Nostradamus: The Great Visionary

by Brian Mekdeci

In the year 1999 and seven months
From the sky will come the great King of Terror.
He will bring back to life the great king of the Mongols.
Before and after, war reigns happily.[1]

(Translation of Century X, Quatrain 72)

These four lines are perhaps the most famous in all of prophecy. Written by the renowned soothsayer Nostradamus, they have been interpreted by many to predict the coming of the anti-Christ in July of 1999, who will inevitably cause the end of the world. They have haunted millions of believers in the last few decades; an inescapable condemnation that hangs over this generation like a death sentence. With only two years to go, are these words a terrifying warning from a divinely gifted prophet or glorified rubbish from a clever charlatan?

There is no question that Nostradamus is the most distinguished and celebrated seer of all time. During his life, he was constantly requested to draw up horoscopes and personally offer his prophetic guidance to royalty, nobles and other distinguished aristocrats.[2] Since his death in 1566, his legendary written prophecies were probably never out of print, a feat not accomplished by any other work with the exception of The Bible.[3] Today, he is the subject of hundreds of books, numerous television shows and countless documentaries. Nostradamus can be found on the Internet, in universities and even in feature motion pictures ranging from his own biography to some cameo appearances in low-budget comedies.[4] Yet how did a 16th century physician who lost his family during the Plague become one of the most famous prophets of all time?

The History of Nostradamus

In the book Visionaries and Seers: They Saw Tomorrow (1988), author Charles Neilson Gattey provides a thorough historical background on the mysterious Nostradamus. On the 14th of December 1503, Nostradamus was born in Saint-Remy, France under the name of Michel de Nostradame. He was a very intelligent young man and he graduated as a licensed physician at the age of 22. In fact it was his knowledge and skill as a healer during the dreaded Plague that initially earned him fame all over France. Supposedly, he used his own medicines and ignored traditional protocol (such as bleeding the patient) in a brave effort to comfort those suffering from the deadly and highly contagious illness.[5] After he lost his wife and children to the Plague in 1533, he spent a considerable amount of time traveling around France. Legend has it that it was during this period that he collected many of his infamous grimoires and tomes and he also made his first prophecies. Around 1551 Nostradamus, already heavily involved with the occult and using strange magical practices, began to write his famed book of prophecies. Centuries was first published on 4th May, 1555 and immediately it became the talk of France and of Western Europe. His fame and reputation exploded, however, when a quatrain in Centuries seemed to accurately predict the death of the then king of France, Henry II.

The young lion shall overcome the old
In warlike field in single combat
In a cage of gold he will pierce his eyes
This is the first of two wounds, then he dies a cruel death.[6]
(Translation of Century I, Quatrain 35)

Four years after Centuries was published, King Henry II was mortally wounded in a jousting accident and died a terrible death ten days after his visor was pierced. Some reports at the accident claim that the king suffered a wound to the throat as well, thus making Nostradamus' prediction all the more accurate.[7] Yet, Nostradamus' fame continued to grow for centuries after his death in 1566 due largely to the interpretations that seem to accurately predict various events such as the French Revolution, the rise of Napoleon and the Great Fire of London. By 1939, Nostradamus' prophecies were so revered that Joseph Goebbels (propaganda minister for Hitler) forged quatrains predicting a victorious Germany which were dropped by planes over England in a form of "psychological warfare." To counteract the Nazi propaganda, the British began dropping pamphlets of their own Nostradamus quatrains, predicting an Allied victory, over France and Belgium.[8]

Nostradamus' Obscure Methods of Divination

As strange as the accuracy of the prophecies themselves, was the actual method Nostradamus used to obtain and record them. According to J.H. Brennan, author of Nostradamus: Visions of the Future (1992), Nostradamus did much more than just simple astrology as legend states. He was a sorcerer who practised blasphemous rituals often described in forbidden grimoires. He used magic circles, names of power, black mirrors and animal blood to gain psychic powers and insight into the future. After receiving his prophetic visions, he wrote his prophecies in coded entries of verse, deliberately obscuring the passages to avoid charges of heresy from the dreaded Inquisition. He wrote mostly in medieval French, with some Greek, Latin and other dialects sprinkled in. He arranged the prophecies in a collection of four verses called a quatrain, each quatrain relating to a specific vision. He published these quatrains in several books called Centuries, named so because each book contained one hundred quatrains, not referring to one hundred years as is often misunderstood. These quatrains form the vast majority of Nostradamus' prophecies and upon which his fame is based.

The Famous Predictions of Nostradamus

Although his popularity cannot be dismissed, one can argue whether or not Nostradamus actually had some sort of incredible ability to predict the future. To answer this question, a thorough examination of his quatrains is needed. Although the majority of the quatrains are obscure and vague, there are several which are frighteningly close to actual events that later took place. The following quatrains and interpretations are taken directly from The Prophecies of Nostradamus by Oxford scholar Erika Cheetham.

Near the harbour and in two cities will be two scourges,
The like of which have never been seen.
Hunger, plague within, people thrown out by the sword
Will cry for help from the immortal God.
(Translation of Century II, Quatrain 6)

This quatrain seems to accurately predict the nuclear attacks against Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Both cities are on the sea and these were the only cities to have been victims of a nuclear attack. The rest of the quatrain describes the pain and suffering that came as a result.

Beasts wild with hunger will cross the rivers,
The greater part of the battlefield will be against Hitler.
He will drag the leader in a cage of iron,
When the child of Germany observes no law.
(Translation of Century II, Quatrain 24)

This infamous quatrain actually names "Hister" (Hitler), the "child of Germany who observes no law." (The exact name that appears is in debate as will be discussed below).

An Emperor will be born near Italy,
Who will cost the Empire very dearly.
They will say, when they see his allies,
That he is less a prince than a butcher.
(Translation of Century I, Quatrain 60)

This is the first and the most famous quatrain that describes Napoleon Bonaparte. Napoleon, was indeed born near Italy in Corsica. He is of course remembered for costing the lives of thousands of young men but it is interesting that Nostradamus specifies the title "emperor" which Napoleon unexpectedly took for himself as ruler of France.

At night they will think they have seen the Sun,
When they see the half-pig man.
Noise, screams battles seen fought in the skies.
The brute beasts will be heard to speak.
(Translation of Century I, Quatrain 64)

This is a fascinating prediction about 20th century air warfare, coming from a man who lived in medieval France. The Sun at night probably represents either searchlights or explosions. The pig-like man is perhaps how a World War I fighter pilot with an oxygen mask, a helmet and goggles looked to a 16th century astrologer. The noise of the bombs dropping to the ground, the machine gun fire, the planes themselves, etc., are also described but the last line is perhaps the most interesting because Nostradamus predicts that the "brutes" (fighter planes) "will be heard to speak" which might refer to the invention of radio communications used during war.

The third climate included under Aries,
In the year 1727 in October,
The king of Persia captured by those of Egypt
Battle, death, loss: great shame to the cross.
(Translation of Century III, Quatrain 77)

This quatrain is famous, for Nostradamus not only predicts an event but gives the month, year and place where it happened. This quatrain describes the historic peace treaty signed between the Turks and the Persians in October 1727. Since Egypt was part of the Ottoman Empire, then perhaps it represents the Turks. The "shame to the cross" refers to the fact that Shah Ashraf gave the lands of Tauris, Hamadan and Emran to the Turks and recognized the Sultan as the legitimate successor to the Caliph. The Ottoman power continued in strength until this century, and no more Crusades were ever raised by Christians.[9]

These are just some of the more popular of Nostradamus' quatrains that seem to accurately predict various events since his death. In addition to the quatrains, legend tells of Nostradamus making numerous personal predictions during his lifetime. For instance, Nostradamus was a guest at the chateau de Fains when his host, the Seigneur de Florinville, had the chef bring out two pigs, a white one and a black one. The Seigneur de Florinville asked his famous guest Nostradamus to predict which pig they would be eating. Nostradamus predicted the black one. The host then secretly instructed the cook to serve the white pig. To prove the great psychic wrong the Seigneur de Florinville called the cook out during dinner and made him reveal which pig had been served. To the shock of the host the cook nervously replied "the black one" and explained that a wolf broke into the kitchen and had stolen the white pig as he was preparing it forcing the cook to serve the black one instead. On another occasion, Nostradamus passed by some friars by the road and he knelt before the swineherd saying, "I must kneel before His Holiness." That particular monk later became Pope Sixtus V. Finally, another story tells that during the French Revolution in 1793, soldiers decided to test a legend that whoever drank from the skull of Nostradamus, would gain his prophetic powers. (Obviously they ignored a different legend stating that whoever disturbed Nostradamus' grave, would be immediately killed). When they opened the coffin they saw a plaque hanging around his neck reading "1793," predicting the exact year his grave would be desecrated. A soldier then took Nostradamus' skull and proceeded to drink wine from it when a stray bullet from the nearby fighting struck the soldier, killing him instantly. These incidents may or may not have happened but what is certain is that Nostradamus caused quite a stir in his own day. These, coupled with numerous quatrains that seem to foretell events hundreds of years after his death, seem to indicate that Nostradamus did indeed have prophetic powers. However, as we are about to see, this may not be the case at all.

The Legitimacy of Nostradamus' Prophetic Powers

Unfortunately, there is no way of verifying whether or not the personal predictions described really happened or not. However, what concerns most people today are the quatrains in Centuries which we can analyze to some extent. There are a number of factors to consider when examining Nostradamus' quatrains. First of all is the actual text itself. The quatrains were originally published in 1555 when books were scarce and usually only the property of wealthy aristocrats. Since 1555, there have been hundreds of reprints over the years, but the quatrains have been recopied and reworded to the point where it is almost impossible to determine what the original quatrains really were. To make matters worse, Nostradamus has been the victim of forgeries for hundreds of years, with numerous editions of Centuries published all over Europe, all claiming to be the "original." Unfortunately, most books on Nostradamus today rarely mention the controversy surrounding the identity of the original text and this can be very misleading. The differences in the same quatrains among different books published this century are absolutely appalling. For instance, in Century II, Quatrain 24, (the infamous "Hitler" quatrain) The Complete Prophecies of Nostradamus by Henry C. Roberts actually prints "Ister," whereas The Prophecies of Nostradamus by Erika Cheetham uses "Hister". Both books claim to be using the "original" quatrains, but which one, if either, is authentic? In the preface to her book, Erika Cheetham claims to have given the original French "a very literal translation," yet in the English text beside the French, she replaces "Hister" with "Hitler" as if Nostradamus actually spelled the name that way. Since this quatrain's focus is the fact that Nostradamus actually named Hitler, then the spelling becomes the whole issue and not something that can be altered or changed from version to version.

Aside from the problems relating to the text and the translations themselves, are the actual interpretations. Enthusiasts state that Nostradamus deliberately clouded his prophecies in obscure verses so as not to draw attention to himself as a sorcerer. Unfortunately, this means that his quatrains have to be decoded and interpreted in order for the prophecy to be revealed. As will be shown, there are many reasons to believe that it was ambiguity and not divine prophetic powers that enabled Nostradamus to predict the future.

The very first thing to consider is that Nostradamus wrote around one thousand quatrains in no known order. Predictions supposedly about the same person or event (such as Hitler or the French Revolution) are found randomly scattered throughout various Centuries. Second, almost all of the quatrains do not specify a date and leave the interpreters the task of determining the time Nostradamus is referring to. When, on the odd occasion Nostradamus attempts to specify some sort of date, he would often use an oblique astronomical reference, such as "Saturn in Cancer" (Century VIII, Quatrain 48) or he would say something obscure such as, "The year of the great seventh number passed" (Century X, Quatrain 74) which can be interpreted many different ways. (The year 7000, 1777, 7777, 1600 (which adding each digit gives 7), etc.) For the vast majority of the quatrains, this means that an event can occur anytime and still be considered to be a true prediction. Third, he often used anagrams, ancient terms and symbols in place of names, events and places. For instance, the Sun and the planets have been interpreted as either the astronomical bodies themselves, or whatever is required to satisfy the rest of the quatrain. For instance, in The Prophecies of Nostradamus (1975) (Century V, Quatrain 62), Saturn is interpreted as the "anti-Christ" and the Sun represents Christianity. In The Complete Prophecies of Nostradamus (1994), (Century II, Quatrain 59), Neptune is interpreted as the British Navy, since it relates to the first line which mentions the French fleet specifically. Nostradamus also enjoyed using animals as symbols such as "bird of prey" (interpreted as Napoleon and/or Hitler, Century I, Quatrain 34)[10]. Particularly convenient is Nostradamus' use of anagrams. For instance, "noir" (French for black) has been interpreted as "roi" (French for king) nine times throughout the Centuries whenever interpreters feel that it helps to decipher a quatrain.[11]

The truth of the matter is that Nostradamus purposely shrouded his quatrains, possibly to avoid the Inquisition (as legend states) but more likely for the reason that the same quatrain can be interpreted in so many different ways. A classic example is found in Century III, Quatrain 35 (The Prophecies of Nostradamus) which reads:

In the deepest part of Western Europe,
A child will be born of poor family,
Who by his speech will entice many peoples.
His reputation will grow even greater in the kingdom of the East.

This quatrain has been interpreted to refer to either Napoleon or Hitler who were both born into poor families in Western Europe, both enticed many people with their speeches and both had great reputations in the East (Japan allied with Hitler and Napoleon's rise was due greatly to his success in Egypt). Upon closer examination, this quatrain, like all of the others, is extremely vague and not only applies to Hitler and Napoleon but to a number of other famous people as well. John Lennon, for example, was born in the deepest part of Western Europe (Liverpool, England) of a poor family and he enticed many people with his speech, both in song and via the press. Towards the end of his life, he spent a considerable amount of time in the Eastern United States and Eastern Canada and became an outspoken anti-war activist and peace advocate, particularly in New York city. I sincerely doubt that Nostradamus was referring to John Lennon but I also doubt, contrary to the experts, that he was referring to Napoleon or Hitler either. This sort of vagueness surrounds all of Nostradamus' quatrains. Considering that he wrote over 1000 quatrains, most without referring to a date, it is easy to become skeptical about Nostradamus'' prophetic ability.

It is interesting to note that most of Nostradamus' quatrains have not been linked to a past event. The experts say that they have not been deciphered and probably have not occurred yet. However, given a nearly unlimited time and the fact that Nostradamus wrote so many quatrains, is it not probable that some of the quatrains loosely describe actual events? Is it possible that references such as "bird of prey" can be used for many different people and not the specific people Nostradamus received credit for? Is it possible that perhaps history repeats itself and that there will always be an obscure quatrain that loosely describes a modern event?

Unfortunately, the popularity of Nostradamus today is largely due to the irresponsible media and their glorified portrayals of pseudoscience. Erika Cheetham, Nostradamus expert and Oxford Scholar, would have her readers believe that Nostradamus actually named Hitler in her popular and often-quoted bestseller, The Prophecies of Nostradamus. In fact, he wrote Hister. (One book, using "the original medieval French" claims he used Ister[12] which is the Latin name for the river Danube[13]). Exaggerations like these are abundant in every Nostradamus text, but in recent years there has been a considerable amount of shameless nonsense that has been marketed as fact. One such offender is The Complete Prophecies of Nostradamus, originally interpreted by Henry C. Roberts, "one of the foremost authorities on the subject of the occult and mystic literature." In this book, updated by Robert Lawrence, Mr. Roberts' grandson, Nostradamus is said to predict the corrupt activities of televangelist Jim Bakker (p. 210, 268), the rise of Pierre Elliot Trudeau (p. 224), the rape trail of JFK's nephew, William Kennedy Smith (p. 135), the Exxon Valdez spill (p. 116), and the deaths of Harry Houdini, Bruce Lee and his son, Brandon Lee (p. 87). The Rodney King trial was apparently one of the most important events in the last 400 years, since Lawrence claims there are no fewer than five quatrains which foretell it (p. 54, 77, 177, 190, 211). Here is just one example of a quatrain, interpreted by Robert Lawrence, to be a prophecy of the Rodney King trial.

The deformed shall through horror be suffocated,
In the habitable city of the great King.
The severe edict against the banished shall be revoked,
Hail and thunder shall do inestimable harm at Condon.
(Translation of Century V, Quatrain 97)

Lawrence states that the "severe edict against the banished shall be revoked" is in fact the acquittal verdict against the four officers which was revoked. Robert Lawrence claims that his grandfather was Nostradamus redivivus and that Mr. Roberts was indeed "possessed" by Nostradamus himself.[14] Other books and documentaries made particularly in the 1970's or before, tried to convince their audiences that the world will be plunged into World War III by 1996, with signs such as the dead rising from their graves in 1980 (Century X, Quatrain 74) and the Pope fleeing the Vatican after an atomic explosion in 1993 (Century II, Quatrain 41). Of course none of these events has happened and instead of downplaying Nostradamus' predictions, recent books choose to fault the interpreters. Peter Lemesurier writes in Nostradamus: The Next 50 Years,

In consequence, it made sense to examine the seer's writings again and this time from a totally new perspective. For, as I started to look again at the familiar French verse in my role as a professional translator, it quickly became obvious that many of them were not, after all saying what earlier commentators had long assumed. The dreaded "King of Terror," in particular, was nothing of the kind. Instead, I discovered that he was no more than a major leader with money to spend.[15]
It seem that Nostradamus can never be faulted for an incorrect prediction; since he almost never gives a name, date or place and his vague predictions can be interpreted in so many ways; the blame therefore always lies with the interpreter, and not with the great Nostradamus.


Believing that Nostradamus really did predict all those events that he receives credit for is essentially believing in destiny and not in free choice. Although some of his quatrains do seem to closely resemble actual events, one must remember the broad interpretations that are given to his vague "prophecies." People want to believe that futures can be told and this is why the media like to promote Nostradamus and exaggerate his so-called abilities. Whether or not he was an authentic psychic or just a clever fame-seeker who knew how to take advantage of such human frailties, he will always be of interest to those who believe in prophecy and the paranormal.


  • [1] Erika Cheetham, The Prophecies of Nostradamus, p. 417.
  • [2] Charles Neilson Gattey, Visionaries and Seers: They Saw Tomorrow, p. 34.
  • [3] Erika Cheetham, The Prophecies of Nostradamus, p. 13.
  • [4] Cheech & Chong's, The Corsican Brothers [motion picture].
  • [5]Rosemary Ellen Guiley, Witches and Witchcraft, p. 248.
  • [6]Charles Neilson Gattey, Visionaries and Seers: They Saw Tomorrow, p.36.
  • [7] Erika Cheetham, The Prophecies of Nostradamus, p. 38.
  • [8] Erika Cheetham, The Prophecies of Nostradamus, p. 14.
  • [9] Erika Cheetham, The Prophecies of Nostradamus, p. 154.
  • [10] J.H. Brennan, Nostradamus: Visions of the Future, p. 130.
  • [11] Henry C. Roberts, The Complete Prophecies of Nostradamus, p. 187.
  • [12] Henry C. Roberts, The Complete Prophecies of Nostradamus, p. 51.
  • [13] Erika Cheetham, The Prophecies of Nostradamus, p. 82.
  • [14] Hency C. Roberts, The Complete Prophecies of Nostradamus, p. ix.
  • [15] Peter Lemesurier, Nostradamus: The Next 50 Years, p. 2.