Why You Should Give a Damn about Nostradamus

A persistent blind-spot among mainstream intellectuals, and those who aspire to be one, is to judge “seriousness” based on subject matter.

Serious people, so the thinking goes, do not interest themselves in topics like Ouija boards, positive-thinking, astrology — or Nostradamus. But those who hold that perspective fail to realize that seriousness derives not from choice of topic but quality of thought.

The first of a new series of interviews that psychologist Jeffrey Mishlove conducts with scholar of spirituality Richard Smoley masterfully demonstrates this point. In discussing Nostradamus and end-time philosophy, Smoley displays the ability to consider rejected (or what Charles Fort called “damned”) topics with depth, proportion, alacrity, and respect for esoteric traditions.

In my role as a publisher, I once signed up Smoley to do a new translation of Nostradamus (“Let’s see, who among my friends knows Middle French…”). I wanted readers to have a source book that authentically reflected what Nostradamus wrote, in a undoctored, unsensationalized manner. Personally, my belief is that Nostradamus is worth one afternoon — so if you want to spend that one afternoon well, read Smoley’s The Essential Nostradamus.

Best piece of the interview: “I think one of the problems of the human mind is that, apparently unlike the other animals, we do have a sense of the future. The problem is that our sense of this future isn’t too good. It’s just good enough to make us miserable.”

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Mitch Horowitz writes about damned, despised, and forgotten topics for many national publications, and in his books Occult America and One Simple Idea.

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"Treats esoteric ideas & movements with an even-handed intellectual studiousness"-Washington Post | PEN Award-winning historian | Censored in China

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