I’d posted previously about the success made cracking the Copiale cipher, and that the text revealed the ritual of a previously lost German secret order called the Great Enlightened Society of Oculists, at “The Book of Law of the Venerable Secret Order of the Eye“. Today I noticed that over on Danger Room, there’s a nice long-form piece by Noah Shachtman about this that offers quite a bit of narrative and more information at “They Cracked This 250 Year-Old Code, And Found a Secret Society Inside“. There’s also images of several items used by the society to gander at there as well, such as a blindfold with lenses and more, including the personal narrative by Shachtman of traveling to see the trove of materials first hand.
“The master wears an amulet with a blue eye in the center. Before him, a candidate kneels in the candlelit room, surrounded by microscopes and surgical implements. The year is roughly 1746. The initiation has begun.
The master places a piece of paper in front of the candidate and orders him to put on a pair of eyeglasses. “Read,” the master commands. The candidate squints, but it’s an impossible task. The page is blank.
The candidate is told not to panic; there is hope for his vision to improve. The master wipes the candidate’s eyes with a cloth and orders preparation for the surgery to commence. He selects a pair of tweezers from the table. The other members in attendance raise their candles.
The master starts plucking hairs from the candidate’s eyebrow. This is a ritualistic procedure; no flesh is cut. But these are “symbolic actions out of which none are without meaning,” the master assures the candidate. The candidate places his hand on the master’s amulet. Try reading again, the master says, replacing the first page with another. This page is filled with handwritten text. Congratulations, brother, the members say. Now you can see.” [via]
“It was the fall of 1998, and Schaefer was about to leave Berlin to take a job in the linguistics department at Uppsala University, north of Stockholm. Hock announced that he had a going-away present for Schaefer.
She was a little surprised—a parting gift seemed an oddly personal gesture for such a reserved colleague. Still more surprising was the present itself: a large brown paper envelope marked with the words top secret and a series of strange symbols.
Schaefer opened it. Inside was a note that read, “Something for those long Swedish winter nights.” It was paper-clipped to 100 or so photocopied pages filled with a handwritten script that made no sense to her whatsoever:
Arrows, shapes, and runes. Mathematical symbols and Roman letters, alternately accented and unadorned. Clearly it was some kind of cipher. Schaefer pelted Hock with questions about the manuscript’s contents. Hock deflected her with laughter, mentioning only that the original text might be Albanian. Other than that, Hock said, she’d have to find her own answers.” [via]