10 Facts About Nostradamus | History Hit

10 Facts About Nostradamus

Richard Bevan

16 Dec 2022
A portrait of Nostradamus by his son, Cesar, c. 1613
Image Credit: Public Domain

Born on 14 December 1503, in Provence, Nostradamus has been credited with predicting the entire world history since his death in 1566, to the present and beyond.

In the shocking aftermath of 9/11, the name most searched for on the internet was Nostradamus, possibly fuelled by a desperate need to find an explanation for the horrifying event.

The 16th-century astrologer, alchemist and seer’s reputation is based on the one thousand, four-line verses or ‘quatrains’ which herald many of the world’s most important and historical events from the execution of King Charles I to the Great Fire of London and the rise of Hitler and the Third Reich. His predictions also allegedly allude to the assassination of President John F. Kennedy and the dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima. 

Critics of Nostradamus’ prophecies point to their vague nature and ability to be interpreted to fit events that have already happened. Because Nostradamus never mentioned specific dates for his predictions some disbelievers say that important historical moments can be made to fit his prophetic verses. Here are 10 surprising facts about the world’s most famous fortune-teller of doom.

1. He started life as a shopkeeper

Before Nostradamus became the most famous soothsayer on the planet, his early life was mundane and conventional. He married in his early 20s and trained as a doctor before opening his own apothecary shop, the equivalent to today’s street pharmacy.

Nostradamus’ store offered a range of treatments for sick customers and provided herbal medicines, sweets and even the means to gamble by taking bets on the sex of an unborn child.

2. His first prophecies stemmed from grief

It has been said that the tragic death of Nostradamus’ wife and children to a plague outbreak in France was the catalyst that set the future scryer on the path to foretelling events.

During this harrowing time, grief-stricken Nostradamus began writing his predictions, setting out on a journey around Europe. For over a decade he absorbed what was then new ideas about the occult, from Jewish mysticism to astrological techniques.

When he returned to Provence, he published the first of his prophecies in 1555 and what became his greatest work, Les Propheties (The Prophecies), which was made up of 942 doom-laden predictions.

A copy of Garencières’ 1672 English translation of Nostradamus’ The Prophecies.

Image Credit: Public Domain

3. His fame spread via the printing press

Les Propheties was to make Nostradamus a famous name throughout the world largely due to the then modern invention of the printing press. Compared to his predecessors, who made predictions by word of mouth or through pamphlets, Nostradamus benefitted from the new printing technology where it was possible to produce printed books on a vast scale and disseminate them across Europe.

The printers of the time were keen to find best sellers and the subjects of astrology and prophecy were popular, making Nostradamus’ book one of the most widely read. What appealed to readers was his unique style where he wrote as if visions were coming straight from his mind, in a dark and foreboding poetic style.

4. He gained the patronage of Catherine de’ Medici

Catherine de’ Medici, the Italian Queen of France between 1547 and 1559, was superstitious and looking out for people who could show her the future. After reading Nostradamus’ work, she plucked him from obscurity and to fame and celebrity in Paris and the French court.

The queen was troubled by a particular quatrain that appeared to predict the death of her husband, King Henri II of France. It was to become the first time Nostradamus successfully predicted the future: he foresaw Henri’s death 3 years before it occurred.

The young King Henri died on 10 July 1559. He had been jousting when his opponent’s lance shattered through Henri’s helmet, piercing his eyes and throat. This tragic death aligned with Nostradamus’ uncannily accurate account, which had detailed the long painful death of the king.

Henry II of France, Catherine de’ Medici’s husband, by the studio of François Clouet, 1559.

Image Credit: Public domain

5. He feared accusations of witchcraft

Nostradamus’ Jewish background meant that in a time of increasing anti-Semitism by both the state and church in France he would have been aware of authorities watching his every move for committing ‘heresy’. 

Fearing accusations of practicing sorcery and witchcraft, which carried a punishment of death, may have led Nostradamus to write his predictions using codified language.

6. He also worked as a healer

As well as being known as a ‘diviner’, Nostradamus considered himself a professional healer who practiced somewhat dubious methods to treat plague victims, such as ‘bloodletting’ and cosmetic appliances.

None of these practices worked, which were listed by him in what was little more than a medical cookbook containing materials and ideas from others. Nor are any of his healing methods known to have cured victims of the plague.

7. He was accused of plagiarism

In the 16th century, authors frequently copied and paraphrased other works. Nostradamus used one book in particular, the Mirabilis Liber (1522), as a major source for his prophecies. The book, which contained 24 biblical quotations, had limited influence due to having been written in Latin.

Nostradamus paraphrased the prophecies and it is believed also used a bibliomancy to randomly select a book from history as inspiration for his own prophecies.

8. Hitler believed in Nostradamus’ prophecies

The Nazis were convinced that one of Nostradamus’ quatrains alluded not only to the rise of Hitler but also to the Nazi victory in France. Seeing the prophecy as a propaganda tool, the Nazis dropped pamphlets of it by plane over France with the aim of encouraging French citizens to flee to the south, away from Paris and allow an unobstructed entry by German troops.

9. He predicted the world would end in 1999

From the Great Fire of London to the dropping of the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, to JFK’s assassination in Dallas, Nostradamus is thought by his believers to have foretold every major world event from his time to ours.

In 1999 the French designer Paco Rabanne cancelled his Paris shows because he believed Nostradamus had prophesised the end of the world in July of that year. After stock markets dipped, they soon recovered, and the world continued. To date, no one has made concrete predictions of future events using Nostradamus’ book of prophecies.

Dan talks to Hirata San, a survivor of the Hiroshima attacks, and one of the few remaining survivors who speak English, about the Hiroshima bombing.
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10. His visions were aided by trances

Nostradamus believed that he was gifted with paranormal abilities to conjure visions of the future. Most shamans and ‘seers’ who claimed to have visions used techniques to trigger apparitions. Nostradamus had his own ‘triggers’ which involved going into a room where a bowl of dark water would induce him into a trance-like state as he looked into the water for lengthy periods.

With his knowledge of hallucinatory herbs, it is claimed by some that Nostradamus may have assisted his visions. Once he had his visions he would codify and interpret them through intuition and the mystical tradition of Kabbalah and astrology.

Richard Bevan