Saturday, November 04, 2006

The Voynich Manuscript by Kennedy and Churchill

In 1912 a scrounger of old manuscripts rooted through an Italian moanstery (Villa Mondragone) to make a startling discovery. In the late nineteenth century, the Vatican parceled out parts of its library to peripheral and remote locations to safe guard them. In the clutch of books at the monastery, Wilfred Voynich found and purloined a strange and startling manuscript. It was written in a cryptic and still unknown language and filled with sketches of alien plants, naked nymphs bathing in green liquid, cosmological charts, and symbolic sexuality. In essence, this was a qabbalistic work of alchemy by an unknown scribe.

For the purposes of Fortean Lovecraft scholarship, Kennedy and Churchill (1) suggest that both Colin Wilson and H. P. Lovecraft knew of the Voynich document and made use of it. I can't speak to Wilson, but we can examine the possibility that HPL might have.

The authors quote only one "smoking gun", that of Lovecraft's playful but horrific poke (2) at young Robert Bloch in The Haunter of the Dark. The key passage is quoted that begins, "...a samll leather bound book...". In this, the authors believe that Lovecraft has conflated his Necronomicon with the Voynich manuscript. Whether it is an additional inside joke or a ploy to gain additional notoriety for the Necronomicon, the authors do not say.

Could or did HPL know of the Voynich document? It was discovered in 1912, and Voynich made private enquiries about it advocating that it was written by Roger Bacon (3). It was exhibited in Chicago in 1915 (4), and a lecture was given by Voynich in Philadelphia on 21 April 1921. The document resides at yale University today.

I'd like to see hard eveidence that HPL had an interest in the Voynich document - or even knew of it. Beyond that, if any of the "Mythos Circle" knew of it at an early date would also be profound. If you have any ideas or specualtion, please mention it in comments below.

1 The Voynich Manuscript: The Mysterious Code That Has Defied Interpretation for Centuries; Gerry Kennedy and Rob Churchill, Rochester, VT; 2006; ISBN-13: 978-1-59477-129-3. The notes on Lovecraft and Colin Wilson are on pp. 254,255.2 Lovecraft's answer to Bloch's Shambler From the Star wherein Lovecraft is killed as a joke.
3 Based on a Latin letter slipped inside the manuscript and dated 19 August 1665 by Joannes Marcus Marci de Cronland who makes the claim.
4 Little is known of Lovecraft's interests at this time, but we can conclude that cryptography, alchemy, and qabbaism were certainly among them.

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