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[In Search of Nostradamus: When disaster strikes, can the doomsday prophet be far behind?][In Search of Nostradamus: When disaster strikes, can the doomsday prophet be far behind?]

   Daniel Rosario

"The third big war will begin when the city is burning..."

A hoax, yes. But, ever noticed how whenever there's trouble, a certain sixteenth century French alchemist and astrologer called Nostradamus has always been the undisputed celebrity of the moment?

Way back in 1991, there was another quatrain making the rounds during the Gulf War: "He will enter Europe wearing a blue turban. He will be the terror of mankind," it read, in parts. Everyone nodded solemnly, and believed the blue turbaned guy could be none other than Saddam Hussain.

Michel de Nostredame (1503-66) - for that was his real name -ostensibly predicted everything from the rise and fall of Adolf Hitler and both world wars to the terrifying events of September 11, 2001. He is credited with predictions of the French Revolution, the assassination of John F. Kennedy, the Great Fire of London and the destruction of the space shuttle Challenger.

The minute something terrible happens, his name crops up again. What sounds mysterious on a calm Sunday morning suddenly shrieks and takes on a truckload of connotations. People around the world discuss and analyse his statements, attribute new meanings to old sayings and (in our tech-savvy era) forward his quatrains to everyone at a furious pace.

But who was this little gentleman? How did he know? And did he really know at all?

Nostradamus wrote quatrains in groups of 100 for each century, ending with the year 3797. Like most famous people, descriptions of him vary. He was a "seer and time traveller living in two realities", says one page. Another claims he was "adept in astrology and astronomy, using both sciences to interpret the visions he received." His book of prophecies contains "predictions from his time to the end of the world", written in "a crabbed, obscure style, with a polyglot of vocabulary of French, Provencal, Italian, Greek and Latin".

The man's believers claim he deliberately confused time sequences so his secrets would not be revealed to the "non-initiate". After his death in 1566, it was rumoured that a secret document that could decode these sequences existed in his coffin. Now, over four centuries later, his obscure metaphors and quaint writing style make it rather easy to attribute practically any occurrence to him.

He's not alone either. There have always been other prophets of doom scavenging on the insecurities of the masses. 'WW III Begins' screams a headline, claiming that a warning about the "big bang in the big building" had been posted earlier by Sollog.

Sollog, who? A "future world leader" currently in hiding after having been "falsely" detained by the US government on several occasions.

Stormberger is another claimant to the Nostradamus throne, and is believed to have predicted WWII and the rise of Fascism. There's also Count Louis Hamon who foretold earthquakes in the US, and Credonia Mwerinde, a doomsday prophet from Uganda suspected to be the cause behind a church in Kanungu being boarded up and set ablaze with over 500 followers trapped inside.

Where there are prophets, however, the sceptics come, too. This page has an e-book of prophecies, while this one casts doubts on their authenticity and deals with recent hoaxes online. Another site tries to find out how reliable such predictions are by examining related social and scientific possibilities. Other sites like endtimes, timeline of doom and scallion showcase all kinds of predictions.

So, now what? Will Nostradamus have the last laugh? Is Stormberger the true prophet? Will Sollog be vindicated?

Who knows? If their prophesies do come true, none of us will be around to worship them anyway.

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