The Voynich Manuscript’s zodiac roundel section has long frustrated researchers’ efforts to make sense of it at a high level, never mind determining what any specific zodiac nymph’s label means.

However, I can now see the outline of a new hypothesis that might explain what we’re seeing here…

A Stylistic Impasse?

The fact that each zodiac sign has thirty nymphs, thirty stars and thirty labels (all bar one?) would seem to be a good indication that some kind of per-degree astrology is going on here: and this is a lead I have pursued for many years.

The literature on this, from Pietro d’Abano to Andalo di Negro to (the as yet unseen) Volasfera, is uniformly Italian: so it would seem a relatively safe bet that the source of this section is also from that same Italian document tree.

At the same time, the observation that the drawings in the zodiac roundels are stylistically quite distinct from the rest of the Voynich Manuscript’s drawings has been made many times.

Combine this with the fourteenth century technological dating for the (unusual) Sagittarius crossbow, and you get loosely driven towards a working hypothesis that at least the central figures were copied from a (still unknown) late 14th century or early 15th century woodcut almanach, of the type that was most commonly found in Germany and Switzerland.

However, this leads to an awkward stylistic impasse: how can this zodiac section be both Italian and German at the same time?

Klebs and Martin

Back in 2009, I mentioned Arnold Klebs’ very interesting 1916 article on the history of balneology in the context of discussing Quire 13. However, there was another intriguing quote there that I only got round to chasing up a few days ago:

The yearly pilgrimages to the healing springs in the month of May, the baths of the women on St. John’s Day, which Petrarca describes so picturesquely in one of his letters from Cologne, were ancient survivals, indications of a deeply rooted love for and belief in the purifying powers of the liquid element. These seasonal wanderings to the healing springs were naturally brought into relation with astral conjunctions, a tendency soon exploited by the calendar makers and astrological physicians. Days and hours were set for bathing, blood-letting, cupping, and purging, carefully ascertained by the position of the stars. Martin in his book gives a great variety of such instances which offer interest from many points of view.

The author and book to whom Klebs is referring here is Alfred Martin and his immense (1906) “Deutsches Badewesen in vergangenen Tagen“, Jena : Diederichs. (The link is to archive.org .)

It turns out that Klebs sourced a great deal of his article from Martin’s labour of love (with its 159 illustrations and its 700-entry bibliography), which covers public baths, private baths, Jewish baths, bath-related legislation, mineral baths, bath architecture, bath technology, spas, saunas, and so forth, ranging from Roman times all the way up to 1900, and with a dominant focus on German and Swiss archival sources.

The Zodiac Bath Hypothesis

You can by now surely see where I’m heading with this: a zodiac bath hypothesis, where the Voynich’s zodiac section was in some way a copy of a German/Swiss original, which itself brought together the two traditions of per-degree astrology and good/bad times for “bathing, blood-letting, cupping, and purging” (as described by Klebs).

In some ways, this should be no surprise to anyone, given that the first few nymphs are all sitting in barrels, which were essentially what medieval private baths were (well, half-barrels, anyway).

And perhaps, in the context of clysters (enemas), it’s not inviting too much trouble to speculate what legs drawn apart / together might be representing. 🙂

The problem is that – probably because of my only fragmentary German – I can’t find any mention of “Days and hours were set for bathing, blood-letting, cupping, and purging, carefully ascertained by the position of the stars” in Martin’s German text.

I can see plenty of references to blood-letting (“aderlass”) etc, but pinning down the exact part that Klebs robbed out has proved to be beyond me.

Can I therefore please ask a favour of (one or more of) my German readers; which is simply to find the section in Alfred Martin’s book to which Krebs was referring? Thanks! 🙂

It would seem likely that this will then refer to a book in Martin’s capacious bibliography, at which point the game is (hopefully) afoot!

15 thoughts on “The Zodiac Bath Hypothesis…

  1. The date at which that type of crossbow was first made is not known; the archaeological evidence is late, and the earlier manuscript evidence is yet to be confirmed. The extant bows are Spanish, not German, but may well have been used by Genoese.

    The style in which the nymphs are drawn in the outer roundels is not that in which the later-style centres are drawn. I’d date the ‘archer’ to about the thirteenth or fourteenth century by his dress though the question-mark over when such bows were first made remains. The nymphs ‘speak Greek’ as I pointed out some good while ago, and the un-bowderlised nymphs are drawn in quite compatible style to all the others.

    There being no necessary correlation between representation of the constellations as month-signs and their being used in astrological calculations, I find no coherent argument for the constantly-asserted idea that the month-series was intended by the makers to serve astrology. It is named with months – so time-keeping of some sort is as far as the evidence allows one to go, although there are a good many other possibilities here, especially given the fact that the nymphs may number 30 per … but they appear in tiers. Why?
    One possibility is that they mark divisions according to different bands (heights) above the horizon – and though that’s just one possibility, it is one with practical applications which do not require reference to the planets.
    What you call ‘per degree’ astrology was a system gained from India (I referred readers to the Brht Samhita on this point), but the descriptions for each degree have no more reflection in the Voynich images than the nymphs find counterparts in classical Indian art.

    I agree that the nymphs represent ‘asteriskos’, and days as ‘hours’ but until I see a coherent argument… not one of the RHETORICAL “What else could it be?” sort, I remain unconvinced by the constant assumption/assertion that the calendar is astrological. As always, I investigated the possibility in some depth, and came back to the solid fact that there is nothing in the imagery which suggests any connection to any form of astrology known to early fifteenth-century Latin Europeans.. so far as we know. You surely may reject the comment as unhelpful, but I assure you it is not uninformed.

    All the best.

  2. Diane: I would agree that your comment is not uninformed, but I’d find it hard to agree with just about any step of its reasoning, conclusions, and judgments. Still, your path is your own, whatever I may think.

  3. Dear Nick,

    Being Swiss and from Zurich, I feel competent to answer your request. I was skimming the book looking for proximate mentions of the terms lunar (“Mond”) and calendrical (“Kalender”). I could basically only find the following 2 pages (174-175) which should be of interest. Page 174 refers to recommendations given in old Swiss German as to what kind of baths is in order in which month, whereas page 175 explains the lunar connection w.r.t. the zodiac signs. Below I copied the 2 pages as original text from Martin.
    I don’t have the time right now but will translate the old German passages of pages 174-175 and post it here in the next days.

    I hope this will be of help.

    Best regards
    Stefan

    ============
    174
    Baden in den Volkskalendern

    \

    „Vnd päd niht vilvndvast niht lang”, für Juli: „vnd päd kül”, für Oktober: „Vnd päd niht
    hais noch ze vil”, für November: „Vnd päd niht hais” und für Dezember: „Vnd paden
    ist gut”. Er faßt zusammen : „In dem Merczen päd, in dem Awgst (August) ge niht zu
    haissem päd” 43. im Pergamentkalender der Züricher Stadtbibliothek von 1467 heißt es:
    „Im Hornung: offt sol man baden in schwaiß bad. ImMertzen: vnd in schwaiß baden sol
    man offtbaden. Im Abrelien: offt sol man baden. Im Meyen: bad ist gut vnd besunder
    wurtz beder. Im brächet: och in kaltem wasser dick (oft) baden. Im Höwet: darumb sol
    man nit tranck nemen noch nit lassen (aderlassen), wann in dem bad mit fintusen dem es
    not ist. In senfften bedern mag man \sfo\ nüchter baden. Im Ögsten (August): offt sol
    man in kaltem v^^asser baden, von der grossen hitz wegen, wann hütet man sich nit vor der
    hitz. so erwellet sich das hirn das der mensch villicht houbt siech werden möcht. Der
    erst winttermanott (November): wenig vnd selten ist ze baden, myd ouch nämlich sweiß
    bad. es ist ouch in keinem manot (Monat) bad als vngesund als in dem manot” 308. Aus
    dem 16. Jahrhundert sei der Kalender des Frankfurter Stadtarztes Eucharius Rösslin

    von 1533 angeführt. Im Januar
    soll man nach dem „Regiment
    Ipocratis der 12 Monat” selten
    baden, im Februar, März oft
    schweißbaden und im April oft
    baden. Im Mai sind alle, be-
    sonders Kräuterbäder gut. Im
    Juni soll man kurze Bäder
    haben, im Juli allein im Bad
    schröpfen, wenn es vonnöten
    ist. „In senfften baden mag
    man wol nüchtern baden . . .
    Man soll auch wenig badenn”, im August oft in kaltem Wasser baden für die Hitze,
    im November wenig und selten baden und gar nicht schweißbaden sos. Auffallend ist
    es, daß eine Münchener Handschrift des 15. Jahrhunderts beim Januar hat: „Kühl er-
    laub ich dir zu paden” 42, wobei „in der Badestube” zu ergänzen ist.

    Allmählich schrumpfen im 16. Jahrhundert die in den Kalendern gegebenen Bade-
    regeln immer mehr zusammen, die alten Badebilder, die sich fast durchgehends nur
    beim Mai finden (Abb. 58) — Virgil Solis (1514—1562) bildet aber das Bad beim
    August ab (Abb. 85) 594 — fallen schließlich ganz weg. Im Badener Kalender treten
    173Q zum ersten Male beim Juni die im Flusse badenden Kinder auf 506. Die zum Baden
    günstigen Himmelszeichen sind im Züricher Kalender bis 1826 samt dem Aderlaßmänn-
    chen angegeben. 1827 findet sich eine moderne Anweisung zum Gebrauch der Bäder
    mit dem Zusätze, daß die Alten einigen Wert auf den Einfluß, den der Mond auf unseren
    Körper habe, legten und deswegen der Kalender die Himmelszeichen noch bringe, damit
    niemand nichts vermisse. Von 1833 an wird das Baden nicht mehr erwähnt.

    Abb. 85. Badeszene. Darstellung des Monats August. Hand-
    zeichnung von Virgil Solis. (1514 — 1562.)

    175

    Beachtung des Mondstandes / Badebedürfnis

    Die alten Kalender berücksichtigten den Stand des Mondes sehr genau. In der Regel,
    z. B. im St. Galler Kodex 7öO, ist angegeben, im abnehmenden Mond zu baden und wenn
    der Mond im Widder, Skorpion, Krebs oder den Fischen ist. Zugefügt ist noch, daß
    Meister Halevy spricht, in keinem heißen Zeichen als im Löwen, Jungfrau, Zwillingen
    und Steinbock in das Bad zu gehen. In einer Ordnung der fünf Meister Bader zu Zürich
    von 1604 wird auf die Himmelszeichen Bezug genommen: „Demnach söllent die fünff
    Meister ein täfeli haben. Darjnnen sy mit jren nammen geschriben sind. Da sol nun je
    der eltist Meister zum vorderisten. vnnd dann also ein anderen nach, vom kräps. biß jnn
    Z wiling. diß täfeli by synen hannden haben. Derselbig Meister sol alßdann die anfrag thun.
    wann vnnd wie mann jm schützen vnnd jm waßerman heitzen welle, vnnd waß sich
    dann dryg (3). vnnder jnnen mit einanderen verglichen thetind. sol alßdann der meisten
    der die Vmfrag vnnd diß täfeli hat. sölliches den vberigen beiden Meisteren verkünden.
    Damit man also einheilig heitzen khönne, vßgenommen alle Sambstag. doran ein jeder
    sonst ze heitzen befügt jst” 240.

  4. Stefan: thanks very much for that – no wonder I struggled to find anything. Looking forward to seeing your translation when convenient. 🙂

  5. Nick,
    Thank you for the civil tone of your reply. I value reasoning and argument too, but only if I’m sure the argument is based on an initial, critical examination of earlier propositions and the evidence for them. After all, research isn’t about getting the gold medal for the most easily believed argument; it’s about the object of study – isn’t it? If our aim is to correctly interpret the makers’ intentions, then surely attention to the primary evidence comes first. And in both cases, the imagery itself fails to provide support for the theory of German origin for the bow, and fails to support the idea of astrological purpose for the calendar.

    But as you said – you must to your own way, and you are at least fortunate that it is has been so heavily travelled and is so broad.

  6. Michael Grace on July 23, 2017 at 6:03 am said:

    Surely any 30 day cycle can only be lunar? All these females must be concerned with essential personal cyclical matters such as conception, contraception and even abortion. Such thinking was already heresy.

  7. Diane: good luck with your solo path.

  8. Michael Grace on July 23, 2017 at 6:31 am said:

    Hildegard of Bingen, somewhat earlier than the Voynich, was a herbalist as well as having many other interests.None of her plant illustrations have survived but she also developed the Lingua Ignota- her own German/ Latin language of 23 letters….I’m not this directly associated with the MS but may illustrate the historical velocity.

  9. Dear Nick – very perspicacious of you. I am rather looking forward to going ‘solo’ as you call it. At last count, for example, the ‘Voynich archer’ page had been downloaded entire by 122 people, the ‘Alchemy’s Sweet Scent’ post read by almost 3,000 visitors, and the number of persons searching key words such as ‘thesaurus+ aegyptiacos’ would surely surprise you. Most are returning visitors and believe it or not my blog has been most often and most consistently visited by persons in Germany – some via a linked station in America.

    Perhaps I beat the pathway solo, but it has become a very busy road… albeit one whose name no-one seems able to pronounce.

    As so many other former contributors will surely understand – it was a pleasure for a while.

  10. Diane: there’s a world of difference between sharing search keywords and sharing opinions, and also between reading a webpage and accepting what it says.

    As a genuine window on the world, Google Webmaster Tools can often be about as much use as a medieval child’s highly polished fingernail.

  11. I agree. But when I added items from my bibliography to the posts – as I did routinely in the early stages, as you might recall – it met with such vehement protest and so many snide remarks that I began linking (as you do) to sources available online.

    It seems to me that while those working on the written text are happy to consult academic works, reading in depth appeals less to others.
    Sharing ‘keywords’ is a nice meme – a very neat excuse – but I rather think you were not the first to invent it. The conclusion of an informed person’s investigation of an issue – indeed the recognition of the issue – is part of that person’s work, and to lift nothing but the result while pretending it’s just a key-word ‘idea’ is hardly honest. None of the cryptologists seem to do it, and I notice that when Koen recently rediscovered a point you’d made, others were quick to point out it was more than a ‘keyword’ or idea.

    But this is all just flummery. The plagiarism is obvious as are the reasons for attempting to use personal denigration of the source as excuse for re-distribution of intellectual property without permission.

  12. Diane: I’m not even remotely interested in your fight against plagiarists, real or imagined. Rather, I’m interested in finding evidence sufficiently powerful to disprove all manner of nonsensical cipher theories. Only then will it be time for people to start looking for credit.

  13. Mark Knowles on July 25, 2017 at 1:42 pm said:

    I do think this obsession with plagarism is unhelpful. The notion that given that someone before me has suggested the 9 rosette foldout is a map hardly means that I am guilty of plagarism. To me this is the same as being called a plagarist for suggesting the Voynich is a medieval manuscript when someone else has suggested this before. For a charge of plagarism, to the extent that is relevant or appropriate, there needs to be very strong evidence of a wholesale appropriation of someone’s work. Anyway adopting someone else’s ideas and developing them or taking them in a different direction seems perfectly legitimate; as I have done to some extent with Nick’s work. I think when one has done so, to a significant extent, acknowledgement is important.

    Other than Nick’s work my knowledge of or influence from other people has been next to non-existent. The likelihood that 2 individuals might arrive at very broadly speaking similar conclusions independently is pretty high.

  14. Hi Nick,

    As promised in my previous post, I had the time to translate parts of pages 174-175 of
    Alfred Martin and his immense (1906) “Deutsches Badewesen in vergangenen Tagen”
    I have only translated selected passages. The translation is word-by-word where possible so as to facilitate aligning matching words.
    The beginning of the translated text is indicated by “>>”.

    I hope this sheds some more light on the importance lunar phases indeed had in the 15./16.th centuries in southern Germany and Switzerland.

    Best regards
    Stefan
    ===============

    Page 174
    =======

    Baden in den Volkskalendern
    >>Bathing in the folk calendars

    „Vnd päd niht vilvndvast niht lang”,
    >>And do not bathe often nor prolonged

    für Juli: „vnd päd kül”,
    >>for July: “and bathe cool”

    für Oktober: „Vnd päd niht, hais noch ze vil”,
    >>for October: “do not bathe too hot nor too often”,

    für November: „Vnd päd niht hais”
    >>for November: “And do not bathe hot”

    und für Dezember: „Vnd paden ist gut”.
    >>and for December: “And bathing is good.”

    Er faßt zusammen : „In dem Merczen päd, in dem Awgst (August) ge niht zu
    haissem päd” 43.
    >>He summarizes: “In March you may bathe, in August do not go to hot baths”

    im Pergamentkalender der Züricher Stadtbibliothek von 1467 heißt es:
    >> in the vellum calendar of the Zurich town library of 1467 it says:

    Im Hornung: offt sol man baden in schwaiß bad.
    >>In February, you shall bathe often in a sweat (hot) bath.

    ImMertzen: vnd in schwaiß baden sol man offtbaden.
    >> In March: and in sweat (hot) baths you shall often bathe.

    Im Abrelien: offt sol man baden.
    >> In April: often shall one bathe.

    Im Meyen: bad ist gut vnd besunder wurtz beder.
    >>In May: bathing is good and especially herbal baths.

    Im brächet: och in kaltem wasser dick (oft) baden.
    >>In June: also bathe often in cold water.

    Im Höwet: darumb sol man nit tranck nemen noch nit lassen (aderlassen), wann in dem bad mit fintusen dem es not ist. In senfften bedern mag man \sfo\ nüchter baden.
    >>In July: therefore one shall not drink nor let blood; take bath with leeches (fintusen = most likely means leeches) only if needed. In milder (more soothing) baths one may bathe sobre (could also mean: while fasting).

    Im Ögsten (August): offt sol man in kaltem v^^asser baden, von der grossen hitz wegen, wann hütet man sich nit vor der hitz. so erwellet sich das hirn das der mensch villicht houbt siech werden möcht.
    >> In August: often shall one bathe in cold water, due to the great heat, because if one does not beware of the heat, the brain heats up so that the person might become ill of the head (vertigo, headache).

    Der erst winttermanott (November): wenig vnd selten ist ze baden, myd ouch nämlich sweiß bad. es ist ouch in keinem manot (Monat) bad als vngesund als in dem manot” 308.
    >> The first winter month (November): little and seldom shall one bathe, also avoid sweat (hot) baths. There is no other month when taking baths is as unhealthy as in this month (November).

    ===============
    The following text passages explain or repeat that which is said above. Of interest could be these selected passage relating to the importance of calendars for bathing:
    ===============

    “Allmählich schrumpfen im 16. Jahrhundert die in den Kalendern gegebenen Bade-
    regeln immer mehr zusammen,..”
    >> Little by little in the course of the 16th century, the bathing instructions found in calendars begin to disappear

    Die zum Baden günstigen Himmelszeichen sind im Züricher Kalender bis 1826 samt dem Aderlaßmännchen angegeben. 1827 findet sich eine moderne Anweisung zum Gebrauch der Bäder mit dem Zusätze, daß die Alten einigen Wert auf den Einfluß, den der Mond auf unseren Körper habe, legten und deswegen der Kalender die Himmelszeichen noch bringe, damit niemand nichts vermisse.
    >> The zodiac signs favorable to bathing are mentioned in the Zurich Calendar until 1826 including the small blood letting homunculi (“Aderlassmännchen” – what seems to be a sort of a marker in form of tiny little male figures). In 1827 there is a modern instruction on how to take baths, but still mentioning that the elderly people put much emphasis on the influence that the moon has on the body, and that it is for that reason that the calendar still features the zodiac signs for the sake of completeness.

    Page 175
    =======
    Beachtung des Mondstandes / Badebedürfnis
    >> Observing lunar phases / Need for taking baths

    Die alten Kalender berücksichtigten den Stand des Mondes sehr genau. In der Regel,
    z. B. im St. Galler Kodex 7öO, ist angegeben, im abnehmenden Mond zu baden und wenn der Mond im Widder, Skorpion, Krebs oder den Fischen ist. Zugefügt ist noch, daß Meister Halevy spricht, in keinem heißen Zeichen als im Löwen, Jungfrau, Zwillingen und Steinbock in das Bad zu gehen.
    >> The old calendars minutely observe lunar phases. Generally, for example in Codex 70(?)0 of St. Gallen, it is indicated to take baths during waning mood and if the moon is in the signs of Aries, Scorpio, Cancer or Pisces. It further reads that according to Master Halevy one shall not take baths under hot signs, except Leo, Virgo, Gemini and Capricorn.

    In einer Ordnung der fünf Meister Bader zu Zürich von 1604 wird auf die Himmelszeichen Bezug genommen:
    >> An instruction by the 5 Baths Masters of Zurich (1604) also makes a connection to the zodiac signs:

    „Demnach söllent die fünff Meister ein täfeli haben. Darjnnen sy mit jren nammen geschriben sind. Da sol nun je der eltist Meister zum vorderisten. vnnd dann also ein anderen nach, vom kräps. biß jnn Z wiling. diß täfeli by synen hannden haben. Derselbig Meister sol alßdann die anfrag thun. wann vnnd wie mann jm schützen vnnd jm waßerman heitzen welle, vnnd waß sich dann dryg (3). vnnder jnnen mit einanderen verglichen thetind. sol alßdann der meisten der die Vmfrag vnnd diß täfeli hat. sölliches den vberigen beiden Meisteren verkünden. Damit man also einheilig heitzen khönne, vßgenommen alle Sambstag. doran ein jeder sonst ze heitzen befügt jst” 240.
    >>According to (the instruction of the 5 Baths Masters of Zurich), the 5 baths masters shall each have a small tablet wherein their names are inscribed. The first three masters in order of seniority shall have their tablets at hand for the months from Cancer (July) until Gemini (June). The oldest master shall then make the inquiry into when and how to heat (the water) in the months of Sagittarius and Aquarius and what woud be indicated. Then they shall compare their results among each other and share the results with the remaining two bath masters so that an unanimous heating practice can be followed except for Saturdays when everyone is entitled to heat as they please.” 240.

  15. Stefan: thanks very much indeed! The interesting St Gallen ms referred to is Cod. Sang. 760 (the OCR mangled this slightly), about which I have since posted. 🙂

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