Why The Nostradamus Kennedy Assassination Prediction Falls Flat

"The great man will be struck down in the day by a thunderbolt / An evil deed foretold by the bearer of a petition / According to the prediction, another falls at night time / Conflict at Reims, London and a pestilence in Tuscany."

So let's pretend you know nothing about history's most famous black-hat-wearing prognosticator, Nostradamus, or about JFK, for that matter. What in the world would this bit of vaguely poetic verse mean to you, as Insider quotes? Perhaps it reminds you of your disastrous senior prom date, or that one time Cheryl at work ate your yogurt in the fridge and you thought it was the new dude, Gary. That's precisely the problem with prognostication, prophecy, prediction, what-have-you: it only takes on specific meaning after the fact. Before that, no amount of abstract thinking could lead the words above directly to the assassination of U.S. President John F. Kennedy on November 22, 1963. 

To be fair, let's take a post-hoc stab at it. The "great man" in the verse? Let's say it's JFK. A "thunderbolt" could be a sniper's bullet, sure, but any similarities between that kind of bolt and a bolt-action rifle are mere linguistic flukes. Yes, an assassination is an "evil deed." "Another falls at night time" could be Bobby Kennedy. But by the time we get to Reims (a city in France), London, and Tuscany, we've totally disconnected from any resemblance to JFK's death, barring strings pulled taut across pins stuck into a corkboard.  

Prophetically inaccurate

Despite Nostradamus' posthumous popularity and all the "fat profits from publishing [his] sensational books," as The Guardian puts it, it turns out that not too, too much of his poetry has been on point. Then again, maybe it was and we didn't know, because it's just all so vague. And we say "poetry" because that's what his 1555 book "The Prophecies" was — a compilation of 942 quatrains (four-line poems). 

Nostradamus, born Michel de Nostredame, started off as a medical doctor, and by all accounts a good one. He went from prescribing "fresh, unpolluted air and water and clean bedding" during an outbreak of the bubonic plague (via the Jewish Virtual Library) to becoming more and more interested in esoteric traditions like Kabbalah he'd encountered during his youth. Queen Catherine de Medici, wife of King Henry II, who ruled France from 1547 until 1559, loved Nostradamus, the occult, astrology, you name it. Thus began Nostradamus' mid-life career as court mystic. We're not saying that Nostradamus felt pressured to come up with some good material, but we're also not not saying it. 

Earlier in life, in 1538, Nostradamus was full-on hunted by the Inquisition following an offhand remark about a church statue, as History says. Rather than be tortured and killed, he fled and lived across Europe before heading back to France and eventually adopting his prophetic role. So the vagueness of his verse? It's likely intentional, because he didn't want to be hunted again.

The spread of dis- and misinformation

To be fair, some folks really believe in Nostradamus' predictive powers. But because belief and fact aren't at all the same thing for our easily dupable ape brains, let's look at the information that supposedly frames Nostradamus as a true soothsayer. Sites include, but are not limited to, Sky History, History of Yesterday, Mirror, Irish Mirror, and The Economic Times of India. At least Insider has the decency of headlining, "some people say [Nostradamus] foresaw" the future, rather than saying that his "predictions came true," or some such thing. If someone points at the sky and proclaims, "Wet shall the punishment fall upon the unshielded," it doesn't mean that that person "predicted" that you'd forget your umbrella.

When speaking of JFK's assassination, various sites reference the following lines: "From on high, evil will fall on the great man," "A dead innocent will be accused of the deed," and "remain in the mist." In order, these lines are supposed to describe JFK being killed with a bullet fired from a great height, Lee Harvey Oswald being innocent and dying shortly after shooting JFK, and the true guilty party remaining hidden.

The only problem with these lines? They don't exist. Feel free to download Nostradamus' book "Prophecies" from sites like Global Grey (the English translation; it was written in French) and peruse at leisure. Yet, just like believers getting caught in an echo chamber of false truth, so too do various sources reference dis- and misinformation.