Monday, 21 April 2008

Dan Burisch & the Voynich Manuscript...

Have you ever lifted up a stone in the woods and found something icky you really wished you hadn't seen?

Or, in our modern 'armchair explorer' days, have you ever clicked confidently onto a website where, errrm, oh deary me, oh no, that's not, you can't... (you get the basic idea)?

Unfortunately, the point of being a blogger (or indeed any kind of writer) is that you document the odd things you see so that other people can decide whether to seek them out for themselves (rare) or to avoid them like the plague (far more common). Which means that bloggers have a vaguely journalistic obligation to follow any given story right through to its logical endpoint, wherever that may happen to be.

Now, even though once upon a time I worked on an "X-Files" computer game, I freely admit that I don't actully know much about UFO lore. The closest thing on my bookshelf is Nick Cook's thought-provoking "The Hunt For Zero Point", but that's more about odd terrestrial flying objects than alien ones per se. Which, as will become rapidly clear, made the story of Dan Burisch and his claimed decipherment of the Voynich Manuscript even more 'out there' to me than most things I tend to run into.

On the surface, it's all straightforward enough. Burisch thinks the VMs is by Roger Bacon, who apparently wrote it in a kind of disguised / dyslexic Hebrew lettering. The text direction, as you'd expect from Hebrew, runs right-to-left (though, oddly enough, Burisch needed a mirror to read it). Line 17 of f35v has a Voynichese EVA fragment "daiin.dain.chkaly.choly", the last three words of which are transcribed halfway down the page here (presumably by Burisch?) as "dain mkaly(e) moly(e)", deciphered right-to-left as "elom el akim niad" - "everlasting God will establish knowledge". Of course, add the missing "daiin" back in and it should probably read "everlasting God will establish knowledge knowledge": but that's normal for this kind of claimed VMs decipherment.

As an aside, Googling for "elom" returns links to (1) "the personification of the moon among southern Hebrews", and (2) "Eloms were short, stocky, bipedal sentients, with a thick pelt of oily, dark fur, native to the frigid and mineral-rich desert planet of Elom" on the Elom entry in the Wookieepedia, an online Star Wars wiki. Further down in Google's search results, the (real) Wikipedia entry also notes that Elom is "a tribal ewe name meaning "god loves me" or "loved by god"". It is hard not to get the feeling from this that someone is either (a) being somewhat impressionistic with their supposed translation, or (b) having a Star Wars-themed laugh at the expense of UFOlogists. [In the following, I presume (a) to be true, but sadly there's no obvious reason to discount (b) at all.]
Burisch's claimed decryption reprises, just as you can find countless times in the museum of failed Voynich solutions, a large number of by-now-oh-so-familiar motifs of pathological enigmatology: selective transcription, Roger Bacon, mirror writing, disguised Hebrew, confusing and repetitive text, selective dyslexia, arbitrary anagramming, religious / liturgical / Gnostic plaintexts, arbitrary / optimistic / free-form translations, etc. So far, nothing hugely unexpected, then.

But dig a little deeper and things quickly gets bizarre, even by the historical standards of Voynichianity. Burisch claims to have been given the key to solving the VMs by "#3-15", the keyname of an alien ("J-Rod"?) visitor/prisoner held at Area 51 by Majestic, the secret organization for whom Burisch allegedly worked. The remainder of the decryption was placed in "File 21" (held in Europe somewhere?), and described Burisch's future discoveries (about 'Looking Glass'? Man-made stargates? The "Ganesh" particle?) that he has not as yet made. The whole Burisch affair revolves around conspiratorial claims of time-travelling aliens meddling with human affairs and how 4 billion people may well die (in 2012?) as a result of the immense explosion of a manmade stargate, or possibly of the natural stargate on "Frenchman's Mountain" where some Voynich lettering can allegedly be found carved in the stone.

Now, I'm in no way qualified to judge on this kind of end-times stuff (after all, who is?). But purely as far as Burisch's claims about the Voynich Manuscript go, I have to say that I'm quite sure they're a load of nonsense. The VMs is a historical artefact that was demonstrably constructed more than a century after Roger Bacon's death, the word patterns don't match Hebrew (or any other known language), the left-right direction of writing doesn't match Hebrew, the strongly-structured letter patterns within words don't show any signs of dyslexic-style anagram transposition, and I would predict there is an overwhelming (>99.9%) probability that the Hebrew-style pattern that was found on part of one line on f35v could not be found duplicated in more than 0.05% of the Voynichese corpus as a whole - and in any case, such fragments would very likely not make syntactical or semantical sense as a meaningful sentence. Right now I'm not even hugely convinced that the four words "elom el akim niad" can be contorted to mean what they are claimed to mean.

I'm all for novelists' appropriating the VMs for their books (though it's actually a far harder trick to carry off than most seem to realise): but when this kind of "kooks and spooks" looking-glass world tries to claim the VMs as one of its own, it's hard to find a point of mutual accommodation. Sure, the VMs was mysterious enough 30 years ago for Terence McKenna to be intrigued by it: but we've come a long way since then, and it's now merely an historical curio right on the cusp of mainstream thought.

Perhaps if the decrypted contents of "File 21" come out into the open, we'll all fall back in stunned amazement (before fleeing as far away from any of the stargates as we can). But until that day... sorry, but I'll have to admit to not being a believer.

UPDATE: More on Dan Burisch & the VMs

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