IN THE MODERN AGE, Michel de Nostradamus is associated with one simple notion – prophecies of doom. This has been derived from his great work The Centuries, a collection of around 1,000 four-line verses or quatrains. Nostradamus believed that through his study of astrology, combined with divine guidance, he was able to see the future. He used meditation, mild hallucinogens and extreme focus to heighten his images. The first part of The Centuries was published in 1555 – the verses contained a strange and vague language, which Nostradamus claimed he had used purposefully to refute charges of witchcraft. Written in a mixture of French with occasional inclusions of Latin, Greek and Italian, many people now believe they can decipher these verses, and Nostradamus has been hailed as an accurate foreteller of things to come. However, these enthusiasts have had the privilege of hindsight and the luxury of fitting real events to suit his text. Few of predictions made at the end of the 20th century about the start of the new millennium, which cited his work as reference, have come to pass. So how good a seer was Nostradamus?
Probably the most famous example of Nostradamus’ work is that which many enthusiasts say predicted the Second World War. The text itself, taken from Century 2, Quatrain 24, in translation reads:
Beasts ferocious from hunger will swim
The greater part of the region will be
against the Hister,
The great one will cause it to be dragged
in an iron cage,
When the Germany child will observe
Nostradamus believers suggest ‘Hister’ is Hitler; the ‘ferocious beasts’ are invading Nazis ‘hungry’ for power; but the German nation, who blindly follow, without fully realising or grasping events, will be imprisoned. There is a ring of truth about that interpretation. But sceptics point out that there are no dates involved; terms like ‘ferocious beasts’, and ‘the great one’ are particularly ambiguous and imprecise, and the Hister is actually a region near the River Danube, not Hitler. However, other quatrains nearby in the text do seem to mention other important details about the war, and Hitler’s personal history shows that he was born near the Danube. So perhaps, taken as a whole, there is something there.
In recent years, the new millennium and World Trade Center attack have caused a major re-examination and interest in Nostradamus’ work. Perhaps the most memorable figure mentioned in verses said to relate to our own time is that of ‘Mabus’ or ‘Maddas’. This person is said to be – if I can be similarly non-committal – the next ‘great evil’. In the 1990s, many Nostradamus readers claimed he was definitely called ‘Maddas’, which just happens to be ‘Saddam’ spelt backwards, so it was clear where the finger was pointing. However, after 11th September 2001, the spelling became something closer to Mabus which is an anagram of Usam B. As I write this, enthusiasts interpreting his works are in something of a state of flux, and are not quite sure which Middle Eastern villain is the one predicted.
After the World Trade Center attack, a great flood of false Nostradamus verses appeared throughout the information networks. This confused many people, and increased scepticism about his work among the notso–credulous. That is something of a shame, particularly as there are good arguments to suggest he predicted the death of John F. Kennedy, the fall of Communism, the French Revolution and the Challenger Space Shuttle disaster. But the unconvinced will always refer to the vague language, absence of definite dates, and benefit of back cataloguing events as areas of doubt. If anybody is interested, he predicts the end of the world in 3797.
Certainly, people of his own period believed in his powers, medical and otherwise. The Queen of France, Catherine de Medici asked him to plot the horoscope of her husband King Henry II, and in 1564 he was appointed court physician to King Charles IX of France. His final prediction came true on 2nd July 1556. The day before, as he left a meeting with his priest, the clergyman is believed to have said ‘Until tomorrow,’ to which Nostradamus replied, ‘You will not find me alive at sunrise.’ Sure enough, by the morning he was dead. It is said that his body is buried with a script which translates his prophecies into more defined predictions. Perhaps this could finally put to rest the debate about just how good a seer Nostradamus really was.