Journal of the Western Mystery Tradition
No. 15, Vol. 2. Autumnal Equinox 2008
Concerning Ed. Kelley’s Poem
by Teresa Burns
What is Kelley telling this friend, and why? Answering that question involves unpacking the poem’s alchemical language, partly by seeing how such language works in other magical and alchemical contexts surrounding both poem and poet.
First of all, the title likely isn’t Kelley’s. It was added by Ashmole or someone else in the intervening time, someone who likely has knowledge we have lost: most obviously, the person knew to whom Kelley wrote the poem, and that it had to do with “the Philosopher’s Stone.” A much earlier version, dated 1589 and signed “Edward Kelle,” has been located in the Royal Library in Copenhagen, as part of a group of manuscripts that Jan Bäcklund connects to an alchemical circle around John Dee and Edward Kelley. This older version bears only the dedication, “The praise of vnity for frendship’s sake made by a stranger/ to further his frende his Conceyts.”
So we have a handwritten version dated 1589 and associated with Dee, Kelley, and other associates of theirs, which Bäcklund thinks originated in Prague and somehow, likely via England, wound up in Demark, and the other, retitled by Ashmole or some intervening person, that winds up in Theatrum Chemicum Britannicum. Both contexts make it easy to place the alchemical language. Some of Kelley’s unusual word choices match the usage of other alchemical poets in Ashmole’s Theatrum but occur only rarely in English works not concerned with “Chemical Theater.” The manuscripts in Denmark include the work attributed to other famous alchemists, notably George Ripley, Raymond Lull, and Arnold of Villanova, and include a trail of connections between Elizabethan writer-couriers and the magical circle around Dee and Kelley.
When one reads this older version’s dedication praising “unity for frendship’s sake,” one may recall that “unity,” “unit,” and the number “one” were the most common English translations for the Greek , Latinized as monas, as in the title of John Dee’s Monas Hieroglyphica or Hieroglyphic Monad. Dee considered his monad glyph an all-encompassing symbol of the most sacred mysteries, and certainly Kelley understood it well. In fact, Lyndy Abraham has analyzed the alchemical emblems accompanying chapter one of Kelley's Theatre of Terrestrial Astronomy, and suggests that Kelley’s alchemical “key” is itself a type of hieroglyphic monad which likely has Dee’s glyph as a model. Kelley’s praise of “unity” here may be not-so-veiled praise of the recipient’s dedication to an alchemical key which, like the key of Basil Valentine’s after or George Ripley’s before, unlocks the secrets of the Great Work.
Kelley, like Dee, seems to make a series of pre-Socratic, mainly Pythagorean correspondences axiomatic. In describing the emblem below, Kelley says:
The second part of the 1589 dedication, “made by a stranger/ to further his frende his Conceyts,” may make more sense after we look at the first sextet. Let’s take a close reading of these opening lines.
The heavenly Cope hath in him Natures sower
“Cope” is a garment, particularly a religious garment, more particularly how a Renaissance writer might render in English the Latin toga or a variety of ancient Greek words for the same. The Oxford English Dictionary defines toga as “the outer garment of a Roman citizen in time of peace;” it most frequently refers to the toga prætextra, “a toga with a broad purple border worn by children, magistrates, persons engaged in sacred rites, and later by emperors.”
A “cope” might also refer to the religious garb of a monk or friar: one thinks of the poor friar in the “General Prologue” of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, wearing “a thredbare cope as is a poure scoler.” So to begin, Kelley is addressing someone “garbed” in whatever a “Cope” might represent—a garment of peace, the garment of a poor scholar, or some more “heavenly” garment.
Notably, and unlike much of the alchemical language to follow, the word “cope” is used by none of the other writers anthologized in Theatrum Chemicum Britannicum. Instead, it seems almost ubiquitous in late medieval and Renaissance literature, from Gower to Chaucer to Caxton to Spenser to Shakespeare to Milton, all of whom at some point refer to the celestial sphere or night sky as the “cope of Heaven.” Meanwhile, a lead “cope” could mean a leaden coffin; a cope could also be any type of vaulted covering; so we can tease out the larger meaning of this “garment” as the visible part of a container or vessel, and hence the notion of the heavens and creation itself as the macrocosmic vessel, or stage, of alchemical theater.
That garment has made Kelley’s friend “Nature’s sower:” one who sows the seed, literally or metaphorically, one who disseminates information leading to the “harvest” of the philosopher’s stone. It also puns on “bower,” a common poetic term for abode or dwelling, such as a woodland “bower;” and on “soe,” which can be a large tub used in some alchemical experiments. But first and foremost, Kelley’s friend begets and is begotten by “Nature,” a much more complex and encoded idea to medieval and Renaissance writers, magicians, and alchemists than to us now. In his Stone of the Philosophers, Kelley says:
All genuine and judicious philosophers have traced things back to their first principles, that is to say, those comprehended in the threefold generation of Nature. The generation of animals they have attributed to a mingling of the male and female in sexual union; that of vegetables to their own proper seed; while the principles of minerals they have assigned earth and viscous water.
He is stating more directly the same idea that John Dee includes in his tantric or ecstatic “key” to the Hieroglyphic Monad, Theorem XV, where Dee quotes the phrase “Nature rejoices in Nature,” then tells us that these words contained the concealed and most secret mysteries of the great Ostanes. Dee thus gives an inside nod to the longer oft-paraphrased saying:
Nature rejoices in nature, nature rules over nature, and nature is the triumph of nature. A human begets a human, the lion begets the lions, the dogs beget the dogs, grain begets grain. What is begotten against nature is a monster incapable of life. The Adepts teach this: only gold brings forth gold again at the harvest. This is the revealed mystery.
Similar lines appear in the Turba Philosophorum, as well as a more cryptic speech from the angel Amnael to Isis the Prophetess, as recounted in the Codex Marcianus. Kelley, in Stone of the Philosophers, paraphrases the same ideas from the Turba — “every subject derives from that into which it can be resolved” — after listing out 48 different laws by which Nature acts upon Nature. “Whoever would imitate Nature in any particular operation must first be sure he has the same matter,” Kelley informs us, “and secondly, that this substance is acted on in a way similar to that of Nature. For Nature rejoices in natural method, and like purifies like.”
The same notion is alluded to several times in Theatrum: see, for instance, the tenth octet of ”John Dastin’s Dream:”
10. A Man of Nature ingendereth but a Man,
This complex alchemical notion of Nature is often referred to but rarely explained, first because the explanation is rather cumbersome, and second because it involves chasing around many texts and allusions to texts that no longer exist. Indeed even in these paragraphs such explanations have been be simply footnoted and left for the reader’s own exploration. Yet unless one takes time to really ponder what is meant by “Nature begets Nature,” Kelley’s reference to his friend as “Nature’s sower” won’t be grasped at all.
If we assume Edward Kelley was intimately familiar with Dee’s Hieroglyphic Monad and how its core teachings may have sprung in part from a much more ancient Greco-Egyptian-Hebraic magical tradition, the outline of an entire ancient ecstatic philosophy starts to come dimly into view from this one word. In the Codex Marcianus, which Dee had a copy of during the time he and Kelley were on the continent and which Dee left with the Landgrave of Hesse - Kassel, it is Amnael who speaks of “Nature” to Isis, who then passes the secret to her son, Horus. Given the likely association between this Amnael and the Annael/Anael who appears in Dee’s first recorded angelic working and again throughout his and Kelley’s angelic conversations, it would seem rather axiomatic that Kelley had a similarly complex and ecstatic notion of “Nature” begetting “Nature” and sowing the harvest of the Philosopher’s Stone. If one follows those assumptions—which for now we’ll collapse back into the idea that Kelley knew the ideas expressed by Dee in Theorem XV and not only embraced them but elaborated upon them in his own work, and is referring to something similar when he talks about “Nature”—then Kelley is here telling his friend that the friend could become, like Isis or her son Horus, the begetter of the magical secrets of “Nature.”
If we put all of this together, what do we have? In this very first line, Kelley declaims the poem’s recipient (G.S., or the “friend”) as the one who sows or explains the heavenly mysteries, by himself, as a microcosm, becoming a vessel of the macrocosm.
Two hidden; but the rest to sight appeare:
First, the “two hidden” is Ashmole’s language, or that of an intervening copyist. The manuscript dated 1589 and signed by “Kelle” says “To hidden, but the rest to sight appear.” Whether changing “to” to “two” still correctly expresses Kelley’s multiple meanings, or whether the later copyists shaped the language to match the copyist’s understanding of the poem is an open question, and an important one, since that copyist or Ashmole himself added to dedication to “G.S., Gent.” We are in effect here analyzing Ashmole’s or the intervening copyist’s understanding that led to the change of “to” to “two.”
That said, the “two hidden” might remind a reader of the two faces or heads of Janus, the Roman god of gates, doors, beginnings, and endings. Because Janus, from whom we get our name for January, looked one way into the new year and the other at the year just ended, he was often thought of as a God of transition or balance point between the two: that balance being the present, what you can see. Janus, unlike most of the Roman pantheon, has no direct ancient Greek analog, though he may appear in “compound gods” related to Hermes, such as Hermanubis, Hermathena, and Hermaphrodites—all gods who seem to mix genders. And curiously, in one of the most enigmatic books of the Renaissance, the Hypnerotomachia Poliphili, “Herm” appears as a three-headed being atop a pillar, whose only other recognizable anatomical attribute is an oversized erect phallus.
The Hermes/Mercury connection takes us still further if we note the frequent connection between Mercury and the Celtic god Lugus, often portrayed with three faces, and if we notice that the emblem of Kelley’s shown earlier includes “the Trinity of the Deity in unity, God with three heads and one crown.” Finally, consider the “two hidden” the heads of the serpents of the caduceus of Hermes, and note that some emblems books of the time also show Mercury/Hermes as two-headed.
These all suggests a complementary Kabbalistic interpretation of the line. While few have discussed Kelley’s work in terms of Kaballah, he had to know it well, and not only through his association with Dee. Many assume that Dee or Kelley or both were familiar with different continental Jewish communities and their leaders such as Judah Loew. In fact, Kelley is in some ways the more plausible candidate, inasmuch as Dee’s diary refers to Kelley telling him about communications being relayed through “the Jews,” and Czech accounts of Kelley’s final years in Prague show Kelley likely interacted with the Prague Jewish Quarter, if for nothing else to obtain loans. In any case, the idea expressed to his friend here is Kabbalah for beginners: the two hidden, in this case the Aima and Abba Elohim, through their conjugal union give birth to what can be seen, the Zauir Anpin, or the Son/Sun centered at Tiphareth that encompasses all the Sephira below the Supernals except Malkuth, and in so doing causes creation to take form. The two are hidden; what they create can be seen. The connection to Mercury/Hermes makes perfect sense if one keeps in mind Kelley’s ideas of “Nature,” and his explanation of “Mercury” in chapter two of The Theater of Terrestrial Astronomy:
Combine this with the ideas in line one, and Kelley seems to be telling “G.S.” that he is such a “fit and adapted subject” to manifest mercurial, or Hermetic, subjects.
Of course, one could make all of this less lofty and just attempt to name names, as some are more interested in naming the “young man” or “dark lady” in Shakespeare’s sonnets rather than meditating upon the abstract ideals of Love or alchemy or spiritual exploration therein. If one must try to identify the real three people here actually referred to; that is, if one must project the poem’s chemical theater onto real players in physical world, then one wonders if Kelley and Dee are the “two hidden” influences Ashmole or the copyist had in mind, and G.S.’s friends and associates the rest who to “sight appeare.” The implications are fascinating: by this reading, “G.S.” becomes the public explicator of the mysteries of the other two.
How might that line read differently if we returned to Kelley’s original spelling? I’ll leave that to the imagination of the reader.
Wherein the Spermes of all the Bodies lower;
Here we encounter one of the most common actions in chemical theater, albeit with unusual wording. Kelley prefers “spermes” to the more usual “dew,” perhaps for the implicit Hermes/”Spermes” pun, since the dew from heaven, also called mercurial or Hermetic water, is what magically cleanses, transforms, re-animates and re-impregnates matter. As described in Kelley’s Stone of the Philosophers,, philosophic mercury (or Hermes, or here “Spermes”) is also the seed or common origin of living “metal.”
If we return to the more usual word, “dew,” we see this idea is right out of medieval alchemy as it is later absorbed by Paracelsans and transmitted into later works. Ursula Szulakowska explains:
Fifteenth and early sixteenth [century] alchemical manuscripts and printed books had pictured the celestial virtue as the fall of a heavenly “dew” or “ros coeli” onto the earth . . . The original concept of the dew of heaven had been developed and dispersed by an influential alchemical text of the late fourteenth century, the Rosarium Philosophorum. This was composed of quotations from the master alchemists of the middle Ages, organized into a sequential account of the alchemical process with additional commentaries . . . the iconographic sequence remained constant between manuscript and printed versions, of which the first appeared in Lyon in 1504.
The dew of the heavens descending was often called the “washing of the Stone,” or as Kelley would have it, the “sperming” of the stone. In the medieval Rosarium Philosophorum, no doubt familiar to both Kelley and his friend John Dee, “the picture of the dew of heaven illustrates the final stages of the alchemical work, that of the ‘ablutio vel mundificatio,’ a series of purifications. The image depicts a dead hermaphodite, signifying the incomplete philosopher’s stone, being washed by heavenly efflux.”
The same work associates Latona, mother of Apollo and Diana, gods of Sun and Moon, with the macrocosmic alchemical vessel, and this thirteenth century idea continues in alchemical books two centuries later, when we see Michael Maier’s emblems in Atalanta Fugiens, which include the washing of Latona. In Kelley’s Stone of the Philosophers, he writes, “Purify Laton, i.e. copper (ore), with Mercury, for Laton is of gold and silver, a compound, yellow, imperfect body.” If one makes the common associations of copper to Venus and Venus to the entire Kabbalistic Tree, then the washing or “dewing” of Latona becomes the process of cleansing the impurities from the fallen Tree.
We find similar ideas in Shakespeare’s plays, though they have rarely been discussed as such. For instance, consider the words of the fairy in Act II scene I of A Midsummer Night’s Dream: “ I do wander everywhere/Swifter than the moon's sphere;/And I serve the fairy queen,/To dew her orbs upon the green.”
To put this in terms of the most familiar Hermetic philosophy, when the heavenly dew, or to use Kelley’s language, “Spermes,” descend, “as above” is evoked “below;” when Latona or (in Midsummer Night’s Dream) the Fairy Queen is cleansed, or her orbs “dewed,” the macrocosm (“as without”) is evoked from within, in those who share her Nature.
Most secrett are, yett Spring forth once a yeare,
Finally we have a line that can be simply paraphrased: the mysteries of these heavenly bodies are secret, Kelley tells his friend, but can be seen every spring, when winter ends and spring appears.
But of course the line becomes more complicated as it becomes more allusive.
Traditionally in Europe the new year began not with Janus’ January, but at the spring or vernal equinox, so this line too suggests a new year and three-in-one. We might associate the new year with a particular zodiacal sign, and can, though this will further muddy the waters: because of the precession of the equinoxes, the constellations and signs of the zodiac no longer match up, as they did in Roman times, when the particular zodiacal names we still use were enumerated. The vernal equinox is still occasionally referred to as the first point in Aries, though zodiacally it falls in Pisces. Approximately one precessional age ago, in Roman times, the first point of Aries, or Spring, or the vernal equinox, or the new year when measured from this point, really fell in Aries. What are we to make of these three different temporal references?
If nothing else, the muddied waters should teach us a lesson about how “green” language, or the hidden allusive language of esotericists, works. One does not assume one speaks a language with perfect correspondences between the macrocosm and microcosm, as many alchemists thought was true of Hebrew and ancient Greek. Still today, Kabbalists study all of creation as emanating from the Hebrew alphabet. Likely none of Ashmole’s anthologized alchemists thought this about their English alphabet, so they resorted to a complex web of symbols; beneath the symbols, however, lies a deep skein of correspondences learned through the art or theater of memory. The muddied correspondences refer the initiate to a system already learned, and thus play against and remind the initiated reader of transformations he or she already knows. Each new allusion should suggest different correspondences recognizable, or at least discoverable, from within the system one already knows.
With that in mind, we’ll return to the “Spring” equinox. The muddiness adds two other possible readings: Aries, the first sign and a fire sign, also alludes to Aries the ram with golden fleece given by Hermes to Nephele. Or if one prefers to refer the Spring to Pisces, since in the 1580s the spring equinox fell in the constellation of Pisces as certainly Kelley would have been aware, then we’re referred to the fish, which itself is often a symbol of the prima materia: a fish swimming in the “Great Water” which Ripley says is the first element. Then, if one equates a “fish” with “fire” by equating this “first fish” to alchemy and a serpent, one runs into a whole constellation of medieval and Renaissance alchemical symbols connecting the fish to the Ouraborous serpent which eats its own tail, and we come full circle, all puns intended, to the cockatrice and the entirety of the Philosopher’s Stone, making “Spring” itself the beginning, ending, and center point, in effect the prima materia of Kelley’s alchemy, philosophic mercury. If Kelley’s “friend” has the same “Mercurial” nature, and heat acts upon him, he or his works will “spring” forth.
If the above sequence strikes the reader as bizarre or random or just incomprehensible, it may be because that reader, like most, is not at all familiar with the language of chemical theater employed by Kelley or the other writers anthologized by Ashmole, let alone how one might learn the correspondences that inform such language. Another much longer chemical poem in Theatrum Chemicum Britannicum, “Bloomfields Blossoms,” makes all of the same associations except the last (Bloomfield is speaking to himself, so there is no friend to spring forth.) Since this cluster of images and transformations been analyzed in detail elsewhere, I won’t repeat the analysis here. But to those who catch the references, it is no surprise that Bloomfield, after being handed to Lady Philosophy and then to Raymund Lull, is instructed using some of the same language we find in Kelley’s poem: Bloomfield is to study “The Blessed Stone/One in Number and no moe/Our great Elixir most high of price/Our Azot, our Basiliske, our Adrop, and our Cockatrice.” When? Implicitly, in Spring; hence the title “Bloomfields Blossoms.”
And as the Earth with Water, Authors are,
As the first Waters animate the elemental earth, so do authors animate the unnamed subject of comparison here: perhaps, the “dense matter” of their audiences, in the alembic of theater. As noted earlier, if one searches through all of the poetry in Theatrum Chemicum Britannicum, one finds that only Kelley uses the word “Author” in his work. (Ashmole, not surprisingly, uses the word repeatedly in his preface and notes, but none of the poets he anthologizes, save Kelley, say anything about authors.) It is worth re-emphasizing that this is the only poem in the collection that seems to be telling a writer how to turn his works into alchemical vessels.
So of his parte is Drines end of care.
“Parte” here can mean a grammatical part of speech, a unit of time, a section of a book, an act of or role in a play, in fact anything which can be divided: but the previous line implies that we’re at least looking at something than an “Author” would sub-divide, or that is “of his [the author’s] parte”as a writer. While only Kelley speaks to an “Author,” the language of grammar nonetheless pervades the Theatrum just as it pervades Dee’s Hieroglyphic Monad and many intervening alchemical texts. For instance, in Thomas Norton’s “Ordinall of Alchemy,” whose word choice often seems echoed by Kelley, Norton exhorts his reader to “Conjoyne your elements grammatically/With all their Concords conveniently. . . Joyne them also in Rhetoricall guise/ With Natures Ornate in purified wise.”
That takes us all the way to this sixth line’s sixth word, “Drines.”
“Drines” is an obsolete spelling of “dryness,” and occurs many times throughout Theatrum Chemicum Britannicum, where in every case it can refer to the qualities of one of the four elements, just as it does in Kelley’s Theater of Terrestrial Astronomy.
Of course, as an alchemical symbol it may also refer to something else. “Drines” shows up most often in Thomas Norton’s “Ordinall,” where he tells his alchemical “sower” to make sure he knows the effects of the qualities “Called Heat, Colde, Moisture, and Drines,” and several lines later, adds: “Heate, and Cold, be qualities Active/Moisture, and Drines, be qualities Passive.” Again, Norton’s usage matches that of Kelley, both in Theater of Terrestrial Astronomy and in his 48 part list in Stone of the Philosophers. In the latter, the number itself might suggest what is missing, since Kelley’s Enochian work might lead a reader to expect 49, rather than 48, items. One notices there are 48 lines in this poem as well.
To return to another work in Theatrum quoted earlier, “Dastin’s Dream,” we see a glimmer of how “drines” can morph into the fifth element. Dastin dreams of a “hevenly Boke brought/Of so greate Riches that yt may not be bought/ In order set by Dame Philosophie.” After a long theogeny, the “Children” in the dream return unto “their Mother that “called was Mercury,” and she describes her most pure “Child”:
25. Whose Nature is so imperiall,
This Son, we learn, will never die. And again I’ll leave the reader to his or her own interpretation, because we are finally to the end of Kelley’s first sextet, where the friend/author’s “Drines” bring about the “end of care.” The “end of care” means simply the end of suffering or sorrow, using the now-obsolete usage of “care” as mental suffering, sorrow, grief, or trouble. Presumably, if one understands what Kelley is telling G.S., one will no longer suffer.
***** ***** ***** ******
And mercifully, this explication will speed up somewhat now that we’ve finished the first sextet. While every line could be unpacked symbol by symbol, it might make more sense to let those interested in chemical poetry decipher the rest on their own. I’ll add a few more suggestions of how one might do that in the remaining pages. But if you try to work through these transformations, notice that along with familiar alchemical ideas Kelley is identifying the poem’s recipient as a person with Kelley’s alchemical key. He’s telling this friend that if he does certain things and learns certain things, he will appear to be different from who or what he really is, and be influenced by the teachings of two who are unseen, and/or become the visible sphere of their teachings: their Son/Sun or Zauir Anpin, to intentionally mix metaphors and refer the chemical theater back to Tiphareth. He will come forth in the Spring, which might refer to a point in the year, or allude to the friend evoking the Great Work from himself, with a little help from the “two hidden,” whatever the reader takes those “two” to be, or not be, allusively.
Perhaps we can now make more sense of the 1589 dedication, “The praise of vnity for frendship’s sake made by a stranger/ to further his frende his Conceyts.” As discussed earlier, “unity” may suggest Kelley’s emblem from Theatre of Terrestrial Astronomy, which might be considered the “monad” of Kelley’s beliefs. Kelley clearly refers to himself as the “stranger,” which most likely just means “one not from this place,” without the sense of foreboding in modern usages. “Stranger” could even allude to both men’s connection to Ferdinando Stanley, Lord Strange, the patron of Lord Strange’s men, the theatrical company we have the most early records for, and whose Lancashire family might well have been friends or patrons of Kelley.
Conversely, the line could as easily mean that outside of their alchemical (and perhaps espionage) pursuits, Kelley and his friend do not know each other well. If this “friend” is the spy Francis Garland, as I have suggested elsewhere, and that same Garland is Shakespeare and the “Garland” referred to in the Copenhagen manuscripts where this poem appears, then we have found an amazing series of connections indeed: “G.S.” would be one of those for whom, according to Dee’s diary, “E.K. made a public demonstration of the philosophers’ stone.” This friend then has seen, or at the least thought he has seen, amazing things; he may know details of Dee and Kelley’s 1586-1588 workings that we have no record of at all; but that magical knowledge does not necessarily mean he and Kelly know each other well personally. But Kelley seems to know something about this man’s planned “Conceyts” --a common term for personal creative endeavors-- and their possible connection to the “Schoole” referred to in this poems’s final sextet. Taken this way, Kelley’s original dedication is to a man he knows is a writer, perhaps a poet of magical or “chemical” theater, whose art connects to the exposition of principles deriving therefrom.
Moving on to the second sextet:
No flood soe greate as that which floweth still,
Kelley gives us an intentional paradox: nothing more fixed than something digested three times. The allusion to “thrice-great” Hermes and three types of alchemical transformations and three types of Nature discussed earlier should be apparent, as should the Earth as an alchemical vessel and an element and dense matter. The fresh “Winde,” most easily identified as the mercurial vapor given off during sublimation, or from the fourth law of the Emerald Tablet, also suggests Zephirus, the warm west wind that heralds spring and inspires artists and lovers of all sorts. Probably the most famous literary rendering of Zephirus is from the first few lines of the “General Prologue” to the Canterbury Tales:
Whan Zephirus eek with his sweete breeth
Mythologically Aeolus is ruler of the winds, which he keeps in a cave, that cave later becoming yet another alchemical symbol. We can also read “Winde” as a verb, such as a river that winds, or ship or person that wends along a particular tack, or a wende or wand, a long wand or pointed staff like the caduceus of Hermes. All of these verbs share similar etymologies. Finally, if our “G.S.” is indeed Gulielmus or William Shakespeare, this windy line-- No Winde so fresh as when it serveth will—also puns on “Will Shakespeare.”
If “G.S.” was poet or playwright of any sort, the next two lines refer us to a particular sort of narrative:
No better happ, then drie up Aire to dust,
No better happ, or happiness, than drying air to dust alludes to some sort of filtering out process, a “dryness” different from “drines” as one of four elements, and more in keeping with the five elements of pre-Socratic philosophy. This “drie”ing allows Kelley’s friend to leave off, or take leave of, some situation, and “sleepe thy lust.” The word “lust” in the 1500s did not carry the intense moral judgment connected to today’s usage: it could mean simply being in a state of pleasure, delight, or passion. Leaving a difficult situation to “sleep” or perchance dream one’s lust is a scene one finds over and over in Shakespearean dramas, from the four lovers lost in the woods in Midsummer Night’s Dream to the shipwrecked survivors alternately put to sleep then awakened on Prospero’s island in The Tempest. In both plays we have a microcosm of society where one or more characters with supernatural abilities put other characters to sleep, using spirits or fairies to manipulate the main action in an attempt to purify and clarify volatile characters, and where the closing speeches ask the audience to question the boundaries between sleeping, dreaming, watching a play, and being a player in one’s own life. As Prospero tells his daughter, “We are such stuff /As dreams are made on, and our little life /Is rounded with a sleep.”
Yett will I warne thee least thou chaunce to faile,
Like several other writers in Theatrum, including George Ripley and John Dastin, Kelley presents us with Phœbus the sun god, who is shown followed by Mercury in some Renaissance emblems. Szulakowska thinks Kelly could be influenced here by Dee’s Paracelsan catroptics, or mirror-making, as well as Ripley’s alchemical symbolism, because in the above lines he “describes the lighting conditions necessary for the preparation of chemicals.”
This sextet could also just be analyzed on its own as describing the process of sublimation, but for one added twist: just how bright is Phœbus, or the sun, anyway? Kelley tells us Phœbus is in a place where “onely” his “tayle” can be seen, “art” midday. Does this mean “art” at mid-day, or that “thou,” his friend, “art midday,” since “thou” would be the pronoun to match “art”? Is the middle of the day supposed to also suggest the middle of the year, or the summer solstice? What is the “mingle” he wants his friend to see? Kelley’s first point in The Stone of the Philosophers was that all things traced back to their “first principles, that is to say, the three-fold division of Nature,” and that for animals, and by implication humans, this generation “is attributed to a mingling of the male and female in sexual union.” Midsummer was a good time for the “art” of love spells: is that what Kelley is referring to?
Probably not. But he clearly is referring to something taking place at midday and/or midsummer, when the sun is at its most intense. “Seene” can of course pun on “scene,” so if the friend is a playwright then to “mingle” might also suggest the proper “mingling” or combination of alchemical truths so that they might shine the brightest or reflect most effectively. If the line shifts to mean Phœbus’ “one tale,” or one story, that is best told at midday, then the last lines make sense, since any other light that shines at midday is reflected light from the sun.
But all of these only work if we ignore the most logical astronomical explanation of the sun having only a “tayle” at midday. The sun has only a thin round tail during an eclipse. Thus this line might well refer to a particular date, just as it certainly refers to a rather ancient technique of making magical Seals: one use of an eclipse was to capture the light, and thus the power, of a particular star or planet without it being overwhelmed or contaminated by the light of the sun. Finally, if this refers to a solar eclipse that eclipse by definition will be a sun/moon conjunction on the new moon, or the theater-in-the-sky’s enactment of the Hermetic union of Sun and Moon described in the Emerald Tablet.
On a more humorous note, the Sun having only a tayle, or tail, might to some suggest a Golden Ass, and thus connect to the Foole in the poem’s last couplet. The Sun’s taylor, or garment-maker, would be the heavenly “Cope” in the first line.
Lett no man leade, unlesse he know the way
The first line might be paraphrased, “let no one teach unless they know what they’re talking about,” and reminds us of the Latin on the frontispiece of Dee’s Hieroglyphic Monad, usually translated as “One who does not understand should be silent or learn.”
Kelley seems to suggest two ways being initated into the mysteries—by having “wise men” teach them, or being led by “Adrop.” “Adrop” likely comes from Arabic usrubb, or lead, and appears in medieval Latin alchemical texts as well as the Renaissance English texts collected by Ashmole, as well as in Ben Jonson’s satiric play, The Alchemist.. Over a hundred years later, in 1753, Hill will define adrop as something that, “among alchemists, denotes either that precise matter, as lead, out of which the mercury is to be extracted for the philosopher's stone; or it denotes the philosopher's stone itself, inasmuch as this is also called saturn and plumbum, or lead. Therefore “lead” and “leadeth” in the first two lines also play off of adrop, lead.
To the ear, it might also sound like “Adept,” and in terms of spiritual alchemy it is--adrop is philosophical mercury, as is, in another sense, an alchemist or magus who is an Adept. The telescoping of these ideas back into the body of a solitary practicioner would have a commonplace at this time, as one reason sometimes given for failure in particular alchemical experiments was that the alchemist himself had not been purified. Thus Kelley seems to be telling “G.S.” that one can’t lead (verb) or be lead (noun, philosophic mercury) until he knows “the way,” and suggests two paths: one, to study with wise men, and the other, from a “drop” of philosophic mercury, or from that tiny spark within oneself, to try to intuit it on one’s own.
The first is easier, the second more difficult. The last two lines suggest a third way: “Wherein Appollo will his harp-strings sound.” Apollo, one of the twelve Olympians, leader of the muses, god of the oracle at Delphi, crowned with laurel to show his achievement in the arts, often is shown playing a harp or more often, a lyre, which makes his appearance in magical texts also often a nod to Pythagorean beliefs. In Renaissance art, Apollo is often presented as “the embodiment of the classical Greek spirit,” and representing the rational, civilized aspects of society (as opposed to passionate and irrational represented by Dionysus.) He’s also in places synonymous with Helios and . . . Phœbus. So why doesn’t Kelley just repeat “Phœbus”?
Apollo, as the son of Latona and Jupiter/Zeus and twin brother of moon goddess Diana, has a very particular connotation in alchemy and Hermetic magic: “Apollo represents the hot, dry, active, masculine principle of the opus which the alchemist must unite with his sister, Diana, the cold, moist, receptive female principle. The process is depicted as an incestuous chemical wedding or union from which the philosopher’s stone is born.”
Thus we have Kelley’s third way: Apollo’s harp strings sound, and one becomes drawn to the chemical wedding, if that music resonates within the student or bride. Notice that in Kelley’s sentence it is grammatically impossible to distinguish whether the “will” belongs to Apollo or the student, and whether the harp is played from Mt. Olympus or within the person who hears it. The double meaning of “surely these and no one more is found” suggests that by this third way, the initiate becomes “no one”—he gives up his personal identity and takes on one more multidimensional, where like the “Sun/Son” referred to Tiphareth, he acts transpersonally on behalf of the greater good.
“No one” also suggests the familiar Pythagorean idea that one, a point, the monad, Kelley’s “unity,” doesn’t really exist until it unites with a two, and becomes three.
Example learne of GOD that plaste the Skyes,
In this sextet and the next, Kelley tells his friend to learn of the theogonys that placed, or created, the skies. The idea of every point of the universe reflecting and collecting “vertues” from every other point, and thus every microcosm containing within itself the macrocosm as its own central point of reference, is repeated again and again in the western mystery tradition, from ancient Greek geometric proofs to the famous statement by fifteenth century theologian and mathematician Nicolas of Cusa (“The fabric of the universe has its center everywhere and its circumference nowhere”) to one of the most well-known lines from Aleister Crowley’s Book of the Law (“In the sphere I am everywhere the centre, as she, the circumference, is nowhere found.”)
“Sift,” punning on “gift,” is used here with the old meaning something sifted out, or something that has been run through a sieve; in other words, some substance that has been purified. The poet “contains all,” is a vessel of the macrocosm, but is yet a “maid” or microcosm “made” by God. This same cluster of metaphysical images can still be found a generation later in English metaphysical poets from John Donne to Andrew Marvell to George Herbert.
Remember also how the Gods began,
Most simply put, this sextet exhorts the friend to remember or learn mythology and history as one and the same: what Nature begat Nature down through the ages, as told by different stories of “descent” or creation. Then one should learn to connect these subjects or “manners” of behavior to the “whole Attire” or whole array of apparel that decks out the Earth.
If one considers the classical theogonies as alchemical transformations, and the stories of different historic Kingdoms similar transformations but further descended from the source, one will have close to the idea. Doing this, of course, means totally immersing oneself in pagan theogenies and human history as a spiritual pursuit, and if the friend being instructed here is a playwright or poet, can also be taken as general instructions on how to encode such things into works to inspire others.
Kelley’s reference to sophet lets us know he expects the friend to find some underlying mathematical, geometric, or Kabbalistic ordering to these stories. This word appears nowhere else in the Theatrum, or in any other alchemical writing I’m aware of, though it does show up in Jewish histories. The sound at first suggests sophists, the teachers of writing, speech, and rhetoric who traveled around Greece during the fifth century BCE, without the pejorative attitude later directed towards them by Plato and Aristotle. It also suggests followers of Sophia, the goddess of Wisdom, whose name means “She who knows,” Hugo called the study of Hermetics itself that “sophia of all sophias.” Within European Jewish history, however, sopherism, or sopheric literature, referred specifically to literature not found within the canonical Mishnah: in other words, the study of Kabbalah, ancient Greek geometry, non-Judaic philosophy, and classical mythology of any non-Hebraic canonized sort would be a type of sopheric literature. Jewish wisdom represented by Solomon, and to a Hermeticist therefore much of Solomonic magic, was often called “Sophian.”
Most directly, sophets, with what must be Kelley’s intentional pun on “prophets,” were Hebrew scribes, members “of the class of professional interpreters of the Law after the return from the Captivity; in the Gospels often coupled with the Pharisees as upholders of ceremonial tradition.” The English word “scribe” comes directly from the Hebrew word, sopher.
If this my Doctrine bend not with thy brayne,
If the reader has made it this far, the first four lines should cause no difficulty. One might reflect back over the earlier six sextets to try to understand the “Crab” reference here. Is it another reference to midsummer, when the Sun is in Cancer, the zodiacal crab? He wants the friend to bend his brain a bit over when the fittest time of year is, so to not choose incorrectly. The “Doctrine” of correspondences and transformations Kelley is alluding to thus likely has temporal, mythological, Kabbalistic, and geometric underpinnings. What is Kelley, or his friend, trying to choose?
Thou maist (my Freind) say, what is this for lore?
In Kelley’s day, “lore” meant not only old stories nor only the act of teaching, but the doctrine that was taught is those stories, and so refers us back to the previous seven sextets. If the friend or reader has forgotten that they are being directly addressed, Kelley reminds them, and says he is answering according to “ancient physick” or the ancient art or practice of healing, which the friend may never have heard of before, no matter how much he has studied. Elias Ashmole, as part of a long and somewhat cryptic explanation of how the “philosopher’s stone” connects to astronomy, picks out this line of Kelley’s and says this “ancient physick” is the same as Riply’s “quintessential water.”
Taken one way, Kelley is the “Foole;” unpacked, it asks “G.S.” to identify himself as the “Fool,” the initiate, perhaps even the “Golden Ass” of the third sextet. Now that ass initiated during a midsummer eclipse might remind us of nothing so much as Bottom/Peter Quince from Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream, who is turned into an ass and sleeps with the Queen of the Faeries, Titania.
We’ve finally arrived at the last line. Let’s pause for a moment and look at it again: “Yett shall these Rules for ever praise their Schoole.”
We can assume these “Rules” concern the “Doctrine” from the sextet seven, which he can better learn by deeply studying the theogenys and histories alluded to in sextet six, which become understandable by becoming aware of the process of creation as alluded to in sextet five, and understanding catalyzed by the philosopher’s stone in sextet four, representing an alchemical process which may make “G.S.” aware of the significance of some sort of eclipse alluded to in sextet three, which as an author he can make visible by the multiple allusions in sextets one and two.
By now the careful reader might even have the outlines of how to extract a general doctrine of how to study the philosopher’s stone from this, though the “mean task” of trying to do so alone without teachers is daunting enough to perhaps make one want to give up immediately. But the person to whom this is addressed, “G.S.,” is already “Natures sower” with a will indistinguishable from the harp strings of Apollo; in short, he’s already a Bard of the heavenly Muse; and as a Bard, can pluck those strings and start the process in others.
That brings us to this essay’s final question: what is the “Schoole” that these “Rules,” or maxims, correspondences, principles, qualities, or even codes of discipline, praise? Usually the school sets the rules, rather than the rules creating the school. . . unless it is a group that just by acting of its own nature behaves the same way, like a school of fish, or a group of people exploring the same universal ideas. Remember, “fishing” was then a slang term for alchemy. Alchemists, like “sophets,” believed they were searching for universal principles or laws. The better one understood those laws, the more one was aware of their membership in the “School.”
Kelley’s lines, if they have a concrete English historical reference, seem to stare Janus-like from Ashmole’s 1652 vantage point: backwards towards the Rosicrucian-influenced invisible college and forwards towards the Royal Society of London. From Kelley’s 1589 vantage point, the backwards stare takes us backwards to Sir Walter Raleigh’s School of the Night, and towards the foment that led to that “invisible college” and the best of Elizabethan and Jacobean drama. If G.S. was Shakespeare, that makes these middle years of transition even more interesting than they already are, and the Shakespearean corpus the triple-faced vessel most suited to understanding the transformations that went on in that time period.
It would not be long—only a generation—before alchemy was on its way to being labeled a “pseudo-science,” and its most physically demonstrable tenets, stripped of any theology, would become the physical sciences of physics, chemistry, astronomy, geology, and geography. Mathematics, magic, and grammar, often considered three and the same in the monadic alchemy of Kelley’s friend John Dee, would become, to most, two different things. Historians have no difficulty tracing the immediate membership of the mid-seventeenth century “invisible college” that gave birth to the Royal Society, but why those particular great minds came together is not, on the surface record at least, well understood. The Royal Society’s face that looks backwards towards the “School” of Hermes, alchemy, and magic, and that Hermetic system’s connection to political intrigues, espionage, and a pre-Inquisition alchemical folk tradition markedly less masculine and aristocratic, has been consistently downplayed, and almost never re-connected back to the arts. For instance, the facsimile edition of Theatrum Chemicum Britannicum used by this author comes from a “Sources of Science” series; none that I am aware of include it as a sourcebook for understanding theater, much less a guide for understanding sacred theater.
What if that “School,” with its muddied green language and
confusing network of signs and symbols, continued through the height of
Shakespearean drama, and Shakespeare himself was, hidden in plain site,
its most public advocate? That is what this writer thinks did happen,
and what I will be exploring in “Shakespeare’s Green Garland,”
this issue and next.
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 Titles rarely have footnotes and scholarly articles rarely have dedications, but in the spirit of play, let endnote “number one” be both: I’d like to thank the two “especiall good Fraters” who suggested and helped me through these “strange” interpretations, for friendship’s sake.
 Burns, “Francis Garland, William Shakespeare, and John Dee’s green language,” available: http://www.jwmt.org/v2n15/garland.html.
 One possible source may have been Ashmole’s Rosicrucian “father,” William Backhouse, whose father had connections to both Dee and Kelley, See discussion in my other article this issue, ibid.
 For instance, Kelley’s use of “Adrop,” seems influenced by George Ripley, whose “Adrop” has similar multiple correspondences. See Ripley in Ashmole, 135, 151. Kelley’s use of “Drines” matches that of Thomas Norton—see Norton in Ashmole, 54, 55,63—and of course, matches Kelley’s own longer explanation in The Philosopher’s Stone. One of the more curious echoes is between Kelley’s second line—“Two hidden; but the rest to sight appeare”—and the second stanza of a rarely mentioned poem, D.D.W. Bedman’s “Ænigma Philosophicum.” See Bedman in Ashmole, 423.
 Kelly op. cit. 7. Edward Kelley’s name is spelled differently the article text than in these footnotes and because of the more recent convention of spelling his last name “Kelley,” which matches Ashmole’s spelling, as opposed to the common spelling used by Waite and many other twentieth century esotericists of spelling his name “Kelly.” Since I’m using Waite’s edition of some of Kelley’s work, when I reference him the endnotes reflect Waite’s spelling.
 Dee, trans Turner and Burns, available: http://www.jwmt.org/v2n13/partial.html; Turner and Burns n. 68-69.
 Kelly op. cit. 33; available: http://www.sacred-texts.com/alc/kellystn.htm
 While this may seem anachronistic to modern esotericists most familiar with the association because of its inclusion in Golden Dawn knowledge lectures, one should be aware that the same association of Venus to the entirety of the Tree exists in many earlier works of Kabbalah, and most famously in Dee’s Hieroglyphic Monad.
 Curiously, Ashmole informs his readers that Chaucer was a “Master” of alchemy, and says that is why he included the “Canon Yeoman’s Tale” from The Canterbury Tales in Theatrum. See Ashmole, op. cit. 467-470.