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Nostradamus, (December 14, 1503July 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, the rise of Adolf Hitler, and the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center. Detractors, however, see such predictions as examples of vaticinium ex eventu, retroactive clairvoyance and selective thinking, which find non-existent patterns in ambiguous statements.

See Quatrains of Nostradamus for more detailed discussion.


Born in Saint Rmy 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 Provenal, 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.

It is also practically certain that Nostradamus consulted many other occult works during his life, including perhaps works lost to history. Near the end of his life, Nostradamus burned all the occult works in his library, and no one can say exactly what books were destroyed in this fire.

Nostradamus employed various techniques to enter the meditative state that he believed were 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 predicting 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.

The bulk of the quatrains deal with disasters of various sorts. The disasters include plagues, earthquakes, wars, floods, invasions, murders, droughts, battles and many other themes. Some quatrains cover these in over-all terms; others concern a single person or small group of persons. Some cover a single town, others several towns in several countries.

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" phrases are so ambiguous as to be meaningless. The fifth line was added by an anonymous Internet user, apparently since Nostradamus always wrote in quatrains. Nostradamus never actually referred to a "third big war".

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.

Referring to the election of George W. Bush as President of the United States.

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 popular culture


The television series Alias prominently features the character Milo Rambaldi, a fictional Nostradamus-like prophet. In the science fiction series First Wave, the protagonists use the quatrains of Nostradamus to fight back against an alien invasion.


Nostradamus is the title of several movies, including:


In 2005, Dutch band Kayak released a rock opera called Nostradamus - Fate of Man. English singer/songwriter Al Stewart wrote a song called "Nostradamus", concerning the prophecies, for his 1973 album Past, Present, and Future.

See also

Further reading

External links

de:Nostradamus es:Nostradamus fr:Michel de Nostredame hr:Nostradamus he:נוסטרדמוס it:Nostradamus nl:Nostradamus ja:ノストラダムス pl:Nostradamus pt:Nostradamus ru:Нострадамус, Мишель sl:Nostradamus fi:Nostradamus sv:Nostradamus uk:Нострадамус zh:諾查丹馬斯


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