The story of how two remaining copies of the Book of Soyga (one owned by John Dee) were uncovered in 1994 by Deborah Harkness has become fairly well known – I covered it here back in 2008. Dee had pondered greatly over the book’s mysterious tables (though apparently without success, if we take his diaries at face value), and had even copied eight of them into his own books.

Yet it was historical cryptologer Jim Reeds who finally intuited the formulae and algorithm by which the tables were numerically generated from a keyword. Here’s a nice recent picture of him from Klaus Schmeh and


Reeds’ paper John Dee and the Magic Tables in the Book of Soyga revealed the (actually quite straightforward) secrets of these tables, and tried to put them into context of the Christian Cabalistic tradition that was evolving around that time, as evidenced by the broadly similar tables in the books by Trithemius and Agrippa (and later by Thomas Harriot, though to a much lesser degree).

Nowadays, though, you can even go to a webpage that will happily generate a Soyga-style table from your own keyword, with the algorithm worked out by Reeds implemented by a tiny bit of nondescript-looking JavaScript magic.

Yet: “since there is as yet no edition or translation of either of the two manuscripts for [Reeds] to refer to, nor even a synopsis of their contents…” [p.3], he was forced to briefly describe the broader contents of the Book of Soyga in his paper: that it was “concerned with astrology and demonology, with long lists of conjunctions, lunar mansions, names and genealogies of angels, and invocations, not much different from those found, say, in pseudo-Agrippa“, and that it “makes numerous references to what are presumably mediaeval magical treatises, works such as liber E, liber Os, liber dignus, liber Sipal [i.e. ‘Liber Lapis’], liber Munob [i.e. ‘Liber Bonum’], and the like.” [p.4]

However, that has now changed. The Aldaraia sive Soyga vocor (edited and Translated by Jane Kupin) has now appeared on the web: and a good little transcription and translation it is too.

There are indeed mentions of a Book B, Book E, Book F, two Books called G [Geber and Genitor], Book H, Book L (Liber Lapis), Book Os [Bone Book], Book P, Book Q, Book X, and even (Rosicrucians look away now) a Book M. For those interested in sequences which may or may not be cryptographic, there are a number of curious unexplained sequences, such as this one in Section 8:

Anat, cethaz, cora, simam, nertac, lenas, pertac, Thenas, acu, vuspoc, sco ceth, barcam, haran, telib, Machim, miraf, suef, mumchae, mobaaa, darum, Navano, damarcus, fortunatus, curiatus, malfatus, Adraanus, azalicus, nisram, minran, nabur, amarfari, Iafac

Or this, from Section 15:

Adar, Tanar Narchi, Tottoz, Zolc,
Iage, Batgne, Teren, Tolia, Iatti,
Mibrar, Zethde, Oyue, Soctero, Chin,
Tero, Thele, Elet, Bertaltalgyalge, Genorc[?],
Torre, Oirdea, Vinda, Tonocge, Spari,
Taxe, Taxde, Teneraz, Danze, Iore,
Nubriato, Totzepe, Papaper, Pranaria, Dacterrolian,
Aceczezolizoa […]

And from Section 16:

Iiz, fee, yaa, axa, vut, voo, soi, iee, eeq, eaa, pau, unn, oom, on, lic, eke, aah, auu, guo. ofo, iid, iee, cea, aba

And from Section 17:

Zazelz, Ellaicgalpe, Gumge, Aic, Suce, Scende […]

Section 18 has a long section linking astrological planets and their positions with obscure-looking syllables, in something approaching a weird name-generative way. (Don’t ask me to summarize further, it’s a bit of a mess).

Oddly, Section 19 for a brief while seems to be describing Homer Simpson: “And baldness will afflict the upper part of his head. He will be affected by yellow bile and easily distracted by love.” And so forth. 🙂

There are a whole load of odd names in section 26.6, too many to list here: there is also a list – “Icz, iee, Yoa, Axa, Urit, Noo, Soi, Eeg, Eaa, Pau, Una, On, Lie, Elie, Aah, Aroi, Guo, Rid, Ree, Eea, Alba” – which seems to have been mutually miscopied from the same list in Section 16.

Finally, the Liber Radiorum (Book of Rays) section of the Book of Soyga finishes with a description of the various 36×36 tables, which only (as far as I can see) serves to make them more obscure. In the Bodley manuscript, it then finishes: “Here ends the Book of Rays taken from the first Venetian example by Venetiis according to Parisiis“, which is just about as close to citing its sources as it ever gets.

Might there be more cryptography hidden in the Book of Soyga’s odd sequences? It’s possible, but I have to say many of the sequences look exactly to me like the kind of copied demonological lists that were utterly commonplace at the time. (If you think the Internet is bad for lists, that’s got nothing on medieval grimoires).

If there’s any cryptographic meat yet to be picked off the bones here, I’d guess it’s just making sense of the descriptions of the tables at the end of the Liber Radiorum section. But at least, unlike Jim Reeds, you now have an excellent source to be working from. 🙂

4 thoughts on “The Book of Soyga, now translated and online…

  1. D.N. O'Donovan on December 26, 2015 at 12:13 am said:

    “Here ends the Book of Rays taken from the first Venetian example by Venetiis according to Parisiis“..

    I wonder if he might be referring to the classic work : I mean
    Al Kindi’s De radiis stellarum? I’ve never seen an early manuscript copy in the flesh but there appears to be a good one in the Bodleian.

  2. bdid1dr on December 26, 2015 at 9:21 pm said:

    Venitius and Paracelsus (by any chance)? And then there is written history, here and there, that John Dee and Roger Bacon collaborated to ‘con’ Queen Elizabeth I .
    I still 1dr if this, Dee/Bacon rumor, is valid. So, I wonder what the content was that Dee and Bacon attempted to present to the Queen.

  3. Maxwell on August 11, 2016 at 6:04 pm said:

    Are the words in the sections in order (as listed in the actual book)? Also, is there a way I can read (or look at) this book for myself?

  4. It will do you no good the Book is required in order to use what is within the Book.

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