Rene Zandbergen, one of the best experts on Voynich Manuscript, believes that the sections of the Voynich manuscript, although seemingly different, are thematically connected by a common philosophy. He believes the interdisciplinary collaboration of different experts will help solve this mystery.
My life experiences enable me to study Voynich Manuscript from interdisciplinary perspective.
Without even understanding the text, one can feel from the pictures alone, that the sections of the VM are thematically connected. They are based on art, which is the natural language of the universe.
Picture 1: The root looks like the medieval coats of Arms of the Duchy of Carniola (medieval Slovenia), however the eagle is much older symbol, widely used in Illyria, later adopted by Bohemia and the Holy Roman Empire. It can also be an allusion to Aquileia (Aquila – eagle). The four large leaves could be an allusion to four Gospels. The circular shape of the flower could be understood as a rosicrucian image of ouroboro, probably in response to ouroboro being a symbol of the Order of the Dragon, founded by Emperor Sigismund.
Picture 2: The author of the VM introduces the Slovenian alphabet, adopted from Latin for the use of Slovenians who were no longer allowed to use Old Church Slavonic and Glagolitza in liturgy. The central image seem to be an allusion to different parts of the Christian mass – warning, blessing, preaching, lifting up the Communion Bread.
Picture 3: An image taken from the pharmacological part of the VM looks like a chalice, topped with monstranca. The circle on top seems to be decorated with letters, which might be an allusion to the relics, usually placed in the monstranca for the faithful Christians to kiss in the Catholic religious ritual. The author of the VM did not believe in the power of the relics, but rather in the power of the words.
Picture 4: The picture in the top right corner looks like the walled religious compound I identify as the Carthusian charterhouse of Jurklošter (in present day Slovenia), located in the valley between two mountains. The Carthusians were known for their writing about genuine mystical religious experiences that could offer mystics a temporary union with the Divine.
Picture 5: The picture represents a strange shaped plant that can easily be recognized as chalice. Koen Gheuens believes it represents the Holy Grail. I see in it another symbol for the Holy Communion: identification of a suffering artists, particularly mystical poet, teacher, preacher … with Jesus. In the 15th century, the chalice was a symbol of Hussite movement in Bohemia.
The pharmacological pages contain picures of strange containers, as well as various roots, and leaves. They could be associated with healing, divination or with the production of Holy Chrism or healing remedies. These activities are by nature related to genuine prophesy related to religion and healing.
Picture 1: The plant gives an allusion to the Hermetic symbol of caduceus.
Picture 2: The page from the pharmacological pages depicts various roots and leaves, and various fancy containers. They could be understood as religious vessels, or fancy perfume bottles.
Picture 3-4: The barrels of various shapes and colours found in the pharmacological pages could be used for storage of seeds and roots, or for production of holy oil, for which up to 70 different plants are used, for making perfume or famous medieval medicine theriac which is produced in a similar way.
Picture 5: The container looks like chalice with a lid.
Picture 6: A depiction of one of the numerous nymphs in a strange contraption seems to represent an allusion to an ancient Greek prophetess.
Several pages in the VM depict compositions containing naked nymphs standing in various tubs and bathing scenes. Some can be understood as a joyful bathing, while others are related to the statements about water in the Bible. The picture above clearly alludes to the adult baptism as described in the Armenian book The Way to Truth.
Flowers and poems
The first half of the Voynich Manuscript contains a single plant on a page, with some text, believed by most VM commentators to be the description of the plant, while the first word in a text is considered a name of the plant.
With my transcriptional alphabet, I can read many VM words, but I cannot confirm their assumptions. Regardless of the language, there would have to be certain words needed for a description of the plant on each page, but I was not able to find any such pattern. I also noticed that the first word in a text was frequently repeated elsewhere in the text, and on different pages. I believe there is only one instance where the first word indicates the name of the plant.
In my view, the floral section represents author’s personal meditations – poems. He compares his poems to flowers: they grow as ‘god’s gift’, just like the gift of poetry can be considered the gift of God. They grow out of seeds, like poems are inspired by the ideas of others. The germination of plants is a perfect analogy for poetry: it involves a magical process that takes place underground (in case of poetry: in one’s subconscious mind). The seeds can be stored for a long time, so can ideas remain dormant for many years and under certain condition, they sprout. Some plants can propagate by way of seeds, and some by way of roots. The same analogy can be applied to art.
I had a feeling that author in some cases meant ‘a poem’ when he used the word ‘roža’ (flower). Slovenian poets in the 18th century often referred to their poems as ‘rože’ (flowers) or ‘cvetice’ (flowers). They even used the word CVETJE (collective noun for flowers) for the title of the literary almanach. I noticed, they were also re-discovering the Rosicrucian movement. The floral imagery has been popular in Slovenian folk songs, in religious traditions, and in classical literature.
In my opinion, the author of the VM purposely used the images from the nature, known for their particular properties, as analogies for the spiritual things discussed in the biblical writing, knowing that the Bible has been written in the symbolic language of nature. The discovery that the biblical writing needs to be understood symbolically was introduced in the 12th century by one of the most influential Hebrew biblical scholars, Moses Maimonides. His ideas were taken up by German mystic Meister Eckhard, who was accused of heresy by Pope John XXII.
Meister Eckhard lived hundred years before Nicholas Kempf, however it is likely that Kempf was equated with his works, because Nicholas of Strasburg, a Dominican mystic of Alsace was the inquisitor in the process against Meister Eckhard.
Transmission of abstract ideas became problematic because the original meaning would often get lost in translation.
Plants represent growth in the upward direction, towards the sun. The image of plants was used in the most ancient times for a symbol of the Tree of Life, as well as for the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil.
The ability of abstract thinking had set humans on a path of separation from the natural way of life. Discovering the secrets of Nature (God/gods) enabled them to manipulate nature, protect themselves from destructive natural forces and utilize the positive forces in nature. It also enabled them to reflect on their own history and leave a record of their failures and successes, so that others could learn from their experiences.
Another large section of the Voynich Manuscript contains circular pictures, mostly concentrical circles. A circle is the oldest symbol for god. In primitive religions, many deities were associated with the Sun, a universal symbol of lite, life, justice, predictability, and cosmic duality. Light became a symbol for wisdom. Even Jesus is recorded saying, ‘I am the Light.’
In the VM circles, various images are depicted, from a simple small circle to a sun, a moon, a blossom, a zodiac animal. Many circles are comprised of concentrical circles, with rings of circular writing. Some are divided into four sections.
At the first glance, they are suggestive of spreading, expanding. This symbol, too, comes from natural observation: a sound from the centre of a circle can be heard all around, first strong and than gradually weaker. With growing knowledge, the ancient people were spreading in all directions, imitating the circular patterns found in nature. Their temples and towns were designed in a circular shape.
The circle became a symbol of completion, but also of eternity. While one human life begins with birth and ends with death, the life of a nation represents countless circles of completed individual lives. And the individual nations are connected and form the universal human family.
This interconnectedness on a spiritual level seems to be symbolically depicted in the so-called Cosmographia page in the Voynich Manuscript, comprised of nine individual circles, connected to each other and to the circle in the middle.
What could possibly connect the ideas expressed in these circles?
Picture 1: In the most distant past, the knowledge was limited, like a moon compared to the sun. People had natural inclination to get together and celebrate. First temples were built in a circular shape. The speakers are unknown (hidden in the picture among the multitude!).
Picture 2, 3, 4: The higher awareness led to intellectual and spiritual illumination as people began discovering the secrets of nature on earth and the secrets of stars in the sky.
Picture 5, 6: In the Middle Ages the ancient symbols of Zodiac acquired new meaning.
Picture 7: In the Dark Ages, as the medieval times are often called, the feudal system corrupted the Church and secular leaders. The search for genuine apostolic Christianity inspired many different religious movements among peasants and among intellectuals.
Picture 8: The author of the VM envisioned the ultimate spiritual enlightenment when kings (man on the left with a lily, simbol of royalty) and the priests (man on the right, holding a chalice) would practice genuine Christianity, taught by Jesus, and prophet-priests (top centre) who will no longer be limited in their speech, and when their God-inspired art will be free of chains.
Theological and Social Meaning of Medieval Art
It has been proposed that the VM circular pictures have been inspired by the works of Raymond Llull and Hildegard of Bingen.
The concentrical circles were the highlight of Llull’s medieval art. He wrote extensively about reasoning by way of art. His work Ars magna, published in 1305, was inspired by the Arabic astrologers’ use of a device called zairja. His art was intended to convert Muslims to Christianity through logical reasoning. He invented so-called Lullian Circle, a concentrically arranged circles with writing that could be arranged in various combination by rotating the circles. In the circles, he listed various attributes of God that are common to all monotheistic religions, words like goodness, greatness, eternity, power, wisdom, will, virtue, truth, and glory.
Llull also used an image of a tree in a symbolic way. It’s large roots balance the tree trunk and the tree top, suggesting that with growing knowledge in the present we can have better knowledge of the past. This will prepare humanity for the growth of knowledge and wisdom in the future.
Llull was critical of the Crusades. He believed that the Muslims should be converted through prayer and reasoning, and not through military force. Most of his work was condemned by the popes at the time.
Llullian Tree – Llullian circles (from the Manuscript of Nicholas of Cusa) – painting by Hildegard of Bingen
Raymond Llull had a lot of followers who used his reasoning to defend Christianity in the medieval Europe. Nicholas Kempf was a great admirer of the work of Nicholas of Cusa, so we can reasonably assume that he was familiar with the Llullian art. As a native of Rhineland, he was also familiar with the work of Hildegard of Bingen. He utilized some of her artistic ideas (circles and plants), but he did not agree with her support for the Crusades. As much as I can tell from the book of Dennis Martin, Kempf believed human souls, not angels, are the messengers of God. In Slovenian, the human soul is of feminine gender.
After learning about Llull, I became more confident that the words in the VM circles were in fact related to religion. I also began to look for a deeper meaning of the weird looking plants in the VM and in the animals in the Zodiac pages. (More on this will be written in my future posts.)
I believe the author of the VM was highly intellectual man who used simple natural objects too for his art. That fits the profile of Nicholas Kempf.
The medieval art has existential, humanistic, theological and social meaning. It is impossible to explain one single drawing in the VM without connecting it to another drawing on another page. To reiterate: many ideas and allusions are overlapping.
Flowers and trees were an important part of medieval visual symbolism. They represent a cycle of life, a connection from the past to the present and influence on the future.
Picture 1, 2 – canabis, fern – known for their ‘magical’ property
Picture 3 – viola, a flower with a symbolic name (stepmother)
Picture 4 – twin bells, a simbol for division
Picture 5 – two large flowerheads and one partly hidden, a symbol for a divided Church (Orthodox – Roman, Roman- Avignon) and the alternative (like medieval Hussite Slavic church, and other sects that had to go into hiding);
Picture 6 – two overlayed crosses, coloured blue, a symbol for genuine mystic sufering for the sake of God; four red leaves, shaped like a sun – a symbol for four Gospels (the author mistakenly alludes to Slovenian word LISTI (which is the word for folios and the NT Epistles)
Picture 7 – An allusion to the Old testament (Ten Commandments) and New Testament (Chalice designed from wheat ears and three blue berries alluding to grapes/wine – a symbol for the Holy Comunion)
Picture 8 – a plant identified by some as money tree, growing out of two lions. Koen Gheuens believes the picture is related to menorah. He supports his theory with the quotation of the Old Testament pertaining to the instruction how the menorah should be made. I will offer my view in some future post, but for now, I would just like to point out that the lions represent roots, a common national symbol.
The death and re-birth cycles are mystical processes, which have often been misunderstood. Just as one flower has a multitude of seeds (potential new flowers), so too can ideas of one man inspire many others to work for the same cause. This is different than the concept of reincarnation, when a soul of an imperfect man is said to undergo series of re-incarnations until it achieves perfection. The most perfect Christian incarnation is achieved through mystical religious experience. Medieval monks, particularly Carthusians, were willing to subject themselves to all kinds of hardships to achieve this. They regarded the unity with the divine as the highest spiritual value.
Whether copying or translating an ancient manuscript, or picking the healing plants, a Carthusian monk’s mind was always focused on God. He was following the teaching of St. Paul, who urged Christians to pray constantly.
Prayer, for a medieval Carthusians, was much more than just repeating the words. It was thinking about God: how he works in nature and how He is guiding human history through his chosen individuals who took on the burden of living according to God’s teaching, and speaking on God’s behalf, especially when those who claim to be His representatives on Earth had not practiced what they were preaching.
Koen Gheuens is one of the serious VM bloggers who interprets VM pictures as religious metaphors. There are several images in the VM that he recognizes as symbolic, such as the chalice, Jesus’ wounds, Christogram, the menorah. He also believes that the ancient symbols were overlayed with a new meaning.
The chalice had a special meaning to the Hussite movement of the mid-15th century, so much so that the followers were called KALIŠNIKI (chalice people). That would clearly link the VM to Bohemia which had special connection to Carniola and Styria (in present day Slovenia), and to the Habsburg dynasty, particularly Rudolf IV who founded the Duchy of Carniola, and to Rudolf II, who became the King of Slovenians (since most Slovenians at the time lived under Austrian rule).
In the biographical section of the Voynich Manuscript, the scenes of bathing females and weird pictures of nymphs in different contraptions are depicted. The symbolism in these scenes is also overlapping, which also can be a reference to a continuous use of water in religious ceremonies. Ritualistic swimming was known even before the onset of Christianity and those pagan rituals had been practiced throughout the Middle Ages and beyond. The ancient Greek writer Plutarch in his description of Delphic oracle mentions Phythia (the prophetess) sitting on the tripod over the running water.
All these ideas can be used to explain the water scenes in the Voynich Manuscript. It has been documented that the Carthusians from Jurklošter were running a public outdoor bath at Laško (a town within the walking distance from the monastery), after prior Nicolas Kempf bought a property there.
The ideas I had outlined above support my theory that the author of the Voynich Manuscript was most likely Nicholas Kempf, a Carthusian monk, theologian, scholar, philosopher, poet and mystic. His work reflects his interest in the Old Testament’s Songs of Solomon, where floral imagery is extensively used. It also reflects Slovenian folk songs and Slovenian literature where floral imagery is most common. This means that the author was inspired by symbolic floral imagery in poetry, and he in turn inspired others to use flowers for esoteric communication.
In the Slovenian language, the word CVET (blossom) sounding like SVET (the world), and SVET (holy, enlightened) was used in concrete, as well as in poetic sense.
While the name of the VM plant, its colour, shape, usefulness, and healing property might have been the inspiration for the text, the overall message is primarily spiritual. The reason for this could be that the healing power of the plants was as magical as the healing power of the words, and the combination of the two was considered even more powerful. The words transcribed in Eva as CHAR and SHAR are among the most frequently used words in the Voynich Manuscript. In most European languages, these words mean ‘charm’, ‘incantation’ and are related to poetry and its magic.