The Element Encyclopedia of Witchcraft: The Complete A-Z for the Entire Magical World - Judika Illes 2005
Nostradamus, Michel De (December 14, 1503— July 2, 1566)
Witchcraft Hall of Fame
The most famous prophet perhaps of all time, Nostradamus was also an astrologer, “celestial scientist,” herbalist, healer, and formulator of prized cosmetics and fruit preserves: his recipe for quince jelly won acclaim from the Papal Legate of Avignon.
Michel de Nostredame was born in Provence of Jewish ancestry. His maternal grandfather, Jean de Saint Remy was the astrologer/physician for Rene d’Anjou, Ruler of Provence. Under Rene d’Anjou, Provence was a haven for Jews; following the death of his heir, however, Provence reverted to the less-tolerant French crown; an Edict of September 26, 1501 gave Provençal Jews three months to convert or leave. The family converted before the birth of Nostradamus and his two brothers.
Michel was raised and schooled by his grandfathers, who taught him Greek, Hebrew, Latin, astrology, and Kabalah. At age 14, he studied liberal arts at the University of Avignon where his fellow students dubbed him “the little astrologer.”
Indeed, Michel wished to become an astrologer but his family feared that metaphysical interests combined with Jewish ancestry would make him a target for the Inquisition and advised a more circumspect career. So instead, Michel studied medicine at the acclaimed University of Montpelier.
Nostradamus earned tremendous renown as a healer, allegedly exhibiting great courage in the face of the Plague as well as creativity and resourcefulness, i.e., he was an unorthodox healer. His unconventional medical practices eventually brought him into conflict with the local medical authorities. Nostradamus resolutely opposed bleeding patients, then standard medical practice, and instead emphasized hygiene and cleanliness, which was then very controversial.
A fresh wave of the Bubonic Plague struck; although he saved many patients, his wife and children died. This was the beginning of a turbulent time for him. He had conflicts with patrons and many patients abandoned him after he was unable to save his own family; his deceased wife’s family went to court to try to recover her dowry.
A few years earlier, in 1534, he had sarcastically told a workman casting a bronze Madonna that the workman was casting devils instead.
Several years later when, having lost his patrons, clients, and much income, Nostradamus was perceived as vulnerable, the workman alerted authorities of the remark, which, at best, reeked of Protestantism. (Nostradamus did not deny the statement but claimed it referred to the mediocrity of the art.) In 1538, he was ordered to appear before the Inquisitor of Toulouse. Instead he hit the road.
For the greater part of a decade, he wandered. Little record of him exists for the next six years but it’s known that he traveled through Lorraine, Venice, and Sicily where he studied with Sufi mystics. He visited alchemists, astrologers, healers, Kabalists, diviners, and magicians and studied the works of Paracelsus and Agrippa.
He eventually returned to Provence where, on November 11, 1547, he married a rich widow with whom he had six children, three daughters and three sons. He settled in Salon-de-Provence, living there for the rest of his life. The street where he lived, in his time Rue du Moulin-d’Isnard, has been renamed Rue Nostradamus; his home has been restored and is now a museum.
Nostradamus owned treasured copies of the Key of Solomon as well as various Kabalistic works but wrote that he burned them when the Inquisition got too close. (See BOOKS: Grimoires: Key of Solomon; MAGICAL ARTS: Kabalah.)
He converted the upper floor of his home to a metaphysical laboratory. As far as is known, Nostradamus did not engage in prophesy until his return to Provence. His prophecies were derived via a combination of astrology and scrying. (See MAGICAL ARTS: Astrology, Divination.)
Inspired by the prophetic pythonesses of Delphi, Nostradamus sat atop a high tripod, whose legs were angled at the same degree as the Egyptian pyramids, and gazed down into a brass bowl filled with steaming water to which essential oils were added, placed atop another tripod. (See TOOLS: Tripod.) He saw visions of the future and then recorded them, believing his psychic vision was a divine gift.
In 1550, he published his first almanac, containing his predictions as well as weather, astrology, and standard almanac information. His almanac was a success and he published an annual almanac for the rest of his life.
His first prophecies were cautious; they were not written as straightforward predictions but as quatrains (four-line poems). Each almanac contains twelve quatrains, one prophecy for each month of the year.
He began a more ambitious series of books, titled the Centuries: ten volumes each containing 100 quatrains, totaling one thousand predictions. It is these predictions published in the Centuries that have earned Nostradamus the renown that makes his very name a synonym for prophesy.
The verses are not easy to read. Writing prophecies and practicing divination was dangerous and controversial and thus, for his own protection, the verses are mysterious and obtuse, written in anagrams and riddles in a mixture of Greek, Italian, Latin, and Provençal. They must be interpreted. From first publication until today, people have argued and debated about the meaning, accuracy, and veracity of Nostradamus’ predictions. Prophecies extend until at least 3797 CE and so these debates are in no danger of dissipation.
The project was initiated on Good Friday, 1554. Four volumes were published in Lyons in 1555 to tremendous interest and success. They were bestsellers of the time and Nostradamus developed a huge following among the nobility and the upper classes. However, others described him as a tool of Satan. Medical colleagues were embarrassed by his forays into prophecy and the occult and repudiated him.
In 1556, Nostradamus was summoned to the court of French Queen Catherine de Medici (April 13, 1519—January 5, 1589), who was deeply involved with the occult and maintained a staff of astrologers, diviners, and magicians, most brought from her native Italy. Although superficially a devout Catholic, Catherine allegedly practiced Pagan rites in private, keeping a staff of priestesses devoted to Pagan deities. She had a wide collection of occult books and was a skilled mirror reader in her own right.
Nostradamus arrived in Paris and promptly became a celebrity. According to legend, the strenuous journey to Paris took a month. When he finally arrived, he was stricken with an attack of gout and laid up in bed for ten days. A steady stream of people came to visit, consult, and pay court to him, at a time when he really wished peace and quiet. Nostradamus, exasperated at a persistent knocking on his door, called through the door, “What’s the matter, page? This is a lot of noise over a lost dog. Look on the road to Orleans; you’ll find the dog on a leash.” Indeed, the boy outside his door was a young page, employed by a renowned family, desperately seeking the valuable, lost dog entrusted to him. He followed Nostradamus’ directions and discovered another servant who had located the dog bringing it home on a leash. The story circulated and further cemented Nostradamus’ reputation.
Nostradamus had published a prediction that Catherine’s husband, King Henri II, would either become a second Charlemagne and heal the breach between French Catholics and Protestants or be killed in a jousting accident. Months earlier, apparently unbeknownst to Nostradamus, Catherine’s astrologer Luc Gauric had made a similar prediction, advising the king to avoid jousting, although Gauric’s prediction lacked the specific, poetic detail of Nostradamus’:
The young lion will overcome the older one
On the field of combat in single battle
He will pierce his eyes through a golden cage
Two wounds made one, then he dies a cruel death
(Century 1, Quatrain 35)
Catherine interviewed Nostradamus in depth and was very impressed with him. She consulted with him for the rest of his life. She had Nostradamus cast the horoscopes of the royal children, all of whom were doomed to sad fates. Nostradamus was not only a prophet but a diplomat, managing to deliver his prophecies delicately. He did not fall from favor with Catherine nor did she ever claim his prophecies were inaccurate. (He told her all her sons would be kings, which was true, if only because of their early deaths and the death of their father.)
Catherine took Nostradamus’ predictions seriously but Henri did not. He was killed in a joust with the Captain of his Scottish Guards, Count de Montgomery. A splinter from Montgomery’s lance pierced the king’s golden visor and entered his eye, simultaneously blinding him and penetrating his brain. Henri II died after ten days of excruciating suffering.
When their prophecies ultimately proved true, Gauric and Nostradamus were blamed. Crowds burned Nostradamus (the more famous of the two) in effigy. Rumors spread that the Inquisition was looking for him and he headed home.
Nostradamus remained famous for the rest of his life, variously admired or vilified. The local nobility flocked to have their horoscopes cast and buy the cosmetics he formulated. (The term “aromatherapy” hadn’t been coined yet; however Nostradamus may be understood to have been the equivalent of an aromatherapist.) He was always controversial, however, and was periodically accused of Satanism, of being a secret Jew, and/or of practicing witchcraft, although his association with Catherine de Medici ultimately protected him.
Books appeared accusing him of heresy, witchcraft, and fraud. His house was frequently stoned by young local fundamentalist Catholics. The threats were so extreme that for a while he sought safety for himself and his family in the local jail. Some perceived him as engaged in evil arts; others perceived his prophecies as threats, not predictions.
Among the events Nostradamus allegedly predicted were the execution of the English king Charles I, the Great Fire of London, the French Revolution and the subsequent executions of the royal family, Napoleon’s rise and fall, World War II, the emergence of the United States, Communism, the stock market crash, the Apollo Moon Landing, the assassinations of the Kennedy brothers and the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster.
Among his predictions was his own death and a secret joke: Nostradamus’ final request was to be buried upright within a wall inside the Church of the Cordeliers of Salon so that no one could ever tread on his grave. In 1700, officials decided to exhume his body and move his remains to a safer, more prominent wall in the church. Nostradamus had anticipated the move: a medallion discovered around the skeleton’s neck and buried with him when he died was engraved with the year 1700.