Sunday, September 27, 2015

Calling All Nostradamites

Pejoratives, I suppose, are inevitable when anyone takes a firm position on an issue. For example, the case of the "prophecies" of Michel de Michel de Nostredam, popularly known as Nostradamus. Those who take his prophetic quatrains seriously are dismissed as Nostradamites. 

On the other hand, there are those who take such a cut-and-dried skeptical position about Nostradamus, preferring to "debunk" rather than seriously weigh the words of the old magician and astrologer - and this because, according to their worldview, such things are impossible to begin with - they often catch a lot of flak.

So I wondered: is there a middle ground between being a Nostradamite or a hidebound Nostradamus skeptic?

So much friction has resulted from debates over whether Nostradamus was using an anagram (Pau, Nay, Loron) to refer to Napoleon, called out Louis Pasteur by name or was simply referring to an unknown priest or "pastor," used the noun Hister to refer to the Danube River or the notorious madman Adolph Hitler, among many interesting things, that I believe something has been lost here.

The suggestions of the Nostradamites are often no more strained than the some of the explanations offered by the skeptics.

However, I also feel those who sincerely feel Nostradamus was a prophet have stuck out their necks so far and so often that they have done considerable harm to their cause. This is especially true when they attempt to use the prophecies to foretell the future.
The number one response from the skeptics is: How come it is only after the fact that the alleged prophecies can be understood?

Can that challenge be met by those who take Nostradamus seriously?

What if something like the Jewish pesher hermeneutic were used on Nostradamus' quatrains? That is, for those unfamiliar with that method of interpretation, what if there were both a common meaning and at the same time a deeper, hidden meaning to be found?

The well-known skeptic of all things occult and paranormal James Randi wrote a book about the subject, The Mask of Nostradamus. In it he helpfully, in my opinion, provides some historical and cultural context for the old seer.

The question I feel has to be asked is, is that all there is to it? Could the so-called Nostradamites be employing pesher interpretations? That is, the Randian approach might be okay as a starting point, but might there be deeper, fuller meanings to be culled?

Perhaps so. But if so, we must be careful to be consistent in our approach. If we are dealing with pesher interpretation let us not make the mistake of pretending Nostradamus was speaking only to a distant future.

Think about it. If the present is understood so incompletely, how much more murky might visions from the future be? Might it then be the case that the deeper meaning is only fully comprehendible after the events have fully unfolded? Perhaps history is cyclical and there can be recurring fulfillments of visionary material.

It seems to me that World War ll brought a revival of interest in the prophecies of Nostradamus. MGM produced a little Nostradamus propaganda with a series of shorts on the subject produced by Carey Wilson (who also brought us Andy Hardy and Dr. Kildare). Wilson's first short in his Nostradamus series came out in 1938.
Finding Hitler and the rise of Nazism in Nostradamus seems to me to be pure pesher interpretation. Those same lines had been applied to other historical situations beforehand, naturally enough.

Perhaps the critics who find Nostradamus' quatrains vague and subject to numerous interpretations miss the point. Ancient wisdom seems to find a home among the more idealist minded people because it is always relevant. 

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