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Portrait of Nostradamus from Magicians, Martyrs, and Madmen

Michel de Nostredame (December 1503 – July 1566), usually Latinised as Nostradamus, was a French astrologer, apothecary, physician, and reputed syseer, who is best known for his book Les Prophéties (published in 1555), a collection of 942 poetic quatrains allegedly predicting future events.


He was born in 1503 to a Jewish family that later converted to Catholicism. By age 14, he was attending the University of Avignon; however, only a year into his studies, he was forced to leave when the university was closed due to the plague. After leaving the university, he traveled around France learning about herbal remedies and potions as an apothecary.

During this itinerant period, Nostradamus gained skill and knowledge as a healer but returned to academic life, entering the University of Montpellier. There are conflicting accounts of his career there—some sources say he was expelled for being an apothecary, while others suggest he received his license to practice medicine.

With his education, Nostradamus began promoting his new rose pill cure for the plague as a kind of patent medicine. In conjunction with the pill, Nostradamus stressed cleanliness and removal of contaminated bedding—a factor that likely accounted for any success of the medicine. The venture was modestly successful, allowing him to move to southwest France, start a business selling the pills, and provide faith healings to locals. While traveling in Italy to promote his enterprise, his wife and children contracted the plague and died. Although he eventually remarried and had more children, the devastating loss of his entire family weighed heavily on him. He gradually phased out the rose pills from his list of services.

Nostradamus began a new phase of his life, seeking out occult knowledge, believing he could unlock the secrets of eternal life by studying old alchemical manuscripts and books on kabbalistic magic. Through these studies, he discovered astrology and methods of divination. He combined the sum of his knowledge to provide a new kind of service that could heal and comfort simultaneously.


Title page of the 1568 French edition of Les Propheties

When he returned to France, Nostradamus devoted a daily period to meditation, locking himself away and seeking visions of the future by staring intently into bowls filled with water and herbs. He wrote his first almanac of visions in 1550, and it became a great success, inspiring him to write out more than six thousand prophecies. His collection of almanacs, titled The Prophecies, was a collection of predictions, written as short verses in cryptic code to avoid charges of heresy or allegations that he was casting horoscopes against the king.

Nostradamus created his predictions by merging multiple sources. For example, he looked at astrological charts and based future events on what had happened in the past during those same planetary conjunctions. He also mixed in Biblical predictions from both the Old and New Testaments. To these, he added hints of occult lore from manuscripts he studied in Italy and a dash of whatever insight he gained while meditating on these topics.

A typical prediction might read:

A great stench will come from Lausanne, but they will not know its origin, they will put out all people from distant places, fire seen in the sky, a foreign nation defeated.

Vague statements allowed the reader to fill in the blanks and interpret the cryptic prophecies however they wished. Nostradamus' predictions were especially accurate after the fact when a scholar might look back to see what had come true. The Prophecies have proven useless as an actual forward-looking method for divining the future.

Service to Catherine de Medici

His almanacs drew the attention of the upper echelons of French nobility. After providing some specific predictions to the Queen of France, Catherine de Medici, he was welcomed into the royal court and appointed to the post of Counselor and Physician-in-Ordinary to her son. All did not accept his presence in the court. Queen Catherine was an unpopular consort who was widely despised by the French people and treated with outright hostility by the noble class. Her reliance on a fortuneteller was viewed with suspicion, and rumors began to circulate that she participated in black magic rituals to seize power for herself.


In 1566, Nostradamus seemed to know the end was near. Less than a month before he died, he wrote out his will, leaving his substantial wealth in a trust for his wife and children. In the end, gout and edema ended his life and great works.


His predictions have lived far beyond his death, and even today, people seek to unlock their puzzles, hoping they can warn of disasters to come. Many believe his prophecies predicted the rise of Hitler, Napoleon's rule, the attacks of 9/11, and other disasters—despite no one being able to interpret the messages before these things occurred. Others believe his prophecies are vague, making them easy to bend to any interpretation after the event has already passed.

The prophecies retold and expanded by Nostradamus figured largely in popular culture in the 20th and 21st centuries. As well as being the subject of hundreds of books (both fiction and nonfiction), Nostradamus's life has been depicted in several films and videos, and his life and writings continue to be a subject of media interest.

In 1911, a French author known by the pen name "Madame de Maguelone" created an unusual divination deck called Tarot de la Reyne. This deck was based on some of the predictions of Nostradamus, but mainly focused on the rise and downfall of Catherine de Medici and her relationship with the seer.

The 1925 silent film Nostradamus by Italian director Mario Roncoroni was the first film to tell the story of Nostradamus' life.

In 2023, occultist Travis McHenry created a deck of oracle cards utilizing Nostradamus' prophecies called the True Oracle of Nostradamus.