Tuesday, July 7, 2009


I've been interested in the old royal courts of Europe for some time. I read what I can, remember far less, and one day will hopefully use this information for some other purpose than boring my friends. My poor spouse is subjected to my long speeches about the beauty of Diane de Poitiers, the influence of Anne Boleyn, and the twisted family trees that resulted in crazed monarchs.

As I am a soon-to-be French speaker extraordinaire, I am diving back into French history. Yesterday I was reading about Mary, Queen of Scots. Please don't think I'm geographically challenged; Mary was once the Queen of France until her husband, Francis II died. Mary (known in France as Marie Stuart) grew up in the French court surrounded by the French royal family and customs. Born to a French mother and Scots father, she was indeed a Euromix of cultures, but largely considered herself French. (As a disclaimer, I am not yet a historian and am interpreting the numerous readings of events and suppositions of her life. My superior intellect may occasionally be challenged but I'll bite and scratch. You have been warned.)

Well, I was reading yesterday about Mary (Marie) in the court of Henri II. His wife, Catherine de Medici, is an interesting person to read about. Her contemporaries and historians alike have wondered if she was a product of power hungry influences or if she was indeed involved in murder and occult-like practices. Either way, she was a definite force in the lives of those around her, and she did manage to put her unique stamp on history.

I wasn't planning on being sidetracked by a small reference to a historical person that I know very little about. The book I am reading claims that Catherine de Medici, Queen Consort to Henri II of France, consulted with none other than Nostradamus.


With the aid of some lovely reputable websites, I was able to verify that this is indeed correct! In order to grasp the magnitude of this random piece of information, I was forced to recall everything I knew about this famous name.

I'm sorry to say that I knew very little, which is something I would like to remedy. So far, the problem I'm running into is that researching anything beyond the basic facts (which are still interesting, even standing alone) means wading through all kinds of discussions about sorcery, witchcraft, occult practices, and the like. It may very well be that to understand anything about this historical figure, you do have to understand the philosophies of science and religion he was involved with. I would like to get the meat of his life, however, and most texts I've seen (albeit, in the past day) will insist on never-ending talks about the reliability of occult practices, the historicity of science and religion, and good old-fashioned scary stories.

I digress.

I couldn't stop thinking about this history tidbit, though I don't know why. It was a bit like hearing that Merlin was present at the Boston Tea Party. I just hadn't ever put these two bits of history together, especially because there is just so much intrigue surrounding Nostradamus that he almost seems mythical.

So here's a bit of fact...I think. Even if it is found to be incorrect, it still raises some questions that I'd like to discuss.

Michel de Nostredame was a French physician and astrologer. He was baptized Christian, but his family's religious heritage was Jewish. Considering the anti-semitism at the time, his grandfather changed the family name, incorporating the saint's day on which he 'converted'. ('Our lady' for all you monoglots out there.) Michel's family noticed that he had abilities in the area of prophecy, as well as sciences, at a young age.

He was educated as a physician, and treated victims of the Bubonic Plague. (Here's the crazy interesting part!) He eschewed the popular method of bleeding a patient, instead telling people to consume rose hips to assist their immune system. If you didn't already know this, rose hips are an excellent source of Vitamin C. Wow. Though sought after as a physician, he also caught some negative attention due to his uncouth methods of treatment.


It may be that Nostradamus sold his soul to Satan for a few dollars and the power to see into the future. It may be that he was a tormented genius, tormented because his genius gave him knowledge that was so unbelievable for the time period. It may be both, or neither of these things.

But once again, as with Galileo and Michelangelo, and many many more, you are faced with the idea of relative knowledge. I don't think that is the correct term, but I don't really know what else to call it. What I mean is, what is one generation's flat world is another's round world. What The Church scoffs at in one century it embraces in the next.

How do we answer this?

Unlike many in this modernist generation, I don't believe truth, of any form, to be relative. I believe our understanding is subject to change, and that is indeed a fine line that can blur even the most astute thinker. To claim that knowledge, language, truth, or beauty to be subject to the whims of us mortals, is ignorance. I don't think you necessarily have to believe in a higher power to believe that Truth, or Beauty, has an ultimate answer somewhere out there. I'm smart enough, and hope to be smarter still in the future...but I'm happy to know that I'll never know everything. The cosmos holds mysteries that you and I will never unlock. It is so.

Nevertheless, the human race does continue to add pieces to our portfolio of knowledge. We know how to cure diseases today that waylaid children in times past. We know how to harness the power of certain natural elements, and use those things to our advantage. And still, we are the victims of incredible ignorance. There are many things we cannot control, we cannot yet learn. Certain elements of human experience are as locked to us as the cosmos.

I'm doing a poor job of explaining, I fear.

Have you ever wondered about the Salem Witch Trials? Have you wondered if men and women went to an agonizing death because they were different? Set aside the more modern idea that even if they were practicing witchcraft, that it was their right to do so. I'm not arguing against such a freedom. But I've often imagined that there were many women who died because they happened to see practical relationships between plants and cures. Yesterday's witch, in essence, is today's doctor.

And it makes me wonder, a bit uneasily, what we condemn now that in the future might be common knowledge or even common sense. There was a time when handwashing was thought frightfully unhealthy. Now, even small children know to send the germs down the drain.

What professions do we disdain today that will be tomorrow's elite? Did you know that someone who can predict the weather would have once been labeled (oh horror of horrors) an astrologer?

There is a bit of shifting in the sands of our understanding, and I struggle to understand those things that seem to be non-essentials of my faith or humanity. And what of those that now seem essential? How do we begin to understand such an issue?

I wouldn't want to think that I disdained or disowned a person or thought. I think of myself as being open-minded, even when I disagree. I don't think that open-mindedness equals an open embrace of all ideas. I understand it to mean an open discussion of the same. I think we live in a time of more enlightened inclusion of differing opinions, but perhaps there lived a young mother/receptionist during the time of Nostradamus who felt she lived in an age of new ideas.

How can we know, particularly in areas as science, which are ever changing, when we have truth or deception?

To be continued...


Tracy said...

There is no deception in science itself. What is is. Deception lies in our limited ability to realize, quantify and then interpret science.

On a side note, didn't the ancient greeks think that roses contained the blood of Adonis? Interesting when you consider Nostradamus used rose hips in lieu of blood letting. Quite the transfusion!

Beatrice Blount said...

I agree, just to clarify. But even in our interpretation of science (or anything)we need to know what is truth or deception. We don't want to deceive ourselves if we are really looking for knowledge.

Beatrice Blount said...

And the rose thing is really cool!