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By Morten St. George

Scholars say that the Voynich manuscript was written in Europe, most likely in northern Italy. Can you be wrong about the Amazon rainforest?

Not likely. The Voynich has more than a hundred pages of very detailed drawings of tropical plants, many of which could not survive in the European climate even if transplanted there. This is followed by many pages of drawings directly depicting the rainforest and every aspect of human life and survival in the rainforest. And the depicted people are naked. Ask yourself, where in the world, today, do you still see people walking around naked? Answer: In the Amazon rainforest, where the warm weather and frequent rainfall make the wearing of clothes an unnecessary nuisance. The cumulative evidence for the rainforest is in fact overwhelming.

But no one is denying that Europeans wrote the Voynich. It is only matter of identifying the Europeans who migrated to Amazonia and of explaining the circumstances that surround that migration.

Voynich Manuscript drawing of a fortress with M-shaped merlons

The argument for linking the manuscript to northern Italy is entirely based on a Voynich drawing of M-shaped merlons. Given that the fortress at Montségur in southwestern France was totally dismantled by the Crusaders, we cannot affirm that it had M defenses. Catharism survived in northern Italy until the early 14th century. However, a few of the edifices are much older but it is difficult to say when the M defenses first appeared; very often these fortresses were destroyed and rebuilt. In 1243, a group of Cathars fled Montségur and took refuge in Cremona, notable site of the M-shaped merlons and possibly the earliest. In general, these merlons are found in places known to have been tolerant of heretics, so we can easily imagine that the Italian Cathars influenced the defenses of Montségur or, pending accurate dating of the merlons, the other way around.

The historians also take note of a Voynich drawing of the astrological council of the Cathari from the old days back in Europe, then composed of men and women fully clothed:

Voynich Manuscript drawing of Cathar Perfecti in Europe

But on the next page, the Voynich depicts the new astrological council of the Cathari, now composed of the naked women of the rainforest:

Voynich Manuscript drawing of Cathar Perfecti in Amazonia

Then, with the Amazon evidence at hand, would the Cathars be the first Europeans to have settled in the Americas?

The Vikings are believed to have reached North America. As for South America, yes. Until such time that someone can show that the radiocarbon dating by the University of Arizona is drastically incorrect, we may assume that the Cathars were the first, predating the Spanish discovery of America by more than two hundred years.

In contemporary society, we witness a lot of resistance to findings that would upset predominating beliefs. One such belief is the discovery of America in 1492, which explains why scholars are incapable of seeing tropical plants and rainforest ponds in the Voynich drawings.

What happened to the Amazonian Cathars?

Their Amazonian settlement clearly did not survive to see the arrival of Columbus. Voynich drawings indicate that the Cathars became experts in herbal medicine, so it is not particularly credible that they succumbed to a disease, and it is only barely plausible that they were wiped out by headhunters (though one possibility for the scarcity of males in the drawings is that they went out exploring and never returned). There are reports of an exceptionally good-looking tribe (including some with blonde hair and European DNA) living in western Amazonia, so perhaps they are descendants of the Cathars through interbreeding with the natives.

On the other hand, we must carefully observe those rainforest drawings, which depict more than 200 naked females and only one male (minimal clothing).

Voynich Manuscript drawing of romance in the rainforest

While this guy certainly looks interested, note that the blonde is literally running away from him, which could explain why we see no depictions of infants or young children in the Voynich. None at all. Some of the women look pregnant but, more likely than not, these are older women who have gained weight. We also see depictions of the consolamentum ceremony. This was their only sacrament, an act of cleansing that was typically administered as close to death as possible because the ceremony could not be repeated. In Europe, when the Cathars received consolamentum, they would sometimes deliberately try to hasten their death so that there would be nothing to impede their purity as they passed into the afterlife. Thus, no further explanation of what happened to the Cathars is required; beyond natural extinction from celibacy, this could have become a suicide sect.

How did the Voynich manuscript, in the Amazonian rainforest, manage to get to Prague in central Europe, where its existence first became known around the year 1600?

Following the alleged demise of the Cathari women, the surviving male (one was depicted in the Voynich) may have made an effort to preserve their writings and their herbal research. The historian Pedro Sarmiento de Gamboa writes in his Historia de los Incas (Cuzco, 1572) that long before the arrival of the Spanish, a white man visited the Incas and brought them a book: el dicho Viracocha, el cual tienen noticia que fue un hombre de mediana estatura, blanco y vestido de una ropa blanca a manera de alba cenida por el cuerpo y traia un baculo y un libro en las manos. The book (libro) makes no sense for the creator-god Viracocha but makes a lot of sense for Viracocha Inca who reigned from circa 1410 to 1438. Note that the reign of this king mirrors the 1404 to 1438 radiocarbon range for the Voynich, so we cannot rule out the possibility that this Viracocha was a Cathari. Curiously, the year 1438 is also recorded for the start of the Inca Empire. In theory, Sarmiento (a candidate for the character of Don Adriano de Armado in Shakespeare's Love's Labour's Lost) took the Voynich with him when he defected to London in 1584.

In 1597, the botanist and herbalist John Gerard published his The Herball or General Historie of Plantes, the largest botany book (over 1400 pages) ever published in English. Recently the botanist and historian Mark Griffiths has claimed that Gerard's botany book contains an image of William Shakespeare (who makes many references to plants in his plays). It seems logical that this large botany project would have been contracted with view to identifying the mysterious plants of the Voynich manuscript. Gerard. of course, took an interest in exotic plants from the New World.

Image alleged to be William Shakespeare from the Herball or General Historie of Plantes

With an image of Shakespeare (holding plants in each hand) found on the cover of the Historie of Plantes, and with a distinguished palaeographer, A. G. Watson, having identified John Dee's handwriting inside the Voynich (the page folios), it is safe to assume that the Voynich was among the manuscripts sold by Carl Widemann to Emperor Rudolph II in 1599. Widemann would have had indirect contact with Shakespeare through his Rosicrucian connections and also with John Dee from back in the days when he served as Edward Kelley's secretary. Evidently, the English found themselves unable to decode the Voynich, so they decided to let the Emperor's cryptographers have a go at it.

Do you feel that the modern photograph of a rare tropical plant depicted in the Voynich manuscript is absolute proof of a link to the rainforest?

Almost. This freshwater plant in particular was chosen for the illustration (see preceding page) because, not having leaves or branches, it cannot be easily confused with plants found elsewhere in the world. But it is still necessary to revisit that plant to confirm that the green bud has in fact blossomed into a white flower. However, for political and religious reasons, it is extremely unlikely that Yale University (present-day owners of the manuscript) or anyone else will ever attempt to do this.

The white flower is crucial, otherwise we wind up with a repeat of the sunflower debacle.

Voynich Manuscript drawing of a sunflower

The Voynich depicts an extinct species of sunflower, possibly the one used by the Incas to symbolize their sun god. Sunflowers, native to the Americas, were brought to Europe in the 16th century. But because the Voynich sunflower does not exactly correspond to contemporary sunflowers, scholars have declared it to be a "fantasy." Ironically, the freshwater plant you asked about, which by some miracle has managed to survive across the centuries, is the Voynich plant most often cited by scholars as proof that these plants are imaginary.

Are we to believe that the many pages dedicated to herbal medicine (see below) are just a fantasy based on imagined plants? Given that the Voynich plants could not be found in Europe, rational scholars would have automatically turned their attention to the Amazon rainforest, the only place on Earth that could produce such an extraordinary variety of real plants unknown to European botanists. Combining this with Voynich drawings of women running around naked in a rainforest and that drawing of the tapir, we have to conclude that rational scholars have become an extinct species.

I understand that the Voynich manuscript was written on parchment made from animal skin. Which animal of the rainforest was used by the Cathars to make the parchment?

On the very last page of the Voynich (following the twenty-three pages of pure text), the Cathari drew a picture of an animal that is probably the animal they utilized for the parchment.

Voynich Manuscript drawing of an animal possibly used for parchment

Indeed, there seems to be no context for an animal drawing on the last page other than to show us the animal used for parchment. While this drawing may remind us of horses, mules, donkeys, sheep, goats, whatever, the marsh deer of South America comes closest by virtue of the black coloring of the lower legs. Note that deerskin is quite suitable for parchment.

There is only one other drawing on the last page: the nude Perfecta (identified as such by the hairdo) that we compared with the nudes of Carcassonne. In the same sense that the animal was the parchment, we can assume that she was the author of the manuscript.

Do you think the Voynich manuscript is written in the language of some Amazonian tribe, and that is why no one has been able to decode it?

Possible but unlikely. The bulk of the evidence points to a European language.

Voynich Manuscript textual comparison with the Catalan language

The top citation is from the Voynich, the middle citation is Old Catalan (Homilies d'Organyà), and the bottom section is taken from the last page of the Voynich. Let's start with the accent marks. Note the "balloon" accent over the "cc" in the Voynich and over the "ma" in the Catalan. Note the "hook" accent over the "cc" in the Voynich and over the "q" in the Catalan. Note the "tilde bar" over the "o" in the bottom Voynich and in several places of the Catalan. Medieval markings were often used for abbreviation purposes and may serve the same function in the Voynich. It may also be true that Voynich encryption only converts to the base letters, requiring the manual insertion of the markings into the encoded text.

Note the horizontal crossbar through the middle of glyphs in the upper citation (other glyphs in the Voynich likewise have this crossbar) and through the middle of the "p" in the Catalan. Note the exact shape (the specific design) of the letters "a," "c," "d," "g," "m," and "x" in the lower citation and compare them with the same letters in the Catalan. In particular, note the top of the presumed letter "d" that slants sharply to the left in both cases, but by the 15th century an upright posture and a rounded top were commonly seen in handwriting.

In view of the comparisons we just saw, chances are good that the underlying language of the Voynich is Catalan of the early 13th century but we cannot discard the Occitan language, a close relative of Catalan that was spoken in Languedoc (Langue d'Oc), where many of the Cathars lived. The fortress of Montségur, however, from where the ancestors of the Voynich authors fled, stood on the northeastern side of the Pyrenees, and Catalan was reportedly spoken on both sides of those mountains. Let's emphasize that we speaking of the early 13th century, not the early 15th century per radiocarbon dating. Migration to Amazonia would have frozen the language in time, and the error-free redaction of the Voynich may indicate that it is a copy of older manuscripts that perhaps were beginning to wither in the dampness of the rainforest.

Is anything else known about the encoding used in the Voynich manuscript?

It is wholly possible that the Voynich glyphs represent numbers rather than letters especially if we consider that Voynich words sometimes repeat two or three times in succession (qothcc&g qothcc&g qothcc&g) but 333 is more in line with natural language than thing thing thing, and certain prefixes and suffixes could mark the beginning and ending of Catalan words spread across several Voynich words. If that is the case, the Cathars may have employed the encryption techniques of the Cabalists who lived alongside the Cathars in that epoch and with whom there were close ties. (Indeed, the Cabalists of Girona -- led by Nahmanides who himself had to flee for his life some years later -- look like the only chance the Montségur escapees would have had of getting a boat for that trip to America.) Hence, the individual numbers (represented by the isolated glyphs) in a word or across a group of words are added up, and repeatedly so on each new sum (each time producing numbers with fewer and fewer digits) until such point that the resulting numbers, on the basis of numerical equivalencies, point to words, phrases, or individual letters of the Catalan language. However, in sharp contrast to the letters of the Hebrew alphabet as used by the Cabalists, the numerical value assigned to each Voynich glyph, if any, is unknown.

Does that mean it is not possible to decode the Voynich manuscript?

Twenty-three of the final twenty-four pages are pure text, no drawings at all except for stars to distinguish passages. Page numbering -- allegedly added by John Dee -- indicates that a bifolio of four pages is missing but this section aleady has six complete bifolios, more that any other numbered quire of the manuscript, and we cannot know if the missing pages contained more of the same text. Further confusing the issue, the text pages appear to be hopelessly out of order (solid red stars need to follow solid red stars, and the continuation red star needs to follow an incomplete red star, not a complete red star as is currently the case). Assuming the text is complete, esoteric sources would give us reason to believe that the 161 red star passages (excluding the continuation red star and the minature red star) constitute a transcription of the 161 verses (exactly this number, comprising 39 stanzas of four lines each and one introduction of four lines plus a title) of an ancient text that inspired Catharism and later gave rise to Rosicrucianism.

Voynich Manuscript drawing of minature star used as a marker

Therefore, the minature star, if it is an indicator of the title line, would specifically identify the only lines (the five lines of the introduction) that are still extant in the original Latin (the other lines are extant only in Rosicrucian translation of the late 16th century). In brief, cryptographers may have a "Rosetta Stone" to guide them in their efforts.

To expand on this fascinating possibility for decoding the Voynich, let's look at the third passage marked with a red star following the title line (luckily for us, all five of these passages are on the same page because, as just noted, the page are out of order):

Voynich Manuscript textual extract for comparison purposes

And this is the third verse following the Latin title line:

Legis Cantio extract for comparison with the Voynich Manuscript

As you can see, the third verse requires 22 Voynich "words" (roughly 100 glyphs) to represent 6 Latin words (42 letters). The other verses require between 18 and 36 Voynich words for the 6 Latin words, and the Latin title of 5 words is represented by 17 Voynich words. In all cases it is evident that the encoding is expansive, that is, the Voynich text exceeds the Latin text in the number of words and characters, and would therefore require contraction techniques to reproduce the original. For example, some of the glyphs could be blanks, meant to be ignored and passed over until you reach a glyph that gets converted into a letter.

Numerical encoding can be highly expansive but also highly unstructured. For example, in cabalistic encoding, the encoder can arbitrarily choose to represent a letter of the Latin alphabet with one Voynich glyph or with a hundred Voynich glyphs or anywhere in between, making a different choice for each appearance of that letter. If such procedures are being used, it is of critical importance to identify the glyphs (or markings) that mark the beginning and end of the count sequences.

Note that our Latin verse contains words that do not repeat elsewhere in any of the 161 lines of the original text and, likewise, the corresponding Voynich passage (known as "f106r.P.8;") contains Voynich words that do not repeat anywhere else in the manuscript.

Also note that the Latin text of this verse includes a mysterious hook (bent to the left) which is the reverse of the hook (bent to the right) seen in the Voynich. The underscore below the letter "m" may or may not be a stray marking added later.

In the Voynich, the passages marked with white stars, alternating with the passages marked by the red stars, likely constitute a translation into Catalan or a comment on the preceding passage. The vast majority of the red star passages have just one comment but a few, undoubtedly those of special significance for the Cathari, have two or three comments.

Anything else?

Yes. The Rosicrucians apparently figured out that the fortress was Montségur and that the nudes were Cathari, and they kindly give us an illustration of what they believed to be the underlying language of the manuscript: Cieutad trahido per cinq lengos non nudos. This translates as: citadel betrayed by five snitches not naked.

Our Rosicrucians are also suspected of having inserted the month names into the astrology section of the Voynich as a hint for the Emperor's cryptographers, so that these cryptographers would know what language they should try to convert into. While the months of "mars" and "may" can be either French or Occitan, the months of "abrive" and "auovst" are clearly Occitan.

Voynich Manuscript drawing of zodiacal Libra with month designation

October is written with an "e" in the middle (something not normally seen anywhere in southern Europe), similar to how, in the Latin verse, "Astrologi" is inexplicably misspelled "Astrelogi." Proponents of northern Italy should take note that absolutely nothing is written in Italian.

Finally, we see that the rainforest section contains rows of girls each of whom is given a name. The Cathars may have used Biblical and Latin names for themselves. For example, if one of those names in Voynich glyphs makes one and only one appearance in the red star paragraphs, that name might be Diana, a female name that appears in the ancient texts.

Is it worthwhile to decode the Voynich manuscript?

Yes, of course. The Voynich is a treasure-house of information about the Cathars. Not much is known about them because the Inquisition burned all of their literature, and perhaps we will never know if that included other manuscripts encoded like the Voynich. (Or, perhaps, such information can be found in a secret archive to which scholars have yet to gain entry. The Voynich itself was concealed in these archives but, fortunately, corrupt (or financially needy) Jesuits got possession of the manuscript in 1912 and sold it to the book dealer Wilfrid M. Voynich.)

Voynich Manuscript drawing of herbal medicine

This is one of many Voynich pages on herbal medicine. The Cathars made vials for crushing and mixing selected herbs of the rainforest (or their parts, the roots of one, the leaves of another) into compounds with the apparent objective of treating or curing one disease or another, or simply to prolong life. Cathari research in this field should not be taken lightly. They may well have made discoveries that could improve health in our contemporary world. And even if we find it impossible to identify some of these plants (plant species in the rainforest tend to come and go), the Cathari drawings make it abundantly clear that the Amazonian herbs work best in combination, so our researchers would be well-advised to combine two or three of them when testing them for potential medicinal benefits.

The extensive coverage of tropical plants as seen in the Voynich cannot be considered surprising. Medieval Europeans would likely have been fascinated by the exotic plant life of the rainforest, something that they could never imagine existed, a type of Garden of Eden, and, really, in the rainforest, there was little to do but explore and catalog the plants.

It must have taken a lot of time and effort to encrypt the manuscript, and the encryption must have slowed down the reading of it. I find it hard to believe that the Inquisition would have persecuted them for writing about plants, so why did they encrypt it?

Your thinking is logical, and it also makes no sense that they would want to keep their herbal remedies a secret. It had to be the text section of the Voynich, the sacred text of Catharism, that they wanted to protect, so they decided to encrypt the entire manuscript to not draw attention to any particular section. This strategy was successful because the Inquisition had effective possession of the Voynich for more than two hundred years and the manuscript survived intact. Though no plant drawings of any type are accompanying the sacred text, scholars (with no more intelligence than the Inquisition) have asserted with confidence that these pages are "recipes" for the plants. Result: we witness the long-term survival of the sacred text.

Why did the Cathars decide to inhabit the rainforest rather than the coastal areas of South America where survival would have been easier?

In the first place, it is somewhat doubtful that survival would have been easier near the coast because the rainforest provided an abundance of river fish, fruit, and nuts to eat. Note that the Cathars were vegetarians (though they likely ate fish) and they may not have had seed to sow. Voynich drawings depict fruits, berries, and nuts.

However, it is also highly plausible that the Cathars believed that the Crusaders would come after them, literally chase them across the Atlantic, to hunt them down and exterminate them. Hence, they fled to the interior of the continent, into the depths of the rainforest, to hide, to make it harder for the Crusaders to find them.

As it turns out, the Inquisition may not have learned about the Cathari escape across the Atlantic until some two hundred and forty-eight years later, speculatively, through the torture of Cabalists in Girona. (The timing of the expulsion of the Cabalists from Spain coincides with a sudden and sharp reversal of an earlier decision not to finance a transatlantic crossing.) Since it was always known that the Orient was extremely far away, the logical course would be to continually sail toward the sunsets around the globe.

Drawing of the transatlanic crossings of Christopher Columbus

Widely divergent routes close to Spain (which you see in this drawing of the Columbus crossings) make no sense for the alleged objective of evading the Muslim world to establish direct trade with the Far East, but make a lot of sense if the real objective was to find the Cathars.

Are you insinuating that hundreds of years later, the Inquisition still wanted to hunt down and kill the Cathars?

Yes. Nothing changed, even worse as this was the heyday of the infamous Spanish Inquisition. Local and papal Inquisitions were originally created in the 12th and 13th centuries for the specific purpose of doing away with Catharism because of its heretical beliefs. Specifically, the Cathars believed that there were two Gods, a good God and a bad God. The bad God governed the Church of Satan (terminology of the Cathars), inspiring its members to commit acts of genocide and every other type of imaginable evil; the good God was the God that the Cathars adored, inspiring them to live a life of love and kindness. The "treasure" that the Cathars had in their possession, and apparently what the Church of Satan so desperately wanted to find and destroy, could be the aforementioned esoteric text presumably written by the good God in His own hand.

In such circumstances, the Church of Satan would continue to hunt down the Cathars until the end of time.

Could that be the plot of a film about the end of times?

The Rosicrucians claim to have destroyed the divine book of the Cathari. They had their reasons. At best, the text section of the Voynich is only a transcription of His words in the original Latin.

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