Dee (dê), John
English mathematician, alchemist, and astrologer who was a favorite of Elizabeth I, for whom he did both scientific and astrological studies.
The angelic channeler John Dee believed that specially constructed mirrors could draw magical power from the sun and transmit messages and objects to distant stars and other worlds.
When Shakespeare wrote The Tempest, he almost certainly modeled Prospero on Dr. John Dee, the greatest English magus of the Elizabethan era. Scientist, secret agent, geographer, antiquarian, court astrologer, Dee was the quintessential Renaissance man. With the largest library in England, he typified the hermetic pattern of informationaddiction, and his interests ranged from Euclid to navigation to Raymon Lull to mechanical toys, particularly machines which could simulate bird calls. As a secret agent of Elizabeth’s court (his code name was 007), according to Richard Deacon, Dee maintained a network of informants on the continent and collected a great deal of data concerning Spanish threats to England and discoveries in the New World.
– Erik Davis – _Techgnosis: Magic, Memory and the Angels of Information_
But to go back now, I digress, I fear, let’s go back to the climate of the 1580s and the central culprit here, and to my mind a giant figure casting an enormous shadow over the landscape of alchemy and of modern science, is the Englishman John Dee. John Dee united in himself the complete spirit of the Medieval Magus and the complete spirit of the modern scientist. He invented the navigational instruments that allowed the conquest of the round earth. When Frances Drake sailed up the coast of California he had navigational instruments that were top secret. The French, the Spanish, must be kept away from this stuff and these were navigational instruments created by John Dee that allowed him to locate himself anywhere on the globe. But John Dee was a man who, on a late summer evening in Mortlag, his house in Mortlag outside of London, the angel Gabriel descended into his garden and gave him what he called the shewstone, shew being show in Old English, and the shewstone exists to this day, you can see it in the British Museum and what’s amazing about it is it’s a piece of polished absidion, it’s an Aztec mirror, is what it is. There was a ruler of the Aztecs called smoky mirror. How John Dee got this thing, we cannot even imagine. He says he got it from an angel, nobody can really nay say that, however I suspect that Cortez, on his first return to Spain from the new world, he brought a number of objects with him that he had collected in Central Mexico and somehow John Dee got his hands on this thing and it was for him a television screen into the logos and he used it over a number of years to direct the foreign policy of England.
He was the confidante of Queen Elizabeth the First and he also was the most accomplished astrologer in Europe and he used his ability to cast horoscopes as an entre into all the great houses of Europe, the kings and nobles of Europe. He was functioning as an intelligence agent, he was a spy for the British crown insinuating himself into these various courtly scenes and then writing back to Elizabeth in cyphers, cyphers that had previously only been used for magical purposes. He was sending back data on the strengths of military garrisons and the placement of fortifications and this sort of thing. This is what he was doing in the 1580s, he kept the shewstone for a number of years and he didn’t seem to be able to make much progress with it. He had other methods too, he had wax tables and sigils but finally into his life came a very mysterious character named Edward Kelly and some accounts say that Edward Kelly had no ears. That indicates that he had had his ears removed for being a charlatan and a montebank. This was a common punishment in the provinces of England. So Edward Kelly was a very dubious character, I think. One strong piece of evidence that he was a shady character was, John Dee was married to a much younger woman named Ann Dee who by all accounts was quite a beauty and after gaining Dee’s confidence as a scryer, the person who could look into the shewstone and lay out these scenarios that the angels and the entities coming and going in the shewstone were putting forth, Kelly revealed to Dee that the angels had instructed him to hit the hay with Ann. This was a great crisis in their relationship. However, according to Dee’s diary “and so it was done,” we read. So, hanky panky didn’t begin with the Golden Dawn, believe me. In 1582 Ann Dee, John Dee, and Edward Kelly set out for Bohemia and Rudolph, the mad king of Bohemia held sway at that time. This is another one of those bizarre figures in the whole story of this…(tape cuts off a bit here)
…a wonder cabinet, you see, before Linaius, before modern scientific classification these great patrons of the arts and natural sciences, they would just collect weird stuff. And that was all you could say about it. I mean, it was rhinoceros horns, fossil amenities, broken pieces of statues from antiquity, giant insects from Southern India, seashells, all this stuff would just be thrown together in these wundercabina, these wonder cabinets. Rudolph was a great patron of the arts. Well, Kelly sent the word that he and Dee had perfected the alchemical process and Rudolph immediately paid their way to Prague and patronized them very lavishly over a number of months but then they didn’t seem to be coming through and he rented, he ordered a castle put to their disposal, in Bohemia and they still weren’t able to come through. The Voynich Manuscript figures in here too because Kelly’s entre to Dee was that he had a manuscript in an unknown language and I believe that this probably was the Voynich manuscript. The Voynich manuscript turns up in the estate of Rudolph and the very month that he paid 14,000 gold ducats for it to persons unknown, Dee, who was always writing back to the Elizabethan court hounding them to send money, entered into his account book that they received 14,000 ducats from an unknown source.
Kelly, who had made much more extravagant claims, Rudolph kept at work on the alchemical opus and Kelly became more and more desperate to escape and one night in 1587 he crept out on the parapet of this Bohemian castle and a roof tile slipped beneath his feet and he fell to his death and became, as far as I can tell, alchemy’s only true martyr. Dee returned to England, he was now very old, he died at Mortlake in 1606. Elizabeth died in 1604, Shakespeare was happening, Sir Philip Sidney was happening through this period. John Dee reputedly had over 6,000 books in his library. He had more books than any man in England. He had books, we have a partial catalog of his library, he had books that do not exist now. He had Roger Bacon manuscripts because when Henry the eighth kicked the Catholic Church out of England, the Northumberian monasteries were looted by the Earl of Northumberland and basically Dee was allowed to pick over the loot from these monasteries and there were Roger Bacon manuscripts which perished when Dee’s library was burned by an angry mob while he was on the continent because he was suspected of being a wizard. He was the model for Faust in the later resingence of Faust and whenever you see an old man with a white beard and a pointed cap, this image is a referent to Dee.
John Dee (July 13, 1527 – December, 1608) was a noted English mathematician, astronomer, geographer and consultant to Elizabeth I. He was also interested in alchemy, astrology, divination and Rosicrucianism.
Born in London. He graduated from St. John’s College, Cambridge aged eighteen. He lectured briefly at Cambridge before he left England to study in continental Europe and lecture in Paris and Louvain. He returned to England in the 1540s. In 1553, during the reign of Mary I, he faced a Star Chamber prosecution, accused of black magic, but he was only briefly jailed. When he was released, he became a scientific advisor to Elizabeth I, even deciding on the auspicious date for her coronation in 1558.
Travelling widely abroad with a pension from Elizabeth I, and possibly acting as a spy, Dee strove to increase his knowledge and add to his library. His main published work was Monad Hieroglyphica (1564) a dense Kabbala influenced work on alchemy. But in 1570 he wrote the preface to the first English translation of Euclid’s works. He became a close associate of many Elizabethan explorers and entrepreneurs such Sir Humphrey Gilbert.
He met Edward Kelly (or Kelley), a convicted forger, in 1582 and Kelly became his companion. Kelly acted as intermediary for Dee in his attempts to receive visions from ‘angels’ using a globe of crystal – a magical system and language called Enochian was apparently derived from this scrying. (Dee’s crystal globe ended up in the British Museum unnoticed for many years in the mineral collection.) Most of the still existing papers of John Dee are contained within the British Museum, and are available for replication or viewing.
In 1583, while Dee was away in Europe, his home and library at Mortlake were destroyed by a mob fearful of this ‘magician’.
He has the distinction of being the first person to put the word British before the word Empire.
He was warden of Manchester College from 1595 until 1604. When Elizabeth I died in 1603, so did Dee’s influence: he was forced to retire to his home at Mortlake where he died in poverty.
He was married three times and had eight children. His eldest son was Arthur Dee, who was also an alchemist and hermetic author.
The posthumously published account of Dee’s encounters with spirits was reprinted in 1974.
In February 1996, Manchester Area Psychogeographic levitated the Corn Exchange in Manchester to commemorate the 400th anniversary of Dr John Dee’s arrival in Manchester, as Warden of the Collegiate Church, later the Cathedral.