The Voynich manuscript.

I have spent an entire half an hour filling in my tax return this evening, and it transpires that I didn’t earn enough last year to pass the personal allowance. So all that tax they took between October and April… is all coming back. Whisky fund is getting a boost. Expect some serious random babbling soon.

If I stay in this job it will provide a base income of around ten grand a year, plus all the extra hours (currently there are a lot of them) then a few grand from the ticking-over consultancy and a few hundred from writing… if I total fifteen grand I’ll be working too hard. If the personal allowance hits 10,000 I’ll have a tax bill in the hundreds per year.

Yet I do not consider myself poor. I eat every day, I have a house with heating that I use as needed, I have baccy and whisky and yes, it would be nice to be able to afford Caol Ila and Lagavulin more often than extremely rarely, but Grant’s, Whyte and MacKay, Teacher’s etc are pretty good and there is Ledaig and Glen Grant in the £20 range, as well as the Lidl whiskies. I don’t have to buy the ‘value whisky’ and from what I’ve heard, I’d rather suffer sobriety than touch that stuff.

Anyway, I am now in too good a mood to rage about politicians or antismokers or antidrinkers or slugs or anything else normally found under damp stones. Instead, have a bit of weirdness (I subscribe to Fortean Times instead of New Scientist these days. They apply much more scientific rigour to their content).

In my collection of books there is one called ‘The Voynich Manuscript’ by Gerry Kennedy and Rob Churchill, published in 2004. The manuscript itself is incomprehensible, thought to date from maybe the 14th century or maybe earlier, or maybe a later fake made up by Dr. John Dee or… pretty much anything. It’s interesting because it is incomprehensible and humans love a good puzzle.

There are pages from the manuscript reproduced in the book, interspersed with lots of ‘well it could mean this or that, it could be fake, it could mean something, it could be gibberish…’ and the images of those manuscript pages are fascinating. I made no sense of them at all. Some have drawings of nude women so it’s good to have a few pages preserved before the Puritans insist on burning it. Just a thought… it could be a 14th-century version of the Sun!

As I said, I had no hope of translating any of it. Instead I made up stories about it. The fictional books ‘Geometria ton Zoon’ and ‘Aritmetika ton Kosmon’ were the spawn of the Voynich manuscript. All the other books I reference in those stories are real (yes, Goetia and the Key of Solomon are so real that you can buy partial translations on Amazon) but I wanted something that couldn’t be found. A Necronomicon of my own creation. I could have just used Lovecraft’s Necronomicon but it would feel like stealing and anyway, there are so many books about that fictional book now that some idiot was bound to come back with ‘I read the Necronomicon and that stuff isn’t in it’.

One day I will create a copy of Geometria ton Zoon and publish it under the name of John Legg, Librarian, because in ‘Samuel’s Girl’ he’s the only one left who could do it.

The other one, Aritmetika ton Kosmon, was sealed away at the end of ‘Jessica’s Trap’ (I don’t think I actually named it in that story) and will reappear in a future story which I think is the one after ‘Norman’s House’ (pencilled in as ‘Demdike’s Revival’) but when the two books are finally reunited in ‘The Apocalypse Show’ it’s all over for Romulus Crowe and I don’t want to get there too quickly. He does leave an heir, but the identity of heir and mother would be the spoiler to end all spoilers.

I have a ‘Green Man’ story in mind with Foras as the old English myth and that one should go in before the end, because it has the Green Man (Foras the demon) greeting the perfectly human Romulus with the words ‘Oh, no, not you again’.

First I have to sort out Norman’s House, which was short but which now has a longer, tenser buildup and needs a longer, even nastier ending.

All this train of thought came about because apparently there are people who think they have found some logic in the random letters and apparent words of the Voynich manuscript.

Part of me hopes they have because as with all puzzles, we all want to see it solved. Another part hopes they are wrong because that mysterious manuscript is so much of an inspiration it would be disastrous to find out it was some kind of mediaeval Percy Thrower spin-off book. There are many plant drawings with annotations in there.

Of course, they might find that it is a comprehensive treatise on the benefits of tobacco and booze, in which case they will be well paid to shut up and we’ll hear no more about it.

I feel the writing mood returning at last. I still have the Hollow Bunnies floating in my head, waiting for somethng  nasty to connect with. There is a line in REM’s Losing My Religion that goes ‘What if all these fantasies come flailing around?’ and I have wondered… what if all those old gods and angels were dopey spirits who believed themselves to be whatever humanity wanted them to be?

Oh now I’ve said… too much.


21 thoughts on “The Voynich manuscript.

  1. Leggy might I offer some advice for your stats. I subscribe to get you posts in an email, now when it sends the email it contains the entire post, but when I get an alert for Frank Davis’s I get a snippet of the email.

    So some people might read the entire email without visiting your site. That’s if you are bothered with statistics like that. If you are maybe crop the subscribed email text so people have to come here and visit.

    I know some bloggers are really into their stats, not quite sure where you stand on that.

    Oh and keep up the great work you’re a daily visit.


    • I’ll post if nobody is reading just to get the rage out.

      However, if I can cut down the volume of emails this place sends, that must be good for everyone, especially those who have a limit on megabytes received.

      I must investigate the options.


      • It’s not the volume buddy that’s a problem, it only sends them out if you subscribe to receive them. I was just saying that as it sends the whole of your blog post in the email (and not just a snippet) people will not be clicking through to your blog to read the rest of it, instead reading it in the email. 🙂


  2. I came across the Voynich manuscript long ago. Even the WWII codebreakers had zero joy in breaking it. The latest computer programmes suggest it is a language but cannot decipher it. Perhaps it is a clever hoax. But who in 1400 would waste years of their life writing and drawing such an intricate work? Is it a herbal? But the plants, or many of them, are of no known species on Earth, modern or fossil. It’s intriguing as we all like a puzzle. At least the codex gigas aka Devil’s Bible can be read! I thought it rather ironic and rather funny when Linear B turned out to be Greek. I bet Linear A is too. But the Voynichese is no known language. Not even Enochian! Come in Dee et al. I always loved this stuff and I get Fortean Times courtesy of my brother having a subscription. Like the Demdike allusion too BTW. All hail Grizzeled Greedygut and of course Pyewacket.


    • What puts me off the idea of it being one of Dee’s is that it’s not in Enochian. Surely he’d have used his own invented language rather than make up another one?

      Have you seen the latest FT? The Witch of Scrapfaggot Green has to be the best title I’ve seen in ages.


    • At the time of Dee and his fraudulent sidekick Kelley, codes were all the rage. Kings vied for better and better codes, and books of advanced knowledge written in code went for quite a bit of money, even if the code was untranslateable.

      So, suppose you are a clever fraudster, intent on making money with purported “Ancient Wisdom”. First, as any good fraudster does, you start off with some fairly ancient parchment; an old book or bible or something. Doesn’t matter what it is, because next step is to erase whatever was on it beforehand.

      Once erased, you have a fair amount of bona fide ancient parchment which even the most jaded and cynical examiner will attest is old, simply because the parchment actually is old. Next up, you need some pukka ancient wisdom, or something that looks like it. Take standard astrology, and add bits and pieces to it, and mix up a few others. Add stuff to the diagrams and add in strange oddities; the diagrams have to look slightly but not completely different from known works, as the diagrams are what sells the con.

      Acquire a herbal, and copy plants from it, but do so imperfectly. Put the root system of one known-useful plant onto the foliage of another. Alter the flower shape a bit, but not a lot, so it looks like a plant contemporary herbalists would almost recognise, but not quite. Some variant which is obviously much better than known plants and which (if you could but translate the script) would tell you where to get it, or perhaps how to grow it. Perhaps some nifty grafting of one plant onto another is needed to achieve the virtue; it all looks very interesting but you need the bloody instructions, damnit!

      Finally, as you’re running out of ideas, bung in some cooking recipes and a few naked women. Boobs sell stuff, you know, and besides all that hinting at ancient knowledge was wearing you out.

      Now for the gobbledegook: create a new script, one that can be easily written longhand. Create a fairly randomised grid of these letters, with some letters being more common than others. Then create several pieces of paper with random meshes of holes cut out of them, and move these about on the grid of nonsense-letters.

      Copy these onto the pre-drawn parchment sheets. What you end up with is a meaningful-looking text which doesn’t take all that much skill to create, and which ought to baffle royal code-breakers nicely. Remember, the code isn’t the point of the thing here; it just has to look interesting, that’s all. The pictures are what sells the scam to the mark, and the pictures look enough like known herbs to not be a complete fabrication, and different enough for the book to be valuable.

      Lastly, choose the mark carefully. You need a king who is rich enough to afford the book, and who has good enough codebreakers to feel he can break any code, but not a man who is utterly secure in his power. Then, pass over a taster (preferably astrology plus herbal pictures and a bit of the text) and see if he bites. Point out that you haven’t he foggiest what it means, and would he like to buythe entire work?

      Finally, take the money and run like hell!

      The way to break this is not to be a stupid plonker of a boffin and assume that the parchment and writing are contemporary, but to box clever and try to sample just the ink in the parchments as if a forgery, the parchment is certain to be very old but the ink will be the true age.


      • With Geometria I put in Etruscan and the mathematics of multiple spatial dimensions. The book had been in the library before Etruscan was unearthed so can’t be new, and the multiple dimensions mean it can’t be old. Instead of the old book/new fake game, I played the ‘book that cannot exist’ game. Seems to have worked.

        ‘Demdike’ isn’t Elizabeth Southern in the stories. It’s Nicholas Demdike, who predates the Pendle witches and is pretty damn old in 1647. I twisted history a little, but far less than Labour have. It’s a horrible truth that my fiction is more accurate than many history classes these days!


  3. Dear Mr Leg-iron

    “Curiously enough, the only thing that went through the mind of the bowl of petunias as it fell was Oh no, not again. Many people have speculated that if we knew exactly why the bowl of petunias had thought that we would know a lot more about the nature of the Universe than we do now.” Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

    With a flora connection too: they say there’s nothing new under the sun. Quite possibly elsewhere.

    The upper image can be selected from the lower image, which has the slide thingy. Clicking on the upper image opens a new tab with a zoom facility.

    A wonderful opportunity to spend hours contemplating the mind of the man who penned it.

    It seems a complete fantasy. The lettering includes Roman numerals (4 & 8, possibly 9, though it might be g) and repetitions which reduce information content, possibly to meaningless levels. I’ve haven’t found the naked women referenced by the BBC yet … er … and They have rosy cheeks: does that imply they are ladies of negotiable affection?

    @ Dr Evil At 240 pages (according to the BBC, I doubt that it would have taken more than a year to complete, part-time. My guess based on a perusal of a few pages that it was a fantasy produced as a hobby to while away the hours, possibly during the winter and fuelled by ergot. Don’t forget they didn’t have TV in those days. They had to do something to fill the time, and anyone with above average intelligence would have been driven to drink, drugs, sex and writing. If Samuel Pepys was anything to go by, they all were. I remember doing something similar, on a vastly reduced scale as a child (minus the crypticism and the sex and the ergot, of course). I didn’t have TV either, so maybe that is the key.



    • Later in the series, the reason for the bowl of petunias’ thoughts was indeed explained. Arthur met a man who had been through numerous incarnations in various forms all over the universe, all of which had been killed by Arthur Dent. As I recall, Arthur accidentally killed him again.

      I agree that it wouldn’t take long to produce the Voynich manuscript in an age where there was no internet or TV or Xbox or even a good board game to while away those snowed-in nights. Someone with enough education to do it would almost inevitably live in a big house with servants doing all the cooking and cleaning.

      It could well have been produced by a bored teenager with a vivid imagination. Not as a deliberate hoax, just as a bit of fun. Then stuck in a drawer and forgotten, to be found and hailed as a great find a hundred years or so later.

      Or it could be a magic book. If anyone ever makes sense of it, we’ll know if it’s a book of spells or the angst-riddled ramblings of a lonely spotty youth.


  4. Pingback: Missive From ‘Merica: Bowled Over… – Library of Libraries

  5. >>>>I could have just used Lovecraft’s Necronomicon but it would feel like stealing and anyway, there are so many books about that fictional book now that some idiot was bound to come back with ‘I read the Necronomicon and that stuff isn’t in it’.

    Fucking ROFL. Nice. It seems I’ve heard that I time or two somewhere.


    • Imaginary things have a way of becoming real in people’s heads. That’s why idiots attack soap opera actors in shops because of what they ‘did’ in the show.

      Most people are easily manipulated. So easily it’s actually sad to watch it happen.


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