A comment which Nick Pelling made a couple of months ago, in writing to Ellie Velinska’s blog, got me wondering who this person called “Dan Burisch” might be.
I had a vague notion that he was someone from the time of the first mailing list – before my time anyway – and since his name never turned up as having contributed anything by way of insight into the script or the imagery, I never bothered to ask exactly who he was.
Today I did. In a post dated April 21st., 2008 (which I think is about four months before I was introduced to this manuscript) Pelling wrote about a passage which the said Burisch claimed to have decrypted. Pelling summarised D.B’s ideas in this way:
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 on June 27th., Pelling quoted someone who, apparently, thinks well of Dr.Dan:
From the website ‘world mysteries’ concerning the Voynich document we read in an except from Dr. Levitov: “There is not a single so-called botanical illustration that does not contain some Cathari symbol or Isis symbol. The astrological drawings are likewise easy to deal with; the innumerable stars are representative of the stars in Isis’ mantle.” The fate of the Cathars resembles that of the Knights Templar, does not the dualism of the former also receive a modicum of redemption in the restoration of the latter?With Dr. Burisch’s background in microbiology, the Voynich ‘botanical illustrations’ were child’s play, and the astrological designations had already been previously noted as corresponding to the Milky Way Galaxy, and by conversion of linear transformations into ‘diagrammatic notation,’ the determinant of the matrix was solved. ‘As above so below’ was not, in this case, a spiritual derivative, it was simply and starkly a ‘spacial’ one.
And this presents a bit of a dilemma – for the present writer, if not for Pelling. I don’t know what “Cathari” symbols are. Does Isis have a starry mantle anywhere except on a card in a tarot pack of 19thC design? (Will check). “The fate of the Cathars resembles that of the Knights Templar”… well, umm, sort of I suppose, but only if you stretch a metaphor.
The next bit is tricky, too. What exactly is meant by “astrological designations…corresponding to the Milky Way Galaxy?” The Milky Way is our galaxy, but let that pass.
The Milky Way intersects with the ecliptic, and the ecliptic band contains the constellations used for the usual western astrology. Is he aiming to correlate stars of the milky way with constellations of the ecliptic, perhaps??!
And what is meant here by “diagrammatic notation”?
And just what did that approving writer mean to convey in saying that “as above, so below was not… a spiritual derivative… [but] a spatial one.” [spelling error in the original corrected].
Without reading the original, I don’t know whether any of this agrees with any of my own conclusions about this manuscript, or not.
The Milky Way was pictured as a celestial road to the north in some early Latin Christian manuscripts, and had been believed so in various traditions, including the Egyptian.. but how these obvious (or less obvious) facts match that comment is difficult to understand. Is it the Milky way he means or bulk-standard astrology relating to the ecliptic?
And is “diagrammatic notation”some term invented by Burisch because he didn’t know the term mnemonic or mnemonic device? And when Burisch speaks of “as above so below” as spatial notation, is he talking about a common use of latitude and longitude – and its notation – in both astronomy and geography?
(I’m reminded of why I asked the faculty for permission to register an artificial ‘Fail’ against semiotics on my academic record – because I thought it ridiculous to make the language of abreaction a means to discuss art… and without failing I couldn’t switch to more intelligent unit. … and Remember Whoopie Goldberg’s line: “Speak English, Mick!” ?)
I suppose now I’ll have to read Burisch’s writing directly, but Pelling’s review of makes the prospect about as attractive as a meal of sawdust.
And then Pelling manages to show just why Voynich studies constantly recalls the six blind men and the elephant, for now he says:
Ohhhh dear: if a novelist tried to get away with froth like this, he/she would get taken apart. There is no Milky Way link, there is no microbiology, there is no Cathar link, there is no Templar link, there is no matrix (spatial or otherwise), there is no religion, no gnosis, no dualism.
Ok – seriously.
a priori I do think we can suppose that there will be no microbiology in the Voynich manuscript. But for the rest of those things I think Pelling is no less guilty of making assertions without evidence as Burisch seems to be. I think it is a crazy sort of arrogance to consult nothing but one’s own random collection of information and the chimera ‘common sense’ before accepting or rejecting anything. I want to see the evidence from which these assertions derive. Otherwise the set of denials is no less irrational than the set of contentions in this case, for the history of the period precludes none.
‘Cathar Link’, says Dan. ‘No Cathar link’, says Nick. OK, chaps, Explain how you come to believe that? Have you – has anyone – investigated that possibility sanely, and come sanely to a positive (or a negative) conclusion from the evidence? Anyone? Ever? It’s a Voynich-Schrõdinger cat.
Templar/No Templar link. OK. How do we know that? Who has investigated… sanely…and come to the conclusions that this is a contention demonstrably false? Anyone? Ever?
Matrix/ no matrix, spatial or otherwise? Pelling’s rejection may be more particular than it seems, but taken as blankly as expressed it would imply, among other things, a blanket rejection of e.g. links to Claudius Ptolemy, whose works include a spatial matrix (i.e Lat.Long. co-ordinates) for placing both the stars and places on earth. For myself I think that such co-ordinates (not necessarily Ptolemy’s) are quite likely to feature in the Vms text..
Religion/no religion… What do you mean by “religion” Dan? What do you mean by religion, Nick? Both of you… when you can’t read the pictorial or the written text, and we know that imagery across the world before the middle of the fifteenth century is strongly affected by religio-cultural mores, the first assumption ought to be that any text and imagery *ought* to contain evidence of religious and cultural attitudes. And identifying those ought to be rather helpful.
Gnostic/No gnostic... Well, if we include Manichean belief as ‘gnostic’, I’ll have to say I reserve judgement but wouldn’t be at all surprised to find that there is influence from some one or more among the various forms of gnostic belief current between the 1stC AD and 1415 or so.
Dualism/No dualism… The imagery does include a sort of ‘dualism’ though not obviously of the “devils and angels” type known in Latin Europe.
Pelling fell into his usual habit of letting his assumptions hang a bit too far below his hem. But to balance this let me say first that he did recognise even as early as 2008 how immensely reliant his “Averlino” story was upon pure imagination. He writes of his own theory-narrative:
Perhaps I’m no less guilty (with my reconstructed story of Antonio Averlino “Filarete”) as Levitov, or Rugg, or any of the other 20+ Voynich theories out there.
For Pelling, though, ‘religion’ would seem to mean only some official state religion whose symbols he happens to be familiar with, but I doubt if he’d have a clue what a Cathar, gnostic or Manichean symbol looked like, nor a Nair symbol, nor a Jain symbol.. though of course I may do him an injustice. The point is that he just dumps all those things he doesn’t feel are likely to true into his general waste-basket and in its way that’s just as careless and imaginative as the positive assertions seem to be. If you don’t know, you don’t know. Research is about trying to find out.
I did like the quotation that Pelling included in the same post (properly credited, naturally: it’s one of the reasons I first looked up his posts about Burisch)
The peril of science fiction is that it attracts the worst kind of lunatics — those prepared to believe not only their own delusions but each others’. The frenzied construction of delusional architectures of thought is a fascinating talent, and one which reached its pinnacle in the late twentieth century.
For mine, I can only hope that we see even less of such – I won’t say delusional, but ‘entirely theory-built’ – structures in 2017 than we did in 2016. With the arrival of voynich.ninja we have enjoyed more respite (and less plain spite) than I ever saw in Voynich studies between 2008 and 2016.
Ciphermysteries excepted, of course.