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Nostradamus, prophet or writer of riddles

Posted in Historical articles, History, Language, Mystery, Puzzle on Wednesday, 8 June 2011

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This edited article about Nostradamus originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 961 published on 9 August 1980.

Nostradamus, picture, image, illustration

Nostradamus predicted the destruction of New York City at the end of the twentieth century, by Clive Uptton

In the spring of 1940, German planes flew over Northern France and the Low Countries, dropping propaganda leaflets. The leaflets stated that Germany’s enemies were bound to lose the Second World War, which had started the previous September, and that her coming defeat had been predicted almost 400 years earlier.

The leaflets, which were a prelude to German troops overrunning the countries, were said to contain the prophecies of the greatest astrologer of all time, Nostradamus, who was born in the south-east of France in December, 1503. According to the leaflets, he had foretold the “annihilation” of the British and Allied forces and of the “overwhelming victory” of Hitler and his henchmen.

In fact, the prophecies were forgeries, and the idea of using the false predictions came from the German Minister of Propaganda, Dr Goebbels. For weeks beforehand, Goebbels had been preparing the leaflets, which were specially written by a pro-Nazi astrologer named Karl Krafft, who closely copied the style and method of Nostradamus.

As morale-destroyers, the leaflets were so effective that British Intelligence employed their own astrologer, a Hungarian ÈmigrÈ named Louis de Wohl, to compose a counter-set of “Nostradamus prophecies”. A reputed £100,000 was spent in printing the leaflets, and in having them dropped by the R.A.F. over Belgium, Holland, Luxembourg and the North of France. According to the contents of these leaflets Nostradamus forecast the defeat of Germany.

This unique form of aerial warfare lasted until 1943, the year in which Krafft, as Nostradamus, had said that Britain would be under German rule. By then, however, the tide had turned against Germany and her ally, Italy. The German army at Stalingrad was decisively beaten by the Russians, and Italy surrendered unconditionally to join in the war against Hitler.

Who, then, was this man called Nostradamus? And why did his words, even if they were faked, have such an extraordinary effect upon the wartime civilians and fighting men who read them?

Nostradamus was born Michel de Notredame, the son of a respected notary in Saint Remy, Provence, and he later took the Latinized form of his surname. As a child he showed remarkable intellectual powers, and his parents saw that he was instructed in Greek, Latin and mathematics.

At the age of 19 he went to study medicine at the University of Montpellier, and he graduated as a doctor three years later. At the time, Southern France was in the grip of a deadly “black plague”, and Nostradamus went from village, to town, to city bringing what relief he could to those who were afflicted with the disease.

After working in Marseilles and Lyon, he settled in the quiet hill-town of Salon. Here he married for the second time, his first wife and family had died of the plague, despite his efforts to save them, and he turned his intellect to the mysterious art of astrology.

Each midnight he mounted a spiral staircase to a secret study at the top of his house, known only to himself and his wife. There he studied undisturbed until dawn. He claimed that he could see into the future by staring fixedly into a bowl of water which became cloudy, and then showed visions of disaster from earthquakes, to famines, and from fires, to floods.

Seated on a three-legged stool, with a ‘magic’ laurel wand between his legs, he went into a trance and afterwards, at breakfast, he told his fascinated wife what the world had in store for it over the coming decades and centuries.

Seeking a much wider and hopefully sympathetic audience, he set out his visions in verse form, a hundred four-line rhymes to a section. He called the completed work Centuries, and in a dedication to his son in the first edition, published in 1555, he stated:

‘I wish to leave a memorial of me after my death, to the common benefit of mankind, concerning the things which the Divine Essence has shown to me by astrological revelations.’

But it was no easy matter to read the Centuries and to make ready sense of it. The verses were couched in a weird mixture of anagrams, puns, French, Latin, and a language of Nostradamus’s own devising in which, for example, the word Paris was written Ripas.

He did this not out of intellectual arrogance, but to protect himself from charges of sorcery and black magic, and to avoid public scorn and ridicule. ‘As I refer to what will be in the future,’ he explained, ‘those of the realm, sect, religion and faith would find it so poorly in accord with their own petty fancies, that they would come to condemn that which future ages shall know and understand to be true.’

In a letter to his patron, King Henry II of France, whose death in 1559 he correctly predicted, Nostradamus pointed out: “Some may answer that the rhymes are as easy to understand as blowing one’s nose. But the inner sense is more difficult to grasp.”

After acting as astrological adviser to Henry’s wife, Catherine de Medici, and her seven children, Nostradamus died at his home in Salon in July, 1566, aged sixty-three. Ever since then scholars and people interested in the occult have given all kinds of interpretations to his veiled verses.

They have been said to accurately foretell such various events as the French Revolution of 1789; the defeat of Napoleon in 1815; the abdication of King Edward VIII in 1936; the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour in December, 1941; and the assassination of President John F. Kennedy of America in Dallas, Texas, in November, 1963. They even allegedly tell of the destruction of New York by an “earth-shaking fire” towards the end of the 20th century.

Until their final surrender in the spring of 1945, the leaders of the Nazi Party continued to believe in the predictions of Nostradamus and their own pet astrologers. They still thought that the stars could save them. But, as far as Hitler was concerned, he must have misinterpreted Nostradamus’ words.

For, according to some authorities, the Frenchman foretold the Fuhrer’s suicide in the Berlin bunker in one of his most famous verses: “The thunderbolt shall strike his standard/He shall die speaking proud words/ . . . The proud nation yields/The monster purges his human frame by atonement.”

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