Please note that since I lately changed my mind, this list doesn’t reflect my current ideas anymore. But I want to leave the list in its original state, so you could see what my mindset is and where I’m coming from.
There is no shortage of proposed solutions and theories regarding the Voynich manuscript out there, and they range from the reasonable to the outrageous.
Here you will find my absolutely subjective, biased and unevenhanded (Nick begged for it!) Top Ten of proposed solutions for the VM, subject to change with new developments, or according to my whim. From the fact that even the top entry doesn’t exactly get an enthusiastic rating, you’ll find that there’s still room at the top.
Please don’t feel slighted if you’re included in this list, nor if you aren’t.
This page is still under construction.
- Champion: Me — Proposed author: unknown — Germany, Netherlands, or France, mid-15th century (based on gut feeling)
Personal rating: There is a chance. Somewhat. Somehow.
- Champion: Glen Claston — Proposed author: Anthony Ascham — England, mid-16th century
At the core, this theory, which has originally been hatched by Leonell C. Strong, isn’t too spectacular: It says that the VM is primarily a medical book with undertones of a theory of everything written by the Howard Hughes of his time. Strong’s “translation”, though, reminds one of the rantings of the French in Monty Python’s Holy Grail, played backwards, but “GC” might have improved on the original scheme.
Personal rating: Moderately plausible. The jury’s still out until a final decipherment is achieved, but that should be the case any time, we were told. Since 1949.
- Champion: H.R. Santa Coloma — Proposed author: Cornelius Drebbel (microscopist and submariner) — England, early 17th century.
Rich has found some interesting resemblances between “tubes” or “jars” depicted in the VM, and early microscopes. There are also matches between VM illustrations and various microscopic images, but it’s difficult to assess how much of this is coincidence. Setting out from his finds, Santa-Coloma has proposed the VM might be a prop made in connection with the New Atlantis movement, much in the manner people will write the Necronomicon to fill Lovecraft’s ideas with life. Rich doesn’t claim a decipherment for the VM.
Personal rating: Possible, but not compelling. Suffers somewhat from the fact that the Rich’s theory is in constant flux, and his website can’t always keep up with the latest developments.
- Champion: Nick Pelling — Proposed Author: Antonio Averlino (Italian renaissance architect) — Italy, mid-15th century
Nick Pelling has written a book, The Curse of the Voynich, in which he develops the theory that the VM was written by Antonio Averlino aka “Filarete”. According to Pelling’s theory, Averlino tried to reach Istanbul around 1465, and enciphered in the VM some of his own works about various engineering topics to be able to export his knowledge to the Ottoman Turks past Venetian border guards. Pelling doesn’t claim a decipherment either.
Personal rating: Plausible, if one is willing to explain away everything which doesn’t fit in with the theory as intentional deception on the part of the author. Compelling only if one thinks the best idea to smuggle secret papers is to wave a very obviously enciphered book right in the face of the border guards.
- Champions: Claude Martin, Gordon Rugg, Andreas Schinner et al. — Hoax
There is a bunch of people out there who presume the VM is a hoax, which no actual content, but a text made up by some more or less clever automatism. Martin suggests a fairly complex system of anagramming numbers which help him to reproduce something which vaguely looks like VM text, but doesn’t explain how he arrived at his conclusions, nor why he is convinced that he is right. Rugg created a stir with his theory that the VM was created by means of a kind of set of Cardan grille which were supposedly overlaid over tables of nonsense doodles, and the words visible through the holes were copied into the VM. Andreas Schinner showed that some statistical properties of the VM are similar to gibberish. Which also holds for some theories about the VM.
Personal rating: As much as I’d hate it, but there is a good chance that the VM is a hoax or a case of glossolalia. What saves our hopes that there is some meaningful content is the careful overall design of the VM, and the subtle rules which govern the text composition and are more complex than a hoax would require, but also show more exception than an automatism would suggest.
- Champion: John Stojko — Proposed author: Unknown potentate — Black Sea area, before the birth of Christ
Problems with time and place aside, which are two millenia and several thousand kilometers away from the usually accepted origin of the VM, Stojko also translates it into “vowelless Ukrainian”, whatever that is supposed to be. The result is difficult to understand (to avoid the word “gibberish”), and is interpreted by Stojko as correspondence notes between diplomats of the era. Even Stojko has to admit that the copious images in the VM not even remotely fit with the contents — generally a Bad Sign(TM) for any translation attempt.
Personal rating: Not likely.
- Champion: Leo Levitov — Proposed author: Cathar priests — Flanders (?), 14th century
Levitov linked the VM to an obscure cult of Isis, apparently followed by the Cathar heretics, called “Endura”, which is supposed to be something like ritual suicide. Dennis Stallings has written a scathing review of Levitov’s work, pointing out that neither had the Cathars anything to do with Isis, nor was the Endura a mode of suicide, not to mention the fact that Levitov’s proposed “translation” doesn’t parse into anything recognisable. (He himself called it a “polyglot oral tongue”, for what it’s worth.)
Personal rating: The proverbial Napalm-coated snowball in hell.
- Champion: Steve Ekwall — Proposed author: “It” — “It’s older than you think.”
Steve Ekwall is a haunted soul. Several years ago, he experienced what is, depending on your point of view, either a psychotic episode or a supernatural revelation. Steve, who hitherto hadn’t had to do anything with the VM, was summoned by “It”, and given some information crucial to deciphering the VM, though not the key itself.
Since then Steve (who personally hasn’t much interest in the VM) has persistently tried to communicate his experience to the VM community in the hopes that someone might pick up his clues and come to a solution for them VM. He is hampered by the slightly esoteric background story of his and the fact that he tends to write in a stream of consciousness style with plenty of interjections, asides, and copious quantities of cAmElCASe oRTHogRaphY, which makes those parts of his postings which aren’t already difficult to understand at least more difficult to read.
While I’m too catholic to believe in “It” or in God’s meddling with funky pieces of parchment, I’d be hesitant to declare Steve a nut. I’m not sure, but perhaps he is onto something — a kernel of truth, a shortcut to a solution, a glimpse of the light, caused by a short circuit of neurons during a fit of epilepsy? I don’t know. Beside more vague statements like “The VM is good for man and woman” or “It’s older than you think”, Steve has also put forward an enciphering concept for the VM which is based on a “Tic-Tac-Toe” shaped piece of paper where the cells of the “Tic-Tac-Toe” are filled with latin letters. The paper is supposed to be folded in various manners — the VM letters giving instructions on the exact folding process, and the letter lying on top at the end of the folding is the plaintext letter enciphered by a VM word. Unfortunately, Steve has never communicated enough detail for an exact reproduction of this method, but I think this approach has some merit. Each VM letter being an instruction for a direction in which one is to take a “step” on a table of plaintext letters? Hm…
Personal rating: Not sure if Steve is in the same league as the rest of us or even playing the same game, but for some reason I can’t bring myself to ridicule him.
- Champion: David Suter — Proposed author: n.a. — The VM is a work of cartography, not literacy.
David Suter, first of all, keeps confusing me because his mail address is “MONET”, which keeps reminding me of the painter of the same name. Anyway, David hasn’t committed himself to precisely one scheme yet (at least not in public), but in general he assumes that the VM is not about text, but about maps which have been “enciphered” into the manuscript in some manner. It might be that the VM words are actually coordinates in a certain code (giving — what? A list of 20,000 places?), or that the shapes of illuminations and text paragraphs are supposed to represent the outline of islands or regions. It might go even so far, if I understand David correctly, that more subtle feature equivalents could be employed: A long sentence represents a long river, a short sentence represents a short one. (Of course, the leads to immediate problems. Suppose you wanted to write “The Pissa river near Kaliningrad is notable for the funky fish in it”, but if the Pissa is actually quite short, all the space you can allot will only render “The Piss.”)
Personal rating: Too vague for a final verdict, but not on the top of my list.