From oracles to prophets, soothsayers to mystics, fortune-tellers to seers, for thousands of years people have claimed to be able to predict the future.
In Ancient Greece, The Oracle of Delphi was one of the most important shrines upon which the people relied. In Ancient Rome, Julius Caesar was famously warned by a soothsayer about the Ides of March. More recently, a Bulgarian mystic named Baba Vanga was said to have predicted everything from Stalin's death to the 9/11 attacks.
However, there is one seer who rises above the rest when it comes to notoriety both in their lifetime and beyond – Nostradamus. The French astrologer is believed by many to have foreseen pretty much every major historical event since the 16th century, ranging from the Great Fire of London to the assassination of JFK, and even the COVID pandemic.
Nostradamus wrote down nearly a thousand predictions in a book published in 1555 called Les Propheties (The Prophecies). This book garnered him such fame he ended up in the French royal court.
Whilst he seems to know a great deal about our lives, the intricate details of his life are less well-known. Here are nine facts about the world’s most famous psychic.
1. His name is Latinised
Although we know the famous mystic by just one name, he was actually born Michel de Nostredame in 1503. ‘Nostradamus’ is the Latin form of his name.
2. Nostradamus was expelled from medical school
During much of the 16th century, Medieval Europe was gripped by the Plague. In his early years, Nostradamus worked as an apothecary – an early pharmacist – treating many plague victims. However, he never went on to achieve any medical qualifications because his two stints at university ended before he could graduate. His time at the University of Avignon came to an end after just one year as the establishment was forced to close its doors due to the Plague.
A few years later, Nostradamus tried again to gain a doctorate in medicine, this time at the University of Montpellier. This venture was brought to an abrupt halt after Nostradamus was expelled. The university looked down upon the trade of an apothecary and when Nostradamus’ past came to light, it was curtains for his time at medical school.
3. His craft was forged from great loss
In the early 1530s, Nostradamus married and started a family. Tragically, they were all taken from him by the Plague just a couple of years later. Over the next few years, he travelled throughout Europe learning a variety of crafts and practices that led him away from medicine and more towards the occult. A decade later he married a rich widow with whom he had six children.
4. A bowl of water gave Nostradamus his powers
Nostradamus believed he could tap into paranormal psychic abilities with the help of water and a bowl. He used to spend hours at night in his study, meditating over a bowl of water mixed with special herbs. The concoction sent Nostradamus into a trance-like state. It was during these moments that the great seer experienced his prophetic visions.
5. Almanacs made Nostradamus famous
Starting in 1550, Nostradamus published an almanac every year until he died in 1566. Almanacs were very popular at the time, containing annual predictions and astronomical information which proved very useful for farmers and merchants.
Nostradamus used his almanacs to start documenting his visions. The success of these books encouraged him to write more and eventually compile the ginormous Les Propheties.
6. He created a recipe known as a ‘Love Jam’
Nostradamus also dipped into the culinary world and published a medical cookbook in 1555 entitled Traité des fardemens et confitures (Treatise on Make-Up and Jam). Along with a very popular remedy for the Plague, the book also included homemade concoctions to help clean your teeth, dye your hair blonde, and even improve your love life.
Known as the ‘Love Jam’, Nostradamus’s recipe required numerous ingredients including the blood of seven male sparrows, mandrake apples, and the eyelets from the arms of an octopus preserved and prepared in honey.
Nostradamus believed the Love Jam to be so potent that he wrote: ‘if a man were to have a little of it in his mouth, and while having it in his mouth kissed a woman, or a woman him, and expelled it with his saliva, putting some of it in the other's mouth, it would suddenly cause ... a burning of her heart to perform the love-act.’
7. Nostradamus never gave specific dates
One of the reasons Nostradamus’ predictions continue to entice fascination is because they were always vague, unspecific, and never included dates. This makes his prophecies incredibly malleable as they can be applied to several dramatic events throughout the centuries.
Nostradamus mostly wrote about disasters such as earthquakes, famine, disease, and war; topics that occurred a great deal during his lifetime and ones that repeat throughout the ages. Therefore, his vague writings are completely timeless.
He also wrote in quatrains (rhyming four-line verses) as well as in a multitude of different languages including Greek, Latin, and Medieval French. These all helped to keep the meanings behind each prophecy obscure and open to interpretation.
8. The Nazi’s used Nostradamus as propaganda
During WWII, the Nazis used one of Nostradamus's predictions to their advantage, interpreting one of his quatrains as foretelling the inevitable victory of Hitler’s Third Reich. Joseph Goebbels, the chief Nazi propagandist, had pamphlets printed detailing Nostradamus’ prediction and ordered them to be distributed to neutral countries to convince the local populations that a Nazi win was written in the stars.
The Allies even retaliated with Nostradamus propaganda of their own, dropping flyers over German-occupied territories stating how the great oracle had actually predicted the demise of Nazi Germany. Another classic example of how the words of Nostradamus can be interpreted to fit any agenda.
9. Nostradamus predicted his own death
The night before he died in 1566, Nostradamus was said to utter the words: ‘Tomorrow at sunrise I shall no longer be here’. The next morning, he was found dead beside his bed.