Journal of the Western Mystery Tradition
No. 1, Autumnal Equinox 2001

John Dee
by Alex Sumner


John Dee was (with the possible exception of Francis Bacon) the first great English Magus. Although the exoteric world mainly remembers him as the leading Mathematician and Intellect of his generation, his magical credentials were impeccable. He was an expert in Astrology, and in Hermetic and Neo-platonic philosophy. His writings show an affirmed grasp of Alchemy, and show that he was aware that it was so much more than the mere transmutation of metals. Most importantly he was responsible, through his crystal-gazing experiments, for giving the world the fascinating subject of "Enochian Magic," still studied by occultists today.[1]

I first became interested in Dee through my study of Enochian Magic. In the occult tradition of orders like the Golden Dawn, there is some detail about what Enochian Magic is, comparatively little about what it actually does, and even less about the circumstances in which it first appeared in the modern world. Least of all is known about the life of the man who first made it appear. This is a shame, because Dee is important to study as an example of a successful magician, and understanding him and his background helps us understand the legacy which he left us.

To understand Dee's influence on the Western Mystery Tradition, it is not enough to just know what he did: one must also understand his actions in the context of his life, and the times in which Dee lived. An examination of Dee's contributions reveals that he was influenced by his wide literacy; by his background as an intellectual generally, and a mathematician in particular; by the modes of thought which were peculiar to that period of history, including Hermetic philosophy and deductive reasoning; and by the political situation then occurring in sixteenth century Europe.

This article is not merely a retelling of the life of Dee: it is an analysis of how important his works are to followers of the Western Mystery Tradition throughout the ages, including to the present day. By presenting the significance in which he is held even by modern day occultists, I shall attempt to prove that Dee really does deserve the epithet of a "famous figure in the Western Mystery Tradition."

Birth, Education, Early Career

Dee was born in 1527 - the son of a civil servant at King Henry VIII's court. He was educated at London and Chelmsford before attending St John's College, Cambridge University, in 1542 at the age of 15, the typical age for a freshman in those days.

Constitutional upheaval gripped England throughout Dee's lifetime. In 1534, King Henry VIII broke away from the Roman Catholic Church. The position of Dee's father as a civil servant would have forced him to swear allegiance to Henry as head of the Church of England - Dee himself would have had to take this same oath at the age of 21. We must assume he did, for had he not he would have debarred himself from a career in public life, and laid himself open to charges of treason. The conflict between the Roman and the new Anglican Church would form the background to several key events in Dee's later life.

Dee's life as an intellectual really began at Cambridge - yet the curriculum at the University differed ultimately from the path that he eventually took. For example, many of Dee's writings display a typically Hermetic outlook on life: with the macrocosm subtly related to the microcosm and Man as the natural reflection of the Supernal deity. And yet, Dee could not have learnt Hermeticism in the University, which preferred the more humanistic philosophy of Aristotle. This has led one writer to speculate that Dee came into contact with Hermetic philosophers at Cambridge quite apart from his studies.[2]

However, Dee's "official" subjects of study would have included grammar, logic and rhetoric; as well as music, and the three philosophies - Moral, Natural and Divine. But most interestingly, for us, at any rate, he would have studied Mathematics.

The time of the Renaissance viewed Mathematics differently to now. It included not only arithmetic and geometry, but also Astronomy. Moreover, before the acceptance of the pioneering work by Gallileo and Newton, the study of Astronomy also comprised that of Astrology. We know that Dee mastered both geometry and Astrology, by his "Mathematicall Preface" to Euclid, and by the work which would gain him notoriety in the reign of Queen Mary, and acceptance with Queen Elizabeth.

We must also assume that Dee studied Greek, as Trinity College made him "Under Reader" in the subject after he received his BA in 1546. We also know of Dee's fluency in Latin, which he probably learnt at either Chelmsford or London, and Hebrew.[3]

From this point until 1553 Dee experienced an uninterrupted period of growing professional success. In 1548 he received his MA and took up a position at Louvain University in Belgium to lecture on Mathematics. In two years, still in his early twenties, he established himself as an international authority, so that when he came to Paris to lecture on Euclid in 1550, Dee started to receive offers of patronage from noblemen and even monarchs across Europe. However, Dee turned these all down: he had set his sights on a career back in England.

In 1551 he realised his ambition when, returning to England, he met the boy King, Edward VI. Dee obviously impressed the King, as he received an annuity from him. Dee also received offers of patronage from powerful noblemen, including the Earl of Pembroke and the Duke of Northumberland - who engaged him as tutor for his children. Northumberland explained that he wanted them to have "the best scientific education in England."

Thus, by the age of 26 in 1553, Dee had successfully established both his international reputation and his career.

"Conjuring Divils"

I have already mentioned that Constitutional upheaval gripped England during his lifetime. Because Dee had been determined to find a position at the English Court, he found himself right in the middle of it. In 1553, King Edward VI died, and England was fiercely divided between Catholic and Protestants. The Anglicans (i.e. Protestants) dominated under Edward VI. However, the next in line to the throne, Mary, was a Catholic, who would almost certainly try to undo all the Anglicans had done. Therefore, a number of noblemen hatched a plan to put a young noblewoman called Lady Jane Grey on the throne.

The plan failed. Mary, with an army, deposed Lady Jane Grey after just nine days. She then went about arresting and executing all the noblemen who had supported Jane, including the Duke of Northumberland, Dee's patron.

Dee therefore found himself in a dangerous position. The supporters of Queen Mary at Court regarded him with suspicion. To make matters worse, during the time 1553 - 1555 Dee did work for, amongst others, Princess Elizabeth - Mary's half-sister and rival.

In 1555 Dee cast horoscopes for Princess Elizabeth, the Queen, and the Queen's husband. As we have already mentioned, Mathematics at the time, and therefore Dee's expertise, included the study of Astrology. His enemies took this as their chance: they had Dee arrested for Treason, and accused him of "Conjuring Divils".

To understand Dee's predicament, one should realise that the Treason Act prohibited, and in fact it still does, "compassing the death of the sovereign". Henry VIII deliberately misinterpreted this clause so that it would mean "thinking about or mentioning the king's death" - instead of the more natural meaning of "plotting or conspiring". Thus, he had a number of his enemies executed, because they had allegedly mentioned that the King might pass away for whatever reason - even if it was just old age. Henry even executed his own very loyal doctor, because he mistakenly gave the wrong prognosis! Dee's enemies therefore argued that Dee had, by casting her horoscope, predicted Mary's death - they hoped the same thing would happen to him as to the enemies of King Henry.

However, they had not reckoned with Dee's intellect and eloquent tongue. During three months in 1555 - first the Star Chamber[4], and then the Bishop of London interrogated him. Dee obviously impressed them with his sincerity, as they eventually released him. Dee even managed to remain on friendly terms with the Bishop after his release. However, the case attracted a lot of publicity, and left Dee with an air of notoriety that lingered around him from that point on.

The question arises: despite the fact that he convinced the authorities otherwise, might Dee have practised any kind of ritual magic or evocation around that time? It is certainly likely. The main clue comes from his time at Paris in 1550 - Dee's theories on Mathematics were strongly flavoured by what is known as "Mathesis". This was a kind of mystical approach to Mathematics. Numbers were seen as the basic language in the mind of God. Therefore Mathesis involved understanding the equations which governed the universe. An example: imagine a number is connected with something of mystical or religious significance, e.g. Christ chose 12 Apostles. From the Mathetic point of view one would say that where the number 12 occurred elsewhere in nature this pointed to another manifestation of the same force, e.g. God choosing 12 constellations to form the Zodiac.

Gematria, and its associated numerological practices, are thus prime examples of Mathesis which are in use by modern occult movements, e.g. the Golden Dawn.

One writer has suggested that Dee's lectures at Paris not only demonstrate a grasp of Mathesis generally, but the Mathematical theories of Henry Cornelius Agrippa specifically.[5] Agrippa devotes a sizeable portion of the second book of his "Three Books on Occult Philosophy" to the magical properties of numbers. Agrippa's work contains a lot of Qabalistic theory, which the modern occultist would recognise from such works as Crowley's "777" and "Sepher Sephiroth".[6]

Agrippa's book also describes ritual magic practices, albeit in a general fashion, unlike the more explicit directions of the apocryphal "Fourth Book of Occult Philosophy". Nevertheless, it does constitute a large reference work for someone embarking on ceremonial magic. If Dee did derive his Mathetic theories from Agrippa, this would imply that already by his twenties he pursued an active interest in the Occult, which might extend beyond merely using "Three Books on Occult Philosophy" to spice up a Maths lecture. We know that Dee certainly had read Agrippa by the time he conducted his (in)famous Angel Magic experiments in the 1580s.[7]

The Elizabethan Era

The death of Mary and the accession of Elizabeth in 1558 saw Dee return from "out of the cold" of the past five years. Queen Elizabeth looked favourably upon Dee: she began by setting the date of her coronation according to a horoscope he cast.

In this year, Dee himself published "Propaedeumata Aphoristica" - a set of aphorisms setting out Dee's view of cosmology, astrology, and the roles of science and natural magic. This book clearly shows Dee as a Hermetic philosopher - with its vision of the macrocosm linked to the microcosm by rays of divine influence proceeding from the cosmos.

During Elizabeth I's reign, Dee became fêted by the court. The Queen often relied on Dee, once asking him to explain the secrets of Alchemy to her. Dee often found himself called upon by the noblemen. The Queen several times promised incomes to Dee, but most of these failed to materialise.

One of Dee's most remarkable achievements was the establishment of the largest and best library in England, at his own house in Mortlake, Oxfordshire. Dee spent most of the years 1560 - 1570 collecting large numbers of books and manuscripts. He even travelled through continental Europe between 1562 and 1565 looking for rare works.

The nature of the contents of Dee's book collection sheds some fascinating light on his character. They included works on all the Sciences, Hermetic philosophy, Alchemy (including works by Raymond Lully, Albertus Magnus et al.), classical Roman poetry, Neoplatonism, and much more besides. Dee also seems to have been acquainted with a large number of printed books, which he never listed as being in his library. For example, Dee seems to have had a collection of writings on demonology and witch-craft. He also had the works of Henry Cornelius Agrippa; not only his "Three Books On Occult Philosophy", but also "On the Nobility and Excellence of the Female Sex".[8]

In 1562 Dee procured a rare copy of Trithemius' Steganographia, at this time only a hand-written manuscript. It only first came into print in 1606. This book apparently contains a system of Angel magic, and methods to conjure spirits to allow the magician to know what occurs in various parts of the Earth as if by telepathy. Steganographia also contains, and conceals, a system of cryptography, which Trithemius purports was the method used by the ancient Greek philosophers to conceal their magical secrets from the profane. Dee by his own admission found himself very impressed with his find.

Dee published very little of his own work, preferring to impart his teachings in private. Perhaps this air of secrecy fuelled the unpleasant rumours which continued to hang round him. However, he did publish two notable works - A "Mathematicall Preface" to Euclid's Elements of Geometry in 1570 and "Monas Hieroglyphica in 1564. The "Mathematicall Preface" demonstrates Dee's views on Mathesis, which I have already mentioned in the context of "Conjuring Divils" above. The Preface amounts to a synthesis of mystical thought from Agrippa back to the number theory of Pythagoras.

The "Monas Hieroglyphica" (i.e. "Hieroglyphic Monad") appears to be a more obfuse document, but in terms of modern occultism this book only just falls behind "Enochian Magic" as Dee's most influential work. The Monas Hieroglyphica at first sight contains a number of theorems relating to arbitrary exercises involving a symbol: the ancient alchemical sign for Mercury. Dee's approach appears rather oblique, but he manages to write a considerable amount of practical advice relating to Alchemy and the Qabalah - and indeed, some Mathetic speculations.

Dee writes a particularly interesting passage, in relation to the geometrical figure of a cross:

And I will not hide from you a further memorable mystagogy: consider that our Cross, containing so many ideas, conceals two further letters if we examine carefully their numerical virtues after a certain manner, so that, by a parallel method following their verbal force with this same Cross, we recognise with supreme admiration that it is from here that LIGHT is derived (LVX), the final word of the magistery, by the union and conjunction of the Ternary within the unity of the Word.

(Theorem 17)

It appears that Dee prefigures the Golden Dawn teaching on LVX. We know that the founders of the Golden Dawn used Dee's Enochian material, so could they also have looked at Dee's other work, including "Monas Hieroglyphica"? But before we say "Yes" straightaway, we should also consider that Kenneth Mackenzie stated, some years prior to the Golden Dawn's creation, that "Rosicrucians believe that Light is the Philosophers' Stone"[9]. However, Dee lived during the time that Christian Rosencreutz supposedly lay in his tomb! Mackenzie's remark therefore implies that the study of Dee's work had already established itself in Rosicrucian circles long before the Golden Dawn came into existence. It also implies that either Rosicrucians adopted Dee's work, or even that the Invisible Brotherhood included Dee in their fraternity!

Mackenzie, as a member of the Societas Rosicrucianis In Anglia, and a keen founder of quasi-Masonic esoteric fraternities[10], remains one of the most likely candidates to have penned the Golden Dawn Cipher Manuscripts - which happen to contain Enochian words of power.[11]

The Duke of Canada

Aside from Dee's activities as a bibliophile, he actively concerned himself with Navigation. As the foremost Mathematician, Astronomer, and intellect in the land, Dee established himself as the natural choice for advice for explorers wishing to go on long journeys. Much of the planet during the sixteenth century lay yet to be discovered, and Dee himself shared the fascination of these explorers. During this time, Dee published a treatise on navigation, which became the standard text for British seamen.[12]

Dee also conceived the idea that with the growth of exploration, and the increasing efficiency of ships to survive Trans-oceanic voyages, Britain could become a world power. Dee predicted the rise of the British Empire; not a particularly prophetic act, as all the other countries of Europe, especially Spain and France, wanted new colonies in the New World as well. Dee later urged Elizabeth I to take the opportunity, which was now presenting itself.[13]

However, Dee did not do this just out of patriotism, as he himself hoped to benefit financially from the new rise in world exploration. For example, Dee signed a contract with an explorer, whereby, in return for Dee's advice and instructions on Navigation, all land that the explorer discovered in the new world above 51º Latitude would become Dee's property. As it happened, the explorer failed to reach his destination, due to bad weather. Had he succeeded, however, Dee would have become the owner of most of Canada. The realms of possibility could even extend to Dee's elevation into the nobility as would have befitted a powerful land-owner of the time, perhaps even as a Duke.

Angels and Demons

We now turn to the part of Dee's life which holds the most fascination for modern students of the occult; his association with Edward Kelly, and his Angel Magic experiments. When Dee met Kelly in 1582, he had already been undertaking such experiments for some time, possibly since as early as 1569.[14] The first entry in Dee's diaries of these sessions indicates that Dee was working with a Seer named Barnabas Saul, in 1581.[15] Elias Ashmole relates that from the secret cache of papers which he eventually published, half had previously been destroyed by a maid, who not knowing their importance, used them as firelighters.[16] Perhaps these incinerated pages contained the records of the twelve missing years of Dee's magical experiments.

From the records that do survive, we can describe Dee's experiments as follows. Dee always worked with a Seer, who would look into Dee's "Shewstone," i.e. a crystal ball, or an Obsidian "magic mirror". Dee would usually begin each session by praying fervently. The Seer would then look into the Shewstone and describe the visions he experienced. All the while Dee recorded what the Seer said, and would often address questions to the entity which was supposedly within the crystal. The first recorded skrying session, in 1581, began with Dee praying that an angel called Anael would appear to Saul in the crystal globe. Dee writes the record of the session as if he converses directly with Anael, but we should assume that Saul acted as the "mouthpiece" for the apparition in the crystal.[17]

Dee first met Kelly the following March, whereupon they continued with the experiments. Again Dee did not skry himself, this time Kelly filled Saul's role. Kelly saw himself as an alchemist - and possibly also a Ceremonial magician. If we assume that the visions Kelly saw proceeded solely from his imagination, then that imagination seemed acquainted with grimoires such as the Lesser Key of Solomon. For example, on the 14th April 1584, Kelly described the Angel Gabriel as praying, describing God as

"…before whom the Quire of Heaven sing, O Mappa La man hallelujah."[18]

which appears remarkably similar to an entreaty to the Great God Jehovah,

"…whereunto the whole choir of heaven sings continually O Alappa-le-man Hallelujah…"

a prayer to invoke ones Guardian Angel, from the Ars Paulina.[19]

By far the most productive period of Dee and Kelly's magical experiments occurred between 1582 and 1584, up to the end of their visit to Cracow in Poland, and before they reached Prague in the modern-day Czech Republic, then part of the Austro-Hungarian empire. During this time, Dee and Kelly received a complete new system of ceremonial magic known to us now as "Enochian Magic". At first, the pair received the design of the Holy Table, a wax seal called the "Sigillum Dei Aemeth", a Lamen formed from the names of the "Heptarchic" Kings and Princes, a magic Ring, and seven tables of letters, forming the basis of the Tabula Bonorum and Tabula Collecta. From September 1583, they received revelations concerning 49 Good Angels, Liber Logaeth, and the Angelic Alphabet. Finally between April and July 1584, they received Tablet of Nalvage, Liber Scientiae, the elemental Tablets and Tablet of Union, and the 48 Enochian Calls.

I do not propose to go into much detail about Enochian Magic, except for a few general observations. To do any justice to the system would require more space than can be included in this article.[20]

I would like to draw attention to some of the last of the material received. In the Golden Dawn version system of Enochian magic, the first part with which the initiate comes into contact is the four elemental tablets, the Tablet of Union, and the Enochian Calls used to activate them. But what exactly are they to be used for? The Angel Nalvage speaking in relation of the First call specifically says it is to be used for Evocatory magic: to cause spirits to appear visibly, to force them to render obedience, and make them "open the mysteries of their creation"[21]. In other words, it is a magical knowledge-gathering system.

Later, the Angel Ave describes the function of the four Watchtowers:

    "1. All humane [sic] knowledge.
    2. Out of it springeth Physick.
    3. The knowledge of all elemental Creatures amongst you…
    4. The knowledg [sic] finding and use of Metals. The vertues of them. The congelations and vertues of Stones… 5. The Conjoyning and knitting together of Natures…
    6. Moving from place to place, (as into this Country, or that Country at pleasure).
    7. The knowledge of all crafts Mechanical."[22]
    And 8. "Superficial, though not underlying, transmutation"[23]

Therefore not only do the Watchtowers again constitute a magical knowledge-gathering system; they also contain a method for achieving practical magical results. Apparently, the original Golden Dawn had linked these eight functions to specific parts of the Enochian Watchtowers.[24] However, Israel Regardie arbitrarily omitted these teachings from the book "The Golden Dawn" on the grounds that they sounded too mediaeval.[25] I find this a rather short-sighted attitude from the man who had no qualms against writing an introduction for Crowley's "777", which is just as much a manual for practical magic. Regardie seems to have overlooked the fact that Dee was no fool. His Monas Hieroglyphica shows that he was well aware that Alchemy should be taken metaphorically, not literally. Hence, if Dee heard that such a thing was for "the knowledge, finding and use of metals" or the like he would have understood the Alchemical cipher.

Aside from the Watchtowers and the Calls, Liber Scientiae Auxilii et Victoriae Terrestris contains details of how the Earth is divided into 91 parts - each ruled over by a "prince or spiritual governor". The 91 parts are divided into 30 sets or "Aethyrs" (Airs), (i.e. 29 of three and the 30th of 4) as the Angels which govern them are said to reside in 30 aerial regions between heaven and earth. Each of the 91 parts is thus called by one of the Calls of the Thirty Aethyrs - which has been made most famous by Aleister Crowley's "The Vision and the Voice".[26]

Crowley used the Call of the Thirty Aethyrs as a method of initiation - each Aethyr revealed to him a successively more potent vision of the old Aeon passing away and the new one coming into existence. Most infamously, in the tenth Aethyr, he supposedly meets the demon Choronzon, and crosses "the Abyss" into the Supernal regions.

Now the strange thing is this: nowhere in the Dee diaries does it describe this as the use of the Call of the Thirty Aethyrs. The only details that mention it describe this system as a form of practical magic dealing with the 91 parts of the Earth, and its spiritual Governors, i.e.

"These bring in and again dispose Kings and all the Governments upon the Earth, and vary the Natures of things."[27]

Furthermore, it is said of the Angels of the Thirty Aethyrs that they

"…presently give obedience to the will of men, when they see them. Hereby you may subvert whole Countries without Armies: which you must, and shall do, for the glory of God. By these you shall get the favour of all Princes, whom you take pity of or wish well unto. Hereby shall you know the Secret Treasures of the waters, and unknown Caves of he Earth."[28]

Whilst there is a demon called "Coronzon" mentioned, it is not in the context of these Aethyrs, but separately, as the name of the serpent in the Garden of Eden.

However, we do see in relation to the 91 parts of the Earth that the communicating Angel makes great emphasis of the number of "ministering Angels" possessed by each Governor. The allotment of ministering angels seems rather arbitrary - could it be that we have here an Enochian version of Mathesis? Also, given the similarity in principle of this system with the version of angel magic found in Trithemius' Steganographia, could we say that the one was inspired by the other? Might Liber Scientiae even constitute some kind of exercise in Cryptography? Such questions for research fall outside the scope of this article.

Two questions naturally occur when considering Dee's experiments with Ritual Magic: can we accept that Dee sincerely contacted Angels; and further, can we accept that Dee contacted any kind of supposedly-supernatural entity?

In 1599, Dee wrote to the Archbishop of Canterbury:

from my youth hitherto, I haue vsed, and still vse, good, lawfull, honest, christian, and diuinely prescribed meanes, to attaine to the knowledge of those truthes, which are meet, and necessary for me to know;

(A Letter, Containing a most briefe Discourse Apologeticall)

Dee thought that by an emphatic defence of his reputation such as this, he could quash the rumours of black magic that had hung about him since 1555. The rumours continued afterward despite Dee's efforts. Elizabeth may have tolerated Dee as an Astrologer, and even as an Alchemist, but she could not permit any kind of black magic to occur. An Act of Parliament made capital offences out of sorcery which caused death, conjuring any kind of evil spirit, even using magic to discover hidden treasures (as a second offence) -. This would also have effectively criminalised many classical grimoires, some of which no doubt were in Dee's famous library.

Therefore, were it ever proved that Dee conjured devils, he would not merely face social opprobrium but the death sentence as well. We can therefore understand why in 1576 Dee successfully entered a Plea to force John Foxe to remove references to him as "the Great Conjurer" from Actes and Monuments - a copy of which, updated annually, was placed in every English cathedral and many parish churches.

However it seems that Dee held his reputation more important than his life. For example, in 1604, five years after his letter to the Archbishop of Canterbury, the rumours still continued. Dee therefore petitioned King James to put him on trial - in the hope that a Not Guilty verdict would quash the rumours once and for all. A Guilty verdict, on the other hand, would have proved fatal. As it happened, the King denied Dee his day in Court, sparing him an ordeal, but also destroying Dee's chance to salvage his tattered reputation. But the fact that Dee willingly risked his life to assert his reputation would seem to be strong evidence that his sincerity was unshakeable.

We can remark that although Dee might have acted sincerely, his particular method of working depended on the trustworthiness of his seer. Now here we encounter major controversy: how does one tell if a seer can be trusted? Muslims, for example, argue that God would only choose righteous people with a spotless reputation for honesty to speak His Word. Therefore, Mohammed unsurprisingly fits the Muslim ideal of a Prophet. However, Edward Kelly seems to have fallen somewhat short of Mohammed in the righteousness and honesty stakes, at least before he met Dee. A number of stories hang around Kelly's past; he left Oxford University in mysterious circumstances, he was pilloried in Lancaster for either forging title deeds or counterfeiting money. He is even said to have dug up a corpse to perform a Necromantic operation. Add to this that he first met Dee using an alias.

In modern times this has caused serious problems for a number of people. For example, Paul Foster Case said that he could not believe a supposedly-divine science as "Enochian Magic" could have been channelled through such an obvious rogue as Kelly. Consequently Case's order, the Builders of the Adytum, to this day follow many of the practices of the Golden Dawn, but not Enochian magic.

Others however take a more sympathetic view. Peter French points out that in most of the skrying sessions, the structure begins with Dee praying fervently that God might send a holy Angel into his Shewstone. French speculates that the fervency of Dee's prayers, as well as the magnetism of his personality, dominated the Seer's mind - so that the visions in the Shewstone truly derived from Dee's own efforts, not Kelly's imagination.[29] If we accept the truth of this, we can further infer the validity of the Angel Magick experiments if we can accept Dee's proficiency as a magician.

The main criticism usually directed against the experiments consists in the fact that at times the "Angels" purportedly told Kelly messages which belied their supposedly "heavenly" status. The most infamous of these occurred near the end of Dee and Kelly's association, the "wife-swapping" incident in 1589. An Angel apparently told Kelly that he and Dee should share their wives in common. They apparently went through with it, though Dee tried in vain to erase the incident from his diary. It would seem that the tensions in the Dee household, as well perhaps as the guilt which Dee now felt, led him to break off his relationship with Kelly permanently.

And yet, one should proceed cautiously here. Dee's diary tells that this particular Angel first contacted Kelly without Dee's knowledge. Kelly claimed that the Angel contacted him, without Dee present, and that subsequently, with Dee in attendance, the Angel repeated its message. Compare this with the hypothesis proposed by French above: the vital ingredients of Dee's magnetic personality and his fervent prayers did not play a part in the particular message. One can quite easily speculate that in this instance Kelly lied.

However, the Angels' messages did not all contain objectionable material - far from it! It would seem that during the tour of Europe which Dee and Kelly made between 1583 and 1589, the Angels inspired Dee and transformed him into an apostle of reconciliation, between the Catholic and Protestant churches. Dee believed he had a sacred mission to heal the rift which had opened up between the two factions, which appeared to him as the most serious threat that the Christian faith had ever faced. Thus, Dee found himself in Prague in 1586, preaching the values of Christian unity to the Papal Nuntio (i.e. the Vatican ambassador). Again one would have difficulty questioning Dee's personal sincerity, as despite the worthiness of his message, the Nuntio took great exception to it. The Pope himself ordered Dee and Kelly's arrest and transportation to Rome for interrogation. This never happened as the pair received shelter from the Duke of Bavaria, who managed to intercede on their behalf.

Perhaps the most sensible approach to Dee's Angel Magic consists of not accepting it blindly, or rejecting it out of hand, but examining it piece by piece to discover the circumstances in which it was received.

Final Years

After Dee split up with Kelley, he returned home to face declining fortunes. Many of his former friends were now either old, dead or wilfully distant. The old rumours about conjuring demons circulated still, despite Dee's attempts to refute them.

Queen Elizabeth tried to help Dee out by gaining him the Wardenship of Christ's College, Manchester. However Dee found this very difficult as he encountered open hostility from the Fellows there.

In 1603, Elizabeth I died, and James I succeeded her. James disapproved strongly of anything that smacked of witchcraft. Therefore Dee found that his reputation at court, which had just about been tepid beforehand, cooled right down indeed. It was during this time that Dee unsuccessfully tried to be put on trial, in order to quash the bad rumours hanging about him (vide supra).

In 1605, disaster struck Dee twice. First his wife Jane died of the plague. Then, unable to bear the hostility of the Fellows at Manchester, Dee was forced to step down from his post. This reduced him to poverty. For the last three years of his life, Dee occasionally carried on more Angel magic experiments, and scraping by, by selling books out of his famous library. He died in 1608, aged 81.


John Dee's influence on the course of the Western Mystery Tradition is due first and foremost to his position as a leading intellect in Elizabethan England, a reputation which he had established quite independently of his achievements in magic. He was held in fascination by the nobility, which allowed him both to be employed in what were important matters of state. and to conduct his magical experiments in relative peace.

Secondly, there is the matter of his magical work itself. Not only was he responsible for midwifing the reception of Enochian Magic, which today is a source of endless fascination amongst occultists, but even his works such as Monas Hieroglyphica show a shrewd mind, full of ideas which themselves subtly influenced later magicians.

There are several traits to Dee's character, which crop up consistently in both his magical and non-magical work. First and foremost, he was a collector of Knowledge. Between the years 1570 - 1581 Dee was the owner of the finest library in England, and possibly in Europe, at his house in Mortlake. That Dee managed this is undoubtedly due to his ambition to fill his home with the finest scholarly materials then in existence. We know that Dee went to great trouble to search for obscure and hard to come-by works, many of which were not even in print. Some might find it hard to believe that Dee, being a man of such intelligence, would seriously indulge himself in the world of the spirits. But to Dee, magic was simply an extension of this Knowledge-Collecting: the idea that Angels could provide even more knowledge than was possible to gain on Earth held an irresistible fascination for Dee.

Dee was not only interested in Knowledge, but in Exploration. We must remember that much of the planet remained unexplored in Dee's time. In fact, as a source of the Unknown it rivalled the Knowledge supposedly to be gained from esoteric realms as food for Dee's imagination. Thus, in his exoteric life we observe Dee's contribution to Navigation, his support for the emergence of British imperialism, and his just missing out on owning most of Canada. In his magical work, we see that Dee was keenly interested in using otherworldly powers to discover and perhaps influence what went on in other places in the globe. For example, there is Dee's early interest in Trithemius' Steganographia, to the reception of the Enochian material concerning the 91 Parts of the Earth.

We should always remember that Dee's education, and therefore his outlook on life, was purely of the times, i.e. the Renaissance. We may be familiar with the artistic creations of the geniuses of the era which are the Renaissance's legacy, but when we try to understand the mentality of those people we are confronted with modes of thought which are alien to our modern day understanding. Dee was a scientist, but the rationale of Renaissance science was different to that of the present era. For example, in those days it was usual to argue deductively from an a priori theory. Now it is more usual to form an a posteriori theory from inductive reasoning. What this means practically is that the Renaissance scientist would spend a lot of time creating a model which would explain his beliefs, and later test the model with experimentation. Sometimes, so-called scientists of that era might not even get around to the experimentation; the construction of the model thereby becoming an exercise in mental aesthetics.

Moreover, there were a number of a priori assumptions which were seldom questioned at all, for example, the existence of God. Thus it was quite reasonable, as far as Dee was concerned, to argue in his Mathematicall Preface for a "Mathetic" vision of reality in which Mathematics is seen not just as a science but a way of describing both the secret workings of Nature and of God. Of course, this theory owes no small amount of inspiration to Henry Cornelius Agrippa, with whose works Dee was fully conversant.

Given that this Deductive-style of reasoning was the normal mode of operation at the time, it is perhaps not surprising that Dee did not seem to use Enochian Magic after he had received it. To Dee, the reception of the Enochian material was a work in itself. Its possible use in practical situations thereafter was a separate matter entirely.

We should also remember that Enochian Magic is a complex system, especially as there is little detail in the original Dee diaries as to how it is to be used. It would have taken Dee an extremely long time to turn Enochian into a fully-fledged magical system, and even longer to go about practising it. However, at the time, Dee was busy travelling around Europe, often trying to escape the attentions of unsympathetic nobles, and of the Catholic Church. On his return he faced increasing apathy, and later suspicion, from nobles and academic colleagues. We may also infer that the circumstances of his break-up with Kelley upset him greatly, and caused him to practice magic only intermittently thereafter.

Dee's reputation might have been greater still, as there is evidence twelve years' worth of magical records (from 1569 to 1581) are missing from his Diaries. Perhaps these were among the papers that were unwittingly burnt by a servant before being handed over to Elias Ashmole.

The Deductive reasoning of the Renaissance period meant that a lot of beliefs were included among the sciences, which today might be regarded as superstition. Take Astrology for example. In those days no difference was seen between this and astronomy. Because in Deductive reasoning the explanation is created before the experimental proof is found, a theory like Astrology would remain valid until it was disproved, unlike nowadays where it would not be created until it was proved. Thus it was perfectly reasonable during Renaissance times for a man like Dee to study, and master Astrology.

Moreover, the central idea of Hermeticism, that the Macrocosm and the Microcosm are somehow linked together, would have appealed to Dee and enabled him to forge a link in his own mind between God, Astrology, Natural Magic, and all of creation itself.

The Renaissance was a time of enthusiasm for the novelty of the rebirth of classicism. But the late 16th century was also an apocalyptic time as well. There was a rumour among astrologers that at the end of the 16th century the heavens would be aligned in exactly the same way as they were at the time of the birth of Christ. Therefore, the Second Coming was thought to be imminent. This may also explain the appearance of the Rosicrucian Fraternity in the beginning of the 17th Century. But the Second Coming also implied the rise of the Antichrist as well. We may scoff at this now, but we should also consider that the 16th century had also seen a major split in the Christian Church, into Catholic and Protestant. This fuelled speculation that the split was actually the work of the Devil, who was attempting to destroy the true Church. It is not surprising therefore that Dee himself was concerned to heal the split in the Church, through the doctrine of Eirenicism, where the doctrinal differences of Catholicism and Protestantism were reconciled by reference to the non-Christian teachings of Hermeticism. It is also not surprising that the Enochian material received by Dee is full of apocalyptic comments. For Dee did not see himself merely as an intellectual and mathematician, but even as a magus commissioned by God to bring healing to the Western European civilisation.



(Unknown), The Golden Dawn Cipher Manuscripts, Decyphered by J.S. Kupperman.

Henry Cornelius Agrippa, De Occulta Philosophia (Three Books on Occult Philosophy), [exhibit no longer extant]

Elias Ashmole (ed.), Liber Mysteriorum Primus, Liber Mysteriorum Secundus, Liber Mysteriorum Tertius (etc), originally published circa 1673, now published by the John Dee Publication Project, 1998.

Meric Casaubon, (ed.), A True and Faithful Relation of What Passed for Many Years Between Dr John Dee and some Spirits. (1659), facsimile edition by Kessinger Publishing inc.

Aleister Crowley, 777 and Other Qabalistic Writings of Aleister Crowley, 1977 Samuel Weiser Inc.

Aleister Crowley, The Vision and The Voice (LIBER XXX AERUM Vel Saecvli Svb Figvra CCCCXVIII.

Aleister Crowley, Lon Milo Duquette, Christopher Hyatt, Enochian Sex Magick - The Enochian World of Aleister Crowley, 1991 New Falcon Publications.

John Dee, Monas Hieroglyphica, 1564.

John Dee, General and Rare Memorials pertayning to the perfect art of Navigation, 1576 John Dee, Treatise upon the Queen's Sovereignty over the Seas, 1597

John Dee, A Letter Containing a Most Briefe Discourse Apologeticall, 1599.

Charlotte Fell-Smith, John Dee (1527 - 1608), 1909, The John Dee Publication Project.

Peter French, John Dee - The World of an Elizabethan Magus, 1972, Routledge & Kegan Paul plc. Ellic Howe, Fringe Masonry in England 1870 - 1885, (1972),

Kenneth Mackenzie, The Royal Masonic Cyclopaedia, 1877. Facsimile edition 1987, Thorsons.

Israel Regardie, The Golden Dawn, (6th ed.) 1989, Llewellyn.

Carroll "Poke" Runyon (editor), The Seventh Ray, Book 1 "The Blue Ray", February 1999 CHS Publications.

Patrick Zalewski, Golden Dawn Enochian Magic, 1994, Llewellyn.



[1] I should point out at the outset that one thing that Dee did not do is translate the Necronomicon into English. This book, as well as Dee's involvement with it, are fictional creations of H P Lovecraft.

[2] Peter French, John Dee - The World of An Elizabethan Magus , 1972 Routledge & Kegan Paul plc.

[3] French, ibid. See also Dee, Liber Mysteriorum Secundus, (edited by Elias Ashmole), page 14: Dee is not only familiar with various forms of the 42-letter name of God in Hebrew, he also admits to having read works on the Qabalah.

[4] The Star Chamber, named after the stellar ceiling decoration of its meeting room, was a court which sat without a jury. In the confused legal system of Elizabethan England it was actually an alternative to the regular courts. Before it was abolished in 1641 it had gained a reputation for summary and rather corrupt judgements. See

[5] E.g. Henry Cornelius Agrippa, De Occulta Philosophia Book 2, Chapters 1 et seq.

[6] Both are now published in the volume 777 and Other Qabalistic Writings of Aleister Crowley, Samuel Weiser Inc., 1977.

[7] Dee, Liber Mysteriorum Primus, (ed. Ashmole), p26: the Archangel Gabriel says that a certain name "is written in the boke which lyeth in the wyndow." To which Dee replies "Do you mean Agrippa his boke?" Agrippa is mentioned four times in this volume of Dee's diaries alone.

[8] Charlotte Fell Smith, John Dee (1527 - 1608), 1909, ch. 19.

[9] Kenneth Mackenzie, Royal Masonic Cyclopaedia, under the entry Philosophers' Stone.

[10] Ellic Howe, Fringe Masonry in England 1870 - 1875, 1972,

[11] The Cipher Manuscripts are published online at

[12] Dee, General and Rare Memorials pertayning to the perfect art of Navigation, 1576

[13] Dee, Treatise upon the Queen's Sovereignty over the Seas, 1597

[14] Dee, Liber Mysteriorum Primus, p9 Dee writes his Morning and evening Prayer for wisdom. In a note at the bottom he says (in Latin) "From the year 1579, it was done in this way: in Latin and in English; but around the year 1569 in another and peculiar, particular way: sometimes for Raphael, sometimes for Michael." (My emphasis). Translator: Clay Holden.

[15] Ibid., p15.

[16] Ibid., Elias Ashmole's Preface, p5.

[17] See note 12.

[18] Meric Casaubon, A True and Faithfull Relation, p82.

[19] Available from, e.g.,

[20] Contemporary works which discuss Enochian Magic as a practical system, and which the author would recommend, include: Israel Regardie, The Golden Dawn, 6th Ed. Llewellyns 1989; Patrick Zalewski, Golden Dawn Enochian Magic, 2nd Ed. Llewellyns 1994; Aleister Crowley, Lon Milo Duquette and Christopher Hyatt, Enochian Sex Magick, New Falcon 1991.

[21] Casaubon, op. cit., p88.

[22] Ibid., p179.

[23] Ibid. p179 - the original is in Latin: "Transmutatio formalis, sed non essentialis". Translated by me.

[24] Book H (Clavicula Tabularum Enochi) is now published in The Seventh Ray, Book 1 "The Blue Ray", February 1999, Church of Hermetic Sciences Inc.

[25] Regardie, op. cit., pp43-44.

[26] Crowley, LIBER XXX AERUM Vel Saecvli Svb Figvra CCCCXVIII. Available from

[27] Casaubon, op. cit., p139

[28] Ibid., p170.

[29] French, op. cit.