TUCoPS :: Crypto :: voynich.txt

Cryptography and John Dee - A true mystery

        Anyone who is interested in cryptography and who also is interested in 
the occult and or bizzarre should be aware of the Voynich Manuscript.  Here
is a brief rundown along with some references and speculations.
        I am doing this all from memory (mine, not the computer's), so I can't 
guarantee that it's accurate, but I think I've got all the major details 
straight.  (I did some research on it a few years back.)
        The Voynich Manuscript is named for a fellow named Voynich (this part 
is non-controversial), who discovered it while looking for old illuminated 
manuscripts (excuse me girls--personuscripts).  When he died, he donated it to 
Yale, where, when last I heard, it still resides.
        It is a couple hundred pages long.  Most of each page is "text" (I'll 
get back to that.).  The margins of many or most of the pages contain 
illustrations of EXTREMELY obscure significance; for instance, some of the 
drawings look like naked women standing in what looks like a cross between a 
tree root system and a set of vertical baths.  Some of the illustrations, it 
has been claimed, represent recognizable plants not known to the old world. 
Attempts to interpret the illustrations have been just as lame as attempts to 
decode the text.  While the Voynich Manuscript ain't the Book of Kells, what 
I've seen of it has its own weird charm, and both text and illustrations were 
executed with care by someone who cared about what they were doing.  This last 
point bears repeating, as I don't think that it has elsewhere been 
sufficiently emphasized:  Whoever produced the Voynich Manuscript was hot 
enough to do it that they went to serious effort to make it or expense to have 
it made. They weren't dicking around.  (This doesn't mean it isn't a joke, but 
if it is, it's a goddam serious one.  And it doesn't mean the author wasn't 
crazy, but I don't have to tell YOU that there are shitpiles of serious 
        You really should take a look at it or you won't really have a good 
idea of what it looks like; check the references a little farther on.  I 
remember that when I first heard about the Voynich Manuscript, I was given an 
accurate description that just didn't convey what the damn‚d thing looks like.
        The "text" is a bunch of squiggly letter-like lines (about 20 or so 
different kinds) with fairly clear division into "words", laid out in "lines"
and "paragraphs".  In other words (hah) it looks like writing.  The "letters"
don't look much like anybody's real alphabet but they don't look that weird 
either.  (They don't look like "@#$%^%$#".)
        By now you're probably wondering who the fuck made it.  Nobody knows.
        As to where it came from, something is known.  There is a notation in 
the MS indicating that sometime in the early 1600's it ended up in the library 
of some Austrian or German count (or something; I don't remember the 
details.).  Between there and Voynich nothing is known or noone is talking.  
Before there it looks as though the damn‚d thing belonged to John Dee(oo-ee-
oo).  If you don't know who he was, you're reading the wrong file on the wrong 
BBS.  Count X was one of Dee's continental patrons and Dee's son Arthur said 
that his dad had had a cipher manuscript that he wasn't able to crack.  
Unfortunately, he doesn't say what happened to it.  This, so far as I know is 
the whole John Dee connection.  More tenuous is the connection to Roger Bacon.
This seems to be based on assuming the Voynich Manuscript is a couple 
centuries older than it probably is (about 1500 seems the most convincing 
date), the romantic notion that Bacon had these marvellous secrets of the 
illuminati that he hid in cipher, and the fact that Dee was an avid collector 
of Bacon MSS (you could get them at fire sale prices when Hank8 closed down 
the monastery scam).  It looks to me that the Dee connection is likely enough 
to assume it as a starting point for further research, the Bacon one 
only interesting if another connection appears.
        However, you should keep in mind that even if the MS was written by 
Bacon, it doesn't mean that it was written in England.  Roger spent some of 
his time, including jail time, on the continent.  Likewise if John Dee 
obtained it, it wasn't necessarily in Britain.  As far as I know, there is no 
consensus as to where the Voynich Manuscript was written, although Europe 
seems to be most probable.  (To the extent that the writing looks like 
anything, it looks like European scripts.
        So we don't know very much about the Voynich Manuscript's origin, 
originator or purpose.  All we have is the thing itself, and it aint talking.
        If no-one has managed to decode it, it isn't for lack of trying.  
Since Voynich's day there have been several attempts of varying degrees of 
nuttiness.  Most of the early attempts are just lame: People who see more than 
is there, creating a vast edifice of bullshit.  People who see what they want 
to see, creating more of the same. People who don't understand what ciphers 
are all about, piling on more bullshit.
        This last fuckup bears some elaboration, since it is so widespread and 
infects moored as well as loose cannon.  For a cipher to be reasonable it must 
be able to be inverted ambiguously.  To take an extreme example, suppose I 
cipher the letters a-m as a, n-z as n.  Then "dong" encodes to "abba".  So 
far, so lame.  HOWEVER, "abba" can decode as "dong" or "long" or "pork" et-
fuckin'-cetera.  You will NEVER be able to figure the encoder's intent. 
Conversely, you get a variety of messages so you can pick your favorite.  This 
last has plagued the Voynich Manuscript interpreters (and [Francis] 
Baconians).  I'm not going to go into the ugly details of any of the dingbat 
theories, but they seem to be inclined towards  allowing the use of anagrams
and the assumption that the original author was illiterate in a fashion 
specified by the interpreter.  I mean, these folks are hopelessly lame and 
        So, you ask, are there any workable decipherments?  Welllll sort of.
A recent book, The most mysterious manuscript: The Voynich "Roger Bacon" 
cipher manuscript edited by a clown named Brumbaugh, is a collection of 
essays, a couple of which claim tohave made some headway.  To not run off 
about it, I think that they are falling into subtler versions of the non-
invertiblity fallacy.  Read the book and see if you agree.
        Of course it is possible that the author of the Voynich Manuscript
DID use a bogus cipher.  If so, we're shit out of luck.
        Then there is the question of whether its a goddam cipher in the first 
        The heavyweight cryptanalyst William Friedman came to the conclusion 
that its written in an artificial language.  Maybe so, but the vogue for 
creating artificial languages, I seem to recall, was closer to the 1600's and 
1700's.  However, similar ideas were floating around in the late medieval 
period.  And you could look at the Kabbalah as the same sort of thing...
        It was noticed early on that while the Voynich Manuscript does look 
like writing it doesn't have a large repetition structure like real language.
(This seems to have been part of what gave Friedman his idea.)  As far as I 
know, the only person who has thought to test this statistically is the laser 
physicist William Ralph Bennett Jr.  In the mid 70's, he wrote a book, 
Scientific and Engineering Problem-Solving With the Computer, which has a 
chapter on cryptanalysis in general and the Voynich Manuscript in particular.
He does an analysis of the (statistical) information of single letters, 
digrams, and trigrams for several known languages and the Voynich Manuscript.
Using these measures, he finds that the MS does not have statistics resembling 
any of the tested languages. Except Hawaiian.  Make of that what you will.
        So that is the state of the art, as far as I know it.  Now here are 
some theories and speculations of my own, presented in no particular order of 
logic, favor, coherence or sanity.
        Is the MS written in a form of musical notation?  Or is it an encoding 
of non verbal vocalizations such as liturgy or chanting?  Either of these 
could explain why the Voynich Manuscript doesn't have the structure of 
language.  If either of these is the case, I don't hold much hope for 
decipherment, unless a key is found.
        I think one reasonable possibility is that this is a code, not a 
cipher; that is, it isn't letter-to-letter substitution, but word-to-word 
substitution.  Again, without a key being discovered, cracking it is unlikely.
        Then there is the John Dee connection.  Maybe Dee wrote it.  Or Edward 
Kelley.  I haven't seen any theory, nut or otherwise, that looks at these 
possibilities.  Is there a connection with the Enochian system?  Kelley 
mayhave been a fraud.  If he was pulling Dee's leg about the Enochian stuff, 
he was doing a singularly thorough and persistent job of it.  Sound familiar?
        And, for what it's worth, Dee may have been a bit of a spy.
        Then, of course, the Voynich Manuscript might be concealing the true 
assassins of JFK, the current whereabouts of Elvis, and the location of the 
home planet of the Greys.
        One thing though.  The goddam thing is real. It exists.  This is an 
honest-to-god what-the-fuck MYSTERY.

        I know of extensive set of plates from the Voynich Manuscript.  The 
best set (3 or 4 pages) is in Bennett's book (he's at Yale).  Kahn's The 
Codebreakers has a couple of illos and gives the basic rundown.


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