"I had determined to go as far as declaring in abstruse and puzzling utterances the future causes of the "common advent," even those truly cogent ones that I have foreseen. Yet lest whatever human changes may be to come should scandalise delicate ears, the whole thing is written in nebulous form, rather than as a clear prophecy of any kind."
Michel de Nostredame, known today by all as Nostradamus, is a man who has grown infamous for his predictions about the future, almost always written in four-line stanzas structure known as "quatrains." The truth, however, is that he was an educated physician and author who was well respected during his time for his healing work and the success of his written almanacs. Never having actually predicted the end of the world, much of his work as a seer has been perverted by commercial companies in order to make a buck, but that doesn’t mean that the reality of his life wasn't remarkable. Read for 25 facts about the man behind the myth.
Due to the success of his work and almost celebrity-like status, Nostradamus influenced many people to dip their toes into end of times prophecies. Among these was none other than Christopher Columbus himself, who wrote an unpublished collection of prophecies because he was inspired by Nostradamus' work.
Nostradamus went to medical school but was never able to graduate, as he was expelled once it was discovered that he had previously worked as an apothecary, a profession which was banned from the University. His expulsion document is still kept in the records of the University of Montpellier today.
For much of his life, Nostradamus lived in fear that he would be persecuted by the infamous Inquisition for heresy, due to his work in the prophecy game. Fortunately, neither prophecy nor astrology were considered to be heresy at the time, so he never actually faced persecution. But given what we know about the Inquisition's methods, you can't blame the guy for being a little nervous.
Though he didn’t actually go into a mystical trance to get in the zone for writing his quatrains, Nostradamus would incubate himself and enter into a meditative state in order to see the visions he claimed inspired his prophecies.
Before his failed attempt to attend the University of Montpellier, Nostradamus attended the University of Avignon when he was only 15 years old. It didn't last, however, but he didn't leave because he was expelled. Rather, the school was forced to shut down due to the outbreak of the plague, and Nostradamus was left out to dry. On the bright side, this gave him the opportunity to travel the country, where he researched botany and herbal remedies.
The name of Nostredame—meaning “Our Lady”—was adopted by his grandfather in the 15th century when he converted from Judaism to Catholicism.
After his first wife died, Nostradamus eventually married a rich widow with whom he had six children. This financial freedom allowed him the time to write, and even invest. In 1556 the couple invested in the building of the Canal de Craponne, which was so successful that it still exists today.
Even though he moved towards the occult as a seer, Nostradamus remained a devout Roman Catholic and there is evidence that he was opposed to the Protestant Reformation.
With the trend of publishing almanacs growing popular, Nostradamus hopped on board the trend train and began writing them in 1550. It was at this point that he first Latinised his name of “Nostradame” to “Nostradamus.” We've heard of him today, so I guess the brand change worked.
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The very first almanac he wrote became hugely successful, and since he was not one to let a cash-cow go unmilked, he decided to write at least one almanac per year until his death, sometimes even writing up to three in a given year. In total, these almanacs had 6,338 different prophecies. I guess he was going for the "even a broken clock is right twice a day" method.
Following his success as an almanac writer, the nobility of Europe became aware of him and subsequently began writing to him for advice and horoscopes. This led him to the idea of a project where he would write 1,000 quatrains of undated prophecies. This project probably what he is best known for today.
In order to get around explaining himself and to muddy his meanings, Nostradamus decided to create words by combining different languages together and using his own style of syntax. The old "if no one understands it, it must be smart" strategy.
Nostradamus plagiarized most of his sources. The idea of plagiarism didn’t have as much negative connotation in the 16th century, so many authors would frequently paraphrase classical works in their own. The reason why he's credited with many of these prophecies is that he was the first author to translate them into the French language.
It's now suggested that in order to produce some of his prophecies, Nostradamus would take a history book, close his eyes and simply flip to a random page, lifting whatever struck him as a cue to something interesting. This technique is known as "bibliomancy" and is used in books that are believed to hold a truth in them. I'm guessing that in a magic school with wizards such as necromancers, geomancers and pyromancers, bibliomancers were the nerds.
In a shocking about-face, Nostradamus claimed that he burned his entire library of occult books in 1555. However, just because he said so doesn't make it so, and historians debate today whether or not the books were actually destroyed.
Nostradamus’s technique for allegedly predicting future events was to project past historical events into the future through the use of astrology. Even in his time this was highly disputed and other famous astrologers of his day disagreed with this idea of “comparative horoscopy.” And if people in the 16th century are saying you're a quack, you've got to be pretty out there.
Despite the fact the people continue to claim that Nostradamus accurately predicted events all over the world, even he would admit that couldn't possibly be the case; he once explicitly wrote to King Henri II that all of his prophetic writings were to be restricted to Europe, North Africa, and a small part of Asia Minor.
Adolf Hitler, along with Joseph Goebbels and Rudolf Hess, believed in some of Nostradamus’s quatrains and during World War II they had propaganda leaflets with fabricated Nostradamus quatrains dropped throughout France. These leaflets “predicted” France’s defeat. In response, the Allied powers decided to combat this propaganda drop with one of their own and dropped copies of the American film Nostradamus Says So.
A young Nostradamus was able to properly treat people suffering from the plague by simply maintaining cleanliness. It's hard to believe, but he was one of the first and only physicians of his time to preach about maintaining clean surroundings as opposed to focusing on methods like bloodletting with leeches. He also made sure to get rid of dead bodies properly, which was also not something people were actually doing with care at the time. Honestly, this alone is arguably more impressive than his predictions!
Given his work as a healer, it should come as no surprise that Nostradamus once published a medical cookbook. In the book, he provided detailed recipes for everything from plague remedies to hair-dye. He also included different jams, like his “love jam” made out of the blood of a sparrow, eyelets from octopus tentacles, and mandrake apples used in order aid the “love-act,” and a toothpaste made out of cuttlefish bones and the shells of sea-snails. I'll stick to Mastering the Art of French Cooking, thank you very much.
Aware of what he was doing, Nostradamus made sure to never say he was actually a prophet, insisting in several letters to people around him throughout his life that he was not “foolish enough to claim to be a prophet.” Good call there Nos.
Not limiting himself to prophecies, Nostradamus also worked as a healer while the black death swept across Europe. His work as an apothecary, while getting him booted from University, was actually his first claim to fame. However, he wasn't all "sanitary conditions" and "properly dispose of dead bodies"; he was also known for the creation of a “rose pill,” made of rose petals, which was meant to protect people against the plague (Spoiler alert, it didn't.)
Not much is known about Nostradamus' first wife, but it is known that the couple had two children. Unfortunately, as the plague was devastating Europe, she died along with the children, leaving Nostradamus alone.
Maybe it was the perfect confluence of the internet, television, and media news cycle that allowed it to spread like wildfire, but the claim that Nostradamus predicted the attack on the World Trade Center on September 11th, 2001 is completely fabricated.
When he was summoned to King Henry II’s court by his wife, the powerful Catherine de Medici, he originally thought that he heading to the gallows for his occult prophecies. However, to his surprise, things ended up going well for him, and after some years he was even named as a Counselor to the Queen and also the Physician-in-Ordinary to her son, King Charles IX, when he was young.
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