Conjunction of the stars

The planets Venus & Jupiter conjoined tonight whilst I was watching. Here was my impression.

As I sit here, a glass of good wine in my hand, on my terrace under the bright Mediterranean sky, I can see but three objects in the sky. A full moon, Venus and Jupiter. There are no other stars, I cannot see the space station, all I can see are, around the horizon, bats fluttering near the old fashioned fluorescent street lamps in my village.


As it is, I stretch out in my comfy patio furniture, adjust my footrest and top up my wine glass. Hey, if the worse come to the worst I can always have a paracetamol and get rid of the hangover tomorrow…..

What if such a thing were not possible? What, if instead of my somewhat overly expensive patio furniture I was reclining on a mossy bank, just 400 years ago, staring into the sky? Unable to remove my hangover with a handy pill but instead doomed to suffer the agonising pain of a throbbing headache without even a fat rich English breakfast to calm the pulsations? I can trace my family 400 years back, I can look at a nicely printed family tree and say this, this person was my ancestor. Can I presume to imagine what my great*16 grandfather actually thought when in the same position as I was tonight?


Jupiter rules the sky tonight. The Moon is brilliant, but she always comes in play once every 28 days, and like a peacock on the lawn she soon dulls in significance. Jupiter, tonight, is showing his military prowess. He is the King that we assume him to be. Jupiter is sanguine, he is warm and moist in nature and encourages growth, he brings wealth prosperity peace and good fortune. He is the sign of the Law, of higher Education and of good administration. But do not be fooled into his good humours, for he is martial when provoked, the true sign of a king; just and merciful when worshipped, but vengeful and military when provoked. He spends a year in each Zodiac, a year courting each poor astral significance that falls within his power, and tonight he will mate with Venus, whilst the Moon stares on in this poor menage a trois.

Poor Venus. She flees from Jupiter, a lonely beauty whose power to provoke passion is echoed in the beauty of the Mediterranean daughters she has left behind in the modern era. She has been flirting for the last fortnight, a courtship watched with earnestness by us, but it is as ever a private and intricate courtship that nonetheless is carried out along the same beloved lines as always. Venus, as we know, is a flirt who skits constantly between the inner planets, dancing amongst the Signs of the Zodiac without ever being known to spend overly long with any suitor, always manipulating to ensure her aims are carried out. Until Jupiter arrives, on his 12th year of progression, and grasps her in his embrace and demands her attentions.

Poor Venus, for she is trapped in his attentions. She is Ruler of the second house of the Zodiac and all who enter must obey her whim, with the exception of Jupiter, for when he deigns enter her House he is the King and she but his Queen. If Mars is the Ruler of War then Jupiter is the King who commands Mars, and Venus is, if she did but recognise this and submit to his whim, his Queen.

This is finally a duodecad*. Jupiter has arrived.

And here, on Earth, a fox is crying. Bats are fluttering, and it is as if the powers that be had ordered it, for the flickering fluorescent street light suddenly cycles out and all is black on my patio. And in the skies above me, in the silence of the night, Jupiter and Venus mate for the first time in a dozen years. And all is silent.

And I imagine my ancestor. On his mossy bank, 400 years ago, shuddering at the thought of what the Gods are doing. For I believe that my ancestor would have been of the class of people who believed in divine rule, who obey the (protestant, England ah hem) Church yet still, in agreement with their Betters, followed the whims of the Astrologers.

Let us imagine John Dee** preparing his chart for Elizabeth R. What would he have said to Her Majesty on such a night? That Jupiter, sign of the elderly generation, the wisdom inherent in the old, the ruler and the wise old bird on a tree, was mating with Venus, the beautiful and wily young lady, the young woman with aristocratic upbringing but a gypsy heart, who takes all for a promise but rarely comes through unless it is in her interest, but who is unable to stand against her Master.

And all under the unbroken gaze of the Moon.

For tonight, with the King and Queen in congress under a black sky, magic flows and humanity must truly shape itself to the demands of its betters. A child conceived, or better, born on such a night will surely be a leader, for the very whim of the darkness urges the midwife to proclaim it so.

All is silent as the two planets engage. A silence that is absolute as the stars glaze over with glory, and the very Moon itself appears to blush and diminish in fury as she averts her eyes from the lovers.

A silence that is broken by a rubbish lorry coming past, nosily shuddering to stop and picking up the bins, its vibrations shaking the streetlight back into life. And I am back in the 21st century.

We no longer believe in such nonsense, with exception of the bumpf published in local newspapers which serve as a passing attraction to 16 year old unsure of their direction in this world. And that which we publish has morphed out of all recognition from what was recognised as truth just a few ancestors ago.

But make no mistake. If it is still a magical fleeting moment today, it had the power to entrance and entrap the most powerful of a few centuries ago – and we can never, never, overestimate the power of Romance in our ancestors of years ago.



*OK, 11.6years is what it takes for Jupiter to enter Venus’s house. I don’t know what you call 11,6 years so I went for a group of a 12 (duodecad).

**Dee lived in the 16th century but the family chart doesn’t go back that far. Stick with me.

Is it worth trying to work out what the plants in the Voynich Manuscript are?

There are many “plants” (herbs if you will, although I doubt all them are) in the Voynich Manuscript. Is it worthwhile trying to identify them?
For any identification attempt is a two edged sword that can easily lead us astray.
First off, we have to consider whether
a) the plants are drawn in the traditional sense or
b) are the results of an individual working off their own experience.
or c)…… that they don’t actually have a maning.
If a),

then they are being copied from earlier sources, and hence will correspond to the bulk of the literary tradition in Europe. If we assume they are, then there will be many clues that give us access to their identifications as their use will be symbolised. Remember that there are many herbals in existence – most of them, as Don on the mailing list has been discovering, are just copies of earlier or contemporaneous works, following set patterns, even if the individual monastery did add commentaries to the “official” text.

People simply did not want innovation in their herbs – we are talking about medicine here. Without going deeply into the subject, the literary tradition of medicine was institutionalised, it was traditional. Herbals were part of a tradition from the past, based usually on the doctrine of signatures, medicine that was assumed to work, and nobody wanted to be the guinea pig for some quack with new ideas.
Herbals of the age followed the tradition. We obviously cannot know what local doctors (wise women or men, leechs, hedge magicians, call them what you will) knew or thought, for they left no written record, but it seems a safe bet that oral teaching would filter out from the monasteries, communicating their knowledge, and that this knowledge would be passed between villages and medics. We know that the common name for herbs changes drastically from region to region, even village to village in old England, but their essential purpose remains the same.
As an example, the Old English Herbolarium, an AngloSaxon turn of the millennium work, is a herbal written in Old English in the continental style, translating the original continental works. However, most of the herbs depicted are unrecognisable, which lead scholars to assume that the scribes who translated the work didn’t have access to any original illustrations (many of the herbs are, in any case, not native to the British Isles). The assumption was that the scribes had no real life models, and so after several editions of the work had been copied, the original illustrations had morphed unrecognisably. Not so: Voigts in his 1979 work proved that the herbs are depicted in their dried form, the only way that Brits would have had access to them (via trade to central and southern Europe), and far more useful a depiction to them than their fresh form. The scribes had kept the knowledge and power of the authoritative written text, but had changed the illustration to fit their needs.
But the symbolised “clues” are still there. Basilicia, adderwort, a herb assumed to protect against adders continues to have its association with the three snakes and so can be recognised. Adderwort without the snake & basilisk association serves no point!
So if we assume a), we can then go ahead and look for symbolic clues in the Voynich. Let us look at 49r. A plant with multi colour golden (well, reddish) bulbs and snakes around the roots. Ah ha! It’s Adderwort.
Or is it?
Well, adderwort traditionally has three snakes, not two as depicted in the Voynich. The snakes are usually called Eriseos, Stillatus & Hematites (or Crysofalus) according to Pollington, at least in the old English tradition, with their associated characteristics that give the plant its power (I skip over the details here). So why does the Voynich only have two? And are they really snakes? Where are their fangs, or the vertical stripes showing that these are indeed the poisontooth snakes of antiquity, the adder family?
So the symbology does not help us. Either the symbology is adhered to as per tradition, or it is thrown out of the window and a new schematic is inserted. We cannot pick on one half recognised detail and expand it to the rest of the material without proof.
Let’s consider b).

The Voynich is the work of someone not following the traditional patterns.

Well, in this case, we cannot assume. We must be sure. And how can we be sure if the text is not there to describe what we are seeing?
Ah ha! We think. This is a rose. No, replies the author, it’s a dog rose, or a badly drawn daisy. How dare you think it is a rose.
Ah ha! This is Adderwort. Look at the snakes. No, replies the author, for that is the medicine of the old guard, not the new exciting stuff I am developing and anyway those are worms showing that these flowers grow in the decay of waste, signifying a phoenix like revival from the ashes of our waste. Or whatever.
We cannot match these illustrations to plants, for the simple reason that the genre is just too large.
Yes, it looks like a red onion. But why should it be a red onion? It could be that the author is referring to a specific type of potato… no wait, potatoes came in later. You know what I mean. Maybe a fat carrot or any other tuber of a specific shape.
But there is a further problem with b). The fact that it doesn’t fit in with our accepted understanding of how later medieval medicine would work.
Early / middle medieval thought discarded original thought. Biblical teachings said that the Ancients possessed all knowledge as granted by God, and that human hubris had lead to this information being lost. Therefore, there was no point in poking around thinking up new things for yourself, you had to rely on the teachings of the Ancients.

That’s not to say that people weren’t curious, of course they were. It’s to say that in “formal” discussion and argument, rhetoric based on the arguments of the ancients was standardised and would overturn any original thought, even when the ancient information was clearly wrong. There is a story that Aristotle claimed the honeybee has eight legs, when any fool can see that it only has six – but this was accepted as fact right up until the Renaissance!

Monasteries copied books because they, in some way, transmitted information as revealed by God in the past and it was their duty to do so. They modified the useful bits of them as they went along, but the essential knowledge was protected – it was their duty to protect the holy knowledge of times past, and of course, they believed implicitly in it.

That’s part of the reason Rudolph II was revered by the early European intellectual – he was the original Renaissance patron, hunting out new information. He was living right at the time when new access to information and greater literacy was starting to evolve thought into the Renaissance, but the old regime continued with their medieval mindset elsewhere. His Spanish Uncle for example was most dismissive of his nephew and his intellectual mindset – it wasn’t something that was “done”. The Italian princes had been doing it for years, by the way, but they were never Holy Roman Emperors – Rudolph main-streamed this rather eccentric pasttime.

And look at Paracelsus. He is known now not for any innovation in medicine (his cures were as claptrap as the ones they were replacing) but because he broke with tradition and urged innovation, trial and error, experimentation and actually discarding old knowledge that didn’t lead anywhere. That’s why he was revolutionary. He was the first figure to become famous for such work, in the same way that his contemporaries such as Martin Lucer would become famous for defying the Catholic Church. OK, neither of them was the first to advocate such a movement, but they were the first to actually create movements. Which, I understand, does not imply that the VM cannot have been an earlier attempt, some visionary who realised that medicine was claptrap and attempted to create his own medicine. But this is a circular argument – for since we cannot read the text, we return to the beginning of this argument!
But all this came after the VM, in the middle 16th century.
There is a c).

That the content in the book simply doesn’t lead anywhere. That the illustrator had access to herbals but no understanding (or interest) of medicine or their purpose, and so just used them as a basis for his work as he went along. Which explains why we only have two snakes instead of three, the illustrator was unaware of the significance of three snakes.


No matter which of the three arguments we choose, there isn’t a lot of point in trying to identify the plants in the VM, since we know (after decades of trying) that they aren’t real life representations.

We can build up logical arguments pointing to this plant or the other, but we cannot be sure. We cannot know the true intention of the artist, because we have no textual confirmation. And so far, we have never been able (Prof Bax aside, ah hem) to use a plant ID to identify words.

The aljamiadas of Spain

16th century Spain saw an almost unique and mysterious literary tradition emerge amongst the defeated Arabic population – the aljamiadas.

The establishment of the Inquisition to purge heresy and control the Moorish population of Spain by the Catholic Kings was a strong blow to the Islamic heritage of these people. And when Spain outlawed the use of Arabic, these people were unable to continue their heritage in their sacred language.

But then a barrack room lawyer amongst them spotted the loophole – it was Arabic that was banned, not Arabic script. So the faithful continued to use their Arabic script to write in Spanish.

The reasons were simple enough. Islam gives great credence to the calligraphy necessary to write flowing Arabic script, which also has religious connotations. It was simply a question of working out which Arabic letters corresponded to their Castillian (early modern Spanish) phonemes and substituting the Roman characters for the Arabic script.

The moriscos embark at the Grao de Valencia

The first Aljamiadas appear in the mid 15th century on border territory or recently conquered parts of Islamic Spain. They flourished throughout the 16th century before coming to an abrupt end in 1609, when King Felipe III told all Moorish descendants to clear off. 325.000 moriscos were expelled from Spain between 1609 and 1613 (out of total population of just 8.9 million).

Most of the Aljamiadas are copies of pre-existing Arabic or Jewish works of religion, law or moral fiction. However, in the later 16th century original works start to appear, mainly moral literature, poetry or fiction.

An example of an Aljamiado work

There are generally agreed to be three distinct phases to these works. The earlier works are found over both Castilla and Aragon (the two kingdoms of Spain) and last until the forced conversion of the early 16th century. These are mainly reproduction works of tomes that were important to the community. They were written by mudejars, the followers of Islam who lived under Christian rule in the conquered territories.

The second phase starts after the forced conversions, and henceforth mainly vanish from the Kingdom of Castille, appearing instead in Aragon. The Moors who remained after the forced conversion were called moriscos, supposed converted Christians who came from Islamic families. They were treated as second class citizens and carefully watched for heresy by the Inquisition.

The third phase starts after 1609, when the expulsion of the moriscos started. These works continue to appear for the next few decades in north Africa, elsewhere in Europe or the near East, where the expelled moriscos settled. There are even Jewish works written by the sefardís, expelled Jews, Castillian texts written in Hebrew or Arabic script. By now more comfortable speaking Castillian that Arabic, they continued to write in Castillian using their Arabic script.

From the mudejar era, we know of such works as Poema de Yuçuf, (poem of Yuçef), a work from Aragon discussing the XII chapter of the Koran Sûrat Yûsuf. The base language is actually romantic Aragones rather than Castillian. Another work is the 1492 legal tract Suma de los principales mandamientos y debadamientos de la Ley y Sunna by Segovian Sunni muftí Içe de Gebir. The work is a compilation of laws for the mudéjar community in Castille.

The later works by the morisca community are more wide ranging in style. Most of them, as I have said, come from Aragon which had laxer religious Inquisitions than its neighbouring Kingdom of Castille. Many are religious or legal tomes, but original fiction and literary works are also known, which suggest that the moriscos had a vibrant intellectual community going at this period in time.

A page from libro de dichas maravillosas on paper (aprox 1601)

Notwithstanding that, most of the works we know of have been discovered in hiding places, as all extant copies were destroyed by the Inquisition after the Expulsion. Inside old buildings or buried in caves have been discovered caches of ancient fascinating manuscripts. In the late 19th century there was a craze for hunting out these ancient books, and many Spanish editions of such works were published in the last 1880’s and 1890’s.

Towards the later end of the 16th century a number of “exile guides” are known. Itinerario de España a Turquía or Avisos para el caminante were two popular works which aimed to guide people fleeing Spain.

The National Library of Spain has an online exposition of Aljamiada works (click on Obras if you don’t speak Spanish). What you don’t tend to get in Aljamiada works are great illustrations, the one to the right is about as inventive as they get. The reason being that the works are generally authored by one person, the scribe, and they are intent upon transmitting information. They are often written on cheaper paper which does not lend itself to lavish illustrations.

There are also many magic works on healing or traditional Islamic magic. Libro de los sueños and Libro de los dichos maravillosos were two popular works, the first on the interpretation of dreams and the second on general magic. The moriscos had a good sideline in selling magic charms and spells to the Christians, and many of the inscriptions upon these charms are Aljamiadas, Castillian or Aragonese written in Arabic script.

Colphonese lettering
Magic alphabet of the philosopher Colphoterios with Arabic transliteration below

These later magic works, interestingly enough, continue to use Arabic magic alphabets for certain spells, especially the “great seals” which tend to include spells written in the magic alphabet of the philosopher Colphoterios (which first appears in a treatise by Ibn Wahsiya in the 9th century, although he claims it is a much older alphabet; he also gives examples of other magic alphabets). These magic alphabets, known to Spanish scholars as letras anteojadas (already-seen letters), appear to derive from copies of hieroglyphics, and then are given a one to one correspondence with Arabic script or homophones. However, in many later Aljamiada works, their meanings appear to have been forgotten and they are simple rote copied from tome to tome with no understanding of their meaning – an esoteric meaning has been attributed to them.


A spell written in letras anteojadas (top left page) from libro de maravillas

Examples of letras anteojadas can be found in Castillian works as well, notable in the 11th century works commissioned by King Alphonse X “the Wise”, in his liber Picatrix or libro de astromagia, all works commissioned by Alphonse to retrieve magic and power from the Arabs scholars then ruling most of the Iberian Peninsula.

The works by Ibn Wahsiya suggest that Islamic scholars developed these alphabets from their studies of Egyptian hieroglyphics and Coptic. It appears that the Shia religious scholars had a tradition of attempting to reproduce and translate these ancient Hermetic works, and that this evolved into the Shia taste for metaphor and signs. The magical quality of such language would extend throughout the Islamic world until they reached Europe, where they formed the first occult languages that promised to unlock the magic secrets of the unknown Islamic world.

Aljamiada works of magic such as the libro de dichas maravillas also contain examples of “salomonic script”, an Arabian magic script attributed to King Salomon. It has been described as a lineal Kufic variant of Arabic, but has the peculiarities of have a straight line joining all the letters together and omitting all diacritic marks, making it difficult to interpret.

There is not, perhaps, a great deal of unique or valuable information contained within the body of Aljamiada literature. But notwithstanding that, it is a fascinating account of how a subjugated and persecuted people contrived to keep their traditions alive whilst paying lip service to the religious laws that persecuted them, and a testimony to the endless inventiveness of mankind.

OK, so what script did Kircher mean in his 1639 letter?

Diane quite rightly pointed out on my “Kircher to Moretus reply” that we don’t know exactly which script Kircher meant when he said “Illyrian”. It’s usually taken to mean Glagolitic, but does it really?

(There’s also the question of does it matter? Close examination of the letter tends to discard the subject under discussion from being the Voynich MS. But it’s still a widely quoted quote, and I was interested, so let’s apply ourselves).

First off, let’s remind ourselves of what Kircher wrote:

Alterum denique folium quem ipsi ignoti characteris genere scriptum videbatur illyrico idiomate, charactere quem D. Hieronymi vulgo vocant, impressum sciat; utuntur eodem charactere hic Romae in missalibus aliisque sacris libri illyrico sermone imprimendis.

Which I translate as:

Finally the other leaf upon which are written types of unknown characters I observe are in the Illyric language, characters the printing of which I know are commonly called D. Hieronymi;  characters used here in Rome in various Holy Books and Illyrician printed sermons.

Some terms:

  • Illyric: We would now call this area Croatian. Kircher, as was the wont of the time, used the Roman provincial name for the area.
  • D. Hieronymi: Saint Jerome.

Now, Glagolitic is an ancient Slavic alphabet. The name Glagolithic probably wasn’t applied to the script until the 14th century. The Glagolitic alphabet was invented during the 9th century by the missionaries St Cyril (827-869 AD) and St Methodius (826-885 AD) in order to translate the Bible and other religious works into the language of the Great Moravia region.  It’s not a language, it’s a script that could be used for any of the proto-Slavic languages (in the same way that our alphabet can be used for French, Spanish, English etc). Here’s an example of the script:

This chart shows the Glagolitic alphabet with the names of the letters in Old Church Slavonic, the Cyrillic equivalents of the letters, and IPA transcription. Image from

So Glagolitic proper dates from the 9th century, and then started to evolve. When it became adopted and standardised by the Church, it became known as Old Church Slavonic with loads of variations across different regions (see the prior wikipedia link for more on that).

By the 12th century the first Slavic languages were evolving in different directions. In the late 14th century, a new script evolved for use by the Church: Church Slavonic. It’s still in use today.

Right. Where does Jerome fit in?

Well, there was a persistent myth that one of the founding fathers of the Church, St Jerome, was the chap who had invented the script. The intention appears to have been to use his authority to counter attacks by Rome upon the local Church. The alphabet was thus called by some as Hieronymian in pre-Renaissance times after his Roman name, and that’s the word Kircher used.

And here’s a 16th century Vatican printed work showing “the characters of the Illyrian language in Hieronymian script”:

Pages from a book describing Glagolitic script. (A. Rocca: Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana a Sixto V… translata, Roma, 1591: Alfabeto glagolitico). Wikipedia.

So far, so clear. Kircher used the term “Hieronymi” to refer to a specific Slavic script, and furthermore identified the base language as Croatian (Illyrian). Can we corroborate this? What did Kircher himself understand by “Hieronymi”? Let’s find out.

Here’s Kirchers ’72 names of God’ image from Athanasius Kircher’s Oedipus Aegyptiacus:

72 names of God in the languages of the 72 nations of the world
72 names of God in the languages of the 72 nations of the world

Kircher has carefully used Cabalah and then written out the name of God in the 72 different languages of the world. As always, philology is carefully ignored or manipulated to gain his end: You’ll notice that for English, he wrote GOOD instead of GOD. Why? Because all of the 72 names had to be four letters long. For a full interpretation of this diagram click here. I’m only interested in entry 13: Illyirici.

Damn it, he’s only gone and written it out in the Roman alphabet! BOOG. Why? I don’t know. He’s done the same in Japanese and Chinese, and where he got BOSA from for “Mexican”, or “SOLV” for Californian is beyond me (local native American dialects?). Frankly, the more I learn of Kircher, the more I agree with Descartes’s opinion of the bloke. And despite a morning searching, I have yet to find any other example of Illyrian in any of Kircher’s works.

Let’s look elsewhere. This is the Virga Aurea of James Bonaventure Hepburn published at Rome in 1616. The Virga Aurea, or to give the full title, “The Heavenly Golden Rod of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Seventy-two Praises” consists of a list of seventy two alphabets (actually seventy, plus Latin and Hebrew which are the two languages of the text of the plate). Usefully enough, “Illyricum” is included. Eighth down, left column.virga_aurea3

Comparing the Virgo Aureum with Rocca’s Alfabeto glagolitico we see obvious similarities, but at the same time, differences. Remember, they were published just 25 years apart. Hepburn’s sources are unknown, but it’s assumed (since he was head of rare books at the Vatican) that he was probably getting the info out of the books there.

Hepburn has 37 glyphs, whereas Rocca only has 33. The glyphs are also slightly different if you compare them. And neither of them really correspond with the Omniglot table I posted above. So what’s going on?

Well, Hepburn & Rocca are both confusing different versions of the script, as shown below, and certainly Rocca is missing a number from his book:

So yes, the above scripts would appear to be what Kircher knew as “Hieronymiam”.

Here’s a page from the first Croat language printed book, a 1483 work entitled Misal po zakonu rimskoga dvora:

1483 “Misal po zakonu rimskoga dvora”


It turns out that Galglithic is a right pain. A typographer writing on the website commented that:

One of the things I noticed when looking at examples of Glagolitic is the way some characters appear and disappear; I was trying to set some text in it, and whichever bit of text I tried had some extra characters that weren’t in the font or in any other examples – each one seemed to have characters unique to it. Of course, this isn’t a deficiency of the font (or of the language), but more a sign of the evolution of the written language and of the strong influences on it from Latin, Cyrillic and Church Slavonic over the years. Croatian was written in all three systems in parallel, and as a local system not widely known outside of the Balkans (despite being the oldest of the Slavic alphabets), the form of written Glagolitic has perhaps been more influenced than influencing; In some written examples there are Cyrillic characters, while in others the characters are presumably the original Glagolitic ones, or newer hybrid forms.

So it seems clear enough that for Kircher, Hieronymian would be Galgolitic. He used the name “Hieronymian” because of the ongoing myth at the time that St Jerome had invented the script, and attempts to link his name to the script; as Kircher would only have known of the script via his Catholic Church contacts, the name Hieronymian would have been the correct one to use at this period, even if elsewhere it was known as Galgolitic. The Church was printing books in the script, indeed, it was even standardising a version of the script for its own use.

It also turns out that Galgolitic is still alive and thriving in Croatia, where it’s treated as a national treasure and part of their identity.

The Kircher to Moretus, 12 March 1639 letter

In or around October 1637, the Prague alchemist Georgius Barschius decides to get help from Athanasius Kircher in Rome, in order to be able to read a MS that he owns, which is written in an unintelligible script. He believes that Kircher might be able to help because of Kircher’s investigations into the languages of the East, in particular Egyptian. He makes copies of the writing in the MS and has these sent to Kircher by the mathematician Theodor Moretus. This submission is part of a letter from Moretus to Kircher towards the end of 1637.

In March 1639, Kircher finally responds to Moretus, saying that he has received the mysterious writing, and has not yet been successful in interpreting it. This is the letter. (extracted from

This letter has been claimed as the “missing link” that establishes a 1639 connection for the Voynich Manuscript. But is it?

No proper translation of this letter has yet been made, so I made one myself with my schoolboy Latin. The usual disclaimers apply. Read More

The Zodiac afresh: can we link it to known medieval astrology?

I earlier looked at the 12 pages of the Voynich Zodiac and dismissed them as forming part of a horoscope. Mere terminology really, but woolly thinking does no-one any good. This article is a continuation of that one.

Abstract: I examine early Medieval astrology systems to find a good match to the Voynich Manuscript Zodiac pages, and find one which has the same form and number of attributes as the Voynich: the Myrogenesis astrology system of the early Christian rules of the Spanish kingdoms, in particular the magical works of King Alfonso X “el sabio”. This article is more an general knowledge article than an in-depth analysis, which remains to be done, but is interesting none the less (to me at least) and is a starting point for future research. Read More

Early modern universal languages as seen through the thoughts of Kircher

I have spoken before of Kircher’s Universal Language dictionary, which aimed to reduce all words to numbers which could then be transmitted to a recipient, who would then look up those numbers in his vernacular, and so read the message.

Of course, all this translation system really does, from our modern day viewpoint, is slow translations down by introducing a dictionary reference instead of the actual word. Direct translation of words leads to interesting mixups like this one:

Anyway, in 1663 Kircher was to publish Polygraphia nova et universalis (the New and Universal Polygraphy), a grandiose tract that was to promise far more than it could deliver. It was a typical Kircher work in that it took the ideas of others, spun them around and presented in a new manner. Kircher was a master of this art, and his polygraphia is one of his masterpieces. Notwithstanding that, the polygraphia is a good example of how the intellectuals of Europe considered language and codes at this point in time, and so let’s look at the state of “universal languages” in the pre-Renaissance via this book – because the content of the book is intellectual very much on the dividing line between medieval and Renaissance thinking. Read More

So why did Kircher ignore the Voynich Manuscript?

Inside the Voynich Manuscript (VM) front cover, Wilfred Voynich found a letter dating from 1665, written in Latin, which purports to be from Prague scientist Johannes Marcus Marci in 1665 in which he gave the manuscript to the Roman Jesuit priest and polyglot Athanasius Kircher. Kircher already knew about the manuscript, he’d been given copies of certain pages by one Georg Baresch in the 1630’s.

You can read my analysis of the letter here.

However, the question remains: why did Kircher never do anything with this book? We know he received it, because it appeared amongst some of his personal correspondence in 1873 in the private collection of P. Beckx.

It was not catalogued amongst his possessions when he died. It was never mentioned in his writings. Nobody has ever mentioned seeing it on his shelf. To all intents and purposes, he stuffed it in a drawer and never looked at it again, despite being reminded about it on one, possibly two, occasions by Godefrid Kinner on Marci’s behalf. He owned it, but he never put it in the main body of his work. Why?

Well, to answer this question, let’s look at who Kircher was, what he was doing in 1665, and if, indeed, this book would ever have interested him. Read More

CLS unigram correlation study


This article is an extension of the summary provided in section 4.5 of the Curve Line System paper presented by Brian Cham upon which I helped.

This article is an attempt to test all curve and line glyphs groups to ensure all members are in the correct groups as proposed by the CLS theory. This is done by selecting a glyph and assembling all bigrams containing this glyph found in the text. The other glyph found in the bigram is then checked to see if it belongs to the same group. Aberrant bigrams are noted for analysis.


A transcription file was loaded into the glyph parser. The transcription file consists of an extraction from the  transcription file. Only Currier A language is tested in this document. All words with weirdos and exclamations are stripped out, and paragraphs ignored. There were 10.645 words in the corpus after formatting was complete.

The parser is given a glyph and a group to test against. All examples of that glyph are then flagged up. In theory, the glyph should only be found residing amongst glyphs of its own group or a special character such as “a”.

A series of tests was run. After each test, the conclusions are examined to detect “special cases” and aberrations. Following tests are then run to support the conclusions. Analysis is run using Excel; manual checking is performed using Notepad++ to ensure results are correct.

A “rule of thumb” for transcription errors has been assumed. In essence, when an aberrant glyph has a very low occurrence – under 0,5% of the corpus or about 50 occurrences- I ignore it. When such occurrences are manually checked against the original manuscript they usually turn out to be ambiguous, smudged or erroneous. The results are still noted in the graphs below.


A word is defined as standard with a word break (space) either side.

A glyph (abbreviated g) is a Voynich glyph as defined under the EVA transcription alphabet. Several EVA characters may be combined to create combo glyphs or pedestalled gallows (example: cfh <cfh>). Curve glyphs are abbreviated c, line glyphs abbreviated l. A glyph group is the whole group being tested (see “Glyph groups”, below). An aberrant glyph is a glyph in an n-gram from the opposite glyph group being tested.

Prefixed means (glyph group)+glyph. Suffixed means glyph+(glpyh group). In both cases the fix is on the glyph group being tested, not the glyph being tested.

Mixed refers to when a glyph is surrounded by glyphs from distinct groups (ie c-g-l, a curve glyph, the glyph being tested, a line glyph). Mixed left means an aberrant glyph has been found to the left of the glyph in question; mixed right means an aberrant glyph has been found to the right.

A special case is an aberrant bigram which cannot be explained away as a scribal or transcription error but which appears to have a specific rule.

Theoretical bases

There are two separate cases to test, depending on whether the glyph is in the middle of a word (forming a trigram) or whether it is a prefix or suffix. Each case has possible combinations within.

When the glyph is centred in a trigram, there are four possible combinations:

lgl lgc cgl cgc

In this case, the parser will return a maximum of two counts for this case (lgl and cgc will both be counted double for c and l counts).

When the glyph is at the end or the beginning of a word, there are four possible combinations:

gl* gc* *gl *gc

In this case, the parser will return one count for this case. Since the parser takes word boundaries into consideration, it should not double count between the two cases.

Therefore, the total number of occurrences will not coincide with the results returned by the parser, as the parser is counting combinations for each case, not occurrences.

Glyph Groups

Unless otherwise noted, I am using the standard CLS glyph groups as devised by Brian Cham. There is of course the eternal bugbear of deciding what is a glyph and what is not. The CLS system returns to basic EVA for this and the reasons have been expounded upon by Brian Cham in the original article. Combo glyphs (pedestalled gallows) have been broken apart into their constituent glyphs (ie <cfh> becomes <c><f><h>) by the regex parser.

Curve glyphs : a,b,c,d,e,f,g,h,k,o,p,q,s,t,u,y


Line glyphs: i,j,l,m,n,r,v,x,z


 Test 1

(Group glyphs defined as above)

All bigrams were analysed to identify bigrams which contained a c prefixed or suffixed; or an l prefixed or suffixed. I contented myself with a simple bar graph to identify trends.

I first test all bigrams containing a curve glyph:
Table of concordance showing prefixes and suffixes of c glyphs
Table of concordance showing prefixes and suffixes of c glyphs

Here, non conforming glyphs in this group should have excessive yellow or green bars.

The aberrant glyphs are as follows

  • <a> appears to be mainly prefixed with a curve, suffixed with a line, as expected under the CLS [a] rule. It is not aberrant.
  • <o> appears as a suffix to a line quite often.

Conclusion: Non conforming glyphs in this test appear to be <o>. Other glyphs appear as expected.

I next test all bigrams containing a line glyph
Table of concordance showing prefixes and suffixes of line glyphs
Table of concordance showing prefixes and suffixes of line glyphs

In this graph, non conforming glyphs should see high blue or orange bars.

Tables of concurrence

Having established the basics of the CLS theory, I proceeded to draw up a series of tables of concurrences. In essence, I drew up an excel of all aberrant bigrams to identify the major trends. I then proceeded to check the number of occurrences to see if aberrant bigrams follow an order or are random.

Table 1.: Aberrant bigrams in which a curve glyph comes first (c-l)

Table of Concurrence: incidence of [c-l] aberrant bigrams
Table of Concurrence: incidence of [c-l] aberrant bigrams
Comments on table 1:

The important column here is the % of Occurrence, which shows which percentage of the total occurrences of each glyph is in an aberrant bigram. Totals refer to the total of the left hand counts; Occurrences refers to the total number of times the glyph appears in the transcription file.

No real surprises here. <a> has a high number of l as expected under the <a> rule of CLS (in all bigrams it appears before a line glyph in 97% of cases, which is well within tolerance levels).  The only aberrant glyph here is <o>, which in 44.5% of the cases appears before a curve glyph, as discussed in the special cases and the tests.<d><s><e><h><t> all have some very small occurrence but so few as to be irrelevant. Overall the percentage of aberrant bigrams compared to total occurrences is under 10%; if we exclude glyph <o>, the rate of non conformity drops to just 0,26%, as we can see in the following table (where <a> and <o> are excluded from the totals):

Table of Concurrence: glyphs  (which acts as expected) and  have been excluded.
Table of Concurrence: glyphs (which acts as expected) and have been excluded.
Table 2: Aberrant bigrams in which a line glyph comes first (l-c)
Table of Concurrence: line glyphs that appear in aberrant bigrams (c-l).
Table of Concurrence: line glyphs that appear in aberrant bigrams (c-l).

Comments on table 2:

Check the % of occurrence,  we can see that <i> appears aberrant just 1,75% of the time, whereas <l> is aberrant 26.83% of the time. Overall, a line glyph will be aberrant 11.43% of the time. In the transcription file, a manual check on 25 occurrences against the original manuscript suggests that <y> (valid) will be substituted for <l> (invalid) about 28% of the time (seven times out of the 25 checks), although this is a very rough and ready check.

Parsing the text – checking for rules

The above tables suggests that certain bigrams will always appear in a certain order. Can we examine the text, identifying the aberrant bigrams and see if any rules emerge? It turns out that we can.

Note: I have been counting <ee> and <e>; <ii> and <i> as different glyphs here, following the example of many Romance languages where a double letter such as ll or rr is considered separate to the singular. <e> appears 2.5 times as often as <ee>, but <i> appears 382 times (26%) more frequently than <ii>.

Here is a list of the aberrant glyphs in their respective bigrams:

  • <o> appears in 8204 bigrams. Counting aberrant bigrams, we find that 3652 it appears with with a line glyph as a suffix (<o>-l) and just 189 with a line glyph as a prefix (l-<o>).
    • When it is the second glyph, it appears mainly as <lo> (111 times) or <ro> (68 times). Given the similarity between glyphs <l> and <r> it seems we can combine the two into one bigram: <lo>. There does not seem to be any trigrams associated with <lo>.
    • When it is a first glyph, it appears 3652 times in a more distributed fashion, as follows:
      • oi <oi> 155 times
      • ol <ol> 2033 times
      • om <om> 122 times
      • or <or> 1338 times
      • and 4 other occurrences which can be discounted.
    • Note: <om> appears with a frequency of about 9% of <or>. It could be a confusion ( om / or ). <oi> appears with a frequency of about 7% of <ol> (oi / ol). It could be a confusion.
    • Conclusion: When <o> appears as an aberrant glyph, it is as <lo><ol><or>. These are special cases. The possible confusion between <o> and <a> is not addressed here.
  • <a> is always aberrant with a line curve to its left. This proves the CLS rule.
  • <l> is aberrant 26.83% of the time, when it appears as:
    • <lo> (see above)
    • <ly> (159 times) divided into:
      • <oly> (73 times, 46%)
      • <aly> (79 times, 50%)
      • 7 other occurrences
    • <ld> (170 times) divided into:
      • <old> (52 times, 31%)
      • <ald> (114 times, 67%)
    • Conclusion: When <l> appears as an aberrant glyph, it is as <lo><ol> (see the rule of <o>), <ly> and <ld>. These two bigrams can also be associated into four trigrams which account for 97% of all occurrences: <oly><aly><old><ald>. An argument exists for further amalgamation of these four trigrams due to the similarity of their glyphs, but requires a manual check that has not yet been performed against the manuscript.
  • <r> appears as aberrant 346 times (15.76%) of all occurrences. This can be divided into:
    • <ra> (105 times, 30%) when it appears as either <ara> or <ora>.
    • <ry> (97 times, 28%) when it appears as either <ary> or <ory>.
    • <ro> (81 times, 24%) (see rule for <o>)


Here is the summary of the above results showing the special cases to the CLS theory. When I have been able to link an aberrant bigram into a larger n-gram I have indicated this fact; otherwise, the bigram appears in words “as is” with no discernible pattern to the rest of the word.

  1. <o> is aberrant 44.51% of the time, when it appears in the following bigrams: <ol><or> and (rarely) <lo>, <ro> (where <ro> could be a confusion for <lo>).
  2. <l> is aberrant 26.83% of the time, when it appears in the following bigrams: <lo> (see rule 1) <ly><ld>.  Furthermore, these two bigrams always appear in the following trigrams: <oly><aly><old><ald>.
  3. <r> is aberrant 15.76% of the time, when it appears in the following bigrams: <ro> (see rule 1), <ry>,<ra>. These last two bigrams are almost always part of the following trigrams: <ara><ora><ary><ory>.


I have identified three aberrant glyphs which only have medium or high  conformity to the proposed CLS system. However, these three aberrant glyphs conform to very specific rules, and seem to be part of specific ngrams that occur due to some as-yet-unidentified, but very specific, reason. The percentage of occurrence of these aberrant n-grams suggests that the aberrant glyphs usually appear freely (in which case their location conforms to CLS) but occasionally as part of n-grams which have a very specific meaning.