Now you tell me – Dan Burisch

A comment which Nick Pelling made a couple of months ago, in writing to Ellie Velinska’s blog, got me wondering who this person called “Dan Burisch” might be.

I had a vague notion that he was someone from the time of the first mailing list – before my time anyway – and since his name never turned up as having contributed anything by way of insight into the script or the imagery, I never bothered to ask exactly who he was.

Today I did.   In a post dated April 21st., 2008 (which I think is about four months before I was introduced to this manuscript) Pelling wrote about a passage which the said Burisch claimed to have decrypted. Pelling summarised D.B’s ideas in this way:

Burisch’s claimed decryption reprises, just as you can find countless times in the museum of failed Voynich solutions, a large number of by-now-oh-so-familiar motifs of pathological enigmatology: selective transcription, Roger Bacon, mirror writing, disguised Hebrew, confusing and repetitive text, selective dyslexia, arbitrary anagramming, religious / liturgical / Gnostic plaintexts, arbitrary / optimistic / free-form translations, etc. So far, nothing hugely unexpected, then.

But on June 27th., Pelling quoted someone who, apparently, thinks well of Dr.Dan:

From the website ‘world mysteries’ concerning the Voynich document we read in an except from Dr. Levitov: “There is not a single so-called botanical illustration that does not contain some Cathari symbol or Isis symbol. The astrological drawings are likewise easy to deal with; the innumerable stars are representative of the stars in Isis’ mantle.” The fate of the Cathars resembles that of the Knights Templar, does not the dualism of the former also receive a modicum of redemption in the restoration of the latter?With Dr. Burisch’s background in microbiology, the Voynich ‘botanical illustrations’ were child’s play, and the astrological designations had already been previously noted as corresponding to the Milky Way Galaxy, and by conversion of linear transformations into ‘diagrammatic notation,’ the determinant of the matrix was solved. ‘As above so below’ was not, in this case, a spiritual derivative, it was simply and starkly a ‘spacial’ one.

And this presents a bit of a dilemma – for the present writer, if not for Pelling. I don’t know what “Cathari” symbols are.  Does Isis have a starry mantle anywhere except on a card in a tarot pack of 19thC design?  (Will check).  “The fate of the Cathars resembles that of the Knights Templar”… well, umm, sort of I suppose, but only if you stretch a metaphor.

The next bit is tricky, too.  What exactly is meant by “astrological designations…corresponding to the Milky Way Galaxy?”  The Milky Way is our galaxy, but let that pass.

The Milky Way intersects with the ecliptic, and the ecliptic band contains the constellations used for the usual western astrology.  Is he aiming to correlate stars of the milky way with constellations of the ecliptic, perhaps??!

And what is meant here by “diagrammatic notation”?

And just what did that approving writer mean to convey in saying that “as above, so below was not… a spiritual derivative… [but] a spatial one.” [spelling error in the original corrected].

Without reading the original, I don’t know whether any of this agrees with any of my  own conclusions about this manuscript, or not.

The Milky Way was pictured as a celestial road to the north in some early Latin Christian manuscripts, and had been believed so in various traditions, including the Egyptian.. but how these obvious (or less obvious) facts match that comment is difficult to understand.  Is it the Milky way he means or bulk-standard astrology relating to the ecliptic?

And is  “diagrammatic notation”some term invented by Burisch because he didn’t know the term mnemonic or mnemonic device?  And when Burisch speaks of “as above so below” as  spatial notation, is he talking about a common use of latitude and longitude – and its notation – in both astronomy and  geography?

Or.. what?

(I’m reminded of why I asked the faculty for permission to register an artificial ‘Fail’ against semiotics on my academic record – because I thought it ridiculous to make the language of abreaction a means to discuss art… and without failing I couldn’t switch to  more intelligent unit. … and Remember Whoopie Goldberg’s line: “Speak English, Mick!” ?)

I suppose now I’ll have to  read Burisch’s writing directly, but Pelling’s review of makes the prospect about as attractive as a meal of sawdust.

And then Pelling manages to show just why Voynich studies constantly recalls the  six blind men and the elephant, for now he  says:

Ohhhh dear: if a novelist tried to get away with froth like this, he/she would get taken apart. There is no Milky Way link, there is no microbiology, there is no Cathar link, there is no Templar link, there is no matrix (spatial or otherwise), there is no religion, no gnosis, no dualism.

Ok – seriously.

a priori I do think we can suppose that there will be no microbiology in the Voynich manuscript.  But for the rest of those things I think Pelling is no less guilty of making assertions without evidence as Burisch seems to be.   I think it is a crazy sort of arrogance to consult nothing but one’s own random collection of information and the chimera ‘common sense’ before accepting or rejecting anything.   I want to see the evidence from which these assertions derive.   Otherwise the set of denials is no less irrational than the set of contentions in this case, for the history of the period precludes none.

‘Cathar Link’, says Dan.  ‘No Cathar link’, says Nick.  OK, chaps, Explain how you come to believe that?  Have you – has anyone –  investigated that possibility sanely, and come sanely to a positive (or a negative) conclusion from the evidence?  Anyone? Ever? It’s a Voynich-Schrõdinger cat.

Templar/No Templar link.  OK. How do we know that?  Who has investigated… sanely…and come to the conclusions that this is a contention demonstrably false?  Anyone? Ever?

Matrix/ no matrix, spatial or otherwise?  Pelling’s rejection may be more particular than it seems, but taken as blankly as expressed it would imply, among other things, a blanket rejection of e.g. links to Claudius Ptolemy, whose works include a spatial matrix (i.e Lat.Long. co-ordinates) for placing both the stars and places on earth.  For myself I think that such co-ordinates (not necessarily Ptolemy’s) are quite likely to feature in the Vms text..

Religion/no religion…  What do you mean by “religion” Dan? What do you mean by religion, Nick?  Both of you… when you can’t read the pictorial or the written text, and we know that imagery across the world before the middle of the fifteenth century is strongly affected by religio-cultural mores, the first assumption ought to be that any text and imagery *ought* to contain evidence of religious and cultural attitudes.   And identifying those ought to be rather helpful.

Gnostic/No gnostic..Well, if we include Manichean belief as ‘gnostic’, I’ll have to say I reserve judgement but wouldn’t be at all surprised to find that there is influence from some one or more among the various forms of gnostic belief current between the 1stC AD and 1415 or so.

Dualism/No dualism…  The imagery does include a sort of ‘dualism’ though not obviously of the “devils and angels” type known in Latin Europe.

Pelling fell into his usual habit of letting his assumptions hang a bit too far below his hem.  But to balance this let me say first that he did recognise even as early as 2008 how immensely reliant his “Averlino” story was upon pure imagination.  He writes of his own theory-narrative:

Perhaps I’m no less guilty (with my reconstructed story of Antonio Averlino “Filarete”) as Levitov, or Rugg, or any of the other 20+ Voynich theories out there.

For Pelling, though, ‘religion’ would seem to mean only some official state religion whose symbols he happens to be familiar with, but I doubt if he’d have a clue what a Cathar, gnostic or Manichean symbol looked like, nor a Nair symbol, nor a Jain symbol.. though of course I may do him an injustice.  The point is that he just dumps all those things  he doesn’t feel are likely to true into his general waste-basket and in its way that’s just as careless and imaginative as the positive assertions seem to be.  If you don’t know, you don’t know. Research is about trying to find out.

I did like the quotation that Pelling included in the same post (properly credited, naturally: it’s one of the reasons I first looked up his posts about Burisch)

The peril of science fiction is that it attracts the worst kind of lunatics — those prepared to believe not only their own delusions but each others’. The frenzied construction of delusional architectures of thought is a fascinating talent, and one which reached its pinnacle in the late twentieth century.

For mine,  I can only hope that we see even less of such – I won’t say delusional, but ‘entirely theory-built’ –  structures in 2017 than we did in 2016.  With the arrival of we have enjoyed more respite (and less plain spite) than I ever saw in Voynich studies between 2008 and 2016.

Ciphermysteries excepted, of course.


  1. Postscript – I understand that some people have misconstrued “ciphermysteries excepted”. From 2008 to roughly 2013, ciphermysteries was the only site on which people were free to discuss research whose conclusions cast doubt on the idea being promoted by a few – viz. that the manuscript was the brain-child of some single Latin (European) Christian author from central Europe – deemed ‘Germanic’ – and that only evidence suiting this storyline was ‘sensible’.

    In about 2013, but especially from about 2015, Pelling’s open-house policy became noticeably narrower and now closely parallels that adopted by the owner of the second mailing list: lunatics and supporters of the ‘central/Germanic Latin author’ narrative only.
    In that case and in those others where such a policy was’suggested’ to blog- and website- owners, one saw the rapid decline of the site as a result of the consequent absence of active discussion, new insights and critical thought. Those sites became, effectively, nothing more than another platform for promoting that single, hypothetical, poorly-founded narrative of the ‘single Latin Christian and Germanic author’. The ‘discussion’ reduced to adherents of that theory showing each other the latest item from a Latin Christian – and usually ‘Germanic’ – manuscript and asserting it ‘like’ something in the Voynich manuscript.
    The first proponents of the theory were urging it two decades ago, and the hunt for supporting ‘evidence’ was engaged thereafter… after twenty years, then, the information from which any theory should have been derived is still being hunted. 🙂

    None of this lessens the importance which ciphermysteries once had. Its host observed standards akin to those of the first mailing list and kept open the avenues for civilized scholarly research and debate in from 2008-2013.


  2. My point back in 2008 was that there is no exoteric referentiality in the VMs, no galaxy seen through a telescope, no religious symbolism, etc etc.
    It is possible to construct all manner of esoteric arguments on top of what we see in the VMs, but only by dint of sophisticated external references.
    So when Dan Burisch (and others) try to get the benefit of an esoteric argument but without doing the work, it’s clearly a fake.


  3. I don’t know why you deleted your subsequent comment here: “exoteric” is “intended for or likely to be understood by the general public”, which I used to contrast with “esoteric”, “intended for or likely to be understood by only a small number of people with a specialized knowledge or interest”.


    • I deleted my comment as unnecessary. However, since you’re back – I think your asserting that you saw no evidence of western European Christian cultural affect in the Voynich imagery conflicts with your belief at that time that the work was wholly a product of Latin culture – that is, not a product of Byzantine Christian, Syrian Christian, Nestorian Christian, Islamic, Coptic, Hindu, Jewish or any other religio-cultural environment.

      If you had noticed the near-complete absence of evidence for medieval or renaissance Latin culture, then why didn’t you say so? Or rather, why didn’t you then conclude that the Averlino hypothesis was impossible? Please don’t take these questions as argumentative or meant to criticise. I honestly don’t see how it is possible to accept the absence of Latin (i.e western Christian) cultural influence on the one hand, but on the other reject any alternative. Or perhaps you are not defining this in terms of cultural affect, but in a conceptual division between clerical and lay persons? If you had really not believed the work one by a Latin, then why didn’t I hear noises of support from you when I began explaining this matter in detail – a matter now being asserted and presumed and (like so much else) likely to then be told me as something ‘everyone knows’, and as like as not with snorting noises about how I’m getting above myself trying to say that the results of original work – and the masses of abuse and so forth endured for the sake of it – are really nothing new, and nothng deserving credit.

      One doesn’t expect a great deal of hooraw. Just basic decency. The fact is that No-one but Panofsky in 1931 and by inference Jorge Stolfi ever believed other than that the manuscript was the work of some Latin (i.e. western Christian) author until after I’d spent nearly nine years explaining this in great detail, with my evidence including both positive and negative argument. True or not? Do tell.


      • I’ve never used the absence of evidence as evidence of absence, so this would seem to be a straw man argument against me on your part.

        However, if it is your contention that absence of religious evidence is evidence of absence of religion, then that is your argument, not mine. Feel free to argue it how you will, but please don’t project it onto me.


      • Dear Nick,
        It is difficult to discuss issues raised by this manuscript if when I say ‘it is’ the Voynichero’s only response is ‘well you are…’

        And for some reason or another that has become a routine practice. If it is impossible – as it seems to be – to have questions raised about the manuscript met with discussion of the manuscript, its imagery, the history of the times or of art.. then there’s not much point, is there? I check the blog once each week or ten days, and I only wish you’d been interested to talk things over while I was still involved.

        PS – what puzzles me, and has always puzzled me is that when one person raises questions about methodology, historical appropriateness, apparent conflict between the argument’s internal logic and the external contextual evidence (e.g. that seventeenth-century cipher methods weren’t found in the thirteenth century), the issues themselves are addressed by the linguists and cryptographers… usually in a calm and rational way, attending to the point (not the person). However, my experience has always been that to raise questions about Voynicheros’ methodology or argument about historical matters, or imagery doesn’t result in expressions of intellectual interest, or desire to understand better either the issue itself or the reason for my position.

        In retrospect, I’m chiefly disappointed that there were so few opportunities to exchange ideas and information about the manuscript – really a very interesting one, more interesting than the theoretical constructs created for it, in much the same way that history, investigated, is far more interesting than history as imagined. On that, I’m inclined to think, we may well agree.


  4. Coming back to the issue of lack of evidence, should people conclude that where other documents of the era (such as herbals, zibaldone, books of machines, books of secrets, etc) contain no explicitly religious images, they are clearly not products of the dominant Western European Christian mindset, and should therefore have their imagery re-evaluated accordingly?


    • Nick
      My point is precisely the opposite – that books produced by persons whose graphic language was that of Latin Europe evince that character, whether or not the imagery refers to specifically ecclesiastical/religious matter. One can wipe the written text from a manuscript that is Indian, Persian, Armenian, Byzantine or Latin, and the imagery will still tell you the cultural context from which it came. Wipe the written text from the Voynich manuscript (as in effect it is wiped) and the result is a manuscript whose imagery is not – save for some few late additions – legible in terms of the Latin tradition. That’s why it took a century for the map to be read – not guessed or speculated or imagined – a map.

      What we see is a complete mirror-world where persons begin by saying ‘I should like the manuscript to be .. Armenian, Norse, German.. whatever. Then having taken the notion as if it were fact, a hunt through nothing but Armenian, Norse, German… whatever.. sources. And usually nothing but manuscripts – to hunt for something that can be claimed ‘like’. This is simply not a rational way to provenance imagery.

      Take the ‘crossbowman’ thing. The fact is that the people who were determined on a ‘German’ storyline were the only people to hunt for ‘like’ images, and the definition of ‘like’ came down to ‘person holding crossbow’. That is not how imagery is defined if one is genuinely seeking the correct provenance, but let that pass. Most are earnest, if amateur, seekers and genuinely believed that they had found ‘like’ imagery. But if your theory had been that the manuscript was Spanish, or Jewish, or Hungarian, or North African, or even nearer Asian… or if your preferred story was that it was an Islamic manuscript or a French one… or a twelfth, thirteenth or fourteenth century product.. that approach would have resulted in just as many images of ‘person with crossbow’.

      Perhaps that is the great divide. Those interested in the written part of the text are, mostly, more interested in rightly understanding the manuscript’s content than maintaining some purely fictional/hypothetical position. If a cryptanalyst is told that there is a flaw in his evidence or reasoning, he sets about mending it. Tell someone with a nicely elaborated hypothesis about the imagery that his/her methodology and/or comparative examples are flawed… hmmm. different story. 🙂

      btw – the Zibaldone da Canal has been digitised by the Beinecke, so you can at last see those merloned maths diagrams I’ve been talking about for years.


      • I hope you can see that your phrase “save for a few late additions” comes across as a telling way of trying to explain away those awkward items which can’t be retrofitted to your chosen narrative.

        Your account of the search for a Sagittarius crossbowman in a series of zodiac roundels as being driven by a “German storyline” is more than a little bit selective. If there are other Sagittarius crossbowman to be found in non-German series of zodiac roundels, please feel free to step forward with them, then we can all move forward. Otherwise your objection would seem to be based on the possibility that such drawings might exist somewhere, as opposed to the predominantly German ones that manifestly do exist (and are therefore worthy of closer examination, if you value the actual over the possible).

        If that doesn’t work out to your satisfaction, then (as I suspect has happened) you would find yourself driven to deny that the series of drawings are of the zodiac, that it’s all a case of mistaken identity. Well… given that that sounds like exactly the kind of rampant denialism that one would typically associate with Richard SantaColoma’s hoax theories, all I can say is… good luck with that.


      • quote: “your phrase “save for a few late additions” comes across as a telling way of trying to explain away those awkward items which can’t be retrofitted to your chosen narrative”

        No Nick, you are mistaken – and mistaken at such a basic level and so plainly ill-informed by any knowledge of my work, methodology, standards of practice or any other relevant matter that your comment not only fails to do my work justice, but fails to do any credit to your own intelligence or past acquaintance with academic form and method.

        It’s a shamefully careless, ill-informed and sloppy effort to pretend you understand work which (a) You plainly don’t understand and (b) you seem unable to understand, or even read with care.

        Best stop, I think. Unless you’re willing to read a bit more first. You might begin with the posts written between 2010 and 2013, when I explained the issue of stratification and identified the lines between early, median and late strata. Look for ‘chronological strata’ and you should find a fair bit. You might also read more broadly, so that your efforts at criticism are informed by some knowledge of the field. Just a suggestion.


      • I think I may be one of the few people who have “read your work with care”, and the fact that I – basically – don’t believe a word of it is correct is from a position of knowing too much rather than too little.


      • I had no idea that you read anything I wrote – what a pity you did not think to engage at the time. Since you seem to operate more on faith than on evidence – and certainly you’ve never asked me to explain, clarify or add a bibliography – then I expect you still take as an item of faith that you are right in supposing the imagery in Beinecke MS 408 is characteristic of Italian renaissance graphic art; that the vessels in the ‘leaf and root’ section are characteristic of fifteenth century Murano glass; that the calendar section has an astrological zodiac in it; that ladies ‘barils’ are albarellos and… no, perhaps not that all the plants are disguised machines. You did decide to withdraw the ‘Curse’ so perhaps you stopped believing that.

        It is now commonly accepted that the work is a compilation from a number of sources. I wonder if you can recall any precedent for that conclusion before mine? I did ask if I should acknowledge any prior researcher on the point, but as usual the only response was personal abuse. Now that it is widely accepted, I wonder why? It is also accepted that there is nothing of Christian character in the manuscript – I’m still looking for a precedent to cite for that now suddenly common opinion, which again was met with disbelief (not reasoned dispute, evidence or argument) when I shared it as one more conclusion of the research. I do not recall any positive comment from you at the time these and other now widely-adopted conclusions of mine were offered. It rather diminishes your claim to have read everything I’ve written that you, too, fail to recognise when these views were first reached and the reasons and evidence for them presented – gifted – to the online ‘Voynchero’. Really, Nick, it’s all far too late for this discussion. Why you should think it matters in the slightest that you believe, or don’t believe, I cannot imagine.


      • Mr/Dr Pelling,
        I have not printed your most recent comment, which I prefer to think less elevated than you are capable of writing.
        I thank you for your offer to serve as reviewer for the 2 volumes of essays, but as you might imagine those decisions are the publisher’s, not mine and I am content with the range chosen. The persons who have been invited to act in that way are scholars with an established reputation in manuscript studies, palaeography, archaeology, and comparative iconography. I do not think any have a particular interest in Beinecke 408 (though I may be mistaken), but I’m fairly confident they are competent to evaluate the usual things: bibliography, methodology, standards of research and any conclusions. Informed critiques are always of immense value to others as well as oneself.

        On the matter of your comments – or of anyone else’s – as I’ve said, I rarely visit this blog now.


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