An Encyclopedia of Claims, Frauds, and Hoaxes of the Occult and Supernatural
Introduction | "R" Reading | Curse of the Pharaoh | End-of-the-World Prophecies
Index | A | B | C | D | E | F | G | H | I | J | K | L | M | N | O | P | Q | R | S | T | U | V | W | Y | Z
Nostradamus (1503-1566) One of the most renowned and still-popular champions of disaster was Michel de Notredame, the sixteenth-century physician of Provence who took the Latinized name by which he is more commonly known: Nostradamus. His major opus was Centuries, a series of almost a thousand quatrains which purported to be prophecies, and along with a great number of almanacs, letters, and various other writings, he managed to produce more than any other prophet in history. His reputation, however, is due to the ardent horde of his disciples who continue to this day to hyperbolize, bowdlerize, and invent in order to perpetuate his fame.
Nostradamus, the sixteenth-century seer of Provence who wrote The Centuries, ten books of quatrains that he said were intended as prophecies.
Under the patronage and protection of Catherine de Médicis, queen of France and the power behind three French kings, Nostradamus lived comfortably from 1503 to 1566, celebrated all over Europe and a thorn in the side of Elizabeth I of England, for whom he continually predicted, through his almanacs, a doom which never came.
Upon close examination, it can be seen that many of the quatrains penned by the seer of Provence were actually political commentaries and justifiable critiques of the activities of the Catholic church, which was then busily tossing heretics onto bonfires wherever the Holy Inquisition could reach.
Nostradamus himself was in great danger of mounting the faggots himself. He was already under suspicion, because only two generations earlier the Notredames had been the Gassonets, a Jewish family that had converted to Catholicism under pressure. Worse, letters discovered in the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris prove that he was also a secret heretic——a Lutheran, surprisingly enough, in view of that sects strong anti-Semitic bias.
A good look at just one of the Nostradamus quatrains, one of the Top Ten often presented as positive evidence of his prophetic ability, serves to illustrate how far believers will go to stretch the facts in order to serve their needs. Quatrain 51 of Century II is said by the faithful to refer to the Great Fire of London in 1666. Here is the evidence for this belief.
First, quoting from the earliest available (1558) edition of the verse, it reads:
Le sang du iuste à Londres fera faulte,
Bruslés par fouldres de vint trois les six:
La dame antique cherra de place haute,
De mesme secte plusieurs seront occis.
(The reader should know that in modern French, iuste would be “juste,” Bruslés would be “Brûlés,” vint would be “vingt,” and mesme would be “même.”)
In modern English:
The blood of the just shall be wanting in London,
Burnt by thunderbolts of twenty three the Six(es),
The ancient dame shall fall from [her] high place,
Of the same sect many shall be killed.
The word feu (“fire”) is now substituted for the original fouldres (“thunderbolts”) in the second line by many copyists, so that it will better fit the Great Fire of London interpretation. Also, some editions print “vingt & trois” rather than “de vint trois,” thus showing an appreciable variation in the text and in the meaning.
Nostradamians believe that the seer was writing about an event that was 111 years in his future: In 1666, London was devastated by a fire that destroyed four-fifths of the city. It is said by one of the interpreters that the last half of line two refers to the number of houses and buildings that were burned, rather than the more popular interpretation by almost everyone else that it means 66, therefore, 1666. How that date was obtained is difficult to see.
The Nostradamians explain that “La dame antique” refers to St. Paul's Cathedral, known as the Old Lady, which was lost in the fire along with many other churches, thus the claimed validation of the line, “Of the same sect many shall be killed.” St. Paul's Cathedral was never called the “Old Lady,” as claimed. Also, the word antique in Old French meant “eccentric”; the derivation is similar to that of the English word “antic.” Though the old St. Paul's Cathedral was the highest church then known, there is no “high place” from which it could have fallen. Some fans, recognizing this discrepancy, claim that a statue of the Virgin Mary stood atop the cathedral, and that was the Old Lady Nostradamus was referring to. Not so. An early edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica provides a clear, detailed illustration of the old prefire cathedral that shows it was Gothic in style, with a square roof area and no external statues at all.
This quatrain actually refers to an event which was taking place as Nostradamus was penning his opus in 1555, but a very different event, and certainly not the Great Fire of London. Here are the historical facts:
1. Announcing a purge of her kingdom in 1554, the Catholic queen Bloody Mary I of England began executing Protestant heretics in London, beginning in January 1555. Many were prominent churchmen, intellectuals, and statesmen. One Bishop Ridley had an especially horrid exit from life. His brother-in-law, wishing to lessen his relative's suffering by hastening his death, had piled the faggots so high about him that the flames could not reach him, and the poor man cried out that he could not burn. His benefactor thereupon opened up the pile of wood, which more quickly brought an end to the bishop.
2. The trial, sentencing, and burning of these unfortunates began January 22, 1555, in groups of six. When they eventually expired at the stake, it was with an explosion like a thunderbolt, since they were burned with the “merciful” addition of bags of gunpowder tied between their legs or around their necks to quicken their passage.
3. Mary, haggard, totally obsessed with religion, disappointed in love, ill with dropsy and other assorted diseases, repeatedly imagined that she was pregnant by her husband Philip of Spain. The consort was seldom at home and in 1555 left England——and Mary——for good. She wandered about her palace half naked while the atrocities were being committed in her name. She died three years later, incoherent and considered quite insane. It was strongly suspected that her exit was hastened.
4. Over three hundred Protestants were executed in this way at that time.
When one considers these historical facts and compares them line for line and number for number with the four lines of the Nostradamus quatrain as seen in this much more accurate translation, a different view might be taken of the quatrain:
1. The blood of the innocent will be an error at London,
2. Burned by thunderbolts, of twenty-three, the six(es),
3. The senile lady will lose her high position,
4. Many more of the same sect will be slain.
An important question arises here: Did Nostradamus have time to get this historical event into his publication? The first edition of the Centuries, in which this quatrain is printed, is dated May 4, 1555——more than three months after the first group of heretics were executed in London. Though some authorities date the 1555 edition of the Centuries as March 1, 1555, it is imprinted at the end:
Ce present livre a esté achevé d'imprimer le IIII. iour de may M.DLV.
(“This book was finished printing the fourth day of May 1555.”)
The sentences of the inevitable executions would have been passed some time before the events, since the condemned often spent many months in prison while their wealth was located and acquired by the crown; carefully applied and controlled torture effectively extracted information about concealed assets from the condemned. Nostradamus was part of a network of scholars who were in frequent communication and would have heard of this event. Thus, either publication date is adequate for the described scenario.
But why would Nostradamus, a faithful Catholic, object to this good work of burning heretics? Because he was secretly a heretic himself, a Lutheran sympathizer who clearly declared himself in clandestine letters sent to clients and scholars in Germany. In this quatrain, as in many others, the Seer of Provence was writing of an event which certainly would have made news in France, and that he had heard about.
One modern “interpreter” of Nostradamus, John Hogue, first issued his book Nostradamus and the Millennium in 1987. In that volume, he quoted his own very liberally translated versions of several quatrains that he believed predicted certain events involving the Near East, and he specified those events. He named four “anti-Christ” candidates, and for one he said that Nostradamus had clearly predicted:
[In August of 1987] a million Iranians under Khaddafi's power [will] invade Mesopotamia all the way to Egypt.
Then came the 1991 (the fourth) printing of his very successful book, after the massive Libyan invasion had failed to take place. This edition had six pages of revised text, with another anti-Christ in the person of Saddam Hussein——substituted for the Ayatollah Khomeini, who had inconsiderately died rather than fulfilling Nostradamus's plan for him——and omitted completely the above-quoted prediction along with another Hogue had made for a specifically dated alliance of the superpowers. Blank spots replaced the previous entries.
One thing, however, remained the same in both editions: the portrait of Nostradamus clutching a telescope, an instrument that had not yet been invented when the seer died.
Click here to order a copy of the original hardcover edition of this Encyclopedia.
Copyright (C) 1995-2007 James Randi.
Created and maintained with the dictionary compilation software TshwaneLex.