Weed seeds

In attempting to return to more a rigorous and more transparent approach to this manuscript’s discussion, revisionists must first accept that not all  the speculative matter in Voynich writings to date has been presented as such.  The field is strewn with ‘weed-seeds’ which induce belief in an idea without any evidence presented, or indeed existing to support it.  The revisionist must not only read and isolate these from solid data, but must often trace them to their source to determine whether or not they were ever supported by evidence.  This is so not only for what one finds in ‘fringe’  writings, but in many that one could usually suppose reliable.  ‘Weed-seeding’ can become so prevalent because standards of documentation have been so systematically eroded.

I’ll refer again to the ‘Physical Materials’ essay in the Yale facsimile edition to illustrate this point.


The  ‘weed-seed’ phenomenon.

Speaking of the manuscript’s plant pictures, ‘e.h.’ has  adopted the usual theory that the pictures should constitute a ‘herbal’ but has exceeded the traditional in substituting for the usual ‘flowers’ the far more specific term ‘blossoms’ – a word implying both a geographic restriction and the association of that term with none but deciduous fruit trees:


Blossom: (Botany) –  the flower of a plant, especially of one producing an edible fruit.

‘e.h.’ presumes a great deal. including a presumption that s/he can foist those associations on readers of the Yale edition without troubling to justify them by so much as a footnote.   When it has been usual since 1912 to use the general term ‘flowers’, what excuse has ‘e.h.’ to employ that term and its pre-emptive associations?   ‘e.h.’ – in ‘Voynichero’ style – asserts this notion as if it were a fact so widely known as to need no evidence adduced.  It isn’t.

Surveying writings published, or comments offered online, one finds this substitution suddenly prevalent after about 2016.   As just one example,  Thomas Spande’s comment to ciphermysteries (December 25, 2016 at 8:35 pm) employs it, and again without references … “The color blue for VM plant blossoms is rare …”  after which the term appears elsewhere with greater frequency but always in that manner.

Digging deeper for the notion’s origin, one finds that in a paper published in 2016,   Alexander Ulyanenkov had claimed decipherment of Voynichese and, further, that Voynich manuscript was a certain ‘Book of Dunstan’.  On page 24 of his paper we find:

[pdf] Ulyanenkov,’Voynich Manuscript (The “Book of Dunstan”) coding and decoding methods’.
The first thing to notice is that Ulyanenkov cannot ever prove the Voynich text is the ‘Book of Dunstan’ which the charlatan, Edward Kelley brought to John Dee – because as far as we know, no copy of that ‘Book of Dunstan’ exists.  Nor is the ‘Dunstan’ idea a new idea, but –  as so often – one already discussed on the first mailing list more than a decade ago.   One begins to wonder whether mining that list for ‘ideas’ isn’t the only research that a couple of Voynicheros do.  It has become a constant of the ‘weed-seeding’ that when an idea is revived its original source is always omitted but regularly discovered if one hunts the records of that list.

From the first mailing list  –

Date: Thu, 20 Dec 2001 12:40:43 +0000
From: Nick Pelling <xxxxxxxx@xxxxxxx>

Hi everyone,

Here, Don Tyson gives his particular answer to the (very reasonable) question “What ever happened to John Dee after he broke up with Edward Kelley and returned to England?”

[online reference provided]

He also has another (overlapping) page on Dee and the Enochian angels… [online reference provided]

…..and another page specifically on Kelley… [online reference provided]

If Kelley – apothecary’s son and would-be alchemist – did come into possession of the VMS (but, because of its alleged Glastonbury-related provenance, knew it as the “Book Of Dunstan”), I’m certain that he would have found it almost unbearable not to know what its contents were.

As Blade Runner puts it: “Nothing is worse than having an itch you can never scratch”. :-/ [online reference provided]

Cheers, ….Nick Pelling….

The whole line of this speculation-on-speculation arises for no reason other than that in  imagining how a book which he ascribed to a thirteenth-century English franciscan author turned up in seventeenth-century Prague, Wilfrid Voynich created the fictional tale of its being brought by John Dee, whose associate Kelley became after claiming to have found the marvellous ‘Book of Dunstan’ – of which no known copy exists.

So much for Ulyanenkov’s speculation about the Voynich manuscript itself.  To judge his interpretation of that unit as ‘Plasom’ – let alone that it is supposed to mean ‘blossom’ we might turn to specialists in Old or Middle English on the one hand, and on the other to ‘Voynich’ linguists and  specialists in manuscript studies, but on that score we meet little but resounding silence in public writings and comments.

The past three years has not seen Ulyanenkov’s efforts hailed as the long-sought key to ‘Voynichese’.

One has to ask, then, why ‘e.h.’ should insert this particular ‘weed-seed’ into the  Yale essay on physical materials.  It serves as little more than subliminal advertisement for Ulyanekov’s highly dubious speculations and claimed ‘decipherment method’.

Given that the idea of the ‘blossom’ is his, why does ‘e.h.’ not cite the 2016 paper?  And why insert such a ‘subliminal advertisement’ for a doubtful theory into the ‘Physical Materials’ essay. ‘E.h.’ cannot be unaware that in doing so s/he is invoking Yale’s scholarly authority, on which  trusting academics and the general public are accustomed to rely.

It is clear that a good number of ‘weed-seeded’ writings are the result of too much trust in ‘authoritative’ voices, especially given the practice of omitting proper documentation.  Ideas attributed to no-one are interpreted as facts too well established to need documentation, and thus the process of error becomes exponential.  They are, like weed-seeds, dispersed on the wind.

This is certainly another among the many problems faced by a revisionist attempting to distinguish demonstrable fact from ‘canonised myth’ and both from individual speculation.  The key to weeding the Voynich field is surely a return to providing and demanding  that an original source be cited.

There is a difference, too often ignored by Voynich writers, between fact and ‘idea’ but in either case to subject an idea to the third, and so often avoided stage of experiment, we need the original source or lineage for that idea to be plainly stated.

However, here we meet a further difficulty; that in adopting an ‘idea’ for which proof is absent or insufficient, many have attempted to provide it with retrospective justification and some have invested so much in the promotion of that ‘idea’ that they perceive objective critique as personal criticism.  It becomes permitted – or not – to discard an ‘idea’ more on the basis of who espouses it, rather than whether it is true.

I’ll give an example of this, again, from the Yale facsimile, though from a different essay, before returning to the invaluable scientific information in the ‘Physical Materials’ essay.

[spelling corrected and pdf link added for A. Ulyanenkov,’Voynich Manuscript (The “Book of Dunstan”) coding and decoding methods’ 16th. May 2019]

19 thoughts on “Weed seeds

  1. A brief summary of the history of the term ‘Book of Dunstan’ see

    Lauren Kassell, ‘Reading for the Philosopher’s Stone’ pp.132-150 of Silvia De Renzi, Books and the Sciences in History (Cambridge Uni Press, 2000)


  2. Hi! At first all symbols in the manuscript are simple old English words. There is no alphabet at all. In mentioned example “blossom” – is a combination of two symbols “pla” and “som” according to my theory. All the text of VMS consists of combinations of simple old English words. So, all symbols groups we see – mostly phrases. When I started to translate the main text I understood that it looks like a one continuous receipt: “combine, add, fill, plant, put, heat” and so on. I understood what such translation is out of my point of interests. During last 2 years I was focused on the search of details which can support to proof that VMS was written in 16th century. Finally that was successfully done (just follow the link to my web and you will see one). In parallel I collected a lot of interesting materials and facts linked to the manuscript history, which are not yet published. I am ready to represent some to the community. So, for any questions you can simply contact me – alex.ulyanenkov@protonmail.com


    1. Alex, you have not done anything which most Voynicheros don’t do; viz.get an ‘idea’ – wrongly describe the idea as a theory, become utterly convinced of your rightness, and so abandon the manuscript’s study in favour of adding circumstantial detail to your story.

      As I understand the term, ‘Old English’ means ‘Anglo-Saxon’ and there’s no word ‘plasom’ for ‘blossom’ in Anglo-Saxon.

      Also, since “blossom” was (apparently) a weak masculine noun, why does your version not include case and number?

      Alex – did you actually test your theoretical ‘Old English’ against an Old English dictionary? If so – reference, chapter and verse, please.

      The online site I looked at was oldenglishtranslator co uk


      1. Certainly I told “theory” in the comment in mention – idea.

        As I explained, I tried to “knock to the doors”, but received no feedback.

        Re your question – the same was initially mine. The explanation I understood when I was convinced that VMS originally is a “Book of Dunstan” (BoD).
        According to my idea BoD is a fake magic alchemy manuscript created by JD (not by EK).
        St. Dunstan was a person of 10th century, JD – of 16th. For JD was an aim to convince Rudolph II i (RII) n the legend of BoD. So, because of that BoD performed on old parchment (no doubts that it was vellum of 1401 -1438) or may be on palimpsest. That was a part of the deal. Second part was language. Here were 2 options: Latin (known for JD) or Anglo-Saxon (about which JD had mostly impressions but he don’t knew it). RII had more problems with Anglo-Saxon and no problems with Latin. So, JD decide to simulate A-S language in the areas where he was not able to find original word. That idea was good also because it allow him manipulate the language and play with it constructions.
        So, In the BoD we have some original A-S words and some created from English of 16th century – I called last one “simplified modified English”. By the way, the explanation was descripted in my article.


  3. By the way… RE: “The first thing to notice is that Ulyanenkov cannot ever prove the Voynich text is the ‘Book of Dunstan” – sorry to say guys, but thats already done. The last manuscript page consists of 2 symbol combinations “done” and “stone” (or “ston” or “stan”, doesn’t metter) combined and repeated twice. The last sentence of the VMS is the continuation of the description of the event basically written in John Dee diaries of 12th of Dec 1587, from which we knew, what happened with EK spirit lamp. From JD notice we knew which books were lost or highly damaged in the fire. We knew that on the table were also “Book of Dunstan” and 40 leafs in 4 stacks named “extractiones Dunstanes”. We knew that EK was able to save only “Dunstan his book”. All the rest were gone. From this notice we knew that EK left a sign in the “Book of Dunstan” about these extracted leafs. That all from JD diary.
    The last sentence of the VMS tells us the continuation – the following: “On our return we see big flame. We bring them ice […] extractus bones “done””stone”. And next we see the last symbol – vertical “- – – – O”. Last symbol means as you already understood – mentioned “40 leafs in 4 stacks”… So, good buy Voynich! Hello, “Book of Dunstan”… alex.ulyanenkov@protonmail.com


      1. Disagree. There are lost approx 40 pages|leafs in the BoD. That fully corresponding with JD diaries as well as with the last page of BoD. In fact – we don’t know were these leafs really extracted or not yet attached to the BoD.


  4. Especially to D.N. O’Donovan. The main problem for many of “Weed seeds” is no any possibility to discuss the results they found with professional people. The VMS community is so closed and limited by very specific specialists like cryptologists, linguists, mathematics. But if you will pay your attention to the VMS itself – you will see how wide was area of the interest of it author – botany, anatomy, pharmacy, alchemy, astronomy, astrology and so on. My initial intention were to find somebody to whom I can show results in my professional area – image analysis and material studies. Where I’ve seen some incorrect interpretation of combined data of VMS analysis (I mean not main text). No one was able or interested. Any arguments re VMS written much later than radiocarbon dating of parchment were refused. As a result – most of researches still trying to find a solution in the swamp of 1401 -1438 (last one from Bristol – is a good example of nice academic article) with predictable results. Focused on search of codes of the main text people loosing the main message hidden in front their eyes… Truly sad, that refocus was basically planned by VMS author – John Dee. That still works.


    1. Alex,
      As it happens, iconographic analysis (also known as forensic iconography) is my area.

      If you like, send me your analytical study of folio 33v and I’ll comment on it here. I’ve selected that folio for the test because it was with that folio that Stolfi introduced the idea of formal analysis to this particular manuscript’s study – that he supposed folio 33v had been O’Neill’s “sunflower” isn’t all that important, compared with his introducing the idea of systematic analysis.

      I might also mention, in this context, that the ‘categories’ you adopt to describe your ideas about the manuscript’s subject matter are no more than imaginative tags, most as old as Newbold’s essay of 1921 and those were based on two things: presumption that everything in the Ms is an expression of western European (‘Latin’) culture, and a presumption that the original sources could be identified by the most superficial sort of analogising.

      Since you have the idea that Beinecke MS 408 is about English alchemy and occultism, then please explain what purpose you think the maker had for including the figure which appears in the map’s north-west roundel, wearing a blue hat which has a ‘cockade-like’ ornament, carrying a cylindrical object or a rolled sheet, and who has been given a long bird- or fox-like nose? And how does this relate (if at all) to Pietro Vesconte’s map with that detail presumed his self-portrait?

      After treating the plant-forms on f.33v and then this detail from the map, perhaps you’d answer queries about others.


      1. I am not sure have you seen my article or not… Because here I answered your question (in 2016). The first word on the 33v folio is a GelialPlant or GeliaPlant (on the language of BoD). The picture of the blossom of the plant prepared in the way we knew as “color inversion” – if you will change color of central part (yellow) with color of petals (dark blue) – you will receive the right image of sunflower blossom.


      2. I really think that either you are having everyone on – that your theory is another spoof – or that you really do not ever test your ideas against reality.

        The ‘GeliaPlant’ is properly known as Weigela – a genus of between six and 38 species of deciduous shrubs in the family Caprifoliaceae, growing to 1–5 m tall. All are natives of eastern Asia.
        What research have you done to show that either the Anglo-Saxons or Kelley knew that plant?

        Inverting the colour values of the picture – so you say – gives a picture of the sunflower, a plant native to the Americas.

        And unless you can prove that Kelley understood Anglo-Saxon, or that the Anglo-Saxons had been to north America…

        You haven’t analysed the image. You’ve imposed a fantasy translation on the text, used the text to put an impossible label on the plant, and when not even that worked, you’ve ‘adjusted’ the colour to suit the label which you assert identifies the picture as simultaneously an American native species and an east Asian one.

        More homework needed!


      3. [shortened by editor]

        Sorry, I am not understood your sentence.
        Why I am having everyone on? in 2016 I just published all that I found. That’s all.

        Also please don’t mix modern Weigela or Sunflower names with flowers names from 16th century. Here I have very good consultant – my wife has a PhD in Plant Biology.

        Again. Your statement re EK differs to mine. The original author was JD.
        By the way JD made a trip to American continent in 1572. As well as Kolumbus people at least 70-50 years earlier brought collected seeds and plants to Europe.

        There are also words “red tomato” on 2 or 3 different BoD pages.

        In addition – I am well know and respected man in my and neighboring countries especially in my area of sciences, I spent many ears on the board of CZ NTS (Zeiss) You’ve wrote your article about me, but you never even seen my article. Otherwise where were your doubts and your questions?

        Re alchemy in BoD. There is at least one page with the description of the receipt of philosophical stone (I am not having you) of well known author of 16th century (not JD) – could you tell me at least N of that page?

        The main difference between 2 of us – I can read the manuscript at any page (not all symbols unfortunately). Truly said the main text is boring and uninterested receipt, excluding some pages.


      4. Alex I’m glad your career with Zeiss has been successful. I regret that your Voynich career may prove less so in the long run.
        Perhaps you may find a more appreciative blogger elsewhere. Best of luck.


  5. I’d also suggest that you track the historical usage for the term ‘blossom’ as against ‘flower’. Today, the influence of the commercial cut-flower trade (which sells by the bloom) has seen the terms conflated until you see on the internet today that while the distinction is still maintained, its application has become increasingly careless.

    You need to avoid anachronism, and either use the general term ‘flower’, or keep ‘blossom’ for the spring-flowering fruit trees such a plum, blossom, orange etc.

    And so should the person who introduced the ambiguous term ‘blossom’ in place of the perfectly acceptable and less loaded term.


  6. The context of “blossom” in the BoD – is the “add blossom to the mixture and heat” (translation). This term differs from “tree” (“tre” in Bod), “plant” (“plant’ in BoD), “leaf” (“lif” in BoD) and probably “root” (“ort” in BoD – required more investigations)


  7. [shortened by editor]

    Sorry to say, Mr. O’Donovan, but please explain why you “[shortened by editor]” your message, but my answer on which you published in full. I guess for your readers will be very interesting to see your the stile of communication and word you are using in a public area. For your understanding the full correspondence you sent are stored in the my folder of Protonmail folder. If you will not restore you message here I’ll publish it in my articles as well as in independent public source in full.


    1. I edited out your efforts to order me to do this or that.

      This blog is not ‘a public space’. It’s not a forum.

      I don’t appreciate your attempting to order me about, or the tone of your latest comment, which seems to me another effort at bullying.

      Fair warning – I will not be publishing any more comments from you. Try someone else.

      My final comments are the comments seen here. They are already published. As the blog-owner I have every right to edit both my comments and yours – and in future, yours won’t be appearing here.


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