ON THE VOYNICH MANUSCRIPT AND THE MYTH OF USELESS MARGINALIA: AN INTRODUCTION TO HOW IT WAS DECODED

 

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Many people assume that the Voynich manuscript (aka VMS) is entirely written in an unintelligible script known as Voynichese. Not true. More than half of the VMS pages contain Arabic numerals or words that utilize the Latin alphabet, including words written in the Latin, Occitan, French, Spanish, and German languages. And there's even a word written in English.

It is widely believed that those intelligible words were written into the manuscript subsequently to the glyphs, but even if true, the author of that text (popularly referred to as marginalia) could have certainly known a whole lot more than we do. Here's a word we find at the top of folio 17r:

 

Voynich Manuscript Marginalia: the word allar

 

That's easy enough: a - l - l - a – r. For comparison sake, we'll now look at an excerpt from the Summa Sacre Magice (aka SSM), a 14th-century manuscript on medieval magic that is still extant:

 

Summa Sacre Magice: the excerpt alla - r

 

That reads a – l – l – a - (dot) - r, so the two sequences of letters have a lot in common. Just a coincidence? Probably not because with the word just to the right of allar on folio 17r, the author of the marginalia expresses familiarity with dots:

 

Voynich Manuscript Marginalia: the dot on f17r

 

Here's the complete excerpt of divine names from the SSM:

 

Summa Sacre Magice: the seventy-two divine names

 

You'll find "alla (dot) r" (where the r is the first letter of rabur) in the 8th line from the top. The seventy-two divine names are preceded by "ha" (large h in red) which is not a divine name but a Hebrew word meaning the and often used in front of divine names. Here's a transcription of the seventy-two names:

theos . onay . el . xps . on . raby . alpha ω . baruch . agla . letamynyn . adon . ioth . quyesteron . tunayon . yalgal . ysyston . sampsoyny . thetebar . athyonodabazar . lauaquyryn . geuer . athedyon . oroytheon . nomyx . oristyon . sanathyel . vabalganarytyn . lauagelaguyn . araton . radix . yaua . capkyb . ely . kyryos . suparyas . pantheon . flemoyon . yuestre . onella . maniyas . elgybor . maney . asmamyas . nathanathoy . abracalabrah . remolyon . epafgricus . narach . vagalnarytyn . gofgamel . alla . rabur . eloon . lauazyryn . abracaleus . tantalatysten . eye . delectycon . ay . tunayon . occynomeryon . nomygon . oryona . nosulaseps . abryon . orlon . ye . layafalasyn . eye assereye . ydardycon . ocleyste . tucheon

Note that I am using blue ink to insert additional information or comments that were not part of the original article.

Relevant divine-name theology (not yet evolved into a sophisticated system of encryption) can be traced back to an occult classic called the Sefer Yetzirah (aka SY). According to a blind mystic of the 13th century, the SY tells us that someone unnamed (the "Hidden One") engraved divine names into thirty-two mysterious paths of wisdom. In contrary opinion, religious fanatics tell us that the Creator (using the ten names to refer to Himself) did the engraving. Frankly, the ideas of the mystic seem to make more sense.

The date of origin of the SY is hotly debated. In its opening paragraph, the SY refers to a book that was orally communicated, likely the Koran (611 CE to 632 CE) which in turn refers back to the SY as the book of Abraham (who was proclaimed within the SY as the book's author). For my part, I think the appearance of the SY can be linked to the initiation of the Geonim academies in Babylonia, thereby predating the Koran by a decade or two.

In addition to making a big deal out of divine names, the SY provides some basic instructions for creating a system of encryption: it tells us to place letters around the circle and then to oscillate the circle forwards and backwards. It speaks of repeating sequences of letters on a circle and of "gates" on the circle where a letter can be combined with another letter, perhaps an idea for combining a consonant with a vowel.

By the middle of the 13th century (in my opinion, drawings on VMS foldout page f85v2 depict a known historical event of March, 1244 CE), the ten divine names of the SY had expanded into seventy-two names coming from all three of the Abrahamic religions and possibly from elsewhere as well.

For encryption purposes, the medieval magicians took the first letter of each of the seventy-two divine names and put them in a circle (around the edge of a disk), creating the following Sigillum Dei (Seal of God):

 

Summa Sacre Magice: the Sigillum Dei

 

Note that the divine name xps refers to Christus so the x (fifth letter on the wheel) could represent a c as well as an x: e.g., "facit" or "faxit".

The extant SSM manuscript was owned by the John Dee, English astrologer, mathematician and occultist of the 16th century. We know that for sure because his handwritten notes can be found in the margins throughout the manuscript. Dee has been accused of selling the VMS to the King of Prague, but his real ties to the VMS are more likely to lie in the realm of decryption. Don't be fooled by his conversations with demons: it was standard procedure pretending to be insane in order to evade persecution by the Inquisition. At the time the Spanish and their infamous Inquisition were a threat to conquer England. In the 13th and 14th centuries, the magicians created grimoires (rituals to invoke demons and the spirits of the dead) likewise as an insanity plea. This is not to say that feeble-minded people did not subsequently take those endeavors seriously.

Following the letter h, the first letter of each of the seventy-two names is recorded in order, making a total of seventy-three letters:

 

Summa Sacre Magice: divine names on a circle

 

That's just great for the Latin alphabet, but what about the VMS glyphs? As it turns out, the VMS has a Sigillum Dei of its own, found on folio 57v:

 

The Voynich Manuscript: the Sigillum Dei on f57v

 

Toward the bottom right of the VMS Sigillum page, we find a mysterious figure in isolation:

 

Lamed on the Sigillum Dei page (f57v)

 

It looks somewhat like our number 5; unfortunately, the number 5 did not look like our 5 back in medieval times. The best guess is that it is the Hebrew letter Lamed with a bar overhead, possibly indicating a spread of distance.

In Hebrew, letters also represent numbers and Lamed is the number 30. Let's assume our Sigillum (folio 57) stands in the middle. Counting back 15 folios, we arrive at folio 42, the number of letters in a highly popular divine name of the Middle Ages. Counting forward 15 folios, we arrive at folio 72, the number of divine names on our Sigillum Dei.

 

Double bars on the alphabet wheel and on f72v

 

On the left we see the double bar of the alphabet wheel on f57v, and on the right we see the double bar on the bottom right of f72v (I think it best not to interpret the "mn" here), which is still another hint to use the wheel of 72 divine letters. It has also become apparent that VMS pages were artificially rearranged with regard to page numbering, for example, missing folios 59 through 64 may have never existed merely because they wanted Quire 11 (double bars) to end on folio 72.

Before we go any further, let's look at what we see to the far right of "allar" on folio 17r:

 

Voynich Manuscript Marginalia: the number 17 on folio 17r

 

On the VMS Sigillum, in the second wheel inward from the outside, we find a sequence of 17 glyphs repeated four times around the circle (the alphabet wheel). That makes a total of 68 glyphs, which are followed by a space, vertical bar, vertical bar, space, bringing the total to 72 (the number of divine names). If we imagine a space between the two vertical bars, the total would be 73, the same total as obtained from the SSM divine names plus ha.

Here's the sequence of 17:

 

The Voynich Manuscript: the sequence of 17 glyphs

 

The glyphs marked with an R are rarely seen in Voynichese. Glyphs #4 and #12 look alike and may interchangeably represent any of the following:

 

The Voynich Manuscript: the 2-shaped glyphs

 

Glyph #9 has a variant in two of the sequences:

 

The Voynich Manuscript: the G-shaped glyph

 

Note that on the VMS Sigillum, there is space for more writing both above and below the alphabet wheel:

 

The Voynich Manuscript: concentric circles f57v

 

Let's place the Latin letters of the Sigillum Dei above and Voynichese (lines drawn from the manuscript) below; we'll then oscillate the wheels until we get a match, like the following:

 

The Voynich Manuscript: matching glyphs on the wheels

 

As you can see, a match of glyphs between the alphabet wheel and the inserted line of Voynichese allows us to extract the attached Latin letter, here the letter "y". And so on, with each rotation or oscillation, we look for matches and pick up letters of the Latin alphabet, one by one, and in this manner the Voynichese glyphs are transformed into text that we can read.

It should be becoming apparent that divine-name encryption and decryption requires long strings of text in order to function. The text needs to be long enough to reach all parts of the wheel where the desired letters may lie, so it cannot possibly work with short strings of text like labels. I am taking the position that only the text pages (the final 23 pages and maybe f58) are encrypted and capable of decryption.

I further believe that the astrological, cosmological and bathing sections were originally created in the 13th century and, after transferring the drawings over to fresh parchment in the 15th century, the Latin or Occitan writing was replaced with Voynichese script arbitrarily drawn from the text section. And the botanical sections, newly created, likewise picked up random patches of script from the text section. Except for the text pages, the script may be utterly meaningless.

The following glyphs are very common in Voynichese but are nowhere to be found on the alphabet wheel:

 

The Voynich Manuscript: frequently-seen glyphs not on the alphabet wheel

 

Evidently, these glyphs (which frequently appear in prefixes and suffices) serve only as position regulators to ensure that the convertible glyphs on the alphabet wheel wind up in the right place. Divine-name encryption requires precise alignments.

To ensure that the divine names (first letter of each) are capable of covering all text written in the Latin alphabet, I compared the SSM divine names with a chapter (Chapter 7 selected) of an all-Latin book (Historia Regum Britanniae) written in the 12th century.

Chapter 7 was not a random selection. It contains Geoffrey of Monmouth's Prophetiae Merlini comprising cryptic allusions to the book that, according to my theories, the text section of the VMS encrypts. Thus, many of the same Latin words should appear in both, which explains why it is upsetting that we don't see the letter z on the Sigillum Dei.

This is the result:

 

Summa sacre magice – Historia Regum Britannia compare

 

Note that the Sigillum uses the "y" as an "i" but apparently there is an least one situation where it wants to distinguish an "i" from a "y". However, Chapter 7 has a z (actually a capital Z) and hundreds of u's but there is no u and no z on the Sigillum. It looks like divine name encryption has a serious problem, but fortunately the Sigillum Doornenburgensis might come to the rescue:

 

Sigillum Doornenburgensis front

 

It's a Sigillum disk made of lead. We already know much of what we see here but it is what we see on the back of this disk that most intrigues us:

 

Sigillum Doornenburgensis back

 

I read this as a-g-o-l-b-y-a-u-b-u-Z-u(or v)-a-u-b-u-A. The Z is debatable but it certainly does not look like the small a's nor the capital A at the end, and since we need a Z, I'm assuming that's what it was meant to be. Please note that this is a sequence of 17 letters, the same as the number of glyphs in the repeated sequences around the alphabet wheel. Theoretically, therefore, we could have an additional segment, one that gives us one chance for a Z and four or five chances for a u.

I view agolb (five letters), yaubuZ (six letters) and uaubuA (six letters) as representing Allah, Yahweh, and Iehova. I derive this idea from the last line of a German-language book called Fama Fraternitatis, 1615 edition:

 

Last line of Fama Fraternitatis, 1615

 

It translates as Under the shadow of your wings, Jehovah.

 

Last line of Fama Fraternitatis, 1682

 

By 1682, Iehova was transformed into Jehoua (but, really, it should have been a u back in 1615 as that was the norm) and the b in the middle of alabrum has vanished. Indeed, that b should have never been there in the first place: in no declension does the Latin ala pick up a b, but the Sigillum Doornenburgensis has a b in every line:

 

Sigillum Doornenburgensis, words on back

 

There is reason to suspect that the anonymous author of the Rosicrucian manifesto had sight of the Sigillum Doornenburgensis and possibly of the VMS as well.

At this point let's pause for a few words about medieval magic and its rituals for creating a golem (a clay figure brought to life by magic). The topic is of interest because the primary ritual involved placing 221 combinations of letters around a single large circle, and it is very noteworthy that 221 is divisible by 17. The SSM Sigillum displays four irregularly placed Maltese crosses and four irregularly placed dark bars all pointing in different directions for linking consonants with vowels or vice versa.

The VMS Sigillum also has internal pointers:

 

Voynich Manuscript Sigillum: directional pointers

 

Note that there are a total of six arms pointing, based on the six cardinal directions of the SY: above (1), below (11), east (5), west (5), south (5), north (5), where the number in brackets indicates the number of paths of wisdom allocated to each extremity, as reflected in the Covenant with Abraham. I'm planning a follow-up article on that Covenant: it offers what could be our best chance for a quick breakthrough on the decoding, providing us with textual movements ranging from 34 (twice 17) to 300 which may replicate on the spheres.

Divine-name decryption is now becoming annoyingly complicated, so it seems best to turn to our marginalia friend for help. We'll start at the top of the last page of the manuscript:

 

Voynich Manuscript Marginalia: por liber on f116v

 

I interpret the second word as "liber" which is Latin for "free" as an adjective or Latin for "book" as a noun. The second letter, which looks like an e, points to the upper right where we find the dot of an i.

For the first word, the third letter is crossed out with an x (darker ink) but it seems safe to assume it is an r because in the second line (one line down) we encounter a clue being the following sequence of letters:

 

Voynich Manuscript Marginalia: por of portas on f116v

 

Por is the Spanish word for "by", and por libre (moving the r of liber two spaces to the left) gives us by free (taking precedence over book which is libro in Spanish).

Also in the second line we find some numbers:

 

Voynich Manuscript Marginalia: five C for 500 on f116v

 

Per my arithmetic, this ads up to 500. And in the next line down we find four different ways to calculate the number 35:

 

Voynich Manuscript Marginalia: four ways to calculate 35 on f116v

 

Curiously, in my study of French influence on English theatrical literature of the late 16th century, I found a quatrain (poem with four lines) numbered V-35 (535) and, in English translation, it began with the words "By free city"!

Additionally, by the logic of poetic content, we can surmise that the "six" in the third line of marginalia is an English "six" (6) and not a French "six" (also 6). Meanwhile, the "por" (first part of portas) in the second line of marginalia corresponds to "porte" in the second line of the quatrain.

In the fourth and final line of marginalia, we find:

 

Voynich Manuscript Marginalia: ubren on f116v

 

If we move the r two places to the left (like we did for the r of liber), we get urben, and the first four letters, urbe, is the Spanish word for a large city or metropolitan area.

To the left of ubren, we find the only instance of marginalia written entirely in VMS glyphs:

 

Voynich Manuscript Marginalia: two words of script on f116v

 

And on VMS folio 104r, line 28:

 

The Voynich Manuscript: two words of script on f104r

 

The sequence here and the folio 116v sequence just seen are the only two places in the entire VMS manuscript where that precise sequence of VMS glyphs can be found.

Note the blots of red ink above the glyphs on folio 116v. Thus, on folio 104r, from the red star on line 27 to the red star on line 34 (yes, the color-coding is part of the marginalia), we should expect to extract p-o-r l-i-b-r-e u-r-b-e or, if in reverse, e-b-r-u e-r-b-i-l r-o-p.

While the Latin per liberum urbem remains possible for our Rosetta Stone, I'd suggest trying the Spanish first because, evidently, the French poem concerns a Spanish-speaking place.

Conclusion: Divine-name encryption cannot be ruled out for the text section of the VMS and there is even a remote chance that its use can be proven.

In case you are confused, I truly believe (with abundant evidence detailed elsewhere) that the text section of the VMS encrypts the first of the three books created by the Hidden One in early medieval times, and that the text section was decoded, translated and published under a heavy mask in the late 16th century. It is now only a matter of trying to repeat the decoding feat.

 

REFERENCES

Yale University Digital Collections Title: Cipher Manuscript (Voynich Manuscript) Download: https://collections.library.yale.edu/
pdfs/2002046.pdf

Berengarious Ganellus: Summa sacrae magicae
View online: https://orka.bibliothek.uni-kassel.de/
viewer/image/1343812736802/1/

Chardonnens, Lásió Sánder and Veenstra, Jan R., "Carved in Lead and Concealed in Stone: A Late Medieval Sigillum Dei at Doornenburg Castle". Magic, Ritual, and Witchcraft, Volume 9, Number 2, Winter 2014, pp. 117-156, University of Pennsylvania Press

D'Imperio, M. E., " The Voynich Manuscript: An Elegant Enigma", National Security Agency, 1978

Hammer, Jacob, "Geoffrey of Monmouth Historia Regum Britanniae", A variant version edited from manuscripts. Liber Septimus. The Medieval Academy of America, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1951

Scholem, Gershom, "On the Kabbalah and Its Symbolism", Chapter 5, The Idea of the Golem, Schocken Books, 1965

Sender, Mark Brian, "The Emergence of Provençal Kabbalah: Rabbi Isaac the Blind's Commentary on Sefer Yezirah". Translation and Annotation. Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations, Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts, May, 1994

St. George, Morten, French Influence on English Playwrights of the Late 16th Century. Unpublished research paper. https://mortenstgeorge.net/index.html

Veenstra, Jan. R., "Honorius and the Sigil of God: the Liber iuratus in Berengario Ganell's Summa Sacre Magice". Invoking Angels: Theurgic Ideas and Practices, Thirteenth to Sixteenth Centuries. Ed. Claire Fanger. Pennsylvania: Pennsylvania State UP, 2012. 151-191.

For the SY, Aryeh Kaplan's Sefer Yetzirah: The Book of Creation is a source of information.

 


 

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This VMS website, neglected for two years while I undertook investigations into Shakespeare Authorship and Alien Astronauts, is going to get a major revamping in the coming weeks. The second of five planned articles is now available:

On the Voynnich manuscript and the myth of northern Italy

 

 


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