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The Occult:  Nostradamus, Druids, and Witches

(With K. Li and S. Schwartz)

full moonThe occult deals with supernatural forces, things that are beyond human understanding. The occult includes things like astrology, alchemy, ghosts, magic, and prophecy. People who believe in the occult say that anyone who is skeptical of their beliefs is 'non-initiate;' they do not have the capacity to understand the various practices. The attraction of the occult is that it cannot be proven, and it gives people a sense of wonderment. It provides an alternative to objective science and to the stricter religions. Many of the occult beliefs are nature-based and 'in tune with' nature. People view science as destroying the environment, but the occult takes people back to nature. People who practice the occult find themselves 'one' with the forces of nature, as they use their magic, psychic powers, or prophetic powers. This essay will focus on the famous seer Nostradamus, and on the magic of Druids and Witches.

Prophecy, or the foretelling of future events, can easily be classified as occult as it involves some mysterious mechanism that allows it to supposedly operate beyond the scope of ordinary knowledge. Prophets, or those bestowed with the gift of precognition, are usually divinely inspired (as with all biblical prophets), and thus there is some sense of the supernatural attached to prophecy. Many people throughout history have claimed to be prophets. Most have been proven wrong, but a select few have been publicly honoured with the title of "seer" (which refers to non-biblical prophets).

The most famous seer is without a doubt Michel de Nostredame, more commonly known as Nostradamus.

nostradamusA brief biography of Nostradamus shows that he was born in St. Remy de Provence on December 14th, 1503, to parents of simple lineage. His great intellect became apparent at a young age when he was being educated by his grandfather, Jean, who taught him Latin, Greek, Hebrew, Mathematics and Astrology. Nostradamus was also quite learned in astronomy and upheld the Copernican theory 100 years before Galileo was prosecuted for the same belief. Nostradamus graduated from Montpellier about 1531 and began practicing as a physician. His prophetic powers started to take hold after traveling throughout France and Italy to avoid Church Authorities for a seemingly anti-Church comment six years before. In 1550, Nostradamus produced a yearly Almanac and in 1554 he produced The Prognostications. The success of these led to the production of his infamous Prophecies. His magical inspirations came from a book called De Mysteriis Egyptorum. By 1555 he had finished the first part of his book of prophecies which included predictions from his time until the end of the world, and each part of the book contained a hundred verses or quatrains. Nostradamus claimed his prophecies came from heavenly sources.

Nostradamus quickly achieved a mass following and his prophecies are still taken very seriously. In most modern copies of the quatrains, many of the prophecies are posted with the event that these followers assume Nostradamus predicted. This gives rise to a high amount of skepticism on the behalf of many non-believers. Translation is a very significant issue when it comes to Nostradamus. One of his most passionate modern day followers, Erika Cheetham, in her biography of Nostradamus, mentions that Nostradamus wrote Prophecies in a confusing jumble of different languages such as French, Provencal, Italian, Greek and Latin. Therefore, would it not be fair to say that what Nostradamus appeared to write and what he actually thought could mean two very different things? The best example of this is to take one of the more famous quatrains and compare it to Cheetham's translation along with a skeptic, James Randi's translation:

Bestes farouches de faim fleuves tranner
Plus part du champ encore Hister sera
En caige de fer le grand sera traisner
Quand rien enfant de Germain observa

Cheetham's version:

Beasts wild with hunger will cross the rivers
The greater part of the battle will be against Hitler
He will cause great men to be dragged in a cage of iron,
When the son of Germany obeys no law.

Randi's version:

Beasts mad with hunger will swim across rivers,
Most of the army will be against the lower Danube.
The great one shall be dragged in an iron cage
When the child brother will observe nothing.

The main discrepancy arises with the term Hister. Cheetham seems to use word association and assumes Nostradamus is predicting the rise of Hitler. But, Hister is a term used in Nostradamus' time to describe a certain area of the Danube (even Nostradamians will admit to this). Perhaps if a horrible leader named Bister arose in Germany, Cheetham would translate this to mean Hister. Since there are no dates given for this event, one cannot even assume the event has taken place yet or if it ever will. Assumptions are also critical to the study of the prophecies of Nostradamus and this ties into historical context.

It seems that all the twentieth century books on Nostradamus translate his prophecies in relation to events of the twentieth century. Lee McCann's book, Nostradamus: The Man Who Saw Through Time which was written in 1941 projects a lot of the prophecies onto the second World War. Any mention of Germany in the quatrains is automatically linked to Hitler and the Nazi party when Nostradamus could have simply meant an event in Germany that happened on a much smaller scale. For example, the verse VI-77 about two sides battling in Germany who McCann takes to mean Hitler and his own people could very well be about a small town feud that took place in 1893. The fact is, Nostradamus gives no dates in his quatrains except for the year 1999:

In the year 1999 and seven months
From the sky will come a great and terrible King
Who will revive the great King of Angoumois
Before and after his coming war will rule at full blast

This is a prophecy that humanity will just have to wait to find out if it is fulfilled.

The prophecies of Nostradamus are quite detailed except for names and specific dates (except 1999, respectively). He somewhat fulfils the criterion for prophecy summarized by Fraser Nicol, a researcher for the Society for Psychical Research and other parapsychology centres. A briefer version is as follows:

1)have been told or recorded before fulfillment;
2)include details so that chance fulfillment is rendered unlikely;
3)indicate fairly narrow limits of time or else contain details that can fix it to a certain time;
4)inference could not have afforded to the foreknowledge
5)conscious or unconscious suggestions, could not have brought about the fulfillment;
6)telepathy can not be used between people (a pseudoscience in itself!);
7)excludes hyperaesthesia (excessive sensibility).

The first criterion is the only one Nostradamus can be truly credited for even though his prophecies are detailed in location. The rest cannot be proven for sure. Without dates, the prophecies cannot be truly translated.

Nostradamus is a fascinating figure in history. His prophecies seem detailed enough to be translated onto major historical events. Unfortunately, not enough information is given in his quatrains for scientists. One cannot be sure if his prophecies have come true, will come true or are just incredible figments of Nostradamus' imagination. Many people, in their faith, are too eager to translate ambiguous events into specificity, but for science's purpose of finding absolute truth, presently Nostradamus can only be classified as a pseudoscience. As for 1999, the world will have to wait and see.

Another aspect of the occult is magic. One group who practiced Magic was the Druids. They were a religious group, who originated in pre-Medieval Europe, and who survived in Ireland until AD c. 500. In the 18th century, there was a revival of the Druid religion, and even today there are groups of people who practice Druidism. According to John MacQuarrie, religion involves praying, worshipping, and sacrifice, while magic involves humans trying to manipulate divine forces. Although Druidism is a religion, they do participate in the pseudoscientific practices of magic and alternative medicine, and believe in reincarnation, out-of-body experiences, and 'energy vortices.'

There were three levels of Druids. The Druids would start out at the level of Ovate. Those at this level would study such subjects as medicine, law, astronomy, poetry, and music. If they passed their initiation, they would move into the next level, that of Bard. The Bards concentrated on music and the fine arts. They were responsible for exchanging news and for gathering information. They could then go through another initiation to pass on to the level of Druid. The Druids acted as prophets, ministers, judges, and lawyers. The highest rank was that of Arch-Druid, and very few held this position. They were the leaders.

stonehengeThe male Druids and their female counterparts were separate groups, although they had the same beliefs. The Druids believed that males and females were opposite, and that they had different 'energy patterns.' They believed that if males and females practiced magic together, there would be 'destructive interference,' much like waves in Physics. The 'energy' would flow from the man to the woman, but it would not circulate back from the woman. However, if men practiced magic together, it would be like tuning forks in resonance: constructive interference. Along these lines, when practicing their magic, the Druids would surround themselves with objects of the same 'energy.' For instance, if their magic involved 'painting' a certain picture in their mind, they would go to a location like the one being pictured. They would also choose an appropriate time, burn an appropriate incense, and make sure they were in an appropriate mood.
The Druids also believed that there were lines of 'energy,' called 'Dragon Lines,' criss-crossing the Earth. "The Earth itself generated these lines of force, and at certain sacred points where this energy coiled and twisted to the surface . . . great occult power was to be found there." These were places like Stonehenge, for instance, which provided 'access points' to the Otherworld. There were also 'energy vortices' in the human body, namely the forehead, breast, and groin.

The practices of the Druids were pseudoscientific. They relied on illusions and tricks of the mind to make people believe that they were experiencing magic. For instance, they would hold ceremonies at night, in a dark forest. They would have blue globes of glass with a black candle inside, which would have the effect of a 'black light,' and would illuminate their white robes. This would give them an eerie, 'magical' appearance, to themselves and others. Their magic involved picturing things in their minds, often alone in places such as caves, forests, or graveyards. Anyone under these conditions will begin to see things that are not there; a shadow would become a spirit, the whistling of the wind would become the voices of the spirits, and smoke from a ceremonial fire could take on the form of a dragon or other being. Anyone who has ever looked up at the clouds and saw the shapes of animals would have experienced the same thing. The difference with the Druids is that they are ready to believe that what they are seeing is really a spirit, dragon, etc. If a skeptic were to try these spells, they would not get results. Although the Druids might attribute this to the skeptic being 'unskilled' or a 'non-believer,' the reason would really be that the spells do not work if the user does not think that they work. Throughout Douglas Monroe's book, which basically instructs one on how to be a druid, he often uses terms such as 'you will get surprising results.' He does not actually say that the user of the spells will see a spirit, or whatever, just that they will experience something.

In a spell helping the user to see the future, for instance, they are told to:

Slowly, spread three full handfuls of dried and crushed nightshade leaves and berries upon the coals, stating your question aloud each throw . . . stare deeply and fixedly into the glow, counting your heartbeats under-breath. Be patient, and await the answer in terms of abstraction. The illumination [vision] may take the form of a symbol, picture or abstract image; the interpretation will usually be clear only to the seeker, as personal symbols . . . are often seen, which would have little or no objective meaning to another person. [6]

Because this spell is so subjective, almost anything could be a 'symbol.' When staring into a fire, one is bound to see many shapes and patterns, one of which could be remotely related to the question asked. And, if one failed to see an answer to their question, the Druids could blame that result on failure to interpret the 'symbol' correctly. Also, for all of their spells, the Druids burn some sort of herb or incense. When one smells an overwhelming scent, it can make one' s head spin. There may also be herbs used that would have the effect of a drug.

When the Druids practice their magic, they rely on the imagination. One could never test whether magic really 'works' or not. After all, it must be done under certain conditions. And, if a Druid was tested and 'failed' the test, other Druids could blame the failure on the inexperience of the Druid being tested, or the inappropriateness of the conditions. For these reasons, the magic of the Druids can be considered a pseudoscience.

Another group that practices magic is the Witches. Witches and witchcraft have been one of the most controversial religions or pseudoscientific groups since the dawn of civilization. Members include both male and female and usually members have roots from the Celts. Witchcraft is generally classified as a Pagan nature religion, although people of all backgrounds are welcome to join. The Wiccan faith is not advertised for they firmly believe that if it is in one’s heart to come or that the individual has been called by a higher power, they indeed will come.

fireIt would seem that witchcraft has been evident throughout the ages. Some of the earlier references to witches date back to about 4000 B.C. and the early Babylonian and Sumerian cultures. These early witches were in fact the goddesses of these societies. As time progressed, the goddesses of these early civilizations underwent changes, as warring tribes began to overcome other nations and then instill their beliefs into the myths of the conquered culture. This can be seen through Greek mythology as the Romans added violence to the once civilized deities. Followers of these female deities started performing rituals to appease them that involved more daring acts.
Modern witchcraft or the Wiccan faith has Celtic roots and is much older than Christianity. The Wiccans went public with their religion about 1950. They worship the Earth goddess or Gaia. This one being called Gaia, is in actuality, many of the previous goddesses stretching through many old religions - from the Greek Artemis to Babylonian Tiamat to Egyptian Isis. As one can see, witchcraft is not just a recent development, but a religion/pseudoscience that has developed through the centuries. Only recently has witchcraft been practiced more in the open because of religious freedom and the lack of persecution as seen during the Inquisitions and Hunts.

Wiccans believe in the Earth goddess according to the Greek myth of creation.

In the infinite moment before all Time began, the Goddess arose from Chaos and gave birth to Herself ... before anything else had been born ... not even Herself. And when She had separated the Skies from the Waters and had danced upon them, The Goddess in Her ecstasy created everything that is. Her movements made the wind, and the Element Air was born and did breathe. [7]

Practitioners also believe that each person has the ability to tap into the Earth’s well of power, by developing one’s psychic powers, to enable certain events to occur - in essence, to shape fate itself. They worship the Earth and worship the Sun, the Moon and the Stars and try to become one with nature so they can commune with the spiritual and call up more energy from the Earth. As for the rules:

1. We practice rites to attune ourselves with the natural rhythm of life forces marked by the full of the Moon and seasonal quarters and cross-quarters.
2. We recognize that our intelligence gives us a unique responsibility toward our environment. We seek to live in harmony with Nature, in ecological balance offering fulfillment to life and consciousness within an evolutionary concept.
3. We believe in a depth of power far greater than that apparent to the average person. Because it is far greater than ordinary, it is sometimes called supernatural, but we see it as lying within that which is naturally potential to all.
4. We conceive of the Creative Power in the Universe as manifesting through polarity - as masculine and feminine - and that this same Creative Power lives in all people, and functions through the masculine and feminine. We value neither above the other.
5. We value sex as pleasure, as the symbol and embodiment of life, and as the interaction source of energies used in magical practice and religious worship.
6. We recognize both our surrounding world and the Spiritual Plane and see the interaction of these two dimensions as the basis for paranormal phenomena.
7. We do not recognize any hierarchy, but do honor to those who share knowledge with others and give of themselves fully in leadership.

Every full moon or Esbat, the Wiccans preform a ritual that supposedly enables them to become closer to the Goddess. The members of the coven form a circle around their High Priestess (High Priest) and concentrate all their psychic energies and direct it to the Priestess. The priestess then channels that cumulative energy into a chalice of water - water being controlled and the essence of the moon. Each member then drinks from the chalice and the ritual is fulfilled.

To enable true magic as they call it, they perform another ritual. A circle is formed and they again concentrate their spiritual and psychic energies into the center of the circle. They envision a cone form as the energy level rises. When the coven leader feels that the energy is at its peak, she or he commands all to send it out. The targets are usually members in the coven or close to the coven, that need magical assistance, but can include less specific targets, such as the environment because of the Wiccan’s love of nature. [9]

It is hard to analyze what the Wiccans do as false, for it is impossible at the moment to measure psychic abilities or the raising of energy (spiritual or psychic) in one specific location. However, the Wiccans accept any and all that wish to join these covens, can it be possible that everyone that joins has a significant, if better than average, psychic ability? Extensive ESP and psychic evaluation (based on scientific methods) would disagree and propose that a minority of the populace has any significant amount of psi abilities, but of course there is no documented fact.

As for an experiment, I propose not to measure these psychic abilities, but to measure their rate of success. Since they claim to be close to nature, then most possibly their magic would be strongest when helping or directing nature. I would set up several farms on the same kind of soil conditions, water amounts, fertilizer, manpower,  etc. - one controlled by no magical influences (unless a coven curses it, but they believe that a curse comes back to the sender threefold), and the others controlled by different covens, allowing them chance to perform their rituals. We will then measure the success of each coven against the one with no magical influences. This experiment would have to be replicated several times to weed out any chance data. To prove that what they are performing is true magic, then, each of the covens’ farms should provide better results than the non-influenced farm time after time. Of course, an experiment like this would not provide a lot of accuracy, for again we cannot measure any of the energy values and there is a chance that the non-influenced farm can perform badly, but we can gain some insight into whether or not witchcraft is valid to a point.

As for the Wiccan faith, I would have to classify it as a pseudoscience/religion. The practitioners of witchcraft seem to believe it whole heartedly, while on the other hand many concepts of how the power is generated - psychic or otherwise - is very much counter science. Until each factor of witchcraft can be measured to ensure that it is true, then there is no choice but to name it a pseudoscience.

The occult is a fascinating subject, whether one is learning about it or practicing it. However, it cannot be proven whether the prophecies or magic hold any truth. In the case of Nostradamus, it is impossible to test the predictions, since only one date was given in all of his prophecies. One cannot be sure what date his predictions were supposed to occur, so one cannot tell which world events, large scale or small scale, match his predictions. In the case of the Druids and the Witches, the magic is subjective, so an outside observer cannot test the personal experiences of the person performing the magic. Because none of these occult practices can be tested objectively, in the manner of science, they must be classified as pseudoscience.



1. Erika Cheetham, The Prophecies of Nostradamus[Online] (1995). Available:

2. Robert Todd Carroll, The Skeptic's Dictionary [Online] (1995). Available:

3. Lee McCann, Nostradamus: The Man Who Saw Through Time (New York, 1941.)

4. Alan Vaughan, Patterns of Prophecy (New York, 1973.)

5. Douglas Monroe, The 21 Lessons of Merlyn: A Study in Druid Magic and Lore (Minnesota, 1993), p. 274.

6. Ibid., p. 293.

7. Larousse Encyclopedia of Mythology (New York: Putnam, 1968.)

8. Chas S. Clifton, Witchcraft Today - Book One (Minnesota: 1992.)

9. Time-Life Books, Witches and Witchcraft (Virginia: 1990.)



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(Fall 1995)


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