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John Dee - Scientist, Magician and Alchemist
2005 09 07

By I. Topham |

John Dee was an eminent Elizabethan mathematician and astrologer. His studies into the Occult took him abroad on many occasions, and this has added weight to the suspicion that he was also a secret government agent (code name 007). He was employed teaching navigation to Naval Captains for 30 years, but is most well known for his active involvement in occult thought and practice.

Dee was born near London on the 13th of July 1527. His father was a gentleman server in the court of King Henry VIII. John claimed to be a descendant of Roderick the Great, a Prince of Wales.

In 1542 at the age of 15, Dee entered Cambridge College and graduated in 1544 with a BA. In 1546 he was made a fellow of Trinity College, and appointed the role of Greek underwriter. 1547 found Dee visiting the Holland and France, mixing with some of the key members of academic society. He was living in Louvain by 1548. Dee spent a few months lecturing geometry in Paris, and declined the offer of a permanent appointment in Sorbonne. He also taught at both Louvain and Brussels Universities. Returning to England in 1551, he was given the job of teaching navigation and mathematics to Naval Captains.

During the reign of Queen Mary Tudor (Bloody Mary), Dee was arrested and accused of attempting to kill her with sorcery. He was imprisoned in Hampton Court in 1553. The reason behind his imprisonment may have been a horoscope that he cast for Elizabeth, Mary's sister and heiress to the throne. The horoscope was to ascertain when Mary would die. He was finally released in 1555 after being set free and re-arrested on charges of heresy. In 1556 Queen Mary gave him a full pardon.

Queen Elizabeth succeeded her sister in 1558, and Dee found a new era of prosperity, he was even commissioned to predict the best astrological time for her coronation. Unfortunately the rumours about his diabolical dealings still persisted, and were to plague him all through his life. During this time he again began to travel, and it is rumoured that he even got as far as St Helena.

Monas Heiroglyphica
In 1564 one of his many books dealing with Occult matters, The Monas Heiroglyphica was published, the Monas Heiroglyphica is a symbol created by Dee, which he believed was the ultimate symbol of Occult knowledge. The following year he published Di Trigono.

It is noted that Dee was approached for consultancy when a new star was discovered in 1572, and in 1577 Queen Elizabeth asked Dee about the possible portents of a comet that had been observed.

He began his experiments in trying to contact discarnate entities in 1581, mainly fuelled by strange dreams, feelings and mysterious noises within his home. On 25 May 1582 he recorded that he had made his first contact with the spirit world, through the medium of his crystal ball. This had taken Dee years of work to achieve, through studying the occult, alchemy and crystallomancy. Spirit contact would prove to be a major driving force behind Dee for the rest of his life.

Dee found contacting the spirits tiring, and started to employ gifted scryers so that he would be free to make extensive notes on the communications received. Dee had been working with a scryer called Barnabas Saul, until he had experienced some disturbing encounters, and could no longer see nor hear beings from the other realm, so in March 1582 Dee started to search for a work colleague.

Edward Kelly, who was 27 seemed to fit the bill perfectly, however he was a gifted con artist and continued to fool Dee many years to come. Kelly's ears had been cropped for forgery, and he is supposed to have dug up a corpse in Walton le Dale, Lancashire for necromancy, an event often wrongly attributed to Dee.

In November 1582 they encountered an Angel, Uriel. The Angel gave instructions for a magical talisman with which they could contact the spirit world more easily. Many of their ritual objects including Dee's obsidian scrying mirror are now in the British Museum.

Kelly would continuously make new discoveries that amazed Dee, and he introduced him to the fact that both good and evil spirits existed beyond the veil. It was around this time that Dee started using the mysterious Enochian script to communicate with the Angels. Called the language of angels it is definitely a structured language, although its real origins are obscure. Whatever its origins people who have worked with Enochain magic have claimed that it does seem to work.

As the claims of Kelly and his abilities grew, the pair's fame flourished, even in continental Europe. With fame came a source of income, which Dee used to fund his experiments into metal transmutation. Dee also claimed to have found the 'Elixir Vitae' (The alchemical elixir of life or philosophers stone) hidden in the ruins of Glastonbury Abbey.

The Polish Albert Laski, Count Palatire of Siradz, descendant of the Anglo-Norman Lacies, came to England in search of Dee and Kelly. He was duped by Edward Kelly and his scrying ability, into believing great things were meant him. Indeed a great many messages were received from the Spirit realm concerning Laski, Kelly, Dee, and European politics.

In 1583 Dee and Kelly convinced Laski to return to Poland, taking the two Englishmen and their wives with him. They set about trying to transmute iron into gold to fund their regeneration of Europe. Although they were always just on the brink of success, the experimental transmutation experiments never worked.

While Dee was away in Europe things were not boding well at home. In 1583 a large mob attacked Dee's home in at Mortlake in Surrey destroying his collection of books, occult instruments and personal belongings. The attack was probably in response to rumours that Dee was a wizard.

Meanwhile back in Poland Kelly and Dee's experiments proved very costly, Laski lost his fortune and lands funding the two alchemists work, and when it became apparent that he could no longer afford to continue paying for their experiments, the spirits, including Uriel, expressed their doubts through Kelly that Laski may not have been the right man to bring about the changes in Europe.

To ease his financial burden, Laski offered to pay for the pair to visit Prague, and provided a letter of introduction to Emperor Rudolph II. Amazingly this offer coincided with a command from the spirits via Kelly, urging Dee to deliver a divine message to the Emperor. They arrived in Prague in 1586 to courteous welcome from Emperor Rudolph II, who became intrigued with the idea of the Philosophers Stone. Their stay was cut short after a few months when the Pope demanded that the Emperor should dismiss them, either that or they should be imprisoned or burned at the stake.

After living for a while on the streets of Krakow as fortune-tellers, they managed to convince King Stephen of Poland that he would be the one to assassinate Emperor Rudolph and replace him. Stephen soon grew tired of their constant demands for money, and diverted their attention to Count Rosenberg, who allowed them to live and work within his castle. Two years later their experiments had still not made any further progress.

The two Englishmen started to argue when Kelly decided that he would like to taste the carnal pleasures of Dee's young wife. Dee should not have been surprised when the spirits, communicating through Kelly told him that they wished the pair to share their wives. As this was a command from God, it would not be sinful. Dee grew convinced that Kelly was being contacted by evil spirits, and after another huge argument the pair parted company.

Dee failed to make a scryer out of his son, Arthur, and started to feel the absence of regular other world contact. He was so happy when Kelly returned that he agreed obey the wish of God and share their wives. The two wives were hesitant at first but eventually obeyed God's word, and by May 1587 Kelly was sharing Dee's wife.

This was never a suitable situation and the arrangement took its toll on all of them. When Dee was given permission by Queen Elizabeth I to return to England in 1589 he did so, leaving Kelly behind. At Mortlake Dee continued his studies with another two scryers, both charlatans. Dee was appointed the Chancellorship of St Paul's Cathedral by the Queen, and in 1595 swapped this for the Wardenship of Manchester College. He retired from this post in 1603 when he returned to Mortlake to continue his fortune telling.

Kelly was killed in 1595 whilst trying to escape from prison in Prague. He climbed out of a high window and fell to his death.

Dee was being accused of being a wizard in 1604, and had to petition King James I for protection. Dee died in poverty at Mortlake in 1608 aged 81 years.

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