Categories
English Articles

THE LANGUAGE OF FLOWERS

In 2016, when I first discovered the internet site about the VM, I was impressed by the strange looking flowers and my first impression was that the text represents poems or short legends. Some looked familiar, like the twin-bells, hemp, pansy, but the pictures with strange roots definitelly do not belong in the plant world.

The VM researchers at the time worked on the assumption that the first word of the text is the name of the plant, and the rest of the text a description of the plant, including its healing property.

As soon as I recognized that the EVA transcription alphabet generated some simple words in Slovenian language, I examined a book Icones Plantarum Rariorum, edied by Nicolao Josepho Jacquin, printed in Vienna (Vindbonae, 1781) hoping I would find some likeness of the flowers and the Latin names for them. Neither in this book, nor in the book about the plants in Carniola did I find any clues as to the name of the plants.

I began concentrating on the possibility that the text contains the description of the plant, but I could not find consistent use of certain words that could indicate the description, such as roots, leaves, stem.

I abandoned searching for clues in the plant section, although I felt strongly that the flowers might in some way be related to the heavy use of floral imagery in Slovenian literature.

Flowers in European Medieval Literature

The floral symbolism was widely used in the medieval art, however the VM researchers were mostly focused on identifying the flowers and plants and only recently, the focused has also shifted on the religious mystical interpretation of some VM images.

Coming from the culture where floral images were widely used in poetry and prose, my first intuition was that the text next to the flower in the VM pictures represented poems. I was also aware that some medieval Carinthian and Bavarian poets, dedicating their poems to Lady, were using a symbol of red rose for their emblems.

I came to better understanding of floral symbolism, after I came across an interesting You Tube video in which the author suggested that the VM was written in ‘Gentle language of flowers’. He admitted he had no clue what he was talking about, except that he found the phrase ‘gentile language of flowers’ in the mid-18th century book of Gabriel Rosetti, and that the language seems to be connected to flowers. The following quotation was offered:

»In the Hundred Tales of the Gentle Language, written for those of noble heart and subtle intellect, in which language flowers are mixed with other words (preface of the author), we read as follows: »Prester John once sent the Emperor Frederic II. who was very fond of gentle language, a present of three very valuable stones; but that monarch had no how to make use of them. Prester John’s lapidary addressed Frederic one day as follows: Sire, this stone (the first) is worth your best city; this one (the second) is worth your finest province, and this last  is worth more than your whole empire.’  Thus saying, he took hold of the three stones; and the virtue of the last concealed him from the view of the emperor and the people. So the lapidary vanished from their sigh, and carried back the stones to Prester John, because Frederic II. did not know how to make a proper use of them.« (p169)

This legend was allegedly written by John of Florence in 1378, during the reign of Charles IV, Emperor of the Romans. The first half of his book contains novels, and the second part contains details of the wars between the Guelphs and Ghibellines and the dissensions between the Emperors and the Popes.

Since I have quite a bit of knowledge about European languages and history, some statements were quite familiar to me, so I decided to check out the Rossetti’s book. I was not able to find any information about the Hundred Tales of the Gentle Language, however the ‘language in which flowers are mixed with other words’ sounds like Slavic, therefore also Slovenian. To word CVET sounds like SVET, which also means ‘world, advice, warning, shine, light’.

In the VM, two tall glyphs are used interchangable in the above words and in different words derived from them, as well as for different grammatical forms.

Rossetti also suggested this language was used in sectarian writing aimed at hiding ideas that could be offensive to the Church. This is also pointing at Slavic language, since the Slavs were the originators of the Bogomilism and supplied the Slavic translation of the Books to Patereni and Cathars and other rebelious sects throughout Europe, where they were translated into their vernacular languages. Since Emperor Charles IV ordered the sons of the Prince Palatine to learn Slovenian, it could be assumed that there were intellectuals able to translate the material from the Old Church Slavonic to vernacular languages, particularly Ochitan.

The legend about Frederick II, referrs to the Hohenstaufen Holy Roman Emperor in the first half of the 13th century, who was also King of Italy and King of Jerusalem. He was the Son of Henry VI and Constance, heiress of the Norman kings of Sicily.

Dante was contemporary of Frederick II and was excited for Frederick II to ‘liberate’ Italy.

The statement that Emperor Frederic was fond of Gentle language suggests that he was fond of a particular Slavic language, spoken in Carinthia and Carnilola. If he was not that fond of the language, he was sure fond of the Slovenian lands in Carinthia. The Slovenian language was used in the installation of Carinthian dukes up to the mid-1440s.

The legendary Prester John, frequently encountered in the medieval writing and illustrations, is described as a native of Tartary, or Cathari, ‘a countryman of that Angelica, the daughter of the king of the Cathari’ who had a stone with which she could vanish’ when she puts it in her mouth. The Cathari are said to come from Greece to Italy and were first discovered in Milano in the 11th century. They were called Albigenses, Patarini, Paulicians, and Puritans.  Dante, Petrarch, Boccaccio, and hundred more were said to belong to this movent.

It is also explained that this miraculous stone is the Word of God, and the stone is Christ. It is also mentioned that the ancient word of God is preserved among some people of eastern Tartary. From this clue, we can assume that the ancient word for God was Bog (Slovenian and Slavic for God).

Rossetti explains how the mystical poets, inspired by the Bible, came to fuller understanding of the Biblical style of writing and can transform it by way of symbolic language in such a way that it seemed like they were praising the Church while they were criticizing it. 

Rossetti attributes this language to Tartarians, that is, to Cathars, Paterens, Albigensian, and other sectarians originating from these religious movements. Surprisingly, the Bogomils, who are the originators, are not mentioned. It is possible that Rossetti was unaware of that, or perhaps, he was associating Bogomils with Tartarians. The Tartary sounds like ‘tastari’ which in Slavic would be ‘the old ones’, ‘the ancients’. The Bogomils originate from the St. Methodius’ Moravian Church, later known as Old Church Slavonic, since it appeared in the same region of Macedonia (at the time under Bulgaria) where the expelled Methodius’ students had established the cultural and religious centre. They could be an off shoot of the Methodius’ church who later refused to accept Latin liturgy, and Latin priests.

Although the history is vague about the Bogomils in the former Yugoslavia, it is a documented fact that a branch of Bogomil Church existed for four hundred years in Bosnia, against which several crusades were directed. They were known as Bosnian krstjani and represented an independent Bosnian Church, separated from Rome. Many Cathar from France and Germany found refuge there.

The Bogomils were iconoclasts, and their bibles were decorated with geometrical patterns and flowers, rather than religious pictures. They regarded biblical stories as symbolic, rather than literal.

Being persecuted by both the Roman and Orthodox Churches, they were most critical of the Church’s materialistic tendencies and its feudal system that made lower cleargy exploited as serfs.

Some of their critical and gnostic ideas were promoted also by great humanistic minds of that time, particularly artists.

It is not clear which sect Dante belonged to, but his attitude towards the Slavs can be assumed from his affection towards Frederic II and Charles IV. According to some sources, the patriarch Pagano della Torre hosted the poet Dante Alighieri in Tolmin and showed him the near-by Zadlaz cave, where he found the inspiration for the Hell in his poem Divine Comedy. The cave was later renamed to Dante’s cave.

Rosetti also mentions that Dante allegorically regarded himself three white flowers, and not just three, but three times three. This might also be an explanation of Dante’s idea being multiplied exponentially.

Such exponential growth of ideas seems to be expressed in the VM picture. There is an interesting legend that could explain this picture, but I cannot get ahead of myself, and I will live this for some future post.

The image of this picture made a strange impression on me: it could have been the illustration of one of the Slovenian legends circulating in the vicinity of Pleterje Charterhouse and deals with the magical power of the fern seeds on St. John’s the Baptist day (follow my blog for the rest of the legend!).

When Dante referred to nature as ‘God’s garden’, he talks of spiritual Garden – “… that beautiful garden Blossoming beneath the rays of Christ”. For Dante, the rose was the centre of his religion and faith, the symbol taken from the Songs of Solomon. He used symbolism of flowers for their symbolic colors, for their emblematical significance, and for their association with the saints or with pagan mythology.

The Songs of Solomon were widely read in the Middle Ages, as the poets and mystics tried to understand the nature of divine inspiration. Since the ancient writers lived close to nature, they had taken the words from the nature and applied them to spiritual things.

The divine inspiration does not come out of nothing; it comes from the subconscious memory where all the ideas from one’s past experiences, the books, history, oral stories, are stored. The artistic inspiration – in many religions called God – applies them to the time and place and rearranges them into a new artistic vision or works of art.

For this reason, the genuine prophet often compares himself to a flower, that was planted by others (by way of family values, books he read, religious and social conditioning, arts, and science he was exposed…). These ideas grow in him as he matures, and blossom into poetry or whatever form of art he pursues, and eventually his work become a seed for other artists.

There is no doubt that the flowers in the VM have strong symbolic meaning and that the author was influenced by great poets before him, and in turn, influenced great poets after him.

Nicholas Kempf would have the access to classical works of art, since the Žiče Charterhouse, one of the four Slovenian Carthusian monasteries that formed the brotherhood had the second largest library at the time. It is also known that he was meditating of the Songs of Solomon, since he wrote a commentary on them. His poems are symbolic to a degree that it is often hard to tell when ROŽA is a flower or a poem, or when LECHILO is medicine or his consoling words. But he does not describe the illustrations to decode their language. For one thing, the artist normally doesn’t do that, because they want to keep the secret veiled to make it understood only to like-minded people who will continue using the symbolism for similar situations. For Example: for the prophet Daniel, the Babylon was the beast, for Christians, the beast of Revelation was Rome. Only those who knew the Old Testament would understand that.

Knowing what happen to the works of other artists who openly criticized the Church and State, the author probably wanted to preserve his work by hiding his most radical ideas into pictures, while the text is rather simple, aimed at people for whom the alphabet was just developed so that they could learn to read and write in their own national language (Glagolitic priests were using Croatian OCS language).

Flowers in Slovenian Literature

Although the Slavic language was recognized as the fourth Sacred language, its use in literature did not start before the Protestantism, and even then, only for religious songs. While the Slavic Bogomilism raised the importance of vernacular language, and for this purpose the schools where people could learn to read and write, were established, the movement itself and its schools were suppressed. Historians are vague about what happened to the ancient Slovenian families in Carinthia and Carniola, where peasant population was mostly Slovenian, and the ruling nobility was mostly German.

The monks, who were the first teachers of literacy, were mostly foreign, and although there were some poets among them, they did not write in Slovenian. If there were any poets and other nobles of Slovenian descent, they would be regarded German because to get their message across, they had to write in German.

Even the powerful Slovenian dynasty of the Count’s of Celje spoke German. The reason for the Germanization of the upper classes were the intermarriages among the ruling dynasties.

Except for a few pages of the Freising Manuscript (10th century), and Stična Codex (15th century) there is no written record of Slovenian language before 1550. Protestantism raised national awareness for Slovenians. By then, the Slovenian speaking territory has been greatly reduced. Like the Slavic Church of St. Methodius in the 9th century, Protestants felt their religion could help preserve Slovenian language and national identity. The first books in Slovenian were written and printed, however before long, they were collected and burned by the Counter-Reformation, except for the Slovenian translation of the Bible which had been used by the Catholics. Some copies were hidden in the Vatican archives.

Some poems and legends were preserved in oral form and written down in the 19th and 20th century. They seem to be written in the two layers where on the surface, the poems are religious or make-believe legends, but they reveal some secret historical, theological, or philosophical truth that only certain people who were familiar with classical literature were able to understand.

The geographical separation of Slovenians among the Kingdoms of Austria, Hungary, Croatia, and Italy caused the formation of strong dialects that could account for the Slovenian language of the VM being so different from the old Slovenian manuscript of the 10th century, and the Protestant writing in the 16th century. Although Trubar comes from the Carniolian region, he was influenced by German language, since he studied at Tubingen.

Source: Wikipedia

At the time the VM was written, Slovenian religious and secular rulers were shifting their alliance between the popes in Rome and popes in Avignon. During that time, Žiče Charterhouse served as the Motherhouse of Carthusians.

The Voynich Manuscript is written in the language as it was spoken in Slovenia in the 15th century. I suppose the peasant language did not change drastically, but the written language has undergone several standardizations in effort to develop the written language that all Slovenians, regardless in which kingdom they lived, could understand. I suppose this was the intention of the Carthusians of the 15th century, particularly the author(s) of the Voynich Manuscript.

Although it seems the VM was written by a monk, it lacks the recognizable Catholic and Christian language. Most of the religious terminology is original Slavic.

Connection to Alchemy

The VM is very spiritual, yet more universal. The imagery is taken from the nature. The images taken from the Bible are transformed back to the natural images. The author is lamenting over the past, but he is more peaceful, more hopeful, and joyful. There are no scenes of violence in the VM illustrations, and no images of God’s punishment.  This indicated that the author, although focused on spiritual purity, was not fearful of God, but rather grateful for God’s generosity in providing healing plants and healing words to help people on their earthly journey. He feels he is part of this divine provision, by being alchemist and a poet.

From his writing and illustrations, it is obvious the author had higher illumination, or mystical experience, which revealed to him higher knowledge (gnosis) and the power of words that could transform the world, if the plan is kept secret and gradually revealed according to people’s preparedness. Like most mystics, he felt compelled to keep the SECRET, while at the same time transcend it by way of metaphoric language for which he mostly used FLOWERS. Slovenian language was perfectly suited for this because of the similarity of the words SVET (world), SVET (holy), SVETL (bright, illuminated) and CVET (flower blossom), CVETJE (flowers) and (R)OZE (flowers).

The Rosicrucian movement that came out of hiding in Europe in the early 17th century has inspired many artists to resort to the secret esoteric language, particularly in the Catholic countries where any criticism of the Church or any new ideas were supressed.

The history of the Rosicrucians is vailed in mystery. According to their manifesto, the information about the founder had been hidden for 120 years to protect the brotherhood of four fraters who were engaged in alchemy, pledged to remain celibate, heal people, and share their wisdom and knowledge free of charge for the betterment of humanity. The legend about their founder states he was a Cathari orphan from Rhineland, saved by Carthusian monks. After acquiring the Arabic wisdom, he remained the leader of the Rosicrucian brotherhood until he died at the age over 100 years. According to the legend, each Rosicrucian had to find a replacement for himself.

The work that seems like a description of a mystical experience, contains a date 1454 twice, and a signature Fr. C. R. The book was published in Strasburg anonymously, but Andreas Valentinus later claimed the authorship.

The word Rosenkreuz is German and means ‘flowery cross’.  The Rosicrucian movement in the 17th century adopted cross with red rose as its symbol.

Rosicrucian Ideas in Slovenian Literature

The science and alchemy made great advances as Emperor Rudolph (1552-1612) was great supporter of arts. Unfortunately, the English mystics John Dee and Edward Kelly brought their superstition and occult practices to Prague. Calling on the spirits of dead people was foreign to the Slavs; they were afraid if they did appear in their altered states of mind.  Slovenian poet Aškerc explained that the spiritual manifestations are produced by guilty conscience. 

I suppose at some point in the 18th century, Slovenian artist discovered the uniqueness of the Slovenian language and culture, and began building a carefully-laid plan to liberate Slovenians from the foreign powers and re-established their own state which had been lost, when Carinthia, the cradle of Slovenian culture, has become Austrian German State, while Pannonian Slovenians had lost their independence under the Hungarian rulers, and a large part of Slovenians was living under Italy rulers.

The short-lived French occupation and creation of the Illyrian Provinces, with Ljubljana as their capitol, had triggered the national awareness and a way to use genuine Christianity to achieve their liberation.

Valentin Vodnik (1758-1819) was first to recognize the unique position of Slovenia between the Greek Latin and Germanic world.  France Prešeren (1800 – 1849) was for Slovenians what Dante was for Italians. His references to the Bogomils and Cathars are more than obvious, yet Slovenian literary critics never made that connection. He refers to Slovenia as a ‘twin country of Jerusalem’ and compares the suffering of Slovenians and the loss of their independence to that of ancient Jews. He is proposing a similar solution that the medieval Bogomils were proposing: to embrace religion that teaches that a true God is God of Love, not the God of Revange and Punishment which was very skillfully used by the medieval Church for controlling people. Like Jewish Nobel Prize winner Elie Wiesel in the 20th century, Prešeren regarded his prophetic writing as divine calling, as self-chosen priesthood and witnessing for the God who loves all people on earth. He is pointing at the Old Church Slavonic/Bogomil religion by the names of the heroes Staroslav (Old Slav) and Bogomila (Favoured by God, Bogomil woman).
Although there was no known Rosicrucian or Freemason movement is Slovenia, nor other secret Societies, Slovenians who studied at Vienna or Prague, could easily have been acquainted with them, but they recognized how they were corrupted from the original humanistic alchemist’s ideas. 
The influences of Bogomils, Patareni, Cathars, Rosicrucians can be clearly noticed in the works of Gregorčič, Prešeren, Trdina and others. Simon Gregorčič, influenced by Prešeren and Petrarch, made clear references to Rosicrucian by claiming in one of his poems that his Catholic critics had stolen his God made of flowers (flowers being a code-word for poetry). He also used many words that can be found in the VM, such as LEK, LEČILNE TRAVE, ZOR.

Being a writer and a poet, I instantly recognized the symbolic meaning of flowers in the VM, because flowers were often used in Slovenian poetry. Slomšek wrote about the powerful aroma of violets which grow in hiding (as a symbol of advanced Slovenian spirituality), unnoticed by the powerful neighbours. Gregorčič wrote a poem about olive tree and its symbolic meaning of peace. Župančič wrote a collection of poems, titled Zimzelen pod snegom (The Evergreen Under the Snow), alluding to the importance of Slovenian literature, which had a late start, but has a power to withstand the worldly temptation of money and glory, and remain faithful to the role the genuine prophets of all times, places and religions has played in effort to guide humanity towards common ethical and moral norms.  In his novel Bela krizantema (White Chrysanthemum), Ivan Cankar wrote about the importance of Slovenian culture, art, and literature. 

Irma Ozbalt, recognized Slovenian Canadian author, published a book titled MATERINA DUŠICA (Mother’s Soul – the name of the plant – origano) about the spiritual imagery of some of Slovenia healing plants. At the time of Cold War in America and Canada, Canadian Slovenian painter Andy Stritof used the flower imagery to illustrate how world was divided. In Picasso’s style, he painted a flower that looks like the “universal mother” with two large breasts, like two spheres that at the same time look like a nuclear bombs.

Andy Stritof: Metamorphosis, 1960

These are just a few examples of the use of flowers in Slovenian poetic imagery, not to mention the use of flowers in the traditional Slovenian songs.

I didn’t think much of my own poems, inspired by various flowers. In a short poem about primarosas, I speak about the childhood joy of playing music with the tiny yellow primarosa trumpets. In Slovenian, the plant was called trobentice (little trumpets). In my poem, I pointed out that although the blossoms looked the same, each had a different sound, alluding to common objective and purpose of art. In my poem Snowdrops, I explorfed the magic of this early spring flower, making its way through a sheet of snow or ice towards the sunlight, just like genuine artist can overcome his or her obstacles in his search for the Truth.

My poem Sunflower was even more metaphysical. I mentioned its large flowerhead and its characteristic property of daily turning its head towards sun, and the fact that it can provide the shade to other flowers growing underneath. The interpretation came to me much later, when I realized that many great artists, particularly painters, were meditating on Sunflower.

In one of my poems, I refer to Slovenian literature and poetry as buquet of flowers, before I learned that in the 19th century the almanach of Slovenian literature was called CVETNIK.

CVETNIK was also a folk-legend Janez Trdina had heard in the Gorjanci region of Slovenia, along with many other legends he collected and published in his book Bajke in povesti o Gorjancih (Legends and Stories About Gorjanci Mountains).

The Legend Cvetnik

On the Gorjanci mountain, there was a beautiful garden hidden in a deep forest, encircled with big boulders. Whoever found himself in this garden is so taken in by its beauty and by the fragrance of flowers, that he forgets to eat and drink, to sleep and to return; despite a prolonged awakening and lack of food, he feels no pain. Blessed is he who by luck or coincidence gets a blossom of these beautiful flowers, for he no longer feels any anger and sadness, and he could not be defeated by any enemy, neither could he be killed by any bullet. (Excerpt from the legend)

This is highly suggestive of Christian mysticism and Gnosticism, something the Rosicrucians were advocating, such as peaceful invisible esoteric work for the spiritual conversion through religious art and through the eternal Word.

According to the legend, Vlah Ilija (Elijah the Vlach) retired to Gorjanci Mountain to live as a hermit in a place that was overgrown by thorny bushes and weeds. The shack he had built, was just big enough for him and his goat. His only provisions were goat’s milk, plants, and roots, and fresh spring water. He was content with his solitary life. Three times a year, he was visited by his son who brought him a bottle of vine from Vivodina.

Elijah’s goat is undoubtedly the reference to prince Kozel (Kozel means male goat in English) who is credited to promote Slavic Christianity by receiving St. Methodius, when he was persecuted by the German bishops for using Slavic language in liturgy.

The legend is suggesting that because of the refuge the Pannonian Slovenians were given to Slavic missionaries God rewarded them with secret wisdom (in a legend, the over-grown shack turned into a chapel and weeds into beautiful garden).

This legend was being passed down without any attempt to interpret it. However, it served as an esoteric vehicle used by many Slovenian artists who used flowers to hide the secret message in their creative writing. Prešeren’s Sonetni venec (The Wreath of Sonets) is full of biblical imagery and comparison of Slovenians to Jews. Slovenian poetic imagination was filled with the magic Slovenian language contains, like the magical words buh and buk (the book and God), or the words svet and cvet (holy and flower).

With his legend Cvetnik, Trdina transmitted some gnostic ideas which would not be otherwise acceptable for publishing in the Catholic controlled society. He lost his teaching job because of his progressive ideas.

Trdina collected his legends in the valley at the foothills of the Gorjanci Mountains, where the Carthusian monastery Pleterje was located. It is the only Carthusian monastery still active in Slovenia.

It is obvious that the garden is not a physical place, but a region with high mystical spirituality. Slovenians are a nation of poets and writers; their independence was accomplished in 1991 with pen, not with guns, as they say.

Trdina’s legend Cvetnik could have been originally composed by some anonyms Carthusian monk from the nearby Pleterje Carthusian monastery, where Nicholas Kempf was prior in 1460 and where he most likely wrote his book on Mystical theology. It is possible that he withdrew to the top of the mountain and lived there as a hermit during his spiritual torments. The Pleterje Carthusians were taking care of the Church of St. Gertrude, known in Slovenian as Sveta Jera. The church of St. Jera was first mentioned in 1447 when Frideric II. of Celje and His son Ulric II awarded the stewardship of the Church to the Carthusian monastery of Pleterje.

Whatever the case, a new church dedicated to St. Nicholas was built on top of Gorjanci mountain before before the 1526, when it was first mentioned. It is possible that the Church was built to preserve the memory of Nicholas Kempf who became the forgotten ‘saint’, because he dared to criticize the Church of his time.

Thinking about these three churches reminds me of Fr. C.R. in the Alchemical Wedding who was going on the mountain where three churches on the top were standing.

I was not able to determine when the church of St. Ilija (Eliyah) was built next to St. Gertrude. It is believed that the church was built by the Bosnian refugees who had to converted to the Serbian Orthodox religion in Serbian occupied Bosnia. St. Ilija is a patron saint of Bosnia and is specially worshipped by the Eastern Orthodox Churches.

Although Trdina stated that he heard the legend from the people at the foothills of Gorjanci mountain, the legend has a mark of Trdina’s great creative mind, and his understanding of art and history. By the time Trdina visited those places and heard the legend, the memory of Nicholas Kempf was probably forgotten. Because of the Protestant ideas embraced by the Carthusians, they were expelled by the Counter-Reformation and their monasteries were taken over by the Jesuits. The only explanation how Trdina could have gotten this legend would be that the Old Believers kept it in circulation as a Catholic tale.

From Trdina’s story we can assume that he was familiar with the Rosicrucian Brotherhood whose ideas by then were not acceptable to him.

Slovenian writers and prophets had a literary plan and they faithfully followed it in their effort to spiritually enlighten Slovenian people, rather then seeking fame and glory by writing in foreign language.

Slovenian literature was a unique flower from the Garden that many powerful nations, such as Germans, Italians, Hungarians, occupied, but they were not able to suppress Slovenian language and the aspiration of Slovenian people to re-gain their freedom.

Flowers in Slovenian Folk Culture

Our distant pre-christian Slovenian ancestors had great regard for flowers. They used them for healing and also in various religious rituals. Not even Christianity was able to extinguish some pagan customs. In his book Praznično leto Slovencev, Nik Kuret explained that many pagan custums were incorporated into religious rituals and practiced in Slovenia up to the 20th century. Some of the  plants were incorporated into a Palm Sunday bunch, consisting of hazelnut branches, ivy, branches of pussy willow. In Corpus Christi processions, the young girls dressed in white were tossing rose pettals. This religious holiday is called Telovo and might be associated with the ancient Venetic godess Telo (telo in Slovenian means »body«). On summer solstice, special flowers, called »kresnice« were placed in fields to ward of hail. The name of the flowers is associated with Slavic god of fire »Kresnik«. There were many other plants that were used in spells in variuous rituals.

Our distant Slovenian ancestors believed both summer and winter solstice had magical power. The summer solstice represented the longest day of the year, which meant the most sunlight. In the abstract spiritual analogy, it represents the highest sence of awareness, a peack creative experience, or the union with the devine (in the language of mystics).

The use of plants for medicinal uses has also been widely practiced in Slovenia.  They were regarded as gifts of God. In the monasteries that began to be established in the region of today’s Slovenia since the beginning of the 2nd millennium AD, the monks practiced herbal healing. They also copied the classical Greek books on healing plants. In Olimlje, Slovenia, the third oldest apothecary was founded by the Paulician monks.

Carthusian Parallel Religion

Carthusians are known for their artistic works. Besides copying books, they were also writing theological and philosophical works, and particularly poetry. Out of humility, they did not sign their work, and if they did, they used pseudonyms.

From some of the medieval poetry that has been preserved in Slovenian language, it can be assumed that they were composed by monks who had different understanding of the biblical writing than the Church was explaining. Such as the poem about Jesus’ birth and Mary’s virginity.  The analogy of sunlight going through glass is used to explain the birth of Jesus. As a spiritual being, Jesus is like a light, and as such, He can incarnate in any human body, or in many human bodies at the same time. Jesus is pure Love, born out of Love.

Besides spiritual work, the Carthusians also engaged in practical matters. They are known for their vineyards, orchards, animal husbandry. They cultivated fields and ran hospitals and public baths and distributed herbal medicine. At the time of my youth, they still shared their grafts for fruit trees, and wisdom with the nearby peasants, and they still distributed herbal remedies free of charge.  The Carthusians of Pleterje were not involved in politics, but they were not shy away to stand up for the Truth when it counted most.

Judging by the words I can read in the VM, and by the illustrations, I believe the author was focusing on the Love of God, rather than on the fear of God, which was characteristic for the Protestant writers, not to mention the Catholics. Perhaps, the author had experienced the fear of God during his mystical experience and realized that the fear of God was manipulative tool of those who wanted to have power over people. It also reflects the influence of the Pauline theology, since St. Paul, more than other biblical writers, placed great emphasis on Love and forgiveness.  

Blessings of Flowers

Besides Palm Sunday’s blessing of the greenery, the blessing of the flowers became part of the Christian tradition at least since 10th century on. For this purpose, special blessings were prescribed to make the healing properties of the plants more potent. The name of the plant being blessed had to be mentioned two times. The ritual included 64th psalm and three longer prayers. The blessed plants were than taken home and stored for the protection against fire, lightning, in the barn to protect farm animals, and for protection against illness and harmful magic spells. They were also used as incense for blessing, particularly for sick children and animals.

In the monastery in Metz, a special blessing form was used in the 15th century for rue (useseful for exorcising the devil), mandrake and other plants. In this way, the litterate people were teaching the peasants in the 14th and 15th century about plants.

Some monasteries were blessing the healing plants every month, since they were not ready to be picked all at the same time.

The prescribed prayer a priest used for blessing the plant, mentiones the name of the plant and the desired affects, such as “to avert evil spirits and spells, and any connection with the satanic works from person’s body from any direction it might come, so that the blessed plants will not possess any evil power, but rather the powers of Jesus, St. Ubald and St. Antony of Padua, whome I implore over this plant, ordering the devils to be shamed and cursed and go into the abis with all their pagan works, so that the holy angels could obide in these flowers.”

For an intellectual priest who believed neither in devils nor in angels (as is evident from the pictures in the VM), and from the works of Nicholas Kempf, it was probably problematic to utter those words.

Yet, the Churches continued with this practice until they were no longer able to control superstition.

Not all Slovenian traditions involving plants were taken over by Christianity. Some pagan rituals kept being practiced just to keep the tradition going, without even understanding the origin, like belief in the magical power of the seeds of the fern on St. John the Baptist Day.

Conclusion

The language of the VM might very well be written in the language of flowers. The manuscript contains strange looking flowers that speak in their own secret language, while at the same time keep us guessing which flower they actually represent. There are no flowers with roots like lions, or with blossoms like chalice, as Koen Gheuhus had pointed out in his blog. He recognized the spiritual significance, but the pictures speak different to him than to me, because we come from different cultures. Being nurtured by the Catholic religion and Slovenian Christian art enables me to understand the secret language of Flowers.

I believe this secret language lingered in Slovenian folk culture until Slovenian literary artists made a conscious decission to write in Slovenian language with a secret plan in mind.

I firmly believe the author of the VM was Nicholas Kempf, a son of a gardener from Strasbourg, a Carthusian monk who wrote his most famous book Mystical Theology at the Pleterhe Charterhouse. He wrote over 30 books, but only a few have survived, and even those are copies, not originals. Others were lost or destroyed. The Voynich Manuscript might be one of his lost books.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *