The so called “bird glyphs” from the Voynich Manuscripts f1r are typical of those details which seem to cry out “THIS is what I am!”, while not actually helping one bit in that direction. There is just enough to give the impression of obviousness, and just not enough to remain infuriatingly distant.
I had thought that these may be meant to be the Phoenix, both flying and burning, when I first studied them. I’m not so sure now, thanks to the Aztecs.
But first, some other thoughts on these “weirdos”. They have been compared to the Aries sign, as found in a possibly lost manuscript, the Codex Taurinensis. As you can see if you click on that link, this is a very close comparison… in form, if not in context. Recently, P. Han has found a similar symbols on a 1208 Arabian Astrolabe. They are also close in appearance, although when blown up I do think that they are possibly formed of two “C’s”, back to back. I think there have been other, non-Aztec comparisons found, none of which I found very intriguing. However, from Knox’s page, which muses on these glyphs, I was directed to the Codex Mendoza and the Codex Aubin. The striking thing about these, in my opinion, is that the very similar glyphs are used in the same context and position as in the Voynich… that is, as a paragraph header. Compare to the the Codex Mendoza, shown below, they are not only in the same position, but note that they are also on the first folio.
And that context I find most intriguing, because as I pointed out on a recent post to the VMS-list,
The Aries comparison is very close, but the placement is different. First I think we might assume that the use by the Aztecs is a different one… as a paragraph header and not a sign of the zodiac. Would I be correct in that assumption? I see that no one is clear on how it is used when in these codices, in this way. Anyway, if one has to choose between the two uses, as a header or as Aries, I would consider that it’s placement would be the best indicator, and I would go with header.
Also pointed out on the Knox page is the Codex Aubin. As seen in this Codex, the glyphs are again placed as a paragraph header. Below is a closeup:
And then, this morning (9/12/10), I was surprised to find yet another example, in the mysterious and now missing Codex Cardona. It seems this manuscript never left the New World… unless it is in the hands of an unidentified Spanish Hotel magnate, that is, and she/he was able to smuggle it back to Spain. In any case, it was photographed in 1985, so we are lucky to have images from it. From what is seemingly page 33, or 39, or 99, we have our familiar paragraph heading “bird glyphs” again:
There are some points I would like to make about these documents, and these glyphs. First of all, the comparison to the Voynich f1r glyph is really startling. Also the context, as I pointed out, is identical: They are in the left margin of text, seemingly either to mark the text, or to illustrate some thought in the text… I don’t think this is known for certain. I would say that, in my personal opinion, it is not at all unreasonable to think that there is a possibility that the Voynich author was aware of this use, of these glyphs, and chose to use them on Voynich f1r.
Secondly, I have stated that although I do accept that the Carbon-14 dating makes my original New Atlantis theory unlikely, I also still have felt that the Voynich is post-Columbian. In my opinion, the f85v animal is an armadillo. I also have continued to sense there are other New World influences in the Voynich- indirect and inaccurate, as might be expected if the document were influenced by, but not specifically copying, many styles and items from a wide range of existing documents and their described disciplines.
And another important point is that they are exceedingly rare. There are very few similar examples of this symbol, and as a paragraph header, only the Aztec Codices.
So at the risk of threatening the temper of my “True Steeled Sword”, I point out another interesting connection. When I was first reading the history of the Codex Mendoza, I went through several stages. First I saw that it was created under the orders of the Spanish, by the Aztec scribes, in order to explain the culture of the Aztecs to the Spanish, and possibly King Philip. And it was obvious that there was no direct connection with my old New Atlantis theory. And a few sentences later, I saw it was captured by French pirates… and thought “Oh no!”, and swear I said, “I just hope it didn’t end up in Britain”. You see, I don’t want to be tempted into finding any connections with my theory, as it is externally and internally suppressed. But my worst fears were realized when I read down, and it turned out that one Richard Hakluyt actually owned the Codex Mendoza. Why would that matter? He was an early explorer, promoting the British settling of the New World, along with Harriot, Raleigh, Francis Bacon, Strachey and so on. In other words, the very document with this very rare bird-glyph-as-paragraph-marker was actually in the hands of one of the prime influences on the literature, mythology and lore of the New World, which in turn inspired Shakespeare’s Tempest, and Francis Bacon’s New Atlantis.
Nice to see the update to your blog. I had contributed photo scans to the Vms list on this subject a couple of times and am glad to see that it still stirs some interest on occasion.
Here is a better scan of the Codex Cardona image that you included above:
I bought a copy of the book about the Cardona MS after it was mentioned in a list thread.
Several of the Aztec manuscripts contain the “Bird Glyph”. It’s use seems to always be the same — as a marker/bullet at the beginning of one of the Spanish glosses added to the text to describe what’s going on in the native section. Other native codices use the more common “CC” in its place. From what I see in the facsimiles/photos that I own — it seems that only one or the other was used in a single manuscript — never both.
Possibly two different schools of Jesuits/Spanish scribes responsible for writing the commentaries?
Ernest: Nice to hear from you, and thank you for the great Cardona image.
I have sent away for the book, “The Search for the Codex Cardona”, by Arnold L. Bauer. Maybe this is the one you have? I have not gotten it yet, but I was surprised to see in the synopsis that the Cardona is controversial… that it is considered by some a forgery. I look forward to reading about this.
Those are good thoughts on the use of these glyphs. But further than that, I still wonder “why?” this glyph became a bullet. Was there a specific meaning, like an arrow would be used? I sent a copy of the Mendoza page to my cousin, who speaks Spanish. I’ve noticed that the lines after the first glyph on f1r of the Mendoza seem to contain the words, “figurado” and “margines”, which I take to mean “figure in the margin” (?). Also the word “orgul” I think. Perhaps there is an explanation of the use in that line?
If this is used in the same context as the VMs, and if we know exactly it’s origins and purpose, it seems to me that it may be an important bit of information. Thank you for your thoughts, Rich.
The book by Bauer is indeed the one that I have. Cardona is indeed considered to be controversial and a possible fake. There have been other fragments of native manuscripts that have appeared over the years as well — some Mayan fragments in the 70’s come to mind that were ruled to be fake. The huge black market for artwork both Mesoamerican and otherwise leads to the creation of some pretty convincing fakes. The Cardona’s later dissappearence adds to this suspicion.
The text of 1r actually refers to the “figures” in the “margin” that surrounds the famous “Founding of Tenochtitlan” folio shown here:
Here’s a question for you — the close-up of the red glyphs on 1r of the Voynich appear to have been outlined in brown/black ink and then filled in with red. Could this mean that they are not simply paleographic characters, but are actually meant to represent something more like a diagram?
“The text of 1r actually refers to the “figures” in the “margin” that surrounds the famous “Founding of Tenochtitlan” folio…”
Well you have cleared that up… thank you.
“…been outlined… Could this mean that they are not simply paleographic characters, but are actually meant to represent something more like a diagram?”
I tend to think they are symbols, not diagrams of some kind (without of course any idea!).
I do think they are of larger importance to the VMs author in some way though. They have such a place of prominence, as the first symbols they wanted to impart to the reader. I’m going to spend some time… writing to Aztec codex experts and so on… because it would actually surprise me if there is no good idea why these were used in this way in those manuscripts (it still surprises me we can’t find out on the web), and it seems like a worthwhile pursuit. Once we know, perhaps the reason it is used could help understand the intent or meaning of the first few lines of the VMs.
There is a complete transcription and translation of the Codex Mendoza, online at Google Books (“The Essential Codex Mendoza):
The paragraph on f1v, noted by the first bird glyph, is translated as:
“”Each little compartment or division figured in blue in the margins of this history means one year, and they [refer to] the number o years in the reigns of the lords of Mexico. To understand the drawings and the count and names of the years, observe that each division has dots, counted from one to thirteen…”
As Ernest pointed out, it is referring to the “Founding of Tenochtitlan” folio which he linked.
Hmm. So you are calling a paragraph marker a “bird glyph”. And looking for Atlantis, too? And citing Aztecs? No kidding, well there sure is a lot of evidence.
Jim Comegys, Nahuatl Hypothesis
Jim! Nice to hear from you. No, nothing about Atlantis at all, despite what my busy little detractors would have one believe. And I use “bird glyph” only to describe it’s form, not it’s origin or exact meaning (which seem to still be a mystery). But citing Aztecs? Maybe… which is why I am so drawn to your ideas about Nahuatl. Of course I have several favorite ideas about what the scheme of the Voynich language might be… and one of these is some Native American language. As you well know (and knew well before me), there were many historic attempts to write the sounds of Native languages using unique glyphs… as Latin letters did not suffice. Of course this would result in a very unique text… it would look very bizarre, and it’s structure would defy analysis by conventional, and most previously attempted, means. I mean look what the WWII Code Talkers managed to pull off, by using Navajo.
Anytime you would like to outline your theories, I would love to reserve a guest post for you. Just drop me a note. All the best, Rich.
Hello Rich ( and Jim Comegys ).
I looked through some of my books and internet links with an eye toward finding additional instances of the “bird Glyph” being used ijn Aztec Codices.
Here’s a nice one from Codex Osuna:
and another from Codex Aubin:
I have “The Essential Codex Mendoza” you mentioned above as well as a copy of the original manuscript included with the full-sized version. There are several of the glyphs used on virtually ever page of Spanish commentary. Several photos in my “dead-tree” texts show the glyph used in other post-conquest manuscripts. If you’re interested, I’ll upload scans of them for you.
Ernest: Thank you for looking, and for the great examples. I have not yet seen an example from an old world Spanish document, so I’m beginning to feel this is only New World, post-Cortesian?
I’m still working on finding out what the origin is… as in it’s original meaning and history. Frances Berdan (The Essential Codex Mendoza) wrote back to me that they are:
> documents to indicate a new item or paragraph…rather like we might
> use “bullets” or paragraph indentations. It was a colonial introduction…
So I re-wrote to her with this question:
“Do you know, or have any best guesses even, why this symbol evolved? Is it a re-use, adaptation, or corruption of some other symbol that you know of? I mean in the sense that one may use an arrow in a bullet list… as a person has come to assume an arrow points at something with emphasis, so therefore an arrow fits. Is there some previous or concurrent meaning to this symbol? And: I have not seen it in Spanish documents… do you think it is unique to the Spanish Colonies?”
…but I have not yet heard back. I’m going to write to several other authors an curators today. It turns out that this is so prolific in these documents that it increasingly suprizes me that the origin/exact meaning seems to be less known, or not known at all. Rich.
I’m glad you were able to contact Frances Berdan with questions reguarding our “Bird Glyph”. Perhaps another question for her ( or any other codice experts ) would be if they were familiar with the 2nd red glyph on Voynich folio 1r — the other “Bird Glyph” with the added curl rising above it.
I searched a bit further and took a look at some of the other Spanish colonial documents and made an interesting discovery.
The Book of Chilam Balam of Chumayel is a post conquest manuscript found in the Yucatan village of Chumayal. It was compiled in a Mayan dialect using Spanish characters.
I have copies of both a facsimile and a translation by Roys. While looking for online images from it, I happened on a complete copy at:
Click on “Collection Images”
Folios 42v through 44r are loaded with examples of the “Bird Glyph”. Other sections have instead a “bullet” that looks like a cursive capitol “J” — perhaps merely a varient of the usual “CC” symbol.
The manuscript was compiled in 1782 according to a note within, probably from earlier documents. That would possibly explain the alternate “bullets”.
A circular diagram on folio 39r will also be of interest to Voynich fans.
Ernest: Thank you again. I failed to ask about the second glyph as you suggest… perhaps I will, but I tend to avoid asking people for opinions on the Voynich itself… it seems the experts have enough mysteries remaining in their respective fields! And an update/digest as I wrote to the VMS-list today (9/26/10):
” I have gotten feedback from several authorities on Mesoamerican Codices, and it is unfortunately not very enlightening. Francis Berdan of “The Essential Codex Mendoza”, tells me what that she knows it only as a paragraph marker, as we suspected, and has no clue as to it’s origins. Dr. Anawalt’s assistant, repeats this assessment. Arnold Bauer, author of “The Search for the Codex Cardona” also sees it as a paragraph marker, but does not know the origin or meaning beyond that. Stephanie Wood of the University of Oregon was suggested to me by a couple of the above, and she got back to me with the same thought… “paragraph marker”… and added, “I have wondered if it is related to the word Ydem, which sometimes appears on the left margin to mark another item of a similar nature — also, thinking that the V is something like a Y, or maybe it is not even trying to be a letter, or started out as a letter, but became stylized and just came to serve as a symbol/marker. I would not think to call it a glyph, as I have a strong feeling that it has European origins.
Here’s a brief discussion (surely not the last word, but possibly helpful) about the word Ydem in Spanish colonial manuscripts:
I looked through some character books suggested by Ms. Wood, and could not find anything close. So it seems it is a mini-mystery just where this came from, what it means, why it is used in these post-Cortesian manuscripts (and not in pre-Columbian at all). Also I have still not determined where else it may have been used… as a search of European Spanish documents has not turned any of the symbol up so far. But I am not done… I have one more Mesoamerican authority who was suggested, and also I intend on contacting experts on Spanish documents about this. If anyone comes across the symbol in European documents, could you drop a note?”
For something that seems to be such a staple of Spanish colonial manuscripts this character is proving to be quite obscure.
I happened on this image from the “Census de Tepoztla” document while searching which shows a simplified version of the character in question:
I also failed to mention earlier when I spoke of the “Essential Codex Mendoza” and the 2 volumes I have concerning the “Chilam Balam of Chumayel” — I could find no reference to the character in any of them.
As the character seems to be turning up only in Colonial Spanish documents ( and then only in a select few ), perhaps the key is to figure out what these documents have in common. Maybe the scribes/priests that used it in their texts all came from the same monastery or were overseen by the same bishop? I would imagine that there were not a great number of people with the required skills ( or connections ) to do this job.
As an aside — I’m sure it’s been looked at before, but our old friend “Cappelli’s Latin Abbreviations” on-line at:
has a possible variant of our “Bird Glyph”:
Top right column, 2nd and 3rd versions of the word “esse”.
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see an article on http://www.ic.unicamp.br/~stolfi/voynich/02-02-26-dongtian/
probably it can be Chinese letters 🙂
strange, isn’t it?
It struck me on first glance of the red glyphs on f1r how similar that symbol is to Kelly’s fabricated Enochian script – specifically the ‘Veh’ symbol. anyway, just an observation
I think the persons who could clarify the issue are the archists in the Vatican library.
One would probably need to write in Italian, just as a courtesy, or have an entree.
Do we know anyone like that?
I say this because the bird glyph seems intended in these cases to either warn, or reassure the reader about the following content, and as such it would be a mark regularly taught and used in the 15thC scriptoria.
It could mean something like “hretical but passed (by censor)” – or something of that sort. It might also mean that a person had been permitd to remove the book from the collection, and travel with it. I can imagine still other possibilities, but there’s nothing like knowing for sure, is there?
I’ve stumbled upon similar glyphs in a Catalan manuscript Homilies d’Organyà, available at http://www.lluisvives.com/servlet/SirveObras/05812763299436140757857/index.htm. Yellowish text in folios 5v, 7r, 8v starts with it. Anybody knows what this symbol or text means?
Interesting find, Peter. In that case, I could only guess. They look like the letter “U”, and if so, the one on 5v would be Latin “Unica”, which Google translates at “Only”. But I don’t know. Perhaps someone reading this will have an idea. Thanks… Rich.
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