Who is the first person that comes to mind when you think of a prophet or seer? For most people, it is Nostradamus. This French man of mystery is generally recognized as one of the most renowned prophets from the last millennium. Over 2,000 editions of Les Propheties, his book of prophecies, have been published since his original work was written in 1555. Major media outlets like the Discovery Channel and the History Channel have created feature-length programs on the life and prophecies of Michel de Nostredame.
According to popular interpretation, his quatrains predict some of the most notable events in history: The Great Fire of London, the rise of Napoleon, Hitler, both World Wars, Kennedy’s assassination, the September 11 attack on the World Trade Center, and the “supposed” end of the world in 2012. But, is it true that Nostradamus was a prognosticator worthy of this reputation? According to Peter Lemesurier and many other historians and researchers, the answer is ….not really.
Regarded as the leading English-language expert on Nostradamus, Lemesurier’s journey of discovery began as he embarked on the translation of Les Propheties’ quatrains from sixteenth century French into modern English. In order to better understand and comprehend the meaning of those original words, Lemesurier delved deeply into Nostradamus’ lifetime. He developed contacts with other researchers and obtained access to some of the earliest editions of Nostradamus’ work. After many years of study and writing several books on the subject, his perspective on this iconic prophet changed dramatically.
Based on some of the earliest editions from Nostradamus’ writings and historical records of the time, (included in a CD that comes with his most recent book Nostradamus, Bibliomancer, The Man, The Myth, The Truth), Lemesurier reveals to the English speaking world that the fabled reputation of Nostradamus is unfounded, and that the great majority of the famous predictions attributed to him are modified versions of other author’s writings from Nostradamus’ time and long before.
Mr. Lemesurier spoke with SuperConsciousness Magazine about his journey of discovery while studying Nostradamus, and about the ability of others to predict future events.
SC: The perception of Nostradamus as the iconic prophet persists to this day. How did that happen?
PL: The idea that he was an extraordinary prophet and a man of mystery arose in the first place mainly from Jean de Chavigny, his secretary, who was obsessed with the man, and especially with trying to prove that he was always right. Chavigny published several books in the 1590s in which he tried to do that. Later on other people also added their commentaries to new editions and took it further. All these stories accumulated around him like those of Churchill or any other famous figure, where most of the stories are purely apocryphal. That went on rather like a snowball over the centuries.
You are testing the prophecy in the fire to see whether it survives. In the case of Nostradamus, I am afraid it doesn’t. Whether or not other alleged sources of prophecies will stand depends on the people who do the research and on whether they pass the test of time.
There have been about 2,000 editions of Nostradamus’ prophecies since his death. Each of the early editions was based upon the previous edition - not on the original one, and each subsequent commentary was based upon what people wanted them to have predicted, rather than on what they actually stated. It was only in fairly recent years that people interested in Nostradamus actually found the original editions and identified their historical sources. In the process they discovered that most of the commentaries were largely fictional.
It was from about the 1700s that people started to realize that a lot of his prophecies were actually based on earlier books. He was merely projecting their contents into the future. I think this was partly forgotten for a while, but then it was resurrected by my colleagues such as Roger Prévost, Bernard Chevignard, and especially Pierre Brind’Amour, a Canadian specialist in ancient studies at the University of Ottawa. Pierre looked into where a lot of these prophecies came from.
SC: What inspired this new interest in finding out the truth about Nostradamus?
PL: I think a lot of it was due to the accessibility of ancient documents. A lot of the work on Nostradamus was lost at about the time of the French Revolution because librarians in those times were anti- anything mysterious and tended to destroy such documents. It is quite difficult to find earlier editions in libraries and some of them were not discovered until the 1980s. There is still one edition missing.
SC: You have written several books about Nostradamus and your initial works portrayed him as a real prophet. How did your perception change?
PL: A lot of scholars looking into subjects like Nostradamus, or the Bible for example, become more skeptical the more they look at it. When I started, I actually didn’t want to write about Nostradamus. He seemed dark and gloomy, and possibly mad. Then I became interested in trying to translate his verses into English verse because it had not been done before. That became rather like doing a daily crossword puzzle. In the process, I had to look at what the words actually said.
The more I looked at the evidence, the more skeptical I became. You have to be able to change your views. The trouble is that a lot of people who believe in the mythology refuse point blank to change their views
In the first instance, the research available wasn’t very adequate. As time went on, when I visited Nostradamus’ house in the south of France, I was put in touch with a lot of modern French researchers, many of whom are unknown in the English speaking world. This is a pity, since most of the misconceptions about Nostradamus are held in the Anglo Saxon countries.
The more I looked at the evidence, the more skeptical I became. You have to be able to change your views. The trouble is that a lot of people who believe in the mythology refuse point blank to change their views and so they perceive you as a fraud and a charlatan.
SC: In your book you claim that Nostradamus’ writings were based on the “Janus Effect”, which is this idea that history tends to repeat itself. Do you agree with this perception about history?
PL: The idea that history repeats itself is an extremely old one and a much older one than the linear view of history, which was developed only in recent centuries. Right up to the time of Nostradamus, people generally believed that history repeats itself. It goes right back to the Greek writer Plutarch, who took the entirely reasonable view that since human beings create history and human beings don’t change, history must therefore repeat itself. Of course, there is a certain truth in it. But on that basis, you could then say that Nostradamus didn’t believe in the future. He simply believed in a repetition of the past.
SC: How did this research change your perspective about prophets?
PL: Inevitably, it tended to make me more skeptical. Prophecy is genuine and it happens – though if it needs protecting from people who are skeptical, there can’t be much to it. Maybe there is nothing to it. You are testing the prophecy in the fire to see whether it survives. In the case of Nostradamus, I am afraid it doesn’t. Whether or not other alleged sources of prophecies will stand depends on the people who do the research and on whether they pass the test of time.
SC: Our thesis for this issue is that it is innate in all of us to perceive the future. Based on your research and based upon your own interests in prophecy, would you agree?
PL: I wouldn’t wish to deny that human beings are capable of anticipating the future, though I think that perhaps we need to be more aware than we sometimes are of the various signals we get in the present of what is going to happen in the future. Simply by dint of extrapolation, we can get clues as to what might happen.
There have been about 2,000 editions of Nostradamus’ prophecies since his death. Each of the early editions was based upon the previous edition - not on the original one, and each subsequent commentary was based upon what people wanted them to have predicted, rather than on what they actually stated.
There are people who have made their living predicting the future and quite often have got it right. But how much can we foresee the future? We all know that certain things are going to happen. You know that the sun is going to come up tomorrow. You know you are going to die. I know I am going to die. You know that there will be another war in the Middle East. You know that there are going to be problems with the climate. You know that there are going to be financial problems. It is surprising what a large picture of the future you can create.
I used to write a spoof Nostradamus’ Almanac each year about what was going to happen in the following year. If you make it vague enough, you can get 80% to 90% of it right. You can do it better than he did. I think it was in the summer of 2001 that I wrote that there would be a great metallic bird descending from the sky killing many prople ‘within and without’. People would say it was 9/11. But it wasn’t at all; it was simply a prediction for an airliner crashing, as they regularly do, especially in the summer, when there are plenty of them around.
A few prophecies later still, I said a man with a white turban would be pursued while issuing threats. But then everyone knew he (Bin Laden) was around at the time. So there is nearly always a mixture of charlatanry and rational anticipation of the future, sometimes possibly combined with some sort of premonition. Here it usually seems to be dramatic events involving the emotions that tend to be foreseen.
SC: What is your perspective on all of this hype right now about the year 2012?
PL: The 2012 theory is nonsense: It was not a prediction by Nostradamus nor was it prediction of the Maya, which is where the original idea came from. December 2012 on the Mayan calendar is merely like the transition from 999999 to 000000 on a car’s odometer. It is a purely mathematical thing. The Maya didn’t believe that was the end of the world. Their end of the world was supposed to lay zillions and zillions of years in the future. Their conception of time was enormous and it was all based upon the end of a previous world in 3114 B.C that didn’t actually happen! 2012 doesn’t mark anything in particular at all and certainly not the end of the world.
Peter Lemesurier, born in 1936, earned an MA in Modern and Medieval Languages at Cambridge. Regarded as the leading Englishlanguage expert on Nostradamus, with ten books on the subject, including the bestselling Nostradamus Encyclopedia of 1997, he is also the author of numerous works dedicated to some of the world’s great mysteries.