Why I Believe the Voynich Manuscript was Created by a Woman

Over the years, there have been several theories written about the Voynich Manuscript ranging from the now-debunked idea it was a plagiarized women’s health book to the most recent scholar’s theory that an Italian Jew wrote it. Regardless, the text hasn’t been decoded, even by an AI–and I’ve formed fresh theories about its author beyond my earlier thought that it may be an alchemical text. I have a facsimile of the folios, and after reviewing all the theories I’ve realized the Voynich Manuscript may have been written by a woman.

For background, the vellum has been carbon-dated to the early 1400s, and illustrations potentially place its author in Northern Italy. Okay, so what was happening in Northern Italy at that time? The Italian Renaissance was flourishing despite the long shadow of the Holy Roman Empire and the established patriarchy. While it’s true that belief in witches during this time period was present, primarily among peasants and commoners, keep in mind the hysteria not peak until much later following the publication of the international best-seller Malleus Maleficarum in 1486.

Why write an untranslatable book about women’s health during the Italian Renaissance? One that has no overtly Christian or Catholic-specific symbols in it, either? On the one hand, you have an age of discovery and a period of enlightenment. On the other, you have the establishment of the Church and its political might. In between, however, you also have the birth of an Italian feminist movement that began in the late 14th century. Several Italian women of privilege were not only literate, they also taught at university, published books, and participated in the Italian Renaissance as thinkers of their age. Dorotea Bucca was a professor of health and medicine in Bologna, for example, for forty years from 1390-1430. As another example, Christine di Pizan challenged the idea that women were inferior to men by publishing the City of Ladies in 1404.

This, dear reader, points to my “who”. Who would be interested in writing a book that emphasized women’s health? One that stretched the boundaries of the knowledge they possessed at the time? Who’d have access to vellum and inks? Who’d have access to women to illustrate and study their naked bodies in a non-threatening, non-sexual way? Answer: an Italian woman of privilege. There is no reason to assume the Voynich Manuscript’s author was male, and I feel that gender absolutely plays a role in the discussion about its author given all that was going on in Italy at the time. If the folio was written by an educated woman, then she has more than one reason to ensure the text is not translatable–especially if she continued to work on the text as time progressed. And, since we know that literary among women was not as widespread, those who were educated would have stood out because their numbers were few. So, an Italian woman of means who wanted to explore the sciences would have just cause to write an untranslatable text that only she could decode.

Keep in mind that Yale’s Beinecke Library states that the Voynich Manuscript was written in the 15th or 16th century, and of the articles I read (linked above) this folio was reliably produced before the invention of the printing press. This further underlines the possibility that a woman had yet another reason to hide her discoveries: because there was a growing backlash to the rise in feminism even before the ultra-popular, anti-feminist Malleus Maleficarum was published in 1487. History teaches us that every moment of progress, in this case the Italian Renaissance, is followed by a period of regression. Modern societies weather those periods faster, because the zeitgeist changes at a more rapid rate. Not so in centuries past, for sure. Anyway, this “rubber band” effect caused by a number of factors (including the then-inexplicable plagues) began to target devil-worshipping women as the reason why all bad things were happening; because of that any female doctor, scholar, professor, or healer would be at risk of discrimination or, as the centuries progressed, much worse. Keep in mind the Malleus Maleficarum was not conjured from thin air, and many existing beliefs were drawn upon and extrapolated to fit Church guidelines. (One of the many reasons why this damnable book was so popular.) As one of several examples, the witch’s mark bears a lot of similarities to signs of a bubonic plague infection. All of Europe experienced heavy losses, and when there is no explanation for tragedy and suffering often the most vulnerable populations are to blame. In this case, women.

Why untranslatable? As long as the author retains knowledge, then she’s fighting back against that feminist backlash until it’s safer to do her work once again. Having said that, there is another possibility. Drawing from earlier theories, if the text was copied from an existing text (or, as is more likely, several of them) by someone who was illiterate but of means, then the folio wouldn’t make sense to anyone–including the author. The illustrations could have been the author’s interpretation of existing materials, too, so they aren’t a precise copy. Thus, there may be no translation for the text because the author either did not know what they were writing, they had no guidance to ensure the material was copied correctly, or they were not copying the content for accuracy. Here, too, it’s possible a woman who desired to be literate would have been the author. Who else would be drawn to illustrations of herself and want to hold those dear? Who else would take the time to practice lettering? Who might admire a book and long to read it?

Well, there you have it. A different take on the “who” might have penned the Voynich Manuscript and “why” it can’t be translated. Sadly, I could only prove this with a lot of time and research. So, for now they’ll remain theories. May my author funds be bountiful so I can explore this further one day. Wouldn’t that be amazing!

New! December’s 30 Day Challenge to Make Art Not War

Wow! What a year it has been! For several months, you’ve learned some things about yourself as an artist. You’ve made art! And, you’ve stuck with me on my artistic journey. Now, I have one last challenge for you. In lieu of a theme for December, I’m offering a series of fun daily activities for you to complete. Each one touches on some of the tips, advice, and themes I’ve offered throughout the year. Enjoy!

MANW Check-In Week 48: November’s Progress and Finish Lines

Make Art Not War November 2017

Hey, how did your November go? Mine went pretty well, despite two weeks lost to the flu. This month’s theme was FINISH, and by now you have either finished what you started this month or you’re struggling. There could be a lot of reasons behind your lack of motivation or slower progress, and I’ve often found that it’s important to record them. The point of finishing is not to hyper-analyze how you reach the finish line. Sometimes, it’s more important to type “the end” than it is to write it with a flourish or add a bit of poetry. From there, from your failures or setbacks, you might discover new goals or behavioral techniques you can use to move forward.

Here are some examples of setbacks and solutions:

Setback: Falling Behind. Your goal was to reach 50,000 words for a novel this month, but you felt overwhelmed and couldn’t figure out what to write. By the time you got that sorted, you fell behind.

Solution: To prepare for a month of writing, try your hand at outlining and character sketches beforehand. What do your characters want? What stands in their way? Where does your story start and end? Outlines can help keep you on track as you write, because they’ll offer goal posts where you didn’t have any before.

Setback: Lack of Focus.
You knew what you wanted to write, but it was hard to focus. Every time you started, you quickly lost interest and didn’t want to write at all.

Solution: Being resistant to the work happens to all of us. To get past that mental block or stubbornness, you could try warm-up exercises, changing your environment/music, writing something else for fifteen minutes to half an hour, etc. Usually, when you’re slow or can’t focus there’s a reason for that. It could be something as complex as anxiety/depression or a consequence of heavily relying on online tools. It could also, however, be something simple. You’ve never written in that genre before, or haven’t used that technique. Fear can definitely be a factor, even on a subsconscious level, too.

Setback: Can’t Finish.
You have no trouble getting into writing, but you can’t seem to finish what you start no matter how hard you try.

Solution: Try writing the end or middle of your story first. You might also benefit from mini-tasking, or taking your short stories and breaking them out by scenes instead. You might also plan to write for shorter periods of time, lke 15 or 20 minutes, until you rebuild your concentration. If you get distracted, I also find that having a journal or a tool like Evernote next to you can really help. That way, if you have a to do item you forgot or suddenly remember an important task you can write it down and get back to your manuscript.

The next time you have a setback, try identifying what it is and cooking up your own solution. This week’s check-in addresses some of the finer points I’ve been dealing with. Tune in later this week for a brand new 30 Day Challenge!

Weekly Check-in

My Original Make Art Not War 2017 Challenge pledge:

  • I pledge to devote one hour a day to my original art.
  • If I don’t feel motivated, I pledge to write down the reasons why I wanted to take this challenge for fifteen minutes or one-to-three pages whichever comes first.
  • I pledge to mark down on the calendar whenever I complete a day’s efforts.
  • As the challenge creator, I pledge to create a weekly accountability post every Wednesday beginning on January 9th. Comments will be open. Hashtag #makeartnotwar2017 #manw2017
  • I pledge to check into social media twice a week for personal use, and once a month with my local community of artists and writers.

Here’s my current status:

  • Diary of an Aspiring Alchemist is going strong. William Sand finally got the job after a confusing and rocky series of appointments. He’s currently stuck in an archive, reading old books about alchemy and the occult
  • Motivation hasn’t been the issue for me, but I did have a challenging time trying to work while I had the flu. I’ve got a strong routine down now, and need to add back in a few other things. Looking forward to it!
  • So, I’ve been using a new technique on Evernote to mark down progress. It’s been very effective!
  • As the challenge creator, I pledge to create a weekly accountability post every Wednesday beginning on January 9th. Comments will be open. Hashtag #makeartnotwar2017 #manw2017
  • I’m good re: social media. I’m mostly using it for work right now, and I may extend that into 2018. We’ll see how this month goes!

Hope your month went well and better than expected. Write soon!

Mood: Focused. Tired. Deep-fried.
Caffeinated Beverages Consumed: Going to hit the caffeine hard. Vrooooom!
Work-Out Minutes Logged Yesterday: Some walking.
In My Ears: Us Against the World by Coldplay
Game Last Played: Pokémon Go
Book Last Read: A mega-ass ton of anthologies.
Movie/TV Show Last Viewed: Lucifer Season 3
Latest Artistic Project: Make Art Not War Challenge eBook now available!
Latest Releases: Over the Edge for Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition, Legacy of Lies for V20 Dark Ages.
Current State of Projects: Read my latest project update. New project update coming when I get time.




[Recommending Reading] Writer’s Yearbook 2018

Cat and Fish

December is a great time to reevaluate how the rest of your year went. I’m opting out of such a summary, if only because 2017 had more ups and downs than a rollercoaster. That said, I find it’s always a fantastic idea to take a pulse and see how my methodology and experiences measure up to other writers.

The other day, I picked up the Writer’s Yearbook 2018 from a local bookstore. (You can find it in the magazine aisle.) There’s a lot of material in this handbook, and the advice is spot on. Some gems:

  • Just Say No to Click-Bait. pp. 48-49. Written by Brandon Ambrosino, the article specifically focuses on the issue of chasing volume. He writes: “Because such [e.g. click-bait] content is fleeting and flames out quickly, writers feel compelled to churn out more and more of it in order to remain viable in a writing landscape that is largely sustained by social media.” The article goes on to offer solutions that help writers be more proactive and make better decisions with their time.
  • Get Down to Writing Business. pp. 51-53. This article takes a nuts-and-bolts approach to the business aspects of writing from a ghostwriter’s perspective. John Peragine writes that: “The key is to view yourself not as a contractor–always at the mercy of the next job–but as a business: in control of how you operate.” This type of operations management may seem intimidating, but I felt the article is applicable to any writer.
  • 101 Best Websites for Writers. pp 68-78. This is a descriptive list of websites separated into several categories: Creativity, Writing Advice, Everything Agents, General Resources, Publishing/Marketing Resources, Jobs & Markets, Online Writing Communities, Genres/Niches, and Just for Fun. There is a lot of information jam-packed into the list, and a few sites you may not normally consider.
  • I feel that this is well worth your time, and there’s a lot of advice mixed in with practical experiences from seasoned writers. If you’re mildly interested in getting a leg up in your freelance writing or authorial career, be sure to check it out.

    Mood: Too much ho-ho-ho.
    Caffeinated Beverages Consumed: I’m drinking decaf tea. It’s a sacrilege.
    Work-Out Minutes Logged Yesterday: Some walking.
    In My Ears: Some coffee house mix designed for teenagers.
    Game Last Played: Pokémon Go
    Book Last Read: A mega-ass ton of anthologies.
    Movie/TV Show Last Viewed: Beauty and the Beast live action. It was something.
    Latest Artistic Project: Make Art Not War Challenge eBook now available!
    Latest Releases: Over the Edge for Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition, Legacy of Lies for V20 Dark Ages.
    Current State of Projects: Read my latest project update. New project update coming when I get time.




    Using Evernote to Create Project Snapshots

    Trojan On Your Computer

    One challenging aspect of a professional artist’s job is administration and goal planning. These, sadly, are the unsexy bits. They’re the scaffolding we stretch, shape, and mold our art into, whether we create games, books, movies, etc. Or to put it another way, what I’m referring to is not how the sausage is made, it’s the tools we use to track what kind of sausage we’re making, how much of it, where it’s being sold, etc.

    Sometimes, project administration gets in the way of making the things we want to make. I find this is especially true for myself, because I am one individual. I don’t have an assistant or a team of people helping manage my time. I do check-ins, occasionally, to ensure I’m on the right track with a few individuals. Overall, however, it can get cumbersome because essentially I’m running my own business and, to be honest, I never really liked that part of the job. It feels cleansing to organize, but it’s not as satisfactory to me as making art.

    Despite this, without a clear snapshot of what’s on my plate it’s challenging to commit to anything new, see where I have space to fit, and feel any sense of satisfaction. The pressure to create, mind you, is different depending upon which vertical you’re in. For gaming, that pressure is high. It bleeds into everything I do, and I often apply that to fiction. That, however, is not realistic considering the work I do in games is often more intense and frequent than anything I’d do for traditional publishing venues. I know that, but in my head I can’t see that. In lieu of manually recreating a system using bullet journaling, I’ve created a few project overview snapshots using Evernote.

      Step One: Create a note to track payment and date of release. Using the checkbox function, I make a list of everything I have that will be released separated by fiction, non-fiction, and games. I add the date (or year), marketing-or-production related tasks, and when that particular item has been paid.

        “Publication Title” (X% Paid)
        Release Date 11/22/17
        Post for X site
        Post for Y site
        Submit pay schedule
        Submit comp copy request
        Update Bibliography

      I often deal with pay schedules or different types of contracts, so payment in the context of release helps me see if I need to follow up or not. This particular snapshot is something that I can attach to a planner/calendar very easily; it doesn’t have financial specifics, but I regard this as a shortcut or a brief overview. Updating this note won’t bog me down, either. To that end, this is also why I include works that are finished and unfinished to clearly see my deadlines and publication status.

      Step Two: Set up a note for works on submission. This note is separated into fiction and non-fiction to start; Other forms (e.g. screenplays/comics/etc.) would be added as needed. Right now I don’t need a spreadsheet to track my work because my focus is a) not on spec and b) doesn’t heavily lean toward short fiction. My goals are modest for the time being, but that may change. Who knows, little luck fairy of luckiness? If, however, my submissions take off I’ll likely need a spreadsheet just so I know what’s what.

      This snapshot allows me to see what I’ve sent out for editorial consideration, and also helps me “count” the number of pieces I have out in the wild. I should note that these are also for original or creator-owned pieces; I have a clear sense of what I own the rights to. If you’re dipping your toe into work-for-hire waters, I would strongly recommend adding reminders of rights to help you keep track.

        “Title of Piece Here”
        Pub: Name of venue
        Editor: Name if applicable.
        Submitted: 10/24/17
        Approved
        Rejected
        If rejected, resubmit?
        Yes
        No
        Notes: If rejected, try ‘X’ venue.

      If you notice, this format also helps me prepare for rejection. By listing another venue, I can easily tweak and resub if needed. If published, however, I can copy/paste this to my release schedule and modified the entry pretty quickly.

      Step Three: Create an Ongoing To-Do List. Okay, time for a guilty admission. I like redundancy in my to-do lists, because I’m terrified I’ll forget something if I misplace a journal. Plus, the nice thing about using apps is that the information translates well (and is readable) if I move from laptop to phone. With that in mind, I have a daily mini-list I’ve been using. Basically, date the list. Use the checkbox feature, which you can easily cross off on your phone, and then rinse/repeat by day. If I didn’t finish the day’s previous items that carries over to the next day.

    For me, these lists are the fundamentals of project management. It helps me see a) what I’m working on, b) if I’ve been paid, c) what’s being released, and d) what’s being considered. As I evolve my process, I may include other notes to list other details, like market listings, but for now I want to keep my snapshots tightly focused. Your mileage may vary!

    Mood: Grey. Like the sky. And my sweater.
    Caffeinated Beverages Consumed: Not enough, apparently.
    Work-Out Minutes Logged Yesterday: Bwahahahahaha.
    In My Ears: Final Fantasy XIII soundtrack
    Game Last Played: Pokémon Go
    Book Last Read: A mega-ass ton of anthologies.
    Movie/TV Show Last Viewed: Beauty and the Beast live action. It was something.
    Latest Artistic Project: Make Art Not War Challenge eBook now available!
    Latest Releases: Over the Edge for Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition, Dagger of Spiragos for Scarred Lands.
    Current State of Projects: Read my latest project update. New project update coming when I get time.




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