According to the radio, yesterday was the anniversary of the death of Nostradamus in 1566. The presenter of the programme described the French astrologer and physician as the greatest “seer” in history.
In my teenage years, I would have been immediately interested in such an item. Growing up in a small rural community, where stories were never questioned and where concepts such as verification were thought unnecessary, there was little awareness of how credulous we were. In our house there would be books by Erich von Daniken on the presence of aliens among the ancient civilisations. There would be a reading of the “stars” in the Daily Mail each day, I had a stainless steel ring with a Libra symbol on it. There would be a fascination with stories regarding UFOs, particularly as there was said to be a particular alien focus on the town of Warminster in our neighbouring county of Wiltshire. Added to the beliefs in astrology and alien visitation, there would have been credibility attached to tales of black magic taking place in the community. Black magic was more threatening than Martians, one man was said to have left the village after a pentagram was painted on his door.
Perhaps a belief in astrology was forgivable in the pre-scientific times of Nostradamus, but now attaching any credibility to the notion that distant fiery stars can somehow shape the fortunes of individuals is as logical as clapping your hands to stop Tinkerbell from dying.
The constellations which form the zodiac, together with those like Orion and Cassiopeia are arbitrary human constructs. Constellations only exist in two dimensions, on the maps and charts in which they are outlined, in space the stars may bear little relation to each other, some may be a thousand light years closer to the Earth than others that are deemed to be part of the same formation. Unless you believe space to be a dome over the Earth, then the signs of the zodiac are no more than a remnant of medieval thinking.
The truth about astrology was not the only aspect of Nostradamus’ work that might have caused my teenage self to ask questions. Nostradamus made nine hundred predictions, as my father might have commented, if you bet on enough horses, then some of them will win. No-one, however, pointed out the number of things he got wrong, nor did they point out that what he is supposed to have predicted is frequently a mistranslation of medieval French.
Nostradamus undoubtedly believed himself to be the recipient of insight from a supernatural source, now he would probably be more likely to attract the attention of psychiatrists than the public.
Perhaps our world of the 1970s was a lingering presence of pre-modern thought, yet there was always a sense of excitement in stories of the esoteric and unexplained. The scientific world, devoid of mystery, can seem a dull place in comparison.