Readers of weird fiction have long been told of rare, mystic tomes and grimoires that hold untold knowledge and Secrets Man Was Not Meant To Know. Some of the most famous examples include H. P. Lovecraft’s Necronomicon, penned by that most famous of mad Arabs, Abdul Alhazred; Robert W. Chambers’ infamous play that must not be performed, The King in Yellow; and the much more recent Navidson Record, described by Mark Z. Danielewski. Literary scholars call this technique “false documents,” but doesn’t that seem to take all the fun out of it? I think it’s a lot more fun to pretend these tomes are real. In any case, there are some real-life occult tomes that have bedeviled scholars for centuries. Perhaps the most famous is the vaunted Voynich Manuscript. The Voynich Manuscript, or as Yale’s archivists unimaginatively describe it “MS 408,” is written in an unknown language and appears to contain detailed botanical and pharmacological studies of more than 100 unknown species of plants, along with some astrological diagrams and lots of other mystical gobbledygook.
The Voynich Manuscript has now been scanned in, in its entirety, and made available to the browsing public, courtesy of Yale University. They have also had a detailed chemical analysis of the manuscript performed, though to this layman, it doesn’t appear that it sheds much light on the subject. The language used in the manuscript has thus far resisted the best efforts of cryptolinguists, but we can only hope that some day we will crack the code.
The Voynich Manuscript is not alone, of course, and another grimoire that had heretofore remained impenetrable is the Copiale Cipher. This was only made known in the West after it was discovered hidden in an East Berlin archive after the end of the Cold War. The Copiale Cipher, like its better-known counterpart, was clearly some kind of occult work, but it too was written in code. And unlike the Voynich Manuscript, the Copiale Cipher has now been cracked. As it turns out, the Copiale Cipher was the work of an old German secret society that appears to have been obsessed with eyeballs! You just can’t make this stuff up. See for yourself, the entire document has been decoded and translated into English. Perhaps not surprisingly, it was far easier to create mystic tomes that were undecipherable to the uninitiated in pre-modern eras.