What magic? Where magic? Recap of the series so far.

  • The idea of an ‘occult’ character for the Voynich manuscript appears to find its origin in an idea floated in the late 1970s as a result of the NSA’s frustration at having failed to break the ‘ciphertext’ despite more than thirty years’ effort (1944-1976).
  • Between 1912-1976/8 no specialist in any relevant branch of scholarship  suggested such an idea, unless we include Newbold’s ignored ideas about Roger Bacon as a neoplatonist (1921), or what Charles Singer described as his  ‘very vague feeling..’ about  ‘Dee and that sort of movement’ (1957). Singer’s poor effort to evaluate and date the manuscript, together with his uncritical acceptance of Wilfrid’s imagining John Dee involved, means that Singer’s ‘very vague feelings’ deserve little weight placed on them.
  • Mary d’Imperio, through her small book Elegant Enigma, must be considered the first to offer seriously any ‘occult Voynich’ idea, though she did not offer it as a theory, but as a suggestion for where fellow cryptographers might next look {within the corpus of western European manuscripts) for something ‘like’ the Voynich manuscript.    Attitudes common in Europe and in America during the first part of the twentieth century made d’Imperio, like those before her, incapable of considering the manuscript ‘foreign’.
  • Impetus towards the sort of full-blown ‘European magical/occult’ storylines you’ll find online today, seems to begin with persons chiefly attached to a theory of the manuscript as ‘Germanic-central European.’ That more general theory was early developed through articles published online as the Journal of Voynich Studies the idea having been brought to the fore in the early 2000s, in Jim Reeds’mailing list, by Rafel Prinke and Rene Zandbergen. The latter, especially, has maintained an active public presence in the media and online. 
  • Though no formal argument has ever placed the ‘occult Voynich’ idea on a firm footing,  and informal discussions  often rely on confident, if unproven assertions (e.g. as that the ‘root and leaf’ section must be pharmaceutical and-or alchemical), and at times on assertions which, if tested,  are found to be untrue (e.g. that any painting which colours hair yellow, or shows braided hair, or depicts a cloudband pattern is evincing a uniquely ‘Germanic’ character, or that the diagrams in the Voynich month-folios are ‘horoscopic charts’), still the ‘Germanic-central European-and-occult Voynich’ narrative is today widely dispersed online and widely believed.
  • Magical practice was, undoubtedly, widespread in the Mediterranean world, We noted its prevalence in Spain (in Toledo) and in  Byzantine-Aegean culture.
  • Biases largely unconscious  had prevented Voynich research from advancing beyond the western Christian (‘Latin European’) horizon even when addressing non-Christian philosophical and scientific matter.  The same habits, largely corrected in historical studies today, continue to  affect Voynich studies.
  • The strongest argument in favour of an ‘alchemical’ theory is an implication that might be taken from a letter too often ignored, sent by Georg Baresch to Athanasius Kircher. Baresch evidently believed the content of the manuscript foreign, in some sense ‘ancient’ and in some sense Egyptian.  (Note – as we see from Kircher’s own writings, ‘Egyptian’ was more vaguely defined in the seventeenth century than it is today, and we don’t know what Baresch meant by that word or by ‘ancient’.) Baresch shows no sign of having heard the much- later rumour that Rudolf II had seen the manuscript.
  • Among other matters that were – quite unconsciously –  overlooked  by earlier research were the specialised vocabularies in what were called  ‘Books of Secrets’, collections technical information and recipes for many things including how to make fake gems and various pigments. Such matter might also appear in  ‘magical’ and alchemical texts.
  • Questions about pigments  leads us now to the curious ‘green’ stars in  folio 67v.

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