Catharism, Levitov, and the Voynich Manuscript
by Dennis J. Stallings


Abstract

Dr. Leo Levitov claims that his decipherment of the Voynich Manuscript shows it to be a liturgical manual for the Cathar religion of the Middle Ages. He claims that Catharism was actually a survival of the antique cult of the Egyptian-Greco-Roman goddess Isis. He further claims that the Voynich Manuscript is a liturgical manual for the endura, a ritual euthanasia. However, genuine historical information shows that Catharism was a variant form of Christianity, and that the endura, a terminal fast at the end of life, was a very late practice in Catharism that does not resemble Levitov's account. This historical evidence contradicts Levitov's claim of decipherment of the Voynich Manuscript.


Outline


Introduction

Leo Levitov published his claimed solution of the Voynich Manuscript in Solution Of The Voynich Manuscript: A Liturgical Manual For The Endura Rite Of The Cathari Heresy, The Cult Of Isis (Aegean Park Press, 1987). Due to Michael Barlow and Terence McKenna's somewhat favorable reviews, Levitov's book has received some cautiously favorable reception.

Levitov claims that the medieval Western European Cathar sect was actually a survival of the antique Greco-Roman-Egyptian cult of Isis. He further claims that the Voynich Manuscript is a liturgical manual for a Cathar ritual of euthanasia called the Endura.

Jacques Guy has given a lingustic critique of Levitov's book, ON LEVITOV'S DECIPHERMENT OF THE VOYNICH MANUSCRIPT by Jacques B.M. Guy. Dr. Guy's review concludes that Levitov's claimed decipherment of the Voynich Manuscript is invalid. This article considers historical evidence on Catharism that contradicts Levitov's claim.


Historical Catharism

Development

A reliable account of late Catharism is Montaillou: The Promised Land of Error by Emmanuel Le Roy Ladurie. The introductory chapter to the English translation of Montaillou summarizes the Cathar religion succinctly. "Catharism or Albigensianism was a Christian heresy: there is no doubt on this point at least. Its supporters considered and proclaimed themselves 'true Christians', 'good Christians', as distinct from the official Catholic Church which according to them has betrayed the genuine doctrine of the Apostles. At the same time, Catharism stood at some distance from traditional Christian doctrine, which was monotheist. Catharism accepted the (Manichaean) existence of two opposite principles, if not of two deities, one of good and the other of evil. One was God, the other Satan. On the one hand was light, on the other dark. On one side was the spiritual world, which was good, and on the other the terrestrial world, which was carnal, physical, corrupt. It was this essentially spiritual insistence on purity, in relation to a world totally evil and diabolical, which gave rise retrospectively to a probably false etymology of the word Cathar, which has been said to derive from a Greek word meaning 'pure'. In fact 'Cathar' comes from a German word the meaning of which has nothing to do with purity. The dualism good/evil or God/Satan subdivided into two tendencies, according to region. On the one hand there was absolute dualism, typical of Catharism in Languedoc in the twelfth century: this proclaimed the eternal opposition between the two principles, good and evil. On the other hand was the modified dualism characteristic of Italian Catharism: here God occupies a place which was more eminent and more 'eternal' than that of the Devil."

"Catharism was based on a distinction between a 'pure' elite on the one hand (perfecti, parfaits [perfects], bonshommes [Goodmen] or hérétiques [heretics; perfects were also called Good Christians. Women could be perfects, Perfectae.] ), and on the other hand, the mass of simple believers (credentes). The parfaits came into their illustrious title after they had been initiated by receiving the Albigensian sacrament of baptism by book and word (not by water). In Cathar language, this sacrament was called the consolamentum ('consolation'). Ordinary people referred to it as 'heretication'. Once he had been hereticated a parfait had to remain pure, abstaining from meat and women. (Catharism, though not entirely anti- feminine, showed no great tolerance of women.) A parfait had the power to bless bread and to receive from ordinary believers the melioramentum or ritual salutation or adoration. He gave them his blessing and kiss of peace (caretas). Ordinary believers did not receive the consolamentum until just before death, when it was plain that the end was near. This arrangement allowed ordinary believers to lead a fairly agreeable life, not too strict from the moral point of view, until the end approached. But once they were hereticated, all was changed. Then they had to embark (at least in the late Catharism of the 1300s) on a state of endura or total and suicidal fasting. From that moment on there was no escape, physically, though they were sure to save their souls. They could touch neither women nor meat in the period until death intervened, either through natural causes or as a result of the endura." (pp. viii-ix).

One often reads that the word "Cathar" comes from the late classical Greek word "katharoi" (pure ones). However, Nicolas Gouzy of the Centre d'Études Cathares (Center of Cathar Studies) writes, "It seems almost certain today that 'Cathars' is more comparable to an insult and would mean 'cat worshippers' or 'catists' which is supported by the use of the adjective 'catier' by a Flemish chronicler whose name escapes me at the moment and would derive from the Low German ketter (cat); also the German translation of the word 'heresy' is die Ketzerel, same root. The heretics are, in the iconography of the moralized Bibles of the XIth century, almost always accompanied by cats, symbol of evil for all of medieval Christendom." (Private e-mail, May 22, 1997.) Also, the Cathars didn't refer to themselves as Cathars, as one would expect if it meant "pure ones." They called their leaders "good Christians" or "goodmen".

Catharism originated from the Paulican movement near Byzantium. Paulicanism became Bogomilism in Bulgaria around 950 (Lambert, Medieval Heresy, pp. 10-16). Bogomilism eventually made an appearance in Western Europe to become Catharism. "In Eon's time (the 1140s), the first signs appear that this phase in the history of Western dissent is coming to an end as writers and chroniclers describe the stirrings of a fully international movement, named differently in different countries, but having distinctive elements of belief and organization in common. These betray a connection with the Bogomils of Byzantium and the Balkans... The first outbreak to be recorded took place in the Rhineland, where in 1143-4 the Premonstratensian provost Everwin of Steinfeld described to St. Bernard of Clairvaux the traits of a heresy detected at Cologne which had its own bishop and organization." (p. 60) The new heresy, to be called Catharism in the West, spread from there down to southern France by 1165 and northern Italy by 1167 (p. 63-5). Lambert's Chapter 8, "The Cathars", pp. 108-150, describes the rise and eventual end of the movement.

Catharism was eventually destroyed by the Albigensian Crusade in France and the Inquisition in both France and Italy. According to Lambert, "the last Cathar was burned in Languedoc as late as 1330." (p. 134) In Italy, "the last [Cathar] bishop to be reported in western Europe was captured in Tuscany in 1321; survivors continued for a time to find refuge, possibly in the Lombard countryside and in the Alps." (p. 140) However, the Centre d'Études Cathares Web page notes: "The last known Occitan goodman, Bélibaste, was burned at Villerouge in 1321. In Northern Italy, the Inquisition archives conserve dualist depositions from the beginning of the XVth century."

Surviving Cathar Texts in Modern Translations

In English the best basic sourcebook for surviving Cathar texts is Heresies of the High Middle Ages by Wakefield and Evans (1969). Wakefield and Evans present English translations of extensive excerpts or the totality of six original Cathar works. In addition to these, Wakefield & Evans also quote two Bogomil works taken over by the Western European Cathars. For other books and websites with modern translations of surviving Cathar texts, see the bibliography.

Here is an excerpt from the Occitan (Wakefield and Evans say Provençal) Ritual of Lyons in Wakefield and Evans, pp. 488-9. (Occitan is the regional language of southern France spoken in the Cathar area. It is very similar to Catalan. For more information, see the Occitan Language Page. )

(This is the beginning of the Ministration of the Consolamentum.)

"If he is to receive the consolamentum forthwith, let him peform his melioramentum and take the Book from the hand of the elder. And let the elder exhort him and preach to him with suitable scriptural verses and in such words as are proper for the consolamentum. Let him speak thus:

'Peter, you wish to receive the spiritual baptism by which the Holy Spirit is given in the Church of God, together with the Holy Prayer and the imposition of hands by Good Men. Of this baptism our Lord Jesus Christ says in the Gospel of St. Matthew to His disciples: "Going therefore, teach ye all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you; and behold, I am with you all days, even to the consummation of the world." [Matt. 28:19-20] And in th Gospel of St. Mark, He says: "Go ye into the whole world and preach the gospel to every creature. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be condemned." [Mark 16:15-16] And in the Gospel of St. John, He says to to Nicodemus: "Amen, amen, I say to thee, unless a man be born again of water and the Holy Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God." [John 3:5] And John the Baptist spoke of this baptism when he said, "I baptize with water but He that shall come after me is mighter than I, the latchet of whose shoe I am not worthy to loose. He shall baptize you in the Holy Spirit and fire." [John 1:26-27; Matt. 3:11] And Jesus says in the Acts of the Apostles, "For John indeed baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit." [Acts 1:5]

'This holy baptism with the imposition of hands was instituted by Jesus Christ, according to that which St. Luke recounts, and He says that His friends shall perform it, as St. Mark relates, "They shall lay their hands upon the sick and they shall recover." [Mark 16:18] Ananias administered this baptism to St. Paul when the latter was converted and afterward Paul and Barnabas administered it in many places. And St. Peter and St. John administered it to the Samaritans, as St. Luke tells in the Acts of the Apostles: "Now when the apostles, who were in Jerusalem, had heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent unto them Peter and John, who, when they were come, prayed for them, that they might receive the Holy Spirit. For He was not as yet come upon any of them. Then they laid their hands upon them and they received the Holy Spirit." [Acts 8:14-17, omitting part of v. 16] This holy baptism, by which the Holy Spirit is given, the Church of God has preserved from the apostles until this time and it has passed from Good Men to Good Men until the present moment, and it will continue to do so until the end of the world.'"

The Christianity of this passage is quite obvious. The extensive use of New Testament quotations is quite typical of both the Occitan and Latin Cathar rituals.

Online, there is Societas Gnostica Norvegia: Cathar Texts. It has two excerpts from the Cathar Ritual of Lyons and a Bogomil text used by the Cathars.

Other Valid Medieval Records of Catharism

Montaillou: The Promised Land of Error by Emmanuel Le Roy Ladurie presents one reliable medieval record of Catharism. The introductory chapter states the background succinctly. "Though there are extensive historical studies concerning peasant communities there is very little material available that can be considered the direct testimony of peasants themselves. It is for this reason that the Inquisition Register of Jacques Fournier, Bishop of Pamiers in Ariège in the Comté de Foix (now southern France) from 1318 to 1325, is of such exceptional interest. As a zealous churchman - he was later to become Pope at Avignon under the name Benedict XII - he supervised a rigorous Inquisition in his diocese and, what is more important, saw to it that the depositions made to the Inquisition courts were meticulously recorded. In the process of revealing their position on official Catholicism, the peasants examined by Fournier's Inquisition, many from the village of Montaillou, have given an extraordinarily detailed and vivid picture of their everyday life." (p. vii). To show in detail the everyday life of a medieval village is the purpose of Le Roy Ladurie's book.

Further on, the introduction notes, "At the head of the 'office' was of course Jacques Fournier himself, a sort of compulsive Maigret, immune to both supplication and bribe, skillful at worming out the truth (at bringing the lambs forth, as his victims said), able in a few minutes to tell a heretic from a 'proper' Catholic - a very devil of an Inquisitor, according to the accused. He proceeded, and succeeded, essentially through the diabolical and tenacious skill of his interrogations; only rarely did he have recourse to torture. He was fanatical about detail, and present in person at almost all the sittings of his own court." (p. xiii). Because of this, the Inquisition Register and Le Roy Ladurie's book also give an accurate picture of Catharism.

Thus Jacques Fournier's Inquisition records, even if they are hostile in tone, are factually accurate and agree with surviving Cathar texts. Wakefield & Evans quote many other Inquisition and medieval historical records of which this is also largely true.

Lambert's book and Wakefield & Evans' book are a good combination for the study of Catharism, since Lambert give the historical narrative and refers to source documents in Wakefield & Evans.

The Cathar Endura

Montaillou: The Promised Land of Error by Emmanuel Le Roy Ladurie covers the period of very late Catharism, when the Cathar Endura was practiced. "Ordinary believers did not receive the consolamentum until just before death, when it was plain that the end was near. This arrangement allowed ordinary believers to lead a fairly agreeable life, not too strict from the moral point of view, until the end approached. But once they were hereticated, all was changed. Then they had to embark (at least in the late Catharism of the 1300s) on a state of endura or total and suicidal fasting. From that moment on there was no escape, physically, though they were sure to save their souls. They could touch neither women nor meat in the period until death intervened, either through natural causes or as a result of the endura." (pp. viii-ix, the English version).

Le Roy Ladurie quotes a vivid eyewitness account of an endura. Brune Pourcel of Montaillou gave this testimony to Fournier's Inquisition.

"Fifteen or seventeen years ago, said Brune Pourcel (i.388), one dusk, at Easter, Guillaume Belot, Raymond Benet (the son of Guillaume Benet) and Rixende Julia, of Montaillou, brought Na Roqua to my house in a bourras [a rough piece of canvas]; she was gravely ill and had just been hereticated. And they said to me: 'Do not give her anything to eat or drink. You mustn't!' "

"That night, together with Rixende Julia and Alazaïs Pellissier, I sat up with Na Roqua. We kept on saying to her, 'Speak to us! Say something!' "

"But she would not open her lips. I wanted to give her some broth made of salt pork, but we could not get her to open her mouth. When we tried to do so in order to give her something to drink, she clenched her lips. She remained like this for two days and two nights. The third night, at dawn, she died. While she was dying, two night birds commonly called gavecas [owls] came on to the roof of my house. They hooted and when I heard them I said: 'The devils have come to carry off the late Na Roqua's soul!' " (p. 226, English version.)

Nelli (1968a) says that the word "endura" is Occitan for privation or fast (p. 123). He also notes, "The Endura, neither ritual nor obligatory -- was an absolute and prolonged fast which could lead the consoled to (voluntary) death." (p. 95)

Lambert describes the Endura as a late development within Catharism. "The endura, a form of suicide, occasionally by violent means, but usually by taking to bed and refusing food, passing from life secure in the possession of the consolamentum on a diet of sugared water, became an occasional feature; it had always been a logical end for those who believed that life itself was an imprisonment under Satan, and a possible psychological effect of the obsessive and perfectionist life of the perfect, but its early incidence is rare and a little ambiguous. Never at all frequent, its incidence increased in late Catharism, when after 1295 one commanding personality, the radical dualist Pierre Autier, led a revival; for him the endura could be a convenient means of removing followers who knew too much when the inquisition was on their track." (pp. 137- 8)

The idea here is that after receiving the consolamentum, which gave the forgiveness of sins, one could no longer sin. That involved leading the severe lifestyle of the perfects. If one could not do that, it were best to die while still in a state of grace. This idea also appears at times in the history of the early Christian Church, where people would postpone baptism for their deathbeds.

After hearing that the Endura was only a late practice in Catharism, the author inquired about this question at the Centre d'Études Cathares (Center of Cathar Studies). M. Nicolas Gouzy sent the following response. (private E-mail communication, Jan 6, 1997):

"It is not possible to make the claim that someone who received the consolation was bound to suicide by starvation. It is true that this thesis still prevails among numerous 'esotericist' authors and poorly informed historians.

"There is no trace of ritual suicide or ritual murder in the Catholic authors of violently anti-heretical notices or treatises, like those of Vaux de Cernay, Alain de Lille, Moneta de Cremone... They would not have missed using this argument if it had been true. Neither is ritual suicide attested by the Southern [French] inquisition.

"One must await the first decade of the XIV century to see the endura appear, very precisely defined as a ritual fast associated with a consolamentum in extremis or given in precarious situations, around twenty cases for the period 1300-1320. It was only, and you are right to mention it, the last Cathar perfecti, the most poorly initiated, who actually tried to propose an expiatory fast to someone newly consoled. But not the Authié brothers.

"In summation: it is not known with certainty whether the endura was an ordinary religious practice or not, but it is known that it was not an institution, and that never, emphatically never, did the Good Christians advise a ritual suicide! "

Online Resources

Catholics Heretics and Heresy, by G C H Nullens. A history online of the Cathars. It discusses Le Roy Ladurie's book quite a bit. In section 1.2, Introduction to the Cathar Religion, he mentions four of the surviving Cathar documents.

A Cathar bibliography lists some other books in English on Catharism

In French, there is Centre d'Études Cathares (Center of Cathar Studies), an authoritative resource. There is also Voyage en Terre d'Oc: le catharisme. (Travels in the Land of Oc: Catharism) which has excellent pictures. Les Cathares has some history.

Welcome to the Cathars! is the web page of The Assembly of Good Christians, a modern Cathar church.


Levitov's Account of Catharism

His General Account of Catharism

Although Dr. Levitov did not supply a bibliography in his book and is inconsistent about attributing ideas, he supplied enough information that the author was able to reconstruct most of his sources. Those sources discussed in this article are listed in the Bibliography as "used by Levitov". This shows where he got those of his ideas that were based on printed historical information.

Levitov claims that Catharism was actually a survival of the antique pagan cult of Isis, Osiris, and Horus. "The Voynich manual is not a testament. It is a prayer manual in Liturgical form and probably a Litany, so that there is no other theological word used - not Jesus, Mary, Jehovah, Moses. It concerns itself with expressions of the function of Isis: 'Ye who are troubled come to me, and I will give you rest... ' The 'man in the pupil of the eye of Horus' was referred to by the ancients as 'Rex Mundi', King of the Universe, sometimes benevolently and possibly malevolently later by the sect if one is to equate Rex Mundi, with the Hebrew Melech Haolam, as Jehovah's epithet, 'King of the Universe'." (p. 7) "On the other page [his Figure 6, f80v of the Voynich Manuscript] at the top left is the figure is Isis holding her sistrum [a bell-like instrument sacred to Isis]." (p. 13) "Actually, there is not a single so-called botanical illustration which does not contain some Cathari symbol or Isis symbol. There is, as I have said before, no attempt to conceal the nature of the manuscript. The innumerable stars [in the Voynich star illustrations] are representative of the stars in Isis' mantle. The eyes of Horus appear in the shapes of leaves (see Figure 3 [f7v of the Voynich Manuscript].)" p. 42.

Levitov's major sources on medieval heresy seem to be Baigent, Leigh, & Lincoln; Guiraud; Koch; Lea; and Molinier. Note that most of these are either old (Guiraud, 1928; Lea, 1888; and Molinier, 1881) or rather speculative (Baigent, Leigh, & Lincoln). Levitov says, "No matter what historian one reads regarding this period of European history, one never finds the Cathari described as other than a Christian heretical sect." (p. 44) He also freely admits, "At no place in history - and I have spent hundreds of hours of research in my own and Public Libraries - does the concept of Isis appear." (p. 71)

Neither has the author ever seen it mentioned in any primary or secondary source on Catharism.

His Ignorance of Surviving Cathar Writings in Modern Translations

Levitov often claims that the Inquisition destroyed all Cathar writings. "The Inquisition destroyed every scrap of paper which existed on the Continent that was affiliated with the Cathari Heresy." (p. 9) "There is much confusion in the history books concerning the Cathari 'literature' - testaments or prayer books, especially there being no example of anything extant." (p. 11) "But this was the Inquisition, the church militant of Rome, the Madonna of the West and they sought every means to annihilate the Cathari, the pure, the adherents of the Madonna of the East. Having done so, they could not bear to allow the existence of the smallest scrap of paper that might bear witness to what they had done." (p. 25) "The Inquisition was compelled to wipe out every Cathari piece of paper." (p. 53) "... but there is absolutely nothing to substantiate this, in view of the destruction of all Cathari literature and the total dependence of historians on what the implacable enemy of Catharism, the Inquisition, has to say." (p. 76)

As we have seen, this is definitely not true! Wakefield and Evans quote, extensively or in their entirety, six Cathar texts and two Bogomil texts used by the Cathars.

In his review of Levitov's book, Terence McKenna writes, "However, A. E. Waite in his The Holy Grail mentions '... there is fortunately one fragmentary record of Albigensian belief which has survived ... I refer to the Cathar Ritual of Lyon which is now well known having been published in 1898 by Mr. F. C. Conybeare.' Waite goes on to mention that part of the Lyon Codex contains 'certain prayers for the dying.' The Codex is in the Langue d'Oc. Does it resemble the Voynich material? We are not told." (p. 50) This Ritual, of course, is the Occitan (Provençal) Ritual published by Clédat and quoted extensively in Wakefield and Evans, and partly in several other books and websites noted in the Bibliography. There are also many other surviving Cathar writings in addition to the Ritual of Lyons; these are noted in the Bibliography.

His Ignorance of Other Valid Medieval Records

Levitov gives short shrift to Inquisition records. "Holy Blood, Holy Grail, a book published in 1982 by Michael Baigent Richard Leigh, and Henry Lincoln, while not treating the Cathari per se devotes a chapter to it. I quote a very apt description of the information which their very intense research on the period provided: 'Moreover, much of the information about the Cathari heretics derives from such Ecclesiastical sources like the Inquisition. To form a picture of them from such sources is like trying to form a picture of, say, The French Resistance, from the reports of the SS and the Gestapo.'" (p. 1) "The Inquisitional records deliberately do not reflect it and official ecclesiastical chroniclers like Walter Map are ludicrous in their description of Cathari Rites." (p. 53) "It would be natural to expect that Cathari sects so widely separated by geography and time would display different characteristics and that the Voynich, limited to the early days of the Heresy, could represent a different aberrant sect of the late 11th and 12th Centuries; but there is absolutely nothing to substantiate this, in view of the destruction of all Cathari literature and the total dependence of historians on what the implacable enemy of Catharism, the Inquisition, has to say." (p. 76)

As we have seen from Le Roy Ladurie, Jacques Fournier's Inquisition records, even if they are hostile in tone, are factually accurate and agree with surviving Cathar texts. Wakefield & Evans quote many other Inquisition and medieval historical records of which this is largely true.

His Endura

Levitov claims that the Cathar Endura was a ritual suicide, always voluntarily chosen, a form of euthanasia to end illness with great pain. "There are certain rituals and facts common to most historians regarding the Cathari and these do appear in the drawings of the Voynich. Catharism was a totally antisacerdotal creed. The believer or Credentes [sic] was admitted to the Church by a rite called the Consolamentum, which the Roman Church called the 'heretication'. This was often put off until the believer was near death so that if he wanted not to meet the stringencies required to advance in the hierarchy, he could do so. On the other hand, the Consolamentum would be of no value if administered by sinful hands, and to guard against such a possibility many underwent it two or three times. When the Consolamentum was given on the death bed, the dying one was asked whether one wished to die as a martyr or as a confessor. If one chose to be a confessor, he abstained from food and drink for three days. These were actually the rites of the Endura. If the person survived the ordeals of the Endura or 'Privation' he became one of the 'Perfected'. The Endura was often a used as a method of suicide. Torture at the end of life assured them salvation(?) (This is not borne out by the Voynich - including accusations of incest, orgies, cannibalism, etc.) However, suicide by voluntary starvation, drinking cucumber juice containing ground glass, swallowing of poisonous potions, or death by venesection (cutting a vein) in order to bleed to death in a warm bath were common and depicted in the Voynich." (p. 11)

This passage is largely taken from Lea (vol. 1, p. 93-5) (Of course, Lea's book is old (1888) and does not reflect the latest research.) Although Levitov is describing what he thought the views of historians were in the passage above, it is generally his concept of the Endura. "The women depicted on the page [his Figure 8, f81r of the Voynich Manuscript] are undergoing the Endura. They have cut certain veins are bleeding to death in a bath of warm water." (p. 31) "For the most part, however, the Voynich Manuscript emphasizes the rite [of Endura] as it affects terminal illness and especially if accompanied with agonizing pain." (p. 49) He thinks that the entire Voynich Manuscript is a liturgy for his Endura. "The Voynich, insofar as it deals almost entirely with the 'treatment' of the sick and dying, probably represents only a small fragment of Cathari religion. That it is liturgical is beyond question, especially considering the stressed syllables." (p. 145)

At one point he displays some confusion. "There is, also, only one way that someone ambitious could move up to be one of 'the Perfected' in the hierarchy, and that would be to survive an Endura. Medically, I doubt that anyone could survive a venesection in a warm bath. Survival might be possible after ingestion of ground glass or poison. A fast of three days would have to be the most logical, or at least the safest of the Endura programs. For the most part, however, the Voynich Manuscript emphasizes the rite as it affects terminal illness and especially if accompanied with agonizing pain." (p. 49)

We have already considered the Cathar endura attested by what historical evidence there is. Many details of it are poorly attested and therefore unclear, but the following things seem clear:

1) The Endura followed an individual's receiving the consolamentum and was a consequence of the consolamentum, rather than an attempt to relieve unbearable suffering.

2) It was not an institution.

3) It was definitely never conceived as a ritual suicide.

4) It was not done by groups.

5) It mostly occured in the last (probably after 1300) period of Catharism.

6) Most of the time it consisted of a fast, rather than venisection, or drinking poison or cucumber juice with ground glass (this doesn't sound like a painless way to die!).

All these things contradict Levitov's account of the Endura.

His Flemish Connection and English Connection

Levitov says, "Most certainly the Voynich Manuscript, which is that rarest of the rare, a Cathari liturgical manual, is written in an adaptation of the oral polyglot of the 12th Century West German dialects of Flanders, the Rheinland, and the River Maas." (p. 11-12) He also says, "The language of the Voynich is in a polyglot vernacular almost reduced to what might be described as a pidgin language." (p. 111)

Discussing early Catharism, Lambert says, "In addition to these established examples, other outbreaks imperfectly recorded, such as the case of the clerk Jonas in Cambrai, an episode in Vézelay in 1167, or that of the party of strangers from either the Rhineland or Flanders who landed in England, only to be branded at the council of Oxford in 1166 and turned adrift to starve, have the smell of Catharism, and may well have formed part of the same movement." (p. 65)

Levitov discusses extensively the episode of the party of strangers from either the Rhineland or Flanders who landed in England. This episode is probably what gave Levitov the idea that the Voynich Manuscript might be written in a medieval pidgin Dutch. He also notes, "The Voynich survived because it was most probably taken to England by the sect. The manual was probably confiscated and given to some monastic order to store. In the time of Henry VIII, the Duke of Northumberland was given permission to despoil the Catholic monastic orders. The manuscript most likely fell into his hands and since it was ascribed to Roger Bacon, and the Duke's good friend, Dr. John Dee, was a collector of Baconiana, Northumberland probably presented the Voynich to Dee." (pp. 13-15) (And, of course, Dee then sold the Voynich Manuscript to Rudolph II of Prague!)

Conclusion on Levitov's Claim of Decipherment

Levitov clearly did not consider surviving Cathar texts or other valid medieval records in his analysis. These primary sources as well as the secondary sources indicate that Catharism was a variant form of Christianity, not a survival of the antique pagan cult of Isis as Levitov's decipherment would show.

The surviving information on the Cathar Endura, sparse though it is, also contradicts what Levitov's decipherment would show.

Therefore, the available historical evidence on Catharism contradicts Levitov's claim of decipherment of the Voynich Manuscript. In the author's opinion, there is sufficient valid historical evidence to invalidate his claim of decipherment of the Voynich Manuscript.


Acknowledgments

Jim Reeds kindly lent me his copy of Levitov's book for this work and gave me much valuable information and advice. The members of the Voynich Manuscript E-mail list made many good comments during discussions of the issues involved. Nicolas Gouzy of the Centre d'Études Cathares sent me valuable E-mail on difficult questions.

Please direct any discussion of this article to the Voynich Manuscript E-mail list, voynich@rand.org.


Bibliography

Works that Levitov used are noted "USED BY LEVITOV". Works that the author has not at least looked at are noted "NOT SEEN". Translations of French-language material are by the author.

The following authors give partial or complete surviving Cathar texts: Bec, Birks and Gilbert, Brenon, Clédat, Nelli (1968b), Oldenbourg, Petry, and Wakefield and Evans. Wakefield and Evans have the most complete selection in English. Online there is Societas Gnostica Norvegia: Cathar Texts.

Printed Sources

  1. Baigent, Michael; Leigh, Richard; and Lincoln; Henry; Holy Blood, Holy Grail. (New York : Delacorte Press, c1982.) 461 p.

  2. Barlow, Michael; "Voynich Solved?", Cryptologia magazine, January 1988, Vol. XII, No. 1, pp. 47-8. [Review of Levitov.]

  3. Bec, Pierre; Anthologie de la Prose Occitane du Moyen-Age, Volume II [ Anthology of Medieval Occitan Prose, Volume II ] (1987, Vent Terral). [Has brief excerpt from Cathar Ritual of Lyons.]

  4. Birks, Walter, and Gilbert, R. A.; The Treasure of Montségur: a Study of the Cathar Heresy and the Nature of the Cathar Secret. (1987, Crucible, Great Britain). ISBN 0-85030-424-5. [Contains excerpts from the Cathar Ritual of Lyons.]

  5. Brenon, Anne; Les Cathares: Pauvres du Christ ou Apôtres de Satan? [The Cathars: Poor of Christ or Apostles of Satan?] (Découvertes Gallimard, 1997.) ISBN 2-07-053403-0. [Has several Cathar texts, including two sermons and a Ritual of Dublin not to be found elsewhere.]

  6. Clédat, Léon; Le Nouveau Testament, traduit du XIIe siècle, en langage provençal,, suivi d'un rituel cathare. Reproduction photolithographique du manuscrit de Lyon. [The New Testament, translated in the XIIth century, in the Provençal language, followed by a Cathar ritual. Photolithographic reproduction of the Lyon manuscript.] (Leroux, Paris, 1888) [NOT SEEN. It has a modern French translation of the Cathar ritual.]

  7. D'Imperio, Mary E; The Voynich Manuscript: An Elegant Enigma. Originally published by U.S. Department of Commerce, National Technical Information Service, Washington D.C., 1978 (ADA 070 618). Republished by Aegean Park Press. (PO Box 2837, Laguna Hills, CA 92654-0837, USA. Phone 714-586-8811, http://www.halcyon.com/books/) C-27 Soft cover $18.80 ISBN: 0-89412- 038-7 (1996 catalog). [USED BY LEVITOV.]

  8. D'Imperio, M. E., editor. "New Research on the Voynich Manuscript: Proceedings of a Seminar", 30 November 1976. Privately printed pamphlet, Washington, D.C., 1976. [USED BY LEVITOV.]

  9. Gouzy, Nicolas, of the Centre d'Études Cathares (Center of Cathar Studies); private E-mail communication to author, "Re: Endura cathare [Cathar Endura]", January 6, 1997.

  10. Gouzy, Nicolas, of the Centre d'Études Cathares (Center of Cathar Studies); private E-mail communication to author, "Re: Etymologie du mot 'cathare' [Etymology of word 'Cathar']", May 22, 1997.

  11. Guiraud, Jean; The mediaeval inquisition. (London, Burns, Oates & Washbourne, ltd., 1929) 208 p. [Original published in 1928. USED BY LEVITOV. NOT SEEN.]

  12. Koch, Gottfried; Frauenfrage und Ketzertum im Mittelalter : die Frauenbewegung im Rahmen des Katharismus und des Waldensertums und ihre sozialen Wurzeln (12.-14. Jahrhundert) [ The Topic of Women and Heresy in the Middle Ages : the Women's Movement in the Framework of Catharism and Waldensianism and their Social Roots (12th -14th Centuries). ] . Series : Forschungen zur mittelalterlichen Geschichte ; Bd. 9 [Studies of Medieval History ; Vol. 9]. (Berlin : Akademie-Verlag, 1962.) 210 p. [USED BY LEVITOV.]

  13. Lambert, Malcolm; Medieval Heresy: Popular Movements from Bogomil to Hus. (Holmes & Meier Publishers, New York, 1976).

  14. Le Roy Ladurie, Emmanuel (translated by Barbara Bray); Montaillou: The Promised Land of Error , 1978, George Braziller, Inc., New York. [This English translation has a good introductory chapter and, at the end, an index of the main families of Montaillou, very useful in understanding social relations in a small mountain village.]

  15. Le Roy Ladurie, Emmanuel; Montaillou, village occitan de 1294 à 1324, (1982, édition revue et corrigée, Éditions Gallimard).

  16. Lea, Henry Charles; A history of the Inquisition of the middle ages. (New York, Harper & Brothers, 1888.) 3 volumes. Vol. 1, 583 p.; Vol 2, 587 p.; Vol. 3, 736 p. Many reprints and abridgements. [USED BY LEVITOV.]

  17. Levitov, Leo; Solution Of The Voynich Manuscript: A Liturgical Manual For The Endura Rite Of The Cathari Heresy, The Cult Of Isis (Aegean Park Press, 1987).

  18. McKenna, Terence; "Has the World's Most Mysterious Manuscript been Read at Last?", Gnosis Magazine, No. 7, Summer 1988, pp. 48-51. [Review of Levitov]

  19. Molinier, C.; "L'Endura: Coutûme religieuse des derniers Sectaires albigeois", Annales de la Faculté des Lettres de Bourdeaux, 1r ser. III (1881), pp. 282-99. [NOT SEEN. USED BY LEVITOV.]

  20. Nelli, René (1968a); Dictionnaire des Hérésies méridionales, et des mouvements hétérodoxes ou indépendants apparus dans le Midi de la France depuis l'établissement du Christianisme [ Dictionary of southern French Heresies, and of heterodox or independant movements appearing in southern France since the establishment of Christianity ] . (Édouard Privat, Toulouse, 1968)

  21. Nelli, René (1968b); Écritures Cathares... Textes Précathares et Cathares [Cathar Scriptures... Pre-Cathar and Cathar Texts ]. (Paris, 1968, 2nd ed.) [NOT SEEN. Has six Cathar and Bogomil texts, including the Cathar Ritual of Lyons.]

  22. Oldenbourg, Zoé; Massacre at Montségur: A History of the Albigensian Crusade. Translated by Peter Green. (New York, 1961.) [Has excerpts of the Cathar Ritual of Lyons and a "Catharist Prayer" not found elsewhere.]

  23. Petry, Ray C.; A History of Christianity: Readings in the History of the Early and Medieval Church. (Englewood Cliffs, N.J., 1962.) [Has a brief excerpt of the Cathar Ritual of Lyons.]

  24. Wakefield, Walter L., and Evans, Austin P.; Heresies of the High Middle Ages: Selected Sources Translated and Annotated. (Columbia University Press, New York & London, 1969). [Contains source documents used by Levitov, although he did not see this book. Has six Cathar texts, including the Cathar Ritual of Lyons, and two Bogomil texts. ]

  25. Yale University, Beinecke Rare Book Room and Library; The Voynich Manuscript (MS 408); Xerox copy flow of microfilm. [USED BY LEVITOV.]

Online Sources

  1. A Cathar bibliography.
    http://www.meryfela.demon.co.uk/perfect.htm

  2. Les Cathares. (In French. History.)
    http://www.altern.org/cathares/

  3. Catholics Heretics and Heresy, by G C H Nullens History of the Cathars.
    http://195.172.10.79/chh/contents.htm

  4. Centre d'Études Cathares (Center of Cathar Studies). An authoritative resource. In French.
    http://newescape.fr/Culture/History/Cathares/Ce.Cathares.html

  5. ON LEVITOV'S DECIPHERMENT OF THE VOYNICH MANUSCRIPT by Jacques B.M. Guy (Jacques Guy's linguistic critique of Levitov.)
    ftp://ftp.rand.org/pub/voynich/levitov

  6. Occitan Language Page Much on the Occitan language.
    http://www.mygale.org/09/simorre/oc/presoc.htm

  7. Societas Gnostica Norvegia: Cathar Texts. Included are two excerpts from the Lyons Cathar Ritual (from Birks and Gilbert) and a Bogomil text.
    http://home.sol.no/~noetic/cathtx.htm

  8. Voyage en Terre d'Oc: le catharisme. (Travels in the Land of Oc: Catharism) (In French. Good pictures.)
    http://www.cathares.org/sommaire.html

  9. Voynich Manuscript (Jim Reeds)
    http://www.research.att.com/~reeds/voynich.html

  10. Welcome to the Cathars! The Assembly of Good Christians, a modern Cathar church.
    http://www.surfsup.net/cathar/


Appendix: Voynich Folios Reproduced in Levitov

This is a list of Levitov's Voynich Manuscript drawings, probably tracings, of the Voynich Manuscript Xerox copy flows from Yale. Levitov notes: "In those pages which I transliterate and translate the manuscript [sic] the reader will have to go by the text, since there are errors made in my drawings of the pages. The text as I give it in the book is taken directly from the xerox copy flows." (p. 19) Also, his transcription alphabet doesn't distinguish between Currier C and I, but treats them as the same character. Most other transcription systems of which the author is aware do distinguish these characters. The reader should bear this in mind when reading the text in the drawings. The drawings are quite clear - a rare thing in Voynich images!

Levitov Figure Number

Levitov Page Number

Folio/side in the VMs

Voynich page number (FSG transcription)

2

6

f.68r2

126

3

10

f.7v

14

5

16

f.79v

156

6

17

f.80v

158

7

23

f.66r

117

8

24

f.81r

159

9

43

f.80r

157

10

45

f.50r

97

11

51

f.86v4

168

12

57

f.14r

25

13

62

f.25r

47

14

66

f.28r

53

15

72

f.70r1

133

17

93

f.1r

1

18

103

f.56r

109

19

109

f.22v

42

20

146

f.27v

52

21

151

f.85r2

171

22

158

f.68v1

130

24

164

f.70v1

136

25

169

f.72r1

139

--

170

f.104r

214

26

172

f.70v2

135




Copyright (c) 1998 by Dennis J. Stallings
October 10, 1998