• Sweden's news in English

Cunning linguists in Sweden crack 300-year-old occult code

Rebecca Martin · 27 Oct 2011, 10:50

Published: 27 Oct 2011 10:50 GMT+02:00

Facebook Twitter Google+ reddit

"The deciphered manuscript has forced us to question many old authorities on Freemasonry," historian and Freemason-expert Andreas Önnerfors from Lund University told The Local.

The manuscript is known as “The Copiale Cipher” and is a 105-page long text which scientists have been trying to crack since its discovery at the East Berlin Academy at the end of the Cold War.

Apart from the the mark of the previous owner (Philipp 1866) and a scribbled note on the last page (Copiales3) the manuscript was completely in code.

The text included 90 different letters, with everything from Latin and Greek letters to diacritic signs and mystic symbols, called logograms.

“It felt a little like a Dan Brown novel,” one of the two linguists, Beata Megyesi, told the Swedish daily Aftonbladet.

The technique used in solving the cipher involved comparing the most common character combinations in the encrypted document with the most common letter combinations of the underlying language.

The computer programme used for the decryption was created by Kevin Knight at the Information Sciences Institute, University of Southern California.

"We did not even know what language was behind the cipher. After many experiments which didn't bring us any closer, we guessed the German mark as the owner's name Philipp in the book had German spelling and that the book, as far as we know, originated in Germany", said Beata Megyesi, linguist at Uppsala University, in a statement.

But this spring, Megyesi, together with Uppsala colleague Christiane Schafer and Knight managed to combine their knowledge of computer science, lingusistics and language history to crack the code.

What they found has made quite a splash in the world of academic research.

“It was very exciting when the first pages started emerging. We realised the book had been written by a secret society and that it was describing their initiation rituals,” Megyesi said to the paper.

Further, the text turned out to contain previously unknown information about another secret society, namely the freemasons, which the Occultists had spent a lot of time and effort spying on.

Story continues below…

"Historians believe that secret societies have had a role in revolutions, but all that is yet to be worked out, and a big part of the reason is because so many documents are enciphered," Knight said in a statement.

The book is divided into three parts. The first describes the Occultists own rituals, the second gives an overview of Freemason activities and rituals during the 18th century and the third shows that previously unknown forms of Freemasonry existed at the time.

“The third part of the book actually proves that esoteric and political forms of Freemasonry flourished as early as the mid-18th century,” said Önnerfors to The Local.

Related links:

Rebecca Martin (rebecca.martin@thelocal.se)

Facebook Twitter Google+ reddit

Your comments about this article

13:26 October 27, 2011 by StockholmSam
Raise your hand if you clicked on this story hoping to read about girl-on-girl action. "Cunning Linguists" my eye.
14:00 October 27, 2011 by zooeden
god damn you, my joke was gonna be on the same line, arms raised!!!
14:32 October 27, 2011 by Douglas Garner
Alright guys... minds out of the gutter now! As one who appreciates the mysteries of secret societies, I am much more excited about the actual discovery! I bet they will hold off the details until the book and movie rights are worked out.
15:56 October 27, 2011 by zat_xela
And they also slipped in the word "crack" as well...haha...what an awesome, attention grabbing headline...well done Local!
19:26 October 27, 2011 by Opinionfool
I too did a double take at the double entendre in the title. But for StockholmSam there is a Gallery picture adjacent to your comment that might satisfy your desire. :-) (At least adjacent on my screen but I have ads blocks in my browser so you might have to look lower down.)
06:06 October 30, 2011 by Ron Pavellas
Great eye-catching headline, as noted by others. Takes me back to naughty word play in college days.
20:26 October 30, 2011 by Marc the Texan
Wasted that phrase on this story. Doesn't work for this story. Rank amateurs.
22:32 November 1, 2011 by wxman
I've been a cunning linguist most of my 61 years. Well, at least I think it's spelled that way! ;~)
Today's headlines
Sweden can extend border controls, EU says
A police officer carrying out a check at Sweden's border with Denmark. Photo: Emil Langvad/TT

EU countries including Sweden should be granted permission to extend temporary border controls by a period of a further three months, the European Commission has decided.

Nobel Prizes
'I'd say he's arrogant but I'd be lying': Swedes on Bob Dylan
Bob Dylan performing in France. Photo: David Vincent/AP

Almost two weeks have passed since Bob Dylan was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature and he has yet to acknowledge the win. The Local asked Swedes what they think of the singer's silence.

Sweden cuts 2016 refugee forecast by thousands
A Swedish migration authority office in Stockholm. Photo: Maja Suslin/TT

The country has also slashed its prediction for 2017.

Swedish researchers plan new trucks for women drivers
File photo of trucks in Sweden. Photo: Thomas Johansson/TT

Could vehicles adapted for women attract more female truckers to the profession?

These stats show Swedish driving isn't so gender equal
File photo of a Swedish woman driving a car. Photo: Pontus Lundahl/TT

A new survey shows that few Swedish women get behind the wheel when driving with their male partner.

Revealed: Game of Thrones could be coming to Sweden
Game of Thrones cast members at the Emmy Awards in September. Photo: Jordan Strauss/AP

The producers of the hit show have asked for three rounds of location pictures of Swedish island Gotland.

Prime Minister to meet Swedish troops in Iraq
Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Löfven and his Kurdish counterpart Nechervan Barzani. Photo: Henrik Montgomery/TT

Sweden's Prime Minister Löfven is set to meet Swedish troops in Iraq on Tuesday.

Swedish politicians wage war on winter time
Soon it will look like this on your way home from work in Sweden. Photo: Anders Wiklund/TT

Should Sweden stick with summer time all year round?

'Don't turn the Pope into a global teddy bear'
Sweden's Queen Silvia and Princess Leonore visiting Pope Francis in the Vatican last year. Photo: Henrik Montgomery/TT

It's time to hold the Pope to account and make sure he turns his words about reform into action, argues a minister of the Swedish Church ahead of Pope Francis' visit to Sweden.

Löfven: 'Sweden will double its number of troops in Iraq'
Stefan Löfven and Haider al-Abadi during the visit on Monday. Photo: Henrik Montgomery/TT

Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Löfven has promised to double his country's number of troops in Iraq following a meeting with Iraqi counterpart Haider al-Abadi on Monday.

Sponsored Article
Last chance to vote absentee in the US elections
Property of the week: Kungsholmen, Stockholm
Sponsored Article
This is Malmö: Football capital of Sweden
The Local Voices
'I simply don’t believe in nationality'
Why we're convinced Game of Thrones is based on Sweden
Blog updates

6 October

10 useful hjälpverb (The Swedish Teacher) »

"Hej! I think the so-called “hjalpverb” (auxiliary verbs in English) are a good way to get…" READ »


8 July

Editor’s blog, July 8th (The Local Sweden) »

"Hej readers, It has, as always, been a bizarre, serious and hilarious week in Sweden. You…" READ »

Sponsored Article
Where is the Swedish music industry heading?
People-watching: October 21st-23rd
Sponsored Article
Why you should 'grab a chair' on Stockholm's tech scene
Fury at plans that 'threaten the IB's survival' in Sweden
Analysis & Opinion
Are we just going to let half the country die?
Angry elk chases Swede up a lamp post
Sponsored Article
Stockholm: creating solutions to global challenges
The Local Voices
'Alienation in Sweden feels better: I find myself a stranger among scores of aliens'
Sponsored Article
Swedish for programmers: 'It changed my life'
People-watching: October 20th
The Local Voices
A layover at Qatar airport brought this Swedish-Kenyan couple together - now they're heading for marriage
Sponsored Article
Top 7 tips to help you learn Swedish
Swede punches clown that scared his grandmother
Sponsored Article
‘Extremism can't be defeated on the battlefield alone’
Fans throw flares and enter pitch in Swedish football riot
Could Swedish blood test solve 'Making a Murderer'?
Sponsored Article
Stockholm: creating solutions to global challenges
Property of the week: Linnéstaden, Gothenburg
Sponsored Article
Why you should 'grab a chair' on Stockholm's tech scene
Swedish school to build gender neutral changing room
Sponsored Article
Where is the Swedish music industry heading?
People-watching: October 14th-16th
Sponsored Article
One expat's strategy for making friends in Stockholm
Man in Sweden assaulted by clowns with broken bottle
Sponsored Article
Nordic fashion in focus at Stockholm University
Nobel Prize 2016: Literature
Watch the man who discovered Bob Dylan react to his Nobel Prize win
Record numbers emigrating from Sweden
People-watching: October 12th
The Local Voices
'Swedish startups should embrace newcomers' talents - there's nothing to fear'
How far right are the Sweden Democrats?
Property of the week: Triangeln, Malmö
Sweden unveils Europe's first elk hut
People-watching: October 7th-9th
The Local Voices
Syria's White Helmets: The Nobel Peace Prize would have meant a lot, but pulling a child from rubble is the greatest reward
jobs available