Tag Archives: medieval

HAS THE VOYNICH MANUSCRIPT BEEN CRACKED?

This is an update to a blog I did in 2012 about the Voynich Manuscript. Recent work done by Dr. Stephen Bax (Professor of Applied Linguistics, University of Bedfordshire) has resulted in some startling findings.

voynich botanical

From 2012:

I love tales of missing manuscripts especially in fiction, but also in non-fiction. Last week, I finished The Swerve which featured the true story of the recovery of Lucretius’ poem, On the Nature of Things, and how it influenced our modern world. I liked the idea of a Renaissance book hunter slipping into monasteries looking for ancient wisdom. But I have a better story to share.

In 1912, Wilfrid Voynich recovered a mysterious manuscript that bears his name and resides in the Yale Library as Manuscript 408. The curious document has defied the patient and persistent attempts by all amateur and professional cryptographers to break it.

Its exact history is sketchy, but the document is alleged to have belonged to an Emperor, several practicing alchemists, and a religious order. Some have even proposed that Roger Bacon or John Dee authored the manuscript.

Consisting of 240 vellum pages with colored illustrations, the writing script is unknown and unreadable. Many of the illustrations resemble herbal texts of the 15th Century except that only a few of them can be identified. Aside from the herbal renderings, there are also illustrations covering topics on astronomy, biology, cosmology, medicines, and recipes. The drawings are fanciful, colorful, and complicated. Carbon-14 dating in 2009, dates the manuscript to between 1408 and 1438.

The text itself has puzzled for decades and even modern computer tools have proved ineffective. The writing itself seems to progress left to right with no punctuation. There are no obvious corrections, the document being very carefully executed. There are some 170,000 separate glyphs utilized throughout and many are used only once or twice. Statistical analysis of the work reveals that it resembles the flow of natural language. But what language? It seems to share some correspondences to English and Latin, but not entirely. The repetition of the glyphs is not a characteristic of European language.

Manuscript 408 remains the only undeciphered Renaissance manuscript and it continues to draw many into its mystery. Some think it’s an early herbal or medical text. Others see it as a work of alchemy (early chemistry) or hermeneutical teaching. Still others have declared it a hoax, but if it is a hoax of some kind, it goes beyond anything produced in the 15th Century. It goes beyond the codes and cyphers used then, and continues to evade codebreakers today. What is this curious work and who penned its bizarre contents?

For those intrigued enough to read further:

The Voynich Manuscript- Gerry Kennedy & Rob Churchill

The Friar & the Cypher- Lawrence Goldstone

Six Unsolved Ciphers- Richard Belfield

Drawing on work done to date, Dr. Bax undertook a detailed look at some of the plants and signs in the manuscript. He began with some of the speculations on plant names to decipher letters within the text. He believes he has deciphered ten words and fourteen signs to begin the process of identifying the language MS 408 was written in. Dr. Bax believes the manuscript is not a hoax, but rather a 15th Century book on nature written not in code but rather an unknown language. Now, the hard work begins to try to reveal more of the manuscript. It seems like this is an instance when having the right experts makes all the difference.  

Watch Dr. Bax’s video describing his process and work. http://stephenbax.net/?page_id=38

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Filed under alchemy, Spiritual/Mysticism, Uncategorized

WELCOME BACK FRANCIS

 

St. Francis, 13th Century

St. Francis, 13th Century

A couple of years ago I listened to one of those Great Courses lectures on St. Francis of Assisi. I patiently waited through all the talk about his early beginnings, his military experience, his illness, his rejection of society, and his eventual creation of a new order. Most of it was dry and rather matter-of-fact. Where was the meat? Where was the mystical Francis I’d heard about? Where were the stories, the hagiography, that made Francis one of the most loved and recognized saints of all time? I walked away from the lectures shaking my head in disappointment. It wasn’t until later that my reading caught up with the reality. I had been very naïve believing a history and art professor would ever broach the subject of mystical experience. It wasn’t done; even an academic degreed in comparative religion would shy away from this discussion. How sad because isn’t that what many of us hunger for?

Francis has whispered from time to time to me. A statue in someone’s garden, the visit of the Pope this fall to Assisi, a well-known spiritual teacher planning a workshop there, St. Francis hospital visible from my new house. Then recently, Pope Francis was proclaimed Time’s Man of the Year. Francis is present in ways he hasn’t been in a long time. What can a twelfth century saint have to say to the modern world? Maybe a lot.

St. Francis in Ecstasy Caravaggio, 1594

St. Francis in Ecstasy
Caravaggio, 1594

Let’s dispense with the relevant historical details (and don’t worry it won’t take twelve lectures) to seek out a deeper meaning for Francis in our time. Francis was born Giovanni di Pietro di Bernadone around 1181. Born into a wealthy merchant family, he enjoyed all the advantages of his station and even went off to war fighting for Assisi. Some kind of vision compelled him to return home where he subsequently lost his zeal for the kind of life he’d been previously living and he began to reject it. He left his father’s silk business, took to serving the poor and lepers, and gained a following. Francis eventually went on to found the Order of the Friars Minor, the Order of St. Clare, and the Third Order of St. Francis.

It was in San Damiano that Francis had a powerful mystical experience which was to frame his life’s work. While praying before an icon, he had a vision of Jesus who spoke to him and said, “…go and repair My house which, as you can see is falling into ruins.”  Francis’ interpretation resulted in him raising money to repair the physical church he was in. Of course, Francis’ mission was not a literal one and called him instead, to restore the institution of the Church.

Stigmatization of St. Francis Matthias Kargen, 1664

Stigmatization of St. Francis
Matthias Kargen, 1664

Although never ordained, Francis’ calling was manifested in a simple life of poverty emulating the life of Christ. His followers were “To follow the teaching of our Lord Jesus Christ and walk in his footsteps.” He was devoted to his spiritual practice and at times would withdraw from life to develop it. He had guiding visions throughout his life, was seen levitating, and was the first recorded person to receive the wounds of Christ (stigmata). Francis was a mystic, but he was also a mystic who brought back what he learned and shared it.

St. Francis leads the wolf of Gubbio. HJ Ford, 1912

St. Francis leads the wolf of Gubbio.
HJ Ford, 1912

Two of the most widely known miracles told about Francis involve his ability to work with animals. In the town of Gubbio, a wolf threatened the townsfolk. Francis intervened and made a pact with the wolf. Thereafter, the wolf remained peacefully near the village and the people fed it. The other story concerns an incident where Francis was trying to preach over the noisy chatter of swallows. He asked the birds to be silent and to the amazement of the crowd, they did. That famous story is the reason why Francis statues and art depictions often have a bird. Francis is the patron saint of animals and the environment.

As we draw near to Christmas and many churches display a nativity scene (Francis is credited with creating the first nativity scene), I hope you will remember a simple saint who lived an exemplary life devoted to poverty and service. His mystical connection to the Universe (God, if you prefer) was the powerhouse of his practice.

For More:

Canticle of the Sun: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Canticle_of_the_Sun

St. Francis Peace Prayer: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prayer_of_Saint_Francis

Book: The Life and Prayers of St. Francis

http://www.amazon.com/Life-Prayers-Saint-Francis-Assisi/dp/1484938984/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1387403109&sr=1-1&keywords=st+francis

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Filed under animals, Book Review, Books, Spiritual/Mysticism