I am sitting at my desk transported by the digital images of the Voynich Manuscript, created sometime between the late 15th century and early 16th century. It is a most magical text, written in an unknown language or perhaps a cipher. It is illustrated with botanical drawings of unknown plants, strange designs and patterns that suggest spiral and circular gardens. And most wonderfully it is filled with the alchemical activities of women who seem to be the life force of this strange and fecund world. The women often appear nude with rounded bellies, sometimes in bathtubs, other times connecting roots, seeds, and pods through tubes and rivers.
Not much is known about its origin and what is known is as mysterious as the manuscript itself. It has been carbon tested and found to have been produced in late 1400's; it gets it's name from the Polish-American antiquarian bookseller, Wilfrid M. Voynich who purchased it in the 1920s; it was owned by the Emperor Rudolph II of Germany (1576-1612) who believed it to be the work of Roger Bacon (it wasn't --he's 13th century). There is Jesuit involvement -- the correspondence of 17th c. Jesuit scholar Athanasius Kircher who wrote references to it after receiving it from a Prague physician Johannes Marcus Marci. And much later in 1912, Voynich purchased the manuscript from Joseph Strickland S. J. at the Jesuit College at Frascati, near Rome. (Why does this all remind me of Umberto Eco's Name of the Rose?). And then there are about 150 years where no one knows who had it or where it was hiding.
And as far as the language goes -- no one has been able to translate it into any language. Some scholars thought it might be the work of an insane author -- but other linguists suggest there are two authors and the language appears too "organized" to be the work of a crazy person. Potential authors range from Leonardo da Vinci, Antonio Averlino, a 15th century Italian architect, English occultist John Dee, and an underground sect of Cathar heretics. Strangely, at least to me-- no one has suggested it might have been written and created by women.
Enjoy these few pages I pulled from the online collection -- and then go and browse through all that beautiful, mysterious work and give thanks to the internet (and the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Yale University) for making it available. You can also read more about the Voynich manuscript here.
I want these to be plans for a garden -- circular, spiral, filled with female fertility connected to the moon, the stars, and the zodiac calendar.