BOOKS HAVE THEIR DESTINY: About mirrors and prophesies

05/27/2016 22:48

Sometime during the third century AD the North African Terentianus Maurus wrote four books about “letters, syllables and metrics”. Most of the content of these books are probably forgotten by now, aside from the quote habent sua fata libelli, "books have their destiny". Actually Maurus wrote Pro captu lectoris habent sua fata libelli, "depending on the reader's ability books have their destiny". So - books obtain their meaning from those who read them. In his novel The Name of the Rose, Umberto Eco interprets the saying somewhat differently - books share their destinies with their readers.

In a letter to his American publisher, Bennett Cerf, James Joyce wrote that as soon as his Ulysses had been printed and published it began to live a life of its own, though not with me - unfortunately I did not like Joyce's so intensely acclaimed novel, it did not speak to me and I stopped reading it after a couple of chapters.

August Strindberg, the literary touchstone for Swedish authors and readers, apparently also considered his books to be some kind of organisms with a life of their own, as in a poem he wrote in Paris, the city where Joyce wrote his Ulysses:

By the Avenue de Neuilly

There lies a slaughterhouse,

And when I go to the city,

I always go thereby.

 

The huge and open window

It shines with blood so red,

On white marble slabs

There steams new slaughtered flesh.

 

Today there hung on the glass door

A heart, I believe of veal,

Which, shrouded in goffered paper.

I thought did quake in the cold.

 

Then hasty my thoughts went

To the old North Bridge Bazaar,

Where shining rows of windows,

Are inspected by women and children.

 

There hangs in the bookstore window

A thin-clad little book.

It is a heart taken out

That dangles there on its hook.

 

 

Books can be stillborn, or end up in some kind of torpor, only occasionally waking up to life, when reader gets hold of them - as in a poem by the Finno-Swedish author Lars Huldén:

 

About eternity´s length is this tale.

Not far from here

there is a university library.

In a bookcase

stands this collection of poems.

 

Every hundred years

a librarian

blows away the dust collected upon it

and reads this poem

 

When the entire poem

has been worn down in this manner

a second of eternity

has passed away.

 

 

I think it is a little disappointing that Swedish libraries, after the introduction of computer-based accounting, no longer stamp in the back of books when they were borrowed. In the past I was fascinated when I found that someone else had read some obscure book I borrowed home with me. Who else in my little hometown of Hässleholm had read the book I was reading now? Books come and go in my life, as if they had a life of their own.

 

A dozen of years ago, I had ended up in Porto Alegre in southern Brazil and was, as it often befalls me, in an urgent need of reading material. Like an alcoholic craving for booze I entered into a bookstore and found a novel that immediately spoke to me: Borges e os orangotangos eternos Borges and the eternal orangutans. I do not know any Portuguese, but the book was thin, the title exciting and my hankering for any kind of novel was so strong that I bought the book while hoping that my Spanish would help me to get through it, especially since the bookseller declared that the writer, Luis Fernando Verissimo, was residing in Porto Alegre and considered to be one of the country's most popular writers.

During the evenings at the hotel I spelled my way through the short novel and became fascinated. Like so many of Borges´ books Verissimo´s novel dealt with books and their readers. It was about mazes, mysteries and inexplicable coincidences. About the world as a book and a puzzle, where one story opened up to others, like Chinese boxes, as if when you enter an elevator and find yourself in an illusory corridor created by mirrors, which on both  sides of you reflect each other in such a way that endless hallways with your own reflection open up around you.

To read Borges e os orangotangos eternos in a hotel room in southern Brazil was the perfect spot for an engrossing experience. The novel is namely set in a hotel in Buenos Aires and in front of a glowing, electric heater placed in the furnace of Jorge Luis Borges´ cosy library in the Palermo district of the same town.

The narrator is Vogelstein, an inveterate bachelor, son of a Jewish woman who was murdered in Auschwitz, after having been turned in by her lover and "protector", a man who probably was Vogelstein's father. Vogelstein, an inconsequential high school teacher and bookworm who had grown up with his old aunt in Porto Alegre, ventured to a conference in Buenos Aires. The meeting was called by a mysterious literary society, Israfel, dedicated to Edgar Allan Poe's pen craft and publishing a magazine for which Vogelstein had written an occasional article. When Vogelstein registered for the meeting in Buenos Aires he did so with the hope of meeting his idol Jorge Luis Borges.

As a young man Vogelstein had worked as editor for an obscure literary magazine and then changed the story of an for him completely unknown author called Jorge Luis Borges. Consequently the infuriated Argentine writer sent the young editor an ironically formulated and utterly scathing letter. Since then the terrified Vogelstein had read everything by Borges and also written novel after novel, all rejected, as well as numerous apologetic letters to the great Borges, all unanswered and ignored.

At the conference the star struck Vogelstein encountered Borges, who did not seem to remember neither the Brazilian´s clumsy paraphrase of his short story, nor his countless letters.

At a cocktail reception, the increasingly intoxicated Vogelstein witnessed how the brusque and unpleasant German literary critic Joachim Rotkopf made himself enemy to all present and insulted no less than the great Borges, who had been very obliging to the awkward Vogelstein and even invited him for tea in his home the next day.  As Vogelstein stayed at the same hotel as the bullying and severely inebriated Rotkopf, and no one else wanted to engage themselves with the bombastic German, the hapless Vogelstein was chosen out to escort him back to the hotel.

During the same night Rotkopf is brutally murdered, a murder which reflected "the locked room" mysteries that Borges and Vogelstein were familiar with. They were both great connoisseurs of Anglo-Saxon detective stories and in particularly Allan Poe's short story The Murders of Rue Morgue, where the offender turned out to be an orangutan. Incidentally, not the novel's only allusion to orangutans.

Night after night, Borges, Vogelstein and an Argentine police detective are congregating in Borges´ library to discuss various clues - three knives found in different ventilation shafts, conflicting testimonies, the fact that the victim's room was locked from the inside, three playing cards found on the bedside table, and above all the body's peculiar placement in front of a mirror, seemingly creating the shape of different letters - X, V, M, O. All this produce various speculations about mirrors, Kabbalah, alchemy, strange legends and ancient books. Allusions are frequently made to Borges´ and Edgar Allan Poe's books.

Borges and Vogelstein's excited speculations, which exhaust the patience of the crime inspector are nevertheless quite exiting for anyone who has happened to enter the fascinating worlds that Borges created. In his novel Verissimo merges the person Borges, with the myth “Borges”, entirely in accordance with Borges´ own opinions:

I am not sure that I exist, actually. I am all the writers that I have read, all the people that I have met, all the women that I have loved; all the cities I have visited, all my ancestors.

The reader is constantly reminded that it is a book about books s/he is reading and that the solution to the mystery is to be find in other novels the text is alluding to. It is Borges who in a fictional postscript finally solves the riddle. Fictitious because Borges died long before Verissimo wrote his novel.The novel's motto is a paragraph from Borges short story Ibn Hakkan al-Bokhari, Dead in his Labyrinth:

Vexed a bit, Unwin stopped him. "Please - let's not multiply the mysteries. Mysteries ought to be simple. Remember Poe's purloined letter, remember Zangwill's locked room.” “Or complex” volleyed Dunraven: “Remember the Universe.”

The Englishman Israel Zangwill wrote in 1892 the first "locked room" story after Edgar Allan Poe's The Murders of Rue Morgue, i.e. a murder mystery within a locked room, without duplicate keys, secret passages, trap doors and similar tricks. The Big Bow Mystery by Zangwill actually contains more than one hint to the solution of the murder in Verissimo´s novel. Zangwill´s slightly ironic, narrative style might also have had an influence on Verissimo.

When I some days ago, true to what now has become a habit of mine, during one of my frequent visits to FAO, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization here in Rome, looked through the piles of used books for sale on the UN Women's Guild´s table in the entrance hall I found to my great surprise Borges and the Eternal Orangtans! Verissimo´s book in English translation. Now I could enjoy the novel with far greater ease than the last time I came across it. Now I found details I had not discovered earlier. In particular I became interested in the allusions to reflections and mirrors and the fact that the novel on several occasions mentioned Borges´ fear of them.

It made me remember the old ghost story about the Bloody Mary, which also was a game we played as kids. In a darkened house with two floors you were supposed to walk backwards up a flight of stairs holding a mirror in your hand while you intensively looked into it. If you saw a different face than your own reflected in the mirror, it would be the person you would marry in the future.  However, it could just as well happen that a skull, a ghost girl, or a monstrous creature, appeared in the mirror and this meant then that you would die by the end of the upcoming week.

A nasty story that probably got stuck somewhere in my brain, otherwise it is difficult to explain how I much later, certainly when I was over fifteen years since the film was R rated, got a shock when I saw Polanski's Repulsion.

It is an effectively narrated story about a lost and worried French lady, Carol (Catherine Deneuve), who works as a manicurist while living with her older sister in a rundown apartment in London. Carol has a strangely alienated existence, though outwardly she appears as cool and calm. After a while we discover how disturbed she really is. Under the tranquil surface of Carol a lurking psychosis is boiling violently, only to explode with full strength when Carol´s sister is away on holiday in Italy.

First only small signs appear, they might or might not indicate that everything is not quite right with Carol. We are following the events from her point of view. Carol stares at cracks in the ground or on the walls, it could be perfectly normal for a person living alone, but when a skinned rabbit on the kitchen zinc begins to rot, we know that something nasty will happen. Actually, not much happens in the beginning of the movie, though with small, subtle means Polanski increases tension and fear. Climax comes during a second when Carol sees her reflection in a mirror, while we discover how a male figure quickly passes by. A seemingly insignificant scene, no bloody knife lifted to struck again, no exaggerated close-ups of a terrified woman, no scary music. Nevertheless, in uncontrolled fear I jumped up from my movie theatre seat.

Mirrors have an important role in Borges and the Eternal Orangutans and it even mentions John Dee's magical instruments that sometimes, not always, are on display in a glass case at the British Museum. These are a small gold plate with magic inscriptions, a small crystal ball, an Aztec obsidian mirror and three round discs made out of wax, the largest showing The Seal of Emeth.

Emeth´s seal was a kind of magical diagram/key composed of circles, pentagrams, hexagrams, letters and magical characters. It may be described as some kind of map indicating the composition of a  world of angels and spirits, used to interpret messages received by a skryer, whose task it was to look into a crystal ball, a bowl with water or a speculum, a mirror of shiny polished stone or metal and report what he saw.

Frequently, it was not a magician or astrologer who gazed into a crystal ball to perceive the future, or receive messages from the spirit world. For them it was of utmost importance to find a suitable skryer, not an easy task. Ideally a competent skryer ought to be a child, someone who was not limited by “plain truth” and logic, but equipped with “unrestrained” perception:

Skrying was a task best performed by a receptive sensitivity, by a malleable mind unburdened by the limitations of rationality. That is why Kelley with his juvenile tantrums and uncontrollable passions, seemed such so convincing candidate [for skrying].

When Edward Kelley on the 8th of March 1582 showed up at Dr. John Dee´s (1527 - 1608) doorstep. The famous scientist´s life was thoroughly altered. Dr. Dee was a mathematician, astronomer, astrologer, geographer, theologian and occultist, respected confidant and adviser to the mighty Queen Elizabeth I of England. Among his close friends he counted highly influential ministers like Francis Walsingham and William Cecil. Dr. Dee had one of Europe's most extensive and well equipped private libraries and taught contemporary prominent sea captains an efficient navigation system that he had developed on the basis of Euclid's geometry. It was Dr. Dee who first coined the term The British Empire.

Dr. Dee’s greatest aspiration was to understand and improve the world we live in, which according to him was far from perfect, something that is easily understood given that the sixteenth century was just as brutal, violent, bloody and incomprehensible as the times we now live in - probably even worse.

According to Dr. Dee, mathematics was a divine language that could be used as a tool for creating a new, more harmonious world. Such perfection could be discerned behind intricate mathematical processes, indicating another, higher sphere of existence. A world inhabited by angels who had a specific language, which like mathematics could be learned and perfected. Though, how could we find out anything about the angelic language? Probably by using our intuition, seek out what is inexplicable within and outside man. Penetrate a spiritual realm, though only as onlookers and listeners.

Before he met Dr. Dee, Edward Kelley´s life is virtually unknown. He was of Irish descent and when he showed up at Dr. Dee´s doorstep he called himself Talbot. Maybe he was one of many scammers who at that time walked around the kingdom trying to make living out of people's superstitions. Kelley was an educated man. He knew Latin and probably also some Greek. Dr. Dee had tried in vain to engage in skrying himself and in his home he had a darkened room furnished with soft carpets, tables, charts, and instruction manuals concerning practical magic. In this chamber he spent several hours every evening while gazing into reflecting surfaces, trying to induce himself into a state of visionary trance. However, it had all been in vain until Edward Kelley turned up and in a deluge of visions told Dr. Dee what he saw in Dr. Dee's crystal balls and obsidian mirror. Kelley even stated that he could look into an angelic sphere and even hear the talk of angels. I cannot help smiling thinking about Kelley enthusing the gullible scientist, who in his magical chamber maybe felt like in the song by Eurythmics

No-one on earth could feel like this.

I´m thrown and overblown with bliss.

There must be an angel

Playing with my heart.

And when I think that I´m alone

It seems there´s more of us at home.

It´s a multitude of angels

And they´re playing with my heart.

 

 

Together Kelley and Dr. Dee reconstructed an angelic language they called Enochian since Dr. Dee new about the Jewish ancestor Enoch, mentioned in the genealogy lists in Genesis, as a man who turned into an angel and thus never died:

Altogether, Enoch lived a total of 365 years. Enoch walked faithfully with God; then he was no more, because God took him away.(Genesis 5: 23-24).

Dr. Dee also knew that Enoch was central in rabbinic literature; in the Book of Enoch and the Kabbalah. That he was well known among the Muslims and a prominent figure in the Ethiopian church. In the Kabbalah, Enoch is even regarded as Metatron, God's mouthpiece, perhaps even God's own voice.

Dr. Dee´s world was comprehensive, not least due to his voluminous library and frequent contacts with sailors and sea captains. Probably had Dr. Dee obtained Tezcatlipoca´s obsidian mirror from one of them and it is possible that he also had heard about this strange divinity from one of the seafarers. Together with his brother Quetzalcoatl, Tezcatlipoca was the most powerful god in the fearsome Aztec pantheon and recipients of countless brutal human sacrifices.

Tezcatlipoca was associated with the night sky, night winds, the black earth, obsidian, hostility, temptation, dominion, jaguars, wizardry and war, though he was also the god of beauty and called "the friend of slaves”. His many epithets reflect his immense power, the fear he inspired, but also his dual nature as a god beyond good and evil - Titlacauan "We are his slaves," Ipalnemoani "Him we are living through," Necoc Yaotl "Enemy to both sides," Tloque Nahuaque "Lord of that which is near and far," Yohualli Ehacatl "Night wind" and Ilhuicahua Tlalticpaque "Master of Heaven and Earth".

Tezcatlipoca´s powers made him unpredictable and erratic. Accordingly, he was the God of Destiny and the inner meaning of his most common name was connected with that task – The Smoking Mirror. The only creature who knew how to use the obsidian mirror in all its aspects was Tezcatlipoca, who had sacrificed his right foot, it had been replaced by an obsidian mirror. The concept that a god had to sacrifice a part of his body to gain a thorough knowledge of the secrets of Universe makes Tezcatlipoca akin to the Norse god Odin, who had to sacrifice one of his eyes to gain his all-encompassing knowledge. Like Tezcatlipoca, Odin was the god of soothsayers.

Obsidian was sacred to the Aztecs, more valuable than gold and silver. It was a weapon – the sacrificial knives used to cut up the victims' torso to rip out their hearts were usually made of obsidian and so was the Aztec warriors´ main weapon, the maquahitl, a one metre long blade made of oak, with two sides studded with sharpened obsidian. A maquahitl could with one blow chop off the head by a horse.

John Dee's speculum was an obsidian mirror, which certainly had been used in Aztec divination. Like the Maya and the Toltecs before them, the Aztecs were extremely interested in changing seasons and the course of the stars across the sky. They had at their disposal complicated calendars and star charts to keep a careful track of the passage of time.

Many years ago I was in Ixcan in Guatemala and in the company of an engineer I sought out an aj'kinaj means "master of” and kin “day”. The aj´kin is a kind of shaman who organizes ceremonies and keeps track of the time – the past, the present and the future. The engineer suggested that we should ask the aj'kin to "sing his family" and he then took up a long monotonous chant, which the engineer, who was an Ixil Indian, explained was a list of the ancestors of the aj´kin, from his father all the way back to a time long ago, before the Spaniards had appeared in Guatemala. The aj'kin also sang "time" and "rain" and I understood how alive and well ancient calendars and divination still was among Aztec and Maya descendants.

Tezcatlipoca was the lord of the smoking mirror and when Aztec priests looked into its polished surface, they saw not only their own reflection but also Tezcatlipoca in his manifestation as Titlahuacan "We are their men", which was the Aztec name for all their gods. The Aztecs believed that their gods were actually a reflection of the "living", i.e. the humans. We are all children of the gods, though the gods are also our creation. Everything is connected, we and the gods - the past, the present and the future.

When people were sacrificed to Tezcatlipoca they were dressed and painted like the god. He was both black and blue, or grey – since the sacrificing priests often dusted themselves with ash from burned victims. The priests who sacrificed victims dedicated to Tezcatlipoca wore masks representing the god. Such a mask is preserved in the British Museum, it is a mosaic encrusted human skull, cleaved in half so it can be worn in front of the face. It is lined with leather and has two ribbons that may be tied by the back of the neck.

When I came home last Tuesday, I was greeted by Erik, an always equally pleasant man, but that particular day he was in an unusually good mood. Erik, who is from the Philippines, helps us once a week with cleaning and ironing and he was now very pleased with the recent election results in his home country, where the controversial, but popular Rodrigo "Rody" Rua Duterte had won.

"You who read so much, Jan, must surely know who Nostradamus was" asked Erik. "Sure, I do," I said. "He had foreseen that Duterte would win," stated Erik happily. Nostradamus can be used for everything, now he had already in 1568 predicted the Philippine election results in 2016. I was thinking about the Aztec magicians who likewise were believed to be capable of telling the future by combining the past, the present and the future, a technique apparently used by Nostradamus as well. He often rewrote happenings in his own time in such a manner that they seemed to foretell the future as well.

After talking with Eric I looked up the prophecies of Nostradamus. They provide an astonishing reading. Almost every one of the 353 quatrains in his book looks and reads like a concentrated poem, prophetic and imaginative, open to various interpretations:

Alas, you will see a great nation bleed.

And the holy law & all the Christendom

Reduced to utter ruin by other creeds.

Each time a new gold, silver mine is found.

 

A smell of destruction, plagues and cannon smoke permeates everything. It is far from any sunny, optimistic texts that the solemn Nostradamus is offering us. It is not only current occurrences around him that inspire Nostradamus´ prophesies, also bygone times fuel his imagination. We get an invitation to visit him while he looks into the future:

 

 

Being seated at night in a secret study

Alone upon a stool of bronze at ease

Slim flame issuing forth from solitude

Fuels prophecies, not futile to believe.

 

A bronze stool was probably not to be found in Nostradamus´ home, it seems to have been borrowed from the Pythia of the ancient Delphi oracle and almost all of Nostradamus´ knowledge seems to be based on a wide variety of whims, bits and pieces of current news, all kinds of reading, ancient and contemporary history mixed up with thunderous visions and prophecies of a dark future. While the prophet rarely appears in person, there is a strange intimacy in his texts, a subdued passion and intensity. I read page after page and cannot avoid an impression that this is actually great and remarkable poetry. I have not the faintest idea if Nostradamus has something to say about the future, if he has something to say about what is awaiting us it reminds me of Cohen´s words: “I´ve seen the future, brother; it is murder”. Like the Aztecs´ world Nostradamus universe is bleak and menacing.

 

Incidentally Nostradamus used the same divination technique as Dr. Dee and the Aztecs. He stared down into a vat filled with reflecting water, until he entered a trance and was overpowered by strange visions. A method that seems to stimulate a subconscious mind flow, something the Surrealists were searching for several hundred years later and maybe there might be a connection?

The modernist poet Guillaume Apollinaire was impressed by Nostradamus while he read him in trenches overflowing with mud, blood and rotting carcasses. Apollinaire is one of modern art's great inspirers, with whom we find wellsprings for Cubism, Dadaism and Surrealism. In the Centre Pompidou in Paris we find a portrait of Apollinaire by his Italian friend Giorgio Chirico, painted in the spring of 1914. In the foreground is a marble bust with dark glasses. It does not seem to be a portrait of Apollinaire, in any case it does not look like him. Chirico has said that it is Orpheus, though he cannot always be trusted. However, the bust might also be understood as a symbol of the poet's lack of respect for Classical art, or vice versa - how Apollinaire modernized and revitalized obsolete artistic manifestations. In the background, we immediately recognize Apollinaire's characteristic silhouette and by the temple we find in the pitch black shadow a yellow ring, reminiscent of a target. Two years later Apollinaire was hit by a bullet at exactly the same spot.

Was Chirico a prophet? Hard to tell. In the spring of 1914 Paris buzzed with rumours about an upcoming war, which finally broke out with full strength after a declaration of war against Germany on August the 3rd. However, it was not until December of the same year that Apollinaire, who was not even a French citizen at the time, volunteered to the French artillery. Maybe Chirico had already in the spring of 1914 anticipated that his friend would enter the war and get shot. Gunshot wounds in the head was after all the most common injury during the upcoming trench warfare. But who could have imagined that it would become such a war? And why did Chirico call his portrait Portrait [prémonitoire] de Guillaume Apollinaire, Portrait (prophetically) of Guillaume Apollinaire.

It was the hell of war that brought Nostradamus to life again. Apollinaire discovered him through his own terrible experiences and knew that Nostradamus spoke of current times. Meanwhile, Tristan Tzara and Hugo Ball made the same discovery – Nostradamus was a Poet – and they began to general acclaim read Nostradamus prophecies aloud in their Cabaret Voltaire in Zurich. And by the way, speaking of Nostradamus as a poet, I might mention that the first edition of The Oracles of Nostradamus as a literary masterpiece, and not only sensational prophecies, was made by Random House in New York in 1942, in their series The Modern Library. Publisher was the same Bennett Serf whom I mentioned in the beginning of the essay as the publisher of Joyce's Ulysses. Perhaps Serf had discovered similarities between the style of the Renaissance visionary and Joyce's celebrated stream of consciousness?

Books have their destinies. My grandfather had an interesting library where I made strange discoveries. One time I found a booklet of fifty pages by a certain Georg Ljungström, with a title which in translation would be The world famous seer Nostradamus prophecies about the fate of the world from the year 1558 to the year 3797. It was the first time I had seen the name Nostradamus and I devoured the book right away and asked my grandfather if I could take it with me home, he laughed and said it was mine.

I then had the booklet lying for years until I sometime in the early eighties came to browse it. Nostradamus prophecies are scattered helter-skelter and you may pick what you want from his vast smorgasbord and adapt it to the time you happen to live in. So did George Ljungström, though I found some his comments to be slightly remarkable.

Ljungström´s book was written in 1922, three years after the Treaty of Versailles and his comments to some of Nostradamus quatrains were interpreted in connection with Versailles. I think they were 5:18, 2: 9, 3:76 and 2:24, though I am not sure since my booklet has disappeared.

 

The wretch laid so low he shall die of grief

His victrix shall then celebrate his fall

Fresh sets of laws, drawing up of decrees:

The seventh day both Prince and wall will fall.

 

Germany will see the birth of divers sects

Quite like the paganism of ancient times

Conquering hearts and content with small receipts

They shall return to paying the true tith.

 

The thin one shall rule for nine years in peace,

Then fall into an immense thirst for blood:

For this lawless one a great people dies,

To be slain by a rival far more good.

 

Beasts wild with hunger shall swim the rivers:

Most of the hordes shall move against Ister

He will have the great one dragged in iron cage

When the child of the German Rhine surveys

 

 

 

Georg Ljungström interprets these oddities as if the French during the peace negotiations had been far too harsh toward the vanquished Germans. They would not be able to pay the imposed war reparations and instead gather in political parties that would support a certain Hister. About a ten years after the Treaty of Versailles (Ljungström interprets "the thin one" as the American president Wodroow Wilson, who was still alive in 1922, but died in 1924), the Germans would rise again and seek revenge. Actually not so bad calculated, considering that Hitler came to power in 1933. I became even more fascinated by Ljungström´s interpretation of Nostradamus´ quatrain 6:80:

The realm of the Fez into Europe shall spread

Burning its cities, slashing with the sword:

Land and sea, the horde of the Asian men.

Blue turbans most, shall hunt the Cross to death.

 

 

Ljungström merged this prophecy with another quatrain, 10:72, which foretold that in 1999 Heaven would choose a ruler who would reinstate the king of Angoumois. The king of Angoumois has been interpreted as the king of Arabs or Mongols, but does in reality appear as being connected the Duke of Angouleme, a town in western France.

What I found both amusing and slightly disturbing in Ljungström's commentary was his remark that after the Young Turks have rebelled against Sultan Mehmed IV and the Ottoman Empire had been cut up by the victors, there was certainly nothing to fear from the Muslims - they would never be able to rise again.

No, no, what Nostradamus meant with “Muslims” was probably, according to Ljungström, those Bolsheviks who recently had gained power in Russia. They were the ones who would threaten Europe in 1999. This remark made me believe that Nostradamus probably made more sense than Ljungström. By the end of the 20th century it was actually the Muslims who were on the move again. And in the early 1980s, it was quite interesting to read that Nostradamus with the blue turbans meant the Persians, i.e. the people of Iran.

By the beginning of my essay, I mentioned Strindberg, who may be labelled as Sweden´s national author, who by the end of his life could be considered as slightly crazy, engrossed as he had become with strange, occult speculations. However, like other men who changed in their old age and stepped straight into the Spirit World, like John Dee and the Swedish seer Emanuel Swedenborg, a certain geniality may also be detected in the works Strindberg wrote even during this period of his life.

While writing this essay I discovered that Strindberg during his last years socialized quite frequently with the obscure Georg Ljungström, who was an engineer employed by the Swedish Company of Electricity, but also served as president for the Swedish Theosophical Society and had published several books not only about Nostradamus, but also wrote about the Astral World and the Black Magi who according to him lived under the South Pole and affected the entire world in a deplorable manner. Strindberg appreciated both Ljungström´s occult books and his extensive poetic production. For example, a poem that begins:

What we here on earth use to call the night

is but a cloud, rising from waters after days clear and bright,

From you, Underground, old and other

in your depth, dreams will gather.

 

When I told my father what I had found in Ljungström's book about Nostradamus he assumed that it would thrill Bo "Pax" Göransson, one of his colleagues at the local newspaper Norra Skåne. I knew Pax, a nice man and knowledgeable journalist, but also a religious zealot of great proportions, with an unfortunate propensity for strange cults and inadequate prophecies, something he occasionally vented in Norra Skåne under the heading The Hazelnut. Amusing, but usually quite crazy reflections.

My father lent my Nostradamus book to Pax, but a few months later he suffered a tragic accident. On his way to work during a snowstorm, Pax had no car but rode a bike or walked to work, he got lost in the haze and was run over by a truck. Thus my Nostradamus book also disappeared.

Billquist, John Eric (1986) Strindberg as a Modern Poet: A Critical and Comparative Study. Berkeley: University of California Press. Fermosel, José Luis A. (1981) ”Jorge Luis Borges: ”No Estoy seguro de que yo exista en realidad”, in El País, 26 September. Nostradamus (2012) The Prophesies. A Dual-Language Edition with Parallel Text. New York: Penguin Classics. Olivier, Guilhem (2003) Mockeries and Metamorphoses of an Aztec God: Tezcatlipoca, "Lord of the Smoking Mirror". Boulder: University Press of Colorado. Tedlock, Barbara (1992) Time and the Highland Maya. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press. Verissimo, Luis Fernando (2005) Borges and the Eternal Orangutans. New York: New Directions. Woollet, Benjamin (2001) The Queens Conjuror: The Life and Magic of Dr Dee. London: HarperCollins. Zangwill, Israel (2007) The Big Bow Mystery. New York: Dybbuk Press.

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Literature meets us somewhere between poetry and reality. While reading we are confined in ourselves, perceiving the text through the eyes and minds that life has created for us. I spend most of my time alone in our house, in the woods by the lake. For sure, I work three days a week at a school in...
Litteraturen möter oss någonstans mellan dikt och verklighet. Vi läser inneslutna i oss själva, ser genom de ögon livet skapat oss. Jag tillbringar det mesta av min tid ensam i vårt hus, i skogen vid sjön. Visserligen är jag tre dagar i veckan verksam på en skola i Landskrona, men där känner jag...
I had planned to clear the grounds around our house from twigs and fallen leaves. Accordingly, I went outside quite early in the morning. The sky was bright blue, though it soon became clouded and it did not take long before the rain poured down, preventing my outdoor activities. Back in the...
Jag hade tänkt rensa tomten från kvistar och löv. Gick upp tidigt. I gryningen sken solen och himlen var klarblå, men snart började det skya, det dröjde inte länge förrän regnet öste ner och förhindrade allt utearbete.  Flydde in i huset, gjorde en brasa och drog fram en bok ur hyllan. Det...
The weather changes from cold to relative varmth; sunshine, drizzle, floating clouds and starry nights. Yesterday, a milky white sky occasionally cracked up and turned into a dramatic spectacle when fast-gliding cloud formations allowed the sun, for a minute to two, to illuminate an autumn...
Vädret skiftar från kyla till relativ värme; solsken, duggregn och piskande skyfall. Igår sprack himlen emellanåt upp i dramatiska, snabbt framglidande molnformationer mellan vilka solen under någon minut förgyllde den höstliga prakten kring sjön. Jag öste båten och rodde ut. Kastvindar skapade...
Occasionally, I worry about my bad physical condition and increasing obesity. Do I keep on passing an age limit without really noticing it? Soon it will be difficult for me to bend down, it will be cumbersome to get up from an armchair, days will disappear without leaving much of a trace. I will...
Emellanåt oroar jag mig för dålig kondition och tilltagande fetma. Håller jag på att passera en åldersgräns, utan att märka det? Snart får jag svårt för att böja mig ner, det kommer att kosta på att stiga upp ur fåtöljen, dagarna svinner bort. Jag blir andfådd i trappor, huden skrynklas, håret...
My parents told me that I did not speak until I was more than three years old. This sounds somewhat strange to me, though considering that their children's development is close to heart of most parents, they were probably right. After opening my mouth for the first time to express comprehensible...
Mina föräldrar har berättat att jag inte talade förrän jag var mer än tre år. För mig låter det underligt, men med tanke på att deras barns utveckling står i centrum för de flesta goda föräldrar, så hade de säkert rätt. Märkligt är det dock, eftersom jag efter att ha öppnat munnen för att formulera...
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