Hoax Archive: Time Periods
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The Toledo Letter, 1184 (1184)A letter supposedly written by the astrologers of Toledo and addressed to Pope Clement III began circulating throughout Europe in 1184. It predicted the end of the world would occur in September 1186. It said there would be wind and storms, drought and famine, pestilence and earthquake. The air would grow dark and a dreadful voice would be heard that would destroy the hearts of men. Coastal towns would be covered with sand and earth. All this would be triggered by a rare conjunction of the planets in the sign of the Scales and in the tail of the Dragon. People were advised to flee their homes and find safety in the mountains.
The letter caused panic throughout Europe. The Archbishop of Canterbury ordered a 3-day fast to prevent the calamity. When September 1186 arrived, the planetary conjunction did occur on schedule, but the end of the world never happened. Nevertheless, some attribute the Third Crusade of 1189 to the unrest stirred up by the letter.
This was not the end of the Toledo Letter. Variants of it continued to circulate for centuries, with names and dates altered. A version from around 1214, which attributed the text to a Cardinal Johannes Toletanus, warned of the end of the world in 1229, citing the same rare planetary conjunction as the reason. By the end of the fourteenth century the text was attributed to the Magisters in Paris, though the content of the warning remained essentially the same. Even as late as 1480 it was still in circulation, now attributed to a Mount Sinai hermit and a Rasis of Antiochia, who warned the end would come in 1510.
Nostradamus himself cannot properly be regarded as a hoaxer since astrology in his time was a highly respected practice. He believed in the legitimacy of his art. The real deception lies in the uses to which his work has been put since his death.
Nostradamus wrote his prophecies in an ancient form of French worded so ambiguously that it could be interpreted to mean almost anything a reader desired. As a result, his followers have been able to credit him with predicting a wide range of calamities including the great London fire of 1666, the rise of Adolf Hitler, the Iranian revolution of 1979, and the events of September 11, 2001. However, Nostradamus's supposed predictions are only ever noted after the fact. There has never been an instance in which a verse by Nostradamus has been used to accurately predict an event before it occurred.
The work of Nostradamus has also been a theme in a large number of outright hoaxesinstances in which verses were falsely attributed to him. For instance, during World War II the Nazis spread propaganda claiming that Nostradamus had prophesied the success of Hitler. The Allied countries retaliated by spreading propaganda claiming Nostradamus had foreseen Germany's defeat. After 9/11 interest in Nostradamus surged thanks to some verses of his, circulated by email, in which he seemed to predict the tragedy. However, the verses had not actually been written by him. They were the work of an anonymous hoaxer.
Mother Shipton, c.1641 (Supposedly lived 1488-1561)Mother Shipton was a sixteenth-century Yorkshire seer who supposedly made a number of startlingly accurate predictions. However, it is uncertain whether she actually existed, and many of the predictions attributed to her are outright hoaxes.
The first extant reference to her is found in a booklet, The Propheceyes of Mother Shipton, published in 1641, eighty years after she was said to have died. This work claimed she had accurately predicted the deaths of a number of her contemporaries such as Cardinal Wolsey. However, there are no written references to her, or her predictions, during her own lifetime.
Other works about Mother Shipton subsequently appeared, and with each work new prophecies were credited to her. However, all the prophecies were backdated prophecies (i.e. prophecies which described events that had already occurred).
Mother Shipton's most famous prophecy was that, "The world to an end shall come / In eighteen hundred and eighty-one."
These lines circulated widely throughout England as 1881 approached and caused great popular concern. However, this prophecy was actually the work of a Brighton bookseller, Charles Hindley, who in 1862 had published what he claimed to be a reprint of a 1684 biography of Mother Shipton. To make the biography seem more relevant to nineteenth-century audiences, Hindley had inserted some new verses of his own creation into the book. Some of the other verses Hindley wrote made it seem as if Mother Shipton had accurately predicted the invention of technologies such as the railway, telegraph, submarines, and hot-air balloons.
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