Myths about Nostradamus

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Peter Lemesurier's post on common myths and hoaxes about Nostradamus in a.p.n.

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 forty 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.

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 by (if anybody) 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, *as an apothecary*,
been rude about doctors! 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 actual record even of this, though it may reasonably be
assumed from later circumstantial evidence.

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

Q. OK -- wasn't his first wife at Agen named Audriette de

A. No. (Try telling that to Scaliger, whose wife she was!!) Her name
was 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 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 Bibliothéque 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.
Take his secretary Chavigny's statement after his death:

"He approved the Ceremonies of the Roman Church and remained faithful
to the Catholic faith and religion, holding that outside it there was
no salvation. He gravely reproved those who, having withdrawn from its
embrace, were prepared to let themselves be fed and watered by the
easy-going freedoms of damnable foreign doctrines. Their end, he
asserted, would be evil and nasty."

Then take the fact that he gave money to the Franciscans, was on good
terms with the Archbishop of Arles, stayed in Paris with the powerful
Archibishop of Sens, treated various bishops, left money to two
Franciscan convents, was buried in Salon's Franciscan chapel, and had
a son who joined the order...

As for the supposed incompatitility between Christianity and magic,
Renaissance thinkers were in fact still wrestling with the problem of
how to reconcile pagan practices with Christian beliefs at the time,
notably in connection with Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel ceiling: it
wouldn't befinally decided in favour of the latter for some decades.

Q. Isn't it true that he became a highly successful Plague

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

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 -- apart from his known keenness on
running water, which may possibly suggest that he instituted new
regimes of public hygiene.

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 in 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

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

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 more often wrong than right -
sometimes calamitously so.

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

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',

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'.

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 --
it seems to have contained 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 bullshitter, so you can never be sure!

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

A. No, in fact he was a positively awful astrologer, as the
contemporary professionals constantly pointed out and his surviving
horoscopes still reveal. He was prone to put planets in the wrong
signs and the sun in two different parts of the sky at once, and never
did get the hang of interpolating between the figures given in the
published tables. That is why the astrologers of the day so despised
him, and why he in turn dissociated himself from them, and claimed
instead to be a simple 'astrophile' ('star-lover') who was directly or
indirectly inspired by God Himself!

Q. So he was always right, then?

Q. Well, 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, *as a human being*, could
he be absolutely sure of when he was being divinely inspired?!

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!), but none of the various 'code'
theories has ever managed to gain the general support of serious
commentators on the subject.

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.

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

A. Not necessarily. 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

A. He wasn't. Contemporary correspondence makes it perfectly plain
that it was in 1555, shortly after his first edition appeared.

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 19th century in the absence of any known
reliable contemporary evidence!

Q. Didn't Nostradamus prophesy his own death in Presage 141?

A. Probably not. True, his secretary Chavigny later assumed that that
was what it was about - so starting the long and shaky tradition that
you could retrospectively fit Nostradamus's predictions to anything
you liked. But in fact Presage 141 is specifically dated for November
1567 - whereas the seer in fact died in July 1566. So if this verse IS
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 any provision to
this effect contained 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!


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