On the Voynich Manuscript and Other Ancient Texts

When you write in the realm of horror, dark fantasy and science fiction, you’re often required to read and research different topics for reference. Like many other authors, I’ve poured through copies of ancient texts to get behind the myths and legends, to view them with a critical eye.

Working on Argentum, for example, required a deep dive into researching Alchemy. That field is interesting because there’s a lot of symbolism and allegory there. Formulas were coded into paintings, and there was often a dual-edged meaning embedded in the rituals. Alchemy wasn’t just about transforming one physical medium into another, it was about transforming the self. In many paintings, some of which you can see in this awesome art book from Taschen entitled Alchemy and Mysticism, there are parallels between the birth-death-resurrection cycle prevalent in Christianity and other religions. Indeed, this book correlates a premise using art. Really fine work, here.

As interesting as that may be, it’s important to understand these works in context. What was happening during those time periods? Why would these ancient texts need to be secret? Well, if you think about it, organized religion back then in many parts of the world isn’t like it is now. You could be killed or thrown in prison for your beliefs. Although Alchemy was practiced as a scientific art for hundreds of years, for many it also required varying amounts of secrecy. Remember, the history of Christianity is a turbulent one that affected every corner of social, scientific, religious and political development in certain parts of the world for many, many years. The references to Christianity in the Art and its formulas weren’t always obvious; there were often many artistic and visual references to other things that acted as symbols for the process.

In other words: these texts are important for more than the words written on their pages. I feel they can’t be read with stars in your eyes, though that is what some people tend to do. It’s always been that way, though. The words “ancient” and “magical” have always inspired people, for a promise of power. Just recently, there was a book called The Secret which sold millions of copies worldwide. What was this tome about? The Law of Attraction. Nothing new to see here. Brilliant marketing, though.

Voynich Manuscript

When I was reading up on other texts, I stumbled across the Voynich Manuscript a couple of years ago. Immediately, when I hear about some mysterious and ancient text it raises an alarm for me. I’m pretty grounded, even though I went through a short phase in my late teens where I wasn’t. Reading further, I understand that there’s a lot of theories about this unusual manuscript from the mid-to-late 1400s which many believe originate from Central Europe.

First, it hasn’t been deciphered yet and there are strange illustrations in it. Just as one example of my thought process, there’s discussion about why plumbing (e.g. pipes and whatnot) was used to depict the biology. Some Alchemists used to boil their bodies in hot water and scrub all the hair off to purify themselves. Bathing as a ritual was an important one for many years; people didn’t take daily showers and baths back then like they do today. Bathing is also relevant to a baptism, too. So, the paintings may not be direct representations, but allegorical illustrations drawn to represent something else.

Now, after having looked at the illustrations and having read the theories, I have a few of my own. Let me be very clear on this: my thoughts are purely speculative since I haven’t put the time in nor have I poured over every word. Seeing a book like this makes me wonder not what the book is saying, but why someone would write it in the first place. Since it isn’t a modern hoax, there’s a theory that it was created for the Holy Roman Emperor at the time, who enjoyed rare and unusual books. If this were true, e.g. created for someone’s enjoyment, what would the creator of the book get out of it? Crafting something like this is a time-consuming process, so there would have to be some larger gain behind this or other story.

Instead, I feel this book might have been coded so no one would understand it, perhaps not even the person (or persons) who wrote it. In other words, there is no cipher because it was never written with one in mind. I don’t believe this manuscript is gibberish, either. It could simply have been written to document rituals in order to solidify their meaning in the writer’s mind. What the Voynich Manuscript could be, then, are the ashes of a life-long pursuit of rituals that cannot be replicated by anyone else.

Take, for example, the strong repetition of words. If I wanted to perform a secret ritual (or a series of them) for a life-long goal, routine would be crucial to me to ensure success. (Just reviewing the illustrations by themselves, you can see that the creator(s) of the Voynich Manuscript have some scientific leanings.) But what if I got stuck (e.g. couldn’t come up with a code or cipher purported to be rampant in Alchemical and other mystical texts)? For the sake of sticking to routine, which is crucial to those who have performed Alchemy and other arts like it, then I’d use the same word over and over because I needed to write something there. Here, the words may not be important as the writing itself, unless the repeated word is an anagram or cryptogram. In that case, the author might feel the word was a magical one, and should be repeated like a chant to imbue power into his concentration or ritual. (Abracadabra is just one of many examples of purported “power” words best used in repetition.) Perhaps the author read his words out loud as he was writing them down. For an Alchemist, that act would add another layer of symbolism and ritual to it.

My next step would be to research the time period and location before closely analyzing the manuscript, to see if I could narrow down the culture and atmosphere to help bring relevance to the text. What were the religious attitudes of the 1440s and beyond? What political influences were occurring at the time? What was the lifestyle like? Education? Literacy? Etc.

Sure, these are just my thoughts. And yes, there’s no way I could be certain I’m right. But here, I’m not trying to be accurate beyond a shadow of a doubt. Here, I’ve explored a mystery to show you how my author’s mind works. After all, researching or theorizing about the Voynich Manuscript is not all that dissimilar to thinking about how a character might have written that book, and for what reason, all those centuries ago.

Bored? Love SciFi? Creating an Alien Language with me at Apex Book Company

Talk Like an Alien at Apex Book CompanyFor the past six months or so, I’ve been exploring and sharing my process to create an alien language. This series has been extremely popular on the Apex Book Company blog and it’s been picked up by several places including i09.com. To me, the creation of an alien language is fascinating because it can evolve into the cornerstone of an entirely new culture with its own rules, beliefs and way of life. I’d like to test that theory, but I need your help to do it.

So, for 2011, I would like to extend a friendly invitation to all those of you who love science fiction. Whether you’re an author yourself or are looking to do something fun, I hope you will join me in what may prove to be an exciting adventure in worldbuilding.

To participate, visit my post Talk Like an Alien. Create a Language With Me and simply respond to two questions. Easy! And…fun. (I hope.)

My New Guest Series at Apex: Creating an Alien Language

Blogging for Apex Book Company has been a lot of fun, in part because I get to talk about things that interest me and loosely relate to things that I’m working on as well. I decided to write a series of posts about creating your own alien language, in part because I have to do the same thing for a project I’m working on. The first post is entitled Creating an Alien Language: Your Language, Your Rules and discusses the key points I consider when I think of language.

Here’s a peek:

What is a language? Break the concept down to its barest components, and all a language really is, is a meaningful sequence or pattern based on understanding a unique key. Once you determine what that key is, you can create any language that you want. That “key” can be based on text, numbers, sound, color, shapes, non-verbal cues like movements of the body, etc. It can be exceptionally complex or incredibly simple, too. –SOURCE: Creating an Alien Language: Your Language, Your Rules

I hope you find the time to follow along and chime in with your thoughts. This will be an ongoing series for a few months, be sure to tune in for next time.


Inside VioletWar.com

One of the things that I’m always conscientious about is providing an image that is both professional and creative at the same time. While I enjoy writing and sharing posts with you on my blog, it’s not the same as what I write for VioletWar.com. There, I can be more personal because people are investing their time to read more about my fiction efforts and my process for writing stories set in that world. Here, I’ve often taken a more professional approach and, in many ways, that has paid off a thousand fold.

Still, this blog is just one aspect of “me.” VioletWar.com is another. There, not only have I been able to share more news about THE QUEEN OF CROWS and what reviews it has gotten, but I’ve also recently started a journal there. It’s been a really fun creative outlet for me and something that supports my efforts for that world. At the same time, it’s beginning to get more personal than I had expected. I’m pretty private, but for whatever reason I’m having a blast just being me.

So, if you’re mildly curious about the world I have built and the novel I’ve been working on, that’s the place to drop by and explore. If not, stay tuned because I’ll definitely be blogging more about topical subjects that are meaningful to both you and me.

Thanks for reading!

A Noise Detox

If you’ve been following my blog, you may have read some of my posts about writing and depression. One of the things I talk about there, is that writing is a solitary activity that is part and parcel to a writer’s ability to focus on what they’re doing. As you know, depression can be caused by too much solitary activity. However, I’ve found that whatever angsty “thing” I just went through, it was caused by the precise opposite to that — too much connectivity.

For me, I need those moments of solitary confinement even when I’m not writing because it allows my head to be clear. For a while there, it seemed like my mind was in a literal fog and I couldn’t figure out why. Worse, I felt that my writing was suffering as well. What was once fun and enjoyable turned into a literal chore. I choked up. I had stage fright. I over-analyzed and psychoanalyzed every verb, every comma, every first word of every, single sentence and I couldn’t figure out why.

ShhhhhSo I started to detach during my off time and I turned to my favorite video games instead. Slowly, but surely, I figured out what was happening to me. (Thank you, Square Enix.) I had been so inundated with a constant stream of noise that I felt I had to either read (or respond to) each individual pixel of internet dirt. As a result, I didn’t have the chance to focus on “me” or “my work.” I was too busy focusing on things that were triggering my emotions. Mind you, several things had already pushed me in that “I’m frustrated” direction already. The noise did not help.

Noise, for me, is probably different than it is for you. I have certain topics that send me off into an instantaneous rant, turning me into an ugly troll. With warts. And smelly feet. I have other topics that are like little race cars. When I see them, I feel compelled to stick on the top of their hoods and ride them all the way through to the end. Mind you, none of the subjects I’m talking to you about here have anything to do with work or my writing. And that, truly, was the reason why I needed to disconnect. The constant bombardment of ads, news, factoids, gossip, etc. throughout my day forced me to face myself in the mirror and ask myself what I could ignore. What could I stop worrying about. What did I need to listen to versus what did I feel obligated to listen to.

For the past, few weeks I’ve been going through what I call a “noise detox.” I’ve turned off and tuned out of almost everything, only to embrace the great outdoors and hobbies I’ve abandoned. This experience has been wonderful and exhilarating. It has also opened my eyes to what truly matters to me, and I can tell you that the “noise” does not. (The same goes for drama, in general. Although, I like drama when it’s performed on the stage.)

Instead of giving in to the noise and its destructive tendencies, I am traveling sideways and shielding myself with sunlight and oxygen and my imagination. Otherwise, I can’t hear the music of my words. I don’t know if any of you have experienced something similar, but this has definitely been one of those times where I have learned my lesson well.

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