Nostradamus, (December 14, 1503 – July 1, 1566) born Michel de Nostredame, is one of the world's most famous authors of prophecies. He is most famous for his book Les Propheties, which consists of rhymed quatrains (4‑line poems) grouped into sets of 100, called Centuries.
Nostradamus enthusiasts have credited him with predicting an amazing number of events in world history, including the French Revolution, the atom bomb, and the rise of Adolf Hitler. Detractors, however, see such predictions as examples of retroactive clairvoyance and selective thinking, which find non-existent patterns in ambiguous statements.
Born in Saint Rémy de Provence in the south of France, he was the son of either a Jewish grain dealer or a prosperous notary. He was Jewish by birth, but since the authorities of Provence insisted that Jews either move or convert to Catholicism, his family outwardly converted and practiced the Roman Catholic faith. As a child, Nostradamus showed an aptitude for mathematics and astronomy/astrology. In fact, his teachers were upset by his defence of Copernicus and astronomy/astrology. He studied medicine at the University of Montpellier, and finished his baccalaureate exams in 1525. The plague soon disrupted his schooling and he traveled around France helping cure the sick with ideas that included a better diet, clean bedding, clean water and clean streets. It was while Nostradamus was traveling that he met and exchanged information with various underground Renaissance doctors, alchemists, Kabbalists and mystics — a practice he would continue throughout most of his life. He was also skilled as an apothecary, having created a "Rose pill" (apparently mostly a large dose of Vitamin C) which was widely believed to alleviate the plague. In 1529 he returned to Montpellier to receive his doctorate and then teach, but the conservative views of the university forced him once again to establish a medical practice and help cure the plague.
In 1534 he was invited by Julius-Cesar Scaliger, considered to be a leading Renaissance man, to come to Agen. There Nostradamus married a woman whose name is still in dispute, but who bore him two children. In 1537, however, his wife and children died, presumably from the plague. After their death he continued to travel, passing through France and Italy many times. On these travels he began to explore more mystical teachings, and it was during this time that rumors about his prophetic powers emerged.
He settled down in 1547 in Salon where he married a rich widow named Anne Ponsarde Gemelle and had six children - three daughters and three sons. He began to move away from medicine and towards the occult, at the same time opening a cosmetics business. He wrote an almanac in 1550, and was so encouraged by its success that he decided to write one yearly. He then began his project of writing 1,000 quatrains (four-line poems), which form the supposed prophecies for which he is famous today. Due to the scrutiny and pressure of the Inquisition, however, he devised a method of obscuring his meaning by using word games and a mixture of languages such as Provençal, Greek, Latin, Italian, Hebrew and Arabic.
The quatrains, written in a book titled "Les Propheties", received a mixed reaction when they were published. Some people thought Nostradamus was a servant of evil, a fake, or insane, while many of the elite thought his quatrains were spiritually inspired prophecies. Soon nobility came from all over to receive horoscopes and advice from him. Catherine de Medici, the queen consort of King Henry II of France, was one of Nostradamus' admirers. After reading "Les Propheties" she invited Nostradamus to the royal court in Paris to explain Century I, Quatrain 35 regarding her husband, as well as to draw up horoscopes for her royal children. After this meeting, Queen Catherine was a staunch supporter of Nostradamus and by the time of his death in 1566, she had made him Counselor and Physician in Ordinary.
By 1566 Nostradamus' gout, which had painfully plagued him for many years and made movement very difficult, finally turned into dropsy. One night in July, he made it known that he wished to spend his last night alone, and when his secretary Chavigny took his leave with an "Until tomorrow, Master?" Nostradamus replied to him, "You will not find me alive by sunrise." The next morning Chavigny led friends and family upstairs to the study (which had been converted into a bedroom) and found Nostradamus' body lying on the floor between the bed and a makeshift bench.
Biographical accounts of Nostradamus' life state that he was afraid of being persecuted for heresy by the Inquisition, as many of those who spoke or wrote anything not sanctioned by the church in those days were tortured or burned at the stake. It was for this reason, and also because he did not want anyone in the future to change them, that Nostradamus chose to cloak his prophecies.
Preparation and methods for prophecy
Nostradamus's medical studies included writings from Alberto Magnus, Paracelsus and Cornelius Agrippa. Paracelsus maintained that the soul must first be healed, that the source of disease was the mind, and he used astrology as a tool to "diagnose" how to treat the soul. Agrippa held the belief that man's "conscious" knowledge was useless, and that the societal conditioning to feel separate from existence/nature must be explored and released. The use of occult language in his prophecies suggest a familiarity with Hermetic magic, which has parallels with Tantra and Shaivite Hinduism. Nostradamus studied the Jewish Kabbalah, as well as astrology, which formed much of the basis of his predictive technique.
In Sicily, he connected with Sufi mystics and read "The Elixir of Blissfulness" by Sufi master al-Ghazzali, who stated that every seeker must pass through seven valleys or "dark nights of the soul" which included knowledge, repentance, stumbling blocks, tribulations, thunders, the abyss, and the valley of hymns and celebration. Nostradamus also appears to have studied "De Mysteriis Aegyptorum" (concerning the mysteries of Egypt), a book on Chaldean and Assyrian magic written by Iamblichus, a 4th‑century neo-Platonist.
Nostradamus employed various techniques to enter the meditative state necessary to access future probabilities. For entering a trance state (theta brain frequency), he attempted the ancient methods of flame gazing, water gazing or both simultaneously. He also seems to have used a technique of sitting on a brass tripod and gazing into a brass bowl filled with water and various oils and spices, which, according to an interpretation of C1 Q1, is to be referred to as Branchus, a divinity sometimes equated to Apollo, or an ancient seer by that name. In the Epistle to Henry II Nostradamus says "I emptied my soul, brain and heart of all care and attained a state of tranquility and stillness of mind which are prerequisites for predicting by means of the brass tripod."
Skeptics of Nostradamus state that his reputation as a prophet is largely manufactured by modern-day supporters who shoehorn his words into events that have either already occurred or are so imminent as to be inevitable, a process known as as "retroactive clairvoyance". No Nostradamus quatrain has been interpreted before a specific event occurs, beyond a very general level (e.g., a fire will occur, a war will start).
A good demonstration of this flexible predictng is to take lyrics written by modern songwriters (e.g., Bob Dylan) and show that they are equally "prophetic".
Some scholars believe that Nostradamus wrote not to be a prophet, but to comment on events that were happening in his own time, writing in his elusive way - using highly metaphorical and cryptic language - in order to avoid persecution. This is similar to the Preterite interpretation of the Book of Revelation; John the Apostle intended to write only about contemporary events, but over time his writings became seen as prophecies.
Examples of allegedly prophetic quatrains
Death of King Henry II
The prophecy that made Nostradamus famous in his own time was the quatrain allegedly predicting the death of King Henry II of France.
- CI, Q 35
- The young lion will overcome the older one,
- on the field of combat in single battle,
- He will pierce his eyes through a golden cage,
- Two wounds made one, then he dies a cruel death.
In 1559, despite having being warned against ritual combat by Luc Gauricus, King Henry proceeded to joust in a tournament celebrating his sister Marguerite's marriage to the Duke of Savoy, and his daughter Elizabeth's marriage to the King of Spain. Both King Henry and his younger jousting opponent the Comte de Montgomery had lions embossed on their shields. Because the bout ended in a draw, the king insisted on another joust, which resulted in Montgomery's lance splintering and piercing the king's visor. Multiple wounds to the face and throat caused the king to linger for ten days before dying. This prophecy was first published in 1555 — four years before the tournament and the king's death — far enough into the future to be considered prophetic, close enough in his own lifetime to receive validation and be taken seriously.
- C1, Q25
- The lost thing is found, hidden for so many centuries,
- Pasteur will be honored as a demigod: (in original French "Sera Pasteur demy Dieu honore:")
- This happens when the moon completes her great cycle,
- He will be dishonored by other winds.
Louis Pasteur was the scientist who discovered that germs contaminate our environment, and was held in high esteem by his contemporaries. Some believe that the word "Pasteur" is an attempt to name him, although French speakers will note that "Pasteur" translates directly as "Shepherd" in French. Nostradamus is said to have almost correctly dated the establishment of the Institut Pasteur - the last great lunar cycle in astrology is mentioned, which began in 1535 and ended in 1889, a year after the institute was created in 1888. It is not clear how the "dishonouring by other winds" line relates to Pasteur, though.
Charles de Gaulle
- C9, Q33
- Hercules King of Rome and of Annemark,
- Three [times] one surnamed de Gaulle will lead, (in original French "De Gaule trois Guion surnomme")
- Italy and the one of St Mark to tremble,
- First monarch, renowned above all.
Charles de Gaulle was a leader of France three times — first as leader of the Free French forces, then as the leader of the provisional post‑WWII government, then as the first president of the French Fifth Republic. It is not clear, however, in what way "Hercules", "Italy" and "St Mark" refer to de Gaulle.
- C2, Q24
- Beasts ferocious with hunger will cross the rivers,
- The greater part of the battlefield will be against Hister. (in original French "Plus part du champ encontre Hister sera.")
- Into a cage of iron will the great one be drawn,
- When the child of Germany observes nothing.
The name Hister is often believed to refer to Adolf Hitler, though Ister is the Greek name for the River Danube. The first line is interpreted as referring to battles fought across rivers, and the fourth line is said to refer to the attitude that the German youth were being indoctrinated with at the time, although there is little historical evidence to support this assertion. Critics point out that the word "Germania" actually refers to a region near the Danube River that is non-contiguous with modern Germany.
Pope John Paul I
- C10, Q32
- The one elected Pope will be mocked by his electors,
- this enterprising and prudent person will suddenly be reduced to silence.
- They cause him to die because of his too great goodness and mildness.
- Stricken by fear, they will lead him to his death in the night.
This quatrain is commonly interpreted as referring to Pope John Paul I and his mysterious death, although there is no reference to his name, nor anything which might single him out from any other "elected Pope".
Space Shuttle Challenger
- C1, Q81
- Nine will be set apart from the human flock,
- separated from judgement and counsel:
- Their fate to be determined on departure.
- Kappa, Theta, Lambda, dead, banished and scattered.
In 1986 the US space shuttle Challenger exploded 71 seconds after lift-off as a result of gas leakage from the left side solid rocket booster. There were only seven astronauts (not nine) that were killed. The final line of this quatrain, with the Greek letters, has been interpreted by some as an anagram: K, TH, L = Th(io)K(o)L = Thiokol. The Morton Thiokol corporation designed and built the faulty rocket boosters, yet neither NASA nor management officials took notice of doubts about the rocket booster design raised by junior engineers. No-one from Morton Thiokol died, was banished or was scattered as a result of this tragedy.
- C10, Q72
- In the year 1999 and seven months,
- a great King of Terror will come from the sky,
- he will bring back the great King Genghis Khan,
- before and after Mars rules happily.
One of the most famous Nostradamus predictions was frequently interpreted as a prophecy that a great disaster or event would occur in July of the year 1999. Major news events during this month included office killings in Atlanta and the death of John F. Kennedy, Jr., neither of which involved a "King of Terror" coming from the sky. Genghis Khan was also absent from the news. Some supporters of Nostradamus believe that the year mentioned in this quatrain is not actually 1999, and the mentioned disaster is still yet to come, although it is not clear why they believe this.
9/11 and New York City
- C6, Q97
- At forty-five degrees, the sky will burn,
- Fire approaches the great new city,
- Immediately a huge, scattered flame leaps up,
- When they want to have verification from the Normans.
After the events of 9/11 happened, many supporters of Nostradamus recalled this quatrain. Supporters claim that the latitude of "forty-five" and the reference to the "new city" refers to New York City. Nostradamus seems to have his latitude wrong, because New York City is actually well below the 41st parallel. "Verification from the Normans" is interpreted in a variety of ways; "Normans" is commonly interpreted as either residents of North America, England, or France. Some Nostradamus supporters say that this quatrain actually refers to either the Great Chicago Fire and/or the Peshtigo forest fire, which occurred on the same night in 1871. Peshtigo is directly on the 45th parallel, and Chicago is not far to the south.
2004 Indian Ocean earthquake
- C9, Q55
- The horrible war which is being prepared in the West,
- The following year will come the pestilence
- So very horrible that young, old, nor beast [will survive]
- Blood, fire Mercury, Mars, Jupiter in France
If "horrible war" is construed to mean the Iraq War, this quatrain could refer to the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake and the subsequent devastating tsunami it caused; however skeptics point out that an earthquake and tsunami are not usually considered a pestilence. The distruction of sanitation and healthcare facilities could lead to epidemics in the affected areas; however these would not be anywhere near France.
The third antichrist
According to Nostradamus, there are going to be three antichrists in the future. The two of them have been interpreted as Napoleon and Hitler, who Nostradamus allegedly predicted. The third one is still to appear, and he is refered to as "Mabus" or "Alus".
Misquotes and hoaxes
Nostradamus' writings have frequently been misquoted and, in some instances, even deliberately altered in order to "prove" that he supposedly predicted various events. Since the advent of the Internet, many prophecies have even been fabricated outright, therefore enhancing the mystique of Nostradamus. For example, after the September 11 Terrorist Attacks, the following was circulated on the Internet along with many more elaborate variants:
- In the City of God there will be a great thunder,
- Two brothers torn apart by Chaos,
- while the fortress endures,
- the great leader will succumb,
- The third big war will begin when the big city is burning
As it turns out, the first four lines were indeed written before the attacks, but by a Canadian graduate student named Neil Marshall as part of a research paper in 1997. Ironically enough, the research paper included this poem as an illustrative example of how the validity of prophecies are often exaggerated. For example, the "City of God" (why is New York City the City of God?), "great thunder" (could apply to just about any disaster), "Two brothers" (lots of things come in pairs), and "the great leader will succumb" (succumb to what?) phrases are all so vague and ambiguous as to be meaningless. The fifth line was added by an anonymous Internet user (obviously, since Nostradamus always wrote in quatrains). Nostradamus never actually explicitly referred to a "third big war" anywhere in his quatrains.
Sometimes, though, the hoaxes are tongue-in-cheek:
- Come the millennium, month 12
- In the home of greatest power,
- The village idiot will come forth
- To be acclaimed the leader.
Obviously referring to the instatement of George W. Bush as President of the United States. Nowhere does anything like this appear in Nostradamus's writings, and it would be inconsistent with other quatrains because of the explicit reference to a very specific time (which occurs only once in a Nostradamus writing - see above).
Because the formal pattern of the quatrains is not difficult to imitate (at least superficially), it is not surprising that some quatrains claiming attribution to Nostradamus have turned out to be spurious. To verify the authenticity of a purported Nostradamus quatrain, compare the identifying number (e.g.: C1, Q25 means Century 1, Quatrain 25) against an authoritative version of Nostradamus' works — which will likely also contain the original old French. Even the Preface and the Epistle to Henry II have been assigned numbers (i.e., PF50, EP102).
Nostradamus in fiction
The television series Alias prominently features the character Milo Rambaldi, a fictional Nostradamus-like prophet.
Nostradamus is the title of several movies, including:
- Nostradamus (1937 movie)
- Nostradamus (1938 movie)
- Nostradamus (1994 movie)
- Nostradamus (2000 movie)
- Hogue, John. Nostradamus: A Life and Myth ISBN 0007140517
- Hogue, John. Nostradamus: The Complete Prophecies ISBN 1852309598
- Lemesurier, Peter. The Nostradamus Encyclopedia ISBN 0312199945
- Randi, James. The Mask of Nostradamus ISBN 0879758309
- Cannon, Dolores. Conversations With Nostradamus (Volume One) ISBN 1-886940-00-2
- Nostradamus and His Prophecies ISBN 048641468X