Yes, a positively huge thank you to the London Fortean Society for having me along for one of their evenings. I had a lot of fun covering the Voynich Manuscript and I hope the 100-strong audience managed to walk away with a reasonable feel for what I find entertaining, intriguing and frustrating about it.

What I particularly appreciated was that when (during the Q-and-A section) anyone right at the back asked a question, the entire room went pin-drop quiet so that everyone could hear what was being said. That’s exactly the kind of audience every speaker would like to have. And the questions were really good too!

Oddly enough, I’d never given a talk on the Voynich Manuscript to non-specialists before, so the evening also offered me a nice opportunity to cover a lot of material that I’d thought about over the years but hadn’t really found a way of presenting in Cipher Mysteries.

At the same time, I did deliberately steer well away from Voynich theories (and indeed from almost all Voynich theorists): and noted that as time has gone by, my interest in (and desire to try to answer) any historical question that involves the word “why” has ended up so close to zero that you’d need Roger Bacon’s non-existent microscope to tell the two apart. (Frankly, I find trying to work out what genuinely happened more than difficult enough for me.)

As a salutory tale of what happens when Voynich theories go really bad, all I can really do is point to Dan Burisch and his wonderfully recursive timelines, catastrophes, J-Rods, DNA inventions, etc – here, here, here, and finally here.

Back in the present, the big problem I’m facing is that history tells us that a typical Voynich researcher will study the manuscript for twenty years before being stopped, either by choice (has this ever happened?) or by being forcibly raised to that nymphily balneological structure in the sky. No wonder I’m feeling an increasing sense of urgency, given that it would seem I now only have about four years left to crack it. (And as for Rene Zandbergen, he must be made of awesomely stern stuff, methinks.)

Oh well, all I can do is hope that I’ll be able to come back to the LFS for an update lecture in less than four years with some good news. Fingers crossed! 🙂

54 thoughts on “A big thank you to the London Fortean Society…

  1. D.O'Donovan on February 29, 2016 at 12:35 am said:

    Nick, I am genuinely sorry to read that, as time has gone by, your interest in (and desire to try to answer) any historical question that involves the word “why” has ended up .. close to zero”.

  2. Diane: in my opinion, “why” is a luxury that only historians with readable texts can sensibly indulge themselves in. If you deal with unreadable texts, “why” questions provide delusion and misdirection in almost every case.

    Personally, I feel genuinely sorry for anyone who tries to use “why” as their primary tool for dealing with cipher mysteries.

  3. D.O'Donovan on February 29, 2016 at 12:45 pm said:

    I don’t quite see how compiling data about a written text, but not asking why it produces the patterns it does would actually work. But that’s your field, not mine. \For now, I’ve decided that the best qualified opinions I’ve read are those of William Friedman and John Tiltman so I’m inclined towards the “its not in cipher” group.

  4. Diane: comments like this make me cringe with embarrassment for you. Please don’t leave comments about cryptology here, you know nothing about it whatsoever and so the only thing they achieve is to make you look foolish.

  5. bdid1dr on February 29, 2016 at 4:12 pm said:

    Who, What, When, Where, Why, and How? What is so off-base, Nick, about this method of gathering information, as well as validating or proving provenance?

    I was so pleased to read that ThomS is ‘back in town’ so to speak. I hope he will hang around for a while.

    A note for y’all. I , too, have been wondering why there is so much focus on the material’s manufacture, and provenance, and ‘who dunnit’. Yes, I understand the need to have a ‘timeline/dating for any particular handwritten document. Why does all the argumentation focus on everything except what has been written (with or without illustrations) ?

    So, I am now revisiting Frascati and the Lakes Alban and Nemi. Fray Kircher’s part of the world. Because he discussed those features and had a map made. One item was a reference to a hole, near the road, which supposedly the Romans used to drain floodwater and overflow of the lakes,
    Well, several decades ago, some tourists found a cave entrance. When they passed through the brush, they found themselves in a huge cave — which opened out into a huge Roman-built bath house. So, the story says that the bath-cave was devoted to the Goddess Diana.
    So, whether Fr. Kircher was aware of that feature, probably can only be verified through Papal archives.
    Yes, I know that there were centuries between Kircher’s archive and Fray Sahagun’s works.
    One other interesting thing: We have Alban Lake & Nemi (Diana Nemorensis) Lake near Frascati/Rome.
    On the ‘other side’ of the world (New Spain) we have Monte Alban and the lake near Tla tl oco.

  6. bdid1dr on February 29, 2016 at 9:13 pm said:

    PS: In recent years, there has been a tremendous amount of archaeological activity ongoing at Lake Nemi (because of the huge Roman-invasion- era barge) which is being photo-documented for a new ‘historical ship’s museum. I can’t remember how long ago I visited the site. I do remember it was after the WW II bomber airplanes pretty much flattened ‘everything’ near Rome/Frascati/Alban Hills & Lakes.

    Nick, the more you sneer at the several women (not just Diane) who have, in good faith, donated items which may have been quite relevant to whatever you may have been discussing, the less respect will be shown to you — and not just the women’s disrespect. None of us, as far as I can understand have ever hacked/attacked your website & discussions.
    So, since I seem to be more and more of a bore — I shall restrain from commenting on your blogs. I’ll be laughing all the way, while watching you go farther astray from ever solving the so-called Voynich manuscript.

  7. bdid1dr: in my opinion, making baseless accusations of sexism is a shabby thing to do. Good luck with finding more respect elsewhere.

  8. D.O'Donovan on March 1, 2016 at 9:26 am said:

    .. which implies that another of your most loyal readers and contributors is unworthy of respect.

    You will remember, perhaps that Oscar Wilde was an Irishman?

  9. Diane: I have honestly no idea what inference you have constructed in your mind. The only person I have ever barred from Cipher Mysteries was a man (Stephen Bax, who may be a nice person in real life but whose comments here I didn’t like even slightly).

  10. …which makes me Baxist but not sexist.

  11. D.O'Donovan on March 1, 2016 at 3:02 pm said:

    Nick, the inference I took to your wishing Bdid1dr “luck in finding more respect elsewhere” is pretty much the same that anyone – including she – is likely to infer “in their head” from those words – namely, that she can expect to receive none here.
    People were very kind when you published your book; I wonder if you would be so kind if the book had been by someone else, and you the critic.

    I’m sorry to be personal, but you seem to be forgetting yourself. Perhaps you should re-visit your older posts, and remember your earlier readers.

  12. bdid1dr on March 1, 2016 at 4:10 pm said:

    So, Nick, who made reference to Diane, specifically, in re ducking issues — act like a duck — quack quack quack — ?

    Thank goodness Thomas Spande has re-appeared. I’ve been missing his kind dialogues, and very courteous corrections of other persons posts.
    Thomas, could you check the history of Salem’s preferred grain crop? Many years ago, I read ‘somewhere’ that their preferred grain crop was rye — and that the season’s prelude to the witches’ appearances was very cold and rainy, and that they had to harvest the grain much earlier than usual.

  13. bdid1dr on March 1, 2016 at 4:16 pm said:

    ps: Supposedly the preferred methods of obtaining confessions in Salem were dunking and drowning women. Pressing a heavy board across the chest of a male ‘witch’ until he no longer had the breath to ‘confess’, still resulted in the man’s death by suffocation.

  14. Diane: I have behaved extremely respectfully towards bdid1dr, allowing her to post up nearly two and a half thousand comments here: and yet in her recent comment she repaid that by swinging an accusatory sexist axe in my direction for no obvious reason that I can discern, online behaviour which I call “shabby”.

    Hence my implication – rather than your rather snarky inference – was actually that if bdid1dr now goes elsewhere expecting other bloggers to be as polite and accommodating as I have been towards her over a long period of time, she may quickly have something of an unpleasant surprise. That is why she will need “luck”.

    Some people were kind when I published “Curse” a decade ago: but others were vitriolic, dismissive and antagonistic, again for no obvious reason that I could discern, then or now. I have written plenty of book reviews, some of them positive and some of them negative, but all of them fair-minded.

    I revisit my old posts quite a lot: there’s a great deal of good, meaty stuff there (you cite plenty of them on your website), which is a trick that few websites seem to manage.

  15. bdid1dr: it was Diane who commented

    About the “aiir/aiiv” group, I think the arguments tend to run “if it looks like a duck, quacks like a duck” etc. But then I always wonder if the person’s ever heard of the lyre bird.

    But Diane wasn’t replying to my previous comment so much as avoiding the question I had posed. As a result I then immediately replied:

    if you’re going to duck every issue… quack quack quack

    Taking comments out of context and then reading some kind of non-existent sexist agenda into them makes you look shabby and foolish. Please don’t do it.

  16. Goldman on March 1, 2016 at 8:58 pm said:

    Comrades. I know what it writes Diane. And of course, I know what you are writing Blue eye. A very reluctantly I write. That’s still not good and proper. I’m very sorry, but you’re writing delusions. Try to start again from the beginning. A more try. It takes more too long. Then maybe you catch. So far, it’s a great misery.

    Sincerely Goldman.

  17. bdid1dr on March 1, 2016 at 11:25 pm said:

    Well, Nick, I see/read that you are still stuck with your own EVA (or am I mistaking the identification of the person who developed the EVA ?) which doesn’t seem to support the efforts of decoding a manuscript’s straightforward handwritten phraseology in two languages?

    Thank you, ProfZ, for your gentle reminder that I may be verging on the edge of contempt. It is my reaction to what I thought was a very disrespectful comment made by our host, Nick Pelling, I shall go back to my dictionaries (six of them) and see if I can find the different explanations of the word ‘host’.
    beady-eyed wonder-er

  18. bdid1dr on March 2, 2016 at 2:02 am said:

    I’ll look up the word ‘quack’, while I’m at it.

  19. bdid1dr: waddle you do then?

  20. Goldman on March 2, 2016 at 2:21 pm said:

    Comrades. Blue Eye. And others.
    Very important is the leter which is at Yale !! In addition to envelopes, it is also important what is written in the letter.
    If you can not translate the letter. So you have no chance to succed in deciphering handwriting.
    Michael and Ethel was good. Both know the handwriting coding. It is written in the letter. Also there is written, according to them, who the author of the manuscript.
    Very interesting reading.
    That shouk be your primary task. 🙂

  21. bdid1dr on March 2, 2016 at 3:49 pm said:

    “Waddle I do then? Fill a kettle full of tears. Heat the tears and tea leaves — and have a cuppa. I will then apologize (add some sugar to the salty tea) for perhaps creating a ‘tempest in a teapot”.

  22. Goldman on March 2, 2016 at 4:14 pm said:

    repair :
    That should be your primary task. 🙂

  23. bdid1dr: if a full kettle holds roughly a litre of water, and (if the wisdom of the web is to be believed) a 5 minute cry would yield about 2ml of tears, you’d need to cry continuously for 5 x (1000 / 2) = 2500 minutes = 41 hours 40 minutes.

    Not that I’m suggesting that you try this, I’m just pointing out the numbers. 🙂

  24. bdid1dr on March 3, 2016 at 1:47 am said:

    Not that it is relevant to our recent discussion, but: Recently Humboldt University (California) donated to the Boenicke Library/Yale several thousand glass-plate negatives of photographs taken by Peter Palmquist. One photograph, in particular, I’m hoping will soon be catalogued by Boenicke/Benicke : The print appears on the cover of a special-edition book produced by Brian Bibby, curator of the Marin Museum of the Native American – with an essay by Craig D. Bates : publisher : Heyday Books, Berkeley, California.
    Why I am so interested, is because our local archaeologist, Professor John Parker, has created a huge wall-mounted historical timeline of the prehistoric migrations from South America and from Canada.

  25. bdid1dr on March 3, 2016 at 3:31 pm said:

    ps: That was a cup measure of tears — even though the tempest was in a teapot.

  26. bdid1dr: you’ll still need to cry for more than eight hours to fill your teacup with tears, though if you drink very milky tea you might be able to get away with just a little over seven hours. 🙂

  27. bdid1dr on March 3, 2016 at 6:53 pm said:

    Oh boy! Wait until you see the upgrading/remodeling of the Beinecke Library ! They estimate August of this year for reopening the Reading areas. In the meantime, I was able to view one of Palmquist’s photographs: Downtown Scotia, with lumber mill operations on the mountains in the distance.
    Meanwhile, I shall try my best to be patient — Yay Beinicke !
    Note my hopeful correction of my mis-pelling of the Library’s name.

  28. bdid1dr on March 3, 2016 at 7:10 pm said:

    Milky tea? Bleah! Can I substitute ‘no-sugar’ — until the end of this month?
    I’ll try to cut back the number of posts. I just could not resist in referring to the remodeling of their library. (I’m talking about glass walls, apparently three or four floors above the reading room….. It took my breath away — fair warning and reference to you likening your efforts to climbing Mt. Everest (?) without oxygen…….

  29. bdid1dr: of course, if you’d rather spend an extra hour crying over spilt milk, that’s your choice entirely. 😉

  30. bdid1dr on March 3, 2016 at 11:58 pm said:

    Cheese! Ooooops! Cheers!

  31. bdid1dr on March 6, 2016 at 10:11 pm said:

    I hope ThomS is still nearby: Several years ago, I was researching for what could have caused such a calamity at Salem. I had already researched for discussions of paranoia and witchcraft (some forty years ago). Ergot / ergotamine. A mold which most often appears on dampened rye grain.
    In more current years, believe it or not, some of our youngest generations of folks like to experiment with just about anything which will put them into a semi-comatose/visionary state. Usually, they had already experimented with LSD.
    Many of our soldiers/sailors who served in Vietnam came home with Vietnamese wives. Along with the wives, would be a huge ‘stash’ of opium-laced (tar) papers used for making home-made cigarettes.

  32. bdid1dr on March 7, 2016 at 11:07 pm said:

    Some other time, I’d like to discuss the ‘silkworm/sericinae’ illustration and identifying discussion which is written both in Spanish/Latin and Na-hu-a-tl — and refers to butterflies and moths which appear in Fray Sahagun’s ‘Florentine Codex” Book 11 – Earthly Things (as well as his diary : the so-called Voynich manuscript).

    One can then read the context of the contents of Boenicke 408 (aka: the Voynich Manuscript). Many pages of discussion between you and ‘Out of the Blue’/ Ootb”; in re papillony — ended up in circular arguments in re heraldry.

  33. bdid1dr on March 8, 2016 at 5:48 pm said:

    @ProfZ / Goldman : What is the letter to which you refer, at the beginning of this discussion?

  34. Goldman on March 8, 2016 at 11:04 pm said:

    Blue eye. That’s letter. Which is at Yale. The letter is written guidance on the translation of the manuscript. It’s the same as on page 116 of the manuscript. ( key).
    Habdank Michal Voynich ( Vojnič ) knew the instruction ( key ). Under English language is written instruction , key, in the Czech language. To all of you I write for several years. English characters certainly know well. Use substitution. Czech language. And you know the instruction – key-.
    What is used in substitution I’ve already shown several times. The letter is also written. Who Habdank Voynich and Ethel, discovered as an author manuscript.

    I have a letter on his blog. Or at Yale, Beinecke Library. 🙂

    Letter = key.

  35. bdid1dr on March 9, 2016 at 4:11 pm said:

    @ Goldman/ProfZ:

    The writing which appears on 116v is Ambassador Busbecq’s note to the Austrian Court. Busbecq was describing Monumentum Ancyranus (Turkey) as his point of departure and return to the Austrian Court. Busbecq also was accompanying a menagerie (lion, giraffe, and Arabian horses) — and some 200 manuscripts (of which one manuscript is currently being called the “Voynich” — and which is identified by the Boenicke Library as manuscript 408. The menagerie — and, maybe B-408 — was sent by the Austrian Emperor to Rudolph’s court.

  36. Goldman on March 9, 2016 at 4:43 pm said:

    Manuscript Vojnič ( Acta ) page 116 = key. 🙂 🙂

  37. bdid1dr on March 10, 2016 at 3:43 pm said:

    ps People: There is a fascinating book titled Busbecq’s Letters. Another fascinating book, is Caroline Finkel’s “Osman’s Dream”. One more book, by Charles Mann, is
    “1493 – Uncovering the New World Columbus Created”.

    In the past year or so I referred Nick to a couple of Pirate books: Glyn Williams –
    ‘The Prize of All the Oceans’ : Commodore Anson’s Daring Vouage and Triumphant Capture of the Spanish Treasure Galleon …..

    Next book: ‘Empire of Blue Water — Captain Morgan’s Great Pirate Army, the Epic Battle for the Americas, and the Catastrophe That Ended the Outlaws’ Bloody Reign’
    author: Stephan Talty

    @ Nick — I will gladly send these two books (Pirates) to you if you have parcel drop box,

    Another thank you to Misca for his recent discovery of Normaleen (Park) Shackelford’s first husband’s grave site. So, we now know that he was NOT Somerton Man.


  38. bdid1dr on March 10, 2016 at 8:38 pm said:

    Correction: to sentence five: — daring voYage

  39. bdid1dr: thanks for offering to send these two books, but I have already read more pirate-related history books than anyone without a peg leg and an eyepatch reasonably should (and besides, turnin’ the pages with an ‘ook is dashed arrrrrkward). 🙂

  40. bdid1dr on March 12, 2016 at 12:59 am said:

    a-a-a-rrrr–right—already ….. heh!

  41. bdid1dr on March 14, 2016 at 3:06 pm said:

    ps: On one of your other latest posts, you mention not being able to get a book (Divine Fire). Yep, it appears to be out of print. Howsomever, you may be able to find some discussion and excerpts of her book (including photographs from her book) on a link I posted to your “London Fortean Society Voynich talk (25th Feb) yesterday.
    I’m going to see if the Library of Congress may have a copy (and an ISBN number).
    You may also be able to find related discussions in re Tiltman’s and the Friedman’s combined efforts.
    I sincerely hope so!

  42. bdid1dr on March 16, 2016 at 3:26 pm said:

    Apparently my post in re Elisebeth Friedman’s “Divine Fire” didn’t register. So, I’ll attempt to give you a source who obviously has a copy of “Divine Fire’ :
    W. D. Joyner
    Mrs. Friedman wrote her birth name as I’ve spelled it herein. Good luck!

  43. SirHubert on March 16, 2016 at 6:05 pm said:


    Mrs Friedman’s mother named her Elizebeth, with a Z, not Elisebeth as you have it.

    I’ve seen various explanations given for this, including that she wanted her daughter’s name to be distinctive (Elizabeth then being a common name), and also that she didn’t want it to be abbreviated to Eliza. I’ve no idea whether either of these explanations has any truth to it.

  44. bdid1dr on March 16, 2016 at 11:40 pm said:

    Nick, Sir Hubert: Yes, I later looked up the spelling of Mrs. Friedman’s name. Most important (to me, anyway ) is what may very well be her documentary and memoirs
    (including “Divine Fire” – ? ) which can be found online in the library at the George W. Marshall Foundation (Washington DC ? ).

    I’ve been in town most of this day. So, it was only about a half-hour ago that I was able to return to my WWW research for a possible source of Mrs. Friedman’s “Divine Fire”. One photo of an unknown woman sitting at the poolside of (Riverbank?).

  45. bdid1dr on March 17, 2016 at 3:09 pm said:

    @ Sir Hubert: Earlier, I just added to the confusion of how Mrs ElizEbeth (Smith) Friedman spelled her name. Partly because I was wondering about how MR Friedman spelled his name. In some parts of the world the name is spelled Freidman. Probably because the name has post WW II concentration camp connotations: fried – man.

    My mother’s best frieNd was (by marriage) a FrEidman.

  46. bdid1dr on March 17, 2016 at 5:00 pm said:

    Nick and Sir Hubert: There never was published a BOOK called Divine Fire.

    Page 6 of their published autobiograhy : chapter 4 -Marriage : an excerpt of their marriage and her diary: “To Him always I have been ‘Divine Fire’ — may it always be so.”

    Page 7 – first paragraph:
    This was the private nickname William Friedman often used for Elizebeth: his “divine fire.”

    Further reading of chapter 4 discusses Fabyan’s trashing the letters to the Friedmans which were not in his best interest. There is some discussion of the Friedman’s wanting to go to France — and Fabyan intercepting the contents of Mauborgne’s responses.

    There is no further mention of any book being published.


  47. bdid1dr: a book called “Divine Fire” was published by a small publishing house last year (2015) covering the first few decades of Elizebeth Friedman’s life, and that is what would like to get hold of. The rest I know about.

  48. bdid1dr on March 17, 2016 at 8:20 pm said:

    Would that small publishing house be, by any chance, Mr. Joyner’s on-line book? Can you give me the name of the publisher of the latest (2015?) version of “Divine Fire”? The reason I am so interested is that when I was working/indexing/the files of both the City Clerk and the City Attorney (San Jose California)- I was also tracking down the location of the city’s 15th-16th-century documents and correspondence with Spain (written in an ‘obsolete’ language). I was able to find where the documents were stored after reels of microfilm had been dealt out to several of the city’s agencies. The documents are now in the custody of the Historical Museum.

    So, if you can give me the name of the small publishing house, and the name of the distributor / salesmen / ISBN # ——- I may, once again, be able to sign off from your discussion pages: “curiosity killed the cat — satisfaction brought it back……”

  49. bdid1dr on March 18, 2016 at 12:25 am said:

    Nick & friends:

    A ‘heads-up’ on what might be a misleading reference to another book which title IS ALSO “Divine Fire”. This paperback book’s author is “Melanie Jackson”. The content of Ms Jackson’s book is just another “bust-ripper” paperback romance novel.
    About the only thing which might indicate that the ‘bust-ripper” IS NOT the Friedman’s Diary is to read current-day reviews/blurbs & author’s names.

  50. bdid1dr on March 18, 2016 at 12:35 am said:

    I reiterate that Mr. Joyner’s online discussion of the Friedman’s code-breaking efforts and excerpted photographs of the Friedmans and their family, is the BEST biography. Please let us know if you are able to find Mr. Joyner’s excellent posts.

  51. bdid1dr on March 22, 2016 at 4:03 pm said:

    Come to think of it, M.D. Joyner may be a man. Still, the discussion IS about Elizebeth Friedman’s diary/photo album, Also, there is mention of Riverbank, and Fabyan’s intercepting the Friedman’s correspondence with the French government’s codiology team. (Montagne?)

  52. SirHubert on March 22, 2016 at 4:35 pm said:

    “Come to think of it, M.D. Joyner may be a man.” He is – he’s called David.

  53. bdid1dr on March 23, 2016 at 3:49 pm said:

    Elizebeth and Mr. Friedman were married by a (un-named) Rabbi. I don’t think you are going to find a hardbound book about the Riverbank activities — and especially nothing about Fabyan’s malfeasance of duty (in re destroying the correspondence between Riverbank codiologists and the French codiologists.
    N E U A there are several photos of the Riverbank facility (and swimming pool).

  54. bdid1dr on March 23, 2016 at 10:44 pm said:

    So, Sir Hubert; are you ready to take on the challenge of translating B-408? I’ve already posted, here on Nick’s blog, several folios which I have translated the Nahuatl phrases into Spanish, and then into English. Perhaps you may be fluent in translating the Nahuatl/Spanish into English? Maybe Dutch? Maybe German? Maybe French?
    En e ua /ennyway/anyway which suits you?
    Jest teasing!
    beady-eyed-wonder / bdid1dr — er beady-eyed wonder-er

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