It’s been said that no one is a prophet in their own land, but the man history knows as Nostradamus would definitely be the exception to that rule.
Famous in his own country — and in his own lifetime — Nostradamus would come to be one of the most popular non-Biblical prophets in the history of the world. That holds true even today, centuries after his death.
Who Is Nostradamus?
Nostradamus was a French astrologer, physician, and reputed seer. Countless books interpreting his predictions have been produced, as well as documentaries and even TV shows like The Nostradamus Effect, which developed a cult following of its own by constantly promoting the man’s doomsday prophecies.
But Nostradamus himself rejected the idea that he was any kind of prophet. In fact, had the word been in use during his lifetime, he would’ve been regarded as — and probably considered himself — a scientist.
When Was Nostradamus Born?
Born in the south of France in 1503, Michel de Nostradame was the son of a prosperous and historically Jewish family. That prosperity wouldn’t have existed at all had Michel’s grandfather not bowed to the antisemitic pressures of the age. For Jewish families living in that part of France at that time in history, the choice given by the Christian ruling class was either to see everything they owned confiscated by the state — or to convert to Christianity.
Was Nostradamus a Christian?
Nostradamus’ paternal grandfather chose to convert, and to change the family name from Gassonet to de Nostredame, a Christian reference to the Virgin Mary (and typically spelled today as “Notre Dame,” which means “Our Lady.”) The Latinization of this name, it almost goes without saying, was Nostradamus.
There’s not a lot of evidence, however, to suggest that Nostradamus was a particularly observant or devout Christian. He was even accused of heresy in the 1530s for making a few critical comments about the church. Still, in his will he did declare himself to be true and faithful to Christianity and even made bequests to some religious orders.
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Was Nostradamus a Scientist?
In the 16th century, Nostradamus would likely have been considered a scientist because the distinction between science, astrology, and mysticism was not as clear as it is today. However, he would probably not be classified as a scientist by today's standards.
Nostradamus and Folk Medicine
Growing up, the young Michel studied at the knee of his maternal great-grandfather, a learned man and physician, who taught his great-grandson many disciplines, one of which was almost certainly astrology. As an adult, Michel would first establish himself as an apothecary — a kind of Renaissance pharmacist who dispensed folk medications of varying levels of efficacy.
Nostradamus the Physician
Eventually, the man we would know as Nostradamus became a physician. In the 16th century, physicians in training were required to study a variety of subjects, including astrology. While today regarded as a pseudoscience, adherents to the practice then (and now) believed that the stars and planets influenced human affairs, including personal health. Thus, the ability to calculate astrological charts and horoscopes at that time was considered an important tool to aid doctors in the diagnosis and treatment of their patients.
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While Nostradamus would ply his medical learning in order to help combat outbreaks of the plague — a particular public health crisis of the age — he would come to lean ever more heavily into astrology and begin to publish almanacs, which predicted meteorological and celestial events for the coming year. History records that Nostradamus published his first almanac in 1549, where he not only predicted the weather for the coming year but also other future events. He would go on to publish an almanac every year until his death.
Nostradamus’ almanacs were popular and influential. Although he had rivals who regarded him as a hack when it came to astrological calculations, his prognostications were evidently considered accurate enough that he attracted a significant following, even among the great and powerful people of the age.
But Nostradamus was not content to confine his predictions to an almanac. In 1555, he produced the first edition of the work that would make him famous across the centuries and around the world. This was Les Prophéties or The Prophecies. Written as a series of poetic quatrains (stanzas of four lines each), Nostradamus organized his predictions into 10 groups of 100 quatrains (give or take). These groupings are known as “Centuries,” but the term only refers to the number of poems in each group, which do not correspond to actual centuries in the future.
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What Did Nostradamus Predict?
Depending on which source or translation you consult, Nostradamus predicted everything from the unexpected death of one of his patrons — King Henri II — to the Great Fire of London, the rise of Napoleon (and also Hitler), the dawn of the atomic age, the fall of the Twin Towers on September 11, the Third World War, and a great deal more both over the past few centuries and for centuries to come.
But Nostradamus, it must be said, never composed his prophecies in straightforward prose, preferring to write in verse and use lots of symbolism. Ostensibly this was to avoid offending powerful people of the time, who understandably didn't like to receive bad news and were only too willing to punish the messenger for it. But he also had to be wary of the church, which might have supposed he was getting his future visions through unholy means, rather than the “science” of astrology. So, it didn’t pay to be too explicit.
What Did Nostradamus Say about the Kalki Avatar?
Here’s just a sample of one of the quatrains:
The Eastern man will come down from his throne
and cross the Apennines into France
through sea and air
and will strike the evil ones with his sword
Nostradamian scholars claim that this verse, among others, is intended to predict the coming of Kalki, the 10th and final avatar or incarnation of the Hindu god Vishnu. Kalki is a kind of savior who will come to end bad times and punish the wicked, ushering in a new golden age for the world. But note that this particular prediction doesn’t even mention Kalki, Vishnu, or Hinduism. That's just how Nostradamus rolled, and it was up to the reader to interpret the perceived symbolism and references in the quatrain to make any determination about the prophecy's true meaning.
Like so many prophets before and after him, Nostradamus surely understood that one’s reputation as a prognosticator required maintaining plausible deniability — while still reserving the right to claim accuracy later. This depended upon creating prophecies that may include a mix of symbolism and metaphor, coupled with enough nebulous references that your predictions could retroactively be said (by yourself or your devotees) to apply to any number of events.
How Accurate Was Nostradamus?
The glib but honest answer is that the predictions of Nostradamus are as accurate as you want them to be. Just like astrological charts, psychic readings, fortune cookies, and other forms of foretelling and divination, the future is and always has been what the customer would like it to be. Nostradamus’ predictions are deliberately composed in such vague yet encompassing terms that the reader could interpret them any number of ways to suit their own biases and experiences.
And individual translators have brought a wide range of interpretations — as well as their own agendas — to the verses over the years. The fact is, no average person today has the access or ability to read the predictions in the original archaic French that Nostradamus used. This creates an incredible opportunity to interpret (or outright distort) the original verses to fit almost any notable world event — and then claim after the fact that Nostradamus predicted it.
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How Did Nostradamus Die?
Although his predictions offended rival astrologists and could have upset powerful people who might have wished him dead, Nostradamus didn’t meet his end in any suspicious or nefarious way. He died in 1566 at the age of 62, a completely respectable lifespan for a man in the 16th century.
He was known to suffer from gout for many years, and it’s entirely possible that this condition worsened to the point that it caused renal failure. Or he could have succumbed to any number of other conditions likely to have afflicted the elderly and infirm of the era.
No matter the cause, Nostradamus did seem to perceive that his end was near. One of his more celebrated predictions was of his own death, which he referred to in the text of his last almanac, at least a year before he actually expired.
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What Did Nostradamus Predict for 2023?
As the year winds down, it’s practically a seasonal tradition for tabloid newspapers and sensationalist media outlets to trot out the most intriguing and dire predictions from Nostradamus’ catalog. Among the many events forecasted for 2023, Nostradamus (or to be more precise, Nostradamus interpreters) predicted a great war, an economy so bad that humankind might resort to cannibalism, and … something … that could happen with or on Mars.
Modern interpreters like to think this could be related to some major discovery or occurrence on the Red Planet, but it could just as easily be that Nostradamus was making another symbolic reference to impending global conflict, as signified by mentioning Mars, the god of war.
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Nostradamus Predictions for 2024 and Beyond
For 2024, some alleged predictions include a great naval battle, possibly war with China, the dethroning of King Charles III, the rise of a new pope, and — a Nostradamus favorite — more famine and weather disasters.
In fact, Nostradamus thoughtfully left predictions for the world that evidently extend well into the 38th century. And while future prognostications are no more likely to be accurate than any of the others that he wrote in his lifetime, he certainly did stick the landing on some of his forecasts.
For example, in 1557, he wrote:
In life I am immortal, and in death even more so
After my death, my name will live on throughout the world.
Posterity would have to agree that Nostradamus got that prediction exactly right.
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