How NOT to Voynich – a rant

I am annoyed. Probably terminally.

I absolutely fail to understand why anyone who feels no interest in the manuscript, and no obligation to understand it or approach it as a topic for serious study bothers having anything to do with it at all.


For quite a while now, I’ve been explaining just why the imagery in MS Beinecke 408 does NOT permit its content (as distinct from its materials – but even that’s not certain) to be supposed a reflection of western Christian culture, thought, or custom.

All the effect that I can see from that labour is that my published posts are mined as if they were copyright-free or nothing more than “ideas” or “theories” which require adjustment and correction before being spread about for re-formulation and ‘re-presentation’ by people without the formal or informal competence even to plagiarise effectively.


But instead of the usual rant, let me show you how things appear to me when someone comes up with a “new theory” about the imagery in this manuscript.

It seems to go something like this.

The archetypal (and thus fictional) “Voynichero” appears in a communication to the mailing list, or to a blog, saying that they heard about the manuscript just the other day, and want to share their “theory” about it.

There is a positive passion for feeling that one has to invent some entirely unheard-of “original theory”, but this usually conforms to the same old flummery you read in endless “introductions” and “presentations” of the manuscript.

Having done this, the novice begins flicking through the manuscript’s (variously foliated) high res pictures while trying to formulate their brand-new “theory”. In this way, my archetypal ‘Voynichero’ comes to folio 75v.


Oh dear, s/he mutters, “How can I make this weird picture (trans: unEuropean image, so very not-noticeably Christian, drawn in a manner so manifestly unlike pictures in medieval German, Italian or French manuscripts) conform to the all-European story?

Well, the women are all female at least .. that’s a good start. Medieval women in Europe were female under their clothing – obvious similarity. Brilliant. I’m doing well.

How to prove that? Hmnn. I suppose I need a picture of some medieval Christian women in water. I could browse manuscripts online, but … that could be hours of work and I can’t read what’s written in any of them. They’re all in weird script and languages I don’t understand – not even the English ones.

I’ll just ask G/ggle:

“Giggle, could you please turn up some pictures of:  +medieval “women in river”

and ..

ta daaah! I’m really researching great today. Look what I got. Women in water.  and weird trees …  Double bonus.

70 virga

So what’s the story (goes to ‘page view’).

The archetypal Voynichero just about jumps in the air. Shouts to partner – hey, the date is 1440.

Yep, this will be the best sort of theory, a plausible one.

Ok, so who are they?

Francesca Romana. She had visions.

Ah.. very good. I can argue all the stuff I can’t make sense of is just her visions. Brilliant.

Oh look a real date: ” Christmas Day, 1432″.

And another one. This is too good to be coincidental.

On 28 June 1438, when returning from St Paul’s Basilica and visiting her vineyard, Francsca was caught up in ecstasy and knelt in a stream. But when she got up the women with her noticed that her clothes were perfectly dry.”


Of course, none of the Voynich women wear clothes, but … yeessss…. the pavilion-y things and that tube-y sort of thing.

We could turn those into divine clouds, and a funnel of dry air (a bit like a cosmic hair dryer) which has just made her clothes dry.

Or.. or.. hang on.

So we don’t get too Catholic about it all. (The media aren’t so keen on that; they want fiercely scientific skeptical Protestant or heretic sort of people.. alchemists…  No, can’t make this alchemical, but how about… a theory that the “original” picture showed the women as nuns, and so the Voynich manuscript is by a person who is too fiercely skeptical, scientific and anti-Roman to show anyone in water with their clothes on.

Wow – that could work. Maybe we can get Wyclif or Huss or someone worked into the story. Great filmography there – and light on costumes too.

Move the whole thing from Italy to central Europe, account for all the weird drawings by saying they are satirical re-takes on something like an old Catholic book about saints and … gardens.

Oh yes. (says our novice Voynichero) Oh yes.  Huston, we have a theory. And it’s original, its plausible, and it’s 1400s.  I’m IN!

Now all that’s left to do is write announcing this first proof and detail my “theory” … and then wait for the back-pats.


That’s how NOT to approach MS Beinecke 408.




  1. It (almost) never is about “How can I make this weird picture […] conform to the all-European story?”

    It (almost) always is about “What’s the shortest (and laziest) step I can make from that weird-looking stuff to something I can Google?”

    The underlying problem is about laziness, stereotyped thinking and school systems that teach people nothing about history or critical thinking. Frankly, even medieval scholasticism seems a hundred times more disciplined and useful than the gullible, shallow, sentimental, superstitious and supercilious mental toolboxes most 21st Century people seem to leave school with.

    And don’t get me started on Wikipedia. 😉

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks. Good to know others understand. But I do think that most are too lazy to begin from fundamentals – to see what has been established in the usual story, and what is no more than a century-old hypothesis, fossilized. And look what has happened to anyone whose analysis ran counter to the assumption of all-European content: Stolfi was frozen out; Wiart and Mazar were ignored, and that’s not to mention my own results, which though cut heavily, and their references replaced with others available online, also run counter to the standard assumptions.

      So, I think, most ambitious Voynicheros do keep their proposals within those lines.


Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s