(Image: via Wikipedia; John Dee owned a copy of the Book of Soyga)
In 1994, two strange manuscripts, with only minor variations, turned up in the British Library and the Bodleian Library. The Book of Soyga, also known as Aldaraia, is a text once thought lost. The most famous copy belonged to John Dee, a scholar, magician, astrologer and astronomer, who was one of Queen Elizabeth I’s foremost advisers. One of Dee’s projects was the establishment of a national library, and while he never saw this happen, he did amass a major collection of books himself. When he died in 1608 (or 1609), the collection was scattered.
Dee was an intriguing personality. During his life he promoted ideas that seem perfectly rational today – such as a national library, the preservation of old texts and manuscripts, and advancing the technology used in long-distance navigation. But he also busied himself with the summoning of angels, the casting of horoscopes, and the holding of spiritual conferences. Politically, he was a strong advocate of imperial expansion.
During one of his angelic conferences, John Dee claimed to have solved the mystery of the Book of Soyga. Dee and his equally occultist colleague Edward Kelley were, they believed, channelling the Archangel Uriel on March 10, 1582, when Dee asked the angel (who was speaking through Kelley) if he would mind revealing the text’s meaning.
Specifically, Dee wanted to decipher the numerous pages of seemingly random letters contained within the esoteric manuscript. The last 36 pages of the Book of Soyga contained tables of 36 rows and 36 columns of random letters, with no patterns nor recognisable words. Uriel, however, claimed that they were speaking with the wrong angel, and that only the Archangel Michael had the key to translate the work.
(Image: BethNaught; the Bodleian Library in Oxford)
After the Book of Soyga was rediscovered in 1994, by Dee scholar Deborah Harkness, Princeton mathematician James A. Reeds (who’s also been working to decode the Voynich Manuscript) took a shot at cracking the code hidden within the 40,000 or more characters of the esoteric text.
Reeds’ efforts paid off. He decoded the mysterious Book of Soyga with the aid of a six-letter word called the “seed”, which was then used to create a double wheel system. When he decoded the tables, he found that the first 24 were named after the constellations of the zodiac. These in turn were associated with a series of magic words.
In spite of the warning of Dee’s angel that whoever decoded the Book of Soyga would die two and a half years after cracking its code, Reeds is not only still alive, but he’s still decoding. That said, the precise meaning of the manuscript remains up for debate, but at least we’re making progress.
Fans of esoteric texts should check out these 10 mysterious books and ciphers, the meanings of which remain unexplained.