Nostradamus – The Man, The Myth, The Music

The Man

Michel De Nostradame was born in France in 1503. The dark mid-ages still reigning this was the era of persecution and witch hunt. This was also a time when terminal diseases raged all over Europe, the most horrible of them all was Black Death, plague. It ended approximately 25-50 million lives in Europe alone. Black Death is estimated to have killed 30% to 60% of Europe’s population during the worst period.


The name Nostradame means “our lady” while the pen-name Nostradamus was a Latinization of his surname. Michel was both Jew and a Catholic at the same time. For 30 years under the regime King Renè, Jews were allowed to freely practice their religion. However, all this ended via his death in 1480 and by the time Nostradamus was born, most of his folk had been forcefully converted. So Michel was both uncircumcised and baptised according to the Christian Rite.

During his childhood, Michel very early on dabbled with magic, mysticism and occult. By his early teens he had already mastered Latin, Greek and basic medical skills. He explored Kabbalah intensively. Encouraged by this, he enrolled University Of Montpellier, to study medicine. School was highly regarded and after his matriculation, Nostradamus was plunged straight into the treatment of massive plague epidemic. He was very successful and became an authority on the disease, until few years later his wife and two children both succumbed to it while Nostradamus was working as a doctor in Agen. It was almost ironic that a man who in his age saved so many people from certain death, could not save his own family.

Traumatized by his loss, Nostradamus took on the road and travelled throughout France, Italy and Sicily before finally settling in Salon De Provence. In late 1530’s the inquisition started to take notice in his practice, it was brought on question whether all his methods were pure medics or was there witchcraft involved. Nostradamus was summoned by inquisition to Toulouse but pope who most likely practiced occultism himself, was merciful and the prophet was let go after few days of questioning. In November 1547 he married a widow Anne Gemelle and Nostradamus, who had plenty of work and clients all over the country and abroad, continued his travels. It was during this period he began to suspect he had a gift of prophecy and strength of vision. The fact that his name is written in history books can be attributed to talent, ability, determination and a good bit of luck. At the time there were at least 30 000 magicians and second hand physicians working around the Paris area alone.

He used to sit alone in his room on top of his apartment and write down visions that came to him. According to his pupils, Nostradamus went into a trancelike state and could feel the presence of a divine creature. Later he learned different ways to reach this state, either by holding his feet in cold water, or by staring into the fire through a bronzed statue.

Nostradamus released several almanacs and couple of his first books in 1552, which both dealt mostly with cures and eccentric medicinal theories. He followed this with the first edition of Centuries in 1555. Writer was extremely worried around its publication fearing humiliation, mockery and even investigation. Instead the book became a sensation and a year later King Henri II’s queen Catherine invited Nostradamus to Paris for a private visit.


The trip made Nostradamus a rich man as ruthless Catherine was very much interested in astrology and wanted basically to know if there was any truth in the possible predictions regarding her husband’s eventual death. During the next couple of years, Nostradamus made a good deal of money as personal astrologist and consultant for nobility. This however, was not a career he was striving for and soon requested a release from duty returning back to Salon. King Henry died in 1559 in a jousting competition – exactly as predicted by Nostradamus.

The next decade saw him remaining in Salon and turning down several offers to become a royal astrologist. His health was already declining and by his late fifties he was suffering from severe gout. King Charles and Catherine visited Nostradamus for the final time in 1564. Two years following this royal visit, in 2nd of July 1566, Nostradamus died of a massive heart attack, in part brought on by his crippling gout.

He was 63. The night before his death, he had summoned the priest to give him his last rites and (in a surprisingly clear-headed manner) spoke to his pupil Jean-Aime De Chavigny: “You will not see me alive at sunrise.” This was his last prophecy. The next morning De Chavigny and the seer’s family found him dead on the floor next to his bed. His prophecies later on took a life of their own.

Following his death, De Chavigny re-published the ten Centuries together with two partial volumes and two other posthumous works, Sixains (containing 68 quatrains) and Presages (containing further 141 predictions). The origin of Sixains has however been questioned later. It is possible they are written by an entirely different man, who lived around the same time and used the same pseudonym as Nostradamus.

Nostradamus was an interesting man, somewhat against the type in those dark eras, thus his life story his highly interesting. As a medicine man he was certainly above average, arguably one of the very best in that particular time. His treatments were somewhat dubious in parts and in fact one of his lotions massaged onto man’s face daily would according to him “enable eternal life.” On the other hand, he was the first one to successfully place patients onto sunlit beds as opposed to keeping them in the dark with all windows and doors closed. When plague raged all over Europe it was commonly believed disease travelled through air, many quite frankly thought Nostradamus was insane until science proved without a shred of doubt that patients who received sunlight were cured in much higher percentage than those without.

Even more extraordinary was Nostradamus’ refusal to bleed the sick, as at the time it was believed that it would almost certainly cure fever and other diseases. No one but Nostradamus seemed to notice that bleeding more often killed the patient than cured him.

However, no matter how much he achieved in the field of medicine and treatment, he will always be remembered as a prophet to rule them all. He was reburied two times following his death (showing no respect for the dead, a soldier drank wine from his skull and almost immediately received his due by gunfire) to a church of Franciscan monastery and engraved onto his headstone are following paragraphs:

Clarissimi Ossa
Michelis Nostradami
Unius Omnium Mortalium Judicio Digni
Cuius Pene Divino Calamo Totius Orbis
Ex Astrororum Influxi, Futuri Eventus
Vixit Annos LXII. Menses VI. Dies XVII.
Obit Salone An. MDLXVI
Quietum Posteri Ne Invidete. Anna Pontia Gemella
Coniugi Opt.V.Felicit.

This loosely translated means:

Here lie the bones of illustrious Michel Nostradamus
The only mortal, who through pen almost divine,
under the influence of the stars
Was worthy enough to write down the future events of the world
He lived 62 years, 6 months and 17 days.
He died in Salon the year of 1566
May posterity not disturb his peace.
Anna Pons Gemella wishes felicity upon her husband

The Myth And The Prophecies

Nostradamus’ books were filled with incredibly rich language considering the time frame. They took most of their influence from late renaissance culture, catholic religion and kabbalism. He was also a master of poetic riddles, thus right from the beginning the interpretation of his prophecies was extremely difficult task to anyone. To a certain extent it is always up to the reader him- or herself to draw conclusions as to what Nostradamus meant with each and every paragraph of his Centuries. No absolute truth has been written, nor will it ever be. The huge amount of books all slightly differing in their commentaries are a solid proof of this.

Nostradamus organized his quatrains into Centuries of one hundred quatrains apiece. It is most likely he wanted to match the chapters on Centuries to actual years and dates but withdrew from that in fear of inquisition. However, the framework of his original structure still remains.

Another thing to note before we delve a little deeper into his predictions, is that indeed many of them are – naturally – directly related to his homeland France. Other countries (depending on the interpretation again) more involved in his work are Great Britain, United States (as at the time of Nostradamus’ life, America was only just discovered and not yet even called America, this is very interesting), Middle East, Germany and Italy. Besides the obvious global prophecies, other specific countries are hardly mentioned.

Of course hindsight is always 20-20 and many of Nostradamus’ prophecies are relatively easy to interpret after the event. The most famous Anti-Christ again referred to in many pages of Nostradamus’ books, Adolf Hitler himself was very clear a particular quatrain mentioning “Hister,” “Child of Germany,” and “Cage of Iron” was talking about him, this is of course entirely possible and even probable but Nostradamus could have just as easily been talking about the river Danube which in ancient Roman terms was referred as Ister.

The paragraph which later on has interpreted to have foretold Asian tsunami in 2004 was earlier in a 1998 publication described as a future missile attack from the sea. On the other hand the paragraph later viewed in context of the Twin Towers tragedy in the same book was chillingly close, as it was pointed clearly to New York and USA although not specifically telling what would happen.

In light of what we know today it seems he did foretell the US/Iraq war and later on marked the floods of New Orleans. Often the dilemma has arisen rather from the interpretations of his material than conclusions drawn. As for the future, he has among other things predicted the fall of Britain’s monarchy and things a lot darker than that.

Many writers, since the second World War, have found clues in the Centuries pointing to a catastrophic, possibly terminal third world war some time in the near future. Several references are made in his books regarding this, mostly centring around three superpowers, USA, Russia and China – although again there is room to speculate here. Nostradamus also clearly names three Anti-Christs, first two commonly believed to have been Napoleon Bonaparte and Adolf Hitler and third, last and the most terrible one still to arise.

Obviously the most fascinating prophecy always interesting mankind is the end of the world, Armageddon. Nostradamus was not particularly specific about this, certainly not in the level of current doomsday clairvoyants such as James Lovelock who have predicted massive amounts of deaths and famine by the end of current century. In his introductory letter at the beginning of Centuries 1, Nostradamus writes that his predictions will run from 1st of March 1555 until the year of 3797. Later on more figures appear and some argue the end of the world will occur roughly in 7000 A.D. but this is speculation as no one knows what Nostradamus meant to be a starting point for this calculation. It is good to also remember that the church during the sixteenth century rather drastically sent out messages of Armageddon taking place in the year of 2000. In the fear of being damned as heretic, Nostradamus might have included references to support this theory and in reality added years after that date. Again, we can only speculate.

Ultimately the seer believed the future was immutable, that the events he foresaw were pre-ordained and could not be changed. It wasn’t about him not wanting to save King Henri’s life, rather it was about Nostradamus knowing it was king’s destiny to die and nothing could change it. He never went too deep into theories about parallel universes and ripples in time, again a territory not favoured by the church whose statement was clear, the future is pre-ordained by God and is immutable. Nostradamus remained silent and let his predictions speak for himself – as cloudy they may have been.

Nostradamus himself explained the necessity of using double meanings and unclear expressions in the “Preface To My Son” chapter of the first Centuries: “If I were to relate what will happen in the future, governors, secretaries, and ecclesiastics would find it so ill-accordant with their world that they would go near to condemn what future ages will know and perceive to be true. This it is, which has led me to withhold my tongue from the vulgar, and my pen from paper. But later on, I thought I would enlarge a little and declare in dark abstruse sayings, the most urgent of future causes, as perceived by me, be the revolutionary changes what they may, so only not to scandalize the world and frigidity of my hearers, and write all down under a cloudy figure.”

Perhaps because his predictions can be interpreted in such a various ways, there will be more books written about him, more analyses done, more talk on different message boards and possibly more music done by great artists of this world. The aura of mystique surrounding his visions remains strong in this very day.

The Music

Nostradamus and indeed the whole era surrounding him have been a fertile ground for heavy metal music to explore and draw inspiration from. Bands like Iron Maiden have based their whole career on writing about historical characters, battles and events. Judas Priest on the other hand have in their 40+ year career created several classic stories and figures of their own but occasionally delved into actual history as on songs like “Loch Ness,” “The Ripper” and “Savage.” In 2008 Priest released “Nostradamus” – a full double album featuring over 100 minutes of music chronicling the famous prophet’s life and adventures. A monumental project two years in the making, in many ways this was to be group’s most effective record to date. The subject matter was relatively easy to adapt to a modern society and listener can certainly relate to it now, almost 500 years later.

As Rob Halford stated in interview prior to record’s release: “On a human level, he went through a lot of things that we can all relate to. He had acceptance and rejection. A lot of people didn’t like what he did much in the same way some people don’t like metal. He was banished into exile and he lost his wife and children to the plague. A lot of terrible things happened to him. We thought it was important to get that human part of the story and still have a great time with the prophecies like the Four Horsemen and Death.”

There had been few attempts to picture Nostradamus’ life and prophecies sonically before. First in line – although not very well known in the heavy rock genre – is “Nostradamus – A Rock Opera” album by Bulgarian guitarist Nikolo Kotzev. Released some seven years ago, the record mostly combines melodic hard rock with lush orchestrations. Musical highlights are “Desecration” and “Introduction” where soaring vocals and choirs create an interesting and powerful counterpoint.

The main problem with this CD are the mish mash of different vocalists each excellent on their own but in this writer’s opinion do not cohesively work as characters in an opera piece. Most obvious example is Glenn Hughes. His talent and achievements as soul/hard rock vocalist are unquestionable, but as King Henri II he simply isn’t very convincing. Technically faultless but you won’t have a picture of a sixteenth century ruler in your head. Of course this view is entirely subjective.

The best performance purely from a story telling point is probably delivered by a Swedish singer Göran Edman. He sounds like a man from that era hundreds of years ago, which is exactly as it should be. A fine work also comes by courtesy of Jorn Lande who has sang on numerous albums has the gift of adapting himself to any situation. Still Kotzev’s work on the ensemble – a 35-piece orchestra and writing the arrangements should be rightfully commended.

Kotzev mostly emphasises Nostradamus’ life although takes few stabs at his predictions for World War I & II, interestingly he places the end of the world at 3797 as originally written down. Nowadays most writers use 7000 A.D. but like said before there is just no way of knowing this for sure. Not much attention is given to forthcoming events, it is worth to note that Kotzev’s work was released in the spring of 2001, mere months before the WTC-attack took place.

There are other musical chapters in the story of Nostradamus worth mentioning. Thin Lizzy’s 1981 LP “Renegade” featured a mention of the prophet in impressive opening cut “Angel Of Death.” The American shock rockers W.A.S.P. delivered a line of abovementioned Nostradamus’ prophecy of Hitler in band’s bleak “Unholy Terror.” The song in which it appears, “Charisma” is one of that particular album’s highlights.

Another shock artist Marilyn Manson himself told his 1996 album “Antichrist Superstar” was in fact based on Nostradamus’ prediction of the third Anti-Christ. Germany’s Helloween on the other hand released “Time Of The Oath” in the same year, the excellent title track draws inspiration from a great world war Nostradamus (according to some) predicted to take place between 1994-2000.

Finnish power metallers Stratovarius released arguably their most legendary album “Visions” in 1997. The epic title track which concludes the record is solely based on Nostradamus’ predictions from Centuries with lines lifted straight from his original text – translated into English naturally. Track focuses on the end of the world, which Nostradamus in parts described very similarly to the Book of Revelations. You have to remember that during the 16th century organized religion held everyone firmly in their grasp, it was the ultimate state of rules. Most of the people viewed the end of days as fire and brimstone, seven angels, seven trumpets and a cross on the door for those who wished for afterlife. Had Nostradamus lived few hundred years later, his visions might have been somewhat bleaker still.

And there is even a band called Nostradameus (notice the clever add of one letter, no doubt to avoid possible copyright issues) hailing from Sweden, with plenty of power metal sounds incorporated.

The last words are left to Rob Halford explaining the enormous potential behind the life story and surroundings of Nostradamus:

“We have this man who was an alchemist and who lived in a magical time with all the swords and shields. Depending on where your heart is at, you can say it is cliché but it is just a perception. We feel metal fans embrace this time period of five hundred years ago, Medieval Europe. There were a lot of magical things that were happening at that time. It was a very metal time and he is a metal man. You couldn’t really do that with many people who have lived through history. There is a very small amount of individuals who have maintained that kind of connection to the modern world. It is a brilliant opportunity to cover his life.”

As Judas Priest released the definite musical soundtrack to the world’s greatest prophet’s life, the aspect of his predictions and musical avenues they possess grows more inspiring every day.

With acknowledgements:

Mario Reading: Nostradamus – The Complete Prophecies For The Future
Damon Wilson: The Mammoth Book of Nostradamus and Other Prophets


There are literally hundreds of different web sites all over the world dedicated to Nostradamus and his writings. It is impossible to list them all. However, here are some of the best ones for a beginning enthusiast to start the voyage, they extensively cover Nostradamus’ prophecies and translations: