Stars above – ‘Horoscopic charts’ or ‘clock-o-clay’ – a passing note

Two previous:

Header image – Aster flowers – phases of development.

IN the old days, picking oakum was proverbial for mind-numbing, tedious and back-breaking labour.  Trying to identify and eradicate ‘canonised myth’ from the theoretical Voynich narratives is just like that.

Take the “weed-seeded” idea of  the month-diagrams as ‘horoscopic charts’ – is it another bit of ‘pass-it-along’ gossip? Another bit of cloud-gazing, or guess-work or speculation?   Is it another idea dug out of a work produced by d’Imperio, and based on theories and attitudes current a hundred years ago but for which retrospective justification is still being sought?  Or – is it, on the contrary, a sensible conclusion drawn from a body of solid and well-documented evidence and research?  If there is such a formal study and argument… why does no-one say so?  It is not simply credit but responsibility for ideas put in circulation which a writer’s name must bear.   So… see if you can discover who is to be praised, or blamed, for planting and nurturing this particular “weed-seed”.  (Do let me know if you manage to track it to its source – and I mean original source, not the previous figure in the gossip-chain).

If trying to weigh the pros and cons for this notion, which may turn out to be just another without legitimate parentage, you will need to cover some basic ground – neatly summarised by this paragraph from the  British Library site.

Ideas of astrology in medieval Europe were a long way from today’s star sign horoscopes. Although some medieval astrologers were thought to be magicians, many were highly respected scholars. Astrologers believed that the movements of the stars influenced numerous things on Earth, from the weather and the growth of crops to the personalities of new born babies and the inner workings of the human body. Ancient studies of astrology were translated from Arabic to Latin in the 12th and 13th centuries and soon became a part of everyday medical practice in Europe. Doctors combined Galenic medicine (inherited from the Greek physiologist Galen – AD 129-216) with careful studies of the stars. By the end of the 1500s, physicians across Europe were required by law to calculate the position of the moon before carrying out complicated medical procedures, such as surgery or bleeding.  (from an  article illustrated by a detail Brit.Lib. MS Egerton 2572,(late 15thC)

N.B. You might start from that first point  – “… a long way from today’s star sign horoscopes” and ask, How different? In what ways? With what phase of that development (if any) are the Voynich month-diagrams imagined to be compatible?

Also – Azzolini has pointed out when speaking of charts made before and during the early sixteenth century, the term ‘horoscopic chart’ is a catch-all description for a variety of diagram types.  To which does this ‘weed-seed’ refer?

Note especially her saying that “Every one of these charts reflects the position of [all] the planets and [all] the constellations of the zodiac in the sky at a given moment in time.” Where are  planets, or the rest of the zodiac signs supposed to be in each of the Voynich month-diagrams?

Vague, hand-waving catch-all terms as ‘horoscopic charts’ in Voynich writings seem to convey plausible meaning yet evaporate as another bit of smoke on closer scrutiny.  This one seems to me to just another theory-driven guess, attributed and attributed to no-one and no body of work. Just another bad guess like the old assertion that the   cloudband pattern, or braided hair ‘proved’ the work Germanic, or that containers in the leaf-and-root section ‘proved’ connection to the European pharmacy before 1440 … or  that Quire 20 must consist of phamaceutical ‘recipes’.

Unless presented with some formal argument, documented and with precedents credited in the usual way, most assertions made about this manuscript serve theories rather than its better understanding.  Friends of the manuscript do well to avoid what is neither proven, nor rightly credited to its origin.

And so I had to do, myself, in connection with the usual ‘astrological’ assertions during the period when I investigated each of them.  My logs show I also looked at various other possibilities between, though here I’ll mention just three, without saying whether I found any helpful in reaching the conclusions which, in the end, I did.

1. Q&A fortune-telling.

I referred to Fanti’s work in posts written as early as 2011, though I’d known it since the 1980s when it helped elucidate the history and meaning of certain other medieval images which I had been commissioned to investigate.

When I mentioned Fanti’s sixteenth-century book, Triomfo della Fortuna for a Voynich audience it was at a time when  the study was dominated by a ‘central European’ theory that ignored any but medieval German works, and which still assumed an essential connection between date and place of manufacture and that of origin for the material, while also averse to any suggestion of non-Latin ‘authorship’.   The reaction to my mentioning Fanti, was therefore, an effort to present German ‘lot books’ as if these proved the type in some (unexplained) sense as inherently or uniquely ‘Germanic’.   This habit has noticeably decreased since 2015 when  Touwaide said he thought the Voynich text-block binding looked Italian to him.  Thereafter, Pelling’s ‘Milan’ theory was re-instated as acceptable after relegation to the Voynich wilderness for most of the preceding decade.

The amount of evidence, and the sheer volume of research which core-conservatives manage to pretend non-existent (while trying to co-opt much) displays a fixed determination which is really impressive in a weird sort of way.

Fanti’s book was published much later than the Voynich manuscript’s date, but  internal evidence shows it derived from matter attested in mainland Europe from the last quarter of the fourteenth century.  Here’s a detail.

detail from:  Sigismundo Fanti (Italian, born Ferrara, active Venice 16th century) Triomfo della Fortuna (published Jan. 1526).

These diagrams are not ‘horoscopic charts’ but are related to what was treated as a parlour-game in late medieval Europe.  A player asked one from a set list of questions and received answers  generated by these ‘lots’ – not unlike the way I-ching diagrams are generated, or those of the Youruba’s  ‘Ifa’ (which would itself inform inform, first, Islamic astrological calculations in north Africa and rather later Agrippa’s account of ‘geomancy’, but that’s another issue.

2. Ifa divination.

The calculations of Ifa allude to ‘mothers and daughters’ etc, but are far more sophisticated, and have far deeper roots,  than Agrippa would understand later.

For a better appreciation of  Ifa and system of divination – which incorporates history and traditional epic –  the interested reader might begin from Odularu’s bibliography.  I had also studied this topic, though from material in university libraries, before being asked (in 2007) to comment on a couple of images from the Voynich manuscript.  But see:


3. Panofsky, Spain and the Libros.

It is now almost ninety years since  Panofsky said that one of the month-diagrams reminded him of diagrams in the works produced by Arabic and Jewish scholars in obedience to Alfonso X.   It is almost twenty years since Dana Scott followed up that brief allusion and found (and shared) images from the Libros with members of the first mailing list.

Following this, we saw less effort put into testing whether and how the Libros might be relevant than in efforts to create ‘alternatives’ for which credit might be otherwise assigned.  I won’t go into that issue here except to say that this sort of co-opting and production of ‘alternatives’ continues today, with the habitual omission of original (and deserved) credit in the hope that constant re-presentation of the other may see the imitator credited as originator.

Credit for mention of the Libros and its diagrams, within Voynich studies, is due to Panofsky (1932) and subsequently to Dana Scott.  It should be noted, however, that neither offered any formal argument for a link between the Vms and material in the Libros.

In short, that possibility, introduced in 1932, remains in 2020 without any formal research and argument.  It is still just ‘an idea’.

Having to review, critically, every unsupported assertion and ‘canonised Voynich myth’ is real slog-research  “oakum-picking”, but the mess that has been made by using assertion to avoid evidence; of  pretending no other views exist save a given theoretical narrative; of systematically censoring and erasing the record of contributions made by dissenters… and so on… means the researcher must proceed as if on marshland, testing each step before allowing any weight to be placed on it.

As I’ve said in an earlier post – I can find no formal argument ever presented for a link between the month-diagrams and diagrams in the Libros – perhaps a reader might care to run that test for themselves.


Since my own research (as you’ll see if you follow the present series of posts to the end) led me finally to identify the month-diagrams with systems describing the ‘hours’ and further concluded that the tiered figures’ first enunciation occurred in a Hellenistic environment, so readers may wish to create a short-cut – knowing this series is following the slower course of tracking my own investigations from my logs.

Among the  hundred and more references which clarified some specific  point  I’ll mention two here.

The first includes a useful summary of material in the Libros. The second includes certain technical terms current in early fifteenth century Italy.

  • Gerhard Dohrn-van Rossum, Gerhard Dohrn,  History of the Hour: Clocks and Modern Temporal Orders ( University of Chicago Press, 1996), especially its Chapter 4.
  • and
    J.H. Leopold, The Amanus Manuscript, (Hutchinson:1971)

Postscript – more recent publications which I’d recommend include

  • Yossef Rapoport and Emilie Savage-Smith, Lost Maps of the Caliphs (Uni of Chicago Press:  2018)

I have already (in posts to voynichimagery) recommended the article by Edson and Savage-Smith but here are its details again

  • Evelyn Edson and Emilie Savage-Smith, ‘An Astrologer’s Map: A Relic of Late Antiquity’, Imago Mundi, Vol. 52 (2000), pp. 7-29.




“Here I lie, a clock-o’-clay,
Waiting for the time o’ day.”

John Clare

… but when I was a child, the ‘clock-o-clay’ was a seed-head (usually the dandelion’s) which told the hour by releasing the last of its seeds when one blew on it counting with each breath, ‘One o’clock.. two o’clock’..