Nostradamus, the Man Who Saw Through Time, by Lee McCann , at sacred-texts.com
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King René, the minstrel-monarch of Provence.
TIME WORE ON. The fruit of the prophet's nocturnal visions multiplied enormously as the history of events to come unfolded its vast stretches before his eyes. Nostradamus, in common with most men of genius, began to feel the urge to share his vision with the world. Yet he knew he would have to move very cautiously in presenting his work to the public. Its peculiar nature made necessary all possible safeguards against suppression or destruction not only during his own lifetime but in the future centuries with which his prophecies were concerned. His plans must be carefully made, there must be no mistakes.
He had shown some of his prophetic verses to close friends, and already some of these forecasts had been fulfilled with impressive exactitude. Those who had been privileged to read them wanted to see more of them. A whole bookful, they told Nostradamus, could not hold enough of such fascinating inside information on destiny.
"Why not publish your prophecies?" his friends
pressed the question continually. This enthusiasm was a good augury for the popularity of his work, Nostradamus thought, and he wanted to present it as soon as possible. Yet there were difficulties. He talked it all over with Ayme de Chavigny, who says that Nostradamus kept his prophecies by him for a long time, reluctant to bring them out because of the risks which the times made so menacing to scholars. Chavigny, himself a lawyer, scholar and theologian, saw the difficulties clearly, but he, too, was eager for the world to know the marvelous work of his teacher and friend.
"Mon ami et maitre," he said to Nostradamus, "you believe that your foreknowledge is divinely inspired. Well, then, does not that carry its own obligation to reveal it? Had the prophets of Scripture dwelt only on their dangers, we should not have the guidance of Daniel, preserved from the lions, nor Jeremiah, who was rescued from a dungeon."
"True, Ayme," the prophet smiled ruefully, "but you can see there are my wife and children to think of. They would not like either lions or dungeons. Perhaps it would be safest to wait until after my death to have the prophecies published."
"But think of your splendid horoscope," urged Chavigny, who loved to dwell on this chart in admiration of its power. "It promises great preservation."
"Yes, but you and I both realize that though valuable in certain ways, astrology cannot be too heavily relied on. You have only to follow its public prophecies to see that."
"But the astounding accuracy of what you foretell will confound your enemies."
"Oh, no." The prophet's voice was bitter. "They will say that only the Devil could supply such knowledge. You see, Ayme, if they could ever have dismissed me as a charlatan, they could forgive me. But that they will never be able to do."
Chavigny was troubled. He did not know what advice to give. It was true that there was a constant martyrdom of great scholars. Nor was the Inquisition responsible for all of it. The Protestants, when not too busy protecting their own skins, could show the zeal of Torquemada, and their numbers were increasing in Provence. Both sides were lavish patrons of the stake. For Etienne Dôle, burnt by the Catholic Sorbonne, there was Michael Servetus, burned on the order of John Calvin, with the torch applied to an imitation crown of thorns made of straw and set upon his brow.
"But the Church, Michel, is your friend," Chavigny urged. "The fanatics at the Sorbonne, the physicians who hate you, all the rest--they cannot hurt you if the power of the Church supports you. Why not talk to some of the bishops and cardinals who know you well?"
"I have," Nostradamus told him. "They are not against my publishing. Some were encouraging. But I must feel more sure."
"I do not seek to probe unduly," Chavigny said, "but back of your hesitation I seem to sense some other, unspoken reason which is influencing you."
"You are right," Nostradamus told him gravely. "There is another reason for my caution." He rose and walked restlessly about the study, the long black velvet folds of his robe swaying in sculptural rhythm to his movements. When he spoke again, it was with passionate emphasis. "Ayme, my work must live. Must, I tell you. When I think that some agency might compass its destruction, fear lays a hand on my heart."
Chavigny looked at him in astonishment. He silently waited an explanation. Nostradamus turned to his long work-table heaped with parchments. Searching among 4 these he withdrew one and handed it to Chavigny. "Read this."
Chavigny took the screed and read it carefully, first to himself, then slowly aloud.
"My friend," Chavigny said distressfully, "except as you interpret them to me, I do not understand these clouded words. Only I perceive that a disaster of mighty extent stretches an evil hand toward Paris and the nation. Will it be soon? Is it the Spaniards who will conquer in spite of all?" Spain was the ever-present menace of the sixteenth century.
"No, not Spain, mon ami. Nor is it soon. To you it would seem a great way off. To my vision, telescoping time as it does, beholding now this distant tragedy, it affects me as if it were tomorrow. As a matter of fact it is nearly four hundred years away."
Chavigny released the long sigh of a man reprieved from instant calamity. Nostradamus looked at him with a smile half sad, half amused.
"You are in no personal danger, Ayme. But you do not see now what I mean? Why my work must live?"
"But of course!" Chavigny's Gallic vivacity quickly rallied. "That you may warn the country! They will know you for a true and great prophet, they will believe you, they will be saved as Jeanne d’Arc saved France. Oh, what a destiny of grandeur!"
"No. That is not it either," Nostradamus said somberly. "No prophet can contravene the laws of destiny. Would God some word of mine could save France. It is impossible."
"But that makes no sense--"
"Destiny, a man's or a nation's," Nostradamus told him, "is according to divine plan; it is the cross upon the shoulders of humanity. The prophets of Scripture did not utter to change that plan, but through perceived truth to lead men closer to God."
"But your writings pertain to affairs of state, not religion," Chavigny objected.
"That is true. If I have really any mission, it is a humble one," Nostradamus sighed. He was silent for a little, then he took up the thread of his explanation. "There will be in the years to come many crises which France must meet. Two of these will be terrible. In the first one France will for a while seem to be without her soul, but," he added a little cynically, "she will not lose her lands. In the second disaster, which will occur about a hundred and fifty years later, to which I refer in the verses you have just read, her soil will be ravished, her spirit crushed, and her people in bondage.
For a time there will appear to be nothing left. There will be famine of bread for the body and of bread for the soul."
"Horrible, unthinkable," murmured Chavigny.
"These distant calamities," the prophet continued, "will come because the people shall have forsaken spiritual law and are like lost sheep." From memory he quoted one of his verses.
"Ah, Chavigny, could man but realize of how little worth is pride of intellect. And they will call this strange period The Age of Reason, not knowing that when they lose heaven they lose all."
"You paint a dreadful picture," the lawyer commented. "Yet because it is so far off, I cannot somehow feel it as I should. It has no reality for me. And if you cannot avert this disaster with your warnings, what is it, my friend, that you hope to accomplish?"
"Very little, I am afraid," Nostradamus answered mournfully. "My great desire is to write something that will reach France across the centuries. I was a physician before I was a prophet. My hope is that in
her day of disaster some word of mine may administer to the people the caustic of pride, the stimulant of courage, and bind about their wounds the healing salve of hope. If I could but do that much, I would ask no greater boon of God."
Emotion choked Chavigny's voice as he said, "Jeanne d’Arc did no more. I see what you mean, my friend. In the last extremity, a people must help themselves. All that can be done is to arouse them to the effort."
"Yes," Nostradamus agreed. "And here is my message to them. He handed Chavigny another piece of writing. The lawyer read:
"I have not spared the faults of France. I have reported what I think are the self-wrought causes of her downfall. Do you think," Nostradamus asked anxiously, "that she will listen and heed?"
Chavigny's curiosity had reverted to the earlier quatrains. "Who is there that can conquer France if it
is not Spain?" he asked belligerently. "You speak of moving the capital--how could that be? And what is the meaning of that reference to the planets, Saturn in Leo, wasn't it?"
"Slowly, my friend! In that period of lost judgment, which will cover quite a long space of years, some of which will be rich and prosperous, there will be no king in France, the government will be a republic."
"Like Venice and Florence?"
"Well--no. It will be more extreme. You have read Utopia by that misguided camel across the Channel, Thomas More. It will be more like that--at least they will have similar ideas. They will say that all men are equal."
"What folly!" cried his friend. "Men can grow in grace, if they would. But a peasant cannot equal a king."
"All political ideas will have changed," Nostradamus replied, "except the greed for power." "But you still have not told me--"
"Germany," Nostradamus cut in with his answer, "will be the dominant power. Twice it will conquer France, and the second conquest is the time I speak of as so desperate. You know, Ayme, that I like to date and to identify events by means of the positions of the heavenly bodies, which cannot lie, nor are they subject to change as is the calendar. In the chart of this Republic
of France, the position of Mars will be in the sign of Cancer. There will, in the final disaster, be no real leadership. It is the government which will be both criminal and victim. That is why I designate particularly the government. Nor do I wish to give exactly the year of this downfall, but only to indicate under what constitution of the government the event will occur. But the German, the one man who will tear down the realm of France, I have identified him by the position of Saturn at the time of his birth, for in that day he is the government of Germany. In another verse about him, I have even given the precise degree, Saturn in the thirteenth degree of Leo."
"Then the meaning of this line is," said Chavigny, consulting the verse, "that this powerful German, one who has Saturn at birth in the thirteenth degree of Leo, will ravish that government of France which will have Mars in Cancer. Is that it?"
"That is correct," said Nostradamus.
In the last tragic days of June, 1940, the current astronomical position of Mars was exactly transiting the position Mars held in Cancer at the birth of the Third Republic, September 4th, 1870. Saturn was in thirteen degrees of Leo when Adolf Hitler was born.
"Will this German be of the religion?" asked Chavigny in concern.
"No, there will be a new and far worse heresy which will then arise, resembling more the pagans of the Northland." Again he quoted from his prophecies.
"Grand Dieu!" cried Chavigny, "but this is all horrible. I begin to feel its sorrow like a black shadow. Is this to be the end of France? France without her robe of glory--it is unthinkable. Is there no hope?"
"Hope! Ah, yes, take heart, my friend! Hope and splendor such as France has never known. But this will only come after a long and cruel wounding. A crucifixion of all that she holds most dear."
"And what is the nature of this great hope?" Chavigny questioned.
Nostradamus’ fine features kindled to quick enthusiasm. "A king. The greatest and most glorious of the kings of earth. A son of ancient France and of the
lineage of the fleur-de-lys. A prince who will restore the monarchy of France."
"Our own Capetian monarchy! It will not then have died out?" Chavigny exclaimed in surprise.
"No, indeed. The coming of this king will carry the memories of Frenchmen back to that other ancient day of darkness when all seemed lost. I mean the times of Charles VII whom the Maid of Orleans restored to his throne. The king who drove out the English and built a greater France. His name will be on men's lips again and they will liken the conquests of the new monarch to those of Charles VII, buried half a century. I will read you some of my verses about all this." Gathering up some sheets of writing in his hand, he read:
"Will not that give them hope?" the prophet cried. "And there is more that I have seen, but it is not yet shaped into verses. There is still an immense amount of work to be done on my prophecies."
"It is magnificent," Chavigny exclaimed. "There is the glory of Charlemagne and Saint Louis both about this Prince Capet. I wish that I could see his like on the throne of France today. Tell me, have you seen him, actually looked upon him?"
"Yes, I have indeed," Nostradamus said smiling. "And searching his face I find there justice, sympathy and the wisdom to serve his people. Four centuries separate him and me." A whimsical smile touched his lips. "By such standards of time I become a very ancient man compared to him. So I hope that he would not, if he knew, take it as an unbecoming liberty that I should love him as a son."
"This message of yours should mean all the world to him, 'born under shadows,' as you say. Will he recognize it, see it as himself?"
"That is my hope," Nostradamus told him. "My purpose is that he shall read it, and feel the ancient royal, strength of Hugh Capet flow through his sword arm. My hope is to give him confidence of victory, of freedom for his people--our people."
"Now I understand your anxiety for the preservation of this work," Chavigny said. "But can you not foresee its fate?"
"Yes," Nostradamus answered, "I know that it will live, and that it will avail. But I cannot be sure how much. It is harder to foresee those matters which concern oneself. What I fear is that the work may be mutilated or changed, or that others may imitate it so that people will be hard put to tell the true from the false."
"What I would fear more," his friend told him candidly, "is that people will not understand its meanings when they read it. These verses are clear enough to me now, but many that you have shown me, I frankly could make nothing of, lacking your help. In a matter so important you should write with the utmost clarity." It was the lawyer in Chavigny speaking.
"What you are pleased to call my clouded words," smiled Nostradamus, "have a purpose. Books too often survive because time forgets them, they are safe because unread. My prophecies must be read by every generation, their flame must be fed by constant interest, so that in the day of their need they will not be on musty shelves, but in the hands of the people of France." The prophet's grave eyes twinkled at Chavigny. "Can you, my learned and legal friend, think of a better way to set the generations reading than by giving them a puzzle, of which each age solves some pieces of its truth, and none ever solves it fully until the time of its fulfillment?"
The lawyer thought it over. "I see your point," he
said, "it is a good one. But even, if, as you say, people cannot change their major destinies, still they have to wait for the fulfillment of a prophecy to know if it is a true one. And each accurate forecast will make them pay closer attention to what is foretold as coming next."
"And also bring them greater suffering in anticipation," Nostradamus reminded him. "No. Life holds more of sadness than of joy. Many things are better not revealed in advance. But my prophecies are not all obscure. That would not do either. Many events are clearly described, with names of persons given, and dates of occurrences. Men will know by these that there is truth in my words, and they will never leave off searching for more of it in the difficult passages. That is how I would have it."
Chavigny's mind had gone off on a tangent. "I suppose the world will be a very different kind of place in four hundred years. I doubt that I would recognize it."
"Outwardly different," Nostradamus told him. "The nations of that day will, as Scripture says, have sought out many inventions. But man himself will be the same. Unfortunately." Chavigny got up from his chair, shook out the folds of his scholar's gown and carefully adjusted them. "If I had not studied with you so long," he observed thoughtfully, "I could not credit a vision of such immensity as yours. But because I know you, know the already fulfilled prophecies that you have made, I must believe you. Yet it staggers the imagination. Four hundred years!"
"And far beyond that," the prophet told him dreamily. "My eyes have beheld the oceans of time that swirl their mighty tides against the gates of God." He too arose. "You are leaving, Ayme?"
"Yes, I must be getting back to Beaune. Besides, my mind is incapable of digesting more wonders. You are right, there is something about prophecy, even when it does not touch one's own life, that is somehow shattering."
After Chavigny had gone, Nostradamus seated himself at his table. He spread a parchment carefully before him, selected a quill, and began to write:
He threw aside the quill, the verse unfinished, and began to think. His friends were right; if his work was to be published, it was time to make a beginning, to try it out. Time to conquer doubts and misgivings and to get on with it. He realized and faced the fact that what he most dreaded was the fresh cries of sorcery, the calumnies and vituperation that would be heaped upon his head by the very men who should be his friends. His nature, as unselfish and affectionate as it was deeply sensitive, shrank from this ordeal. But there would be, surely, a preservation from harm. Not as Chavigny had said because of the power of his
horoscope, but because he held his prophetic gift from God. Certainly, he thought it had been given to him for a divine purpose. He had never misused it. God would look after him. He would trust in that, and act with confidence.
His decision made, he began to think of details. How many verses should he publish at first? Not too many. Better see how it went. If there were interest and demand, a new edition could be quickly run off with more of the quatrains. As soon as he could leave Salon, ill patients permitting, he would go up to Lyons and look for a publisher. Macé Bonhomme was reputed a good printer of excellent standing. He would see him and make arrangements.
There was also the matter of the dedication to be planned. Chavigny, de Condoulet, all his friends would, he knew, urge him to select a powerful patron to whom he could flatteringly address his work. This would have the double advantage of protection and publicity. Moreover, it was customary. Well, he would break the precedent. He had always stood alone. Not so many men in France among the ranks of scholars or artists could say as much. Most of them couldn't exist without the gold and prestige of a patron, and fought like wolves among themselves to attract the help and protection of great prelates and nobles. But with him, Nostradamus, he proudly thought, the shoe had been on the other foot. Patrons had supplicated him, begged him to save their lives and foretell their destinies. He owed no man for gold or favors.
The dedication he decided, should be to César, his oldest and dearly loved son. Between father and son there was a fine sympathy and understanding. César was going to make a good man and one who would do well with his gifts. He thought wistfully how much he would like to see César's young manhood, and guide it. But whenever he should be called to leave the scene of his labors, he wished to leave behind something of himself that should belong exclusively to César. It should be the letter of dedication and the first book of his prophecies. In this letter he would reveal something of his gift, how it manifested itself, how he differed from other prophets of the time. And in particular he would warn his son against the danger of alchemic research and all the forms of black magic. It should be a document which César could keep always by him, recognizing therein his father's true self. César would value it and be proud of it when he, A his father, was gone.
He had told Chavigny of his plan to complete the work in twelve divisions, each one a century containing a hundred quatrains. He liked the arrangement in centuries. It suggested such periods of time and caught the imagination. Yet it really meant nothing in this sense, because he intended that the verses should be so well scrambled that only with difficulty, and usually after the event, could the prophecies be assigned to their proper dates. He decided against publishing an even number of verses, such as five
hundred. Everyone would be searching for hidden meanings, and he wanted to pique interest and curiosity as much as possible. If there were but, say, four hundred and fifty odd verses, people would wonder why. They would speculate on whether those were all he had ready, or if there was a secret reason, perhaps a hidden clue to his dates--well, that might be true too, though unlikely that anyone would find it.
He had already set aside a large number of the completed verses which he had chosen to go in the book. But these must again be carefully checked, with perhaps some changes, additions and omissions. There must be enough verses about current personalities, who were immediately identifiable or in which the events predicted were of not distant occurrence, otherwise interest would languish and die at the beginning. And there must be other verses which people would think they had identified and which would work out differently, and these would keep them puzzling their wits.
Chavigny had at times wondered why he, as a scientist, did not prophesy more about future developments in this field. It was hard to make Ayme understand how he felt about it. Man's works passed away, but man himself went on. What he was, and in particular how he governed himself, was the important thing. Under a good government and wise leaders ideas expanded, invention and discovery flowered in multiple forms. Given long wars and fools at the head of things, such works disappeared, had to be rediscovered, the
work done over again. And, too, there were plenty of men besides himself then living who, if they dared, could give almost as precise a picture of what science would develop in coming centuries as those men of tomorrow themselves. Leonardo had known that some day men would fly, he had foreseen many other inventions they would use. Copernicus had understood that his discovery was but the prelude to vast knowledge of the heavens that would be unfolded. Farther back, the Englishman, Roger Bacon, had written in secret of the principles that would be commonplaces of chemistry one day, but were still too dangerous to mention openly. Plenty of men had this kind of knowledge, better than himself. But these men did not have what he, Nostradamus had, the vision of men and times, the chord within which all else must work.
But, he smiled to himself, he was telling some things about science. The men of tomorrow should see that at least he had not omitted such forecasts because he was ignorant of them. Certainly he was saying enough about "gnats" and "locusts" and "strange birds." The men of the future should recognize exactly what he meant by these terms, because their flying machines looked just like that. He had watched them, in pictures of the future, swarming against the sky, blackening it like a cloud of locusts. Like insects, too, was their weird humming. In time of war they would be an insult to heaven, fighting close to its blue vault, and worse than all the plagues of Pharaoh. Man
would pay for such invention; he, Nostradamus, had nothing good to say of airplanes.
He had told, too, about the strange air-bag with a hole in it--another one of those flying-devices. He had set the time quite closely for this. It was the kind of picturesque bit that he knew appealed to readers, as was the gun-part with the amusing name which Frenchmen would give to it. And for those of his own profession, he had described the strange case of an abnormal birth. People took great interest in such things and he, as a physician, did himself. Many thought such births were Devil's changelings. As a scientist, he knew that there were unknown biological laws at work in such cases, but he had often wondered if there had been a soul inclosed in such hideous shapes as he had seen and prayed God's pity on. The child of which he had written would fortunately not be born alive. It was an extraordinary case and would make talk, not only as a wonder but because he had predicted it.
Doctor Garencières, who was, like Nostradamus, a doctor of medicine, and whose translation of the Centuries first introduced Nostradamus to England, was, a hundred years later, fascinated by the prophecy of this unique case. He investigated the circumstances and interviewed one of the medical men who had to do with the preservation of the freak and could tell him all about it. In his translation he devotes considerable space to the account. This quatrain is Nostradamus’ prediction.
Here is the story as told by Doctor Garencières. Speaking of the verse he says:
"This is a great riddle which was never found out till now; and had I not been born in the Country where the History did happen, it might have been unknown to this day, and buried in oblivion.
"In the year of the Lord 1613, which was that of my birth, there lived in the town of Sens a Taylor's wife, named Columba Chatry, and who presently after her marriage conceived and for the space of twenty-eight years persuaded herself to be with child. She had all the signs of it, and after having gone her compleat time, began to feel the pains of a woman in labor. Then her breath failed, the motion of the child ceased and the pains subsided. For three years the poor woman kept her bed complaining of a hard swelling and griping. She frequently spoke of bearing a child as being the cause of her death. After her death her husband engaged two prominent chirurgeons to make an autopsy. On making the incision with a razor, their knives encountered a horny substance and they had to exert their full muscular strength. Within the womb
was a child, perfectly formed and partly petrified, its skull shining like a horn. The wrist was broken in removing the child ("perfection of the form injured by the steel instrument") which was so grown to the mother, nor did the doctors realize what they had (in time to prevent the injury). The little body was perfectly developed and of such hardness that to this very day that little body defieth all kind of corruption. The child was kept by a Mr. Medill, a chirurgeon of Sens who kindly showed it to all strangers who came from far and near to see it."
Doctor Garencières goes on to relate that the fame of this wonder was so great that doctors in particular travelled great distances to verify the happening and see the child. A prominent English physician urged Charles I to buy it for England, but this was not done, and Venice, instead, obtained it. Of the last two lines of the quatrain, Garencières says:
"Autun, Chalons and Langres, and Sens, the Town where this did happen, did in that year suffer much damage by Hail and Ice which did come to pass, as many persons in that country may testify that are alive to this day."
César de Nostradame says in his History of Provence, that his father predicted "astronomically" the birth of a two-headed child, and that this occurred, as foretold, in 1554, in February, and was brought to Salon for his father to see.
Comets were another source of perennial appeal in older times when as portents of doom their appearance
provided gloomy excitement and much agitated speculation as to where the blow would fall. Not much was known in the sixteenth century of the erratic orbits of these wanderers which were a never-failing source of astonishment and dread. Nostradamus had enough showmanship to know that comets were always good for arousing interest. He has reported a number of them in the Centuries. While he was organizing his quatrains for the first edition of the prophecies he was pleased that one of these eerie visitors could soon be expected. There was a verse about it that must certainly be included because it would only be a year until its fulfillment.
There was a verse that, from the popular viewpoint, had everything, comet, royal quarrel, disturbance of the earth, and a sea serpent! Nostradamus delighted in confounding his readers by using the same words for a political upheaval as for an earthquake. This verse, it transpired later, meant some kind of actual disturbance within the earth. In March, of the following year, and less than a year after publication of the
prophecies, a great comet appeared and could be seen, terrifying in the night sky, for three months. Truly enough, the new truce between France and Spain was quickly broken when the French king went to the assistance of the Pope, who was fighting the Spaniards. To make the forecast perfect, the Tiber and the Arno for no known reason, unless it was some underground disturbance, overflowed and flooded the surrounding land. When the Tiber receded, sure enough there on its bank was a very strange, large serpent, just as promised. Nostradamus knew that a verse such as this would linger in the minds of people, making an impression where events of graver import might be overlooked or forgotten. He counted on such prophecies to increase his fame and serve its continuance.
Not long after this, his letter of dedication to César finished, his verses chosen, he journeyed to Lyons and gave them into the skilled hands of the printer, Mach Bonhomme. Thereafter in due time in this same year, 1555, a slim volume containing four hundred and fifty-four prophetic verses by Maistre Michel Nostradamus was offered to a wondering world.