Journal of the Western Mystery Tradition
No. 11, Vol. 2. Autumnal Equinox 2006
Angel Magick, Dee’s Rosie Crucian Secrets and the Byrom Collection:
Fragmentation and Transmission in the 18th century
By Vincent Bridges
Freemasonry formally started in England in 1717 with the public announcement of the Four Lodges at the Apple Tree Tavern in London on June 24, Saint John’s Day. Something like these “lodges” had existed at least since the mid fourteenth century as craft guilds. These Freemasons were different, however. They were not actually working, operative masons but middle-class members of a secret society gone public. As early as the1640s, Elias Ashmole, a founding member of the Royal Society, antiquarian book collector, alchemist, and Rosicrucian brother in all but name, joined some kind of speculative Masonic group. Some of the early founders of official English Freemasonry, such as Dr. James Anderson and John Theophilus Desaguliers, had Rosicrucian connections and sympathies and exerted an enormous influence on the early lodges. In the next twenty years, similar lodges were organized publicly all over the British Isles.
The movement spread to the Continent, even as far as Russia, but it took the oration of Chevalier Andrew Michael Ramsay, given at the Paris Grand Lodge on March 21, 1737, to put the new movement into perspective. According to Chevalier Ramsay, the Freemasons came not from the literal medieval guilds of cathedral builders but from the kings and nobles of the Crusades. They were not actual builders, but those who had taken vows to restore the Temple in Jerusalem. These “Templars” formed an intimate link with the Knights of Saint John of Jerusalem. The Chevalier Ramsay also announced that the Order was derived from the mysteries of Isis, Ceres, and Diana, an interesting claim in light of Fulcanelli’s comments in Le Mystere on Isis and the Black Madonnas of the Gothic cathedrals, and even more fascinating when we turn to the obvious goddess worship references in John Dee’s Enochian visions and even in Shakespeare plays.
At about the same time that the Chevalier Ramsay was trying to define Freemasonry, an English Brother, John Byrom, poet and inventor of a form of phonetic shorthand, and member in good standing of a lodge that met at The Swan Tavern in Long Acre, came into possession of an odd collection of esoteric manuscripts. Like the Chevalier, Byrom was a Jacobite sympathizer, a supporter of the Stuart restoration to the throne. In the early eighteenth century in the north of England, this was a dangerous position to hold. The nine “Manchester Martyrs,” which contained at least one of Byrom’s friends, were hung, drawn and quartered for treason for their part in the 1745 uprising of the young pretender, “Bonnie” Prince Charles Stuart. Byrom survived, perhaps with his life purchased by friends’ silence.
The origin of Byrom’s collection is unclear. All that can be said is that sometime between 1732, the latest dated piece in the collection, and the disaster of 1745 the papers became part of Byrom’s library. They were listed in the catalogue of the family library done in the mid-19th century as miscellaneous geometric and architectural drawings. At some time after that they disappeared from the library, turning up later in a cupboard only to be forgotten again until a Manchester music teacher, Joy Hancox, decided to write a biography of John Byrom. The family entrusted her with the remaining pieces of the collection, 516 separate pieces of paper and card stock covered, some on both sides, with enigmatic geometrical diagrams. Even though some of the diagrams had writing on them, there was not a single explanatory note.
A few were dated, the latest being 1732, and a few others had what appeared to be brief, cryptic instructions or commentaries. Some sheets had initials on them of recognizable people and some even had a name or two mentioned. These included George Ripley, Robert Fludd, Jacob Boehme, Michael Mair and Heinrich Khunrath, a roll call of scholars, mystics, scientists and Rosicrucians. One curious mention was Matthew Gwinne, an Elizabethan professor of medicine and a contemporary of John Dee and Shakespeare. One or two sheets mentioned the Royal Society, of which Byrom was a member and a few contained biblical references, including the measurements of the Ark of the Covenant. One very small drawing depicted an English acrostic featuring the word “Cabalists.”
Given just these clues, the obvious Kabalistic nature of some of the drawings, and Byrom’s involvement with Freemasonry and Jacobinism, it is not too radical a supposition that Byrom should have been given the collection by the remnants of some secret society, perhaps for safe keeping. We have no evidence, beyond Ms Hancox’s wishful thinking, that Byrom himself ever formed a working group around these papers, or that they were ever part of a collection within the Royal Society. However, the collection itself does indeed appear to be the teaching and demonstration diagrams of a magical society, one that apparently existed from the 1590s to the early 1730s.
Fortunately, this is not the only example of the survival of archives of such a secret group. In the Harleian manuscript collection in the British Museum there is a collection of alchemical and magickal texts copied between 1699 and 1714 by one Peter Smart, self described Master of Arts of London. Among these manuscripts are several relating directly to Dr, John Dee’s Enochian workings and angelic magic as well as a collection of alchemical and Rosicrucian material, also containing fragments of Dee’s work, entitled The Rosie Crucian Secrets. This work was examined by E. J. Langford-Garstin, a member of an early twentieth century esoteric and magickal group, who commented: “There is a mass of evidence in favour of the supposition that as early as Dee’s time there was in existence a secret fraternity... (and) that this society may even have been, and probably was, a branch of the Rosicrucian Brotherhood…”
So where did Byrom’s collection come from? Was it perhaps part of Peter Smart’s copying project? Could it have been part of the originals from which Master Smart worked? Such complex geometric diagrams would have been almost impossible to copy in the early eighteenth century without considerable skill as a draughtsman. The texts could be copied, but the drawings were truly irreplaceable, the core of the secrets. Given the close proximity of the dates - Smart’s work on Dee and the Rosicrucians was done between 1712 and 1714 just twenty years before the collection most likely came into Byrom’s possession - it seems very probable that they are in fact connected. Byrom himself, in his journals, gives us a very significant clue on this point.
Thursday 1 May 1735 – I went to Sam’s coffee house at one o’clock, called upon Mr. Charles Houghton by the way, found Dixon and Graham there, we to Mr. ____ in Bartholomew Close, where he showed me his engine for cutting and working Egyptian pebbles, and the collection of nine figures and papers of Rose about the cabalistic alchemy etc. very extraordinary, and many curiosities, which I think to call some day to look at, Jacob Behmen’s three principles; there we parted and I came to Abingdon’s.
In an earlier entry, back in January, Byrom identified Mr. ____ as one Jonathan Falkner, a rather mysterious member of the Royal Society. Falkner was proposed for membership by two of Byrom’s friends, Martin Folkes and Sir Hans Sloane, and Sloane at least had access to Byrom’s collection, as he inserted fifteen plates in his copy of a 1618 Rosicrucian manual that are reproductions of some of the diagrams in the collection. From this contemporary example, we can see that it was understood that the Rosicrucian material, particularly perhaps the alchemical material, was meant to accompany the geometric diagrams.
Also, from Byrom’s comments above, we can identify some of Mr. Falkner’s collection of esoteric papers. The “nine figures” can only be “Dr. Rudd’s Nine Hyerachies of Angels” from the collection of manuscripts copied by Peter Smart. This suggests that the “papers of Rose about the cabalistic alchemy” might in fact be “The Rosie Crucian Secrets,” the only manuscript copied by Smart that could be considered “cabalistic alchemy.” Byrom’s separate mention of “Jacob Behmen’s [sic] three principles” suggests he was looking at a diagram, and, as we will see below, there is one important diagram in Byrom’s collection that does depict Boehme’s three principles.
It is quite likely then that all six manuscripts in the Harley collection copied by Peter Smart were together and in the possession of Mr. Falkner that May evening in 1735, along with a seventh folio containing the diagrams that would become the Byrom collection. Byrom apparently saw three of the seven that evening, and soon thereafter, he was entrusted with at least one of the volumes, the one containing the all-important geometric diagrams. The other manuscripts would, within half a century, end up in the manuscript collection of the newly formed British Museum, while Byrom’s collection vanished into his private library.
Scholars, such as Frances Yates and Adam McLean, have examined the Harley Collection manuscripts and concluded that they were important texts from the early history of Rosicrucianism. Indeed, one of the manuscripts in the complete collection is a copy of The Chymical Wedding with marginal notes by Dr. Rudd commenting on the use of Dee’s Monas Hieroglyphica. Ms. Yates suggests that “Dr. Rudd,” whose work seems to be at the centre of the collection, is Thomas Rudd, who published an edition of Dee’s Mathematical Preface to Euclid in 1651. She speculates that he was part of a group around Arthur Dee, John Dee’s son, whose esoteric pursuits were more alchemical.
This is made even more probable by the specifically Enochian material contained in the manuscripts. Some of this material, in the Angelic Magic manuscript that also contains Rudd’s “Nine Hyerachies,” suggests that Rudd had access to information that was unavailable in the published sources of his time. Dee’s son would seem a likely source for this material. Adam McLean, in his introduction to A Treatise on Angel Magic, comments: “The Rudd Treatise was never meant to be published. It was rather a private commonplace book or reference book for a group or order of occultists working closely with Dr. Rudd.” He goes on to say: “The existence of this manuscript indicates the continuity of an occult system of Angel Magic, stretching from the workings of John Dee and Edward Kelley in the late sixteenth century into the early eighteenth century”
According to Joy Hancox’s work, some of the drawings in Byrom’s collection date to Dee’s era, so it appears that all of these threads lead back to Dr. Dee and the origins of the Rosicrucian movement. If the whole current contained in the manuscripts leads back through Dr. Rudd and the Rosicrucians to Dr. Dee, then we might have an answer to the question of why John Byrom was entrusted with what was arguably the most important of the manuscripts, the geometric diagrams. Byrom’s family was related by marriage to the Arthur Dee’s family. Perhaps it was felt that the diagrams contained secrets that could only kept by a family member.
Whatever secret fraternity, going back perhaps to Dee and the original Rosicrucians, was dissolving or in transition in the 1720s and 1730s, the nexus point seemed to be Mr. Falkner and his curious collection of alchemical, Rosicrucian and cabalistic manuscripts. How he came by the manuscripts, whether he was a member of the same group, a collector, or even Peter Smart himself, is unknown. All we can say is that Mr. Falkner lurches in and out of obscurity just to pass on the collection of manuscripts.
Indeed, the mysterious Mr. Falkner had already come to the attention of the author during an epic investigation into the French twentieth century alchemist mentioned above, Fulcanelli. At one point, we found ourselves searching for anyone interested in “cabalistic alchemy,” which we had discovered was the secret to Fulcanelli’s view of alchemy, and anyone with a similar name, Fulk, Falk, and so on, and whose death was suspicious or unrecorded. Out popped Mr. Falkner, recommended to the Royal Society as a mathematician and a student of “cabalistic alchemy,” and who disappeared after 1748 leaving no will, court records or notice of death. Curiously enough, the first datable mention Fulcanelli makes to events he observed in Paris is the late 1740s.
So it was very odd, when we started this examination, to find the same Mr. Falkner involved with Rosicrucian alchemical papers and the origin of the Byrom collection. This was made even more curious by the odd connection of the name to Westcott’s Dr. Falk. Could some part of the Golden Dawn’s Cipher Manuscripts have contained the name Dr. Falk? Fred Hockley copied Dr. Rudd’s manuscript on the Nine Hierarchies, mentioned by Byrom as being part of Dr. Falkner’s collection. If so, it is possible that Westcott simply confused the two, the 18th century Kabalistic alchemist with the 19th century one of the same or similar name. Since it is likely that up to that point, the early 18th century, the collection, the alchemical and angelic works along with the geometric diagrams, were together, then perhaps the core of the Cipher manuscripts was also part of the same collection. The Rosie Crucian Secrets seems to be the missing explanatory text of Byrom’s collection, even though it would take an initiate, possibly even someone familiar with the contents of the Cipher Manuscripts to understand the interconnections.
Fortunately, in the work of Fulcanelli, particularly Le Mystere, we have such an initiated explanation. While Fulcanelli does not supply us with the same geometric diagrams, his guided tours, in Le Mystere, of certain Gothic cathedrals and two private houses in Bourges carefully builds up a kind of cabalistic alchemy that refers, indirectly to the same information contained in the Cipher manuscripts and The Rosie Crucian Secrets. Fulcanelli claims that this understanding of alchemy is the ancient hermetic tradition, translated into the images and structures of Gothic architecture and based, as we can see from the ground plan of Notre Dame de Paris, on the geometry of the Kabalistic Tree of Life. The addition of the Hendaye chapter in the second edition ties the subject together with larger cosmological events to produce a view that can only be described as “astro-alchemical.” This point of view could also be considered apocalyptic, and that is indeed one key point on which both Fulcanelli and Dr. Dee agree: alchemy and the timing of the apocalypse are inter-connected, and the point of intersection is the ancient geometry of the Kabalah.
And it is the Gothic Tree of Life floor plan that provides the most direct link to the Byrom collection. There are several drawings in the collection based on the Tree of Life pattern that apparently depict the ground plan of King’s College Chapel, Cambridge, one the last great Gothic structures built in England. The most interesting of these drawings is double sided, with the front face showing a hexagram enclosing three circles from which a central triangle emerges. This depicts Boehme’s three principles, and was probably the drawing that Mr. Falkner explained to Byrom, back in May of 1735.
Drawn on this diagram, and perhaps also showing through from the reverse, is a classical Tree of Life diagram. The reverse has the same Tree of Life pattern, with a more detailed depiction of its internal geometry, highlighting the solar, Tiphereth centred cube at the heart of the Tree. This drawing matches the work done independently by Nigel Pennick in his book Mysteries of King’s College on the ground plan of King’s College Chapel, and takes it a step further. Combined with the geometry on the front side of the drawing, it demonstrates how this figure is also related to the larger Cube of Space in which, according to the Sepher Yetzirah, the sephiroth of the Tree of Life are projected..
These are very sophisticated kabalistic ideas, and their clear and direct inclusion in the ground plan of King’s College Chapel provides powerful support for Fulcanelli’s argument. The drawing from the Byrom Collection allows us to see another level of interconnections. Certainly, any group in the mid eighteenth century interested in Freemasonry and Rosicrucianism would find the idea of hermetic architecture extremely compelling. Fulcanelli, as the last representative of the tradition, supplied the template against which we can measure the history of alchemy, and, by comparison, we gain an even greater understanding of the esoteric material in the Byrom collection.
To Byrom, it must have seemed that Falkner’s collection of manuscripts was the esoteric mother lode. We can be sure he returned to view these curiosities once again, even if no mention survives in his journal. During his lifetime, Byrom carefully preserved the collection of geometric diagrams with which he had been entrusted, and he must have felt honoured to be part of a tradition going back to Dr. John Dee. We cannot be sure how much Byrom knew concerning the use and meaning of the diagrams, or even if he understood their importance, but he did ensure their survival.
BRIDGES, V., 2005. Fulcanelli and the Secrets of Rennes-le-Chateau, part one. New Dawn Magazine, March-April(89), pp.57 - 62.
BRIDGES, V., WEIDNER, J., 2003. The Mysteries of the Great Cross at Hendaye. Rochester, VA: Destiny Books.
BUTLER, A., 2004. The Goddess, the Grail and the Lodge. Winchester, CA: O Books.
DEE, J., 1985. The Rosie Crucian Secrets: their excellent method of making medicines of metals also their lawes and mysteries, GARSTON, E. J. L., ed and trans. Wellingborough, UK: Aquarian Press.
HANCOCK, G. and BAUVAL, R., 2004. Talisman. London, UK: Element/Harper-Collins.
HANCOX, J., 1992. The Byrom Collection. London, UK: Jonathan Cape.
KUNTZ, D., 1996. The Complete Golden Dawn Cipher Manuscripts. Edmunds, WA: Holmes publishing Group.
MCLEAN, A., 1989. A Treatise On Angelic Magic. Grand Rapids, MA: Phanes Press.
PENNICK, N., 1978. The Mysteries of King’s College Chapel, Wellingborough, UK: Aquarian Press.
YATES, F. A., 1972. The Rosicrucian Enlightenment. London, UK: Routledge and Kegan Paul.
YATES, F. A., 1979. The Occult Philosophy in the Elizabethan Age. London, UK: Ark Paperbacks.
 The Stuart Pretenders, both Young and Old, were to have a tremendous, although indirect, influence on the course of Freemasonry and occultism. Their involvement made the idea of “secret masters” popular. The concept entered Freemasonry with the Strict Observance of Baron von Hund und Alten-Grotkau, who once met a mysterious grand master and was told to wait for further instructions. He waited for the rest of his life, but, since the unknown grand master was actually Prince Charles Edward Stuart, the Pretender to the throne of England whose cause was crippled forever at the Battle of Culloden Moor, we can understand the lapse. This Strict Observance to an “unknown master,” however, would continue to influence Western occultism down to Theosophy and the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn in the late 19th century.
 The Alpha et Omega Lodge in Paris, a continuation of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn founded by McGregor and Mina Mathers in the mid 1890s. Garstin joined in 1920, after Mathers’ death, but remained on good terms with Sorror Vestigia, Mina Mathers, until her death.