Lore Report: “Predictable” (Episode 148)

But if history is any indication, that pursuit of future knowledge hasn’t always been acceptable. In fact, it’s been seen by many over the centuries as a dark art with dangerous pitfalls. To play with the future is to play with fire, and the consequences could be tragic. Fortune telling, it seems, might just get you killed.

Sometimes the introductory teases to Lore podcast episodes seem misleading, as host Aaron Mahnke’s dramatic rhetoric raises expectations that the subsequent narrative doesn’t quite fulfill. That’s certainly not the case here, though; the lines cited above make for a perfect set-up to Episode 148. Mahnke delves into the curious world of astrology, and its entanglement in the lives of English royalty. While the practice of fortune telling was generally tolerated, there was one type of prediction that was forbidden: a 1351 English law deemed it treason for anyone to even imagine the death of a king. Such stern prohibition comes into play in a scandalous way when a social-climbing duchess asks her astrologer how long young King Henry VI will live, and is told that the king will become sick with a fatal illness. After news of the dire forecast spreads, several figures are arrested and subjected to spectacular punishment, including burning at the stake and drawing and quartering (a barbarous administering of justice that Mahnke describes in grim detail). Outre beliefs and practices might typically be considered the province of the common folk, but this Lore episode points listeners toward higher ground. “Wherever there has been power of the few over the many,” our narrator asserts, “fear and superstition have been wielded like weapons to defend it.”

English history and court affairs, magic and witchcraft: these seem to rank among Mahnke’s favorite topics (judging by their recurrence on the podcast). Mahnke never fails to do them justice, so it’s no surprise that “Predictable” proves to be a strong episode.