Re-Blog: Secret Codes, Medieval Medicine & Witches


(Originally posted 9/19/2017 on Read With The Gringa)

Who uses secret codes? Kids with secret hide-outs, spies, secret societies, lovers, criminals, etc. Was there a secret society during Medieval times who created a complex secret code, the size of a hefty novel, that has still not been cracked? Linguistics, cryptographic and translation experts say no. And the gringa wants to know why since they still haven’t “cracked the code” of a centuries old manuscript. How would they know what they don’t know?


The Voynich manuscript is really a book, like a huge paperback novel. Within those soft vellum covers are pages of astrological charts, 

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naked women bathing in mysterious green liquids, 

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and strange, unknown flora. 

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Describing all of these curiosities is a secret code that has yet to be solved. 


So what kind of information is being shared? Is it dangerous? Taboo? Subject to blackmail? Why would the author go to such trouble as to pen this tome in an unreadable language? Most authors know that it is publish or perish. To publish in a tongue that can never be known by the general public is the same as not publishing at all. What in the world is this book about? 


One literary expert suggests that, because of the illustrations of naked ladies taking baths, perhaps it was a health manual that challenged the medical trends of that era. The author might possibly have faced legal charges as serious as witchcraft for practicing questionable herbal remedies. Is that what is in the book? Recipes for herbal treatments of feminine ailments? 


This expert’s theory has been widely rejected by the literary community at large. A community, mind you, that has already committed much time and effort to decoding the manuscript. Is their reaction just sour grapes? Has Nicholas Gibbs, a professional researcher of history and war artist, hit upon the truth and spoiled their fun and shot at glory? 


In addition to his professional credentials he also has experience evaluating precious curiosities, having worked for the famed Christie’s auction house. But, even more compelling for the gringa, is his biological connection to his working theory. He is a descendant of one of England’s most famous ancient herbalists, Thomas Fromond. And it was the work of his famed ancestor that helped guide Gibbs in his theory.


So, despite the criticisms of his peers, and their claims that his theory is purely satire, their own findings actually seem to support the Gibbs’ theory. After much examination of the flora illustrations, astrological charts and naked ladies bathing depictions, Gibbs’ critics admit that these elements are health related.


These critics also accede that the Voynich manuscript is very similar to a medieval bathing guide, De Balneis Puteolanis. But their main point of criticism is his accomplishment where they otherwise failed. Gibbs actually decoded two lines of the manuscript. So what is the problem?


The critics claim that his translation into Latin is not grammatically correct. The gringa says, “Really?” I mean, dear reader, come on. When the gringa needs to keep on schedule, she might ask an English speaking friend, “What time is it?” If around Spanish speaking friends, the gringa would say, “Que hora es?” Guess what the literal translation of the Spanish is in English… What hour is. Which is NOT grammatically correct in English. So, the gringa doesn’t buy the grammatically incorrect translation complaint.


Then there’s the fact that the lines Gibbs decoded weren’t actually comprised of complete words. He was decoding characters that represented abbreviated words. Kind of like if the gringa used the “#” symbol to represent the “1/2 tbsp” abbreviation in my own secret code. The secret code was never intended to be grammatically correct. Come on, people. Stop being jealous because a rookie on the scene showed you up.


And what of the theory for why a ladies health manual would need to be written in a secret code to begin with? It is carbon-dated to a point of origin in Northern Italy around 1404-1438. What was going on that might make secret communications of controversial subjects necessary? Here are a few historical facts for perspective:


-During this time period there was no clear identity for physicians in Europe.

-When universities established medical studies during the Middle Ages, women were excluded.

-Women healers were forced to go underground to practice except when filling the role of midwife.

-Most women preferred to be attended by a trusted midwife for other feminine health issues, albeit secretly.

-Women training other women as healers had to be creatively covert in the materials used to pass along and preserve knowledge.

-Women healers caught practicing or teaching medicine were acting outside the law and subject to prosecution.

-Prosecution of a woman healer usually involved the woman being charged with the crime of witchcraft.

-The crime of witchcraft was a capital offense with a death sentence attached.


Understanding the environment in which the Voynich manuscript was crafted, the gringa is convinced that it is indeed, a ladies health guide. Despite bearing the surname of the Polish man who purchased the manuscript in 1912 after its discovery in an Italian monastery, the gringa believes the manuscript was most likely authored by a woman healer working outside the law. The code was the result of this female healer fearing for her life if caught. So vital was it for this woman healer to pass on her knowledge to another generation of female healers, she created a complex secret code that has puzzled linguistic experts for centuries. 


When you think about the witchcraft connection, the secret code for a ladies health manual makes perfect sense. Mystery solved. Thanks Gibbs.

Sources:

The Atlantic


Bushehr University of Medical Sciences


Image Credits:

Mitch Testone


Ellis Nelson


CthulhuTech


Daily Mail

Video Credit: The Science Channel

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Soil, Water & Pure Air


(Originally posted 3/7/17 on Read With The Gringa)


The gringa proudly considers herself a treehugger. As a female treehugger, I can count myself among legendary treehugging heroes. Have you ever heard about the the Chipko movement? It is a group of women from India who have been protecting the forests of their native country from deforestation since the 1970s. They link their efforts to an ancient Indian legend about a courageous young girl named Amrita Devi. First, the gringa will tell the dear readers the legend and then you’ll find out about the Chipkos.


Long, long ago, before there was Internet, a Maharajah sent his tree cutters to chop down the trees surrounding a small village. He must have needed lots of furniture, houdahs (saddles for elephants), and firewood. Amrita knew that her family, including her old, beloved grandmother, would die from hunger and cold if they had no firewood. She rushed out and wrapped her arms around a tree, refusing to let the woodcutters chop it down. 


Now, here is where the story really gets interesting. If you have a person like the gringa telling the story, you hear a fantastic ending where Amrita prevails, saves the forest and is rewarded by the Maharaja for her bravery, wisdom and loyalty to family. However, if the caveman gets to butt in and tell the ending, he will say that Amrita got her head chopped off by the woodcutters axe when they went ahead and felled the tree. But, she became a martyr and her village revolted and refused to let any more trees get cut down, setting aside a lovely little grove in her honor where her body and head were buried. The dear reader can pick their own ending.


As for the Chipko, regardless of the ending of the story, they are still inspired by Amrita’s story. In the 1970s these rural village gals made their own brave stand and took their place in history and created a lasting legacy. You see, in the 1960s India was blazing a trail of economic development that meant massive deforestation that the government called progress. Although burgeoning city and industrial growth may have been welcomed by many, for those whose lives were wrapped up in the harmony of life in the forests, subsisting on the crops they planted and the natural resources that surrounded them, such progress was devastating.


For rural communities progress meant crops were ruined, homes torn down, erosion destroyed farmland and flooding ensued. Basically, as centuries-old Himalayan forests were cut down, the culture and and environment supported by these forests disentegrated. Many of these villagers pushed further up mountainsides looking for fuel, water, clearings to plant crops, and materials to construct new homes. 


Finally, like most strong women, many of these matriarchs had had enough. They began engaging in “Chipko”. This is a Hindi word which means “to cling to”. The Chipkos would literally hug trees, refusing to let go so they could be chopped down. The official origins of this method of protest is recorded in a 1973 incident. A contractor had been dispatched to bring down 3,000 trees that were allotted for construction of a sporting goods store. Much of the surrounding area was already barren from prior deforestation efforts. 


When the woodcutters arrived, women began sounding the alarm throughout the village. The gal who was considered their leader was a widow in her 50s. She mustered 27 other women to her side and they rushed out to face off with the woodcutters. At first their brave leader tried to plead with the contractor. Then she attempted to reason with him and educate him on the consequences of deforestation. The response was insult and abuse from the contractor and his crew. 


The women channeled their inner Amritas and flung their arms around the trees and vowed to die before letting go. The men were so taken aback by their actions they surrendered their efforts and returned to the sporting goods jobsite empty-handed. So much for sneakers for everyone!


As the movement proved effective, it grew. New ideas were also integrated into the Chipko’s practices. A cultural practice that symbolized brother-sister relationships was put to good use, tying sacred threads around trees marked with the wood-choppers symbol for its future fate. Crewmen would understand those threads as meaning Chipkos were willing to die on behalf of that tree.


In 1987 the Chipko movement was honored with what might be considered by many a recognition as meaningful as a Nobel Peace Prize. For being a small women’s movement with the purpose of saving trees, the women were given the “Right to Livelihood Award” honoring the many moratoriums and battles won to save a precious natural resource. 

The gringa will close with a Chipko folk song:

The contractor says, “You foolish women, do you know what these forest bear?Resin, timber, and therefore foreign exchange!”

The women answer, “Yes, we know. What do these forests bear?Soil, water, and pure air. Soil, water, and pure air.”


Source & Image Credit: Women In World History

Video Credit: DD News

Poor Mary, Tired To Death


A Winston Churchill quote is one of the greatest sources of inspiration for the gringa when it comes to historical research:

“History is written by the victors.”

 And the funniest thing about the truth of this quote is that Winston Churchill, whom a World War II victory would not have been possible without, did not even originate this quote, yet he always gets the glory. Perhaps it is because he is a victor!

With that in mind, the gringa would like to look at some annals of history comparing the words of the victorious with the words of the vanquished.  As an American, I will begin with my own country’s origins, the arrival of Europeans upon the soil of North America. What is the perspective of American history as told by traditional American historians compared to what is preserved by the indigenous people these European invaders eventually overpowered? Of course the stories vastly differ. But there were more people vanquished by the white men who arrived on the Atlantic shores of modern day Pennsylvania in the 16 & 1700s. There were also women, considered chattel and property. They, too, tell a different history of America than is traditionally recounted by the pre-dominantly white male historian.

Mary Cooper (1714-1778)

At the ripe, old age of 54 Mary Cooper began her diary, re-telling the events of being married to a Long Island farmer. Her personal record spans the years of 1768-1773, ending five years before her death. Poor Mary died childless, all of her 6 children passing on long before her: 2 died in infancy, 2 as young children, and 2 died in adulthood. Her tale is a story of struggle, tragedy and perseverance of a new life in a foreign and hostile land. Was it really worth the sacrifice to be part of a colonial invasion, laying claim to land that belonged to others? Would it have been more wise to remain within the confines of the existing British empire rather than seek to expand it at the expense of indigenous peoples, scratching out a meager existence in an undeveloped country? Dear reader, you read Mary’s words and decide for yourself.

On November 17, a Thursday in 1768, Mary notes how tired she is from a day of cooking and washing dishes. The gringa finds this sad. Women and men alike often consider cooking a joy, even a hobby. Back then, for poor Mary, it was hard labor. Washing a day’s worth of dishes was a task of hard labor as well.

The colonists are almost always depicted as pious Christian folk. We are regaled with stories of church gatherings. Their fervent religious beliefs even inspired the notorious Salem witch trials where young women and old crones were tortured and murdered for superstitious reasons. Yet Mary recounts a Sabbath day in November as being anything but a religious observance of the day of rest. She claimed that amidst a raging rain and snowstorm that she had not a single minute of rest. Keeping her home dry and warm was demanding work.

About one month later, two days in a row leading right up to Christmas Eve, poor Mary was quite miserable. Cleaning house as the northwest wind blew snow all day long made her “tired almost to death”. Christmas Eve, traditionally thought to be a time of gay celebration, also had Mary “tired almost to death”. Why? Because she had been drying and ironing clothes from sun up to sun down. The gringa hates to iron. I don’t purchase a single stitch of clothing if it has to be ironed or sent to the dry cleaners. The gringa believes that Spandex is the single greatest invention on this darn planet. I would have been one of the worst dressed colonists. That’s for darn sure. Poor, poor Mary. What an awful holiday memory.

But maybe Mary enjoys entertaining guests. The gringa knows many women who jump at the chance of being the hostess with the mostest. Maybe having company will cheer up poor, dear Mary.

Let’s see, January 7, 1769… it’s a Saturday! Perfect day for company, right? Wrong. Poor, poor Mary records that she is “tired almost to death” from waiting on her visitors. What about Christian hospitality? Mary’s spirit is a little lacking in such feelings because her feet ached as if her bones had been “laid bare”. Egad! Poor soul! Mary claimed she had no rest at all throughout the week. The gringa’s guess is that it must take that long to prepare for a single afternoon of company.

Dear readers, I believe I would have become a hermit or an eccentric old woman to keep company at bay rather than suffer the likes of what poor Mary endured! All the extra work to prepare for guests meant that she didn’t even have time to take care of cleaning and ironing her own clothes! What a horror! Throw a party and then not have a single thing to wear the following week! Who knew?! Poor Mary couldn’t believe there was possibly a single person who had such a miserable life as her own… “Did ever poore creature [have su]ch a life before.”

On February 12, a day the gringa would look forward to with romance only 2 days away, poor Mary was miserable again. So miserable and on the Sabbath as well. Once again, no rest on the Sabbath for Mary. She pens, “I hoped for some rest but am forst to get dinner and slave hard all day long”.

A week later, on the next Sabbath, the gringa’s insight into Mary takes a dark turn. Perhaps Mary’s life is not really all that bad. Maybe the problem is with Mary, or at least her religion. The gringa thinks Mary lives in perpetual stress due to the “fear of God” nature of her religion and the demands she believes it makes of her. Consider her words:

“I went to the Newlig[ht] meten with greate delight and offer[ed] my self to be a member with them. [They] seemed to be very glad but I was sudingly seased with a great horr[or] and darkeness. E[ven] think darkeness as migh[t] be felt. O, my God, why has thou forsaken me… I came home before the worship began, most distrest.”

Things weren’t any better for Mary the next day. She writes that she is still “in greate darkness still”. The following Sabbath she was still too troubled to attend her religious meeting. Her emotional and religious crisis stretches on into March.

On the 12th of that month she wrote that she was trying to get her clothes ready to attend the meeting despite the fact that she felt “as much distress as my heart can hold.” Two people came to visit her and she recorded that “I am forced to get diner and cannot go to metan atall. Alas, how unhappy and meresabel I am. I feele banished from God and all good.”

The gringa just feels for poor, poor Mary. I remember feeling miserable. It was called an unhappy marriage. The gringa just packed up and ran away from home. As the gringa reads Mary’s words of suffering my mind is screaming, “Run away, Mary! Run away!” But, back then, where would she go? How would she survive?

In April the gringa finds out what happens to naughty women of Mary’s time. Friday, Mary has some visitors. One of her guests is a woman named Tabthea. Mary writes that Tabthea quarrels with “our peopel”  and “Semon Cooper turned her out of doors and threw her over the fence”. The gringa thinks, “What in the world was wrong with those people?” I mean, the history I was taught was all about the generosity and goodness of the early American colonists, their goodness related to their religious beliefs. But here you have a woman who argues a point and then a man tosses her, not just out of the house, but OVER A FENCE! Outrageous!

Throughout April and May, a time when the gringa would be celebrating the arrival of Spring, poor Mary talks over and over again about her distress. It is all related to how much trouble she has with the labor demands of keeping her clothes cleaned and ironed. Things got so bad that on a Saturday, trying to prepare for the Sabbath, she records that she is simply “dirty and distressed as ever”. By the time Sabbath arrives there are “No cloths irond” and she is simply “freted and tired almost to death”.  The next week was no better. Poor Mary had “Much hard worke, dirty and distrest.” She later receives a lady guest who is having problems with her sons. Mary’s perspective is that “We seeme to have little or no sence of any thing but our troubels.” It seems Mary’s depression was the common plight of the female American colonist.

July 13, 1769 is an anniversary of sorts for Mary. It marks the 40th year since she married and came to America with her husband. And how does Mary feel about this? Yes, the dear readers have guessed it, morose, little Mary is not reflecting with gladness… “here have I seene little els but harde labour and sorrow, crosses of every kind. I think in every repect the state of my affairs is more then forty times worse then when I came here first, except that I am nearer the desierered haven.”

The gringa thinks that it’s safe to say that American historians have romanticized a history that is anything but romantic. The colonists could have done themselves a favor, as well as the indigenous people they ended up massacring, by just staying home across the pond!  And that’s enough of poor Mary for now! The gringa is thoroughly depressed and needs a walk in the park because I’m darn sure not doing any laundry anytime soon!

 

Source: nationalhumanitiescenter.org

Image Credit: roleofwomenincolonialtimes.weebly.com