Earlier this year, I was contacted by a 58-year-old US Army / Navy computer programmer from North Carolina: he claimed to have solved the mystery of the Voynich Manuscript, and wanted me to post details on my Cipher Mysteries blog, but without revealing his identity.

Yesterday, however, Richard Rogers went public with his claims (which is why I can now say his name): here’s a picture of him (from the same Havelock News article):-


With degrees (it says here) in “ancient history, languages and computer science”, he originally used Voynichese to benchmark some anti-fraud pattern recognition software he had been developing, believing (courtesy of Gordon Rugg’s various publications, I’d guess) that it was what he calls “manufactured” (i.e. hoaxed) text. As an aside, his software was built around Benford’s Law (specifically, Hal Varian’s 1972 take on it), a logarithmic distribution law which has similarities with (the rather more familiar) Zipf’s Law.

However, when (to his great surprise) the software reported back that the Voynich Manuscript did actually seem to contain meaningful information, he found himself being rapidly drawn into the VMs’ tangled research web.

So far, this is all a straightforward techy “call to adventure” narrative: but where it goes from here is a bit odd. It took me ages to even begin to understand what he thinks he can see in the VMs – and I’m still miles off understanding why it might be so, as well as how he made the leap from (a) grasping that there is meaningful content, to (b) seeing how that meaningful content actually works. Which is why every time I tried to post about this, I’ve ended up giving up halfway through: but now he’s gone public, I guess I’ll have to complete the job as best I can…

Here’s how it all starts.

Rogers believes that Voynichese letters express a kind of symbolic language (which he calls “proto-sentential logic” or “sententional propositional calculus”) for encoding secret shapes (which he calls “runes” or “runic glyphs”), a bit like an encrypted Renaissance Logo driving a turtle trapped inside a 5×5 grid. He calls this system “Runus”.


He calls double-leg gallows “staves” (red text in the diagram) and single-leg gallows “stakes” (blue background in the diagram): these are “key to navigating the manuscript”, insofar as (if I’ve understood it properly) Runus expressions always contain these staves/stakes (or sometimes [EVA d]) in the middle.

Finally, here are the seven specific Runus rules Rogers believes Voynichese expresses (his descriptions not mine):-

  • “RULE 1: Each line is an independent, stand-alone action. There is no punctuation because none is needed.
  • RULE 2: All Rule-Oriented Expressions (ROE) are non-mathematical algebraic ‘draw & copy’ operations based on a 5X5 numbered solution grid.
  • RULE 3: Draw operations always assume a horizontal top to bottom, left to right sequence unless modified by a functional character (i.e. a shape flag, left, right, top, bottom, etc.
  • RULE 4: ALL ROA encapsulate one of eight turnstiles (sometimes 8 is applied as a turnstile)
  • RULE 5: The eight turnstile shapes are broken into positional sets of functions. These are:
    1. Two stave turnstiles and two stake turnstiles in the left set.
    2. Four stave turnstiles and two stake turnstiles in the right set.
  • RULE 6: Runus is a Rule-Oriented Expression (denoted by a the Greek rho, below). It is a coordinate system used to build a Rune character.
  • RULE 7: The meaning, interpretation, and function of Runa – and the shapes they describe(RO), are very dependent.”

Here’s another of Rogers’ diagrams that might possibly help explain this:-


Just in case you glazed over halfway through the above (I’m not saying you actually did, but you certainly might have done), we should perhaps move swiftly on to look at a specific example of how Rogers thinks Voynichese works:-

[EVA odaiin] is translated as “Focus on the 3X3 square immediately adjacent to the left of the center position”.

From his Runus diagrams…

  • [EVA o] = “left side”
  • [EVA d] = “centre position”
  • [EVA a] = “right side”
  • [EVA ii] = “a count of 2”
  • [EVA n] =”horizontal grid line counter”

According to his Runus rules, this appears to denotes a horizontal line drawn from the left side of the centre position across to the right side with a horizontal grid line count of two. But that’s about as far as I can usefully take this.

Here’s how Rogers annotates the first line of f1r into five individual Runus expressions. The “turnstiles” are red, “directional modifiers” are blue, while numbers (“grid coordinates”) are in pink:-


Here, ROE 1 says “Starting in Quadrant 1, in the DIRECTION Of the Right Half, DRAW a DEEP CURVED LINE from top to bottom“, while ROE 2 says “DRAW a SHALLOW CURVE from BOTTOM TO TOP, facing the RIGHT“. Put these two together and you get a “moon”. Rogers believes that the mysterious shape at the top right of f1r is the image described by the the first few Voynichese lines of f1r – and hence this acts as a kind of enciphering test.

Just as with the biliteral cipher I discussed yesterday, there’s certainly elements of steganography and verbose cipher at play here, lending an air of cryptographic plausibility. However, “Runus” does seem an enormously complicated piece of symbolic machinery to encrypt what are ultimately just shapes – a bit like using a Difference Engine as a shop till. And given that I personally don’t buy into the notion (however breathlessly expressed by conspiratorial iconologists) that any shapes are intrinsically heretical, or even that any particular shapes were intrinsically believed to be heretical, the whole proposed exercise of encrypting heretical shapes would seem to me to be both futile and improbable. Sorry, but that’s how it looks from here.

Also: I simply can’t see how Rogers got from pattern matching software to Runus – to my mind, there’s an inherent “chalk and cheese”-style gulf between the two. Though I can see the start-point and the end-point, I can’t see any logical reasoning that might step between the two. Yes, I can see that the “i” / “ii” / “iii” characters might in fact be Roman numbers (though even that I somewhat doubt, given that they resemble medieval page numbers so closely): but that’s about as close as I can get.

Rogers has tried to back up his “Runus” research with more conventional historical research, and “speculates that the manuscript was written by three generations of the Longhi Family in Italy, Martino Longhi the Elder (1534-1591), Onorio Longhi (1569-1619) and Martino Longhi the Younger (1602-1660).” However, I’m also somewhat skeptical of this, given that (a) the VMs appears to have 15th century marginalia, (b) the VMs appears to have had an Occitan owner in South-West France circa 1500, and (c) if the VMs was indeed bought by Rudolf II, that would have been prior to 1612, at which point Martino Longhi the Younger was 10 years old.

Of course, in the absence of any widely agreed decryption of even a single word, it’s almost impossible to disprove any assertion anyone makes about the Voynich Manuscript: and naturally, it is this rich loam of uncertainty that helps Voynich Theories to flourish so much. But now I have to go and lie down – my head’s hurting from all that proto-sentential calculus, just like it did every other time I tried to write it up. 🙁

19 thoughts on “Richard Rogers’ Voynich theory…

  1. Rene Zandbergen on November 13, 2009 at 7:40 am said:

    Is it just me, or does this have some similarity with Steve Ekwall’s approach….


  2. Well… the 5×5 grid is vaguely reminiscent of Steve’s 3×3 tic-tac-toe revelation, particularly the 3×3-where-every-square-is-itself-a-3×3-grid: but I always got the impression that this latter bit was a kind of after-the-event rationalization, an unnecessarily extended fugue on the idea of the 3×3 grid.

    Having said that, I don’t think the two have much other overlap: Steve remains adamant it’s heavily encrypted, whereas Richard Rogers is convinced it’s just a tersely expressed Renaissance symbolic drawing language. Chalk and cheese, really.

  3. Vytautas on November 13, 2009 at 1:00 pm said:

    What concerns 5×5 and 3×3 grid I believe in 3×3 version, because I saw manuscript’s drawing with something like circle divider into 8 pieces ( and as Stewe said “center is yours” ). But now I try to write simple English topic about Steve’s sentence “read them from left to right, then mirror”. It seems to me I found (in the dream 🙂 ) where this mirroring was made…

  4. Flyingwyou on November 13, 2009 at 2:27 pm said:

    Juasss… Not to talk about Ursula’s Papke chakras theory. Ja Ja Ja. She deleted her page…, and now sh’s in facebook. Wonder Why..?
    Of course, every book is a “interpretations engine”, but it seems that not every brain is duly fixed to do such a work.

    Curiosity killed the cat.

  5. Marke Fincher on November 13, 2009 at 7:57 pm said:

    I feel like I must have stepped through the looking glass without realizing it. Must have been something in that last chocolate muffin. 🙂

    The question now is: does the VMs just attract people with unhinged minds or is it responsible for creating a few?

    However, he is perilessly close to the truth in one important respect which he has just misinterpretted. But I cant publish details of that yet of course. Mwaaaa ha ha ha [noise of mental hinges]


  6. NOw for the acid test – until we see some decoded test,
    there is no point to follow such ather compicated procedure.

  7. Erich Mestriner on January 20, 2010 at 4:19 am said:

    When i watch the symbols in the above diagram they remind me at The symbols used in “The chinese wall game”

    Also known as “MahJongg”

  8. Mark Fincher stated, “… does the VMs just attract people with unhinged minds or is it responsible for creating a few?” And he is here because of what again? Geez.

    Stay tuned; the fun stuff starts shortly. For those that are headache prone, I have made significant progress since my initial press release. In brief, I can teach anyone to read this manuscript in English (albeit old and middle-english) using just one sentence! By the way, it seems nobody, anywhere, has picked up on the fact that all — all — the Voynich Manuscript images hosted off of Yale’s website are bogus: doctored, digitally modified, no good, etc. The manuscript is real — the images with the additions are useless. Down the .SID version and get the plug-in for internet explorer from Lizard Tech; Go to maximum zoom to where the pores of the vellum are showing and look around. For example, look at the brown “lines” used to border plant images. Also, on the last page, where there appears to be a tear in the page — zoom into the middle of that “tear” — now I may be mistaken, but unless our 12th Century authors had access to ultra-high fidelty watermarking and extreme microprinting techniques, the digitals are useless. The dating is also off; the materials may date to 15th~16th century but the context solidly dates the work to early 12th century.

    Finally, from the dark recesses of my unhinged mind, you might want to note the reason that no one could break the encryption all these centuries is simple: its not encrypted; its not even a script — but it’s written in english!

    I’m halfway through the text and the maps and should complete the remainder within a year. Stay tuned.

  9. Follow-up comment:

    I forgot to mention the hieroglyphs — as Egyptian-styled script but not the glyphs – like little pictures — really easy for the lucky hinged folks among us.

    I’ll even go as far as mentioning that the VMS is an early 12th Century Knights Templar Journal, Grimoire and Map Book written in Jerusalem at a place called Jacob’s Ford — the site of a crusader castle.

    Further, if you can manage the Voynich Manuscript, you may want to take a look at the various Templar Graffitti left behind in caves and prisons. And also look at the Devil’s Bible (Codex Gigas), the Shroud of Turin, and many other period documents.

    Finally, once you have master VMS you may want to take a crack at the Dorabella Cipher; Edward Elgar uses a method very close to the Templar method – close enough that you would immediately recognize it as such. I’m forwarding the solution to his museum next week.

  10. I almost forgot:

    Mwaaaa ha ha ha [noise of bank hinges]

  11. intech on August 11, 2011 at 3:02 pm said:

    The texts look like a mix of 15th century Russian and 15th century Lithuania. On this strength I researched the Baltic languages and saw the figure 8 in various 15th century Russian texts and what looks like the 4 in 15th century Lithuanian texts. I think the 4 is a + but laziness shows a link, same for the two TT ignore the loops. This could be the works of Polish man Witelo even though he lived pre 15th century he worked at the Padua University the moved to Italy. he was an expert in Optics and believed that there are intellectual and corporeal bodies, connected by causality. A lot of the works by Witelo was never recovered and I think that a student of Witelo re-wrote in a mixed and broken language and re-illustrated his works .. hence no author name. its just a theory but please check out Witelo on the web very interesting and the book ties in with his theories.

  12. intech: having also worked and published on the history of optics, I have to say that Witelo (1230 to before 1318) is an intriguing suspect, if somewhat early. However, I’d also add that, contrary to Voynich researcher Rich SantaColoma’s claims of apparent telescopes or microscopes in the Voynich’s ‘pharma’ section, I personally don’t see any diagrams or drawings that even remotely relate to a 13th century reinterpretation of Alhazen’s optics anywhere there – glassware, yes but optics, no.

  13. Intech on August 12, 2011 at 12:48 pm said:

    Ah my reference to Witelo was to using the optics to study plants and the stars, because the illustrations appear to show dissection of plants and stars within their constellations. And to have the use and knowledge of these instruments, this person must have been wealthy and/or intellectual.
    According to various web sites, a lot of books by Witelo were lost and only a few were found. I have not been able to establish viewing of these on any web sites, but may be worth trying at some point to see if there are any similarities.
    My thought was that the VM is a copy of one of Witelo notes/manuscripts, made by a student or of someone who thought that the information was worth preserving (a lot of wars going on at that time ) which is why the VM appears to be in note form and no authors name on the book. I also think that the person who copied this, may not have understood the language and trying to copy from rough notes in someone elses handwriting from a different country would be extremely difficult. I looked at the 15th century Russian text from this web site Preteristarchive.com/books/1500_Slavonic.html
    when I magnified the text, I discovered a large number of letters that appear in the VM such as the figure 8. I still think that the VM was written with care and flamboyance and that the letters have been decorated with loops such as the T’s.
    But I will leave it to the experts as these are just my ideas.

  14. Ah – I see the link does not work – please try this one


    The text on the right needs to be magnified and you will see a lot of words from the Voynich texts.

  15. giorgetto on February 14, 2012 at 6:11 pm said:

    Voynich,volevo informare gli interessati che oh trovato la chiave di lettura del suddetto testo,e compreso il contenuto,Quanto alla lingua Russa sappiate che san Cirillo
    insegnò loro la scrittura,detta scrittura Cirillica.Essendo un testo ritrovato in Italia penso sia Italiano,scritto in bella scrittura,e con grande maestria,il suo contenuto è
    strabigliante per l’epoca,non misteri arcani ma genialità
    di uno studioso,che seppe celare il contenuto fino ai giorni nostri.griglie e compiuter non servono per la lettura,serviranno in seguito per altre decodifiche contenute.cordiali saluti giorgetto.

  16. Giorgetto: there are plenty of people who suspect that the Voynich is written in Italian in some way… the big question is how. Please let us know when you are ready to disclose your decryption, after all 2012 is the Voynich Manuscript’s Centenary year so everyone would like to be able to read it! 😉

  17. James Warren on April 2, 2013 at 10:37 pm said:

    What happened to this? Richard Roger’s website has disappeared and no better explanation can be found on google.

    Could anyone be kind enough to post the best description available to them?

  18. I just wish he hadn’t said 12thC.

    And I’ve now scrapped a post talk about a couple of grids, one being 9×9.

    It is a relevant, historically attested, real grid, and my now-scrapped post came with footnotes and all – but who needs to hear more about grids when we have these?

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