The Cruelest Month: An Examination Of April’s Long History Of Terror And Violence

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Social critic T.S. Eliot’s most recognized work, “The Waste Land,” wastes no time in labeling April as “the cruelest month.” Much of the poem revealed the author’s distaste of a forced and artificial seasonal beauty. He also lamented the departure of winter, which protected humans from the horrors to come. Some readers have attributed these sentiments to depression — after all, Eliot witnessed the same brilliant colors as other humans and wrote the poem from a sanatorium. Yet one doesn’t write such a tour de force while down in the dumps, and the work encapsulates many other emotions, including lust, passion, and hope. We cannot fully examine the masterpiece’s minutiae here, but “The Waste Land” functions as a scathing commentary upon modern culture.

And April wasn’t simply a convenient backdrop.

Perhaps Eliot was not merely observant, but a bit of a prophet. By the time the American-born Brit published the long poem in 1922, he could draw upon several global tragedies. The month encompassed President Abraham Lincoln’s assassination (1865), the great San Francisco earthquake (1906), the RMS Titanic’s fateful sinking (1912), and the start of the Armenian Genocide (1915). Then World War I began in July 1914 with the ultra-violent Operation Michael taking place from March 21 to April 4, 1918. The war greatly contributed to Eliot’s sense of disillusionment, and countless catastrophes followed. Springtime arrives with natural turbulence, including plants pushing through soil and tornadoes ripping through landscapes. However, humans have wrought spring’s most heinous tragedies. Here are some prominent examples that hint at a pattern:

  • April 14, 1865 – President Abraham Lincoln’s Assassination: John Wilkes Booth shot the 16th president during a play, just days after the American Civil War ended with Confederate General Robert E. Lee’s surrender.
  • April 4, 1968 – Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Death: A sniper took down the civil rights leader as he stood on a balcony, and the U.S. experienced nationwide riots in the aftermath.
  • April 19, 1993 – Waco Siege: The U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms moved to end the two-month standoff between federal agents and the Branch Davidian compound. Over 75 cult members (along with leader David Koresh) perished when fire tore though the structure.
  • April 6, 1994 – Rwandan Genocide: A 100-day mass slaughter commenced. In the end, between 500,000 and 1,000,000 of the Tutsi minority were slaughtered by the Hutu ethnic majority.
  • April 19, 1995 – Oklahoma City Bombing: Two years after Waco, Timothy McVeigh took revenge with the worst act of domestic terrorism in U.S. history. He killed 168 people and injured 680 more by detonating a fertilizer truck bomb outside the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building.
  • April 20, 1999 – Columbine High School Massacre: Two teenagers let loose a barrage of bullets upon their classmates, thereby murdering 13 and injuring at least 20 more before killing themselves.
  • April 16, 2007 – Virginia Tech Mass Shooting: A gunman attacked the Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University campus. He killed 32 victims before shooting himself.
  • April 15, 2013 – Boston Marathon Bombings: Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev killed three people and injured 260 more with two pressure-cooker bombs at the race’s finish line.
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Eric Harris And Dylan Klebold During The Columbine Massacre

A quick search will bring up so many tragedies that you may become a believer in something. Some also count the birth of Adolf Hitler (April 20, 1889) as an incident worthy of inclusion (we’ll talk more about Hitler later). In the meantime, some would wonder why T.S. Eliot popped up in a news-oriented essay. Well, things are about to grow even more bizarre. We cannot fully consider current events without occasionally reflecting upon them beyond the dry pages of history. So, let’s drop the cable news cycle and get a little more introspective on these tragedies. Also, can we draw any significance from the timing of the recent Brussels terror attacks? Perhaps.

Moving Past Skepticism With News Event Patterns

Most of the aforementioned events occurred within the fourth calendar month. It would be easy to discard this correlation as mere coincidence. Yet humans love to assign meaning to events, sometimes to the point of ridiculousness, such as when folks blamed shock-rocker Marilyn Manson for Columbine. Elsewhere, the Oklahoma City bombing could be explained as an anniversary event of revenge. There are also semi-serious mutterings about how tax season spurs on incendiary distrust towards the government. None of these excuses explain the continuing waves of violence during early spring. Can we look outside ourselves, to the cosmos, for an explanation? This seems silly to anyone who must separate concrete events from “the stars.” For those who are willing to loosen up, let’s take that ride.

We spoke with some astrologers who helped us go deeper on the subject. Celeste Longacre, who has served as astrologer of Farmer’s Almanac for 20 years, assures us that true patterns are at work throughout history:

Most skeptics of astrology have not looked very deeply into its study. They associate all of this art with newspaper and magazine “horoscopes” which lump everybody into one of 12 boxes. The real science of astrology looks at the placement of all of the planets along with the Moon to determine the heavenly influences. Somebody who has already decided that astrology has no merit will likely be unwilling to look at it through a new lens. Yet, astrology does have many followers. Among them historically: Hippocrates, Aristotle, Ptolemy, Plato, Kepler, Shakespeare, and more.

For the context of this essay, skepticism won’t prove helpful, although many do discount astrology as a mere pastime relied upon by the likes of 1980s Nancy Reagan. Lisa Barretta, the Street Smart Astrologer who has practiced for 40 years, reinforces how useful astrology was to ancient people and our nation’s Founding Fathers:

At one time, astrology was practiced as a means to spot celestial presage or omens and their application to national and political affairs … Ancient man didn’t have computers and broadcast news reports, but they did have the cosmos, which they closely watched and used as their link into understanding the economics and political news of their day.

Barretta also notes that many of the most heinous offenses tend to cluster in the third week of April, and she believes there’s a reason why this happens:

Sharp tempers and quick fuses are more apparent when the Sun is in Aries because Mars, the planet associated with war and combat, rules this sign. Diplomacy and tact are usually void at this time.

The Devastating Energies Of Aries And The Moon

According to the experts we consulted, the matter isn’t perfectly clear cut as “the month of April.” We interviewed Anne Nordhaus-Bike, astrologer for the Gazette newspaper in Chicago and author of Follow the Sun. She had plenty of insight about Aries and how the sign’s associated energies can propel those who are already predisposed to unrest. (To clarify, this effect isn’t limited to people born under Aries, but refers to a universal period of upheaval.) She spoke to us about free will and points out how neither the stars nor the moon can make people commit violence. However, astrological and lunar energies can help inspire negativity that already exists.

It’s also worth noting now Aries doesn’t formally begin on April 1. Instead, the period begins 10 days beforehand — with the annual spring equinox — to kick off the Aries energies. So, the astrological sign gathers up the unrest towards the end of March and continues through the cluster of violence that occurs in the third week of April (approximately from March 21 to April 20 each year). That helps tie in the recent tragedy of Brussels, which occurred on March 22, 2016 with three explosions in a city known as a hotbed of jihadism. This event occurred as the sun moved into Aries. In addition, the bombings took place just prior to a full moon, as Nordhaus-Bike confirmed by charting the date. Why is the Moon relevant to our discussion? Longacre explained this earlier:

Hospitals and police stations routinely schedule more coverage during a full Moon. Since this celestial body tosses our oceans around, the thought that it might have an influence on our bodies -— seventy percent of which is water — has merit. The circulation of our blood actually increases when the Moon is full.

Nordhaus-Bike adds that a full moon’s influence can build for days, and the greatest damage can be finished by the time a full moon fully develops. So, the day before this monthly occurrence is crucial and suitably encompasses the Brussels incident. She pulled several charts for us on other key events, but, first, provides a literary device to describe the energies of Aries:

Aries is a super, super hot energy because it is a fire sign. You need that fire to start things. One way to think of it is like jet fuel or rocket fuel. Imagine trying to break the gravity barrier when a rocket goes into outer space. They need a very specialized type of fuel — bang, burst, explosion — but it burns out really quickly. That’s a good metaphor for what Aries is about.

As Nordhaus-Bike tells us, Aries is “probably the most important sign of the year for lots of reasons.” Why? For starters, plants and animals awaken from dormancy, and the planets align in such a way to introduce the year’s most volatile energies. Aries’ status as a fire sign also propels people to get things — both positive and negative — rolling. For plant life, small explosions take place in order to propel life into happening. With human-borne events, these explosions can be literal. Also, Aries begins the astrological calendar in the northern hemisphere. This moment in time varies slightly each year, but tends to bring heaps of drama around (and after) the first day of spring.

So, in both an astrological and a literal sense, Aries tends to bring dynamic results. Add in the detail of Mars — the Roman god of war — being the sign’s designated planet, and it’s no wonder all this crap happens at once. Perhaps it’s for this reason that folks like to think of a certain historical figure, Hitler, as an Aries although he falls under the dates typically assigned as Taurus. However, his birth year (1889) was an “off” year for planetary alignments, which could explain why he displayed many Aries tendencies. A more clear-cut Aries incident would be the Oklahoma City bombing. Nordhaus-Bike reveals how the explosion itself took place well under the Aries umbrella, and the actors held relevant ties to the sign. Timothy McVeigh was (like Hitler) born under Taurus (on April 23, 1968), but he had several planets in Aries. Whereas accomplice Terry Nichols was straight-up Aries (born on April 1, 1955). Overall, this event was textbook April madness.

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The Oklahoma City Murray Federal Building On April 19, 1995

Contemporary events like these aren’t the only ones worth examining. As mentioned earlier, one of the most fiery World War I operations occurred in Aries time. From March 21 to April 4, 1918, Operation Michael signified a fatal flaw for German forces. This operation started with a five-hour artillery barrage and claimed half a million lives in a few weeks. A few other tragedies bear mention. Ronald Reagan fell victim to an attempted assassination on March 30, 1981. And on March 25, 1911, Aries’ fiery tendencies went literal once more with the notorious Triangle Shirtwaist Company fire. This event still stands as one of the deadliest industrial accidents in history. Flames and smoke consumed 146 workers as the sun moved into Aries. This fire stands as a terrifying symbol of the sign’s energies.

Hold Up, Aries Isn’t All Evil

Nordhaus-Bike cautions us against seeing Aries as strictly negative. She’d rather look at this energy as one that propels existing desires and ambitions that have been hampered by winter. Thus, several positive events have occurred during this sign, including the following:

On March 23, 1775, Patrick Henry started the American Revolution. He gave a speech where he said, “As for me, give me liberty, or give me death.” He’s literally taking a stand, it’s like a young warrior with hot, hot energy, passion. On March 25, 1807, Britain abolished slavery, and on March 26, 1979, the Camp David accords ended 30 years of war between Israel and Egypt, which was fostered by Jimmy Carter.

The most notable aspect of Aries is increased activity. Whether or not people and governments choose to use these patterns for good or evil will vary widely. In addition, this astrological analysis not only reveals a pattern at work during history, but also provides a model for the future. Can catastrophes ever be prevented? No, but authorities can stay on high alert and watch out for potential mayhem with spring energies, similar to how they expect bizarre happenings during the full moon.

A Final Note For The Nonbelievers

Ultimately, no one has to believe in astrology or seek any deeper type of meaning for the annual wave of April violence. Yet people can’t really call themselves skeptics if they are — as Nordhaus-Bike summed up well — actually “naysayers and contrarians.” As she points out, one should poke around and consider a subject before providing valid criticism. This definitely apples to the tool of astrology that prominent historical figures have used for millennia to great political and financial advantage. A little digging wouldn’t hurt anyone, and if one chooses to view all of these tragedies from a completely unemotional perspective, that’s fine. Plenty of other people would rather believe.

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The Oklahoma City Bombing Memorial At Night