NOSTRADAMUS NEVER SAID IT
By Eric Shackle
No, Nostradamus did NOT predict four centuries ago the calamity which destroyed New York's World Trade Center on September 11 , although countless email messages asserted that he did.
Newspapers around the world unknowingly misquoted Nostradamus as having foreseen the 2001 terrorist attack in 1645 and as having predicted that "the third big war will begin when the big city is burning."
"It's a hoax," declares LIEmails, a website which investigates and exposes Internet lies and myths. "It is NOT by Nostradamus" says the equally knowledgeable Nostradamus Repository. And TruthorFiction sums it up in a single word: Fiction!
Within hours of the destruction of the World Trade Center, a fake version swept the Internet world. In Australia, the Sydney Morning Herald reported: Doing the email rounds yesterday was this stark prophesy, sourced to Nostradamus circa 1645. "In the City of God there will be a great thunder, Two brothers torn apart by Chaos, while the fortress endures, the great leader will succumb, The third big war will begin when the big city is burning."
TruthOrFiction says part of the eRumor seems to be based on this Nostradamus quatrain: "At forty-five degrees the sky will burn, fire to approach the great new city: In an instant a great scattered flame will leap up, when one will want to demand proof of the Normans." (quatrain 6-97).
LIEmails points out that as Nostradamus died in 1566, he could not have written it in 1645. Most of the quote, it says, was written by a Canadian university student in 1998, to show how Nostradamus's statements could mean anything. Someone added the bit about the third big war.
By the time LIEmails checked an Internet newsgroup archive early on the morning of September 12, the story had been posted or quoted 990 times, of which 861 included the faked reference to the "third big war." Next day, people everywhere were visiting the LIEmails site to find out whether it was a hoax. It was by far the busiest day in its history, with page views running three times those of a normal weekday.
New Orleans (Louisiana) Internet crusader David Grant says: "LIEmails is an independent, non-denominational ministry whose purpose is to educate Christians about e-mail lies, which are a growing problem. Because Christians who spread e-mail lies injure their credibility, and thus do harm to the Kingdom of God, we want to help Christians understand and avoid this problem."
Asked whether he could be described as an Internet vigilante, Grant said: "No, that is not what I do. [The American Heritage Dictionary defines "vigilante" as "one who takes or advocates the taking of law enforcement into one's own hands."]
"I don't actually try to stop people from forwarding e-mail," Grant said. "I do try to persuade others to voluntarily not forward e-mail, and I provide evidence to support people in making such a decision."
Grant, who is 40 years old, and his wife Karen live in Slidell, a suburb about 36 miles (60 km) north of New Orleans He's a man of many parts: a self-employed consultant in the public transit industry, coordinator of HisMusic.com ("the premier source for information about Christian coffeehouses and concerts in the New Orletans area,") and a weekend announcer at WSHO-AM Radio in New Orleans. He also writes a bi-weekly column, news and feature stories for the Slidell edition of the New Orleans Times-Picayune, and is author of the Days Off Calculator ("unique, easy-to-use software that makes it easy for managers to optimize employee work schedule").
The other leading Internet crusader, Dr. Rich Buhler, founder and operator of the Californian TruthOrFiction.com website, is a speaker, author, minister, and broadcaster who has researched and written about rumors and urban legends for more than 30 years.He's best known as the host of a nationally syndicated, daily, live radio talk show that was broadcast from Los Angeles for 15 years.
He said "TruthOrFiction.com is a web site where Internet users can quickly and easily get information about warnings, offers, requests for help, and humorous or inspirational stories that are circulated by email. The site is designed to be of value to the ordinary user of the Internet who wants to make sure that an email story contains information, not misinformation.
"Every story on TruthOrFiction.com has either been personally researched by the TruthOrFiction.com staff or, in some cases, is known to be a classic rumor or urban legend that has stood the test of time.As much as possible, the sources of our information are included in the stories."
Both LIEmails and TruthOrFiction have traced the Nostradamus hoax back to A Critical Analysis of Nostradamus, written in 1997 by Neil Marshall, an 18-year-old student of Brock University, St. Catherines, Ontario, Canada.
In a thoughtful article which sadly has just been removed from Brock University's Internet site, Marshall wrote: "If I make say a thousand prophecies that are fairly abstract, for example: In the City of God there will be a great thunder, Two brothers torn apart by Chaos, while the fortress endures, the great leader will succumb...
"Let us analyse this. For example, what does City of God mean? It could be Mecca, Medina, Rome, Jerusalem, Salt Lake City, or any holy city depending on your religion. What do I mean by thunder--a storm? War? Earthquake? lots of stuff can be described by thunder. There are a lot of two brothers in this world (I think the number runs among the billions) and fortress endures what -- besiegement, famine, etc? What Great Leader? How will he succumb? To what?
"Now let the prophecy rest for a few years. Add a couple thousand more. Eventually, one of them will fit close enough with events that have happened in the future that the prophecy will appear to come true.
"If you make enough prophecies and are intelligent enough to word them in such a way that they are abstract, you become instant future see-er person. For example those psychics you see every year that make predictions for the year 199-whatever, generally get one or two out of ten predictions right. It is because they are good guessers and that there is enough of them to make it seem like people can really predict the future.
"I am not discounting the possibility of a sixth sense, nor of the supernatural, but I would like to state that there is no scientifically proven psychic person in the world. Every psychic that says that she or he is a psychic and has been put to the test has failed quite miserably...
"Scholars of Nostradamas seem to be taking further and further leaps in logic when they interpret his writings. For example this is a link to a page in which a person claims that Nostradamus prophesied the breakup of Canada...
"I was watching a 1970's movie on Nostradamus and it predicted that the Third World War began in 1994 and was well on its way by 1999. (I am holding my breath. Oh no!). The people who 'analyse' the quatrains simply scan through history until they find an event that seems to fit with the quatrain.
"Perhaps Nostradamus was a futurist. I do not know. Perhaps he suffered some sort of mental illness (hardly unusual in 16th century Europe). Maybe he just had nothing better to do with his time. I do not think though that, faced with the evidence that science has shown, he was a true psychic who could see the future.
"Call me a skeptic, but I believe the phrase Innocent Until Proven Otherwise should be used to regulate any phenomena in nature. (In this case it would be Scientifically Explainable Unless Shown Otherwise. Or in the case of psychics you are not a psychic unless you can prove beyond reasonable doubt that you have these 'powers'.)"
When Neil Marshall wrote that treatise, he was 18, and in his final year of high school. He listed his interests as Computers, Reading, Astronomy, Cosmology, History (such as Russian History, British History, Scottish History, Twentieth Century Political Ideologies, History of the United States and much more), Current Events, Politics and Philosophy.
Making his own prediction, he wrote: "I want to be a Senator when I grow up. It is the world's greatest job. You are in politics but nobody cares. You have the power to shoot down legislation passed by a democratically elected assembly even though you are appointed. You get 60 grand a year and only have to show up twice on Parliament Hill to collect it. Plus you get a huge expense account, a pension and you are in until you are 75. I can't wait! I am lobbying the Prime Minister right now.
"Probably I will end up as a computer programmer working for some big corporation such as Corel or Microsoft Canada. My true goal in life is to achieve understanding of myself and the world around me and be respected for who and what I am."
Marshall, now 22, lives in Niagara Falls, Ontario. He still attends Brock University, where he studies history. He kindly gave permission to use his intellectual property in this article, saying "I find it ironic that people took this quote as Nostradamus's own when it was intended to show how anyone can make their vague predictions for the future. The events in New York were a great tragedy, and to find that I have a connection to them saddens me."
Perhaps some day he will write a thesis on Nostradamus myths and 21st century misquotations.
Copyright © 2001. Eric Shackle Story first posted October 2001.