About two years ago, we published an article on the marvelous Voynich Manuscript, which Dr. Boli has always regarded as one of the great works of imaginative art from the Renaissance. Yesterday a kind commenter named “Diane” took issue with some of Dr. Boli’s interpretation in that article.

Dear Editor,

You say, “… imaginative botanical treatise whose author, not content with drawing imaginary plants, used imaginary language to describe them”.

First, the idea of the content as created by a single author is the result of Wilfrid Voynich’s imagination and the internal evidence strongly suggests that his imagination erred. Secondly, that it is a ‘treatise’ of any sort is another bit of kite-flying, and the fact that the plant-pictures aren’t amenable to presuming their origin European doesn’t prove they are products of anyone’ invention, only that the drawings are not like European ‘specimen’drawings in the Dioscoridan tradition. Nor is is true to say that the language is ‘imaginary’ although it is possible that the script – like all scripts – is the result of human ingenuity. The old ideas you repeat mostly stem from deeply conservative people maintaining guesswork presented without a shred of evidence in 1921.

Pity you cut off the previous comment, I should like to have read it, and seen the commentator’s name.

The previous comment to which our current writer refers is this one:

“completely readable. If one backs up from trying to crack its language you can see that its in three different languages.. one is picture language, 2nd is plant language and third is most important, it is star constellations language.. Its actually telling you a story you are not ready to here..its repeating the same message on every page too..”

It makes Dr. Boli happy when people take the trouble to write a substantial reply to an article they have just discovered among the back numbers of the Magazine, and he believes their effort should be rewarded with a considered reply to the reply. Here is what Dr. Boli wrote in reply to Diane, which is published here to bring her comment before the current readership, and to offer other readers the chance to join in the discussion.

Thank you for the comment, which seems to show that you have studied the manuscript in some detail. Dr. Boli hopes you will forgive him for asking you to share some of the results of your study, since this strangely beautiful work has fascinated him for many years. Note, by the way, that all the comments quoted above can be read in full at the page linked in the article, so if you want to read all of that last comment, it’s waiting for you.

Now, you seem to believe that Dr. Boli was mistaken in some assumptions about the Voynich Manuscript. Here is what would convince him that you are correct—and the same conditions apply to anyone with a theory about the wonderful manuscript:

First, you must make clear assertions of what you believe to be the truth.

a. Do you believe that the writing in the manuscript is a decipherable script? The Wikipedia article on the Voynich Manuscript mentions several good statistical reasons for believing that it is, but when it comes to what might be encoded in that script, the theories multiply; furthermore, many of the theories contradict the supposed statistical evidence. If you believe there is real information encoded here, what is your reason for believing it?

b. Do you believe that the plants represented come from other continents than Europe? You must produce at least some evidence that there is a pattern here—not just a few isolated and dubious resemblances—of recognizable plants from other continents appearing in the pages of the manuscript. Now, it happens that botany is a bit of a hobby with Dr. Boli; and many of the illustrations show plants that are botanically impossible, at least in earth botany. They could, however, have been drawn from much-diluted rumors of plants on other continents, the way European illustrators drew the cotton plant as a tree bearing lambs at the ends of its branches. In that case, of course, it is easy to see how the illustrations represent the rumors that had reached Europe, and if the same could be said for plants in the Voynich Manuscript, that would be a good explanation of the drawings.

Second, you must identify “the old ideas you repeat” specifically so that we can have a discussion about them. Merely being old does not invalidate an idea. “While the earth remaineth, seed-time and harvest, and cold, and heat, and summer, and winter, and day and night, shall not cease” is in a very old book (Genesis 8:22), but it’s still a pretty safe bet.

Third, whenever you accuse “deeply conservative people” of making statements since 1921 “without a shred of evidence,” you should (a) identify those statements (so that we can see whether you are right), (b) provide the evidence that your opponents have not provided evidence, and (c) provide your evidence for belief in contrary statements. Dr. Boli himself has made statements without a shred of evidence, but that was before anyone had bothered to argue with him; if you wish to refute him you can demand to see his evidence (he will either produce it or confess that he has none, in which case you win) and show him yours. But the argument cannot continue at all unless we know which statements you are refuting.

Fourth, when you do refute specific statements, it is not enough simply to say that they are wrong. For example, Dr. Boli said that the language was imaginary; you say that it is not. Why not? How do we know that it is not imaginary? It seems to Dr. Boli that the only decisive proof that the language was not imaginary would be a complete decipherment, one where the method was repeatable and reliable.

Finally, if you do have a theory that explains what the Voynich Manuscript really is, you will need to show with evidence why yours is more likely to be true than any of the others. Otherwise your theory becomes just another almost inaudible note in the cacophony of theories that explain it as an astrological treatise, a list of Finno-Uralic names, the first five books of the Old Testament in the King James version, a writing in obscure languages of rural Pakistan, or a description of transspecies migration.

Since Dr. Boli insisted on clarity, he will be clear about his own beliefs. To him the most plausible explanation of the manuscript is that it is a deliberately concocted mystery. At a time when noblemen were paying large sums of money for esoteric manuscripts that promised the secrets of magic and alchemy as revealed to the great occult masters of the past, it could easily occur to a clever scribe that an undecipherable manuscript might fetch a price equivalent to a lifetime of honest work if it were promoted as holding the secrets of Hermes Trismegistus or Roger Bacon in coded form. Nor was the noble dupe badly victimized here, since he received a priceless work of imaginative art—and, as a bonus, a hobby for life in attempting to decipher the script.

The only evidence for this hypothesis, which Dr. Boli will not dignify with the name of “theory,” is the known fascination with alchemy among nobles of the Renaissance, and their equally known fascination with occult books, and the fact that in materials alone this was a very expensive manuscript—it consumed quite a lot of parchment, aside from the expense of the scribe and artist.

The rest of the evidence is negative. The fact that decades of scientific and statistical study have only multiplied theories about the manuscript’s meaning rather than narrowing the possibilities suggests that there is no meaning to be extracted. The script is absolutely unique—it is not known from a single other example—which seems odd for an expensive production, but would be explained if it were part of a con job, so to speak, in which the expense of the production persuaded the mark that the information concealed in the supposed cipher was remarkably valuable.

This is all speculation, and Dr. Boli freely admits it. He is interested, therefore, in hearing contradictions and alternatives, and would be delighted to hear his readers’ own speculations.


  1. Big Brother says:

    Personally I like the explanation Randall Munroe came up with in his wonderful XKCD webcomic.

  2. Fred says:

    I don’t know if the manuscript means anything or not but I’m sure having a book like that on your workbench in your alchemical laboratory really impresses the clients.

  3. Nikolai says:

    I am deciphering the Voynich manuscript and received a positive result.
    There is a key to cipher the Voynich manuscript.
    The key to the cipher manuscript placed in the manuscript. It is placed throughout the text. Part of the key hints is placed on the sheet 14. With her help was able to translate a few dozen words that are completely relevant to the theme sections.
    The Voynich manuscript is not written with letters. It is written in signs. Characters replace the letters of the alphabet one of the ancient language. Moreover, in the text there are 2 levels of encryption. I figured out the key by which the first section could read the following words: hemp, wearing hemp; food, food (sheet 20 at the numbering on the Internet); to clean (gut), knowledge, perhaps the desire, to drink, sweet beverage (nectar), maturation (maturity), to consider, to believe (sheet 107); to drink; six; flourishing; increasing; intense; peas; sweet drink, nectar, etc. Is just the short words, 2-3 sign. To translate words with more than 2-3 characters requires knowledge of this ancient language. The fact that some symbols represent two letters. In the end, the word consisting of three characters can fit up to six letters. Three letters are superfluous. In the end, you need six characters to define the semantic word of three letters. Of course, without knowledge of this language make it very difficult even with a We can say that the Voynich manuscript is an encyclopedia of knowledge that humanity needs today. I managed to partially solve the mystery of mount Kailas ( for example, its height is 6825 meters). The manuscript indicates the place where the Grail Is hidden, as well as the Font and Cradle of Jesus.
    For more information, see my article
    I am ready to share information.
    With respect, Nikolai.
    I am looking for a person, or even an organization, who will decide to responsibly continue to decipher the Voynich manuscript. I would be grateful if you would let me know.

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