France's destiny was shaped by De Gaulle's personal astrologer

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The Independent Online

The man who guided France into the modern era, General Charles de Gaulle, consulted a personal astrologer throughout his political career before making important decisions.

The man who guided France into the modern era, General Charles de Gaulle, consulted a personal astrologer throughout his political career before making important decisions.

But unlike another French president, Francois Mitterrand - who enlisted the services of the professional astrologer Elizabeth Teissier, with whom his relationship was rumoured to have extended beyond the purely astrological - General de Gaulle turned to a fellow soldier, who broke his silence on the subject yesterday.

De Gaulle met Major Maurice Vasset when they were in Toulon soon after the leader of the Free French made his triumphant march down the Champs Élysees in August 1944. Major Vasset had studied astrology in Dakar while convalescing from an injury in 1940.

Mr Vasset, who had already prepared astrological charts for several French generals, was conducting the 9th division of the Infanterie Coloniale in a rendition of 'La Marseillaise' as De Gaulle inspected the troops. The General, who knew the soldier's reputation as an astrologer, shook his hand and an aide invited him to meet De Gaulle at the local town hall. Vasset presented him with his astrological chart and De Gaulle pocketed it, saying simply: "Merci Vasset."

This brief encounter laid the foundations for a professional relationship that lasted 25 years until De Gaulle's resignation in 1969 after the loss of his disastrous referendum on regional government and senate reform - a poll Major Vasset strongly advised against.

The major, now 85, is too discreet to reveal details of his consultations with the former president in an interview with the weekly news magazine Le Nouvel Observateur.

But he proudly recalls the day when - in the presence of Winston Churchill, who himself consulted the fortune-teller Barbara Harris, and General de Lattre de Tassigny, also a firm believer in the powers of astrology - De Gaulle scribbled on the back of an astrological chart: "Vasset, you are a good soldier but also a good astrologer."

Mr Vasset recalls that De Gaulle was hard-headed and could often be stubborn "De Gaulle was an authoritarian man, quite cold and very independent. Sometimes he took certain things which I had pointed out to him seriously. But after the crisis of May 68 when I went to the Élysees to advise him against holding a referendum which I saw he was going to lose, he did not want to believe me. He had already made up his mind and nothing could change it," he said.

Mr Vasset's revelations add credence to the view of many modern historians that De Gaulle decided to hold the referendum - knowing he would be defeated - as an act of political suicide that would allow him to retire from political life.

The news that political leaders have resorted to such measures often fuels concern about their competence to govern, but Mitterrand and De Gaulle were following an age-old French tradition in looking to the stars for answers to their most pressing problems.

From Napoleon's Josephine, whose astrologer Mlle Le Normand predicted she would be Empress, to Catherine de Medici who consulted the most famous astrologer of all - Nostradamus - the notoriously superstitious French have looked to the heavens for generations. Ten million French people still consult an astrologer each year.

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