Who hasn’t wanted to own their own copy of a genuine, mysterious occult tome? I’ve previously posted here and here about the mostly still unknown Voynich Manuscript housed at Yale that’s been puzzling scholars and occultists for a long time. It’s clearly a beautiful physical artifact as much as it is a source of knowledge. Ambush Printing is a publishing house that specializes in hand-made reproductions of historical documents and they have decided to produce copies of the Voynich Manuscript for purchase. They have a complete copy of the Manuscript available for $200, printed on vellum and bound in leather, just like the original, as well as an 18″ by 24″ print of one of the illustrations also on vellum that is normally $25 but appears to be on sale for $10 currently. Check them out here.
Who isn’t interested in grimoires and strange texts we can’t decipher? Two years ago, I made a brief post about two such occult tomes, the Voynich manuscript and the Copiale Cipher. In that initial post, I noted how the Copiale Cipher had been cracked (it was revealed to be composed by a German secret society interested/obsessed with human eyeballs — and no, I’m not kidding.) As I noted, the more (in)famous Voynich Manuscript continued to resist all efforts to translate it. Well, it’s still untranslated, but the first cracks have appeared — some of the hitherto unknown animal and plant species drawn in the Manuscript have now been identified by ethnobotanists.
“We note that the style of the drawings in the Voynich Ms. is similar to 16th century codices from Mexico (e.g., Codex Cruz-Badianus). With this prompt, we have identified a total of 37 of the 303 plants illustrated in the Voynich Ms. (roughly 12.5% of the total), the six principal animals, and the single illustrated mineral. The primary geographical distribution of these materials, identified so far, is from Texas, west to California, south to Nicaragua, pointing to a botanic garden in central Mexico, quite possibly Huaztepec (Morelos). A search of surviving codices and manuscripts from Nueva España in the 16th century, reveals the calligraphy of the Voynich Ms. to be similar to the Codex Osuna (1563-1566, Mexico City). Loan-words for the plant and animal names have been identified from Classical Nahuatl, Spanish, Taino, and Mixtec. The main text, however, seems to be in an extinct dialect of Nahuatl from central Mexico, possibly Morelos or Puebla.”
So there you have it. Our first real clues to identifying what the heck it says. Speakers of Nahuatl, we await further findings!
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.