Tag Archives: magic spell

Der Neusohler Cato Charm – New Clues             8 Nov. 2015

The Charm of the Voynich, cont’d

In a previous post, I commented on the charm-like text written on the final page of the Voynich manuscript and since that time had a surprise… In October 2015, I discovered a page in a mid-15th century codex that resembles and expands on the information written on a fragment at the beginning of Der Neusohler Cato that I discussed in relation to the VM text.

MoravskaCodeBreakdown    In the Cato, the fragment on the left illustrates an abracadabra-style word (abgracula) broken down until it resembles a symbol that I imagine could be included on an amulet or hilt of a sword or dagger. I don’t know if that was its function, it could be an incantation for “reducing” the severity of an illness, like a prayer (with the crosses perhaps signifying the signing of the cross while speaking the incantation) or something else. This was only a hunch, when I first saw it, since the Cato fragment contained few clues to its function.

Since then, I discovered another version of the same charmlike text, contained within a shape that resembles a shield, with writing in the shield margins.

Comparisons between the Cato Fragment and the Fugger Text

There are some differences. The ink is much darker in the Cato fragment and the handwriting more spidery and awkward. The writing style is a fairly common one for the 15th century in this region, so while it is similar,  it’s probably not in the same hand, especially considering the different rendering of the letter r and the way it joins to the following letter.

As for the content, the Cato fragment begins with abgracula and the Fugger codex with magnum nomen dominum (“In the name of the Father”) followed by abraculauß on the second line. Also, the Cato fragment breaks down to an amulet-style symbol while the Fugger text retains the letter shapes to the end. Despite differences, the resemblance is clear, with the crosses and progression of sounds broken down in the same general way.


The text around the margins of the shield appear to be a mixture of old Germanic and Latin and unfortunately, some of it is smeared. On the right, it appears to say, “The writing pertains to p???tate…” (“The writing is for p???tate…”). Could the unclear word be “prostate” (as in a prostrate person, someone lying down due to illness or impending death? Or does it perhaps say praetare, plaetare or photare or something along those lines (maybe someone who knows Latin can make it out). I’m wondering if it’s a variation of praeterea. I refer to the text before the “photare/photate” as Germanic because it’s not strictly German, but is readable as northern old German. On the opposite side of the shield is text about praying Our Father (pater noster).

It doesn’t seem like a traditional last rights incantation which is why I wonder if it’s perhaps a sick-bed incantation/prayer.

Connections to the Voynich Manuscript

How this ties into the Voynich manuscript is that the last page struck me as having an incantation-like quality (long before I knew anything about medieval charms) and the above example lends some weight to that possibility. Also note that the VM charm appears to be a mixture of Latin-like sounds and Germanic words and the handwriting in this abraculauß text is from the same writing tradition as the last page and some of the marginal notes in Beinecke 408—a handwriting style* that is primarily concentrated in northeast Switzerland and southwest Germany at about the same time as Sagittarius with legs and a crossbow was popular, but which also found its way (with a handful of modifications) to a monastery in mideast England, probably through one or more traveling monks.

There was a commercial workshop in central Europe in the 1400s producing religious texts and chronicles for those who could afford them and the head of the studio was also a writing tutor, so it’s not surprising that there are quite a few manuscripts from this area with very similar handwriting.

*(When commercial block prints and the printing press came along, this specific style of writing died out and medieval scribes had to find a new line of work.)


J.K. Petersen


© Copyright 2015 J.K. Petersen, All Rights Reserved

The Charm of the Voynich Last Page                             30 Dec 2013

The Strange Formulas in the Voynich

The Last Page of the Voynich was introduced in a previous blog entry and is notable not only for its enigmatic content, but also for the way it differs from the rest of the document—in writing style, content, the balance of the text on the page, the size of the parchment, and the quality of the parchment, which has holes and seams.


The style of most of the writing is significantly different from Voynichese, less round and careful, and  perplexingly combined with a couple of words in Voynich script. The relationship between the text and the drawings is not clear, if there is one. The crosses between the “words” is unique to this page.

It’s remarkable that a page with so little content can generate so many questions.

Medieval Charms and Healing Prayers

I alluded briefly to the fact that syllables like oladabad/oladabas and the crosses between the words are reminiscent of medieval charms characteristic of northern Europe. Even the “+” shapes at the beginning of several words (if it is, indeed, an “+”) are common to many charms and combination charms/prayers.

I also mentioned having found a coded word on the fly leaf of Der Neusohler Cato that really caught my attention due to its similarities to the last-page text of the Voynich Manuscript.

MoravskaCodeBreakdownI guessed that the coded word at the beginning of Der Neusohler Cato might be a charm/symbol and that it might have a similar function to the text on the last page of the Voynich almost two years before I found time to read about medieval charms. My hunch was based on its sound and character.

When I finally looked for more information on charms, late in 2012, I discovered a few examples in Leechcraft (Pollington, 2000) with crosses and apparent nonsense words (or words whose meaning has been lost) and a few months later a more specific discussion in Middeleeuwse witte en zwarte magie in het Nederlands taalgebied (Braekman, 1997) which describes charms/healing prayers that contain a mixture of Latin and sometimes incomprehensible “charm” words. You can look up the document online—here are two examples:

     In nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti. Amen.

    + Ire + arex + xre + rauex + filiax + arafax + N

In particular, note these ending patterns:

   + Ire + arex + xre + rauex + filiax + arafax + N

They’re not identical to the Voynich, but they have a similar character.


And a second example from Braekman:

    + aladabra + ladabra + adabra + dabra + abra + ra + a + abraca + [the person’s name]

The breakdown of the word abgracula on the fly leaf of Der Neusohler Cato to a single symbol made me wonder if the final “coded” symbol was intended to be engraved on a pendant, amulet, or weapon. That might be, but apparently there’s another reason I didn’t anticipate that is mentioned by Braekman. He points out that charm-words are often broken down from larger to smaller units to represent the breakdown of the malady as it subsides. He uses the well-known “magic” word abracadabra (ha brakha dabra) along with another word, ararita, as examples. The crosses are associated with healing and apparently things are helped along by signing a cross in between chanting the magical words.

Many healing charms from the late Middle Ages and Renaissance have a Christian character but it has been my feeling from the beginning that the Voynich Manuscript is not specifically a Christian document despite the occasional cross held in the hands of female characters. The ring and Christian-style cross were common symbols across cultures in those days and may simply be a literary device. Many of the VM drawings have pagan characteristics and the entire enigmatic puzzle-like character of the document points to cultures that keep their secrets close the chest or encode it in some way. The Zarathustrians, Gnostics, and Jewish Kabbalarians come to mind.

Whether the Voynich was encoded because it contained taboo subjects related to sexuality (particularly women’s sexuality) or because it was hard-won knowledge intended to be passed down only to someone “deserving” (perhaps an heir) is not clear. Either way, the secret is still mostly a secret after half a millennium and is providing more food for thought than the Voynich author could ever have imagined.


J.K. Petersen


© Copyright 2013 J.K. Petersen, All Rights Reserved

Feb. 20, 2017 Addendum: I stumbled across a Hebrew blessings phrase, “Ha-Brachah-dabarata” once again, from another source, some time after writing this blog and when I said it out loud (again), it still rings true as the possible origin of A-braca-dabra. Also, some of my research indicates that the charm word Abracula may be derived from the name Abraham (pronounced with a hard-h that sometimes gets transcribed as a hard-c).