Voynich Redux

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I blogged about the Voynich Manuscript quite a while ago, and since then I’ve read a few more books on the subject in my spare time(1). Yesterday, I watched a new documentary about the Voynich Manuscript called the “The Voynich Manuscript – The World’s Most Mysterious Manuscript” which addressed its age and speculated as to its author. The conclusion of the documentary was that it was written over the course of a couple of days in the 1420s(2), somewhere in a northern Italian city that had a fort with swallow (or dove) tail battlements. It also claimed that the intent matters, and that it’s possible that the manuscript text is gibberish while the images or not.

To me, this text screams “alchemy” for a few reasons, but not necessarily from a scientific perspective. Alchemy was (and continues to be) a blend of the metaphorical and chemical. Images, codes, symbols, and gibberish (which is thought to originate from the Islamic alchemist Jabir ibn Hayyan) were used to explore transmutation and the relationship between the masculine and the feminine. A pregnant woman, for example, was commonly used to represent the moon. So an image that “looks like” a series of pregnant women taking a bath, would (through the lens of alchemy) be the phases of the moon. Their modesty protected, would be apropros of the 15th century–especially if the book was, indeed, written in Italy which was heavily influenced by the mores of the Holy Roman Empire and Catholicism.

Lunar Phases

Timing, in occult terms, was very important to the success of any rite and, for alchemy, the Master Work in order to successfully perform a transmutation that was both physical and metaphysical. While the Master Work itself varied, key principles were often explored between alchemist and pupil or couples such as Nicholas Flamel (Yep, the Harry Potter character was based on him) and his wife Perenelle. Often, in history, women are overlooked and, in this case, I have yet to read a discussion about the aspects of gender in this work which, I feel, are hugely important given the role of gender in alchemic symbology. Hermaphroditic characters, for example, were also used to portray the perfect union between the masculine and the feminine or, as is usually the case, Hermes/Mercury.

The fact that so many plants were illustrated in the Voynich Manuscript is a different way of portraying that union, with the plant and its “seeds” being the fruits of an experiment when the Sun (male/heat/sunshine) and Moon (female/cool/water) shines down on the earth. Even so, the images would be based on an amalgamation of what the scribe knew or, in my mind, what that person was taught. Alchemists usually come in pairs, and are performing works that would be construed as heresy and grounds for trial and accusation of witchcraft. While the nobility and wealthy class might somewhat be immune to such claims, they would protect what is known as “The Golden Chain” at all costs. The Golden Chain is the handing down of knowledge from master to scribe and so on throughout the centuries.

In my mind, the text could be a combination of gibberish and code. Remove the gibberish, which is known only to the scribe, and the code emerges. I believe this is not the only text that was written at the time, and the book was either intended to be passed down to the next scribe, or was written in exchange for a large sum of money. The folios themselves might even have been bound or collected at a later date. After all, if you are teaching occult knowledge you wish to keep hidden from an Inquisitor, from the scrutiny of the Church, from rivals and greedy nobles who desire what you know–why just write one text if you intend to pass it on?(3) Or, alternatively, if you were paid to write alchemical knowledge by a wealthy noble, why bother worrying about whether or not you were telling the truth? You could generate something that looks like the real thing, without revealing what you actually know?

Regardless, one of the things I find interesting about the Voynich Manuscript(4) is the fact that every theory I’ve heard “seems” to be true. I am not certain we’ll ever find proof, but I do feel that the intent–the reason why these folios were produced in the first place–would provide some answers.

(1) I tend to read non-fiction before drifting off to sleep. It allows me to clear my head so I can dream about my plots and characters interruption-free. I tend to read fiction in a sitting for this reason, or listen to audio books.
(2) Interestingly, 1420 was a leap year which might have had significance in terms of occult timing as well.
(3) Several countries outlawed alchemy late 14th century/early 15th century due to the obsession with turning lead into gold. There’s an interesting book you can read titled: “Alchemy and Authority in the Holy Roman Empire.”
(4) Hey, some people are obsessed with aliens. Me? I like a good historical mystery to chew on every once in a while.

    Mood: Is my nerdness showing yet?
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The Lowdown on Stuff I Like. Starting with 9.

Last week, I decided I’m going to blog on occasion about stuff I like. It’s the censored version, in the sense that there won’t be a lot of swear-y bits, but at the same time it’s not the “I’m kissing butt” or the “I’m boasting about stuff I’ve worked on” variety. (If you haven’t met me, well…I’m very bad at those two things. HAH!) I think of this more as a window into my world: how I research, what I respond to, why I’m analyzing a piece of work. And in the effort of FULL disclosure, yes the links will likely be affiliate-related — but as I am not in the top tier of wealthy writers yet? So it goes.

PLUS, there’s a mega-ton of negativity out there, and really…less of that please. I mean, the entire reason why I wanted to write in genre is because it was fun — not because it felt like a chore or made me want to cry. Eesh. I’m also of the belief that if you (or I) love a work that much, it can be inspiring to apply the lessons learned to works of our own. Fans are the reason why I write, but the inspiration and the creativity I have doesn’t come out of thin air. It originates from everything around me: exhibits I go to, paintings I like — even books I consume or movies I inhale. Now, I might bore you with some of my comments about art or music in general, but I got the movies, comics, books, and games thing down.

So today, I start with a movie that came out nine years ago: 9. There might be some spoilers here, but as it’s been NINE YEARS (she says, unironically), anything I say is in service to my overall point. This didn’t air nine minutes ago (*coughs* Game of Thrones)!

9 Cover

9 was a problematic movie for me when I first saw it, because it debuted with a lot of hype. When I go into a film, thinking it’s going to be the next what-have-you, then I have a certain set of expectations. Here, this wasn’t a Tim Burton film persay. Not in the same way I was already expecting, mind. Not in that Nightmare Before Christmas, Edward Scissorhands, Corpse Bride, or Beetlejuice operandus modi.

This movie begins with a short film by the creator, Shane Acker. The long form version originated out of a short form film by the same name, and you can find the original movie at the publisher’s website. 9 was groundbreaking animation at the time, and those visuals can dazzle me, but as I am married to story? There was a part of me that got suckered in to how great the film would be based on the chugga-chugga of the marketing train. When I saw it, I did enjoy it, but the experience was lessened by the hype.

Fast forward to today, where this movie was translated into Blu-Ray. I watched it again, this time paying attention to story. Animation has dramatically and significantly increased in production value since 2005, so the SFX and the hype are long gone for me. The story, to me, was about alchemy. That field, in an allegorical sense when applied to Western alchemists, as alchemy can be found in many different cultures, has elements of the Corn King or Christ myth. Sacrificing oneself to be resurrected later is a powerful theme, and here the scientist takes an action that allows that to happen.

In some ways, the main scientist’s character arc parallels Voldemort from the Harry Potter series. Here’s where they are different: the Scientist created something new and wondrous, and that science was co-opted by those who’d abuse it. Voldemort, on the other hand, has been presented as a boy/man unable to escape his fate, because of his lineage, his family. He never fights what he is, and he gets aggressive, manipulating other Hogwarts professors to split his soul *wink, wink* into Horcruxes.

That said, there are similarities between the two that I see. Voldemort’s pieces of soul both were and weren’t sentient. Contained in objects, each Horcrux had a kind of survival instinct. They chittered. And, when opened, the full brunt of his nasty soul came to bear. The journal, too, is possibly the best example of a sentient part of Voldemort’s soul, for when it was opened, a “shade” of his personality came out. How those shades manifested did vary somewhat, but they were all evil. In part, because the Horcruxes were made by committing acts of murder so that he could survive.

The Scientist in 9, for purposes of comparison, did something similar. Instead of acting on malice, his self-preservation was bound to his desire for redemption and to restore humanity to the world. When the Scientist split his soul, it was with the intent to save humanity. Each of his “Horcruxes” were rag dolls, with their own unique personalities, shapes, and — more importantly — motives. The conflict in 9 isn’t just an outward one, between the Matrix-like robots and the rag dolls, it’s also inward, too. The Scientist, in some respects, is fighting himself to survive.

What I liked about the film now, was the layers of storytelling present in the visual effects. Color, for example, is very important to this movie, as is texture and light and the shape of the rag doll’s eyes. There is a very specific attention to detail here, and I’m appreciative of that. I also really love the way that the alchemy was presented, because the whole point of this film is that the Scientist didn’t know if he was going to be successful. If you’ve seen the film, you’ll know where I’m coming from if you watch the ending again. Too, that ending scene? Hugely important. Even the shape used — which forms a pentagram — is important in the overall scheme of things. (e.g. Fibonacci sequence, five wounds for the Christ figure on the cross, etc.)

For all these reasons and more, I feel that 9 is one of those movies where it’s worth watching again. If you see it on the first time, sure there’s a story there. But watch it on the second or third time, and more details come to light. The main plot IS clear; it’s not reinforced over and over and over again like some movies today are. I will say that if you’re watching on the first time, though, put down your phones, tables, and instruments of distraction. It’s a movie with an interesting message, and I’m glad I’ve added it to my collection.

Non-Floofafy Me! Need More Books for Alchemy

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I am having a hard time trying to find meaty non-esoteric Alchemy tomes. I am full up on “light this candle, summon the power of St. Germaine!” I need history books that talk about the different cultures, possibly in the context of early Chemistry, but also tomes that offer some science about reagents and the like.

Biographies of key folks would be good, too, but again… I’m not looking for ways to paint circles on the ground and bring three hundred year old dead guys back to life. Also: I don’t “just” want Western Alchemy. The world is not confined to Europe after all. Early chemists would also apply here, too. Sadly, that part of my brain is missing. Suffer the science lapse…

    Mood: Non-Floofafy me is now my favorite word.
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