The following is an excerpt from Unbelievable!: The Bizarre World of Coincidences [Michael O'Mara Books, $16.95]:
Whether or not you believe in the power of prophecy, it’s always unnerving when predictions turn out to be true. Surely they’re nothing but lucky guesses -- right?
Michel de Nostredame, better known as Nostradamus, was a sixteenth-century French apothecary and reputed seer best known for his book Les Prophéties (The Prophecies), first published in 1555 and in print ever since. Generation after generation have appropriated Nostradamus’s writings as truthful predictions of major events. Below are a few choice examples. Make of them what you will.
PROPHECY: "The blood of the just will be demanded of London, Burnt by the fire in the year 66."
EVENT:The Great Fire of London in 1666. This raging inferno destroyed the medieval City of London and is estimated to have burned the homes of 70,000 of the City’s 80,000 inhabitants. The number of those who actually lost their lives is mercifully thought to be in single digits.
PROPHECY: From the enslaved people, songs, chants and demands, The princes and lords are held captive in prisons: In the future by such headless idiots These will be taken as divine utterances ... Before the war comes The great wall will fall, The King will be executed; his death, coming too soon, will be lamented. [The guards] will swim in blood, Near the River Seine the soil will be bloodied.
EVENT: The French Revolution, 1789. This bloody rebellion saw aristocrats and royalty arrested and beheaded by guillotine; the large, central fortress-like prison, the Bastille, was stormed and ultimately demolished; and the captive King of France, Louis XVI, was executed in 1793. The king’s execution was four years after the revolution started –- so not quite "too soon" –- but there’s no telling that to Nostradamus’s fan club.
PROPHECY: From the depths of the West of Europe A young child will be born of poor people, He who by his tongue will seduce a great troop; His fame will increase towards the realm of the East.
EVENT: Hitler and the rise of [national] socialism. Also referred to as "the Germany child," the figure referred to here is invariably taken to be Adolf Hitler, fascist chancellor of Germany from 1933 to 1945 and progenitor of World War II and the Holocaust.
PROPHECY: Volcanic fire from the centre of the earth Will cause trembling around the new city: Two great rocks will make war for a long time. Then Arethusa will redden a new river...
EVENT: The 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center. Those keen to see the shadow of Nostradamus hovering over this tragic event read the "centre of the earth" as its trade centre, the "new city" as New York and the "two great rocks" as the towers or alternatively the religions of Christianity and Islam. Other verses are falsely cited to back up the 9/11 claim, including references to "steel birds" (the airplanes that crashed into the towers), willfully ignoring the fact that [modern methods of steel production weren't] invented until the nineteenth century.
Other Historical Premonitions
Spanish conquistadors in Mexico
The power of prophecy certainly worked in the favor of Spanish Conquistador Hernán Cortés when he was sent to conquer and claim Mexico in 1519. His arrival happily coincided with the year in the Mayan calendar when the man-god Quetzalcoatl was due to return to reclaim the city of Tenochtitlán. By all accounts the native Aztecs believed Cortés to be this legendary figure, who appears as a half-man, half-feathered serpent in Aztec artifacts -- a mistake that assisted Cortés in capturing Mexico with relative ease. We can only assume the explorer wasn’t much of a looker, given his apparent resemblance to a feathered snake.
Interestingly, some Mormons have co-opted Quetzalcoatl into their own mythology. In Aztec legend, the man-god came from the sky and promised to return, which to many Latter-Day Saints sounds suspiciously like the career trajectory of Jesus Christ. No doubt Cortés would have found this comparison infinitely more flattering.
After the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, his friend Ward Hill Lamon wrote a biography of the president, Recollections of Abraham Lincoln 1847–1865, in which he recounted an eerily prophetic nightmare Lincoln had had just three days before his death. In Lincoln’s own words:
"There seemed to be a death-like stillness about me. Then I heard subdued sobs, as if a number of people were weeping. I thought I left my bed and wandered downstairs. There the silence was broken by the same pitiful sobbing, but the mourners were invisible Determined to find the cause of a state of things so mysterious and so shocking, I kept on until I arrived at the East Room, which I entered. There I met with a sickening surprise. Before me was a catafalque, on which rested a corpse wrapped in funeral vestments. Around it were stationed soldiers who were acting as guards; and there was a throng of people, gazing mournfully upon the corpse, whose face was covered, others weeping pitifully. 'Who is dead in the White House?' I demanded of one of the soldiers. 'The President,' was his answer; 'He was killed by an assassin.' Then came a loud burst of grief from the crowd, which woke me from my dream."
On the morning of 22 November 1963, Jackie Kennedy was unnerved by a full-page ad placed in the Dallas Morning News -- not so much because it accused the president of being a Communist sympathizer but rather because it had a black border and resembled a death notice. JFK tried to comfort her with the words: "We’re heading into nut country today. But, Jackie, if somebody wants to shoot me from a window with a rifle, nobody can stop it, so why worry about it?" That Kennedy made such a comment about his own assassination on the day he was shot is coincidence enough, but that he so casually predicted the precise method of his death is nothing short of sinister.
This article has been amended in consultation with the publisher to correct a previous reference to the invention of steel, and to clarify a reference to the rise of National Socialism, as opposed to socialism.