The “Copiale Cipher” is a 105 pages manuscript containing all in all around 75 000 characters. Beautifully bound in green and gold brocade paper, written on high quality paper with two different watermarks, the manuscript can be dated back to 1760-1780. Apart from what is obviously an owner's mark (“Philipp 1866”) and a note in the end of the last page (“Copiales 3”), the manuscript is completely encoded. The cipher employed consists of 90 different characters, comprising all from Roman and Greek letters, to diacritics and abstract symbols. Catchwords (preview fragments) of one to three or four characters are written at the bottom of left–hand pages.
'Kevin Knight, a computer scientist at the Information Sciences Institute at the University of Southern California, collaborated with Beata Megyesi and Christiane Schaefer of Uppsala University in Sweden to decipher the first 16 pages. They turn out to be a detailed description of a ritual from a secret society that apparently had a fascination with eye surgery and ophthalmology.'
But when that approach failed, they figured that the code was what cryptographers call a homophonic cipher — a substitution code that does not have a straightforward correspondence between the original and encoded information. And they decided the original language was probably German. Eventually they concluded that the Roman letters were so-called nulls, meant to mislead the code breaker, and that the letters represented spaces between words made up of elaborate symbols. Another crucial discovery was that a colon indicated the doubling of the previous consonant.
This gave them their first successes, and in short order they had most of the text deciphered, revealing it to be the rules and rituals of a German secret society of the mid-1700s. A German secret society of the mid-1700s with some very weird fixations.
Potential inductees must attempt to read a blank sheet of paper, and when they fail, they will have hair from their eyebrows plucked by the master of ceremonies. Members must cover their eyes with aprons or their hands during certain ceremonies. The group describes themselves as freemasons, and the rituals make use of mallets, compasses, epees, and other paraphernalia (and lots and lots of candles). A black carpet inscribed with occult signs is spread on the floor during rituals. You know, the whole DaVinci Code drill–except for real. Read the whole thing for yourself here.