Woman Who Foresaw 2014's Nuclear War Predicts 2023 Planetary Vibe Shift
Everyone's favorite Bulgarian mystic continues to feed our holiday content obsession. I predict that will continue next year.
In a tiny corner of the Soviet empire was a mecca for the impatient.
Pilgrims would flock to Rupite — a three-and-a-half hour train ride south of Sofia, just along where the People's Republic of Bulgaria bordered Greece — to have their future told.
They would stumble out of the train station in Petrich, then find a ride to the tiny village. Upon finally arriving, they would come upon a small home.
Inside was Vangeliya Pandeva Gushterova — but everyone called her Baba Vanga.
Outside was a line of police detectives looking to solve a murder, Communist officials desperate for advice for their ailing motherland, and Western tourists with an eye for the esoteric. Skeptics would walk in and either emerge as converts, or realize Vanga's foresight years later, only after her predictions came true.
Boris III of Bulgaria visited to learn when he would die. Boris Yeltsin made the trek to learn he would become a great leader. Today, a quarter-century after her death, The Daily Mail visits her grave to pad their year-end clickbait.
Today, on a special holiday edition of Bug-eyed and Shameless, we meet the blind oracle of Rupite and learn a little bit about why, in a time when truth is in stiff competition with misinformation, newspapers are still publishing mystic bullshit.
The answer might surprise you — it sure surprised me.
Read to the bottom to get some podcast recommendations, and to learn what’s in store for Bug-eyed and Shameless in the new year. Subscribe now to never miss a post:
"Vanga finds missing people, helps solve crimes, diagnoses disease, and reads the past,” wrote Sheila Ostrander and Lynn Schroeder after a visit to Bulgaria. “But her greatest gift is prophecy.”
The pair visited the country — though not, it seems Vanga herself — for their 1970 book Psychic Discoveries Behind the Iron Curtain. (A great last-minute stocking stuffer for the Lenin-loving occultist in your life.)
This American duo had a real thing for the supernatural on the far side of the Berlin wall. They would report, over the years, on the KGB's magic weapons and mastery of the human mind.
This time, however, they were heading to Sofia to learn more about the seer of Rupite. Along the way, they meet a veritable who’s-who of townsfolk who were quick to offer up a story proving Vanga’s powers — a brother who died at 23, shot by the Nazis, just like the mystic said; a father who died of an ulcer in 1958, the same date she predicted; a missing man who was hiding out in the very town she described.
Only a renowned state suggestologist's telepathy was enough to throw off Vanga’s prophetic capabilities, the intrepid duo report. (More on that later, I promise.)
Vanga is mild mannered, as far as the supernatural goes. Kind, by most accounts, and consumed with empathy for those whose future she predicts. She reportedly never accepted cash for her divination — only donations for a church she hoped to construct. She hated discussing politics, and preferred not to weigh in on martial spats. Either despite her modesty, or because of it, her legend steadily grew through the latter half of the 20th century.
The legend of her powers became incredible.
She was called upon by Adolf Hitler — “he left her house looking rather upset.” She correctly predicted the date of Joseph Stalin's death. She anticipated the dissolution of the Soviet Union. She predicted a war in Nicaragua, the elections of Indira Gandhi and Barack Obama, the Chernobyl meltdown, 9/11, the rise of the Islamic State and more.
Major publications look to her prophecies each December, in anticipation of the year to come. Hundreds of blogs, newspapers, radio stations, gossip sites, and conspiracy hubs breathlessly report her predictions each year, translated into dozens of languages.With that kind of success rate, no wonder she earned the title of “Nostradamus of the Balkans.”
The real secret to picking an oracle is to ensure that nobody can ever verify the predictions made.
Nostradamus retains his allure as a crystal ball for the ages because his seminal work, Les Prophéties, is so coded and euphemistic that it may as well have been written in a pidgin language of French, Greek, and Latin. (In fact, it was.)
Nostradamus’ skill was in his inscrutability. His prophecies are only prophetic when they've been passed through the filter of hindsight. You need to fit the misshapen stanzas of his book into the round hole of reality, shaving off the oblong edges, in order to understand his clairvoyance.
Vanga’s trick is an even more ingenious one: She made most of these incredible, fantastic, inexplicable predictions after she died.
Or, rather, other people did for her.
“Vanga lost her sight when she was 12,” Pravda Online reported in 2006. “She was swept away by a mighty tornado. Later she was found alive, covered with dirt and stones, with sand in her eyes. She became blind as a result.” That’s a common bit of background, but others say she was born blind. Others say she was attacked by soldiers. But everyone can agree: She was blind.
Baba Vanga — “Baba” being Bulgarian for “grandmother” — was not entirely literate. Her predictions were often made as she entertained guests in her kitchen, or in meetings with various journalists, researchers, and state officials. She made the occasion television appearance before her death, but the majority of her predictions were published by others.
We know from our intrepid American paranormal-chasers that her repute certainly goes back to the 1960s. There were documentaries made in Bulgaria, newspaper articles written in Moscow, magazine features published in Yugoslavia, a BBC Radio 4 programme about “Bulgaria’s living saint, the faith healer Baba Vanga,” and a New York Times dispatch about the church she opened. She was a local celebrity, a regional curiosity, and an international oddity.
Arguably the most authoritative text about Vanga from the 20th century comes from her niece, Krassimira Stoyanova.
The book, The Truth About Vanga, was published in 1989. (I seem to have tracked down a 1997 edition.) It incorporates conversations that Stoyanova, apparently, had with her aunt dating back more than a decade. The quotes from Vanya are long and detailed.
“Is there still a mind in the Universe that has reached the same stage of development as the mind of our civilization?” Stoyanova asks her aunt. Vanya doesn’t answer. ”Tell me, aunt, will there ever be a meeting with representatives of other civilizations?” Vanya answers: “Yes.” Stoyanova asks: “Are those extraterrestrial ships really visiting the Earth, which are called so primitively ‘flying saucers’?” Her aunt responds: “Yes.” Finally, asking an open-ended question, she prompts: “Where do they come from?” And receives the response: “From the planet, which in the language of its inhabitants, is called Vamphim. This unusual word I hear — Vamphim. This planet is the third from Earth.”
The book isn’t terribly interesting if you’re hunting for world-altering prophecies. In 1939 she, apparently, warned: “A war will begin in a year.” You didn’t need to be clairvoyant to know that. Apart from that, it was a lot of low-stakes predictions about individuals in her part of Bulgaria.
There’s only one mention, that I can find, of Vanga wading into politics.
“I see two presidents Kirsans,” she apparently foresaw. That seemed to refer to Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, who spent more than a decade as president of the state of Kalmykia. And who also happened to be a frequent guest of her’s. Ilyumzhinov was later elected to a second presidency — head of the International Chess Federation. So, there ya go.
But, of course, anyone caught capturing the imagination of the masses is a valuable asset.
When Ostrander and Schroeder visited Sofia, they meet up with someone who becomes a bit of a recurring character in the story of Vanya: Georgi Lozanov.
Lozanov was the creator of suggestology and, apparently, possessor of some limited skills in telepathy. (I told you we’d come back to this.)
While he was "famous not only in Bulgaria but also throughout the Communist bloc countries for his discoveries about the supernormal powers of the mind,” he was relatively unknown outside of the USSR until the Americans’ 1970 book. Lozanov would become a respected academic in the field of “para-psychology.” He perfected a kind of waking hypnosis that could bend others to your will. (While it was a blend of quackery and modern advertising, the Pentagon was certainly worried about it.)
The Communists seemed to see some use in Lozanov. He, in turn, had leveraged his status at the university to organize a proper study of Vanga’s impressive powers. He had marshalled the power of the Soviet republic to legitimize this prophetic power. Or, as Stoyanova puts it, Lozanov “discovered and introduced Vanga to the world, putting the study of her phenomenon on a scientific basis.”
In fact, according to her niece, Vanga was “declared a civil servant and enrolled in the staff of the Institute of Suggestology.”
Around this time, Vanga also garnered the attention of Lyudmila Zhivkova, a senior Communist official and daughter of Bulgarian leader Todor Zhivkov.
When Zhivkova showed up to Vanga’s place, she demanded privacy with the seer. She would whip out a tape recorder and begin badgering Vanya for predictions, Stoynova recounted in an interview years later. “She was also told that in order to fulfill her mission, she would have to become a clairvoyant,” the niece recalled. “She just put up with it. What choice did she have? Could she tell the leader's daughter, ‘come on, get out of here’?”
It was with Zhivkova that Vanga made some of her most famous predictions.
“Everything will melt like ice; only one will remain intact — the glory of Vladimir, the glory of Russia,” Vanga supposedly said, according to Valentin Sidorov, a Soviet poet and associate of Zhivkova. Both the poet and the Communist official were both fond of yoga, eastern spirituality, and using culture to promote the Soviet cause.
Sidorov would keep meeting with Vanga after Zhivkova’s death in 1981. He reported that Vanga predicted the unlikely victory of Indian Prime Minister Indira Ghandi, and that “her stay in power will be interrupted by death.” (He didn’t bother to tell Ghandi that fortune when it may have helped her, it seems.)
He would publish a lot of these nationalist predictions in 1992, under the title “Ludmila and Vengelia.” In the book, Vanga promised “old Russia will return,” and Bulgaria would rejoin the union.
As the former Eastern Bloc tried to figure out what the future looked like, many were quick to leverage the idea of a woman who could help them cut through the fog.
Political parties, contesting real elections for the first time in the early 1990s, would intone that Vanga had predicted their success. The elderly woman would go on TV and repudiate the politicking, and would make vague, sweeping predictions, like: “A new man will come to power and lead.” (Apparently she meant “a man from another world” according to one of her scientific minders.)
Decades later, long after her death, the Russian tabloid Komsomolskaya Pravda would investigate Vanga’s story and make a rather shocking allegation.
When it became necessary to tell someone something, “Vanga can help,” said a former KGB operative, speaking to the tabloid. “This is not to say that Vanga worked for the KGB, but her assistants collaborated with us. They attended Vanga’s meetings with politicians, influential people in the world, and from them, our agents received the necessary information.” The KGB “contributed in every possible way” to building the legend of these figures, he said, and said there was a particular Bulgarian journalist to whom the security service promoted Vanga.
It did seem that some of her predictions fit in nicely with Soviet policy at the time, like the prediction that the USSR would invade Chile, just as relations between the two countries were at their most acrimonious.
“Huge funds were allocated for the study of psychics,” the former KGB lieutenant colonel said.
Is all that true? Who knows.
Whatever collaboration she had with the state when she was alive, she certainly became a useful tool after her death.
Vanga died in 1996. That only made it easier to attribute prophecies to her.
One of her most famous: “Kursk will go under water,” she warned. “And the whole world will mourn it.” (This is a rough English translation of a Russian translation of an, ostensibly, Bulgarian quote, as many quotes in this newsletter will be. So forgive any fuzzy language.)
Kursk is a mid-sized city in Western Russia, more than 500 kilometers North of both the Dniper River and the Black Sea, its nearest bodies of water — so, pretty landlocked. That made her prophecy, if she ever really said it, pretty unlikely.
But then, in August 2000, four years after her death, the Russian navy launched a major training mission in the Barents Sea. Post-Soviet Russia had been so broke that some of its newest submarines had barely left the drydock. But this was a new millennium and newly-installed President Vladimir Putin wanted a flashy military exercise. So he sent a flotilla of vessels into the sea to show that Russia was back.
The Kursk, constructed just before the USSR dissolved, was considered an unsinkable sub. Then it sank. All 118 men aboard died, as Russian officials ignored the crisis. Putin initially opted to remain on vacation in Sochi.
When the families of the sailors protested, demanding answers, they were literally drugged and dragged away.
The disaster scarred Russia. There is good reason to believe that Putin’s hold on power was greatly weakened by the ordeal. Not only had he botched the largest naval exercise since his country’s humiliating defeat in the Cold War, but he left 118 men to lay dead on the sea floor and cowed their families into silence.
So when Baba Vanga’s prophetic warning arose — not about the city, it turned out, but about the sub — she gained a mythical standing.
Nevermind that there is zero evidence of such a prediction being made prior to her death. From then on, any prediction she had made — or any prediction she was said to have made — were treated as gospel. Sure, she had apparently foretold a stinging disaster for Putin, but she had also seen with her mind’s eye a great Vladimir who would rebuild the empire.
The terror attacks of 9/11 brought a whole new anxiety came into style. Fortune tellers were a hot commodity. Luckily, she had seen America’s tragedy, too.
“American brothers will fall,” she reportedly said. Hit by “steel birds.” While she supposedly made that prediction in 1989, trying to source any of her prophecies at this point becomes impossible. So they started coming in hot and fast.
“Crimea will tear off from one coast and grow to another,” was one. Another warned "Muslims will invade Europe.” Some suggested that she foresaw trouble in Donbas. Others say she predicted that Vladimir Putin would become “lord of the world.” She also reportedly believed that Europe would be decimated by a nuclear bomb in World War III, which was scheduled to kick off around 2014.
Vanga, who didn’t even speak Russian, certainly found a nationalist fervour after her death — just as Vladimir Putin needed a win.
Plug Vanga’s name into Google and you will be genuinely surprised by the number of hits.
“We should have listened to this blind old Bulgarian lady about ISIS,” The New York Post, care of an Australian news outlet, proclaimed in 2015. Yahoo ran a story showcasing her 2016 predictions — including that Barack Obama would be the last U.S. President and that “Muslims will invade Europe.” The Mirror considerably kept adding to her résumé in 2019, claiming she had predicted 9/11 and Brexit. For 2020, she only foresaw tsunamis and earthquakes — missed a big one, Baba. The Toronto Sun said she predicted Vladimir Putin’s rise. “King Charles III could ‘rule forever’: predicts psychic Baba Vanga,” The Daily Star wrote earlier this year.
The Russian press is even more bullish. One news site suggested she envisioned war with Poland for 2023. Another said Vanga predicted Bulgaria and Belarus rejoining Russia. Others, citing “recently decrypted” prophecies saw Russia’s war in Ukraine could go on for seven years, but that the U.S. and Europe will be destroyed by natural disaster in the meantime. Apparently Vanga also foresaw Ukraine’s president: “Beautiful, talkative — everyone will like it. Everyone will clap, and he will bring the country to poverty.”
Even Komsomolskaya Pravda, the tabloid that outed Vanga as a KGB asset, has put aside their skepticism and got in on it. In February they claimed Vanga predicted Ukraine rejoining Russia. In September, they said she foresaw a near future where Russia normalize relations with Europe.
Few outlets have ever bothered to do much journalism on Vanga’s wild predictions.
Someone did, bless them, track down Boris Yeltsin before his death to ask if he really did visit Vanga to have his future foretold.
“No, it's just talk,” he said, according to Komsomolskaya Pravda. “I did not meet with Vanga.” While Yeltsin says he was told about a supposed prophecy from the seer, that he will rise to power, but concluded it was “by and large nonsense.” Vanga supposedly forecasted his victory in the Summer of 1991, which isn’t all that impressive considering Yeltsin won with a 40 point margin that June. (Yeltsin, according to that KGB lieutenant colonel, aggressively funded studies of the supernatural after taking office, the KGB rigging tests, where needed, to prove their subjects’ powers.)
In 2012, Max Fisher at the Washington Post had a good run at all the ludicrous things we keep publishing about this woman’s supposed gift. An Australian outlet castigated their competitions for finding an excuse to blame Muslims for starting a war they hadn’t yet started. Around the same time, VICE dissected the totally crackers list of natural disasters Vanga supposedly predicted for the future — a list that seems to come from baba-vanga.com, which also informs us that “the earth is hollow, and within live beings of a superior race.” So.
Yet here we are in 2022, and we’re still getting these year-end lists from a long-dead Bulgarian physic.
The Daily Mail says 2023 will feature “huge solar storm to bioweapons.” A cross-post on MSN says Vanga warned of a “nuclear explosion.” The Daily Star: “Alien attack and nuclear blackmail.” The History Network: “A change in Earth’s orbit.” The Economic Times: “Lab babies.” The Sun: “Solar tsunami.”
This all comes from a list — which, yes, predicts “the trajectory of our planet will adjust marginally” in 2023 — which is not even sourced in any way. We’re not even listening to a supposed oracle, we’re running with a likely forgery of an oracle’s predictions.
Now, I know what you’re thinking: What’s the harm in some stupid, fluffy year-end content?
The simple answer is: There shouldn’t be any. Look at me, spending a full day researching this mystic to avoid having to write about actual news! I can’t throw stones.
But news outlets should only get to have desert once they’ve finished their dinner.
Over the past two years, outlets like The Daily Mail and Toronto Sun have run absolute bullshit. They have made alarming declarations that COVID-19 is a bioweapon. They have ratcheted up the fear of nuclear war. They have warned of a: “Terrifying 'artificial womb facility' where parents can pick their baby's traits.”
Much like Vanga’s wild theories, these news outlets aren’t terribly interested in whether or not the story is true. That artificial womb facility — seeming proof of Vanga’s “lab baby” prophecy — is totally fake. The newspapers were duped.
Just look at Russia, where Vanga’s legacy is being weaponized by a state that desperately needs to tricking its population into thinking that there is a plan — or, at the very least, a destiny — that returns Russia to greatness. Otherwise, they’ll be left to face the fact that they’re being led by a murderous dictator.
Trust in the news is at an all-time low. Trust in reality is plummeting. The weaponization of mysticism and belief is proving terrifyingly effective.
So maybe it’s time our newspapers stop publishing these made-up predictions, and let Baba Vanga’s legacy fade away.
That’s it for this week.
I can, as I’m sure you can tell, become quite obsessed with Baba Vanga. She’s everything: A fabulist, a conspiracy theory, an misinformation operation, fake news, a myth. I still can’t tell if she was a grifter, whether she got grifted, or whether she was long dead when the grift really began — it’s all three, I think.
I would appreciate the hell out of it if you would share this post on Twitter on my behalf — and anywhere else you’d care to — because I remain locked out of my account for hurting the Boss Baby’s feelings.
This post is unlocked for everyone, but starting next year I’ll be more regularly rolling out content just for paying subscribers.
In the new year, my ambition is to create a Bug-eyed and Shameless podcast. I can’t promise it will be frequent, but I want to report out stories, like that of Baba Vanga, for your ears. If you like the idea of that, subscribe now — the more of my income comes via this newsletter, the more time I can devote to it.
If you’ve got an idea for a choice figure for a deep dive podcast episode, drop it in the comments or the chat.
I shall do another Remedial Reading early in the new year, but I’ve got a few podcast recommendations in the interim.
For those of you who haven’t listened to Jill Lepore’s The Last Archive, go do so. It speaks to history the way that I strive to speak to misinformation.
I’ve only just finished Rachel Maddow’s Ultra. Anything MSNBC generally makes me break into hives, but I can’t stress enough how much this podcast is a work of historical investigative journalism. If you listened to The Flamethrowers, you will recognize some characters. Throughout the series, I was kicking myself: Furious that I hadn’t found what Maddow had found. It’s a brilliant, and horrifyingly relevant, piece of journalism.
If you want to learn a little more about Vladimir Putin — how he got to where he is, how he operates, what makes him tick — I strongly recommend the BBC’s Putin. It tells his story through the people who have known him longest.