Nostradamus, the Man Who Saw Through Time, by Lee McCann , at sacred-texts.com
NOSTRADAMUS HAD FOUND, up to this time, that a settled home life was about the most unattainable of his ambitions. Yet each time that he returned from his absence it had been with more acclaim and a wider, if bitterly controversial reputation. Now, once again he settled down to live quietly in Salon, surrounded by the people and things he loved. More than ever he sought an uninterrupted family life and pursuit of the profound studies that were beckoning him to their secret fascinations.
He fitted up the top floor of his home as a study and laboratory sacred to himself, and prepared to enjoy long hours of solitary concentration in the late hours of evening when the day's professional duties were done, and his dearly loved family were abed. Here in this eyry he could arrange his books and instruments, placed to his liking with scientific nicety. His library must by this time have been considerable. From his grandfathers he would have inherited incunabula, old treatises on medicine, mathematics and astronomy. He
had added to these with books and manuscripts picked up here and there in his travels. He watched the printers’ lists for new scientific works that seemed worthwhile, and editions of the classics. Greek, Latin, Hebrew and French, they stood in orderly array upon his shelves. Among them was a large, square Bible, its pages softened with much handling.
Near a window of the study, where the light fell most clearly, was his long work table on which were writing materials. Against the far wall there was a bed which he occasionally used when the few hours before dawn were all that was left of a night spent in study. Nostradamus, like Edison, is said to have needed but little sleep, and to have found five hours or less always sufficient. A small, but for its time, modern and well-equipped laboratory occupied part of the space in this private haunt. Its charcoal brazier, alembic, retorts, and chemicals permitted him to compound some of his prescription needs, and if he wished, to carry out some research. Hour-glasses in several sizes stood about, including a large twelve-hour time-keeper and a small one registering the half-hour, useful in timing chemical experiments. A fine astrolabe spoke eloquently of the doctor's continued interest in astronomy. Nostradamus could afford to indulge his taste for the best in scientific equipment. His patronage had been for a long time very large and wealthy. He gave liberally to charity and to the Church, but he lived simply by preference, and had plenty of income to indulge his interests and hobbies.
Inconspicuous in a corner, though startling to a beholder, stood a tripod of solid brass which might have graced the mysterious rituals of the Pythoness of Delphi. This was the "selle d'airain" of his first quatrain, upon which, he tells us, he sat when in prophetic trance. On the wall hung a mirror of soft-toned old glass in a gilded Italian frame. Some said it was a magic mirror in which he saw his visions. Others said he saw them in the large, gleaming copper bowl which was also a part of the room's furnishings and which, the whispers told, he filled to the brim with water for his occult ceremonies.
Among all of these practical furnishings there would have been, as there always are, little personal things which he liked having near him and looking at sometimes when he worked. Such as, perhaps, a childish drawing by young César, who turned out in later years to be a very good painter and sculptor. Perhaps there were also mementos of his grandfathers. Some of the things in this room would be gifts from wealthy patients. He had received many handsome presents from the time of his young days when he first fought the plague. After he became famous as a prophet gifts multiplied ad infinitum. From Delphi to Nostradamus, all great oracles have been loaded with gifts, the general idea being the hope that the favors of destiny might be commensurate with the offerings.
About the study clung the dry, pungent odors of blended herbs, of which a few clusters were visible. The rest, powdered or distilled for use, filled a variety
of decorative earthenware jars. Sometimes a fresher fragrance gave its odor to the room. This was when Anne Nostradamus would climb the steep flights of narrow stairs to bring a jar of roses in her arms from her garden.
Here in his high retreat Nostradamus began enjoyably to burn the midnight oil to the scandal of the town. Late hours have long been associated in simple minds with sin and sorcery. The country town of Salon, where all knew that the Lord made the night for sleeping, to say nothing of the high cost of candles, was early and suspiciously conscious of the strange nocturnal habits of its celebrity. Nostradamus had come to this town, in part, to escape from the enmity and envy of powerful personalities in the large cities. Here he had thought that he would be entirely free. But he found out that life had its drawbacks in this place too. Because he was the one illustrious personage in its small midst, everything he did and all that could be found out about him fascinated the townspeople. Their desire for excitement fed on his doings and, as in all little towns, they watched and pried and gossiped. Who were his grand visitors, how many litters and blooded horses stood outside his house, what did he eat, where did his wife go, what did she pay for her clothes, and WHY did he sit up all night? Why couldn't he go to bed like a Christian? Was there truth in what some people said, that he trafficked in magic? One should not, of course, say too much, for he had brought prosperity to the town.
The talk and rumors kept up, in spite of the fact that the town was both fond and proud of him. Nostradamus is said to have been not too happy over all this. He had endless patience over anything related to his work, but he was psychically thin-skinned and he had an irritable side. He was hurt over the suspicions and gossip of the townspeople who owed him so much. After the vicious accusations spread by his enemies, he became more taciturn, though he still talked brilliantly in sympathetic company. There were in Salon some charming, cultivated families, such as that of the Sieur de Condoulet, with whom he and his wife were on terms of intimacy. But he felt increasingly drawn to solitude and research.
His growing family, too, demanded more of his time and interest. Five children, two boys and three girls, were born after César. The dates of their births are not known, but Michel, Charles, Magdeleine, Diane and Anne arrived in due season to add their charms of childhood to the home. In his will Magdeleine is favored above the other girls to the extent of a hundred écus above their portions. No reason for this is given, but there must have been some ill health or handicap which required particular provision. It would not have been like Nostradamus to play favorites.
One pleasant day among the calls the doctor received was a social one from the scholarly magistrate of the town of Beaune, Doctor Jean-Ayme de Chavigny. He introduced himself and mentioned a number of mutual friends in Provence, and expressed his deep
admiration for the doctor's achievements and all that he had heard of him. Nostradamus was delightfully impressed with his visitor's dignified manner and intelligent talk.
"Doctor Nostradamus," Chavigny said, "I have come for something more than the great pleasure of meeting you. I want to study with you."
"To study with me!" the doctor echoed in surprise. Not since his days at Montpellier had he taught. "To study what?" he asked.
"I should like to learn something of your wisdom which seems to me to be beyond that of other men," Chavigny told him. "I have my degrees as Doctor of Law and Doctor of Theology. I have been a student all my life, which should be some preparation. I desire to continue studying, particularly those things which will give me a deeper insight into the mysteries of existence. I have never studied astronomy, except superficially. And I think that I might also find the higher branches of mathematics interesting. But if you will become my master, then I shall leave the guidance of my studies to you."
Pleased, though hesitant at first, the doctor was gradually won over to the idea, because he already liked Chavigny. The doctor agreed to plan and supervise some studies for the magistrate who was to see him reporting progress and receiving instruction from time to time. It was the beginning of a fine and lasting friendship. How deeply Doctor Chavigny penetrated into the mysteries of Nostradamus’ gifts, or if he had
some psychic flair of his own, is not known. But the prophet's eyry soon became familiar territory to him, and more than any other friend he was received into his confidence. Unlike the friendship with Scaliger, no disagreements marred the even tenor of the association, unbroken to the death of Nostradamus.
It is supposedly in this period of his life that Nostradamus took up for the first time the study of astrology. Garencières says that he did so because he thought it might throw some additional light on the diagnosis of disease. This would seem to be an unlikely reason. Medicine had all too lately begun to emerge from its long bondage to superstition in which a misapplied astrology had played its part. The pathology of the humors, so recently blasted by Paracelsus, had its foundation in the elemental divisions of astrology, as did many ideas of treatment then being discarded. Nostradamus was too modern, too much the scientist alive to the trends of the times to have taken up this study for medical reasons.
From Belshazzar to Hitler, astrology has been the esoteric science of courts and kings. Its oldest traditions are linked with governments and their rulers. This was still true in the sixteenth century when there was no monarch of importance but had his court astrologer. Where royalty led, the courtiers followed. What the nobles did, the common people imitated. The sixteenth century was permeated with astrological belief and practice. No picture of the Renaissance is complete which leaves out the overwhelming desire of the
age to penetrate the laws of destiny, to discover and manipulate fate through prevision.
Astrology as much as astronomy was then the science of intellectuals. It had not become "The unwise daughter of a wise mother." The two were still sisters in prestige. Scholarship in one was incomplete without knowledge of the other. Nostradamus had come to the study late because his life had been filled with other activities. But keen astronomer that he was, he would quite naturally have wished to round out his education with knowledge of the sister science. Not to know it was a reflection on his scholarship.
Nostradamus, no more than a man of today, could not be invited to dinner without having his neighbor at table complain of what Saturn was doing to him and lament that it would be another year before Jupiter helped him financially. Someone, too, would be certain to ask what did Doctor Nostradamus think of the political effects of the oncoming eclipse. Doctor Nostradamus might choose to discount astrology, but it did not do for him to be ignorant of it.
Nostradamus did not need astrology for his prophetic work. The completeness of his extra-dimensional vision gave him what no astrologer could ever find in his charts. There is no record of any horoscopes cast by Nostradamus, although he may have occasionally made such charts at the request of patrons and as a personal hobby. His patients may have asked him for decumbency charts, for much was made of these horoscopes through the seventeenth century. They
were horoscopes of illness, erected for the time when the person was first taken ill. From such a chart the doctor or astrologer deduced not only the nature of the illness, but its critical period, duration and chance of survival. People liked the charts because they flattered their egos and they could talk about them. "My astrologer said he never before saw anyone live through such a frightful position of Mars." It was just the way people talk of their operations today.
Nostradamus, besides his desire to be acquainted with astrology, to test it and see for himself how much truth it contained, had another reason, a very practical one, for establishing a reputation as an astrologer. This motive was self-protective. He was already deep in the psychic experiences which were to result in his written prophecies. Perhaps he was even then toying with the idea of eventually publishing some of them. He knew he would be treading on dangerous ground, and that he might risk the accusation of sorcery by the Inquisition. Astrology was more respectable than other kinds of prophecy. It was called The Celestial Science. It was patronized by the best people and the most learned minds, many of whom were high within the Church. If Nostradamus could launch his prophecies under the protective coloration of astrology, he had a better chance to escape persecution than if he put them out as revelation only. Such would be the wise course to follow, at least until he had tested public and authoritative reaction. Which is exactly what he did.
Queen Catherine was a sincere believer in astrology
and came of a family who had employed court astrologers for generations. She had brought Ruggiero, the son of her father's astrologer, to France to act as her adviser. Later, after the king's death, he had apartments in the palace connected with the queen's by a private stairway, and still later she built an observatory for him at Blois and erected a column to honor him in Paris. Canny Catherine was herself an expert astrologer. So also was Renée, daughter of Louis XII, and Duchess of Ferrara, who was considered one of the most cultivated women in Europe. Pope Julius II had been known as a fine astrologer, as was Clement VIII later on. Old Doctor John Dee, the English astrologer, planned Queen Elizabeth's coronation and advised her throughout her tenure of the throne.
Seldom has an astrologer changed the course of history. Kings did as they pleased, not as they were advised. But they kept the astrologers on the pay roll because the good ones were usually right. Monarchs, even the richest, were invariably short of cash for their needs, and a good astrologer came high. He had to have a laboratory, expensive instruments, and de luxe books. Sometimes he had more worldly tastes for which he expected the king to foot the bills, as had Angelo Catho, astrologer to Louis XI. Monarchs who employed astrologers at least believed that they had value received for their money, for not one of them was keen about giving away gold. Acceptance and use by royal and powerful personalities conferred dignity upon the old science and kept it in the limelight of
fashion and practice. Everybody of importance had horoscopes cast, if they did not do them themselves. Notable collections of the birth-charts of all important personages of the times were compiled, and have been handed down to the present day. These may in some future age be considered as precious as written histories. Forman says that when Kepler cast horoscopes, a generation later, "To have a nativity cast by Kepler was like having one's portrait painted by Rembrandt."
Nostradamus reiterates in both his letters, to César and to King Henry, which preface the Centuries, that he has made use of astrology in combination with his prophetic gift. But as a matter of fact the Centuries show little use of it. A prophet who could casually identify James I of England and Cromwell by the planets rising at the time they were born, which was long after his own death, had no need of astrology. Nostradamus, however, had to use a certain amount of the terminology of the science and some of the trimmings to back his assertion of its influence. What he really did--and it is a marvel of marvels, utterly unique--was to foresee clairvoyantly the kind of horoscope under which the two rulers just cited would be born.
For the rest, he used his knowledge of the heavens as an astronomer would. Instead of giving dates, he often, in the Centuries, times events by astronomical positions. Sometimes he mentions a grouping of planets, and again only Mars or the Sun. One of the great outcries against the reputation of Nostradamus came
from the ranks of the astrologers themselves, after he had published his astrological Almanachs. They well knew that his prophecies transcended their limitations, and, echoing the doctors, shrieked, "Sorcery!"
No previous analyst of Nostradamus has inquired as to the precise place astrology occupies in his writings. The attitude toward this has seemed to be that in verses so cryptic, anything which puzzles the commentator must be just part of the general oddity of expression. Whereas much light is thrown on many prophecies by an understanding of how Nostradamus used his knowledge of the stars.
Nostradamus may have been influenced to take up this study at the time that he did through having seen and heard discussed a book published by Jerome Cardan at Nuremberg in 1543. Cardan was one of the great mathematicians of the epoch, and for this reason entitled to respect. He was also a famous astrologer. His book was a collection of nearly seventy nativities of public personages and a number of predictions concerning those who were living at the time. Among his horoscopes was that of Martin Luther. Nostradamus, passionately interested in all that concerned the Church and contemporary religious conditions, would have had his attention particularly caught by what Cardan had to say from an astrologer's point of view. What Cardan did say, (as quoted in Manly Hall's Story of Astrology) was:
"Incredible is the vast number of followers which this doctrine has in a brief space achieved. Already the
world is on fire with the wild struggle over this madness, which, owing to the position of Mars, must ultimately break up of itself. Countless are the heads which desire to reign in it, and if nothing else could convince us of its futility, then the number of its diverse manifestations must convince us. . . . Nevertheless, the Sun and Saturn in the position of their future great conjunction indicate both the strength and the long duration of this heresy."
In his book Cardan predicted the hanging of the Archbishop of Saint Andrews, one of the remarkable forecasts of the period. Nine years later, this English prelate, ill of a puzzling malady, sent to the continent for the assistance of Cardan. The astrologer, after making a diagnosis which brought about a cure, told the churchman that, though he had been able to cure him, he could not change his destiny nor prevent him from being hanged, as was eventually his fate. Cardan also correctly predicted that his own son would be beheaded.
Nostradamus, mathematician and descendant of mathematicians, would have been impressed by the authority of this book and the reputation of the author as a mathematician. He would have said to himself, "I shall look into astrology--when I have the time." It was not until after the plague of Aix that he had this leisure, in 1547.
Another stimulant to his interest in the subject was the death of Francis I, which occurred in 1547. This event brought to the throne a new king, the son of
[paragraph continues] Francis, who now reigned as Henry II and whose queen was Catherine de’ Medici. Whenever there was a change in the government it always was, and still is, the signal for the prophets to burst into print. Prophets have an advantage over the "now it can be told" groups, because the latter have to wait for whatever happens, and spill the secrets afterwards. But no such limitation binds the reader of the future. He "tells all" before the event occurs. His disadvantage is that usually nobody believes him. Prophets of all ages have seemed to love and specialize in gloom, the motto appearing to be the opposite in most instances to the sundial, which records only the happy hours. It must have been a little hard on Henry II, the new king, to have the astrologers working on the details of his death before he had time to put his crown on straight.
Everybody in prophetic circles knew that Henry and Catherine both had afflicted nativities. Lucas Gauricus, a learned, competent astrologer whose fine collection of charts has been handed down, had published in his Tractatus Astrologus, 1542, the horoscopes of both sovereigns. He had predicted that Henry would be killed in a duel, and warned him against any kind of single combat in his forty-first year. This prophecy, like that of Nostradamus concerning the fate of Henry, is a famous one because it was an accurate forecast. Two stories are told about it. One is that Catherine gave the birthdate to Gauricus under a false name, and that he made the prophecy not knowing whose chart it was. This would have been impossible. Royal
births are timed and witnessed, information was immediately and widely accessible to astrologers. Gauricus would have recognized the horoscope at once. The other account, which the Duchess of Cleves related in her memoirs, was that the king told her that he visited Gauricus in disguise and that the prophecy was made to him. He commented on it by saying that kings did not fight duels except with equals, and he had just made peace with Charles of Spain.
Interest in his forecast centers in the fact that Gauricus could not, by the nature of astrology, have specifically predicted a duel. The violence of Henry's chart, with its Aries planets afflicted by Mars and Saturn, might have meant illness affecting the head, or war, or any number of things. Catherine, born in the same year and just two weeks later than Henry, had a chart as dangerous as his, yet her life was different and nearly twenty years longer. So that if Gauricus really predicted death through single combat, he was using the same extradimensional sense, combined with astrology, which made Nostradamus great.
There seem to have been no dramatic public forecasts about the Queen, who was to be so much more fatal to France than the short-lived husband. The French had never expected that Catherine would be their Queen. When she married Henry, he was still the second son. Then the sudden death of the Dauphin had put Henry in line for the throne. The match was considered quite a step up for the Medici, who were, in the eyes of the French aristocracy, trades-people,
no matter how glorified. Had Henry been Dauphin at the time, a more patrician alliance would have been planned for him. Perhaps, thought the seers, studying these two fatalistic horoscopes of their rulers, neither one would live very long, and maybe Catherine would go first.
From the time of Henry's accession, the forecast of Gauricus seems to have been known generally and talked around. With the works of Gauricus and Cardan published in successive years, attracting the attention and discussion of scientists, scholars and court circles, it would have been strange if Doctor Nostradamus had not felt that he wished to be conversant with this much debated branch of prophecy.
The leading astrologers, whatever their limitations, were for the most part honest, high-minded scholars, with many dramatically fulfilled predictions to their credit. They were in their way a picturesque ornament of the sixteenth century. But there was another and a darker side to the century's "lust of knowing what shall not be known." Magic, the black art of witch and sorcerer, flourished surreptitiously, offering its secret, propitiatory rites to Satan, and attracting large numbers of people in all ranks of society. Whereas astrology was acknowledged by science and tolerated by the Church, the hidden ritual of Devil-worship required of its votaries a willingness to make a compact with Satan, and a little blood drawn from the worshiper's veins wherewith to seal it.
Religion was the only form of mass production
which the century knew. From the time that Clovis had presented Christianity to the Franks, saying take it or else, to the Renaissance decree forbidding any other religion within France, belief and conversion were strictly compulsory. The Inquisition was there to see that they remained so. In those days of the tremendous certitudes when, as Heywood Broun once said of the past, "heaven had a mighty low ceiling," both heaven and hell were well-mapped countries whose inhabitants, customs, flora and fauna were a matter of exact knowledge. The Devil and his minions had for many, if anything, a more omnipresent reality than had the beings of divinity. He was always prowling. Few were the peasants who had not seen on starless nights a flash of scarlet flame against black branches, and smelled the Devil's sulphur. Nor could the rustling sounds from the heart of a dark wood always be distinguished from the sinister witches' chant, by a man plodding home on a lonely road. Sometimes, even in broad daylight, he might come upon the clear track of the print of a cloven hoof, when woe betide his flocks and herds. From Egypt and Carthage, from Greece and Rome, from the Druids and all the people of the forgotten lands, the old spells lived on, woven by Satan to affright the heart and tempt the soul to its damnation.
The blessed saints wrought miracles for the benefit of mankind, but the evil one worked his magic through man and could not accomplish his works except with the aid of human co-operation. When strange misfortunes
befell Jacques Bonhomme and his pious wife Marie, they knew that Satan had found his like on earth to do his bidding. If the flocks sickened and died for no reason, if the harvest was blighted, or Marie's fresh cream soured in the pan, and a child broke an arm, then someone in their community had sold out to Satan and was working mischief.
"Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live."
Stark terror and primitive fear were the witchery that drove people of the Renaissance into a kind of madness. To this, color was given by the very real number who sought Satanic contact with pentagram and incantation, incense and sacrifice in the hope of gold and power, the ancient promise of the kingdom of the world, never fulfilled.
There was only one way to protect the righteous, that was to fight the Devil with fire. So the witch-fires of the stake were lighted and burned high over Europe for more than two hundred years. While Nostradamus was a boy preparing for Avignon, five hundred of the piteous creatures accused of witchcraft were burned in Geneva. This was typical of what went on throughout Christendom. Nor was there any more tolerance among Protestants than among Catholics. It was Martin Luther who said that the Devil caused children to disappear and placed his own minions as changelings in their place to be reared, all unsuspectingly, by honest parents. Since Luther found a great many people whom he did not like, it was easy for him to spot, as he did, such changelings. Not without reason has Doctor
[paragraph continues] Victor Robinson, in his Story of Medicine, called the sixteenth century the world's darkest age. The very brilliance of its blaze of glory and enlightenment made blacker the shadows that it cast.
Among the common people, such medical practice as they had sustained the belief in witchcraft. The two went hand in hand (as with the hex doctors of present-day Pennsylvania). The herbalist and the "wise woman" were the doctors in country districts and among the city poor where there was no free clinic. Here old magical ideas of the sympathetic virtues of plants were as strong as ever. These had all to be gathered in certain phases of the moon, and their distillations made under proper magical conditions. The witches' brew was a part of such beliefs, and the charlatan's decoction of the Elixir of Life.
In the upper classes, the spread of the new learning stimulated, if anything, the interest in magical practice, because the writings of Greece and Rome are filled with the most intriguing stories about it. The seeker after occult information could get from the classics new ideas and techniques with which to experiment. One of the books accessible to the times and apparently much consulted by the "evil folk," as Nostradamus calls them, was the work of an early writer, Michael Psellus, entitled provocatively enough Concerning Demons. If there was one thing above another that was adored by the sixteenth century it was the sinister doings of demons, and also with many, how to get hold of one and put him to work. Psellus gives full
details of the way to do this. He also gives descriptions of degraded orgies in connection with such rites, which were once the ceremonial of the old fertility magic. Nostradamus wrote this curious quatrain about the followers of what might be called the Psellus method:
No one can say today whom the prophet was accusing. The magic rites had greatest power when used on the night of Good Friday. It is supposable that he referred to a group who were experimenting in a year when this day fell on the twenty-third of April.
"Sorcery and sanctity are the only realities," wrote that English master of mystical prose, Arthur Machen. The distinction between the two is sometimes fine drawn. If the difference is to be based upon the means employed, then Nostradamus, judged by sixteenth-century standards, was, as his enemies claimed, a sorcerer. But if the distinction is one of motivation, then in his deep religious faith, in his long record of charity and good will toward men, his life followed better than most the pattern of sanctity. It is indisputable that he came deeply under the old pagan methods of divination. That is written in the record, and by his
own hand. But he truly believed that the agencies which he invoked were heavenly ones.
It must be assumed that the Church also took this view. His work and his life were known in their completeness to the Church. Only acceptance by the papacy of his inspirational claims can account for the fact that throughout his life no rebuke nor interference ever came to him from the Inquisition. Had he not been sure of it he would never have dared to publish the Centuries. The hue and cry against him from the enemies within his own profession, their constant accusations of sorcery, would, at the slightest notice from the Inquisition, have carried him to the stake. Nor could the King and all the prophet's courtly patrons have availed to save him. Nostradamus was always on terms of friendship with important prelates and he may have rendered secret and valuable services to the Church, for which it was grateful. The published prophecies are but a small part of the predictive work which he carried on after he became known as a prophet and possibly before that. It is said that Europe is strewn with his forecasts made privately to noble and royal families, and never given out.
In these opening lines of the Centuries, Nostradamus gives a clear, specific picture of his lone, late evenings when all the world was quiet and sleeping. He shows himself to posterity engaged in the ancient rite of divination by water, an oracle so old and universal that its origin is one with the lost river that first ran by the feet of the first man dreaming beside its banks. Nostradamus, in his letter to César, has told something of the books which were the source of his knowledge of the water-ritual, which he considered too dangerous to keep.
"Although many volumes have come before me which have lain hidden for long ages, dreading what might happen in the future, after reading them, I made an offering of them to Vulcan. As the flame caught them, the fire, licking the air, flared in unaccustomed brightness, clearer than natural flame, more like the explosion of powder. It cast a subtle illumination over the house, as if it were filled by the reflection of the conflagration. So that you might not at some time be harmed by alchemic research for the perfect
lunar or solar transformation, or the hidden, incorruptible metals of earth or sea, I reduced these books to ashes."
There has been much speculation over what these books were and how Nostradamus came by them. Some commentators have thought they might have been inherited. Those who would have Nostradamus of Jewish descent have concocted the fantastic theory that the books were part of the temple treasure salvaged at the time of the Diaspora. There is no evidence for such ideas. It is most unlikely that the books were inherited. Grandfather de Rémy, be it remembered, initiated the boy Michel into some slight exhibition of extra-sensory perception. Having done this, the old man would hardly leave within the reach of a boy whose curiosity he had aroused, works which might spell danger, and even his doom at the stake. He would have withheld them for the same reason that Nostradamus destroyed them, to protect the child he loved from possible harm. Grandfather de Rémy, too, was too wise for anything else.
Europe was full of ancient books on magic; some were spurious and some authentic. When Constantinople fell in 1540, many Greeks fled to Italy and France. They brought with them all they could rescue of their written works. It was said that invariably beneath the rags of the refugee could be seen the parchment edges of some treasured rarity of manuscript. The Greeks sold many of these; they were forced to in order to live. Nostradamus almost certainly acquired his magic
books during the years of his travels, and found them in either Marseilles or Italy. Both were gateways for all the world, and many strange, lost secrets of antiquity drifted in at their ports.
The particular work on water-divining was in all likelihood a Greek manuscript and one of the priceless incunabula which the refugees brought with them. Probably the manuscript contained an accurate account of the divinatory ceremonies practiced in ancient Greece in the temple of the god Branchus. Since Nostradamus mentions "long ages" in connection with these magical books, they may have been of the time of Alexander the Great, or even as early as Xerxes. The priests of Branchus were said to have sold out to the Persian invaders and fled, to escape popular anger. They were later destroyed by Alexander. The work on water-divination must have been something very special, for there is an account of the rites of Branchus in The Mysteries of Egypt, by Iamblichus, in current circulation in Nostradamus’ day. His own books must have contained knowledge far more prized and secret.
The word "Branches," which Nostradamus printed in capitals to emphasize its significance, has reference to the forked branch of laurel or hazel used in this divinatory art, and also stands for the name of the god, Branchus, from whose name are derived "branch" and "bronchial." The myth of Branchus makes him the son of Apollo and a mortal. The sun-god entered the mother's mouth in a dream, and impregnated her. Branchus means throat and branches. The ancient
oracle of Branchus was very famous, and it is easy to see the association of prophecy with this god of the throat. It is not so easy to see his association with water, except that speech is difficult with a dry throat! Even so it would seem more reasonable for the priestess of Branchus to take a drink of water than spill a little, as she did, on her foot and the hem of her dress. However that may be, it is undoubtedly Branchus whose ritual Nostradamus describes.
Did Nostradamus really believe in the worship of Branchus? Of course not. Nostradamus says more than once that his prophetic faculty was inherited. This ancient method of the vision by water could have stimulated, perhaps developed his gift to greater scope, but it never could have conferred it.
This man, whose intelligence was universal and of tomorrow, understood that the laws of attunement between the world of the senses and the realm beyond their range were in themselves unrelated to creed or dogma, nor were they inconsistent with the Christian life. The same force has animated the prophets of all ages, only the methods, the technique by which the psychic accord is established are different and individual. Nostradamus had found in the old Greek ritual one that suited his faculty. Mantra, incantations, chants, all such have only the purpose of attuning the prophet. That Nostradamus was familiar with the spoken words of magical ceremonies and probably used them in just this way may be judged from the passage in which he warns the frivolous and the charlatans
to keep hands off his Centuries or consider themselves "cursed according to the rites of magic." Such curses were like the chants, oral pronouncements, and evidently the prophet knew their literature.
And what happened next in this strange night-life of prophecy? Let Nostradamus describe it. Writing to César, he says:
"Through some eternal power, and epileptic Herculean excitement, celestial causation is made known to me . . . But the perfect knowledge of causes cannot be acquired without divine inspiration. All authentic prophecy derives its first principle from God the Creator, next from favoring conditions, and last from natural endowment."
This passage is the answer to those who call Nostradamus pagan. In his letter to Henry II, the prophet writes concerning the Centuries:
"The entire work has been composed and calculated on days and hours of best election and disposition . . ." That is to say, he began his work and carried it on under favorable planetary conditions. The choice of a desirable time for beginning any undertaking is called, in stellar parlance, an election, meaning that a time has been elected. "Disposition" refers to aspects favorably disposed. Such elections have in all times been considered of the utmost importance by astrologers. This has been particularly true of the coronations of royalty, their marriages, wars and important affairs. There is no knowing if Nostradamus did use elections or if their mention was merely part of his insistence
on the importance of astrology in his work. But perhaps he did consult his ephemeris for the positions of the Moon and Mercury, watching the import of their transits upon the clarity and expression of his vision. Perhaps, too, while studying astrology he cast his own nativity, curious to see this celestial blue-print of his own destiny.
The curtains drawn, the candles lighted in his study, on some evening when the oracle is silent, he may have drawn the twelve-rayed circle upon a sheet of parchment and placed precisely the symbols of the Sun and Moon and planets.
Interestedly he studies the chart. In the eighth mansion of the chart, in the mystical water sign of the Scorpion, a waning, secret Moon is setting. The eighth house is the house of death, and of interest in all that lies behind the veil. Nostradamus sighs as he thinks how truly that portent of the Moon's position has been fulfilled from early years. But the Moon is in trine, a benefic aspect, to the powerful conjointure of Jupiter and Saturn in the Moon's own sign, Cancer. These grave planets rule the hierarchy of the Church, of the political and economic conditions, and, placed in a water sign, are a splendid augury for success as a physician and for psychic matters. "And here is my success." His finger touches the Mid-Heaven Sun. "I should not fear to dedicate my work to king or pope." Longest his eye lingered on Mercury in the sign of the Centaur, for Mercury, planet of brain and speech, is the celestial prototype of Branchus.
"Mercury," he whispered, "27 degrees of Sagittarius, it touches the Mercury of Jeanne d’Arc in the same sign. Oh, Branchus, speed the Archer's arrows, let my words be winged--for France!"
On other nights when the prophetic spirit was upon him, the candles would flicker on the forked laurel branch as it bent from the prophet's electrically sensitive hand to the clear water filling to the brim the great, gleaming copper bowl. As the seer bent above the water undulant to the laurel bough, a listener might have heard his low chanting in an ancient tongue, words that once wove a spell amidst the splendor of a long-razed temple.
The phenomenon of illumination which has always been an accompaniment of great prophets, which is mentioned in the Bible, and which has given its name, the illuminati, to those of advanced spiritual perception is referred to by Nostradamus in the letter to César in these words:
"Though everlasting God alone knows His eternity of light, yet I speak frankly to all whose long, melancholy inspiration is informed by the revelation of His immeasurable greatness. It is through the hidden source of divine light, manifested in two principal ways, that the understanding of the prophet is inspired. One way is the intuition which clarifies vision in him who predicts by the stars. The other is prophecy by inspired revelation, which is practically a participation in divine eternity. In the latter, the prophet's judgment is according to his share of divine spirit
which he has received through attunement with God the Creator, and also according to native endowment. The complete efficacy of illumination and the thin flame is to recognize that what is predicted is true and of heavenly origin. For this light of prophecy descends from above no less than the light of day."
Did Nostradamus see history flow before his sight in a bowl of water? Did the "Divine Being" dictate his writing as he sat in trance? None knows. Research can pursue no further these "nocturnal studies of sweet odor." Within the prophet's study the candle and the "thin flame" burn low in mystery.