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Friday, December 21, 2012

This is a compiled timeline of significant "Occult" publications and events throughout history that shows where the influences/knowledge came from over time.

3100 o.c. Pyramid Texts [egy]
2953-2838 Chinese Emperor Fu Hsi, produced first w.v. of I Ching [cfu]
1800 Enuma Elish, Bablyonian Creation Myth. [ane]
1760 Gilgamesh Epic.[ane]
1600 Orig. Egyptian Book of the Dead. (Book of Coming Forth by Day)
1550-1450 o.c. Rig-Veda,Sama-Veda and Yajur-Veda [hin]
1300? Zarathushtra founds Zoroastrianism, the religion of the Magi
1000-500 Shih Ching (Book of Odes) [cfu].
1000 o.c. Atharva Veda [hin].
990-922 King Solomon.
950 o.c. Torah/Pentateuch, Song of Songs.
800-700 Brihad-Aranyaka and Chandogya Upanishads [hin].
800-400 Aranyakas, Brahmanas and Upanishads [hin].
800 or 700 Homer (?): Illiad and Odyssey.
800: Hesiod: Works and Days, Theogony
740 O.T. Book of Isaiah.
700 Books of Deuteronomy, Joshua, Samuel. (O.T.)
700 o.c. Ramayana  [hin].
650 o.c. Tao te Ching.
600 w.v. Rig Veda [hin]
664-525 Rev. Egyptian Book of The Dead
628-551 Zarathustra/Zoroaster
610-570 Sappho.
599-527 (trad.) Mahavira, founder Jainism.
580-500 (trad.) Lao-tzu, founder of Taoism.
563-483 Buddha (b. April 8, 563 BCE).
540 w.v. Mahabharata  [hin].
540-468 (hist.) Mahavira, founder Jainism.
551-479 Confucius (K'ung tzu), founder of Confucianism.
520 (trad.) Tao-te Ching [tao].
520 Books of Zechariah, Isaiah. (O.T.)
500 w.v. Gensis, Exodus, Numbers. (O.T.)
480-390 (alt.) Lao tzu.
409 w.v. Confucian Canon.
400 Books of Proverbs, Job (O.T.)
371-289 Mencius (Meng-tzu). [cfu]
369-286 Chuang-tzu. [tao]
360 Critias by Plato: contains story of Atlantis.
350 (hist.) Tao-te Ching. [tao]
350 w.v. Song of Songs (O.T.).
300 w.v. Mahabharata, Bhagavad-Gita. [hin]
340 Writings of Chuang-tzu. [tao]
300 Book of Jonah (O.T.)
285 Septuagint, first Greek trans. of the O.T.
250 Abhidharma, part of the Tripitaka. [bud]
250 w.v. Tao te Ching. [tao]
240 Dhammapada canonized by Asoka. [bud]
213 Emperor Ch'in Shih burns books, including Confucian, Taoist texts and the Five Classics. [cfu]
200 w.v. Atharva Veda. [hin]
200 I Ching commentaries, Rev. Chinese Classics. [cfu]
164 Book of Daniel  (O.T.).
160 O.T. Apocrypha: Tobit, 1 Esdras, Enoch, others.
150 Yoga Sutras of Patanajali. [hin]
150 Early Qumran (Dead Sea Scrolls).
100 Ramayana of Valmiki. [hin]
86 Rev. Shu Ching (Book of History), Shih Ching (Book of Odes). [cfu]
47 First burning of the Library of Alexandria (by Romans). including works of Sappho, and possibly ancient manuscripts and maps from unknown Ice Age civilizations.


5-7 (ca.) b. of Jesus, founder of Christianity.
10? Diamond Sutra, Heart Sutra. [bud]
15? o.c. Kojiki, Nihongi. [shi]
1-33 (trad.) Jesus. Events described in the first four N.T. books.
33 (trad.) either April 3, 30 CE or April 7, 33 CE: the Crucifixion.
30-96 New Testament.
50-63 (N.T.) Colossians, Philemon, Ephesians, Philippians.
60-80 (N.T.) Acts of the Apostles.
70 (N.T.) Gospel of Mark.
80 (N.T.) Gospel of Matthew.
80 (N.T.) Gospel of Luke.
90 (N.T.) Gospel of John.
81-96 o.c. Revelation of St. John.
65 Entry of Buddhism into China.
100 o.c. Nag Hammadi scriptures.
100 Lotus Sutra, Buddha-Charita of Ashvagosha. [bud]
100-300 composition of Corpus Hermetica
150 N.T. Apocrypha. [chr]
150 w.v. Shu Ching (Book of History). Shih Ching (Book of Odes). [cfu]
166 Buddhism formally established in China.
170 Lotus Sutra, Buddha-Charita of Ashvagosha. [bud]
200 Mayan Classical Phase (to 900 CE), o.c. Popul Vuh.
300 Denkart in Pahlavi.
300-400 w.v. Nag Hammadi scriptures in Coptic
350 w.v. Avesta in Pahlavi.
350 Jewish Talmund and Gemara.
325 Council of Nicea, Can. of Christian Bible.
365-408 Burning of Sibylline Books.
391 Second burning of library at Alexandria (by Christians).
400 Babylonian Talmund [jud].
400 w.v. Angas in Prakrit [jai].
401 Confessions of St. Augustine. [chr]
404 Cod. of the Vulgate (Latin Bible).
400-450 Cod. of the Abhidharma (Tripitaka) [bud].
550-950 Bundahishn. [zor]
538-552 Buddhism reaches Japan.
550 Last temple to Isis (at Phiae) closes.
550-950 Bundahishn. [zor]
560 (to 7th Cent.) o.c. Eddas.
600 (to 9th Cent.) o.c. Welsh Mabinogion.
570-632 Muhammed, founder of Islam.
610 w.v. Qur'an. [isl]
630 First Hadith. [isl]
642 Third (and final) destruction of Library of Alexandria (by Moslems).
644-656 Can. of Qur'an. [isl]
712 w.v. Kojiki. [shi]
720 w.v. Nihongi. [shi]
742 Can. of Writings of Chuang-tzu
760 o.c of Bardo Thödol (Tibetean Book of the Dead). [tib]
800 Sepher Yetzirah  [jud].
800 Shikand Gumani Vazar  [zor].
800 w.v. Poetic Edda
850 Can. of Hadith [isl].
868 Diamond Sutra is first book printed in China [bud].
900 Agamas [hin].
927 Yengiski [shi].
946 Start of Tibetan calendar, Kalachakra Tantra [tib].
950 (trad.) Necronomicon of Abdul Alhazred.
1004-1007? al-Majriti, author of Picatrix, passes
1016-1100 Naropa [tib]
1039-1123 Milarepa [tib]
1054 Schism between East and West Church [chr].
1150 Kuo-an Shih yuan's Ten Pictures of the Ox. [bud]
1175-1120 compilation of Confucian Canon by Chu Hsi.
1179-1241 Snorri Sturlson (auth. Prose Edda, Heimskringla).
1220 Prose Edda.
1222-1282 Nichiren [bud].
1236 Dogen, founds Soto School of Zen [bud].
1250? Liber Juratus (Sworn Book of Honorius) compiled by Honorius of Thebes, son of Euclid
1280? Sefer Ha-Zohar written by Moses de León but attributed to Simon ben Yohai
1300 o.c. Key of Solomon.
1306-21 Divine Comedy by Dante.
1300-1325 w.v. White Book of Rhydderch (Mabinogion).
1375-1425 Author of Red Book of Hergest (Mabinogion).
1433 Marsilio Ficino, Italian philosopher born. Under the patronage of the de'Medicis, he translated many Greek classics including the Corpus Hermetica
1440-1518 Kabir, Isl. Mystic.
1456 First p.v. Vulgate Bible by Gutenberg.p
1463 first Latin translation of Corpus Hermeticum.
1469-1538 Guru Nanak, founder of Sikhism.
1471 Ficino's translation of Corpus Hermeticum published
1483-1546 Martin Luther chr. reformer.
1486 Malleus Malificarum: textbook for witch-hunters.
1489 Ficino's Libri de Vita
1494 Reuchlin's De verbo mirifico published
1503-1566 Nostradamus
1517 Reuchlin's De arte cabalistica published
1517 Martin Luther's 95 Theses.
1525 N.T. Translated into Englsh by W. Tyndale (1494-1536).
1527-1608. Calls of Enoch, by J. Dee.
1531 Three Books of Occult Philosophy, Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa published in Paris ¤¤¤
1533 Agrippa's De Occulta philosopha published
1535 p.v. Bible in English by Miles Coverdale (1488-1569).
1539 (5th) Guru Arjan [skh].
1545 Giorgi's De Harmonia Mundi
1546 O.T. Apocrypha  Can. by Catholic Church.
1554-1558 w.v. Popul Vuh.
1558 Giambattista della Porta's Magia Naturalis ¤¤¤
1558 Zohar printed ¤¤¤
1560 Foxe's Book of Martyrs [chr]
1564 Dee's Monas Hieroglyphica
1575 Arbatel of Magic (first appears)
1584 Bruno's Expulsion of the Triumphant Beast published
1584 Reginald Scot, Discouerie of Witchcraft
1589 John Dee and Edward Kelley began the Enochian workings
1600 Janam Sakhis [skh].
1600 Final version of Adi Granth [skh]
1606 Trithemius' Steganographia first published
1614 Rosicrucian Fama Fraternitatis
1617-19 Fludd's Utriusque Cosmi Historia ¤¤¤
1618-9 Synod of Dordrecht. [chr]
1618 Maier's Atlanta Fugiens
1618 Johann Grossschedel published Calendarium magicum (The Magical Calendar)
1629 O.T. 1546 O.T. Apocrypha removed from Protestant Bible
1652 Kircher's Oedipus Aegyptiacus published Part One (¤), Part Two (¤)
1652 Thomas Vaughan publishes English translation (not his own) of the Rosicrucian Fama and Confessio
1677 Paradise Lost/Regained by J. Milton.
1677 Christian Knorr von Rosenroth published first volume of Kabbala Denudata
1678 Pilgrim's Progress by J. Bunyan
1684 Christian Knorr von Rosenroth published second volume of Kabbala Denudata
1700 Mahanirvana Tantra [bud]
1708 death of last Sikh guru
1749-56 Swedenborg's Arcana Coelestia published
1750 Walam Olum
1674 Westminster Shorter Catechism
1776 Weishaupt formed the "Order of Perfectibilists", later known as the Illuminati
1781 Tarot as book of Thoth, Monde Primitif by Antoine Court de Gébelin (¤)
1785 How to Entertain Yourself With the Deck of Cards Called Tarot by Etteilla
1793 Thomas Paine's Age of Reason
1802-1884 Elias Lönnrot (auth. Kalevala)
1805-1849 Joseph Smith, founder Mormonism
1812-1820 English trans. of Walam Olum
1817-1892 Baha'u'llah, (Mirza Husayn-'Ali), founder Baha'i, auth. Kitab-i-Iqan. [bhi]
1819-1850 the Bab  (Mirza 'Ali-Muhammad) [bhi]
1823 Book of Mormon  tr. Joseph Smith
1835-1849 Kalevala), national epic of Finland, by Lönnrot.
1855 Transcendental Magic by Eliphas Levi (pentagram, tarot) (¤)
1859 Darwins' Origin of Species
1861 Levi's masterpiece Le Dogme et Rituel de la Haute Magie published
1871 Darwins' Descent of Man
1871 Albert Pike - Morals and Dogma (¤)
1875-1947 The Book of Thoth, Aleister Crowley (¤)
1875-1947 777, Aleister Crowley (¤)
1877 Isis Unveiled, H.P. Blavatsky
1879-1910 Publication of the Sacred Books of the East by Max Müller, 50 volumes of English translations of primary texts of Eastern religions. [hin][bud][zor][cfu][isl]
1880 The Book of Oahspe
1882 Kojikitrans. into English by R.H. Chamberlain.[shi]
1882 Atlantis, the Antediluvian World. by Donnelly
1888 Papus' Traité Elémentaire de Science Occulte published (¤)
1888 Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn established in London
1888 The Secret Doctrine by H.P. Blatavsky
1889 Mathers' edition of Kabbalah Unveiled
1789 Episcopal Book of Common Prayer
1890 the 1st volume of The Golden Bough, by James Frazer, was published
1891 Gypsy Sorcery and Fortune Telling  by Charles Godfrey Leland (¤)
1891 Baltimore Catechism
1892 The Art of Worldly Wisdom, by Balthasar Gracian, tr. by Joseph Jacobs
1896 The Nihongi  trans. into English by W.G. Ashton.[shi]
1897 Levi's Le Clef des Grandes Mystères published
1898 Aleister Crowley joins the Golden Dawn
1898 Mathers publishes The Book of the Sacred Magic of Abra-Melin the Mage [original] (¤)
1899 Aradia, Gospel of the Witches, by C. Leland. [wic]
1900 Crowley expelled from the Golden Dawn
1903 the Societas Rosicruciana became the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn
1904 the Book of the Law was dictated to Crowley (published?) (¤)
1908 The Kybalion by three Initiates. (Paul Foster Case?) (¤)
1909 The Rosicrucian Cosmo-Conception by Max Heindel (¤)
1909 Darwins' Voyage of the Beagle
1909 The Equinox, Vol. I, Aleister Crowley et al. (¤)
1910 the Rider-Waite-Smith Tarot deck was published
1913 The Book of Pleasure by Austin Osman Spare (¤)
1919 The Blue Equinox, Aleister Crowley et al.
1921 The Witch Cult in Western Europe by M. Murray. [wic]
1923 HP Lovecraft first mentioned the Necronomicon in "the Hound" (¤)
1929 Magick in Theory & Practice, Aleister Crowley (¤)
1932 The Middle Pillar, Israel Regardie (¤)
1934 Declaration of Barmen by K. Barth condems Hitler [chr]
1933 God of the Witches by M. Murray. [wic] (¤)
1935 Dion Fortune's The Mystical Qabalah (¤)
1937 Israel Regardie publishes The Golden Dawn, includes the bulk of the Golden Dawns' rituals/teachings. (¤)
1945 Discovery of Nag Hammadi scriptures. (¤)
1947 Jack Pasons and L. Ron Hubbord did the Babalon Working
1947 Aleister Crowley died
1947-56 Discovery of Qumran (Dead sea) scrolls.
1948 The White Goddess  by R. Graves. [wic]
1949-61 Gardnerian Book of Shadows  [wic]
1950 I Ching (Richard Wilhelm translation)
1954 Gerald Gardner published early works on Wicca
1954 Magick Without Tears, Aleister Crowley (¤)
1956 Initiation into Hermetics by Franz Bardon was published (¤)
1957 The Fourth Way, P.D. Ouspensky (¤)
1962 The Secret of the Golden Flower, Tung-Pin Lu (¤)
1963 Meetings With Remarkable Men, G.I. Gurdjieff (¤)
1964 Giordano Bruno and the Hermetic Tradition, Frances A. Yates (¤)
1965 The Three Pillars of Zen, Philip Kapleau
1967 The Magus, Francis Barrett (¤)
1968 Principia Discordia
1969 Minutes to Go by Brion Gysin, William S. Burroughs, Sinclair Beiles, Gregory Corso
1969 The Satanic Bible by Anton LeVey
1971 Joseph Weed - Wisdom of the Mystic Masters (¤)
1972 The Tree of Life, Israel Regardie (¤)
1972 Programming and metaprogramming in the Human Biocomputer, John C. Lilly (¤)
1973 Synchronicity: An Acausal Connecting Principle, Carl Jung
1975 Illuminatus Trilogy by Robert Anton Wilson and Robert Shea (¤)
1975 The Book of The Sacred Magic of Abramelin The Mage, S.L. MacGregor Mathers
1977 Exo-Pyschology by Timothy Leary
1977 Cosmic Trigger by Robert Anton Wilson (¤)
1977 Prometheus Rising by Robert Anton Wilson (¤)
1978 Liber Null & Psychonaut, Peter Carroll (¤)
1978 Journey of Awakening, Ram Dass (¤)
1979 The Confessions of Aleister Crowley, Aleister Crowley (¤)
1979 The Spiral Dance, Starhawk (¤)
1979 Drawing Down the Moon, Margot Adler
1981 Light on Pranayama, B.K.S. Iyengar (¤)
1981 Alchemy, Marie-Louise Von Franz (¤)
1981 Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious, Carl Jung (¤)
1981 The Magical Philosophy - 3 volumes, Denning and Phillips (Ogdoadic tradition) (¤)
1982 Edward Peters: The Magician, the Witch, and the Law
1982 Kabbalah, Gershom Scholem (¤)
1982 The Complete Guide to the Tarot, Eden Gray
1983 Divine Horsemen: The Living Gods of Haiti by Maya Deren (¤)
1983 The Black Arts, Richard Cavendish (¤)
1983 The Women's Encyclopedia of Myths & Secrets, Barbara Walker
1985 Angel Tech, Antero Alli (¤)
1985 TAZ by Hakim Bey
1988 The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho (¤)
1988 Foucoult's Pendulum by Umberto Eco
1988 Tao Te Ching, Lao Tsu (Stephen Mitchell translation) (¤)
1988 Tanya Luhrmann: Persuasions of the Witch's Craft
1988 Modern Magick, Donald Michael Kraig (¤)
1989 Voudon Gnostic Workbook by Michael Bertiaux (¤)
1989 Meditation and Kabbalah, Aryeh Kaplan
1989 Crowley’s Apprentice, Gerald Suster
1989 Real Magic, Isaac Bonewits
1980-1990 Internet Book of Shadows
1990 Lords of Light, W.E. Butler
1990 Gabor Klaniczay: The Uses of Supernatural Power
1992 Dead Sea Scrolls published on microfiche
1992 The Eye in the Triangle, Israel Regardie
1992 Liber Kaos, Peter Carroll (¤)
1992 Prometheus Rising, Robert Anton Wilson (¤)
1993 Light on Yoga, B.K.S. Iyengar (¤)
1993 Undoing Yourself With Energized Meditation, Christopher Hyatt (¤)
1993 Prime Chaos, Phil Hine
1994 The Mystical and Magical System of the A.'.A.'., James A. Eshelman (¤)
1994 Hermetica, Walter Scott
1995 Self-Initiation Into the Golden Dawn Tradition, Chic and Tabitha Cicero (¤)
1995 The Goetia, S.L. MacGregor Mathers
1995 Condensed Chaos, Phil Hine
1996 Total Freedom: The Essential Krishnamurti, Jiddu Krishnamurti
1996 Women of the Golden Dawn, Mary Greer
1996 Practical Solitary Magic, Nancy Watson
1997 Angels, Demons, and Gods of the New Millenium, Lon Milo Duquette (¤)
1997 The Art of True Healing, Israel Regardie (¤)
1998 The Golden Dawn Scrapbook, R.A. Gilbert (¤)
1998 The Ritual Magic Workbook, Dolores Ashcroft-Nowicki (¤)
1998 The Secret Teachings of All Ages, Manley P. Hall (¤)
1999 My Life With the Spirits, Lon Milo Duquette (¤)
2000 Do What Thou Wilt, A Life of Aleister Crowely
2000 The Training and Work of an Initiate, Dion Fortune (¤)
2000 Richard Kieckhefer: Magic in the Middle Ages
2000 Georg Luck: Ancient Pathways and Hidden Pursuits: Religion, Morals, and Magic in the Ancient World
2001 Tao Te Ching, Lao Tsu (Jonathan Star translation)
2001 The Chicken Qabalah, Lon Milo DuQuette (¤)
2001 Promethea, Alan Moore
2002 21st Century Mage, Jason A. Newcomb (¤)
2002 Richard Kazcynski's "Perdurabo: The Life of Aleister Crowley"
2003 Light on The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, B.K.S. Iyengar (¤)
2003 Understanding Aleister Crowley’s Thoth Tarot, Lon Milo DuQuette
2003 The Essential Golden Dawn, Chic and Tabitha Cicero
2003 The Magick of Aleister Crowley, Lon Milo DuQuette
2005 Abrahadabra: Understanding Aleister Crowley’s Thelemic Magic, Rodney Orpheus (¤)
2005 Nikki Bado-Fralick: Coming to the Edge of the Circle: A Wiccan Initiation Ritual (¤)
2005 Generation Hex, Various
2006 Aleister Crowley and the Practice of the Magical Diary, Aleister Crowley et al.
2006 Bonewits’s Essential Guide to Druidism, Isaac Bonewits
2006 Bonewits’s Essential Guide to Witchcraft & Wicca, Isaac Bonewits (¤)
2007 Alex Owen: The Place of Enchantment
2008 The New Hermetics, Jason A. Newcomb (¤)
2008 John Dee’s Five Books of Mystery, John Dee
Key to Abbreviations for BCE (Will add these later for CE)

auth. = author
b. = born
ca. = circa
Can. = Canonicalization
Cent.= century.
Cod. = Codification
comp. = composition.
d. = died
hist.= accepted historical date
o.c= date of original (typically, although not necessarily oral) composition.
Orig. = original
O.T. = Old Testament.
p.v. = printed version
Rev. = Revised.
trad. = traditional date
trans. = translation
w.v. = written version
[bhi] Baha'i
[bud] Buddhism
[tib] Tibetan Buddhism
[chr] Christianity
[cfu] Confucianism
[hin] Hinduism
[isl] Islam
[jai] Jainism
[jud] Judaism
[shi] Shinto
[skh] Sikhism
[tao] Taoism
[wic] Wicca
[zor] Zoroastrianism
[egy] Egypt
Updated: 4-6-2015

Byrhtferth's Ogham Enigma

 It probably comes as a surprise to most people to find out that the earliest extant manuscript to include any text written in the Ogham script is an early 12th century English manuscript copy of a work by the late Anglo-Saxon monk Byrhtferth (Byrhtferð) rather than one of the more famous Irish manuscripts that include descriptions of the Ogham script, such as the Book of Ballymote or the Yellow Book of Lecan. But although the origin of Old Irish texts about Ogham such as Auraicept na n-Éces ("The Scholar's Primer") and In Lebor Ogaim ("The Book of Oghams") undoubtedly predates Byrhtferth's work, the only extant manuscript copies of these texts are later than the Byrhtferth manuscript.

Byrhtferth was a monk who worked at the Abbey of Ramsey in Huntingdonshire during the late 10th and early 11th centuries. He is mainly remembered for his Enchiridion or Handbōc (Ashmolean MS 328), a work on the arts of computus and numerology which exhibits an obsession with ordering the universe on a numerological basis. Various other texts derived from a now lost computistical miscellany by Byrhtferth are preserved in two other manuscripts:
  • St. John’s College, Oxford MS 17 [written at Thorney in Cambridgeshire, circa 1110-1111] (the complete manuscript is also available at McGill University's The Calendar & the Cloister project, with commentary by Professor Faith Wallis)
  • British Library MS Harley 3667 [written at Peterborough, circa 1120]

On folio 7v of St. John’s MS 17 (and folio 8r of Harley 3667) there is a complex diagram entitled De concordia mensium atque elementorum "On the concord of the months and the elements" (also known as the "Diagram of the Physical and Physiological Fours") that describes the interrelationship of the elements of the universe.
Byrhtferth's Diagram in St. John’s MS 17

The contents of the diagram are summarised succinctly by Byrhtferth himself:

Hanc figuram edidit Bryhtferð [sic] monachus Ramesiensis cñnobii de concordia mensium atque elementorum.
Retinet haec figura .xii. signa et duo solstitia atque bina equinoctia et bis bina tempora anni; in qua descripta sunt .iiii. nomina elementorum et duodenorum uentorum onomata atque .iiii. ñtates hominum. Sunt insimul coniuncta bis binñ litterñ nominis protoplastis Adñ.

Bryhtferth [sic], a monk of the abbey of Ramsey, composed this diagram on the concord of the months and the elements.
This figure contains the twelve signs and the two solstices and the two equinoxes and the twice two seasons of the year; and in it are described the four names of the elements and the names of the twelve winds and the four ages of man. At the same time are added the twice two letters of the name of the first man, Adam. [translation by Peter Baker]
Peter Baker has written a very useful exposition of this diagram, but it is unfortunately no longer available on the internet so is is probably not worth clicking on the preceding link (but you can still get it from the Wayback Machine). The copy of the diagram below is taken from Peter Baker's study of the diagram (click on the diagram to toggle between the original Latin and a modern English translation).
Peter S. Baker, De concordia mensium atque elementorum pages 7 and 8

What is of most interest to me is the details in the middle of the diagram. At the very centre is a wheel-shaped figure, and above it is a horizontal frame that contains a number of mysterious symbols and letters, as well as a single line of Ogham text.

As the diagram in St. John’s MS 17 is probably at least a second or third generation copy of the original diagram that Byrhtferth must have drawn about a hundred years earlier, there is plenty of scope for corruption of these mysterious symbols and letters – that we can assume would have been incomprehensible to Anglo-Saxons less erudite than Byrhtferth. It would therefore have been helpful if we were able to compare different manuscript copies of the diagram, but unfortunately for us the scribe who copied Harley 3667 obviously could not make any sense of the wheel figure and the material in the cartouche, and so he left the middle of his copy of the diagram entirely blank. Thus we only have St. John’s MS 17 to rely on for the heart of the diagram.
Byrhtferth's Diagram in MS Harley 3667

Before we take a closer look at the heart of the diagram it may be useful to take a glance at folio 5v of St. John’s MS 17 (the material on this page is not present in MS Harley 3667), which comprises lists of Runic futhorcs, Latin ciphers and Cryptic alphabets:
Table of Runic Futhorcs, Latin Ciphers and Cryptic Alphabets in St. John’s MS 17 folio 5v

Although David Parsons has reluctantly concluded that the material on this page, in its present form, is unlikely to have been composed by Byrhtferth himself, as some of the dotted Rune forms shown on this page only first appear in the second half of the 11th century (see "Byrhtferth and the Runes of Oxford, St John's College, Manuscript 17" (in Runeninschriften als Quellen interdisziplinärer Forschung (1995) pages 439-445), it is still quite possible that this material is based on an original Byrhtferth source. 

And even if it is not derived directly from Byrhtferth, we know that Byrhtferth had a great interest in writing systems and cryptography, and this page is indicative of the sort of material that he would undoubtedly have been familiar with: Runic futhorcs (which were known by few in England by the time of Byrhtferth), substitution ciphers and cryptic alphabets. In this context, the appearance of a line of Ogham writing in a Latin text written by an Anglo-Saxon monk begins to make some sense, and can be seen as simply another cryptographic device employed by someone familiar with various exotic cryptographic systems. We are now in a positionto examine the centre of St. John’s MS 17 folio 7v in more detail.
Centre of the Diagram

The cartouche above the central wheel has on the left the standard Greek abbreviation χρ̅ς for Χριστός "Christ", with what looks like an et ligature below it, and below that the letter e followed after a space by the letter f and then after another space the ligatured letters ſt. To the right of these letters is something that looks like a comet above a circle with a cross inside it (which is an alternate form of the symbol for earth ). And to the right of these two symbols is a strange alien-robot symbol made up of a rectangle with two dots inside it and two dots below it and a P-shaped arial above it. And finally to the right of this is a line of Ogham letters on a stemline.

This is all very abstruse and difficult to interpret, but Patrick Sims-Williams has attempted to decipher its meaning in a paper entitled "Byrhtferth’s Ogam Signature" (in Essays and Poems Presented to Daniel Huws (Aberystwyth, 1994) pages 283–291). Unfortunately this paper is not available on the internet and so I have been unable to read it, although I have been able to get the gist of Sims-Williams' decipherment from David Parsons' article that I cited above.

Sims-Williams interprets the pictures in the centre of the cartouche as a rebus : the comet above the earth stands for Old English byrht (beorht, bryht) "bright"; and the symbol to its right is a human figure that stands for Old English fer(h)þ "mind, spirit, life"; which together make the name Byrhtferth ("Bright Mind"). The line of Ogham writing to the right he reads as MEGFDLU ᚋᚓᚌᚃᚇᚂᚒ, which he then transforms into the Latin me fecit "made me" by applying a simple substitution cipher to the last five letters (i.e. G - 1 = F, F - 1 = E, D - 1 = C, L - 1 = I, U - 1 = T). Thus we get Byrhtferth me fecit "Byrhtferth made me". This is a clever and almost plausible interpretation, but I'm afraid that I find it difficult to accept.

The first problem with this interpretation is the rebus. Whilst a comet may be a good metaphor for bright (but is this even a comet ?), why is there any need to show the earth below it ? And then what about the symbol that Sims-Williams interprets as a "human figure" ? To me it looks nothing like a depiction of a human figure, or even a corruption of a drawing of a human figure. However you draw them, human figures don't have rectangular bodies or dots for legs. And even if we accept it as a human figure, why then would it stand for fer(h)þ which means "mind, spirit, life" ?

Even more problematic than the rebus interpretation is the reading and decipherment of the Ogham writing. Firstly, I'm not convinced by the raw reading of MEGFDLU. Let's look at the Ogham text letter by letter. At the left is a single short vertical line intersecting the stemline. It looks most like the letter A but Sims-Williams interprets it as the letter M . M is a possibility if we assume corruption of the letterform during the process of manuscript transmission, but my impression is that it is not a letter at all, but an initial feather mark as letters do not normally occur on the far edge of a stemline, and feather marks at the left edge of the stemline are normal in manuscript Ogham.

Next are four ʃ-shaped lines intersecting the stemline. These Sims-Williams interprets as the letter E . However, I do not believe that this is correct, as this ʃ-shape is frequently seen in manuscript Ogham where it is used for the strokes of the M-series of letters (see for example three of the cryptic Ogham series on Royal Irish Academy MS 23 P 12 folio 169v shown further below). So I think the strokes have to be read as either MMMM ᚋᚋᚋᚋ, GG ᚌᚌ or Z (a letter that does not occur in monumental Ogham inscriptions, but which is read as "STR" in Ogham manuscripts). Given the spacing between the strokes I am inclined to think this is MMMM or GG.

Next are two backward-slanting lines that intersect the stemline, which Sims-Williams interprets it as the letter G . There are two problems with this : firstly the lines are slanting the wrong way; and secondly we have already seen that the M-series strokes are written as ʃ-shapes, and it is highly unlikely that the same author would draw the strokes of M-series letters in two different ways in two letters on the same stemline. I think that the most likely possibility is that they are unusually slanting vowel letters, and represent the letter O , .

The next four groups of strokes are clear and unambiguous : FDLU ᚃᚇᚂᚒ. Notice how the letter D slants backward (as the H-series letters sometimes do), but the letter L slants forward, which is anomalous.

So my provisional reading is MMMMOFDLU ᚋᚋᚋᚋᚑᚃᚇᚂᚒ rather than MEGFDLU ᚋᚓᚌᚃᚇᚂᚒ. However, let's assume for the moment that MEGFDLU is correct. Sims-Williams takes this raw reading and transforms it into me fecit by assuming that the last five letters are alphabetically offset by one due to the application of a substitution cipher. There are three reasons why I do not believe in such a transformation : firstly, it makes no sense to assume that the last five letters have been transformed by means of a substitution cipher, but the first two letters have not; secondly, L - 1 ≠ I as the Old English alphabet had a letter K between I and L (see for example the alphabets given in St. John’s MS 17 folio 5v shown above); and thirdly, why would there be any need to apply a substitution cipher to text which has already been more than adequately obfuscated by transcription into Ogham ? In fact, why would there be any need to obfuscate anything as innocuous as me fecit in the first place ?

So if we reject Sims-Williams' decipherment of Byrhtferth me fecit "Byrhtferth made me", what does it all mean ? I only wish I knew. But at present I do not have any convincing alternative theory. I just feel that as the diagram is already openly labelled at the top as Hanc figuram edidit Bryhtferð "Bryhtferth composed this diagram", there is no need to hide the diagram's authorship in the centre of the diagram using such a complex and twisted cryptographic system. Moreover, would Byrhtferth have thought it appropriate to place his name in the centre of a diagram that represents the universe ? For a Christian monk the centre of the Universe should obviously be God, and God is the one entity that is conspicuously absent from the diagram; so I would look for something of more religious significance in the centre of the diagram than the author's signature. 

And we can certainly see something of religious significance in the occurence of the abbreviation χρ̅ς for Χριστός "Christ" at the very left of the cartouche. And if we try playing with substitution ciphers perhaps we can transform the letters e f ſt to deus "God". Using the simple off-by-one cipher (a variant of which is shown on St. John’s MS 17 folio 5v) : E - 1 = D, F - 1 = E, and if we hypothesise an extended cipher alphabet which includes ligatures and abbreviations in addition to the basic letters, then just maybe the ST ligature (ſt) transforms to the standard US abbreviation (). Thus we might possibly get χρ̅ς et deꝰ = Χριστός et deus "Christ and God" on the left (if you can't see the letter US please install the latest version of either the Code2000 font or the Everson Mono font).

How best to interpret the line of Ogham writing that I read as MMMMOFDLU ? It does not appear to be Latin, Old English, Old Irish or any other spoken language. But what about a number ? M, D, L and U (=V) are all Roman numbers, so perhaps MMMM = 4,000 and DLU (DLV) = 555 (an interesting number). But what of the OF inbetween these two numbers? It could be Old English of, but I can't make any sense of it between two numbers.

I'm afraid that none of the above is at all convincing, and as my thoughts about the pictographs to the left of the line of Ogham writing are even more random and incoherent, it's probably best to move straight on to the wheel figure at the very centre of the diagram. As I have been unable to ascertain what interpretation of the wheel Sims-Williams has been able to provide, I will just have to offer up some idle speculation of my own.

This figure is immediately reminiscent of an Ogham wheel that is found in the In Lebor Ogaim ("The Book of Oghams"), but only in the version of this text that is given in the Book of Ballymote (Royal Irish Academy MS 23 P 12):
Royal Irish Academy MS 23 P 12 folio 169v (Ogham wheel on the right)
In Lebor Ogaim includes 93 "scales", which are various cryptic ways of writing the Ogham letters. The Ogham wheel seen above is hidden amongst the cryptic ogham codes, but is itself not one of the 93 scales, and is given with no explanation. Nevertheless, it is easy enough to read. The personal names Cille, Cuilibadh, Colum and Ceallach are written around the circumference of the wheel in Latin script, whilst each of the spokes of the wheel represents a single Ogham letter, which is read inwards towards the hub.

The arrow head on the spoke pointing to one o'clock is the typical manuscript form of the "feather mark" that marks the start of an ogham line of text, and therefore indicates that this is the first letter of the text. So reading clockwise from this letter we get the seven letters CELLACH, or ᚛ᚉᚓᚂᚂᚐᚉᚆ when written as normal linear Ogham. This is obviously an alternate spelling of the name Ceallach given outside the wheel. As this Ogham wheel only occurs in the Book of Ballymote version of In Lebor Ogaim it was perhaps added by the scribe of the manuscript as a signature.

Unfortunately Byrhtferth's Ogham wheel is not so easy to read. It has eight spokes and so should represent an eight-lettered word, but all of the spokes except the north-west spoke have three strokes, and mirror the opposing spoke, which is rather suspicious. The north-west spoke perhaps only fails to mirror the south-east spoke because the abbreviation χρ̅ς for Χριστός "Christ" occupies the space that should be taken by two of the strokes. I think that the key to understanding the wheel is the north-east spoke, which has the letter b written under each of its three strokes, thus suggesting that it should be read as triple B; which it can be if we read out from the hub of the wheel (i.e. the opposite way to which the Ogham wheel in the Book of Ballymote is read) : ᚁᚁᚁ (BBB). 

If we then assume that all the spokes have tripled Ogham letters, we can read the wheel (starting due north and going round clockwise) as AAA, BBB, BBB, AAA, AAA, BBB, BBB, A[AA]. If we further assume that we should read around the wheel three times (an outer, middle and inner rotation) we get the word ABBA ᚐᚁᚁᚐ repeated six times. ABBA reminds us of the Byrhtferth's teacher Abbo of Fleury, but that is probably a coincidence. What I think this ABBA is intended to represent is the Aramaic word ʼabba "father" which is used in transliteration in both the Greek and Vulgate recensions of the New Testament three times, each time referring to God the Father, once by Jesus in Mark 14:36 (Abba, Father, all things are possible to you), and twice in the epistles of St. Paul (Romans 8:15 and Galatians 4:6).
Mark 14:36 in Codex Sinaiticus

Mark 14:36 in Codex Gigas

Thus we have the invocation "Father, Father, Father, Father, Father, Father, Christ !" at the very centre of the diagram, which I think is just the sort of thing that we would expect to find there.

Byrhtferth's Diagram on Film and Television

Merlin Series 2 : Beauty and the Beast Part 1 (2009-10-24)
Updated: 4-6-2015