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Nostradamus (1503-1566) - true name Michel de Notredame or Nostredame


French physician and astrologer, whose prophecies have attracted the imagination for centuries – also the Nazis used his verses during WW II. Besides his famous Centuries Nostradamus published in 1550 an almanac containing weather predictions. The first edition of his quatrains appeared in 1672. With the approach of the end of the millenium, apocalyptic fears raisedespecially in the United States new interest in the writings of Edgar Cayce, Jean Dixon, Nostradamus, and other prophets of doom.

Sitting by night in my secret study,
Alone, resting upon the stool of brass,
A slight flame, going out of the solitude,
Makes me pronounce what is not to be believed vain.
The wand in hand, set in the middle of the branches,
From the wave I wet both the hem and the foot,
In fear I write, trembling in the sleeves,
Divine splendor: the Divine seated nearby.

(from Centuries, 1555-58)

Michel de Nostredame, better known as Nostradamus, was born in St. Rémy, Provence, into a well-educated Jewish family, who had acquired their property in the grain trade. His parents had converted to Catholicism, which made Nostradamus both familiar with the occult wisdom of the Kabbalah and the prophecies of the Bible. Michel was the eldest son; Bertrand, the second son passed into oblivion – they both were duly baptized. At home Michel was educated in Hebrew, Latin, Greek, astronomy and other sciences. The family of his mother, Renee de Saint- Remy, contained many physicians and men skilled in mathematics. Nostradamus attended the papal school in Avingnon and at the age of nineteen he was sent to study medicine at the University of Montpellier. There is no evidence that Nostradamus made acquaintance with Rabelais, registered as a student of the university at the same time. 

Like physicians at that time, Nostradamus did not make a clear distinction between alchemy and pharmacy – for his doctorate in Montpellier in 1529 he defended various unorthodox remedies which he had used. After taking his Doctor's degree he worked for some time as a professor, and practised later in Agen (where he met the famous scholar Jules-César Scaliger), Lyons, and other places in southern France. Nostradamus had specialized in the plague. In Agen he married; he had a son and a daughter, and led an idyllic life for three years, until he lost his wife and children in 1538 during an outbreak of pestilence. Since he could not save even his own family, his patients abandoned him.

Little is known of his wanderings in the following years. Possibly he learned to know some of the secrets of the magicians at one point of his life. The Toulouse Inquisition accused him of heresy, and he sought contact with all from whom he could learn more about medicine, from Lorraine to Sicily. Nostradamus's reliance on sanitary precautions aided his growing renown as a healer. After returning to France in 1544 he published Le livre d'Orus Apollo, a book of epigrams, which had nothing to do with "The Book of Orus Apollo" of the title.

Nostradamus' wandering ended when he married in 1547 Anne Ponsart Gemelle, a rich widow; they had  three sons and three daughters. With his family Nostradamus lived in Salon, near Aix, where he started to work on his famous astrological predictions Prophéties (Centuries, 1555-58). Nostradamus's astrological skills were amateurism: among others in his 1557 Almanach, Nostradamus had misplaced the sun at the vernal equinox. Laurens Videl, a doctor and astrologer, accused him of incompetence and giving astrology a bad name: "I pray the reader to reconsider his bad opinion of astrology, knowing that no malevolent spells have any relation nor anything in common with astrology, but are complete contrary, and are abominable, to the Christian religion . . . most people today believe that those who meddle in prediction, or make prognostics, are superstitious magic, which spurred me to write treatises to show that true astrologer do not meddle in such spells." ('A Protestant or Catholic superstition? Astrology and eschatology during the French Wars of Religion' by Luc Racaut, in Religion and Superstition in Reformation Europe, edited by Joseph Bergin and Helen Parish and William G. Naphy, 2002, p. 159)

Alone in his study Nostradamus used the power of scrying, or divination by concentration: a bowl of water on a tripod was the focus of his attention. While experimenting with alchemy, he perhaps used some narcotic herbs. The branches in the first quatrain refer indirectly, according to some interpretations, to Branchus, son of Apollo, the sun god patron of poetry and prophecy. Nostradamus said that the Centuries were written as a collection of prophetic quatrains with no chronological order, which has inspired his followers to arrange them.

The book, composed in rhymed four-line verses (quatrains) in an obscure mixture of French, Latin, Greek, and Provençal with the time-sequence all jumbled, contained 353 quatrains, which were arranged in 'Centuries' of a 100 verses. Nostradamus both copied St John's style and used orthodox Biblical chronology, which held that the world, created in 4004 BC, must last 6000 years until the final battle with Antichrist and the overthrowing of Babylon, leading to a New Age of peace and the Last Judgment.

In 1555 Nostradamus published a book on beauty creams, love potients, preserves, and Black Death preventives. This work also contained memoirs of his travels between 1536 and 1544. Paraphrase de C. Galen, sus l'Exortation de Menodote (1557) was an extremely free translation of Galen. François Buget said in Études sur Nostradamus (1860-63) that it was full of "offenses to grammar and common sense and the omissions breaking the chain of thought, of which the apparent aim is to repel the reader and make the author seem a madman".  (Nostradamus and His Prophecies by Edgar Leoni, 2013, p. 57)

Catherine de' Medici, Queen of France, invited Nostradamus in 1556 to court to explain a quatrain, which seemingly predicted the death of her husband, Henri II. In fact the wording of the verse was changed in later editions of the Centuries to fit the circumstances. At the court he developed horoscopes for the children of the Valois dynasty.  On the accession of Charles IX Nostradamus was appointed royal physician-in-ordinary.

"Here rest the bones of the illustrious Michael Nostradamus, alone of all mortals judged worthy to record with his almost divine pen, under the influence of the stars, the future events of the whole world. He lived 62 years, 6 months and 17 days. He died at Salon in the year 1566. Let not posterity disturb his rest. Anne Pons Gemelle wishes her husband true happiness." (from a marble slab set in a church in Salon de Provence)

Nostradamus died in Salon, on July 2, 1566. He was buried in a wall of the Church of the Cordeliers in Salon. In 1791 his grave was opened, and his bones were reburied in the Church of St. Laurent, also in Salon. Since his death, more than four hundred books and essays about his prophecies have been published. The Famous Swiss psychiatrist C.G. Jung alleged that  Nostradamus' prophecies, in which he believed wholeheartedly, foretold the rise of Hitler.

Nostradamus' students have not been unanimous about the date which he considered the very end of our planet – somewhere between A.D. 1999 and 7000. In one quatrain (Century X, No. 72) he wrote: "L'an mil neuf cens nonante neuf sept mois, / Du ciel viendra un grand Roy d'effrayeur: / Ressusciter le grand Roy d'Angoulmois. / Avant aprés Mars regner par bonheur." A number of translations have been made– some more faithful, some less – of these lines and published in different contexts. This anonymous translation was used by Robert Todd Carroll in The Skeptic's Dictionary (2003): "The year 1999 seven months / from the sky will come the Great King of Terror; / To resuscitate the great king of the Mongols / Before and after Mars reigns by good luck." (Ibid., p. 260) Sceptics consider them to be mainly gibberish. Another version of the prophecy appeared in an article by Everett F. Bleilier The Washington Post in 1999 "The year one thousand nine ninety-nine seven month / From the sky shall come a great King of terror, / [Shall be] revived the great King of Angoulmois. / Before and after, Mars [shall] reign as chance will have it.." ('Nostradamus' by Everett F. Bleilier, in The Washington Post, September 12, 1999) ccording to Bleilier the quatrain "is probably based on a combination of millennial speculation and the anticipated total solar eclipse of Aug. 11, 1999 (July 29 in the Julian calendar), visible in Europe."Bleilier translated under the pseudonym Liberté LeVert the Prophéties in The Prophecies of Enigmas of Nostradamus (1979).

After 9/11 a rumor spread around, that Nostradamus had predicted it, but the quatrains referred to were either hoaxes or alterations of Centuries X, quatrain 72 or Centuries VI, quatrain 97. The end of Mayan calendar in December 2012 revitalized interest in Nostradamus, too, since the end of the world did not occur in 1999.

For further reading: The True Prophecies or Prognostications of Michael Nostradamus by Théophile de Garanciéres (1672); Les oracles de Michel de Nostradamus by Anatole Le Pelletier (1867); Michel de Nostredame, kaldet Nostradamus, en Undersögelse af hans Profetiers by Johannes E. Hohlenberg (1918); Opklaringen af Nostradamus Profetier by C.S. Billenstein (1920); Les Propheties de Nostradamus dévoilées by Dr. de Fontbrune (1937); Europas framtid enligt Nostradamus by G. Gustafsson (1956); Nostradamus: Life and Literature by Edgar Leoni (1961); Prophecies and Enigmas of Nostradamus, edited and translated by Liberté E. Levert [pseudonym of Everett F. Bleilier] (1979); Nostradamus: Unpublished Prophecies the Untold Story by Arthur Crockett (1983); Nostradamus 1: Countdown to Apocalypse by Jean-Charles de Fontbrune (1984); Nostradamus: Prophecies of Present Times by David Pitt-Francis (1985); The Mask of Nostradamus by James Randi (1990); Nostradamus: The End of Millenium by V.J. Hewitt (1991); Nostradamus: Predictions of World War III by Jack Manuelian (1996); Hamlyn History: Supernatural by Karen Farrington (1997); Nostradamus: The Complete Prophecies by John Hogue (1997); Nostradamus and the Millineum: What May Be Coming by Perry Kane (1999); Comet of Nostradamus: August 2004- Impact! by R. W. Welch (2000); The Essential Nostradamus: Literal Translation, Historical Commentary, and Biography by Richard Smoley (2008); Nostradamus, Bibliomancer: the Man, the Myth, the Truth by Peter Lemesurier (2010); Nostradamus: How an Obscure Renaissance Astrologer Became the Modern Prophet of Doom by Stephane Gerson (2012); Nostradamus: a Healer of Souls in the Renaissance by Denis Crouzet; translated by Mark Greengrass (2018) - Film: Nostradamus, dir. by Roger Christian (1994), starring Tcheky Karyo, Amanda Plummer, Julia Osmond, Assumpta Serna. Prophecies in films and literature: In the 1960 film version of H.G. Wells's novel The Time Machine (dir. by George Pal) civilization on Earth is destroyed in a nuclear war in 1966. Fred Hoyle's first novel Black Cloud (1957) postulates the arrival of a sentient cloud af gas from space in the 1960s. "Big Brother" controls the world in 1984 in George Orwell's novel 1984. The whole of Manhattan Island has become in 1997 a security prison surrounded by Police Force in John Carpenter's film Escape from New York (1981). Sam Beckett, a brilliant physicist, disappears into the past in 1995 via time machine in NBC's television series Quantum Leap (1989-93). A leathal virus wipes out 5 billion people in 1996 in Terry Gilliam's film Twelve Monkeys (1995). HAL 9000, the most advanced supercomputer is born, and guides four years later the spaceship Discovery to Jupiter in Arthur C. Clarke's novel 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968). In 1999 begins the colonization of Mars in Ray Bradbury's book The Martian Chronicles (1950). Roland Emmerich's film 2012 from 2099 was based on the idea, that the end of the Mayan calendar in Dec. 2012 means the end of time. Suomeksi ovat ilmestyneet mm. Pekka Ervastin teos Nostradamus ja Gagliostro (1961) ja Jean Jovalisten Nostradamus: aikamme profeetta (1981?). Liken kustantamana ilmestyi vuonna 2002 huolella toimitettu teos, Nostradamuksen ennustukset kommentaareineen, toim. Seppo Aalto & Veijo Minkkinen.

Selected works:

  • Orus Apollo, fils de Osiris, Roy de Aegipte, niliacque, 1545?
  • Traité des confitures et fardements, 1552
  • Les Prophéties de Me Michel Nostradamus, 1555-1567 (additional quatrains in 1557 and 1558, total 1040 plus eight posthumous verses; Rouen edition, 1649; Leyden edition, 1650)
    -  Nostradamus Sees All; Detailed Predictions Regarding America, Hitler, Mussolini, Franco, Pétain, Stalin, Churchill, the Jews, etc., 1944 (3d ed., rev. and enl., 1944)  / The Complete Prophecies of Nostradamus (translated, edited and interpreted by Henry C. Roberts, 1947) / The Prophecies of Nostradamus (translated, edited and introduced by Erika Cheetham, 1973) / Nostradamus and the Nineties: Prophecies of Nostradamus Pertaining to the 1990’s: Original French Texts with Parallel English Translations (compiled and interpreted by Robert Delacroix, 1993) / The Prophecies: A Dual-Language Edition with Parallel Text (translated with an introduction and notes by Richard Sieburth, historical introduction and supplementary material by Stéphane Gerson, 2012)
  • Excellent & moult utile opuscule à touts necessaie, 1555
  • Paraphrase de C. Galen, sus l'Exortation de Menodote, 1557 (translator)
  • Les vrayes centuries et propheties de maistre Michel Nostradamus, 1650
  • Les Prophéties de M. Michel Nostradamus, 1665 (published by Jean Balam)
  • Lettres inédites, 1983 (edited by Jean Dupèbe)

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