Nostradamus: The prophecies still cause controversy

If one is to trust Nostradamus's doomsday prophecies for humanity, there are still various disasters to come, because his twisted puns predict crises and disasters up to the year 3797.…

If one is to trust Nostradamus’s doomsday prophecies for humanity, there are still various disasters to come, because his twisted puns predict crises and disasters up to the year 3797. More than four centuries after his death, Nostradamus still amazes.

A dim flame flickered in a small attic room with a dormer window. On the table and on the floor were stacks of books on astrology, medicine and alchemy.

There was also a brass tripod, and in the midst of it all sat the late-bearded Michel de Notredame, writing his prophecies in ink.

This is how the French prophet described the situation himself. He stayed up late into the night and worked out his predictions based on many hours of observations of the positions of the planets in his cramped apartment in Salon-de-Provence in the south of France.

He used tricky word games to predict events more than two thousand years into the future and, among other things, put together the 942 four-hand stanzas that have guaranteed his name immortality.

These four-line short poems that make up his most famous work, The Prophecies, are said to have foretold everything from the death of Henry II in 1559 to the atomic bombing of Hiroshima in 1945 and the attacks on the Twin Towers, the World Trade Center in New York on September 11, 2001.

Who was Nostradamus?

Nostradamus was born in the Europe of the Black Death

This famous prophet was born on December 14, 1503 in Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, France and was named Michel de Notredame.


About 44 years later, Notredame became the Latin name Nostradamus, but in 1503 there was no indication that the newborn boy had a particularly bright future.


In the year he was born, Columbus crossed the Atlantic for the fourth time, and at the University of Erfurt in Germany, young Martin Luther passed his exams.


At the same time, the plague or black death swept through Europe and killed 75 million, without anyone being able to explain why. Superstition flourished and the Inquisition passed merciless sentences on heretics.


Not much is known about the life of the young Nostradamus, but it is certain that his father was a merchant of Jewish descent.


Anti-Semitism was widespread in the Middle Ages and people were quick to blame the great plague, the Black Death, on the Jews. In France, Judaism had been banned and Jews were persecuted there.


For the persecuted, there was something straightforward about saving life by converting to Christianity, and Nostradamus’s grandparents chose that path.


The boy Michel de Notredame went to school with his grandfather who was very interested in astrology.


Curiosity about the power of the planets must have started to sprout in the boy’s head right from these lessons and during walks with his grandfather through old Roman ruins nearby.


Jean-Aime de Chavigny, who was Nostradamus’s secretary during the last years of his life, said in a short biography of the prophet that his grandfather both gave him an “astrolabe”, a precursor to the sextant, to calculate the positions of the stars in the sky and inspired him to “celestial science “.


Wandering tail doctor

There are many indications that Nostradamus decided to follow in his grandfather’s footsteps at a young age.


Some historians believe that he enrolled at the University of Avignon at the age of 15 to study medicine, which in the 16th century was closely related to astrology, but was forced to abandon his studies when the university had to be closed due to the plague of 1520.


Others are of the opinion that he was not admitted until later.


But from his own notes it is known that at a young age he wandered the highways of southern Europe as a tail doctor.


“Having spent a large part of my youth … in the field of medicine and in learning to understand medicinal plants, I traveled through many countries in the years 1521-1529, constantly in search of understanding and knowledge of the sources and origins of plants and other medicinal plants.” Research up to the extreme limits of medical science,” he wrote.


Like many despised Jews of the Middle Ages, he wandered Europe with herbal and mineral extracts which, according to his own words, could cure ailments as diverse as hair loss, impotence and gallstones.


Graduated as a doctor

In the old records of the University of Montpellier, it can be seen that Nostradamus was enrolled in the Faculty of Medicine in 1529.


The doctor of tails had now arrived at a respectable educational institution, where the church’s ban on dissection was also not in force, but despite the natural scientific appearance of the university, superstition still had a large place in medicine.


Astrology was a definite focus of instruction, and many teachers believed that a particular zodiac sign ruled every part of the body.


Circles and star charts were considered no less important than knives and boiled water when suffering was to be alleviated.


It was therefore not considered news that doctors should also deal with divination or that Europeans should rely no less on horoscopes than on medical advice.


Exactly when Nostradamus finished his studies is not known.


Documents indicate that he was expelled from his studies, but he nevertheless received permission to practice medicine and now settled in Agen in the south of France, where he married and had two children.


But it wasn’t long before the plague broke out again and took this family from him. The loss of his wife and both young children was a tragedy that marked Nostradamus’s life forever.

The printing press spread the message

By the time Nostradamus had his first almanacs printed in the 1550s, Gutenberg’s printing press had been developed for about 100 years.

This invention had great significance regarding the influence of Nostradamus as his almanacs and horoscopes became available to a large number of readers.

Printing presses were still rare in Europe at this time, so the Prophet had to send his almanacs from his hometown of Salon to Lyon to have them published.

Nostradamus and the inventions

Invented pills against the plague

Nostradamus resumed traveling the highways, probably to fight the plague that had robbed him of his family.


He went to Narbonne, Toulouse, and Bordeaux, and everywhere he saw the Black Death creeping into people’s homes.


Markets were closed and church doors were locked. Death took its toll on the streets as men, women and children coughed up blood and groaned in their suffering. No one, not even Nostradamus himself, understood anything about how the plague infected people and spread, but the traveling doctor was determined to find a cure.


During his travels, he patiently collected rose buds, crushed them in his mortar along with carnations and daylilies.


This he mixed with sawdust and pressed together into small tablets which were sold as a magic cure against the dreaded plague.


“There is no medicine that protects better against the plague than this recipe.” Anyone who swallows the pill is protected,” he wrote.


In 1547, this experienced doctor married for the second time and settled in Salon-de-Provence.


Wrote a book about jams

In the south of France, Nostradamus really immersed himself in astrology. He calculated the position of the planets based on tables of the course of the celestial bodies and likewise how the planets would influence the course of events. Thus he predicted both solar and lunar eclipses, but also predicted happy and sad events.


From 1549 he collected his prophecies in a yearbook, an almanac, in which he predicted the most important events of the coming year.


He divided the almanac into an astrology section, a calendar for the year, and in the final section he published predictions that can be compared to the horoscopes that still appear in newspapers and magazines.


Although almanacs had previously been widespread, Nostradamus’ almanacs quickly became very popular.


The superstition was widespread in France and it was not long before the prophet’s name – Nostradamus – became known and respected.


The astrologer now also started writing books on other subjects. In 1552, for example, he published “Treatise on skin care products and jams,” where he published, among other things, recipes for perfumes and fruit pastes, based on experiences from his travels.


But Nostradamus believed that his abilities extended considerably further than making jam and the next year’s weather.


By comparing the positions of planets in the past and in the future, he believed he could predict events up to the year 3797.

After her husband’s death, the queen appointed Nostradamus as court astrologer.

The queen sought the sage’s advice

Katarina Medici was a palace under superstition and was a great admirer of Nostradamus.

The French queen Catherine Medici had a great influence on Nostradamus’s fame when she made him a court prophet in 1559.

She was born in Florence, but married King Henry II of France on April 13, 1519, and became the mother of three subsequent kings of the country.

Unlike her husband, she was very interested in astrology and read Nostradamus’ almanac of 1555 with great interest, in which he wrote about the fate of the royal family, and then joined his rapidly growing fan base.

After Hinrik II died in 1559, the son of the royal couple was crowned king, but in fact Katarina ruled behind the scenes until her death in 1589.

Nostradamus and the prophecies

The verses can be interpreted in various ways

In May 1555, the prophet published the first volume of the work that still casts a mysterious glow on his name: “The Prophecies”.


In the book, 353 of a total of 942 prophecies appeared, which were formed as four-line stanzas or verses, where the sad outlines of droughts, famines, power-hungry rulers, floods and wars are drawn.


These verses were far from simple and clear. Nostradamus himself spoke of “fogs instead of clear prophecies.”


He intentionally omits to refer to specific years, and the prophecies are not in any chronological order either.


In the verses he switches without hesitation between French, Latin, Greek and the local language of the region. The verses can be seen as puns, a jumble of letters – for example he calls Paris Rapís – and sometimes he omits single words or even sentences.


These obscure prophecies have been interpreted and over-interpreted in countless ways. A good example is the demonstrable over-interpretation of this stanza: “Liberty will not return / A proud scoundrel will occupy / When the issue of the bridge is opened / The Republic of Venice will be shaken by Hister”.


The word Hister has been interpreted as Hitler and these events as a prophecy of Hitler’s expansion in Europe.


In the Middle Ages, however, the name Hister was used for the Danube – and the prophecy could therefore foretell the return of the Huns to Europe.


In his writings, Nostradamus also avoided precise wording that could have gotten him into trouble with the authorities or the Church.


Although the descriptions of his work in the dormer room might suggest the transcendental, he publicly claimed that his prophecies came directly from God.


If he fell into disfavor with the Catholic Church, it could have cost him his life. To further secure himself, Nostradamus dedicated his works to high-ranking people, including the French royal family.


Nowadays, historians see the vague wording as a clever and well-thought-out trick.


It is precisely the obscure puns that made it impossible to assess Nostradamus’s prophetic abilities or hold him accountable for forgeries.


The prophecies can best fit exactly to the context the reader prefers. However, today’s scientists agree that this French prophet was not gifted with any special abilities, but only used cryptic language.

942 prophecies of the publication “Spádómar” are preserved. The work was published in 1555-1558.

Nostradamus and the court

The shepherd made an invitation according to Nostradamus

Despite the very vague wording – or perhaps precisely because of it – accounts of Nostradamus’s almost uncanny, supernatural abilities spread rapidly in southern France.


It didn’t take long before the royal court became interested in this short and sturdy Jew who could see into the future.


In 1555, Nostradamus received an invitation from King Henry II, who now wanted to meet this 52-year-old doctor and invited him to the court in Paris.


The reason was that in his latest almanac, Nostradamus had warned of a threat to the king.


“The King needs to be careful and see that one or more people do not continue actions that I dare not describe,” he had written.


Nostradamus may have had every reason to worry on the 800 km journey he now undertook from Provence to Paris.


Henry II was known for his harshness towards heretics and the prophet feared that his head would fall off his trunk. But it didn’t happen that way.


Historians believe that the queen, Katarina Medici, who was very interested in astrology and supernatural events, fell for the seer’s skills. But the sources do not say anything about what the royal couple and the prophet talked about.


After returning from the capital, Nostradamus continued to write his prophecies. And since the royal couple themselves had sought advice from him, people from all walks of life knocked at his door and asked him to prophesy for them.


He was hired to draw horoscopes and also to advise on bountiful business opportunities. Even priests now turned to Nostradamus, although his predictions of the future were not exactly approved by the church.


However, the popularity of Nostradamus’ prophecies was somewhat mixed. Some of his customers complained of illegible handwriting and unclear wording.


It was not least other astrologers who themselves published almanacs who criticized him. They criticized him for careless calculations and over-interpreting the results.


Nostradamus predicted the king’s death

The “prophecies” spread in Europe and before 1560 they were translated, among other things, into Italian and English. And just when many thought Nostradamus had reached the height of his fame, one of his prophecies came true.


In 1559, King Henry II of France organized an expedition to celebrate his daughter’s wedding, and in the end he met a young captain, Count Gabriel of Montgomery.


Both of them were dressed in knight armor from head to toe and both had lions on their shields. They spurred their horses on and met at a great gallop in the middle of the field.


As their lances collided with the shields, the count’s lance had no choice but to break and pierce through the gold shield in front of the king’s face.


A chip from the lens hit the eye and another went into the throat. The chip in the eye went on to enter the brain and the king died ten days later.

“The young lion will defeat the old / On the battlefield in single combat / In a cage of gold he pierces his eyes / Two wounds at once, then he dies a terrible death”.
Nostradamus’ prophecy about the fate of Henry II.

The death of Henry II after the exile in 1559 cemented Nostradamus as a prophet.

Not least, Queen Catherine seemed to see a frighteningly accurate correlation between the accident and verse 35 of Nostradamus’ “Prophecies”.


“The young lion will defeat the old / On the battlefield in single combat / In a cage of gold he pierces his eyes / Two wounds at once, then he dies a terrible death”.


This verse had a great influence on the fame of Nostradamus after the king’s death. He was now in a completely special class as a prophet and his almanac was a hit among the convinced French and English.


Nostradamus appointed court astrologer

Ever since Queen Catherine first met Nostradamus, she had paid attention to his prophecies, and after the king’s death, her trust in the prophet was never shaken.


From the 1560s she appointed him as a royal court astrologer and adviser. Nostradamus himself was extremely proud of that title.


The shepherd turned to him when the royals needed fortune-telling or horoscopes.


Among other things, he clarified the position of the planets in 1564 for Archduke Rudolph of Austria and the son of King Maximilian of Rome.


This is the only horoscope of Nostradamus that has been preserved in one piece, and from the written work points, historians conclude that it took a full 14 months to complete.


When Nostradamus reached the age of 62, he felt death approaching and began to write a will.


His assets amounted to nearly 3,500 écus, which at current value could correspond to close to 100 million Icelandic ISK.


When he died on 2 July 1566, the manuscript of his almanac for the year 1567 was ready for printing.


The Nazis expected victory

But even death could not put an end to the popularity of Nostradamus and the ever-growing popularity of his prophecies. On the contrary.


The prophecies were printed again and again, and as obscure as the wording is, there has been no difficulty in finding parallels with numerous events in the centuries since.


In particular, it is during times of crisis or disaster that the Prophecies have been brought out and read once more.


In England, many were convinced that this French seer had warned of such momentous events as the execution of Charles I Stuart in 1649 and the Great Fire of London in 1666.


In the 20th century, Nostradamus’s popularity grew even more.


When the Nazi Minister of Propaganda, Jósep Göbbels, thought he saw that Nostradamus had predicted the grandeur of the Third Reich, he quickly had a propaganda pamphlet printed that indicated that the victory of the Nazis was written in the clouds.


The pamphlet was distributed widely in Europe and the British did not hesitate to reply.


They themselves began to ponder the prophecies attributed to Nostradamus. These prophecies revealed that the Frenchman had not predicted victory for the Third Reich – but an unequivocal German defeat.


The last time interest in the astrologer’s predictions took off was when the twin towers of the World Trade Center were razed to the ground on September 11, 2001.


And as so often before, the prophet’s verses were twisted, even falsified and finally interpreted into the context in a convincing way.


5 strange prophecies of Nostradamus

More than four centuries after Nostradamus’ death, his prophecies still raise questions. Apparently he predicted everything from the death of his king to Hitler’s invasion of Poland and the attack on the Twin Towers.


Ever since the death of Nostradamus in 1566, people have taken out his writings, the Prophecies, and read them carefully in times of crisis and after disasters, and in particular there are five prophecies that have attracted attention:

Nostradamus calculated the positions of the planets according to an old, Greek system.

1. The Great Fire of London (1666)

“The blood of the righteous will be required in London, burned by fireballs the old cathedral will fall,” says Nostradamus in verse 51. This prophecy was considered unequivocal proof of his ability to see when a fire attacked London and St. Paul’s Cathedral burned to the ground in 1666.


2. The Statue of Liberty erected (1886)

“The newly chosen guardian of the great vehicle / The bright flame will shine long / Be a lamp to this great region.” The prophecy seems to promise a bright future for the United States, as the Statue of Liberty raises its torch in New York.


3. Hitler attacks Poland (1939)

“Liberty will not return / A proud scoundrel will occupy / When the matter of the bridge is opened / The Republic of Venice will be shaken by Hister”. Hister was also the Latin name for the Danube.


4. End of the World (1999)

The end of the world has been predicted based on this verse and the special year:

“In 1999, seven months / From the sky comes a great king of terror / To bring the great king of the Mongols back to life / Before and after, Mars will rule.”


5. The terrorist attack of September 11 (2001)

“The sky will burn at 45 degrees / The fire is approaching the great city / Large scattered flames instantly spring up”. The prophecy seems to refer to either the position of New York very near the 45th parallel or the angle from which the second plane came when it hit the tower.

Read more about Nostradamus

John Hogue: Nostradamus: The Complete Prophecies , Thorsons, 1997

Erika Cheetham: The Final Prophecies of Nostradamus , Tarcher Perigee, 1989

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