans are the enemy, only this time, the baddie behind the disease isn't an ineffectual and devious military but The Big Honkin' Evil himself.

Witness the little girl in The End playing quietly until mean ole Dean sauters on up to suffer a glass attack and then something far worse: spraypainted on the wall in big, dark blood red letters, Croatoan. Guess that would explain the horde of rampaging lunatics after his ass. Since Future!World (that's how I write such things in fanspeak, yes?) is nothing but a cycle of ever-shrinking pockets of non-infection, it's safe to say that the Croatoan virus is the baddest mofo the planet has ever seen. Take that, yersinia pestis! C'est-à-dire, we sure as hell better hope that there isn't a third appearance or we're all screwed. Oh, Magic 8-ball?


# gentlesoul 2010-02-19 22:14
This is so well-written! Great research, too! I especially enjoyed reading about Reshef. I think now, I'm going to go re-watch Croatoan ;-)
# Faellie 2010-02-20 06:37
I feel more educated every time I read one of your pieces, Randall, and I'm a fan of being educated.

I'm hoping Pestilence will make his appearance in connection with the spread of the Croatoan virus. But how on earth Sam and Dean can deal with it if he does, I've no idea.

Plus, I liked what Famine had to say about life in an affluent society, so I'm looking forward to seeing what Pestilence might have to say about the US health care system. The chances can't be high that it would be complimentary.
# zaftigredhed 2010-02-20 11:00
I adore your articles. Not only are you edumacating me, but your style of humor speaks to my own twisted, and oh-so-wrong psyche. Thank you, thank you all for providing me with an adult-type outlet for all my Supernatural needs. The DTs can get rough, but you all handle this fandom with such class, that I never feel the need to wander anywhere else to get my fix!
# Karen 2010-02-20 12:02
Hi Randal
I think I’ll pass on the salad, if you don’t mind.
I have to agree with everyone so far…this was very educating.
I also always enjoy your articles with your touch of the dry wit.

I guess with knowing Sam is immune to the virus, it‘s safe to release this nasty puppy.
After all we couldn’t have Lucifer in a vessel that could go stark raving mad.

By the way my Magic 8-Ball said “count on it” 8-)
# Randal 2010-02-20 15:05
gentlesoul, thanks and I know that the Croatoan virus isn't as ubiquitous as, say, salt, but hey, it's pretty important. And that's such a fantastic episode, thus rewatching is very important!

Faillie, thanks, I feel like the prof in 2.20, though I'm not sure if the learning is made fun or merely a List-O-Facts.

You point out the grand problem. I'd love a reappearance of the virus, but Sam (and presumably Cas) would be the only ones immune. And I very much doubt that there's a cure.

And what's wrong with our health care system? Just because we get crappier care while spending more than anyone else on the planet, sheesh. (what were we, 37th in the last WHO listing?)

zaftigredhed, ha! Bonus points for using a Chimpy line. But wait, we're adults? I think we're all acting far too serious then.

Karen, even with your choice of dressing? Oh man, *that* narcissist with a case of lunacy to boot? And people thought the '62 Mets were a disaster.

Does the Magic 8-Ball say anything about vast gobs of cash and a chateau along the Loire coming my way? :D

By the way, you all owe me a fifty dollar co-pay for your visit.
# Karen 2010-02-20 15:46
Sorry Randal...says "Not in a million years"
Now when I asked it said "Signs point to yes"

As for the 50 bucks...it's all yours if you want to come and get it... :mrgreen:
# Randal 2010-02-20 16:01
It's obvious that your Magic 8-Ball is broken. I hope you kept the receipt.

Given that I'd probably spend more than 50 bucks on gas for the round trip all that way up north, I'll pass. Just send a money order. No personal checks. ;-)
# Karen 2010-02-20 16:12
Ok then...it's in the mail..you should get in 2-3 days ...if it doesn't show up...Keep waiting and waiting and waiting... 8-)
# Jasminka 2010-02-20 16:17
Awesome thesis, Randal, and thank you for these amazing thoughts. Wow. I can’t help but wonder whether the Supernatural writers have explored various civilizations†™ mythology and assembly of gods… When we think that Nergal has a habit of coming to earth for 160 days (if memory serves) from July to December, one might wonder – will this be the period for the demons to release their viral warfare?

The Croatoan story reminded me of some of the classic Zombie movies and the (well, somewhat new) 28 Days Later. That old Romero flick scared me to death. I still can’t watch it before I go to sleep or I’ll see zombies everywhere – talk about hysteria… ah, hysteria.

You talking to me?

If you refer to mass hysteria (like the Salem witch hunt or the War of the Worlds-hoax), well, that’s more of a sociopsychologi cal phenomenon, if you like, and can not be induced by some virus or anything in that neighbourhood. That phenomenon usually manifests in terms of many people developing the same symptoms of hysteria (there have been, as far as I know, cases of so-called hysterical contagion, meaning that several people showed signs of an illness, induced by psychological mechanisms., but had no real symptoms)

The phenomenon of Mass Psychogenic Illness is catalogued as conversion disorder hysterical neurosis in the DSM-IV (a mental condition during which a patient may show various symptoms such as paralysis or fits or screams etc, which I find often after traumatic events or after a long-buried trauma was reactivated), and researchers are still at odds concerning that particular illness, as there are difficulties producing controlled and valid experiments.

The power of the mind, however, is clear here – many people are able to simultaneously produce symptoms of the same nature without any organic correspondence. It’s quite fascinating, but the human psyche generally is (that’s just me).

Experts indeed classify the dance manias you refer to under MPI, one of the first documented cases of that particular phenomenon took place in Germany, in Aachen (I believe in the late fourteenth century), when thousands danced in the streets. The church, of course, assumed that those dancers were possessed by the devil (well, perhaps they were… you never know your Lucifer). Some believe these events were forced by consumption of psychoactive substances (you might say some early versions of hallucinogens).
But I’m not entirely familiar with that, I’m very sorry, Randal.

I don’t think that would apply to the Croatoan epidemic.

There is another psychiatric phenomenon (which might apply here) called Folie à Deux, a form of paranoid psychosis – two people share the same syndrome, it is transported from one to another, and if many more people were concerned, you might call it Folie à Plusieurs (for those not familiar with French: madness of many). I have personally only encountered a psychosis shared by two people, and that was tough enough. When I try to imagine what it might be like with a lot more people, I’d become hysterical myself…

Some researchers believe that there is a dominant person who develops a certain delusion and imposes it on another or others (which then is called Folie Imposée). The interesting factor here is that it is claimed that if the people suffering from that were separately treated, the delusional (induced) convictions might disappear without even the need of taking meds.

Just thought – maybe propaganda of whatever kind uses that phenomenon. So will Lucifer, don’t you think?

Actually, I can’t imagine we won’t have another brush with Croatoan… Perhaps when Sam says yes in Detroit. We haven’t been told when exactly the outbreak occurred, right? We might just be – as you say – screwed…

I hope all that made sense….

Thanks again, Randal, loved this. Jas
# Randal 2010-02-20 16:58
Karen, this is precisely why we shouldn't trust Canada. :D

Jas, thanks for your very informative comment. I didn't think a viral infection (or infection of any sort) could cause such a madness, frightening if it could, but I'm glad my skeletal outline gave you something to hang your knowledge upon. I feel like Odin gaining runes of wisdom.

I can't remember the title, but there was a very good book that came out a few years ago documenting use and abuse of substances was underlying a good portion of the witch hysteria pre- and post-Malleus and the papal bull sanctioning such acts. I'll have to dig that up.

Now I'm going to have to go searching for some literature on the stuff you outlined. You make learning fun!
# Jasminka 2010-02-20 17:12
Glad to be of service, Randal. If you dig up that book on that witch hysteria and substance connection, please make sure to point that out. I devour stuff like that (well with my working hours I hardly havetime to eat, so books have to do ;-))

Thanks! Jas
# Narcissus 2010-02-20 23:03
Plagues and viruses are creepy for the same reason ghosts are creepy. They're hard to see and even harder to control. No wonder it's the number one choice for global annihilation :geek:
# Randal 2010-02-21 07:52
Jas, it's The Realities of Witchcraft and Popular Magic in Early Modern Europe: Culture, Cognition, and Everyday Life by Edward Bever. I checked Worldcat (a huge database that connects a LOT of libraries worldwide) and it doesn't appear that any German libraries carry a copy. Of course that doesn't mean one or more has a copy, since Canada is really the only foreign country our Interlibrary Loan orders stuff from. But put it on your list. :D

Narcissus, number one choice? Even over reality TV? Are you sure?
# Supernarttu 2010-02-21 10:35
"Hey, who'd have thought learning about religion could be fun?" "Learning???" "Religion????"

Hi Randal. Agree that this was quite educational, and interesting. I'd like to see that virus again, boy that was creepy. A cool homage to very good zombie flicks, those are quite haunting. Esp. idea that functional, intelligent people are reduced to brainless creatures compulsed only to feed. And there's no cure. *shudders*
# Jasminka 2010-02-21 11:21
Thanks, Randal, for the book title. Ah, no library over here to turn to (thanks so much, by the way, for trouble of looking it up :-))
I'll put it down on my list, yes, and there's always hope.
Thanks, Jas
# Randal 2010-02-21 12:09
Wow, 26 conversions in AD 46! Brainless creatures compulsed only to feed? Ich bin ein Biggerson's patron.

We rarely, if ever, order from Europe (not a free service for researchers/stu dents like the USA/Canada) but maybe you'll get lucky. ;-)
# Jasminka 2010-02-21 12:24
Did you know, Randal, that we have a sort of donut over here we call 'Berliner', filled with strawberry jelly.
So when Kennedy spoke those famous words he actually refered to - unbeknownst to him - being a cake. ;-) Jas
# Narcissus 2010-02-21 21:57
Randal..first the Croats take over the world, and then they launch an assault of reality programming to weaken the humans that haven't been infected yet. Genius. Evil, but genius.
# Jasminka 2010-02-22 07:42
What? The Croats plan to take over the world? Ah.. that's the secret plan of Croatia.... ;-)... I always thought that guys who eat cevapcici all the time couldn't be trusted...
Ah, cevapcici... gosh I miss that stuff. ooops... Jas
# Ardeospina 2010-02-22 21:02
Just jumping in, belatedly, to say I enjoyed the article, Randal. As usual, stellar research! It's like Supernatural University reading your articles. Love it!
# Randal 2010-02-23 10:14
Mmmm...donuts. What about the Serbs? And will the Albanians merely sit back and enjoy the reality TV and take out the weakened victor?

Ardeospina, thanks!