In response to the prayers of the saints – perhaps the plaintive “How long, O Lord” of the martyrs under the altar in Chapter 6 – the Redeemer and Judge completes the ingathering of the faithful and then sends fire, wrack and ruin upon the world. In what may be a glimmering of divine knowledge in the minds of mankind at large, there is widespread concern today about asteroids and comets striking the earth and ending “life as we know it”.
As my daughter Imani would say, “no duh!” When the trumpet of the Lord shall sound, one planet killer after another will wipe out huge chunks of human and animal life. And there is that tantalizing reference to Wormwood, a word found nine times in eight verses of Scripture, according to scholar Dr. Gerardus Bow. The first is Deuteronomy 29:18, where Moses warns the nation that by joining itself with pagan nations “…there should be among you a root that beareth gall and wormwood.” Wormwood always occurs in connection with judgment and the result of sin.The Hebrew translated wormwood is la-anah (H3939 in Strong’s Concordance). It refers to any bitter, poisonous plant such as hemlock (Amos 6:12) and wormwood. The Hebrew word stems from a root meaning to curse. The Greek word for wormwood, used twice inRevelation 8:11 is apsinthos, that is, absinthe wormwood (see picture). Other references: Prov. 5:4; Jer. 9:15; 23:15; Lam. 3:15, 19.
There is a story going around that Chernobyl in Russian means “Wormwood.” If so, this would seem to be a startling prophetic warning about the kind of fire that will kill people and poison waters, both of which occurred (although in decidedly unbiblical proportions) after the Russians foolishly, recklessly turned off the safety systems of their uncontained nuclear reactor and then stepped back to “to see what would happen”. Sometimes I think their behavior is a metaphor for modern society: release all controls and restraints, observe the carnage, run around with your hair on fire (literally, in this case), and then blame the science or Someone Else. Ah, well – anyway below is the actual text, and an explanation about the Wormwood/Chernobyl connection by a non-Christian journalist who wrote a first-person account in 2005 about the flourishing ecosystem in post-accident Chernobyl.
10 The third angel sounded his trumpet, and a great star, blazing like a torch, fell from the sky on a third of the rivers and on the springs of water— 11 the name of the star is Wormwood.[a] A third of the waters turned bitter, and many people died from the waters that had become bitter.
Wormwood Forest: A Natural History of Chernobyl, by Mary Mycio, Sept. 9, 2005, - from the chapter is entitled “Biblical Botany”:
“…. Rimma crouched down to a short bush that had grown out of a crack between the road and the curb. It was about a foot tall, with small cottony flowers growing directly from purplish stems.
She pulled off one of the leaves and crushed it between her fingers for me to sniff the unpleasant, varnishy aroma, reminiscent of shoe polish.
“What is it?” I asked, wrinkling my nose.
“Chernobyl,” she said, using the common—but incorrect—pronunciation. In fact, chernobyl with an “e” is the Russianized version of the Ukrainian word chornobyl. You won't find chernobyl or chornobyl in most Russian dictionaries, except in reference to the disaster, although the word chernobyl'nyk is used in some Russian regions in reference to the herb. But because the first version has become the commonly accepted spelling for the disaster and the nuclear station, I will use Chernobyl, with an “e,” to refer to them. I will use Chornobyl, with an “o,” to refer to the herb and the town.
“That's wormwood, right?” I asked, hoping to finally clarify the botanical question at the heart of the Chernobyl disaster's putative biblical symbolism. It is often said that the meaning of the Ukrainian word chornobyl is “wormwood,” and the suggestion that the disaster fulfilled the biblical prophecy of the Wormwood star that augured Armageddon resonated deeply with the fear of nuclear apocalypse. But the botany was actually more complex.
Svitlana took a closer look at the plant and shook her head. “No, ‘chornobyl' is Artemisia vulgaris. ‘Wormwood' is Artemisia absinthium. The Ukrainian common name is polyn,” she said, handing me a leaf from a different plant that looked much like A. vulgaris, except it was covered with fine silky hairs that gave it a whitish tinge. As I looked around, I noticed that the plants were everywhere.
I crushed it to release the volatile oil, much more pungent than the first plant.
Botanically and chemically, Absinthium vulgaris is so similar to A. absinthium that A. vulgaris is also sometimes called “wormwood,” though “mugwort” is a more common English name. In Ukrainian, as well, polyn and chornobyl are sometimes used synonymously. Both plants are hardy perennials, tolerant of poor soil and thus plentiful in the sandy lands of the Polissia region—where the twelfth-century town of Chornobyl took its name from the plant and, in turn, gave it to the twentieth-century nuclear station seven miles away. Both are bitter medicinal herbs and natural pest repellants, ridding fleas from the home, slugs from the garden, and worms from the body. And both get their pungent fragrance from thujone, an organic toxin thought to be the psychoactive agent in absinthe, the infamous wormwood liqueur banned by most Western countries a century ago. Absinthe was said to produce an unusual intoxication and was highly addictive, although modern skeptics contend that the “high” and the habit most probably came from drinking the 75 percent alcohol absinthe required to dissolve the thujone and prevent it from clouding the emerald solution.
But if the thujone in Artemisia vulgaris is dilute, it is concentrated in A. absinthium. A crushed leaf of polyn-wormwood is much more pungent than a crushed leaf of chornobyl-mugwort. It is also more bitter and much more toxic, which is why animals happily nibble mugwort but leave wormwood alone. Even other plants avoid it. A. absinthium's extremely bitter chemicals wash off the leaves and into the soil, poisoning it for other plants.
Given its natural repellant properties, many folk believed wormwood to have supernatural banishing powers. Mugwort, too, has magical properties, though none so potent. In Ukrainian folklore, both plants ward off the seductive and dangerous water nymphs called rusalkas, who lured victims with beautiful songs and then tickled them to death in crystal underwater lairs.
In Christian legend, when the biblical serpent was expelled from Eden, wormwood sprang in its trail to prevent its return. Indeed, the herb is a frequent biblical symbol for bitterness, calamity, and sorrow; its use to name the third sign of the apocalypse that opened this chapter conjured the desolation that would follow the apocalypse.
In the wake of the Chernobyl explosion, few people in the officially atheist Soviet Union had Ukrainian-language Bibles. But some of those who did noted that the word “wormwood” in the Wormwood star of the book of Revelation was translated as polyn—and was a very close botanical cousin to chornobyl. Suddenly, the biblical prophecy seemed to acquire new meaning: wormwood was radiation, and it presaged the nuclear apocalypse that would end the world. The story spread like wildfire through the notorious Soviet rumor mill and as far as Washington, D.C., where President Ronald Reagan was said to have believed it, too.