5 of the most baffling books ever written

These are some of the strangest, most mysterious books ever written.

A scene from Codex Seraphinus.

Books teach us, inform us, amuse us and provoke us. But some books plainly befuddle us. They invoke mysteries that hint of something ancient, extraterrestrial or possibly divine. Here are 5 such books: the Voynich Manuscript, Codex Seraphinus, Rohonc Codex, the Smithfield Decretals and the Book of Soyga.


1.) VOYNICH MANUSCRIPT

This early 15-century book is a botanical text of sorts. Only the ink drawings of plants features in it are of a completely unknown origin. What's also unusual is the undecipherable text accompanying the plants and the many astronomical and astrological charts, as well as numerous female nudes which allude to some kind of reproductive processes, judging by their swollen bellies and interaction with interconnected tubes and capsules. Also present are over a 100 drawings of possibly medicinal variety of herbs and roots in various jars.

What does this all mean? Perhaps this is some kind of book of medicine from a galaxy far far away. Or a witch's notebook. The manuscript was written in an unknown language and has been studied by scores of professional codebreakers who have come up with nothing.

This book comes from Central Europe is named after the antique bookseller, Wilfrid M. Voynich, who bought it in 1912. Prior to that, the manuscript had a rather illustrious history of ownership, which included alchemists and the 16th century Emperor Rudolph II of Germany (also a Holy Roman Emperor), who believed it to be the work of the English philosopher Roger Bacon.

The original is located in the Beinecke Library collection at Yale, while you can buy a print on Amazon here.

2.) CODEX SERAPHINUS

The origins of the 360-page Codex Seraphinus are not too mysterious, while its contents are. The book was originally published in 1981, and is essentially an illustrated encyclopedia of an imaginary world. It was created by the Italian artist and designer Luigi Serafini, who said he wanted to recreate a feeling he remembered having as a little kid, before he even knew how to read, of what it was like to look at an encyclopedia for the first time. All the pictures and charts looked very mysterious to the little boy who knew they meant something, but didn't know what.

In a talk at Oxford University in 2009, Serafini claimed there was no real meaning in the text of the book, which was written in a process resembling automatic writing. Of course, some might think that even if he didn't try to consciously impose meaning, the universe (or deity of your choice) was speaking through Serafini as the manuscript definitely feels purposeful.

The Codex features surreal plants, animals, foods, machines and human practices.

You can buy it for yourself here.

3.) ROHONC CODEX


We don't know much about the 448-page Rohonc Codex. This illustrated manuscript surfaced in the 19th century in Hungary, and has puzzled people since. We don't know who wrote it, where they did it, or what it says as the text is written in a mysterious alphabet of nearly 200 symbols.

The illustrations in the book range from military battles to religious symbolism reminiscent of Christianity, Islam and even possibly Hinduism.

The possible origins of the manuscript have been linked to India, Sumeria or ancient Hungary. But until we crack the code, we won't really know. You're welcome to try deciphering the codex yourself here, as it's available online in its entirety.

4.) THE SMITHFIELD DECRETALS

This collection of canonical law, ordered by the 13th century Pope Gregory IX, could have been fairly common for its time and probably rather boring. Instead, the bizarre illustrations that accompanied the decretals lifted this illuminated manuscript to a mystical status.

The book features many scenes of homicidal giant rabbits, a medieval Yoda, bears fighting unicorns, and strange human and animals practices. Maybe the monks drawing these had something in their water or knew there would someday exist a digital network connecting people who'd love to share such images for giggles and likes.

A medieval Yoda?

Bears v. Unicorns

Man sawing off his own leg?

5.) THE BOOK OF SOYGA

After first being found by the Elizabethan mathematician and occultist John Dee, this 16th-century book on magic was lost for centuries until discovered in 1994 by a scholar within the archives of the British Library.

The nearly 200 pages of this book contain incantations and instructions for summoning demons, performing magic, astrological ideas and other things we don't really understand.

When he found it in 1551, John Dee went so far as to enlist a medium so he could have a conversation with the archangel Uriel about what the book meant. While some of the book that's written in Latin appears to have meaning, there are over 40,000 letters arranged strangely in 36 tables that appear to be some kind of code.

Considering the occult nature of the book, solving this mystery promises a revelation, which has a rumored curse. Supposedly, if you figure out the code, you will die within two and a half years. Perhaps, we should let the computers tackle this one.

Yug, age 7, and Alia, age 10, both entered Let Grow's "Independence Challenge" essay contest.

Photos: Courtesy of Let Grow
Sponsored by Charles Koch Foundation
  • The coronavirus pandemic may have a silver lining: It shows how insanely resourceful kids really are.
  • Let Grow, a non-profit promoting independence as a critical part of childhood, ran an "Independence Challenge" essay contest for kids. Here are a few of the amazing essays that came in.
  • Download Let Grow's free Independence Kit with ideas for kids.
Keep reading Show less

Four philosophers who realized they were completely wrong about things

Philosophers like to present their works as if everything before it was wrong. Sometimes, they even say they have ended the need for more philosophy. So, what happens when somebody realizes they were mistaken?

Sartre and Wittgenstein realize they were mistaken. (Getty Images)
Culture & Religion

Sometimes philosophers are wrong and admitting that you could be wrong is a big part of being a real philosopher. While most philosophers make minor adjustments to their arguments to correct for mistakes, others make large shifts in their thinking. Here, we have four philosophers who went back on what they said earlier in often radical ways. 

Keep reading Show less

What should schools teach? Now is the moment to ask.

The future of learning will be different, and now is the time to lay the groundwork.

What should schools teach? Now is the moment to ask. | Caroline ...
Future of Learning
  • The coronavirus pandemic has left many at an interesting crossroads in terms of mapping out the future of their respective fields and industries. For schools, that may mean a total shift not only in how educators teach, but what they teach.
  • One important strategy moving forward, thought leader Caroline Hill says, is to push back against the idea that getting ahead is more important than getting along. "The opportunity that education has in this moment to really push students and think about what is the right way to live, how do we do it and how do we do it in a way that doesn't hurt or rob the dignity of other people?"
  • Hill also argues that now is the time for bigger swings and for removing the barriers that limit education. The online space is boundary free and provides educators with new opportunities to connect with students around the world.

Keep reading Show less

Here are 3 things white people can do right now to help #BLM

Remaining silent is being complicit.

Demonstrators pause for a moment of silence during a protest over the killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis Police officer, in McCarren Park in the borough of Brooklyn on June 3, 2020 in New York City.

Photo by Scott Heins/Getty Images
Politics & Current Affairs
  • Protests around the world are demanding an end to police discrimination and violence against black citizens in America.
  • Author and activist Dax-Devlon Ross offers advice on how white people can help during this moment.
  • Ross's suggestions include thinking and voting locally, supporting black-owned businesses, and practicing self-reflection.
Keep reading Show less
Scroll down to load more…