Copiale Cipher

For quite some time the Copiale Cipher was a complete mystery, seemingly lost to time. The text is over 250 years old and the title ‘Copiale Cipher’ was the only clear aspect of the text. It contained strange symbols, random strings of letters, and other secrets.

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The text was first re-discovered in 1970 inside of an East Germany library. Although several throughout the years tried to crack the code the book once again fell into obscurity. However, in 2011 it fell into the hands of a private collector who passed it off to an international team of academics and cryptographists from Sweden and the United States.

The book itself is quite beautiful. It is bound in stately gold-and-green brocade paper and is believed to have been published between 1760-1780. Is 105 pages, contains 75,000 characters with 90 different cipher letters.

Astonishingly, the cipher was broken in April 2011. Their first step was to transcribe the entire document into something that could be read by a machine. Then, they ran through 80+ languages to see if they could find a match but that ended in failure. It was then that, according to the Christian Science Monitor, the team noticed something important: “The cryptography team realized the Roman characters were "nulls" intended to mislead readers, somewhat like how pig Latin adds the suffix "ay" to words in an attempt to confuse listeners. It was the abstract symbols that held the message.”

From this, they gathered that the symbols with similar shapes represented the same groups of letters. From this practice and in analyzing these lines, the first words broke through the service ‘Ceremonies of Initiation’ then, ‘Secret Section.’

As more and more words and phrases began to be understood it was revealed that it contained rituals, including a German Masonic ritual. The Oculists, the people who are responsible for writing and ciphering the text, were a group of ophthalmologists.

Their links to ophthalmology help make sense of some of the various strange rituals including an initiation ritual that requires the person to read a blank page. Once they confess their inability to read it, they are given a pair of eyeglasses and asked to try again. Then, again after they wash their eyes with a cloth. The imitation ends in an ‘operation’ in which a single eyebrow hair is plucked.

It is believed the purpose of this text was so that the Oculists, who had links to the Freemasons, could pass along the secret Masonic rites which had been banned by Pope Clement XII.

Thanks to Jon L for the suggestion!

Copiale Cipher; scaled page 16/17 18th century - Kevin Knight, Beáta Megyesi, Christiane Schaefer. It is in the public domain.