Tuesday, 8 November 2016

The Mystery of the Voynich Manuscript

It is said to have once belonged to Elizabeth I’s famous alchemist and astrologer, John Dee. He couldn’t decipher it. He was not alone. Over the centuries since it was first written, it has passed through many hands – and none have been able to fathom out more than a few words.

The mysterious Voynich manuscript was written in the fifteenth century by unknown authors. A Polish book dealer – Wilfrid Voynich – discovered it in the Villa Mondragone, an ancient Italian castle which had become a Jesuit College. Although many have tried, no one knows much at all about the origin and purpose of this lavishly illustrated 240 page book. There have even been suggestions that it was created by aliens.

John Dee
 More recent thinking has suggested that it was created by a small community, who spoke their own language which has since died out. The penmanship itself is flowing and elegant and combines text with illustrations of plants, people and movements of astrological constellations.

When Voynich discovered it, he also found the book contained a letter, written by Czech scientist Johannes Marcus Marci in 1666, stating that the book had cost German Emperor Rudolf II (1552-1612) 600 ducats (around 2 kilos of gold). As Marci was a doctor at the court of the Holy Roman Emperor, he would seem to be well informed. It is believed the emperor may have purchased it from John Dee.

Jacobus Horcicky de Tepenecz
 Radiocarbon analysis and examination of the ink used suggests there were probably somewhere between two and eight scribes working on it between around 1404 to 1438. It was written on vellum and, whatever it actually says, the language has a clear structure. In an attempt to decode it, cryptologist William Friedman concluded that it contained no anagrams and he believed the language used was specifically created for the purpose of writing this book. There have been claims that it is written in encrypted Latin. Dr Leo Levitov believed it was one of the Creole languages.

 US botanist, Dr Arthur Tucker claims that at least 37 of the 303 plants depicted had their origins in an area we now know as Mexico. He believes the language could be the lost Aztec Nahuatl, which originated during the 7th century but was extinguished when the Spanish conquered the region in the 16th century. From then on, Nahuatl became a purely literary – rather than spoken – language although variations of it are spoken by 1.5 million Nahua people.

Dr Stephen Bax of the University of Bedfordshire, announced in 2014 that he had decoded some of the frequently repeated words – among them, ‘juniper’ , ‘’Taurus constellation’ and ‘coriander’ and concluded that the illustrations were relevant to the text written on the same page. He put forward the theory that intellectuals from a small community which lacked its own writing system, set about creating one and to do so they constructed an alphabet drawn from European, Caucasian and Middle Eastern languages.

  The book is presented in sections. Section One comprises text and illustrations of botanicals, including drawings of 113 unidentified species. Section Two Astral charts, with radiating circles, suns, moons and Zodiac symbols such as a bull, representing Taurus and an archer for Sagittarius. This section also incorporates female nudes emerging from, pipe-like structures or chimneys. Section Three appears to be all about human biology. Here, illustrations abound of pregnant women immersed in water, or wading through it, along with interconnecting tubes and capsules with which they appear to be interacting, although how and why remains a further mystery. The fourth section contains possible ‘heavenly’ geographical information – nine elaborate cosmological medallions with possible topology. Section Five concerns pharmacy. Drawings of more than a hundred medicinal plants and herbs with jars and other vessels. The final section is continuous text and it is conjectured that the text here represents recipes.

Villa Mondragone (Wikipedia)

 In 2014 a Brazilian professor – Diego Amancio – concluded that the structure of the language used is similar to that of known modern languages, He concluded that the manuscript was genuine and that 90% of the text repeated the Bible and other well-known books. He didn’t try to translate it.

In addition to being owned by Dee and the Holy Roman Emperor, it is believed the manuscript then passed to famous pharmacist, Jacobus Horcicky de Tepenecz, who died in 1622. A faint inscription, visible only under ultraviolet light reads ‘Jacobi de Tepenecz’. From then on, Johannes Marcus Marci acquired it and, in 1666, gave it to Athanasius Kircher, a German Jesuit scholar and noted author of more than 40 books. It became the property of the Jesuit College in Frascati, near Rome, from whom Wilfrid Voynich purchased it. His widow subsequently sold it to H.P. Kraus who gave it to the Beinecke Library at Yale University

Although some of the finest minds of the last five centuries have tried, still the manuscript refuses to give up its secrets. Meanwhile, Professor Bax continues his work.

Tuesday, 18 October 2016

A Book of Monstrous Delights -The Jersey Devil - Hunter Shea


Everyone knows the legend of the Jersey Devil. Some believe it is an abomination of nature, a hybrid winged beast from hell that stalks the Pine Barrens of southern New Jersey searching for prey. Others believe it is a hoax, a campfire story designed to scare children. But one man knows the truth...


Sixty years ago, Boompa Willet came face to face with the Devil—and lived to tell the tale. Now, the creature’s stomping grounds are alive once again with strange sightings, disappearances, and worse. After all these years, Boompa must return to the Barrens, not to prove the legend is real but to wipe it off the face of the earth...


It’ll take more than just courage to defeat the Devil. It will take four generations of the Willet clan, a lifetime of survivalist training, and all the firepower they can carry. But timing is critical. A summer music festival has attracted crowds of teenagers. The woods are filled with tender young prey. But this time, the Devil is not alone. The evil has grown into an unholy horde of mutant monstrosities. And hell has come home to New Jersey...

 I have yet to read a Hunter Shea book I didn't love. The Jersey Devil is right up there with the author's most riveting stories. Here's my review:

Hunter Shea delivers again with his latest, The Jersey Devil. Here we have a legendary creature of mythical proportions – one all the locals have heard of, but not everyone believes in. Boompa Willet is not one of the sceptics, He knows this creature is real because sixty years ago, he came face to face with it. Now, along with four generations of his family, the time has come for him to wipe the beast out of existence once and for all. But, where once there was one, now there are many. A host of flesh eating winged beasts, part man, part monster, with appetites of fearsome proportions, are ready to feast on the local population of the Pine Barrens, which is about to be greatly enhanced by hordes of young people attending a summer music festival.

As with his previous books, Hunter Shea doesn’t just present a monster story with all the horror, blood and gore that entails, he presents a normal family, facing an extraordinary series of events. Real people suffering real dilemmas, emotions, fears, crises. The tension builds to a terrifying climax. This is a book that satisfies, entertains and thrills from start to finish.

Hunter Shea, Biography

Hunter Shea is the product of a childhood weaned on The Night Stalker, The Twilight Zone and In Search Of. He doesn’t just write about the paranormal – he actively seeks out the things that scare the hell out of people and experiences them for himself.

Publishers Weekly named The Montauk Monster one of the best reads of the summer in 2014, and his follow up novel, Hell Hole, was named best horror novel of the year on several prestigious horror sites. Cemetery Dance had this to say about his apocalyptic thriller, Tortures of the Damned – “A terrifying read that left me wanting more. I absolutely devoured this book!”

Hunter is an amateur cryptozoologist, having written wild, fictional tales about Bigfoot, The Montauk Monster, The Dover Demon and many new creatures to come. Copies of his books, The Montauk Monster and The Dover Demon, are currently on display in the International Cryptozoology Museum in Portland, ME.

He wrote his first novel with the express desire to work only with editor Don D’Auria at Dorchester (Leisure Horror). He submitted his novel to Don and only Don, unagented, placed on the slush pile. He is proof that dedicated writers can be rescued from no man’s land. He now works with Don, along with several other agents and publishers, having published over ten books in just four years.

Hunter is proud to be be one half of the Monster Men video podcast, along with his partner in crime, Jack Campisi. It is one of the most watched horror video podcasts in the world. Monster Men is a light-hearted approach to dark subjects. Hunter and Jack explore real life hauntings, monsters, movies, books and everything under the horror sun. They often interview authors, crytid and ghost hunters, directors and anyone else living in the horror lane.

Living with his wonderful family and two cats, he’s happy to be close enough to New York City to get Gray’s Papaya hot dogs when the craving hits. His daughters have also gotten the horror bug, assisting him with research, story ideas and illustrations that can be seen in magazines such as Dark Dossier.

You can follow his travails at http://www.huntershea.com, sign-up for his newsletter, or follow him on Facebook and Twitter.

Praise for Hunter Shea

“Shea delivers a tense and intriguing work of escalating tension splattered with a clever, extensive cast of bystanders turned victims…An otherwise excellent, tightly delivered plot…Fans of cryptid creatures are likely to revel in this love letter to a legendary menace.”– Publishers Weekly

“Bloody good read!  This guy knows his monsters!”- Eric S Brown, author of Bigfoot War and Boggy Creek: The Legend is True, on Swamp Monster Massacre

“Hunter Shea is a great writer, highly entertaining, and definitely in the upper echelon in the current horror scene. Many other writers mention either loving his work and/or having the man influence their own, and for just cause. His writing suits anyone with a taste for the dark and terrifying!” –Zakk at The Eyes of Madness/The Mouth of Madness Podcast

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