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Five Strange Books

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Here are five of the World's strangest written works which can be found in British institutions ...


A section of the original Ripley Scroll that refers to the "Serpent of Arabia'. The traditional assumption is that this is code for "Aqua Fortis" or nitric acid but there may be another meaning! Very recent advances in modern medicine have begun to reveal that the alchemists, and Ripley in particular, may have known something as yet unexplored

THE Ripley Scroll
The British Museum
Sir George Ripley c. 1588 AD / English

The Ripley Scroll or “Ripley Scrowle” is one of the most important works (books) of Sir George Ripley an influential and renowned English alchemist of the 15th century. The life of Ripley is as mysterious as his legacy of mystical alchemical writings and illustrations but it is alleged that he studied in Rome and may have been an agent of the Papacy during this time with connections to The Knights of St. John of Jerusalem otherwise known as the Knights Hospitaller. During his latter life he returned to England where he produced most of his recognised works on alchemy. It is interesting to note that a Papal Decree of 1317 had forbidden the study into and publishing of alchemical texts and particularly forbade “clerics” from pursuing this subject and yet a little over a hundred years later Ripley, a clear favourite of Pope Innocent VIII seems to have dedicated his life to the pursuit of this science. The Ripley Scroll has been interpreted in many ways but still remains a mystery. Most scholars believe that the Ripley Scroll is the “recipe” for immortality but there are those that believe researchers have missed some crucial evidence. Many researchers feel this mystery needs to be examined in much more depth .Perhaps Ripley may have known much much more than seems obvious.

Nonsense or Divine Insight?

The frightening part is that many of Nostradamus' prophecies do seem to make sense and can be linked to events that have happened or look likely to happen. Is this a case of making vague nonsense fit the facts or proof of a divine plan with unrevealed power – you decide?

The Lambeth Nostradamus Book
Lambeth Palace - London
Michel de Nostredame c. 1555 AD / French
AKA: Michael Nostradamus / M. Nostredamus

The prophecies of Michel de Nostradame (Nostradamus) have been repeatedly published over the centuries from the time when they were first made public in 1555AD. In brief, they are a collection weird verses called quatrains that apparently predict events that will occur in the future. (With a start date of 1556).  Nostradamus never claimed to have personally experienced visions or prophetic inspiration and openly attributed much of his work to earlier sources – a practice that was typical of the time. Ancient wisdom was already much more respected than modern discovery ... a practice that still continues 500 years later. The final edition of his works was published in 1568 and comprised 942 quatrains divided into ten Centuries. It is worth noting that the last Century only has 42 verses indicating that Nostradamus planned more prophecies in the future. In addition, there is only one quatrain that does not rhyme and some scholars believe that this was deliberate and is a “key” to unlocking the others – others still believe that this is the prophecy for the last engagement or the final battle between good and evil. Hundreds of people have used tens of thousands of words to try and explain the mysterious writings of Michel Nostredame but the truth is we are no closer to understanding them today than they were in 1555.



Perhaps a time will come when people living far in the future will look at the works of the 21st century and laugh at our own inaccuracies.

The Prodigiorum Ac Ostentorum
University of Cambridge, England
Konrad Lykosthenes 1557 AD / Alsatian

The Greco Romano world (500bc – 400ad) had long known that beyond the borders of their respective empires there were vast unexplored lands teeming with weird and mysterious animals as well as strange people. For example: Leopards, cheetahs and other beasts were even brought back to Rome and displayed to the awed citizens.

A thousand years would pass before Konrad Lykosthenes assembled his Prodigiorum ac Ostentorum Chronicon and published it in Basel in 1557 which described various beasts and creatures as reported by travellers to distant lands.

The real mystery of this manuscript is not the strange and mythical creatures depicted but the accuracy of the descriptions and images of those that are known to be real.

Page 17 clearly depicts a Canadian moose even though the famous mariner and explorer, John Cabot, had only recently, in 1497, rediscovered the region. (The woodcut is remarkably accurate.) Page 18 has accurate representations of both an Indian rhinoceros and elephant. Page 19 reveals a Camel and, more surprisingly, a good representation of a Chacma Baboon (Papio Ursinus). On leaf 24 is a collection of sea monsters and at least three of the creatures can be identified as a giant lobster, a narwhale and an oarfish. Leaf 27 has a good representation of a crocodile and 29 clearly shows a Pelican. However, some of the other images are of creatures unknown to modern science. While there is the temptation to dismiss these as the fantasies of travellers there does remain the possibility that they did once exist and are now extinct.

Perhaps the most intriguing image in the book is the picture on page 31 which is clearly a representation of the now extinct Mauritian Dodo (bird). However, the first recorded Journey to Mauritius took place in 1598AD - 40 years after the Lykosthenes book was published.

Currently in the library of St John’s College, University of Cambridge, United Kingdom.

books-canterbury-talesTHE CANTERBURY TALES
British Library
Geoffrey Chaucer c. 1390 AD / English

The Canterbury Tales
British Library
Geoffrey Chaucer c. 1390 AD / English

This was the first book ever printed in Britain and is a collection of short stories written by Geoffrey Chaucer at the end of the 14th century. Given the dominance of the Church at this time it would be reasonable to expect the tales to be safe and uncontroversial. In fact, the opposite is true. The stories, each one told by a pilgrim on their way to the tomb of Thomas a Becket, centres on a controversial subject - many of which are still relevant today. These include: corruption in business, personal bankruptcy, medical malpractice, the failure of medical care, incompetent professionals, hypocritical charities, abuse of trust, the seduction of the vulnerable, adultery, same sex relationships, crimes of passion, lack of restaurant hygiene, religious racism and the mockery of authority figures. It is remarkable that Chaucer wasn't persecuted for his portrayal of the church and clergy as corrupt, sexually active false believers. It is even more remarkable that that this was the book that William Caxton, England's first printer, chose to publish as his very first project. The Canterbury Tales was also the first book to be published in what we would recognise today as English and marked the first step to making English the most widely understood language in the World. (As a first or as a second language combined.)

The Papyrus of Ani depicting the Weighing of the Heart

What makes "The Scroll of the Dead" so weird and strange?

As far as we know, all religious texts throughout all time have dealt with how you should live your life while you are alive in order to be worthy to reach a pleasant afterlife.

The "Scroll of The Dead" is the only document that provides practical advice and support about what to do when you reach the other side. Now that should make you pause and think.

The Book Of The Dead Of Hunefer
The British Museum
Unknown Scribe c. 1275 BC / Egyptian

Although this is now considered just a part of ancient history, the Egyptian Book of the Dead was once considered to be the most powerful collection of spells and paranormal power to have ever been known to mankind. The correct name for this collection of writings and incantations is “The Spells of Going Forth by Day”. In essence, it was a collection of songs, spells and guides that was placed alongside a deceased person to help them pass through the veils of death to the place of immortality. One of the best examples of these funerary scrolls is the Papyrus of Hunefer, a document prepared in the 19th dynasty of ancient Egypt during the period of the New kingdom circa 1275bc. Critical to the efficacy of the scroll was the accurate depiction of the powerful magical images or drawings which were often of a high quality. The writing itself was often less than perfect. This is not surprising as most Egyptians, even many of the higher classes, could not read but could appreciate the significance of an illustration. At its most basic, the scroll should be considered a handbook to survival in the afterlife not a magical or religious object in itself. The deceased was expected to use it rather than just benefit from its ethereal power. The most important image that had to be included was known as “The Weighing of the Heart”. The dead person would have his heart weighed by Anubis and if it was found to be lighter than a feather they would be allowed to proceed to the next place of existence. In general, there were four main variations of the scroll. This is a very short synopsis of a very complicated concept.

 And ... although it's not in a British Collection as such, it's just too stange to leave out.

books-seraphinianusTHE CODEX SERAPHINIANUS

Our resident linguist was amused to dissemble the title and play with the words.

“Codex Seraph In I Anus”. For example: Codex can mean Book or Collection of Writings. A Seraph is also a Seraphim or Angel. The word Angel originally meant Messenger or Message. The word In can also mean From. The word I can also refer to My. And Anus is another word for Rectum. So the title could be constructed to read “A collection of wisdom that is a message from my rectum. In the colloquial” “I’m talking out of my Ass.” It’s probably just a coincidence but still a brilliant joke if true.

The Codex Seraphinianus
Varied Locations
Luigi Serafini 1981 AD / Italian

Written between 1976 and 1978 by Luigi Serafini it is best described as the natural history book of a parallel Earth where life is similar but at the same time mind twisting and strange in its alien representation.

Approximately 360 pages in length, it is almost entirely written in code or cipher text. Although the author was still alive as of 2013, he has steadfastly refused to comment whether the language is real or simply an assembly of symbols collated to produce the illusion of meaning. The book is broadly separated into 11 sections that include; Flora and Biology, Fauna and Animals, Bipedal Creatures, Physics and Chemistry, Machines, Biology and Sexuality, Historical and religious, The Language, Social Practices, Entertainment, and finally, Architecture.

There is no doubt that the book is a masterpiece of the imagination that challenges the natural instincts of human perception. The images are vibrant in colour and while clearly impossible in many cases are also strangely believable. The writing is based on the Western style with the words organised from left to right with a clear repetition symbols and a sense of grammar that is consistent with a written language. It has yet to be deciphered although there have been claims the pagination system has been "broken" by Bulgarian linguist Ivan Derzhanski. It is also now quite rare and if you can get an original edition it can cost well over $500. Whether it was intended merely as a weird experiment in art or is a complex code that will one day be deciphered remains to be seen.



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