Nostradamus, the Man Who Saw Through Time, by Lee McCann , at sacred-texts.com
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IT WAS NEARLY CHRISTMAS, of the year 1503. San Rémy, ancient Provençal town, namesake of the Saint who baptized Clovis on Christmas Day, was astir with preparations for the coming activities. Everywhere in town and countryside people stopped in the sunshine to greet and talk of plans for Calèndo, the Romance word which Provençals still use for Christmas. Great ladies in silken finery, blithe young knights attended by their squires riding down from châteaux in the hills, peasant women in full skirts and bright-colored bodices, jolly monks, dark-eyed girls and sober town fathers, all were preparing for the year's greatest celebration.
In the town square men talked about yule-logs. Some who owned groves were going to cut down an olive or an almond tree that was too old to be worth keeping. But more would go to the forest to cut their logs, and drag them home behind uncoupled oxen as men had done since the days of the Druids. San Rémy housewives crowded the market-stalls, buying almonds
and honey to make Christmas nougat. They chatted of New Year's gifts in the making, and gossiped about holiday masques at the Governor's palace at Aix. Troubadours tuned their harps and memorized romaunts. Through church windows drifted the voices of choir-boys practicing Christmas music, chanting their welcome to the Son of Man, singing of peace on earth which then as now seldom prevailed.
The ancient town, gay with the season, little imagined, least of all the expectant parents, that this child, born in their midst that day, would bring to his birthplace a fame enduring for centuries. Who then could foresee that a future Europe would search his words for an answer to the grim riddle of its fate? Over the Midi town the stars had taken stance to endow this infant with stranger wisdom than prophet had held since the faraway years of those who foretold the coming of the Christ.
On this the 14th day of December by the Julian calendar, "near to the twelve hours of noon," so the chronicle runs, the son of Jacques and Renée de Nostradame was born. The voice of the bronze bell speaking the hour from the town belfry was carried on breezes fragrant of meadows. In the hearts of the parents the bell-notes chimed the olden gratitude: "Unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given."
How long the family of baby Michel de Nostradame had been settled in Provence is not known. But long enough for them to be assimilated into the annals of the country, to have made their contribution of science
and service, and to reap the rewards of prestige.
The statement that Michel was of Jewish birth has been insistently asserted by most commentators. There seems to be no warrant for this outside of unverified rumors after his lifetime. His race is not important except in relation to his prophecies. But it is of essential interest to know whether he was the last inheritor of the grand Hebrew tradition of prophecy. Or, has the Gentile race, lacking such tradition, really produced one prophet of distinction in whom they can take pride, and whose forecasts are concerned with their destiny? One who, if not comparable to the sublime poetry and exaltation of the prophets of Israel, can be compared with them in the accuracy and authority of his vision.
Nostradamus, in his letter of dedication to King Henry II, speaks of the Biblical computation of years. He says: "I hold that the Scripture takes them to be solar." To a scholar this should be proof enough that Nostradamus did not have Jewish background; if he had, he could not have escaped knowing that the Jewish calculations were always according to the lunar calendar.
Jean-Ayme de Chavigny, doctor of theology, magistrate of Beaune, presumably dependable, was the close friend and pupil of Nostradamus. His biographical sketch of the prophet is the only first-hand account, still available, that has been handed down. He makes no mention of Jewish descent. He writes:
"His grandfathers, maternal and paternal, had a
reputation as great savants in mathematics and medicine, one being physician to René, King of Jerusalem and Sicily, and Count of Provence, the other, of Jean, Duke of Calabria, son of King René. This closes the mouth of the envious who, because they are misinformed, have reflected upon his birth."
The sixteenth century was a period of bitter anti-Semitism and general intolerance. Jews, it is true, were not persecuted in Provence, and many of them rose to wealth and secure standing there. Had Nostradamus been a Jew, his reputation might not have suffered from it in the place of his birth. But it would have suffered as his fame spread to larger fields, particularly Paris. During his lifetime his enemies called him charlatan and sorcerer. Had he been vulnerable to the accusation, he would certainly have been branded as a Jew by attackers overlooking no point that could be raised against him.
Doctor Theophilus Garencières, one of the early commentators, who states that all his life he had been in contact with people who either knew all about Nostradamus or thought they did, likewise makes no mention of Jewish descent. His concern was how God could reveal himself to a man of merely average social position. He says that this wonder agitated the minds of many people who admired Nostradamus as a prophet. This was not because the caste-conscious Renaissance had forgotten the birth of the Son of the Carpenter, but because they had reconciled His origin with their own social standards. Ferne's Blazen of Gentry, a sixteenth-century
work on heraldry, is at pains to inform its readers that the twelve apostles were all gentlemen of blood, reduced to servile work only through misfortune.
It may have been wishful thinking that led some writers who favored Nostradamus to assert that he was of noble birth. But it must be inferred from the events of his life that he was at least gently born of people whose standing was excellent.
When Nostradamus visited the court of Henry II, as the king's guest, he was accorded almost the honor of a ranking personage, and lodged in the palace of a prince-cardinal of the blood. Henry would have known through his Provençal governor, a lifelong friend of the prophet, the history and standing of the de Nostradame family. It is to be feared that he would not have received the prophet with such public acclaim if the family position had not met with his approval.
It has been argued that the learning of Nostradamus’ grandfathers was in advance of Gentile culture, and was therefore Jewish. It is true that the Jews in France had a fine record in the scholarly professions, and particularly in medicine. But there is another theory which, while it cannot be proved, would account for much.
A king of Provence went with Saint Louis to the Crusades, and shared his imprisonment in the Orient. The Saracens, marvelously advanced in medicine and mathematics, showed the Crusaders many wonders. Some of their knowledge found its way back to Europe
in this manner. Ancestors of Nostradamus may have been of those who benefited by Arab learning in its own great centers; there may even have been a strain of Arab ancestry. Either or both would account for the prestige which the prophet's grandfathers enjoyed at the court of King René of Provence. It might also account for some ancient, inherited medical recepte which crusading ancestors brought back from. the Orient, and which Nostradamus may have used to conquer the plague; something older than the known, standardized Arab remedies of his own times.
King René had a curious Turko-Arab complex. He preferred people of such blood and customs above all others. Consequently his court for half a century attracted every one who had a drop of the blood or any of its associations and culture. Every Levantine and Arab who had something to sell and the price of the trip came there with his wares. If a subject wanted to put anything across, he had to make the king an Eastern present. René dressed himself and the court in Oriental costume, and his Turkish and Arabian masques were famous.
One amusing incident of Rene's feeling in such matters concerns a grandfather of Nostradamus. René's queen had a laundress, Charlotte the Turk. In some way Charlotte injured her leg. Anywhere else, she would have been too far below the salt to rate attention from the royal physician. But because of Charlotte's Turkish blood, the king thought nothing too good for her. His own doctor, none other than Doctor
de Nostradame, was ordered to attend her with all care, which presumably he did. It is logical to suppose that the learned grandfathers of Nostradamus contributed in some way to the king's passion for Turks and Arabs, and held his patronage to some extent through superiority in the kind of lore and training he most respected and valued.
The grandfathers had long been friends and associates at the court of Provence. When Jacques, the son of Pierre de Nostradame, married Renée, the daughter of Jean de Rémy, it had cemented more closely their existing ties of affection and mutual interest.
Jacques de Nostradame, the father of Michel, was a notary public. This occupation, dwarfed in importance today, had then a scholarly and important rating when so many of the population, even among the upper circles, could not so much as write their name. They depended on the notary, who was called on for services that ranged from writing a love-letter to arranging a transfer of property. His field was a wide one, and included nearly everything in business and property matters that did not require the actual practice of law.
Jacques' income would have provided a comfortable home in keeping with good standards of Provençal living. Through his doors passed the active flow of town affairs, personal, business and civic. Many would seek him out because, through his father and father-in-law, his contacts at the capital were somewhat influential.
[paragraph continues] His house was probably near the center of the town, easy of access to his clients.
Young Michel's earliest recollections of his parents’ home would center about its cheerful, fragrant kitchen which, typical of all Provençal homes in the sixteenth century, was the room where both the domestic and the social life was carried on. The center and symbol of the room's activity was the great fireplace, majestic, cavernous, holding a banked fire that had never gone out since first his father and mother came there to live. Shining pots and pans of brass hung low from the mantle shelf, convenient for his mother to bake her delicious bread, cook thick nourishing stews or roast a fowl. At either angle of the fireplace was an oak settle where the grandfathers liked to laze and talk when they came to visit. Across the room stood the buffet. Atop this was the long, flaring wooden trough in which his mother mixed and kneaded the bread. In one corner was a cupboard with shelves and drawers holding all manner of household goods. This, like the buffet, was of strong, deep-toned oak. Michel knew every line of the severe carving in geometrical design which caught the firelight on its mellow wood.
On the walls hung light cabinet shelves holding salt and spice boxes, small pieces of gay earthenware, and special treasures. Perhaps there was an enamel cup or a vase of cunning workmanship, a present from grandfather who had got it at a bargain from a Levantine merchant come to sell his wares at court.
Michel could remember the deep, embrasured windows
of his home, and the narrow stoop at the door, points of vantage from which he got his earliest pictures of the life of the town as it streamed by in colorful show on fête days and market days. The charm of the procession was unending, rich merchants on ambling mules with silver bells on the harness, carts piled up with the reds and yellows of oranges and pomegranates for the market, peasants bringing in butter and cheeses from the country, shepherds with their droves, knights and ladies with feathers in their hats, riding on prancing horses.
Unforgettable, too, the first time his mother took him to Mass at the ancient church. Through the great doors, older than the Gothic spire, into the lofty vastness of dim light, he had clung affrighted to his mother's hand, staring into the rich mystery of dusk and gold and stained-glass saints. Kneeling, he had looked up to the carved Virgin and the tapers like flowers at her feet. The notes of the organ and the high clear chant of the choir-boys enfolded him, drew him with ecstasy as if to his mother's breast. It was source and beginning of his passionate, unswerving observance and devotion -to the Roman ritual from which he never deviated throughout his life. Such observance was to him never a duty, it was the sacred embroidery of his delight in God.
Another ritual that captivated young Michel was that which pertained to his father's business. He could not remember the time when he had not been fascinated by the things on his father's writing-table. The
pewter ink-well with the long quills standing at attention in the small side holes, the little bowl of clean sand, and the rolls of white sheepskin neatly disposed, called to his hands to touch and try them.
He early listened to all that he could of his father's talk of the goings-on in San Rémy. With the big ears for which little pitchers are proverbial he placed together scraps which the grown-ups thought he was too young to take in. He was as curious as a cat about the news from Aix, the capital, and the rumors from Paris, that faraway city, no more than a name to him. He wondered what levies were and why his father said the people grumbled about them; he wondered if the King would go to war with Italy, and what war was like. He found out about the new elections to the town council, and who was traveling to Aix to see the Governor.
His mind observed and pigeonholed with childish literalness all that went on about him. It was his initiation, the beginning of his interest in affairs of state that were so to enchant his later years. Here was the acorn that grew into the tree of the Centuries.
It was the charm of these early recollections that kept Nostradamus, the man, always a small-town boy by inclination as he was by birth. In his day as in ours most people were the bits of steel pulled upon by the glamour-magnets of the great cities. The complex brilliance of cities and their mirage of opportunity were woven into the dreams of youth and the ambitions of manhood, and in France all roads led to Paris. Michel remained curiously immune to this lure. He
learned early to prize the smaller world of the town, that can be compassed in its entirety, its figures known and studied against their background of the generations. Here in Provence were his personal interests; these were his people.
Michel was a strong boy, quick and active, full of the eager vitality of youth. His grandfathers set him early at his tasks of learning, but being physicians they wisely allowed him plenty of leisure for boyish adventure in ranging the countryside under the Midi sunshine. There was a deeply-felt bond between him and this lovely Provençal country. Boy and man he never wanted to be away from it for long. The breath of its perfume and past drew him always back to its ancient, fertile valleys watered by winding streams below the lift of Alpine hills. As a child he learned the seasons by the pink bloom of almond trees, the dun green of the olive, the gold of harvests and the blood-purple of vineyards. And always there was music accompanying the beauty of Nature's drama, harp and lute, dancing and song. For Provence is a land set to music by the Troubadours.
The genius of the Troubadours made an early and lasting impression on Michel and his brother. The famous lays which told of the honor, the chivalry, the high adventure of the heroes of Provence were captivating to the imagination of the romantic youngsters. Nor had it been long since these poets had gone their way, singing, into the past. Their patron, the minstrel-monarch René, had been the last to go. Their memory
was ever green through the treasure of their songs, intimately known and sung by all of high and low degree. Michel and Jean heard them with their nursery rhymes. Le Roman de Renart seems to have made the deepest impression on Michel, perhaps because it is an allegory in which the characters are animals and the plot tells of their struggle for forest leadership. Cunning and hypocrisy are pitted against force, and weakness as usual loses out. Nostradamus, in the Centuries, uses the same animals, denoting the same qualities, as symbols of the contending powers of Europe. The Wolf, the Bear, the Lion, the Fox, the Eagle, the Stag, all play their parts again, in his minstrelsy of destiny.
Michel's brother was gifted with a great voice. The home rang with Jean's singing of the Roman de la Rose, the Chanson de Roland and other celebrated lays et fabliaux. Jean, in later life, followed the prosaic though profitable career of attorney for the parliament of Arles. But as his real contribution he left behind him a history of the Troubadours, a monumental tome entitled: "Lives of the Most Famous Ancient Provençal Poets Who Flourished in the Times of the Counts of Provence."
Some say that the songs of the Troubadours weakened the spirit and resistance of Provence. If so, it was in the sense in which today the more sensitive standards of civilization are at the mercy of aimed force. "If God would only send peace!" cries Nostradamus in the Centuries. He learned his ideals of peace and honor
and gentle manners from the minstrels of old Provence.
Sir Walter Scott, in Anne of Geierstein, gives a delightful glimpse of the influence of the Troubadours on this land.
He sketches a scene which was familiar to Michel's boyhood:
"The shepherd literally marched abroad in the morning piping his flock to pasture with some love sonnet of an amorous Troubadour. His 'fleecy care' seemed actually under the influence of the music. Instead of being driven before the shepherd, they followed him, and did not disperse to feed, until facing them, he executed variations on his air. His huge wolf-dog, guardian of the flock, followed his master with ears pricked like the chief critic of the performance. At noon the shepherd's audience would be increased by comely matron or blooming maiden who joined her voice to his as they rendezvoused beside some antique fountain. In the cool of the evening there was dancing on the village green or concert before the hamlet door. Travellers were invited to share the little repast of fruits, cheese and bread. Everything gave charm to the illusion and pointed to Provence as the Arcadia of France.
"The greatest singularity was the absence of aimed men and soldiers in this peaceful country. In England, no one stirred without his long-bow, sword and buckler. In France, the hind wore armor even betwixt the stilts of the plough. In Germany you could not look
along a mile of road without seeing clouds of dust from which emerged waving feathers and flashing armor. But in Provence all was quiet and peaceful, as if the music of the land had lulled to sleep all wrathful passions. Now and then a mounted cavalier would pass, harp at saddle-bow or carried by an attendant, attesting his character as Troubadour. The short sword, worn on the left thigh, was for show rather than use."
Besides its "dance and Provençal song and sunburnt mirth," there is in this country another kind of life, silent but no less vital. One that touched profoundly the spirit of young Michel, and which permeates the Centuries. It is the life of the ancient past. Provence is an old land where people and races have come and gone, yet not passed utterly away. Long-dead creeds and customs, rooted deep in antiquity, survive entranced. Celts, Romans, Phoenicians, Greeks, Goths, all have left their traces, blended now in the Christian race.
Nostradamus refers particularly to the long influence of Greece upon Provence in one of his quatrains:
Across the countryside and in the cities rises the pallor of marble ruins and monuments. Triumphal arches, crumbling amphitheaters, delicate fountains, ghost-peopled by the shades of their builders. In such memory-haunted spots, the whispering speech of the past reaches only ears that are attuned to its mysterious language. Michel, sensitive even in childhood to the enigma of past and future held in the eternal now, felt the spell of these remnants of a mighty past. He grew up in the midst of two worlds, the living present of his own day, and the majestic dead of the long ago. The first gave him its earthy warmth, its gayety, its sturdy common sense. The other opened to him its secret realm, serene, imperiously aloof, where within its twilight lay dreaming the sword of Caesar, the sails of Greece and Carthage, and the golden bracelets of the Goth.
When Michel was old enough to be curious about the history of the ruins, he liked to go on rambles of discovery with one or other of the grandfathers who could tell him the story of what he saw. It is easy to picture him at the side of the old man stately in his physician's robe and four-pointed cap, a uniform which the boy would later wear with honor. Michel was a little under height, but vigorous, with rosy-apple cheeks, color he kept so long as he lived. His hair was brown above a high, square forehead. His straight, determined features were lighted by large, extremely keen gray eyes.
On a day when the two are rambling through San
[paragraph continues] Rémy they stop to admire the noble arch of triumph which Julius Caesar built to the memory of Marius and his mighty victory there. Michel is curious about the carvings on the arch. What do they mean, he asks his grandfather.
"They record how long ago the Roman general, Marius, once saved our land. You see," the old man tells him, "the barbarians had poured over the country. Nearly half a million fierce fighting men they had, besides all their families."
"Did the Romans come here to fight on our side?"
"Yes. But longer ago than that, Hannibal had crossed here with three thousand elephants on his way to conquer Rome. Our Celtic folk had fought for the Romans then, and Rome remembered. She sent us Marius, her finest general, in our time of peril."
"Did he bring a great army, grandfather?"
"No, lad, he didn't need a great army. He had great soldiers, the legions of Rome. And he had with him the prophetess Marta, a Syrian woman who had a familiar spirit and could foretell the future. She promised Marius a victory."
"What, sir, is a familiar spirit? How could the prophetess tell that Marius would win?"
"There are such people, Michel. I myself have some slight gift at mind-reading. Some day I will open your eyes a little. But prophecy is, of course, a greater faculty. The Romans called such prophets sibyls, and set great store by them. Marius did. He paid Marta high honor. Even had his wife Julia come on from
[paragraph continues] Rome after the battle just to meet her. Sometime I will show you the marble stela carved with their meeting."
"Tell me more about the prophetess, please."
"There is not much to tell. Foolish folk believe she still speaks from the cavern of Lou Garagoule where a hundred of the barbarians were thrown to death at her bidding."
"Why? Surely many were killed in the battle."
"Yes. But you see, lad, she was a pagan. Before the coming of our Lord who forbade cruelty, men worshipped gods who, so they thought, must have a special sacrifice of blood to pay for their favors. Marius, no doubt, thought it cheap at the price."
"Grandfather, where is Lou Garagoule? Is it far?"
"Too far for your short legs," grandfather chuckles. "’Tis some miles beyond Aix, near to the top of Mont Saint Victoire. There is a deep cleft in the rock, with the monastery perching across it like an eagle. Under it runs a cavern so far down that it has never been plumbed. It has a secret passage leading down. ’Tis said the monks unlock it for fools who pay them enough to expiate their sin of consulting Marta, or what they think is Marta."
"But does she really speak to them?"
"Of course not. She is long dead. But they go through heathenish incantations and wait six hours in the darkness. Then all they hear is the howl of the wind in the mountain passages. Never try it, ’tis contrary to the spirit of God, and the monks do ill to allow it."
"Still, I should like to see it, grandfather."
"That you shall. When your mother thinks you are old enough to be up the night, you will go to Mont Saint Victoire on the twenty-fourth of April, the anniversary of the battle. You will see where the legions of Marius stood. You will march in the great celebration of the victory they hold there every year, for folk in these parts will never forget."
"Will there be dancing and music?"
"Drums and trumpets, tambourines and singing. They build big bonfires on the Mont, and all night long they dance the farandole, and shout 'Victory, Victory.'"
"Did you go, grandfather?"
"In my youth. Many times. At dawn there is Mass, and everyone goes to give thanks for the saving of our land."
"Tell me about the battle." Youth is never weary.
"Well, the Roman legions were posted on Mont Saint Victoire, ’tis called so after the battle. Here were the barbarians in San Rémy and stretching all the way across the plain to Aix. Between them and the Mont, Marius had dug a great line of deep ditches, the Fossa of Marius, as men still call them--"
As the story proceeded, the little boy listened enthralled until the final overthrow of the last barbarian.
"The Greek historian, Plutarch, has set down the story of the battle of Marius better than I can tell it, Michel," Grandfather finished. "You will read about it for yourself, and many other interesting happenings, when you have mastered classic language. ’Twill
be an incentive to your study. Now, the hour grows late."
One wonders if the tale of ancient battle, heard in childhood, returned in age to mingle its memory of victory with the seer's bitter foresight of the ruin of France, making more desolate the vision by contrast. In the prophet's verses which tell the story of 1940 is a quatrain describing the Maginot Line. In this he uses the word fosse, French for ditch, from the Latin fossa. Perhaps his vision compared the futility of the greatest defensive ditch ever built with the primitive, victorious one of the Roman general.
Alas that Marius should be so long time dead. Gone, too, the ancient Roman friendship. Left, but the sadness which cast its gloomy shadow backwards and touched the mantle of the prophet writing those words four hundred years ago.
But such foreknowledge was yet a long way off
from Michel's joyous boyhood. After such adventure with his grandfather, he would go home with his head full of battle and wonder. He would dream over it by the fireside where the sleepy flames burnished the copper cooking-pots like a legionnaire's helmet. When night fell in his small, starkly furnished room, and he felt the straw of his pallet beneath him, he would pretend, like boys the world over, that he was Marius on the hillside. The moon, slanting in on the tall wardrobe in the corner, transformed its dark shape mysteriously into the outlines of the prophetess Marta.
There were a thousand such fascinating stories that the grandfathers could tell, out of which Michel and Jean wove their own picture of the ancient splendor of Provence. Tales of emperors, of lost kings and queens and popes who had built their castles there. Stories, too, of the mysteries of the Camargue where giant flame-colored birds flew high in the mists. Stories of gladiatorial games, of bullfights, of crusaders who were sovereigns in the land of Christ. Legends of all the heroes who had laughed under blue Provençal skies, and feasted at Pan's rose-wreathed board which perpetually invites in this land of classic beauty.
As for grandfather's promise to Michel to show him something of the secret marvels of the mind, it is written in the record that he kept his word. Michel would have given him scant rest until he did. "One day, by way of diversion," it is said, grandfather gave a little demonstration of the workings of hidden mental forces. What kind of demonstration is not known,
but it was probably a simple experiment in mind-reading. It was, however, a perfect introduction to such mysteries for the boy who was to become an adept in their use. Given casually and naturally by grandfather, it robbed the subject of the superstitions and ideas of devil's magic which permeated the age. It gave the boy an opportunity for a normal attitude toward extra-sensory experience. The incident could take its place, without distortion or disproportion, in Michel's active gathering of assorted knowledge. Its naturalness held a protective significance toward the later development of the prophet's gift, and its influence can be traced in the honesty and fearlessness of his attitude toward his own mysterious power.