The first paper-making came to Europe as early as the Twelfth Century but paper mills only arrived in France after a lengthy delay (and England even later). Printing had likewise stemmed from Ancient China via Arabia, establishing in the French regions by the late Fifteenth and early Sixteenth Century, so still a modern and experimental yet very familiar idea in 1550.

Printing-presses making cut-out sheets of playing cards and Tarot or Triec(ch)o cards had flourished in the French areas adjacent to Italy, including Lyon and a place called Tharaux, since before Michel Nostredame’s birth. A few old Tarot decks survive, differing in details.

V 75

1557 Lyon Du Rosne

Montera hault sur le bien plus à dextre,
Demourta assis sur la pierre quarree:
Vers le midy posé à la senestre,
Baston tortu en main, bouche ferree.

Line 2. The strange word ‘Demourta’ is possibly ‘De mour ta’, ‘At dying you …’ being simply all of us at the termination of our worldly time, ‘the deceased’. The similar word ‘demontera’ would mean a disassembly, a decommissioning or becoming ex-officio. However, other editions clearly read ‘Demourra’ from the OF ‘demeurer’. Should that prove the case, we will get ‘rest, tarry’ or else the compressed phrase ‘De mour ra’ which with OF ‘ra’ derived from the verb ‘ravoir’, to repossess, suggests ‘On dying repossessed’.

OF ‘pierre’ is stone which like sand or chalk can be used for a shade, taint or hue and so perhaps this is a shortening of ‘pierre de teinte’, stone-coloured.

Line 3, OF ‘quarree’. A ‘quarreur’ is a woodworker skilled at squaring and ‘carrée’ or ‘quarrée’ means squared and strong.

Line 4, ‘Baston’ would be OF ‘baton’, a wooden stick (and a Suit in the Tarot). OF ‘bouche ferree’, often translated as ‘mouth struck’, is a ferry across a river mouth or straits or some other place of entry, e.g. the Bouches-du-Rhône.

Mounting high on the far right side
The deceased sitting on the grey platform
About the midriff inclining to the left
Turned rod in hand, ferrying the strait.

Lines 1, 3 and 4 of this translation describe a figure inclined from the waist so that the torso is to one side. There are many depictions of The Fool, Le Mat, the Spirit of the Aether or God-in-Potential on Tarot Cards and those that I have seen did all feature the top half of the body inclined, usually whilst walking (or prancing like the Jester-Joker of modern playing cards). The wand in his right hand, top left corner, is also typical of many Tarot portrayals of the young Magician, this being God-in-Action.

Line 2 intercedes to describe a figure sat down, like the High Priestess although the Empress is also a seated figure and holds up an orbed sceptre in her right hand.

The local evolutions of these mysterious cards seems to have fixed some of the symbols while others then became culturally altered or garnished with new inventions. It would not be surprising if Nostredame describes a deck that we do not completely recognise. In Sixteenth Century France, as inItaly, the Tarot was both a popular pursuit and the foundation of a dedicated literary genre. The twisted or turned wood baton may be a local and perhaps decorative touch.

If Nostredame is describing a forgotten design of card, face on, then this high female could indeed be seated on a squared stone such as a grey stone-coloured throne. These are depicted in the cards of the Major Arcana. And that completes our ‘top row’ of Tarot. (Those cards that number 0, I, II, III.)

The modern Rider-Waite llustrations will not tally exactly with the text.

Among the Suits, Swords has card VI depicting a ferryman punting with a pole – his back turned and his left hand up high, his right hand down – plus an enshrouded incumbent seated on the boat. The ferry-boat is commonly drawn quite flat and squared on the four corners like an oblong floating platform. And it’s depicted grey as stone rather than brown as wood.

(Note: most accounts of the afterworld logically omit or deny the Sun, including the White City of Revelation, and the alternative light was often portrayed by a stoney greyness.) 

Nostredame seems to be talking us through the top tarot cards and interceding the Six of Swords, which depicts the deceased and the ferryman as they cross (with the latter posed with back to us, rather like the Magician having turned around.)

In brief, I think the illustrated cards summoned-up by Nostradamus Quatrain V 75 hold to a hierarchical reveal that maps  the return journey of human existence; meaning that God-in-Potential as expressed by God-in-Action creates the Spiritual-cum-Secular population of the World with each of us fated to be sent back into the Creative Potentiality of the Great God.

Of course, hierarchy was what the world was all about in the Middle Ages. And all opposing pairs do each contain something of the other.

The interpretations above are about the possible Quatrain implications, not the modern divinatory meanings of the Tarot cards which are, for the Six of Swords, far less final than the obvious parallel interpretation of Charon ferrying the soul of the deceased across the Acheron. In the deck that I mainly used for reference the above-mentioned cards  are the only figures with a staff in their right hand other than the Suit of Wands (which is chock full of sticks).

IV 31

1555 Lyon Bonhomme

La lune au plain de nuit sus le hautmont,
Le nouueaue sophe d’vn seul cerueau la veu:
Par ses disciples estre immortel semond/se mond
Yeux au mydi. En seins mains, corps au feu.

The Moon on the flat plane of night over the high mount.
The newly-wise person seeing the brain (the intelligence of it):
Through his disciples he is to become immortal to their worlds OR the seeds of his worldly (or literary) immortality are sown,
Eyes to the midriff. Breasts in hands OR hands in the folds, bodies in the fire OR his body toward the fire.

In the Preface to Cesar, Nostredame has written “beneath all the concavity of the Moon’s aura is located an intelligence” which seems to be the gist of this Line 2, not so far from Medeval angelogues who mapped-out the Moon with angel’s names. But I feel that he means something else. There are ‘sensitives’ who report that not only plants but also the rocks, be they as still as dreaming monks, have their inner souls.

Line 1, OF ‘lune au plain’ could be ‘Moon of single colour’ or ‘the Moon against the single colour of night’, the apparent flatness. OF ‘sus’ here means ‘on high’ (suspended) or some similar preposition such as ‘over’.

Line 2. ‘sophe’ might be OF ‘sophiste’, a sophisticate or a person who uses sophisms fallaciously or, in Greek antiquity, a schooled master of rhetoric and philosophy. None feels quite right. Simply ‘wise’ would fit best.

Line 3, OF ‘semond’ might be from ‘semer’ to broadcast (seed) including the analogous OF remonstration “not too widely, not too numerous”. Or ‘se mond’ would be the pronoun ‘oneself, himself, themselves’ followed by ‘monde’ the global collective, the world from its beginning to its end.

Line 4, OF ‘sein’ is breasts or folds or the gap between the chest and vestments. To the Medeval mind it could also mean a womb. The meanings of OF ‘feu’ are legion including fire, light, lightning, luminosity, ardour, torment, the spark of clashing weapons, the breath of the Holy Spirit, that which ignites or burns, one of the elements of ancient physics or metonymically the familiar household living under one roof.

Line 1, OF ‘lune au plain’ could be ‘Moon of single colour’ or ‘the Moon against the flatness of  the night sky’. OF ‘sus’ here means ‘on high’ or a similar prepositions such as ‘over’.

The Tarot card called the Eight of Cups has the Full Moon over a very high hill or mountain pair. The round Moon is bright, has a face and sits gripped by a bright crescent moon. The man walking alone at night has his back to us and a staff in his right hand. The eight cups are arrayed by the designer as if nine would be a more logical complement. This helps us a little to understand the first couplet. It is an unusual man who travels alone by night, somehow under the illuminations of a full moon and a new moon simultaneously. He has foregone his worldly dues and accepted hazard as the result.

Line 4 is a totally dissimilar scene, not at all like the Universal-Waite Tarot Deck of today (U.S. Games Systems, Inc.) which seems to incorporate most of these symbols and ideas. Line 4 is evocative of both the old and influential Marseilles pattern Tarot and the famously older Cary Collection picture of The Devil.

It should be said that there are many decks of Tarot cards, some of which depict figures very differently from others and some having unique identities, but the Cary Collection sheet is viewed as special rather like the lost gospel Q, a partial linking factor in a fragmented historical progression.

This Devil looks down, facing forward (Cary’s is turning to the side a little). However, in the Marseille’s pattern he has a second face on his belly reinforcing that his gaze is down (or South) at the low materialistic things he desires to consume. He also has female breasts. Both have a basket carrying people behind their backs. The Marseille’s Devil is throwing some to the fire below, the Cary version has one speared on a pole, possibly being lowered into flames by the Devil or else he is picking-up this tormented body with a fork.

Out of interest, the divinatory meaning of Le Diable spans from some poor soul feeling burdened by money responsibilities through to a thorough over-familiarity with one’s own carnal desires all the way out to solid evil, taking in hoarding, coercive powers and emotional blackmail along the rocky way.

The standout Line 3 “Through his disciples he is to become immortal in their worlds” is part of the complementary first three lines and could even be Michel Nostredame, explaining the future importance of certain followers to his renown and purpose.

If this is so, why is Line 4 taken from a Tarot Devil card? Or if not, why is this quatrain a triplet of meaning plus a separate line yet dressed-up as a matched pair of couplets?

Whatever, Devil or Prophet, the Nostradamus Quatrain IV 31 says his literary immortality is conditional upon the propagatory effects of others.

Maybe Line 4 is an extension of the final  quatrain in his periodical presagings for 1567, written the previous year, describing his own body found dead in the morning on a bench at the foot of his bed. Body facing to the fire?


                                                     Nigel Raymond Offord © 2012