‘Weaving the Voynich’ -reprint by request.

The author’s rights are asserted.

c.2300 words

Introduction: (2022)

In 2012 Julian Bunn did something entirely new; he colour coded pages from the Voynich manuscript to show the position of the ‘gallows’-glyphs.

I had expected that Julian’s blog would appear among those listed in the Voynich ninja ‘Blogosphere’* but today I see that while a number of non-existent blogs are in their list, Julian’s is not. [update – 20th Dec. 2022 – Julian’s blog is now back in the list. 🙂 ]

*The ‘Ninja’ forum’s claim to “track the Voynich blogosphere so you don’t have to!” is a nice example of theorists’ putting higher value on assertion than on fact. 🙂

When Julian’s new approach was first published, his posts met near-complete silence. No buzz, few comments. Recently, though, it has re-surfaced and one would hope that credit is being accurately assigned by the more recent revivalists to the author of that ground-breaking study.

By June of 2021 2012, Julian had presented every page of the manuscript with the gallows glyphs colour-coded, and presently those images remain visible online.(HERE).

He would later publish a full-colour version, giving every glyph its own colour, but the post I’ve been asked to re-print (the request didn’t come from Julian) was written before he found time to make the full-colour version.

I might add that Julian is no crony of mine. He is (or was) an arch-conservative of deepest dye – and as you will see from the list of researchers whose existence he chose to advertise on his personal blog.

When he first published that work in 2012, I was still mulling over something he had written a few months earlier:

I am convinced that it is not as simple as it appears (i.e. that the words are not words at all)

Julian Bunn, ‘How was the Voynich Manuscript text written?‘, computistical attacks (blog), August 23, 2012.

The post from which I’m republishing what you see below contained more than I republish now, and was one of perhaps only four or five I’ve ever published that wasn’t a summary of my own research and its conclusions.

As a rule I consider it a complete waste of time to publish mere “ideas” and as a rule I try not to offer opinions about the written part of the text.

In this post, published almost a decade ago, I set aside both self-imposed rules, one of only four or five times I’ve ever done so.


taken from:

D.N.O’Donovan ‘Weaving the Voynich – seriously’, Voynichimagery (first published December 28th., 2012).

Here is a new set of images, for each of the folios in the VMs, that shows the positions of the various gallows glyphs.

To clarify – these “positions” are not the positions as seen on the image scans of the manuscript itself, they are the positions in terms of glyph position along each line.

The difference between these and the ones in the previous post is that these have Gallows “f” coloured blue, “g” coloured green, and the other gallows coloured red (as before).

Julian Bunn, ‘Page positional gallows Mark II’, computistical attacks (blog) 28th December 2012.

Shortly before publishing this recent post, Julian said in another that “I am convinced that .. the words are not words at all).

to which the natural response is – “well, if not words, what are they?”

I have received Julian’s permission to include some pictures from  Julian’s blogpost.

As he says, the distributions of gallows on those pictures aren’t exact matches with positions on the folios, but I don’t think it matters very much.

You will see that in Julian’ s picture for  f.58v  the left-hand margin shows a vertical series separated from the rest –  separated in Julian’s picture by grey, though the interval is filled with non-gallows glyphs in the manuscript.

One section in that margin resembles one of the simplest  arrangements for thread in a woven fabric. and in this same image you will see (to the right of the margin), a staggered vertical line of blocks echoing another which is typical of some patterns generated in weaving from that first.

How are the two related?

The two most basic forms of weave are linen weave (‘tabby’) and twill.

Tabby is the usual 1×1 over-and-under pattern used for linen. Twill creates a diagonal line, achieved partly by the way the loom is threaded up, and partly by the order in which certain elements are brought up while others are lowered. The first is called the ‘threading pattern’ and the second the ‘treading pattern’. More technical details are included further below.

Distinction between a separate representation a fabric’s threading pattern, and (with a more sophisticated loom) the treading pattern. Today, a weaving pattern will use the margin (left or right) to record the treading pattern, with the basic threading pattern shown across the top of the diagram, as shown in the illustration below.

Patterns represented on graph paper, and modern gridded instructions will present an artificial, theoretically-even thickness and distance for warp and weft.

Julian’s illustrations have an artificial regularity of a different kind. If any were weaving patterns, what you see on a diagram would come closer to a pattern’s intended form but in practice hand-woven fabrics rarely emerge so regular.

As you see from the following example, the illustration (below, right) is  a copy of Julian’s data for  f.103v, but I’ve stretched it to reflect a typical difference between a formal diagram and what one sees in practice.

The second illustration (below, centre) comes from a different inner Asian [Turkmen] rug from that illustrated on the far left, but shows more clearly the ‘gol’ pattern whose equivalent is seen in a number of Julian’s diagrams – that is, facing diagonals which form just two sides of a potential lozenge motif. In other words, I’m suggesting the glyphs could be used to represent (by alpha-numeric?) as many different hues or tones.

To colour opposite sides of a medallion (gul/gol) differently is characteristic of the Turkmen style, sometimes called the Kurdish. The regions native to Kurdish people include southeastern Turkey, northwestern Iran, northern Iraq, and northern Syria.

Glyphs, Number, colour.

This brings up the question of the glyphs’ number and how they might relate to a colour-range. I hadn’t any notion, when I wrote a first brief version of this post some days ago [in 2012] that the ‘weaving’ technique can be equated more-or-less roughly to a ‘bilateral cipher’.

Here is an old post (ciphermysteries of course) referring and crediting Tony Gaffney with making the [bilateral cipher] suggestion. 

Nick himself raised the theme of bilateral ciphers again very recently [26th December 2012] and  shortly after my original short preview- for this ‘weaving’ post went up.

I suggested that if there were seventeen distinct gallows glyphs (an idea I’d picked up at some time), they would offer a natural system for someone to describe a type of colour-wheel, if they were being employed by persons accustomed to describing a circuit of 32 in terms of a basic 17, as occurs among the eastern mariners, who named each Pole by a separate word, but the other thirty by naming 15 around the eastern curve with the epithet ‘rising’, with the same fifteen on the opposite curve as ‘setting’.

Thirty-two is a number well-suited to recording languages. A quick check of Omniglot gives 32 components for:

Islandic; Estonian; modern Persian; Coptic; Tigrinya; Russian; Lithuanian; Perso-Arabic; Belarus; Bulgarian and Kurdish (Kurmanji-).

To use the ’17’ system, you’d need a  couple of  glyphs that were unique, and fifteen having their ‘pairs’ – one supposes, in the present case, as a gallows-and-glyph with each gallows having a different following glyph.

I’m not suggesting that the Voynich text refers to nothing but weaving and colours; I’d assume colour would be one of many sets of associations that could be built on an alpha-numeric series, just as Latins built upon the Roman alphabet and from a foundation in the Psalter or – to take another example, as Ibn Arabi built his set of associations upon the series of  27 lunar mansions.

If there were a correspondence here between the set of colours and the set of  glyphs ( or simply of gallows glyphs), and they were disposed as pairs (and or as darker and lighter tones), that correspondence, if it could be established,  might be a way into identifying the language natural to the maker of the manuscript. A slender hope but a possibility.

Relationship between a ‘letter’ and sound might be direct, but between a letter, its position, and/or a colour the relationship need not be so simple.

I mean that – to give an example – the word for green might start with  ‘g’ but by custom that colour imagined the primary element in a people’s cosmology and so, by that people, accorded the number one or letter ‘A’ position.

A wheel of numbered hues which could be described in terms of the ‘bright’/rising and the ‘dark’/setting curve

OMNIGLOT has a table for colours in many languages. I think it was extremely brave of them to post it!

This isn’t the only suggestion of textiles and textile arts in the manuscript.  In discussing the botanical section last year [i.e. in 2011] I illustrated fairly copiously the way the drawing style in many folios from that  section echoes those of inner Asia ( especially patterns of Suzani work in Uzbekistan) and also types of textiles created near ports of medieval India and south-east Asia.  I wont’ repeat it all, but here are a small number of the illustrations from traditional Suzani work. (However, the picture in the bottom row, a Javanese batik,  was allegedly made in the 10thC AD, and though I haven’t been able to check its provenance, I do wonder if the caption didn’t confuse the Islamic for the Christian system of dating years.

Note (2022) – a few months after I’d shown those examples of Suzani embroidery in the course of discussing stylistics in various folios of the plant-section – the first time textile art had been referenced in Voynich studies, so far as I could find – a woman promoting her theory of the entire manuscript as an expression of a European Baltic and female ritual culture posted images of Baltic embroidery. I’m afraid I’ve since forgotten her name.


[note – some repetition here, but it keeps this section self-contained]

I have never seen any type of weavers’ instructions or recipes from the fifteenth century nor earlier – not from Europe; not from anywhere.

It is often easier to produce a complex pattern by having someone call out the order of operations. I know this was done until recently in workshops producing Persian carpets but as with so many skills, I expect that in the case of traditional weavers most had simply learned their craft at the elbow of their parent or trade master.

Not even Agnes Geijer, whose masterful study of textiles is now sadly out of print, has much to say about how detailed instructions were preserved and transmitted for such complex designs as those on damasks and cut- velvets. From the accuracy with which some western medieval centres such as Venice were able to re-create eastern patterns, we know some sort of textile-analysis must have been possible and this also implies some system for recording and transmitting the information. I’ve never encountered any study which addressed that question for a period earlier than 1450.

The basics of a modern pattern consist of the pattern’s depiction in a grid, with the pattern of threading-up in the margin of one axis, and of treading in the other. Like this. (The section in the upper right corner describes how the heddles, through which the warp threads are strung, are to be linked to one another and the treadles)

The basic threading-up pattern (here the upper margin) has variations created by the treading pattern (in the image above, the right margin). The threading pattern thus provides you, more-or-less, with a profile view of the design, and this will also appear in the selvage.

A modern hand-weaver will find fully graphed patterns in any reference book,  but an experienced weaver wouldn’t trouble to draw up a whole design unless it were extremely complex.

Most modern hand-weavers use numbers for threading and treading order, but if the warp is multicoloured, it’s possible to use colours instead and I have seen it done in some American graphs.

To show how many variations on a basic threading can be produced, here are twelve from a single threading-up.

[2022].  The link to that diagram is broken, though if you care to chase it through ‘Wayback’ etc., just undo the caps below.


Postscript “not words at all”

A most important question which any reader is bound to ask of a Voynich writer is “What first suggested this idea to you?”

If the answer is ‘It just came to me’ or ‘It is a theory’ or they refuse to reply but adopt a pose of hauteur, then you’re entitled to wonder if their argument is actually unjustifiable, whether because it is literally a baseless notion or because it is not a result of the speaker’s own work but merely what they could grasp from work done by someone else.

You can see clearly enough how Julian came to conclude (temporarily or permanently) that Voynich words were ‘not words at all” by following the series of posts he published leading up to that one published on August 23, 2012..

You might also enjoy some posts that bear a more recent date:

Julian Bunn, ‘Nine Cipher Wheels‘, Computational attacks… (August 9th/update August 12th., 2021).

___________, ‘Word-length Distributions‘, Computational attacks (August 12th., 2021)

___________, ‘Fun with Grove Words and Cipher Wheels‘, Computational Attacks.. (August 18th., 2021)

_____________, ‘Grove Word lengths’Computational attacks… (August 19th., 2021)

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