Wednesday, 2 March 2011

A. GENERAL NOSTRADAMUS FAQs

[For sections B to E, please see below, or click on blog archive in RH column -->]

The following answers by Peter Lemesurier to Frequently Asked Questions are offered by way of an introduction to the celebrated sixteenth-century French seer and his prophecies. They are closely based on original French editions and archives, and are not dedicated to the support of any particular interpretation.

CONTENTS:

1 Who was Nostradamus and when did he live?
2 What form did his prophecies take?
3 How did he do it?
4 Didn’t he write in code?
5 Do original copies of the prophecies still exist, and if so where?
6 How far can the various modern editions of them be trusted?
7 What did Nostradamus’s contemporaries think of him?
8 Was he persecuted by the Inquisition?
9 Wasn’t he buried upright, with a medallion around his neck predicting when he would be dug up?
10 Do his predictions name names and specify actual dates?
11 How often has Nostradamus been proved right in the past?
12 Did he really predict Hitler?
13 What about the Kennedys and the future nuking of
New York?
14 What does the famous ‘1999’ prophecy say?
15 Are there other so-far-unfulfilled prophecies?
16 Does Nostradamus really predict the end of the world?
17 Isn’t it true that you can make Nostradamus’s prophecies mean almost anything?
18 How accurate are the various films and videos about him?
19 Where can I reliably find out more, and what is the title of the latest academically respectable book on the subject
?
20 What Websites offer further information about Nostradamus? 

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1. Who was Nostradamus and when did he live?

A. Michel de Nostredame (1503-66), later known as Nostradamus, was one of the leading lights of the late French Renaissance. A Jewish-French contemporary of Paracelsus and England’s Dr John Dee, he is often supposed to have been (from 1530) at medical college with Rabelais: however, he is known to have been expelled again from the student body at Montpellier for having, as an apothecary, been rude about doctors, so this is highly unlikely. He was certainly much admired by the court poet Ronsard. As a physician (qualified or not) he came to specialise in the Plague, on which he was recognised to be one of the foremost experts: in his Traité des fardemens, though, (see below) he frankly admits that none of his cures actually had any effect on the disease – not even the blood-letting that some commentators insist that he never used. He was also famed as an ‘astrologer’, even though his competence clearly left much to be desired, but he preferred to call himself an ‘astrophile’, or ‘star-lover’. On his semi-retirement in around 1550 he turned to writing. Apart from a highly popular cookbook (actually, a Treatise on Cosmetics and Conserves) and a number of academic works, his main fields were astrology and prophecy. This brought him into great public prominence, and he became particularly influential at the French court. He also invested heavily in local public works – notably the irrigation of the vast Plaine de la Crau just to the west of his adopted home-town of Salon-de-Provence, a scheme whose results (like his house in the town) can still be seen today. Twice married, he had two children by his first wife Henriette d’Encausse (all three died) and six by his second (three sons, of whom the eldest was César [b.1554], and three daughters).

By courtesy of Michel Chomarat, Association des Amis de Nostradamus, Lyon

Michel Nostradamus
Engraving attributed to Léonard Gaultier (c.1561 - c.1630) and first published in around 1600


*** 

2. What form did his prophecies take?

A. They comprised:

(a) a series of internationally best-selling annual Presages, Almanachs and Prognostications comprising at least 6338 predictions (mainly in prose) for the weather and crop-prospects for the coming months, along with likely wars, disasters etc. and
(b) a collection of ‘Perpetual (i.e. cyclic) Prophecies’ designed to foretell the entire future history of the world, allegedly up to the year 3797.

These latter (currently the best-known of his prophecies because they are not tied to particular dates during his lifetime) took the form of:

(i) a collection of a thousand prophecies in rhymed four-line verses, arranged in ten books (or ‘Centuries’) of a hundred, of which 58 (in Book VII) have since disappeared– all of them written in deliberately obscure language, and most of them undated.
(iii) a posthumous collection of 141 dated summary-Présages in verse selected from the 159 verse-prophecies in his Almanacs, many of them written in telegrammese.
(ii) a further posthumous collection of 58 or more Sixains, more poetic and easy to understand than the rest, which seem to have been designed in part to replace the 58 lost verses, but about whose authorship there is some dispute.

***

3. How did he do it?

A. In the case of (b) (i) above, the latest evidence suggests that he did so basically by borrowing and re-expressing the ancient, Bible-based, end-time prophecies that were then all the rage (given the general conviction at the time that the End of the World was at hand), and especially a huge, mainly Latin anthology of them entitled the Mirabilis liber [1522/3], which some ascribe to his own father Jaume. (In other words, Nostradamus was certainly not working in a vacuum, and by re-expressing in French verse the former Latin prophecies – all of them printed in crowded Gothic type full of abstruse scholarly abbreviations – he was, if anything, not encoding the prophecies, but unencoding them!)

English translations of extracts from the Mirabilis liber may be found at:
http://www.propheties.it/nostradamus/mirabilis/mirabilis-en.htm .

Basically, the theme of these even more ancient prophecies was that Europe was (by way of the vengeance of God!) about to be invaded and devastated by huge Muslim armies commanded by the Antichrist in person, before a glorious future King of France (a figure inserted by the 16th-century French editors, and often supposed nowadays by French royalists to be the long-awaited Henri V), commanding even more powerful Christian forces, would push them back again to the Middle East and finally convert them to the True Faith (!!). [Nostradamus seems to have associated this king with the contemporary Henri II, whereas his secretary Chavigny explicitly and repeatedly associated him with his own contemporary Henri IV.] Thereafter the Pope would set up his throne in
Jerusalem, and all would be set for the rest of the expected end-time events – the grisly invasion by the forces of God and Magog from the north, the re-appearance of Elias and Enoch, the destruction of the Antichrist, the Second Coming of Christ and the Final Judgement. All of these themes therefore variously re-appeared, if in truncated and deliberately obscure form, in Nostradamus’s verses and accompanying dedicatory letters to his son César and to King Henri II, as did many of the ideas, details and even actual words from another hugely influential book of the time – Richard Roussat’s Livre de l’estat... of 1549/50.

However, these prophecies alone were not enough to cover the planned thousand verses, and so a great deal of further evidence suggests that Nostradamus now amplified them considerably by borrowing analogous events from ancient history, the medieval chronicles and even events from the very recent past – to say nothing of various contemporary books of recorded ‘omens’ – and projecting them into the future, on the grounds that (as everybody believed at the time) ‘history repeats itself’. To select these, he seems to have used a divinatory process known as ‘bibliomancy’ – letting a book fall open at any old page, then taking his cue from whatever jumped up at him off the page. My book Nostradamus, Bibliomancer (see below) goes into this aspect particularly.

But when and where? Nostradamus hints pretty heavily in his covering ‘Letter to King Henri II’ that his primary method here involved ‘comparative horoscopy’ – i.e. looking up the horoscopes of major past events and calculating when and on what latitude their major elements would recur. It was constantly a case of ‘another Hannibal’, ‘another Nero’, and so on – which explains why figures from classical antiquity continually crop up in his predictions. There is especially frequent evidence of this in 2(a) above. But in practice he rarely seems to have done the relevant calculation, instead relying on his conviction that history would simply repeat itself sooner or later.

In 1594 Chavigny, his former secretary, published a book about the seer entitled (in French) The French Janus – and Janus was of course the Roman god who looked both backwards and forwards at once. Chavigny could scarcely have summed it up more aptly.

Nostradamus then claims to have amplified the results by means of traditional astrology. He also allegedly resorted to theurgy (the ritual summoning-up of ‘gods’) to obtain actual names and other oral information (see verses I.1 and I.2) – though both these claims are open to question.

All of this was of course perfectly allowable under the broad-minded terms of Renaissance science and scholarship. The hoary old tale that he possessed some kind of ‘magic mirror’ to aid him in this, though, is simply the result of a misreading of his accompanying letter to King Henri II, where he says that his claimed visions came to him comme dans un mirouer ardant (‘as in a burning-mirror’ – i.e. a simple, concave mirror for concentrating the sun’s rays, rather like a modern shaving mirror). This suggests (if true, which it probably isn’t) that he tended to ‘see’ either all detail and no context, or all context and no detail – and much of it topsy-turvy at that. The verses tend to bear this out. As for the suggestion in the well-known film that his ‘visions’ were the result of ingesting nutmeg, this (like most of the rest of the film) is the purest speculation – as, alas, is the popular conviction that he indulged in scrying using a bowl of water.

***

4. Didn’t he write in code?

A. No, nor in anagrams (except for a few scattered names). But he did leave the ‘Centuries’ in scrambled order, as well as using deliberately obscure language in them, allegedly in order to protect himself from his more vociferous religious critics. This involved using not only the various linguistic contortions normal in sixteenth-century verse, but also a sprinkling of homonyms (i.e. re-spellings, though these may simply be printer’s errors) and a large number of imported Greek and Latin words – to say nothing of Provençal. All this, too, was highly fashionable at the time: Nostradamus merely pushed it to extremes.

***

5. Do original copies of the prophecies still exist, and if so where?

A. Yes. Even one copy of the long-lost original 1555 edition was rediscovered in 1984, and published in facsimile by Michel Chomarat of
Lyon, while another was discovered by Robert Benazra. Many of the world’s major libraries hold original copies of early editions of his works (i.e. 1605 and earlier) – including the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Lambeth Palace in London and the Vatican in Rome. Details may be found in the Bibliographie Nostradamus and the Nostradamus Encyclopedia (see below). The bulk of his predictions, however, are contained in a vast manuscript by his secretary, which has recently been restored in Paris and researched and reprinted in part by Bernard Chevignard, Professor of Language and Communication at the University of Bourgogne, in his Présages de Nostradamus (Editions du Seuil, 1999), which contains many actual facsimiles. You can consult all the original texts either in high resolution on the CD that comes with my book Nostradamus, Bibliomancer (see below), or in low resolution on line at http://www.propheties.it/bibliotheque/index.html .

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6. How far can the various modern editions of the Propheties be trusted?

A. Not very far. Most of them rely on late and very corrupt editions. Their attempted word-for-word translations (not a recommended way of approaching translation at the best of times, and certainly not one espoused by Nostradamus himself in his own translations of classical texts) are often full of elementary schoolboy/schoolgirl howlers, suggesting that their authors were not best qualified to undertake the job in the first place. Their would-be interpretations are generally highly skewed and arbitrary, and characterised by extreme credulity, paranoia and obviously preconceived agendas. Moreover, you wouldn’t guess from most of them that Nostradamus was writing poetry, not legal documents. You can consult my own verse-translations in my book Nostradamus: The Illustrated Prophecies (O Books, 2003) and my prose translations in my book Nostradamus, Bibliomancer (Career Press, 2010).

***

7. What did Nostradamus’s contemporaries think of him?

A. The local Catholic peasantry viewed him with suspicion and (in an age of almost apocalyptic religious warfare) thought he might be some kind of Protestant. The Church was interested, though sometimes a little suspicious. His books – and especially his annual Almanachs – were avidly devoured by the reading public (around 90% of whom could reportedly read at the time). The Court, under Queen Catherine de Médicis, quickly became besotted with him, to the point where foreign ambassadors were reporting home that it had become overcome by a kind of Nostradamania and implying that this precluded all sensible dialogue for the duration.

***

8. Was he persecuted by the Inquisition?

A. No – though he was once reportedly summoned before the Inquisition of Toulouse to explain a possibly heretical remark that probably had more to do with his wry sense of humour than with his beliefs. In fact he was extremely pious (he seems to have had reformist, Franciscan sympathies, which may have been the reason for his allegedly heretical remark, which seems to have been about a statue of the Virgin Mary), and his relations with the Church were always good. Despite frequent modern statements and a statement in the Britannica article to the contrary, his books were never placed on the
Vatican’s Index of Forbidden Books, though various of them did regularly appear on the Spanish equivalent.

***

9. Wasn’t he buried upright, with a medallion around his neck predicting when he would be dug up?

A. No. There is no historical evidence for either story. The site of his original burial can, however, be visited by eating at the Restaurant ‘La Brocherie’, in the Rue D’Hozier at Salon, which still incorporates part of its 13th century Franciscan chapel.

***

10. Do his predictions name names and specify actual dates?

A. Rarely, and when they do they are almost always wrong.

***

11. How often has Nostradamus been proved right in the past?

A. Almost never. Enthusiasts usually ‘prove’ such claims by either twisting the words to fit the events or by twisting the events to fit the words. Certainly such of his annual Presages as were specific have turned out to be largely wrong – their success-rate seems to have been about 5.73%!

***

12. Did he really predict Hitler?

A. Not by name. The name Hi∫teris used three times in the ‘Centuries’ and (as I∫ter) twice in the ‘Présages’ – but on two of the former three occasions it is coupled with the river
Rhine. In fact, ‘Hister’ was the classical name for the river Danube (which is indubitably what the word refers to in the Almanachs, where Nostradamus himself specifically says so), and so there can really be little doubt that the word refers to the river, not the man (Danube and Rhine at one time formed the nrtheastern frontier of the Roman Empire). Don’t tell Erika Cheetham, though (who was keen on this idea), that in IV.68 of the second (1557) edition the word is actually misprinted hilter!

***

13. What about the Kennedys and the future nuking of
New York?

A. This recent tradition likewise owes much to Erika Cheetham. Nostradamus does admittedly refer on a number of occasions to ‘three brothers’, but in terms that generally suggest that he is actually talking about the leaders of three allied nations in a future Muslim/Christian conflict, not a single dynasty. Besides, Edward was never obliging enough to get himself assassinated. Much the same applies to the alleged nuking of
New York. The city is in fact never named: the widespread tradition (especially popular, curiously enough, among Americans) derives from VI.97, where a grand cite neufve on latitude 45 degrees is attacked with fire from the sky. Since New York city lies well to the south of this, the verse obviously doesn’t apply. The reference is clearly to some town or city that, like Naples (< Greek Neapolis), is actually namedNew City’ (this word-substitution procedure is perfectly normal in Nostradamus).

***

14. What does the famous ‘1999’ prophecy say?

A. Transcribed into modern lettering, its original, 1568 text reads:

L’an mil neuf cens nonante neuf sept mois
Du ciel viendra un grand
Roy deffraieur
Resusciter le grand Roy d’Angolmois.
Avant apres Mars regner par bon heur.

You can obtain a facsimile of the original edition of this either in high resolution from the CD that comes with my book Nostradamus, Bibliomancer (see below) or in low resolution online at http://www.propheties.it/bibliotheque/index.html where you should select Century X, verse 72.
Whatever this verse is about, it is not (as most translations claim – to much justified public alarm) ‘a great King of terror’. Not as it stands, at least. The last word in line 2, which only acquired an apostrophe (thus making it d’effraieur) in relatively corrupt later printings, means ‘defrayer’, ‘provider’ or ‘host’, while du ciel probably means ‘of the region’ and not ‘from the sky’, as it often does elsewhere in Nostradamus.
A much more informed translation than has hitherto been possible would thus run as follows:

When 1999 is seven months o’er
From thereabouts shall a great hosting King
Restore the King from Angoumois once more,
Who’ll reign propitiously once come the spring

The puzzling last line, in other words, is merely Nostradamus’s compressed version of:

Avant (apres Mars) de regner par bon heur.

What verse X.72 really seems to be predicting then, is that in July 1999 a ruler who has been imprisoned and/or removed from office like François I of Angoulême (and who has possibly fallen ill) will be restored to health by his host, who will be an analogue of the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, and that from March 2000 he will rule with great good fortune.
Alas, it didn’t happen!

You can see a detailed analysis of this in my Nostradamus, Bibliomancer.

 ***

15. Are there other so-far-unfulfilled prophecies?

A. As indicated above, virtually all the prophecies remain unfulfilled – which doesn’t of course necessarily mean that they actually will be.

***

16. Does Nostradamus really predict the end of the world?

A. No, and certainly not in 2012 (to which he never refers). In fact he never mentions the idea in his Propheties, though he does sometimes allude vaguely to its imminence in the Presages – while the ‘Last Times’ idea, derived from his sources such as the Mirabilis liber, of course pervades the whole work. True, he does seem to indicate that there will be some kind of Apocalypse or Last Judgement. He also states quite specifically in his prefatory letter to his son César, however, that his prophecies are designed to cover the history of the world up to the year 3797 – which presumably means that the world will still be here then (always assuming that he is counting from the same point as everyone else – after all, 3797 is merely the sum of Roussat’s proposed date for the end of the world [2242] and the date when Nostradamus wrote it [1555]). Whether that represents some kind of finality, though, is not stated. The standard cosmological model at the time had the world ending either in 1800 (or 1887) or in 2242, but Nostradamus seems to have stretched this model in such a way as to give a theoretical terminal date of 4722 (see FAQ B)

***

17. Isn’t it true that you can make Nostradamus’s prophecies mean almost anything?

A. Yes, if you take them in isolation, and especially if you insist on treating even Nostradamus’s plain-language statements as if they were in some kind of arcane code (an approach which in fact has no evidential basis and tends to reveal only what is in the interpreter’s own mind). The prophecies are like the scattered pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. There is no hope of determining what any individual piece means until you have completed the puzzle and thus established the context in which it fits – i.e. the picture on the box – even if it had one in the first place. There is even less hope of doing so if you insist that the design on each piece is really a blind for an underlying picture which only you have seen. For interpretational purposes, therefore, this means that each verse has (a) to be taken to mean precisely what it says (allowing for obvious – because otherwise nonsensical -- homonyms, anagrams etc.) and (b) to be placed in the context of the other verses that go with it. This is not impossible. Most verses seem to have a ‘pair’, while others have whole groups of ‘partners’ that are fairly obvious  – whether on the basis of subject-matter, vocabulary, place-names, named characters or references to other events (‘before this’, ‘after that’). But identifying the known historical events and texts on which each prediction is based can prove even more helpful, as well as helping to explain the 'pairings'. Unfortunately, most existing interpretations do not even attempt any of this: these can generally be identified by the fact that they simply attempt to analyse the verses in numerical order, or (conversely) attempt to apply isolated bits of verses selectively. Such interpretations are therefore best avoided, as are ones that are obviously credulous, paranoid or skewed towards preconceived agendas.

***

18. How accurate are the various films and videos about him?

A. Not at all, for the most part. The Maison de Nostradamus at Salon (see below) has produced a reasonably reliable video, but this is fairly limited in scope. Virtually all the rest are ludicrously inaccurate, with the possible exception of the film Nostradamus in the National Geographic Channel’s Mystery Files series and Discovery's The Real Nostradamus. As for The Man Who Saw Tomorrow (Warner), narrated by Orson Welles, this may be well-produced but, alas, is heavily Cheetham-based.

***

19. Where can I reliably find out more
, and what is the title of the latest academically respectable book on the subject?

A. The truly authoritative work is in French – Dr Edgar Leroy’s Nostradamus: ses origines, sa vie, son oeuvre (Lafitte, 1993 [ISBN 2 86276 231 8]), which also exists in paperback – but even this is becoming dated. The most up-to-date research into Nostradamus’ Presages and Almanachs is contained in Bernard Chevignard’s Présages de Nostradamus (Editions du Seuil, 1999). The latest and most reliable work on his astrology -- as well as on his work generally -- is contained in the late Pierre Brind’Amour’s Nostradamus Astrophile (Lincksieck/Univ. of Ottawa Presses, 1993), and possibly the most reliable analysis of the first-edition verses (1.1 to IV.53) in the same author’s Nostradamus: Les Premières Centuries (Droz, 1996) – but both, like Leroy's and Chevignard’s works, are of course also in French, as is Jean-Paul Cl
ébert's comprehensive analysis of the Prophecies entitled Prophéties de Nostradamus (Relié / Dervy, 2003). Equally thorough and comprehensive is Dr Elmar R Gruber's survey  Nostradamus, sein Leben, sein Werk und die wahre Bedeutung seiner Prophezeiungen (Scherz, 2003), but this is of course in German. Fortunately, much of Brind’Amour’s research, at least, has now been published in English by Ian Wilson in his massive Nostradamus: The Evidence (Orion, 2002) [ISBN 0-75285-263-9]. I would also naturally recommend my own The Unknown Nostradamus and Nostradamus: The Illustrated Prophecies (both published by O Books in 2003, and the latter available both in the USA and in the UK-- click as appropriate) and, more recently, Nostradamus, Bibliomancer (Career Press, 2010, likewise available both in the USA and in the UK -- once again, click as appropriate) ­ – which even comes with a CD containing  facsimiles of the actual original editions.


Complete details of all the earliest editions (including their present whereabouts) are to be found in the splendid Bibliographie Nostradamus by Michel Chomarat and Dr Jean-Paul Laroche (Koerner, 1989 [3 87320 123 2]) and in Robert Benazra’s Répertoire Chronologique Nostradamique (1545-1989) (La Grande Conjonction, 1990 [2-85707-418-2]). Both of these last may be available from the Maison de Nostradamus at 13 rue Nostradamus, 13300 Salon-de Provence, France but, again, are in French. My own comprehensive English Nostradamus Encyclopedia appeared in the UK and Australia in October 1997 (Thorsons), and its American edition (St Martin’s Press, NY) shortly afterwards, but is now available only second-hand or from libraries and, alas, is somewhat dated and inaccurate in the light of more recent research.

The latest, most up-to-date and probably most comprehensive biography of Nostradamus in English, covering his life and work from youth to death (and, purely for reasons of digestibility, in novelized form), is arguably my own recently-published  Nostradamus, Prophet of Provence
 (click for details). Closely fact-based and profusely documented, this duly reflects all of the above titles.



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20. What Websites offer further information about Nostradamus?

A.  By far the best source is currently the Wikipedia article on Nostradamus at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nostradamus, together with its associated source-list and copious external links.

B. COMMON MISCONCEPTIONS ABOUT NOSTRADAMUS (BIOGRAPHICAL/HISTORICAL)


Items are arranged in more or less ‘chronological’ order.

Q. Wasn’t Nostradamus a Jew who converted to Christianity?

A. No, so far as is known only his father’s side of the family was Jewish – and his paternal grandfather Pierre de Nostredame converted some 50 years before Nostradamus was born.

***

Q. But surely he is supposed to have inherited his prophetic gift from the Israelite tribe of Issachar?

A. He always claimed that his gift came from his mother’s side of the family, not his father’s.

***

Q. Didn’t he believe that the planets went around the sun even before Copernicus?

A. There is no evidence of this. None of his astrology is heliocentric.

***

Q. Wasn’t Nostradamus educated by his grandfathers, who were distinguished doctors at the court of King René of
Provence?

A. No. For a start, his grandfathers were nothing of the kind (the story seems to have been invented by his admiring son César – who was rather given to such family propaganda – around a century later). Secondly, his paternal grandfather Pierre was merely a merchant at
Avignon – if a well-to-do one – while his maternal grandfather René de St-Rémy apparently died before the future seer was even born. And thirdly, the child seems to have been educated either by his father or by his maternal great-grandfather Jean de St-Rémy, who had indeed been a doctor – but only a local one, and apparently town treasurer to boot.

***

Q. But surely it’s correct that he went to
Montpellier in 1521 to
study medicine?


A. No. He himself states in his Traité des fardemens et confitures that he spent the years from 1521 to 1529 wandering the countryside in search of cures and remedies. There is no record at
Montpellier of his presence there during this time – and when he finally turned up in 1529 he was promptly booted out again for having been an apothecary, and rude about doctors too. His written enrolment survives, as does the record of his expulsion again...

***

Q. But he did qualify as a doctor, surely?

A. There is no record even of this. He is even on record as having denied being a doctor.

***

Q. But he must have qualified, surely, if he went on to teach at the
Montpellier Faculty?

A. Not only is there absolutely no record of his teaching there, but by 1531 he had turned up at Agen, so leaving no time for such teaching.

***

Q. Wasn’t his first wife at Agen named de Loubéjac?

A. No. (Try telling that to Scaliger, whose wife she was!!) Her name appears to have been Henriette d’Encausse.

***

Q. Weren’t she and her two children killed by the plague, then?

A. Nobody knows what they died of.

***

Q. But surely it is true that Nostradamus was persecuted by the Spanish Inquisition for heresy there?

A. It is said that the Inquisition of
Toulouse invited him to explain to them a caustic remark he had made about the qualities of a bronze casting of the Virgin Mary – but there is no actual record of this.

***

Q. But he was persecuted by the Inquisition, surely – if not then, at least for writing his prophecies?

A. There is no record of his ever having been even investigated by the Inquisition for his prophetic activities: in fact he was always on the best of terms with the Church.

***

Q. But the Encyclopedia Britannica states that he was placed on the
Vatican’s Index of Forbidden Books in 1781, surely?

A. Yes – and Britannica is wrong, as also about several other matters relating to Nostradamus. His name is in fact nowhere mentioned in any of the
Vatican’s editions of the Index – and investigations of the 25 actual editions at the Bibliothèque Municipale de Lyon have revealed that there was in fact NO edition of it issued in 1781! Indeed, his Almanach for 1562 even contains an open letter to the then Pope!

***

Q. But surely everyone knows that his religiosity was just a cover for his magical activities?

A. All the evidence suggests that he was in fact a deeply pious Roman Catholic with a strong leaning towards the Franciscan movement.

Q. Isn’t it true that he became a highly successful Plague doctor?

A. It depends what you mean by successful. He gained a reputation and made a lot of money out of it, certainly. But he himself admits that, during the outbreak at
Aix-en-Provence, none of his methods actually worked at all.

***

Q. But surely I have read that he used advanced antiseptics, recommended exercise and a diet low in animal fats, and refused to bleed his patients?

A. The first three suggestions are the purest fantasy, while he himself admits in his Traité that he did bleed his patients – and that it didn’t work! His celebrated ‘rose-pills’ (for which he offers the recipe in the book) seem to have been used purely as a prophylactic. There is no actual evidence that his methods differed much from the traditional ones.

***

Q. Didn’t he write the Prophecies of Orval in 1542?

A. No. Their style and language make it perfectly obvious that they were written at around the time of Napoleon, whose reign they pretend to prophesy (no doubt that’s why Napoleon constantly carried them around with him!). Orval (on the Belgian frontier) was in the middle of a war-zone between France and the Holy Roman Emperor in 1542 – so it is highly unlikely that academic travellers such as Nostredame (as he then was) would have ventured anywhere near it at the time.

***

Q. When visiting
Italy, he recognised a young Franciscan friar as a future Pope, and knelt before him. That proves that he was a true prophet, doesn’t it?

A. There is absolutely no historical or archival record of any such incident.

***

Q. But then, on returning to Salon, he turned to writing his Centuries?

A. No. He first wrote his cookbook (the Traité des fardemens et des confitures) and started on his series of annual Almanachs, with which he continued until the end of his life. Both were in fact much better known and more widely bought than his later Propheties.

***

Q. And their predictions for the weather and crop prospects were always right?

A. No, in fact they seem to have been far more often wrong than right – sometimes calamitously so.

***

Q. But surely if people kept buying them they must have been right?

A. If people kept buying them it was presumably because they hoped that next time they might be!

***

Q. But his main book of prophecies was entitled the Centuries, right?

A. Wrong. ‘Centuries’ was merely a generic description of the ten books of 100 verses that it was designed to contain. Its actual title was Les Propheties de M. Michel Nostradamus – which might mean either ‘The Prophecies of M. Michel Nostradamus’ or ‘The Prophecies, by M. Michel Nostradamus.’

***

Q. And he wrote them by scrying with the aid of a bowl of water or a magic mirror?

A. There is no evidence whatever that he used a bowl of water for scrying – or a magic mirror, for that matter. The bowl of water (as you can see from his first two verses) was purely for dipping his feet and the hem of his robe into after the model of the Greek oracles – if indeed he ever did anything of the kind, and wasn’t merely quoting the practice in order to establish his credentials as a prophet in the ancient mould. ‘As though’, he keeps saying. In the ancient Greek context at Delphi, it seems to have involved water giving off aromatic fumes. As for the ‘mirror’, he simply states that his visions came to him comme dans un mirouer ardant (as in a burning-mirror – i.e. a concave mirror used for concentrating the sun’s rays). Try looking into a shaving mirror sometime and you’ll see what he meant!

***

Q. But he did use magic spells?

A. Nobody knows – though he implies that he used the classical techniques of theurgy, which amounts to much the same thing. However, he was a truly magical line-shooter, so you can never be sure!

***

Q. At least he was a superb astrologer, though, wasn’t he?

A. No. He was prone to put planets in the wrong houses and (according to the astrologer Videl) the sun in two different parts of the sky at once, and never did get the hang of interpolating for time or place on the basis of the noon figures given in the published tables for Ulm, Bologna, Venice or wherever they had been caldulated. In other words, he could never get the hang of adjusting the data for his clients’ place or time of birth, as even the most incompetent astrologer would have been able to do. That, in fact, was the main reason why the professional astrologers of the day so despised him, and why he in turn dissociated himself from them in verse VI.100, claiming instead to be a simple ‘astrophile’ (‘star-lover’) who was directly or indirectly inspired by God Himself. In the light of this claim, though, he did specialise in (and was much respected for) doing ‘intuitive readings’ or interpretations of the professional astrologers’ charts, which he often specifically asked his clients (including the royal family) to supply him with. Even when he did do his own charts, it was always on their figures that they were based (Regiomontanus, Stöffler, Pitatus, Carellus, Leowitz – all of whose original figures are easy to identify from the particular charts in which they are used). He even had a copy of one set of them (Stadius, 1564) with him on his death-bed.

***

Q. So was he always right, or wasn’t he?

A. Virtually never, in fact. True, in his Epistle to King Henri II he did claim that, when divinely inspired (whether directly, via the planets, or via his guiding spirit or claimed Guardian Angel [Michael, naturally!]), he was capable of not erring, failing or being deceived. But then, in his letter to the Canons of Orange of
4th February 1562, he pointed out that, as a human being, he could quite easily do all three. Which of course poses the interesting question...how, as a human being, could he be absolutely sure of when he was being divinely inspired anyway?!

***

Q. One way or the other, though, he did manage to write his prophecies in code?

A. No, he wrote his prophecies in rhyming verse. Code this may seem to those unfamiliar with 16th century French poetry (many of whom fail to notice even that it is in verse!) or with the Latin of their known classical antecedents, but none of the various ‘code’ theories has ever managed to gain the general support of serious commentators on the subject. Nor have they managed to explain what the point would have been in the first place.

***

Q. But he did use anagrams, surely?

A. So did most writers of the time – but only occasionally, and for the most part solely in respect of proper names, which they did rather like to disguise, whether for fun or for self-protection. They are always obvious in any case – mainly from the fact that they make absolutely no sense if read as ordinary words.

***

Q. But surely Nostradamus’s use of huge numbers of Latin and Greek words suggests that he was up to something?

A. Not necessarily – and he really didn’t use as many as all that, except when quoting from Latin. Generally speaking, he simply gallicised them. Using classical words was all the rage at the time. Educated people could understand them perfectly well (they also knew what his frequent references to classical history and mythology were about). Nostradamus merely pushed it to extremes in order to veil his meaning from the ignorant. Evidently he is still succeeding!

***

Q. Can’t I get at his meaning by translating each of his words into English with my pocket French-English dictionary, then?

A. No. This doesn’t work even with modern French texts. And it sure as hell doesn’t work with 16th century poetry – least of all Nostradamus’s! Always try to remember that he was writing poetry, not legal documents – and he was not thinking about how it might translate into English, either!

***

Q. So when he was summoned to
Paris to meet the King and Queen in 1556...

A. He wasn’t. Contemporary correspondence makes it perfectly plain that this happened in 1555, shortly after his first edition appeared – though it was not because of that, but because of the unspeakable horrors that he had recently hinted at for the royal family in his Almanachs.

***

Q ...he went there by coach, as in the film...

A. No, he rode on horseback – probably one of a train of royal pack-horses reserved for the royal mail. Coaches had not yet come into general use – not least because there were no roads for them to travel on. Even the Queen rode in a litter, not a coach.

***

Q. ...and was questioned by her on the meaning of verse I.35, about the King’s approaching death in a duel?

A. Nothing is known about the content of the interview.

***

Q. But surely writers such as Cheetham and Hogue disagree with you on much of this, as does the Orson Welles film/video?

A. Unfortunately their biographical accounts are all ludicrously inaccurate, and do not square with the documented facts. Most of their assertions seem to be based on unsourced rumours originally floated in print during the 18th-19th century in the absence of any known reliable contemporary evidence.

***

Q. Didn’t Nostradamus prophesy his own death in Presage 141, though?

A. No. Granted, his secretary Chavigny later assumed that that was what it was about, and altered the verse to fit – so starting the long and shaky tradition that you could retrospectively fit Nostradamus’s predictions to anything you liked. But in fact what we know as Presage 141 (actually it was originally number 152) is specifically dated for November 1567 – whereas the seer in fact died in July 1566. So even if this verse were a prediction of his death, he got the date wrong...

***

Q. But surely it is at least true that Nostradamus was buried upright so that people should not walk on his body?

A. There is absolutely no evidence for this, nor is there any provision to this effect in his will.

***

Q. But isn’t it the case that, when his body was dug up at the French Revolution, they found a medallion around his neck bearing the exact date of the exhumation?

A. No. This is a pure urban myth with no evidence whatever to back it up – as the wonderful ability of the alleged date to change from account to account more than amply demonstrates!

C. COMMON MISCONCEPTIONS ABOUT NOSTRADAMUS (PROPHECIES)


By Peter Lemesurier

 Contents:

1 I don’t seem to able to find any books on Nostradamus. My bookseller just doesn’t seem to stock any. Has the seer gone out of fashion, or don’t they think he’s important?
2 Presumably the editions of Nostradamus that are currently available in the bookshops are reliable? Do they give the correct French?
3 I have heard that the original manuscripts of Nostradamus’s writings still exist in the
Vatican Library. Is this true?
4 Isn’t it true that the ‘Sixains’ aren’t by Nostradamus anyway?
5 Surely Nostradamus can’t have ignored the future of somewhere as important as
America in his prophecies, can he?
6 Doesn’t there have to be some dark, significant reason why Century VII is incomplete?
7 Given that Nostradamus wrote in French, can’t I can just look his words up in a modern French-English dictionary? I mean, it’s not correct to say that he sometimes used words in their original Latin senses instead of their French ones, is it?
8 But how can anybody understand Nostradamus if they can’t translate him using ordinary dictionaries? Surely you can only establish what he meant if you do a strict, word-for-word translation?
9 Everybody knows that Nostradamus predicted Hitler by name, surely?
10 Surely Nostradamus agrees with the Bible that there are to be three Antichrists?
11 Nostradamus does name Napoleon and Hitler as the first and second Antichrists, right?
12 Isn’t ‘Mabus’ (II.62) the third Antichrist after all, then?
13 So ‘CHYREN’ is the Antichrist, then?
14 What about the Man with the Blue Turban at II.2 and IX.73? He has to be the Antichrist, doesn’t he?
15 The reference to the ‘road of the hollow mountains’ at X.49 has to be about the poisoning of
New York’s water-supply, doesn’t it?
16 But at least verse VI.97, with its references to the ‘
new city’ at 45 degrees and ‘fire from the sky’ is all about New York?
17 Isn’t there good evidence in Nostradamus that World War III was due to start on July 4th 1999?
18 But surely we are entitled to suggest any reading of the prophecies we like? I.58 included?
19 Doesn’t verse X.72 predict a King of Terror from the sky – either a comet, an asteroid, the Cassini space probe, the Mir space station, a solar flare, the 11th August solar eclipse, or else the Antichrist in person?
20 Is Roberts right in suggesting that X.72 is about the ‘King of the Jacquerie’ (and if so, what does it mean?)?
21 But your own suggestion that X.72 is about the Pope is no better, is it? I mean what’s all this ‘comparative horoscopy’ that you keep prattling on about?
22 When Nostradamus talks about a new ‘siecle’ and so on, he has to be talking about the new millennium, the beginning of the next century and the dawning of the Age of Aquarius, doesn’t he?
23 Century VIII.14 just has to be about the Clinton/Lewinsky affair, doesn’t it?
24 Verse I.69, with its reference to a ‘round mountain’ rolling over great countries, has to be about a coming asteroid hitting the earth, doesn’t it?
25 But I thought he actually dated the imminent impact of a future comet?
26 But surely Nostradamus predicted the present crisis... [fill in as appropriate!!]?
27 Isn’t the name ‘Samarobryn’ in VI.5 a reference to the Russians?
28 Don’t Dolores Cannon’s books give a good representation of what Nostradamus’s verses mean? After all, unlike any other author, she claims that Nostradamus explains them to her directly. So far as I remember, her books even contain English translations...
29 Failing some kind of code, there has at least to be some secret key to the order or sequence that we are meant to read the quatrains in, doesn’t there – some way of determining the precise date when each is supposed to come true?
30 To find out what Nostradamus’s verses are saying, isn’t it sufficient just to take a look at them and see which events (whether past or expected) happen to fit?
31 But surely the very way he wrote – obscure, twisted, not like normal language at all – deliberately invites us to read into them whatever turns us on?
32 But Nostradamus was always right, wasn’t he? Has he ever missed?
33 But isn’t it true that Nostradamus used a different calendar from ours, and so his years don’t mean the same as ours anyway? Didn’t his year start in March, too?
34 Aren’t you just trying to demolish Nostradamus?



 ***

1. I don’t seem to able to find any books on Nostradamus. My bookseller just doesn’t seem to stock any. Has the seer gone out of fashion, or don’t they think he’s important?

A. Virtually all Nostradamus titles sold out after 9/11, when the rumour was put about that Nostradamus had prophesied it. He hadn’t, of course (see FAQ re 9/11 below), but they continue to sell like hot cakes. Your bookseller may merely be fed up to the back teeth with peddling the arrant nonsense written by would-be ‘interpreters’…

 *** 

2. Presumably the editions of Nostradamus that are currently available in the bookshops are reliable? Do they give the correct French?

A. No, unfortunately they don’t. Not all of them, anyway.

Roberts (1947) merely did the best with what he had, which was Garencières’ hopelessly corrupt 1672 version, itself based on a very late edition.

Leoni, similarly (1963), hadn’t seen any originals, so made good with late reprints by Le Pelletier (1867), plus other reprints, whose spelling he freely modernised (!!).

Cheetham had  at least got hold of a copy of the original 1568 version, which she reprints pretty accurately (X.72 included), even though her translations are often pretty hopeless.

Hogue quotes a 1568 version, which he seems to edit somewhat (!!), and so his books make various errors, as well as feeding in all his pet ideas about his favourite world terrorists and gurus...

Fontbrune’s books use the very late 1605 edition, and unapologetically read known events into their French interpretations (which are in turn translated into English by Alexis Lykiard, and so even further from the original) -- at least until he reads later ones into them.

By contrast, my own Nostradamus Encyclopedia does reprint in transliteration (though I say it myself!) the relevant parts of the original 1555, 1557 (November), 1568 and 1605 editions in sequence, even though not always absolutely accurately. This my subsequent Nostradamus: The Illustrated Prophecies (available both in the USA and in the UK) does more accurately.

 *** 

3. I have heard that the original manuscripts of Nostradamus’s writings still exist in the
Vatican Library. Is this true?

A. No. They have long since disappeared – probably at the time of printing. Certainly they were never in the
Vatican library. But various of the original printed editions are still held in many of the world’s major libraries, including the Vatican – though no American library has an original copy of the Propheties.

Bethesda N Library of Medicine, Harvard University, Montreal Osler Medical, Chicago (John Crerar), Philadelphia Krauth and Yale Medical School all have copies of the Traité des fardemens. Chicago Newberry Library has an antedated copy of the Propheties bearing the date 1568, but actually printed in 1605, Harvard City has a 1611 printing, Harvard University has both 1610 and 1611 editions, Ithaca a 1611, New Brunswick University a 1611, New York Columbia University a 1611 and Washington City a 1611 – though unfortunately all of these are very late and consequently corrupt (among other things, as regards X.72!). Ann Arbor University, Urbana Illinois and Washington Folger have odd copies of his annual Almanachs.

A complete list of world-libraries with original Nostradamus editions can be found on pages 126-7 of the Nostradamus Encyclopedia.

To be sure of originals (e.g. of verse X.72), your best plan would be to approach the biggest world collection (2000+ items) of Nostradamia at the Bibliothèque Municipale de Lyon, France (Fonds Michel Chomarat) and ask for a photocopy (in the case of X.72) of page 71 of Part 2 of the original Benoist Rigaud edition of the Propheties dated 1568. Alternatively, Mario’s site (the largest Nostradamus facsimile site in the world) at http://www.propheties.it/bibliotheque/index.html also carries facsimiles of them.

 *** 

4. Isn’t it true that the ‘Sixains’ aren’t by Nostradamus anyway?

A. Possibly. They first appeared in Vincent Seve’s edition of 1605. Seve may have been related to Nostradamus through the latter’s daughter Anne, who is known to have married one ‘Pierre de Seva’. All Seve says about them in his covering epistle to King Henri IV is that he has "verified and checked" them.

Computer analysis and the fact that he published them as Nostradamus’s apart, there is very little to go on. There are all kinds of similarities of vocabulary and symbolism which suggest that they could be genuine – possibly unpublished drafts that Chavigny found lying around in Nostradamus’s room.

The doubts centre around the fact that (a) they have six lines and (b) their style differs from that of the Centuries. On the other hand, had they been written by a forger, the likelihood is that he would have kept both the style and the verse form as close to the original as possible. The only "forger" likely to have been confident enough to alter the style and format completely is thus... Nostradamus!

 *** 

5. Surely Nostradamus can’t have ignored the future of somewhere as important as
America in his prophecies, can he?

The Epistle to Henri II shows Nostradamus describing his prophecies as: for the most part composed and harmonised with Astronomical calculations relating by the year, month and week to the regions, countries and most of the Towns and Cities of all Europe, taking in those of North Africa and part of Asia …
Not a word about America, in other words.
By way of secondary evidence, all Nostradamus’s place names also fall within those same regions – except three. One is ‘Tartarie’ (V.54) – i.e. the area covered by the former Mongol empire (but then this did extend into the Middle East, and even into Europe). Another is ‘Carmanie’ – part of Persia. The third is ‘d’Americh’, which is mentioned only once (X.66) and may merely be a misprint for dame erist.

 *** 

6. Doesn’t there have to be some dark, significant reason why Century VII is incomplete?

A. No. The odd number of quatrains in this Century may simply be the result of contemporary publishing practice. I originally suggested that 42 was merely the number of quatrains that the publisher had room for without going into a further section of 16 pages (in which books always were – and often still are – put together) which might remain less than full. However, there was in fact room for three more verses on the last page (122), and with another 16 pages he could (at six-and-a-bit verses per page) actually have completed the 7th Century. So it looks as if VII.42 was merely where Nostradamus had got to when the book went to print – or else as if that was simply where Du Rosne decided to stop.

There was no problem with this, as the work was clearly being produced in instalments anyway, and the customer/retailer would then be at liberty to bind them together (such books at the time were produced unbound so as to save weight and space on the backs of the pack-horses that distributed them across the country: it was for the retailer or customer to do the binding).

As for why the seventh Century never got published in full, I can only surmise that Chavigny simply couldn’t find the rest of it when he came to publish the complete work in 1568 – or possibly Du Rosne (who thought he had the rights to the whole thing) got a bit irked and refused to return any bits he still had when Chavigny switched to Rigaud as publisher for the 1568 edition. And so Chavigny simply cobbled together the two previous editions to make an ‘omnibus edition’ of them.

 *** 

7. Given that Nostradamus wrote in French, can’t I can just look his words up in a modern French-English dictionary? I mean, it’s not correct to say that he sometimes used words in their original Latin senses instead of their French ones, is it?

A. In fact

1 Nostradamus’s verses are so Latinate that some people think (erroneously) that he actually wrote them in Latin, then translated them into French (of a kind!).
2 Certainly his syntax – far from being just haphazard gobbledygook – is closely akin to that of the Roman Virgil, and not like that of modern French at all, which is why his verses were not generally understood by the less educated people of his time – or of ours, for that matter!
3 That being so, it wouldn’t be at all surprising if he had used his actual words in Virgilian ways, too. However, there is more...
4 Nostradamus’s latter-day secretary, Jean-Aymes de Chavigny, was sent to him specifically by Jean Dorat, who was a leading classical scholar, famed in his day as an interpreter of Nostradamus (could the two facts be connected?!), and known as the father of the group of poets known to this day as the ‘Pléiade’.
5 Especially did Dorat encourage Ronsard and Joachim du Bellay, two of its members, to publish their linguistic manifesto entitled the Deffense et Illustration de la Langue Françoyse in 1549 – just before Nostradamus started on his prophetic work. It had explosive, revolutionary effects on the whole contemporary use of the language.
6 One of the central themes of this immensely influential manifesto (which would eventually influence even Shakespeare’s use of English) was that French should (in tune with the whole spirit of the Renaissance) be enriched with many borrowed Latin and Greek words, and re-cast largely in Latin mould.
7 This meant, among other things, the use even of French words in the senses and linguistic patterns in which the ancients had used them. Ronsard wrote that he was very proud of having done this (Nostradamus Encyclopedia p.98). Moreover, these uses were far from being ‘old-fashioned’: to people at the time they were the very latest thing!
This being so, and classicisation consequently being all the rage, it would have been very surprising indeed if Nostradamus had not participated in it – as, indeed, all his writings clearly indicate. ‘Disguise’ didn’t necessarily come into it: it was simply the way things were done at the time (even if, probably for reasons of concealment and self-protection, he did take it to excess!).

 *** 

8. But how can anybody understand Nostradamus if they can’t translate him using ordinary dictionaries? Surely you can only establish what he meant if you do a strict, word-for-word translation?

A. Admittedly, there are quite a few people who seem to imagine that Nostradamus only makes sense if he is translated into English – and, in particular, that French words mean English words.

In fact, of course, they don’t (ask any French person who has never learnt a word of English, if you don’t believe me!). Still less do 16th century French words – let alone Nostradamus’s 16th century French words! Still less, of course, French idioms or expressions of any era, ancient or modern.

Consequently, rendering each word literally – even if it were possible – has little or nothing to do with translation, which involves expressing to speakers of the other language the exact meaning of the original text in such a way as to convey no feeling of awkwardness or foreignness that wasn’t in the original. This has very little to do with word-equivalents – though no significant original idea should of course be omitted, and none added.

This, then, is the job of a translator, not a fool with a pocket-dictionary. And, in particular, any translation of the Prophecies that is not in verse is by definition not a proper translation!

Thus:
Qu’est-ce que c’est que ça? doesn’t mean ‘What is this that this is that that’ (it just means ‘Whassat?’).

On a beau se casser la tête doesn’t mean ‘One has fine oneself to break the head’ (it means ‘It’s no use cudgelling your brains’).

Il y va de ma vie doesn’t mean ‘He there goes of my life’ (it means ‘My life’s at stake’).

Nous nous parlons depuis huit jours doesn’t mean ‘We ourselves speak since eight days’ – nor even the rather more worrying ‘We are talking to ourselves for eight days’! (it means ‘We have been talking to each other for a week’).

While conversely, if you ask, literally translated, for a ‘hot dog’ in France, you might just get a warm chihuahua...

... and of course President J F Kennedy, in announcing to the people of Berlin that Ich bin ein Berliner, very nearly identified himself as what Americans call a large jelly donut (in British English a jam doughnut) – ‘very nearly’ because, in context, there was in fact no such confusion.

But then context is another thing that literal, word-for-word translation ignores completely, even if (as is not normally the case, I’m afraid!) it has the right dictionaries to hand...

From all of which it follows that the mere fact that you have a series of rough modern English word-equivalents to hand doesn’t mean that you are then justified in applying modern English syntactical and contextual criteria to it and imagining, by way of establishing your proposed ‘meaning’, that they were ever Nostradamus’s.

 *** 

9. Everybody knows that Nostradamus predicted Hitler by name, surely?

A. Everybody is mistaken, then! ‘Hister’ was in fact the classical name for the lower
Danube. In the Propheties it is mentioned five times (II.24, IV.68, V.29, and Presages 15 and 31). On two of them (II.24, IV.68) it is coupled with the Rhine. IV.68, in fact, is specifically about rivers. Rhine and Danube used together to form the NE frontier of the Roman Empire. Two of the other references (Presages 15, 31) are specifically to the years 1557 and 1558. And in his Presage for 1554 (222) Nostradamus refers specifically to ‘the river Hister, known as Danube’.

Hardly Hitler, then!

Incidentally, Hitler was born at Braunau-am-Inn, which (as its name suggests) is on the river Inn, some 30 miles from the Danube at its nearest point (i.e. more than a day’s journey in Nostradamus’s time), and not even in the valley of the Danube at all...

***

10. But surely Nostradamus agrees with the Bible that there are to be three Antichrists?

A. All that the Bible says about the Antichrist is:


I John 2:18 ‘You were told that Antichrist was to come, and now many antichrists have appeared’
I John
2:22 ‘Who is the liar? Who but he that denies that Jesus is the Christ? He is Antichrist, for he denies both the Father and the Son’
I John 4:3   ‘Every spirit which acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, and every spirit which does not thus acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is what is meant by "Antichrist" [or ‘This is the spirit of Antichrist’]; you have been told that he was to come, and here he is, in the world already!’
2 John 7: ‘Many deceivers have gone out into the world, who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh. These are the persons described as the Antichrist, the arch-deceiver.’

That’s all! (New English Bible translation, copyright © Oxford and Cambridge University Presses, 1961, 1970)

Neither the book of Daniel nor
St John’s Revelation mentions the concept at all – so if you choose to link it to anything there, it is you who are making the link, not the Bible!

As for Nostradamus, he mentions the term Antechrist (perfectly normal French for ‘Antichrist’) seven times:


VIII.77  where he says that the Antichrist’s war will last 27 years
X.66 where he seems to talk about Britain and America being drawn into a conflict by a ‘false Antichrist’ who is apparently a rebel leader (Roy Reb)
Letter to Henri II where he says that the Antichrist’s empire will arise in ‘la Arda’ (apparently Ardalan, the NW province of Persia) talks about the ‘abomination of the Antichrist’ and links him with an Islamic invasion, says (two references) that his reign will be fairly brief, and refers to the ‘second Antichrist’, who is simply (as in the Bible) the adversaries of Christianity combined

He doesn’t mention a ‘third Antichrist’ at all – not even at VIII.77. This is the one that starts (transcribed into modern letters):

L’antechrist trois bien tost annichilez,
Vingt & sept ans sang durera sa guerre,


which apparently means:

 The Antichrist, three having very soon been annihilated,
For 27 years shall last his war...

What it doesn’t mean (even though a lot of commentators suggest it does) is:

The third Antichrist having soon been annihilated

(since if he had meant this, Nostradamus would have written tiers, not trois) still less:

The Antichrist having very soon annihilated the three,

with all Erika Cheetham’s speculations about the Kennedys, because that doesn’t fit the grammar (besides, dear old Edward wasn’t obliging enough to get himself assassinated!).

 *** 

11. But Nostradamus does name Napoleon and Hitler as the first and second Antichrists, right?

A. Wrong. He says nothing of the kind – not least because he never mentions either of them.

 *** 

12. Isn’t ‘Mabus’ (II.62) the third Antichrist after all, then?

A. All Nostradamus says about ‘Mabus’ is that he will die!

 *** 

13. So ‘CHYREN’ is the Antichrist, then?

A. It seems very unlikely. Even in Nostradamus’s lifetime it was well understood that ‘Chyren’ was an anagram for (King) ‘Henri[c]’- i.e. the contemporary King Henri II. The seer was not even the only one to use it (Dorat, Chavigny’s old tutor, also did so in print).

 *** 

14. What about the Man with the Blue Turban at II.2 and IX.73? He has to be the Antichrist, doesn’t he?

A. You’ve evidently been watching too many Orson Welles videos! No, he’s simply a Muslim leader who has some kind of feud with another Muslim leader whose turban is white. The two verses (which seem to be a ‘pair’) both imply this, as well as siting their quarrel in France (which is interesting, to say the least, with its obvious relevance to the Muslim invasion of Europe that Nostradamus was always predicting) and they reflect Nostradamus’s Almanach for 1556, which makes it quite clear that the ‘blue turbans’ and ‘white turbans’ are in fact merely feuding Muslim sects.

 *** 

15. The reference to the ‘road of the hollow mountains’ at X.49 has to be about the poisoning of
New York’s water-supply, doesn’t it?

A. Relax. It has nothing to do with
New York. The ‘garden of the world’ was always Eden, which means ‘delight’, which is plaisance in French, which is the name of a village on the road north from Villeneuve(= ‘new city’)-sur-Lot to the Dordogne, with its caves and the village of Aubeterre-sur-Dronne, with its famour hollowed out church and tombs...
All that the quatrain predicts is that someone (‘he’, not ‘it’) will be immersed and poisoned at Plaisance – which of course lies in an area that at one time was very familiar to Nostradamus during his time at Agen.
No indication of who – until, that is, someone can find the companion-verse...
        This is one of Nostradamus’s many obvious ‘local’ quatrains, in other words. His horizons were a lot smaller than many people often give him credit for. There is absolutely no excuse for imagining that they all apply to huge world-events.
And do remember that he himself states in his Epistle to the King that most of his prophecies are about Europe, North Africa and the Middle East, together with nearby astrologically related regions...

 *** 

16. But at least verse VI.97, with its references to the ‘
new city’ at 45 degrees and ‘fire from the sky’ is all about New York?

A. No. Nostradamus’s
'New City' is not New York. The city (he says) is at latitude 45 degrees. New York is at 40 degreees 40’ – nowhere near it, in other words.
The inveterate twisters of Nostradamus’s words will, of course, fiddle with the figures to try and make him say ‘40.5 degrees’ (notwithstanding the fact that the decimal point system hadn’t yet been adopted in Europe in his day, and that nowhere else in his mathematical caclulations, public or private, is Nostradamus known to have used it), just as Erika Cheetham fiddles with the geography to try and make him refer to New York State (notwithstanding the fact that he is referring perfectly clearly to a new city). But I’m afraid it won’t wash.

As the laundress said to the bishop...

Neither will the various attempts to make the verse refer to TWA flight 800. The crash occurred on or about 40 degrees 40’ North, which is of course 40.67, not 40.5 degrees.

Nor, for that matter, to the catastrophe of 9/11 (see separate FAQ).

New City’, in Nostradamus, would normally mean a city whose name means new city. It could be Naples (Greek ‘Neapolis’ = ‘new city’, but it lies on 40 degrees 50’ North), Villeneuve (Villeneuve-sur-Lot, in Nostradamus’s own stamping-grounds of SW France, is comfortably within the 45th degree), Villanova (Villanova d’Asti in northern Italy is on 45 degrees), or Vilanueva (of which there are many in Spain). He constantly plays this kind of trick.
Given that Nostradamus states perfectly clearly in his Letter to Henri II that his prophecies mainly apply to Europe, taking in North Africa and part of Asia Minor (i.e. the Middle East), together with nearby latitudinally-related areas, and that all his place-names except two fall squarely within that area, it seems extremely unlikely in any case that any of his prophecies apply to American cities.
Since Villeneuve-sur-Lot was within N’s local area during his time at Agen, it would seem to be by far the most likely, but for the fact that he was clearly referring to Naples and nearby Mount Vesuvius, and merely got his figures slightly wrong...

*** 

17. Isn’t there good evidence in Nostradamus that World War III was due to start on July 4th 1999?

A. No, this idea is based on a well-known but quite disgraceful interpretation of I.58 (can’t trace whose it is!) which fails to recognise that ‘Alquilloye’ – described in line 3 as celebrating its festival – refers to the Italian city of Aquileia, and instead insists (wrongly) that it means ‘eagle’...which, of course, has to mean the USA (rather than all the dozens of other countries, naturally, that have the eagle as their symbol!!)...which in turn has to mean that the reference is to 4th July!!

In fact the verse merely states that the birth of a set of Siamese twins by Caesarean section will mark the submission by Fossano and/or
Turin in Italy to the leader of Ferrara on Aquileia’s feast-day. (!!)

As a direct result of the above travesty, the whole of
Japan (where Nostradamus is inordinately popular) was in a state of almost apocalyptic panic about it during 1999 – to an extent which could actually have had practical effects on such things as the stock exchange...

"O what a tangled web we weave..."

 *** 

18. But surely we are entitled to suggest any reading of the prophecies we like? I.58 included?

A. Think about it! As a result of fools promulgating the above idea,
Japan was during 1999 (as I said) in a state of near-panic over it. Express your ideas, by all means, but do have some responsibility and carry out some proper research!
In case you don’t believe me, consider the results of this sort of idiocy in respect of X.72 on the Japanese Aum Shinrikyo cult. In 1989 its leader, Shoko Asahara, came to Lyon to consult my colleague Michel Chomarat (guardian of over 2000 original Nostradamus books and articles in the Bibliothèque Municipale de Lyon) and to take microfilms and photocopies of the original Nostradamus texts. Over the next 6 years hopeless misinterpretations of these (rather like the one reported above) featured in all their books predicting the end of the world. In 1995, in order to help bring it about, they then bombed the Tokyo subway with Sarin gas, killing and injuring many people.

Remember?

Is that the sort of thing you want to provoke? Because if you do, the responsibility will surely be yours, not Nostradamus’s.

 *** 

19. Doesn’t verse X.72 predict a King of Terror from the sky – either a comet, an asteroid, the Cassini space probe, the Mir space station, a solar flare, the 11th August solar eclipse, or else the Antichrist in person?

A. No. Please see the main FAQs (section 14).


 *** 

20. Is Roberts right in suggesting that X.72 is about the ‘King of the Jacquerie’, then (and if so, what does it mean?)?

A. ‘King of the Jacquerie’ is a term dreamt up by Henry C Roberts in his Complete Prophecies of Nostradamus of 1947 as part of his translation of line 3 of quatrain X.72. Quite where he got this bizarre rendering from – bizarre even for him – I cannot imagine.

The original French says ‘le grand Roy d’Angolmois’. This means, perfectly literally, ‘the great King from
Angoumois’ – which is the area around Angoulême, in western France. Since the former King François I of France (monarch during much of Nostradamus’s life) was duke of Angoulême, the description would fit him perfectly, and might suggest the advent of ‘another François I’.

The Jacquerie, on the other hand, is the name given to a peasant rising that took place in 1358 around
Beauvais, in Normandy, in protest against widespread English pillaging of the country. It lasted six weeks, and 20,000 peasants were killed before order was restored. The word ‘Jacquerie’ comes from the term ‘Jacques Bonhomme’, a popular French term for the ordinary peasant – a bit like ‘Joe Soap’

From Beauvais to Angoulême is around 300 miles, even in a straight line! There is no conceivable connection, in other words, between verse X.72 and this event.

For a detailed consideration of this verse, please once again see the main FAQ (section 14).

 *** 

21. But your own suggestion that X.72 is about the Pope is no better, is it? I mean what’s all this ‘comparative horoscopy’ that you keep prattling on about?

A. The expression ‘du ciel’ (‘of/from heaven’ or ‘of/from the sky’) could suggest that this big-spending or even appeasing ruler has some kind of divine authority. On the other hand, more recent research suggests that du ciel merely means ‘of the region’, as elsewhere in the Propheties. Far from being some kind of Antichrist, then, the figure concerned looks rather like the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V (see main FAQs and/or my book Nostradmaus, Bibliomancer).

 *** 

22. When Nostradamus talks about a new siecle and so on, he has to be talking about the new millennium, the beginning of the next century and the dawning of the Age of Aquarius, doesn’t he?

A. No. For a start, the word ‘siecle’ meant ‘cycle’ or ‘age’ at the time – not ‘century’, as it does today. And quite apart from that, the whole contemporary concept of centuries and ages was quite different from ours.
In Nostradamus, the concept of ‘age’ was normally based on a so-called ‘year of (lunar) years’ lasting precisely 354 years and 4 months. First expounded by the Jewish poet and scholar Abraham Avenezra or Ibn Ezra (1089-1167), it proposed that there were seven such ‘years’ in a cycle (of which there had already been two complete ones to date), each ruled over by one of seven archangels and associated with one of the seven planets in the reverse order of the days of the week with which they were associated. Following the publication of this system in Venice in 1507, it was taken up the following year by Johannes Trithemius (the immensely influential Abbot of Spanheim) in his celebrated De Septem Secundeis, then by Scaliger’s former mentor Luca Gaurico (1522). Turrel and Roussat both duly jumped on the bandwagon, too, in their case basing their chronology on the classical Eusebius. This gave the following proposed dates for the current, or third cycle [spellings are Trithemius’s, as per William Lilly’s 1647 translation of his De Septem Secundeis]:

Archangel / Planet / Start
Orifiel  Saturn 239 BC
Anael Venus 116 AD
Zachariel Jupiter 470 AD
Raphael Mercury 824 AD
Samuel Mars 1179 AD
Gabriel Moon 1533 AD
Michael Sun 1887 AD  

Thus, the age of Mars had come to a close, and that of the moon begun, some twenty years before Nostradamus wrote his Propheties, just as Century I.48 records. In this he was merely echoing Roussat, who in 1550 had floated the idea even more unambiguously. As for Nostyradamus’s main contemporary critic, Laurent Videl, he wrote: ‘You show yourself up as an even greater ass when you try to speak of the secret sciences and say that now that the planet of Mars is completing its cycle, and at the end of its last period, so it will take it up again . . .: it is thirty years now since Mars completed (its cycle), and then the moon took over power, as is evident and probable. But to say that it will take it up again? That is exceeding all bounds, in that even the Angels themselves know nothing about it’." [Translation copyright © Peter Lemesurier 1999]

Oh, and Nostradamus never mentions the Age of Aquarius, by the way – which is just as well, since it’s not due to start astrologically until 2371 or so (as you can check for yourself with any computerised ephemeris)...

 *** 

23. Nostradamus’s Century VIII 14...

Le grand credit d’or, d’argent l’abundance
Aveuglera par libide l’honneur
Cogneu sera d"adultere l’offense,
Qui parviendra a son grand deshonneur


...just has to be about the Clinton/Lewinsky affair, doesn’t it?

A. Hardly! In fact, a proper verse translation of the verse might read:

Credit for gold, of silver all too much
Shall blind pure honour with cupidity.
The crime reveals the counterfeiter’s touch:
To his dishonour it shall witness be.

So I’m afraid the verse doesn’t really have anything to do with
Clinton at all.

 *** 

24. Verse I.69...

La grand montaigne ronde de sept estades,
Apres paix, guerre, faim, inundation:
Roulera loing abysmant grands contrades,
Mesmes antiques, & grand fondation.

...with its reference to a ‘round mountain’ rolling over great countries. has to be about a coming asteroid hitting the earth, doesn’t it?


A. No, sorry. This one’s just a flood in the area of
Mount Olympus (described in line 1 not as ‘round’, but as ‘seven stadia in circumference’), as VIII.16 below (an evident ‘companion-verse’) confirms: the cause appears to be a major earthquake somewhere between Corinth and Ephesus (II.52, III.3). Nostradamus wasn’t aware that comets or meteors were even vaguely like mountains, and he had certainly never heard of asteroids! What does the ‘rolling’ is the ‘inundation’, not the mountain: the intervening colon is purely the printer’s insertion (see last section of this FAQ.

 *** 

25. But I thought he actually dated the imminent impact of a future comet?

A. He refers to la comete at II.62, to an astre crinite (hairy star) at II.15, to an estoyle chevelue at II.43 and an estoille chevelue at VI.6, and to au ciel...feu courant longue estincele at II.46. But none of these is specific as to identity or date.

 *** 

26. But surely Nostradamus predicted the present crisis... [fill in as appropriate!!]?

A. Why should he have? That, certainly, is the usual assumption. But usually all that it reflects is the proposer’s own hopeless lack of perspective regarding current events in the light of the long tapestry of history!

*** 

27. Isn’t the name ‘Samarobryn’ in VI.5 a reference to the Russians?

A. No. It comes from the Gallic name for
Amiens – ‘Samarobriva’, and seems to be a reference to the independent status of Amiens in the no-man’s-land during the contemporary wars between France and the Holy Roman Empire to the east.

 *** 

28. Don’t Dolores Cannon’s books give a good representation of what Nostradamus’s verses mean? After all, unlike any other author, she claims that Nostradamus explains them to her directly. So far as I remember, her books even contain English translations...

A. The translations (which, naturally enough, her ‘Nostradamus’ often doesn’t recognise!) are mainly quoted directly from Erika Cheetham (!), then amplified with the aid of Dolores’s psychic regresssion subjects, who are allegedly in touch with ‘Nostradamus’.

Unfortunately, though, whoever this character is often doesn’t remember having written the verse under consideration, or even know what it is about. In the case of IV.27, for example (Bk 2), he even fails to recognise four prominent landmarks around his own birthplace of St-Rémy and instead starts blithely prattling on about
Egypt...!

I can’t help wondering whether the ‘contact’ isn’t in reality Michel Nostradamus le Jeune, a well-known imposter of the time...

Curiously, though, while this ‘Nostradamus’ character is possibly a figment of their imaginations, they do sometimes seem to be in direct touch with a possible scenario for the future. But if you want actual information about Nostradamus, Dolores Cannon’s books are, I’m afraid, the last place you are likely to find any!

 *** 

29. Failing some kind of code, there has at least to be some secret key to the order or sequence that we are meant to read the quatrains in, doesn’t there – some way of determining the precise date when each is supposed to come true?

A. Possibly he didn’t want a precise date to be determined? I mean, if it were, and if he were proved wrong, the books wouldn’t sell any more, would they? He was no fool!

Nevertheless, various systems have been proposed. Some try to extract dates from the verse numbers. Some count numbers of letters in words. Some propose dates (and thus sequences) based on complicated graphs. Others (including myself) try to do it on a ‘jigsaw-puzzle’ basis, working from apparent summary-verses, calendar datings, astrological datings, comparative horoscopy, common themes, phrases, place-names and other vocabulary.

Unfortunately, though, none of these is entirely reliable, and most are plain silly.

It seems that Nostradamus simply wrote his prophecies as they came to him, in no particular order, probably on the basis of ‘bibliomancy’ (see Nostradamus, Bibliomancer). He seems, on the basis of his other work, to have been far too vague, confused and numerically incompetent to do much else!

 *** 

30. To find out what Nostradamus’s verses are saying, isn’t it sufficient just to take a look at them and see which events (whether past or expected) happen to fit?

A. No. It certainly isn’t!

‘Tis true, not having the wit – let alone the 16th century French – to work out what Nostradamus did say, nor the historical knowledge to place it in its true cultural context, many people (especially those who don’t even know French in the first place) simply go to the published popular interpretation that best fits their fears/hopes/wishful thinkings, then assert that that author’s translations ‘must’ be right (notwithstanding the fact that the author quite often doesn’t know 16th century French either!), and finally tweak them a bit further just to rub the point home.

Or alternatively they rather daringly do go to the French (generally a very late, corrupt and thus unrepresentative edition), but with nothing more than a pocket French-English dictionary – then simply take the meaning of each word that best suits their thesis or agenda!

There is also the point that, to most people, Nostradamus’s prophecies represent a kind of indeterminate chaos – and (as with the stars in the sky, for example) the human psyche just can’t resist trying to make recognisable patterns out of them. And since what we recognise is by definition what we already know, the temptation is irresistible to ‘fit’ them to past events, present crises and common expectations.

Result – next to nobody manages to spot what Nostradamus actually is (or might be!) saying...

 *** 

31. But surely the very way he wrote – obscure, twisted, not like normal language at all – deliberately invites us to read into them whatever turns us on?

A. No – he was merely writing in Latinised verse, and most modern people are simply unfamiliar with how to read it. It has always been standard practice for prophets to write in verse or some kind, or ‘prose on tiptoe’ (as Dylan Thomas defined poetry). Besides, it allows for all kinds of ellipses and unusual words and constructions, and it makes it easier to remember – and harder for editors to tamper with! On top of that, he may well have gained a measure of ‘inspiration’ from the verse-form itself, with the end of line 1 determining the end of line 3, and line 2 having to get from one to the other while at the same time determining the ending of line 4. It’s as if he felt that the words themselves were ‘inspired’.
Even his critics wrote in verse! Conrad Badius (1562) [in my translation!] wrote of him:

Lest I forget, or further forage
He writes his verse like stirring porridge...
Of stirrup straps his lines remind,
Too short before, too long behind,
Conceived ‘neath such a sign and season
As to have neither rhyme nor reason...

Ah well!

 *** 

32. But Nostradamus was always right, wasn’t he? Has he ever missed?

A. You can only establish whether a prophecy has come true if it carries

(a) a date or

(b) EXACT circumstances of a unique event.

(Similarly, I have no appoinment with my dentist unless she either tells me where and when, or unless she describes the circumstances exactly...)

Since, apart form the 141 published Presages (all of them dated for Nostradamus’s own time), there are only about a dozen and a half verses that carry a date, and since, in the cases of the Sixains and verses VI.54 and VIII.71, there is some doubt as to what time-datum they refer to, that leaves less than half-a-dozen verses for more recent times bearing a definite date. Of these I.62, X.91, I.49 and III.77 seem to me to have been abject flops – though some people do manage to put forward what seem to me distinctly recherché arguments in their favour! This leaves only the prediction of a new world order in 1792 in the Epistle as a pretty good bullseye – referring (as it appears to) to the establishment of the new
French Republic in that year.

But it you’re going to write some 7280 prophecies (as Nostradamus did) you’re bound to get one or two right, arent’ you?

*** 

33. But isn’t it true that Nostradamus used a different calendar from ours, and so his years don’t mean the same as ours anyway? Didn’t his year start in March?

A. No, as all his annual Almanachs demonstrate, it started on 1st January, just like ours. And given that, in them, he published no less than eleven calendars of his own, presumably we have to believe him! However, he and his contemporaries did use the Julian calendar, which was 10 days behind what our present Gregorian one would have given. At the present time the difference has built up to some 13 days – so his ‘seventh month of 1999’ (X.72) in fact refers strictly to 14th July to 13th August. It certainly doesn’t refer to September, as some ill-informed observers like to suggest on the basis of the word sept (French for ‘seven’) in line 1.


 *** 

34. Aren’t you just trying to demolish Nostradamus?

A. Far from it. I’m just trying to get at the truth about him. That involves following the evidence wherever it leads, without preconceptions. If anything is demolished, it is merely the common, ill-considered idiocies about him. Consider my work on Nostradamus’s translation of the Orus Apollo, for example...:

1 The content of the Orus Apollo is clearly little more than a lot of old wives’ tales about (a) Egyptian hieroglyphs and (b) the birds, bees and flowers – tales in which Nostradamus presumably at least half-believed. This suggests strongly that he had no idea either of
(a) Champollion’s 1822 decryption of Egyptian hieroglyphs or
(b) modern zoology. In other words, he emphatically did not know everything that was ever going to happen.
2 Nostradamus’s spelling in the Orus Apollo is not much like the spelling in the published Propheties, and there is for the most part no punctuation at all. Most of the time he spells the French impersonal 3rd person pronoun – in English, ‘one’ – as ‘ont’, which is something that never happens in the Prophecies. Quite frequently, too, ‘un’ comes out as ‘ung’, which in the published Prophecies occurs no more than a couple of times at most – possibly the last remnants of the way he had originally written it. This suggests to me quite strongly that the spelling and punctuation in the Prophecies is not Nostradamus’s, but that of his printers. This would tie in with Brind’Amour’s report that typesetting was normally done from dictation – which makes sense, since having one man do the reading of the manuscript and the typesetting (look at text, dart to type-cases, find setting-stick, set letter, look back at text, smudge it with inky fingerprints...) is a positive recipe for losing your place, missing out words and whole verses etc...
3 It is perfectly obvious from the vague logic and syntax of the Orus Apollo that Nostradamus, far from having the brilliant, incisive intellect of a Shakespeare or a Francis Bacon, or even of a Rabelais or Ronsard, was in fact a pretty confused, shambolic and credulous character, not untypical of scholars of the day, when it came to dealing with abstract, theoretical or esoteric matters -- and thus hardly likely to have been the brilliant, omniscient prophetic genius that he is sometimes supposed to have been.