INTRODUCTION BY Wulfing von Rohr
The most successful plague doctor and most popular miracle healer of his time, sensational prophet of future events and favorite astrologer of the French royal family, much traveled apothecary of natural medicines and initiated alchemist: those words give an apt description in miniature of that enigmatic and mysterious Doctor of Medicine, who at the height of his fame in the southern French town of Salon-de-Provence from 1547 until his death in 1566.
In this work we propose to concentrate primarily on the subjects of medicine, herbal medicine and alchemy, which played such an important role in Nostradamus' life, and leave his comprehensive prophetic work of almost 1,000 portentous verses to other publications. (The entire text of his prophecies are available on the CD-ROM disk Psychic Investigator).
Michel de Nostradamus, at times also written Nostredame, first saw the light of day as the clock was striking noon on 14 December 1503, according to the Julian calender, in the small locality of Saint-Remy-de- Provence in southern France.
At the time of his birth who could have told him that one day, under his Latinized name of Nostradamus, he would go down in the annals of world history as 'Plague healer of Provence', 'Doctor of France', 'The Initiated One' and 'Greatest Seer of the Renaissance'? Who could have foretold that this son of a middle-class former Jewish family which had been compelled to convert to Catholicism would become one of the most famous Frenchmen of the sixteenth century? Did he himself know, or at least suspect, that his works and writings would survive for hundreds of years and be numbered among the most widely read books after the Bible?
There is no disagreement among those doing research about Nostradamus that he came from Jewish stock on both his father's and his mother's side; many commentaries even maintain that he came from the tribe of Issacar, famed for its prophetic powers. First Michel's parents - father Jacques, a notary, and mother Renee - complied with Louis XII's edict of September 1501 and later on had their three children, Michel, Bertrand and Jean, baptized.
On the other hand, there is some dispute as to whether the grandparents were doctors who for a time worked in the service of the Count of Provence, or made their living as successful corn-merchants.
At that time astrology was regarded as one of the diagnostic aids and one of the therapeutically significant temporal guides for medicine - as indeed is once again the case in many places today. The horoscope was studied in order to find reasons for illnesses and to ascertain the most suitable times for mixing certain medicines. From our own modern hospitals we know that an unusually large number of complications with operations, unpleasant post-operative bleeding and general psychic difficulties still arise during full or new moons. In the Renaissance astrology played a very significant role in medicine; medicine, alchemy and astrology were regarded as kindred sciences.
Michel was sent to Avignon to complete a kind of 'studium generale'. During his lifetime Avignon had changed from being a papal seat to a center of 'modern' education. Michel is said to have devoted himself mainly to the study of the movements of and laws governing the heavenly firmament. This is why he is said to have had the nickname the small astrologer.
Michel's father was concerned about his eldest son's interests, which even at that time were apparently considered of 'little practical use', and at the age of sixteen he sent him to the highly regarded Montpellier University to study medicine and embark on a career as a doctor, thereby acquiring a solid foundation for later life.
At the age of nineteen, in 1522, Michel gained his Bachelor's degree at Montpellier. For three years he had studied classical medicine and attended lectures by the most famous doctors in Europe. He was entitled to exchange the students' black robe for the red one of a qualified man.
After three further years Michel had probably learned all that was known at that time about medicine and obtained his certification as a practicing doctor from the Bishop of Montpellier.
In the south of France in the same year there were once again sporadic outbreaks of the plague, that most terrifying epidemic of the period. In the Middle Ages the plague reduced the total population of Europe by a third. With good reason people felt they were helpless in the face of a sickness which affected both rich and poor, young and old, sick and healthy without distinction and carried them off in a swift and most painful manner.
Michel interrupted his studies - he was still seeking to obtain a doctorate - left the university and began to put his newly acquired and, indeed, officially recognized knowledge into practice. In Montpellier and the surrounding area the young man laid the foundation of his subsequent reputation as a plague doctor and the author of miraculous cures. He cured more victims of the plague than any other doctor.
Historians, medical men and biographers attribute his success primarily to two reasons: Michel possessed an unusual degree of self-confidence and indomitable courage, which enabled him to visit the houses of plague victims, In addition, he prepared his own medicines, which were wonderfully effective, either medicinally or psychologically.
Michel visited patients in the surrounding countryside and eventually traveled to Narbonne. There he attended lectures and meetings of well-known Jewish alchemists. At that time there was a close connection between alchemy and pharmacology, the preparation of magical potions and the creations of the apothecary. Michel travelled and practiced in Carcassonne, where, among other things, he wished to be in service of Bishop Amenien de Fays. For him he prescribed an 'elixer of life' in the form of a pomade, the recipe for which is contained in the book, entitled: 'Excellent et moult utile Opusule a tout necessaire qui desirent auoir cognoissance de plusieurs exquises Recepts, devise en deux parties...' This is the original French version of the present text, which was printed in Lyons in 1552 at the press of Antoine Volant.
The next places he visited were Toulouse, Bordeaux and, finally Avignon. The papal legate there, Cardinal Clermont, Grand Master of the Knights of St. John (who had called themselves Knights of Malta since 1522), was presented by him with a 'quince jelly of regal beauty, goodness, taste and excellence'.
Michel irrefutably cured the most serious illnesses of the time in such an astonishing number of cases that he soon acquired the reputation of being able to work miracles. During these years of teaching and moving from place to place he was, however, already producing tinctures which were supposed to aid rejuvenation and virility and, hopefully, the attainment of 'eternal youth'. He also knew how to please members of the aristocracy with recipes for unusual delicacies.
In 1529 he returned to Montpellier, where the plague epidemic had abated. During the examination for his doctorate he was asked to justify the value of his unorthodox medicines. He passed with flying colors and received the coveted title of Doctor of Medicine, the characteristic four-pointed hat, a gold ring and a copy of Hippocrates' book. From then on he called himself Nostradamus - even in those days a Latin-sounding name did not fail to inspire respect. Nostradamus accepted an invitation to fill a teaching post in the faculty of medicine. He did not, however, feel constrained for long to follow the old teaching methods, the practical virtue of which he doubted. Thus, for example, Nostradamus spoke out against the habit of bleeding each and every patient (and thereby unnecessarily weakening them), no matter what the illness had been diagnosed.
In 1532 Nostradamus packed up his books and instruments, saddled his mule and for two years wandered as a 'mounted physician' through the countryside of southern France. During his wanderings an invitation reached him from the small town of Agen. It came from one of the leading men in Europe, the highly esteemed Jules Cesar Scaliger, who was considered to be almost the equal of Erasmus of Rotterdam. Nostradamus settled in Agen, worked together with the learned Scaliger, carried on a lucrative practice and married a 'well-born, very beautiful and lovely' young woman who bore him a son and daughter. Strangely enough, the names of these three are not recorded anywhere, yet there is no doubt of their existence.
After three idyllic years Nostradamus was hit by one misfortune after another. His wife and children died; it is not certain whether this was as a result of the Black Death or diphtheria. Patients began to stay away. Who can trust a doctor who cannot cure his own family? Scaliger, who is said to have been a particularly contentious and incomprehensible person, and Nostradamus had such a quarrel that their friendship came to an end. Manfred Dimde suggests that, following the premature death of his wife, Nostradamus may have had to give back part of her dowry, which placed him in financial difficulties. Finally, the Inquisition is said to have been interested in him, and the Protestant Calvin was staying in the neighborhood for a long time and many people began to speak evil of Nostradamus. In 1538 he was summoned by the Church authorities to appear before the Inquisitor of Toulouse.
Nostradamus left Agen and spent the years from 1538 to 1544 on the move. He traveled northwards as far as Lorraine, eastwards to Venice and to Sicily in the south. No doubt he helped and cured people wherever he was needed, earning his keep in this manner. At the same time, however, he increased his knowledge through numerous meetings and working together with alchemists, astrologers, sorcerers and members of secret societies.
In 1544 Nostradamus stopped for some time in Marseilles in order to help bring a fresh outbreak of the plague under control. In 1546 the Black Death gained a hold in the province's main city, Aix-en-Provence. Nostradamus was summoned and devoted himself courageously and in a determined manner to the healing of the sick and above all to preventive measures among the healthy. He spent days, weeks and months in the midst of the appalling atmosphere of wholesale death and despair and was indeed able to cure people and to sow seeds of fresh hope.
His remedies included 'rose pills', which were to be made as follows:
one ounce of sawdust from the greenest available cypress tree
six ounces of Florentine iris
three ounces of cloves
three drachms of weet flag (root)
six drachms of resinous aloe wood
These ingredients are pulverized and then 300 to 400 red roses, which have been picked before the grey light of dawn and similarly pulverized, are mixed in with them. Throughout care is taken to prevent undue exposure to the air. The mixture is then shaped into pills, which the patient constantly keeps in the mouth. According to Michel, the wonderful scent can kill bad breath and foul smells and clean rotten teeth.
Nostradamus was of the opinion that the plague was spread by contaminated air, and that clean air protected the patients. Perhaps his success lay simply in the fact that fleas, which are known to transmit the plague from rats to humans, could not stand the mixture's strong smell and thus at least the healthy were stopped from catching the disease.
Whatever the reason, his reputation and his prestige as a plague healer grew.
Salon was the next town to lay claim to his medical skills. Here too, Nostradamus was successful. He liked Salon so much that he settled there and continued to live in the town right up to the end of his life. A short stay in Lyons in order to combat the plague there as well, brought him further successes, honor and a very good income. In 1547 Nostradamus married Anne Ponsard Gemelle, a rich widow of Salon.
In Salon Nostradamus had finally found the right atmosphere to allow him to carry on secret studies and alchemical experiments, to make astrological observations and calculations as well as ponder prophetic visions. His medical practice was not particularly exciting and he seems to have spent most of his time working on recipes for special cosmetic preparations for members of the nobility in the surrounding district.
Tracite de Fardemens, the first of his non-prophetic books, appeared in 1552. This was followed by a whole series of books and writings in which he set down a multitude of instructions for making medicinally effective preparations and recipes for all kinds of cosmetics, for elixirs of youth and even for the proper way to make jams and jellies. Incidentally, these themes crop up in the 'yearly almanacs', the prophetic calendars which he published.
The first part of his Centuries (click here for Centurieson CD-ROM disk) appeared in 1555. This was the great prophetical work, composed in quatrains, on the history of the world from 1555 to 3797.
A prophet who already enjoyed an unusual reputation as a plague doctor, miraculous healer and magician - today he would be described as an 'esoteric man' - not only over a wide area of Provence but beyond the borders of France as well, such a man aroused the imagination of more than just the 'common' folk. Nostradamus became a topic of conversation among the upper classes and his reputation as a soothsayer reached the court.
On 14 July 1556 Nostradamus set out on the then very difficult journey from Salon to the French court in Paris. In spite of having permission to use the royal post coach, the journey lasted a full month. Queen Catherine de Medici, who was particularly interested in prophecy and the supernatural, had invited him to demonstrate his knowledge and skill to the royal couple and courtiers to the best of his ability.
His visit to the area was great success. Nostradamus knew how to impress the king and queen through prophecies (subsequently disputed) about themselves (click here for this story of Nostradamus and the Queen on CD-ROM disk). He was able to acquire clients from among members of the aristocracy and the prosperous middle class. He shone as a prophet and astrologer, as well as through his medical skill and the prescribing of arbitrary, yet evidently effective, aids to virility and cosmetic powders and ointments which, at least in the eyes of the ladies, obviously fully fulfilled their purpose.
As a result Nostradamus was visited in Salon year in, year out by members of the aristocracy and the nobility. For a time he was appointed court doctor (residing far from Paris); he enjoyed the reputation of a prophet and medical man recognized by the court. Nostradamus had reached the high point of his life.
Michel de Nostradame, called Nostradamus, died on 2 July 1566, according to the calendar of that time. As far as posterity is concerned he is, without a doubt, best remembered for his prophetic visions. Among his contemporaries, however, at least in the first two-thirds of his life, Nostradamus was famous for his extraordinary medical and alchemical skills.
The fact that his original recipes are now being made available on this Web site to a wider public is one step towards once again portraying Nostradamus for what he really was: an open-minded doctor and sympathetic healer, with intense feeling for the forces of nature, and a preserver of mysterious recipes, handed down through the ages.
Wulfing von Rohr is a television journalist and writer. He is the co-author of ten books on natural healing, including Die richtige Schwingung heilt and Die Farben deiner Seele. He has done considerable research on Nostradamus and published his findings in an authoratative book, Nostradamus - Seher und Astrologe entschlusselte Geheimnisse und ungeloste Ratsel. His latest book is entitled Es steht geschrieben...ist unser Leben Zufall oder Schicksal - von Palmblattbibliotheken und heilgen Schriften.