I read a fascinating article in Wired magazine about how a group of people deciphered an arcane manuscript written by a secret society in the mid-1700’s. (Click here to read the article online.) They determined that the manuscript, referred to as the Copiale cipher, was written by members of a group called the Great Enlightened Society of Oculists.
According to the article, “the Oculists fixated on both the anatomy and symbolism of the eye. They focused on sight as a metaphor for knowledge. And they performed surgery on the eye.” While the eye is a recurring symbol in mysticism (for example, the eye atop a pyramid in Masonic imagery, or the eye of Horus), this group seems to have gone a step further and focused primarily on the eye.
The article continues by describing the historical significance of this accomplishment: “…decoding the Copiale was a significant achievement. Traditionally, historians have just ignored documents like this, because they don’t have the tools to make sense of them.” Secret societies, since they were in danger of death because of what they were studying, went to great lengths to hide their ideas and rituals. Because cyphers like this use symbols in place of letters and words, historians are unable to even determine the language in which these were originally written. Without a sense of the language, how would one even begin to start on figuring out a code?
Personally, I find articles like this very interesting. Just knowing that there is hidden knowledge out there, locked away in secret texts that have yet to be decoded, is the stuff of an Umberto Eco book. If you find this interesting too, definitely read the article in its entirety. It goes into a lot of detail and I’m sure you’ll find it inspiring.