The Essential Nostradamus - John Hogue
The Essential Nostradamus by John Hogue is an excellent treatment of just what the title implies. In very readable prose, Mr. Hogue provides a concise survey of the great French prophet's life, his theory and methods for divination, a methodology for interpretation of the quatrains, interpretations of some of Nostradamus' best known predictions from the past (his future), the present, and the far future. There's also a chapter about a "man from the East" who represents a ray of hope among otherwise really dark predictions. Overall, the book is an intelligent, engaging introduction to the life and work of the Renaissance era seer born Michel de Nostredame.

The book starts with a synopsis of Nostradamus' life story and it's probably the lightest reading in it. Mr. Hogue gives us a feel for who Nostradamus was from birth to death. He shows us the prophet as a precocious youth who impressed his grandfathers enough to begin tutoring him, and later enroll him in a liberal arts education and then medical school. We then are taken through his years as a young doctor fighting the bubonic plague (or le Charbon, in the old French), though losing his first wife and children to it, and to some years of wandering afterwards, in part, to avoid the Inquisition. But it was when he began publishing his prophecies that Nostradamus gained fame as a seer. These earned him the patronage of Catherine de Medici (the French queen) and he subsequently became very popular in French courts. In the last years of his life, Catherine made him "Counselor and Physician in Ordinary," a title with privilege and salary.

With some idea of who Nostradamus was, Mr. Hogue then tells something of how he went about his divinations and the ancient texts he drew from. He shows us Nostradamus studying ancient works on "Egyptian, Chaldaean and Assyrian magic rituals" and the "occult works attributed to the biblical King Solomon." With this knowledge as base, Nostradamus would ascend the steps to his secluded study, enter a circle lit by candles, and meditate over a boiling cauldron of herbs. Entering into a trance or meditative state, he would receive his visions of the future from the spirits (ranked as angels, daemons, elemental spirits, etc--the implication being that Nostadamus' predictions ultimately came from the "other side").

Before delving into the prophecies themselves, Mr. Hogue gives us some instruction on understanding them. Nostradamus' predictions are composed as four-line poems that are highly symbolic and even obscure. This was intentional on Nostradamus' part, "so that the ignorant and prejudiced would deem him a fool and leave him alone, while the more open minded might pass beyond the verbal roadblocks..." So some guidance from a scholar is needed to understand them and such guidance is what Mr. Hogue provides.

He begins his considerations of the better known of Nostradamus' predictions with the one describing the death of King Henry II of France (published some five years or so before the event). He shows us how Nostradamus' symbols and language point to the event. In this case, there's not much room for speculation about meanings, but in the other predictions, especially those of the far future, there is greater symbology with alternate possibilities and Mr. Hogue takes us through those. Such is the pattern through the rest of the book.

Mr. Hogue presents the prophecies in four chapters, dealing with predictions of the past, present, and future (with respect to our time) and one chapter devoted to the appearance of a special spiritual leader or teacher ("man from the East") in our time (or thereabouts). In them all, Mr. Hogue points out Nostrodamus' symbology, use of anagrams, classical allusions, lack of sequence, etc, and so "deciphers" what they are saying.

Even so, many of the prophecies remain obscure and open to multiple interpretations. Mr. Hogue acknowledges this and makes the point that genuine prophecy points to possible futures that can be altered if people alter their behavior and make wiser, or at least different, decisions. He says that of all Nostradamus' prophecies, "over 800 are little more than augury-babble" but he also believes that "...many of the incomprehensible quatrains are accurate chronicles of events that might have been if history had taken a different turn..." This is an important point in considering any prophetic work.

In these "essential" prophecies of Nostradamus we see, even within the constraints of symbols and alternate scenarios, a bleak picture painted of humanity's future. How could it be otherwise? Human history is a pretty bleak recounting since at least the "agricultural revolution." The future will surely be more of the same, and even more dire; unless we come to our senses and change it. This is the message of Nostradamus' prophecies and of Mr. Hogue's book, which I highly recommend.