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Dr. John Dee
Born in 1527 in Mortlake, at the time a village on the Thames outside of London, Dee had a retentive memory and proved to be an apt pupil. By the age of 15 he was studying at St John's College, Cambridgeshire and claimed in his diary to have studied 18 hours a day!
John Dee spent many of his early years travelling and studying Europe. In Belgium Dee met the Flemish cartographer Mercator and brought back with him to England two of Mercator's globes and newly devised astronomical instruments. Many see this as Dee's first foray into industrial espionage, claiming that Dee could see the relevance of England increasing its knowledge of navigation so that it could build its empire. Believing this he passed back to England all the information he learned from Mercator and others on his journey.
Royal Connections from an
John also built a relationship with Princess Elizabeth in her semi-captivity at Woodstock near Oxford. A confidant and maid of honour to the Princess was Dee's cousin Blanche Parry. It was through Blanche that Dee communicated to Elizabeth and cast her the horoscope that can be seen in the British Museum today. Due to these communications Dee was arrested for the attempted poisoning of Queen Mary, (some said it was black magic) and was charged with treason. Luckily he was acquitted of the charge only to be rearrested as a suspected heretic, remaining in prison until late 1555.
When Mary died in 1558 and Elizabeth became Queen, she requested Dee to cast a date that would be auspicious for her crowning. The relationship would be long lasting and could only be described as "friendly", since the Queen knew the dangers of having a suspected magician in her court entourage.
Behind the scenes was another matter it is still not known if John Dee was in fact a secret agent or not.
Secret Ciphers and Intelligence
While on the continent browsing in the bookshops of Antwerp, Dee found a copy of a rare and little known book "Stenographia" by Trithemius an abbot of Spanheim on the Rhine (1462-1516). He was so excited about his discovery that he wrote to spymaster Sir William Cecil saying that its "use is greater than the fame thereof is spread". This work was a major influence of Dee, who was completing his own book "Monas Hieroglyphica". After reading Stenographia he completed his book 12 days later. His book was unreadable to those not initiated to Dee's secrets of translation but it certainly contains the relation between numbers to natural magic.
Although it was such a puzzling read and could not be read by many, Cecil announced Dee's book to be "of the utmost value for the security of the realm".
DP Walker, a leading modern authority on natural magic stated in his book "Spiritual and Demonic Magic" that Trithemius's "Stenographia" is partly a treatise on cryptography in which the methods of encipherment are disguised as demonic magic and partly a treatise on demonic magic. Dee had took over where Trithemius had left off and in Monas had developed cryptography of his own. Not long after this publication Dee was sent on a mission of utmost secrecy to the Duchy of Lorraine. Who knows why he went there but it could have been due to the possible marriage between Elizabeth and the Duke of Anjou, for whom Dee cast a horoscope. Part way through the mission, Dee fell ill and so urgent his mission that the Queens sent two of her own physicians to attend Dee.
The beginning of the end
John began to take interest in crystal-gazing after meetings with Renaissance Cabalists and by his genuine and scientific desire to explore the possibilities of spiritualism and telepathy. Unfortunately Dee had to rely on others to scry for him, he even admitted, "You know I cannot see, nor scry". He used a variety of glasses and special stones for his experiments, two of which are housed in the British Museum.
We find that his use of scryers are the catalysts in beginning of the end of John Dee. John used two scryers, one was almost certainly a "plant" from his enemies to trap him and incite him into indiscretions. The other was his most famous, Edward Talbott, who on entering Dee's employment changed his name to Kelley. Kelley was a competent, erratic scryer and was possibly a bigger rogue than the previous scryer. Dee was absolutely smitten with Edward, Dee's biographers claim this was latent homosexuality but with have no proof of this and an incident that takes place later denies this.
Kelley began as an apothecary who had alchemical leanings and searched for theories regarding the manufacture of gold. Kelley was also a necromancer, a person who raised the dead for the purposes of prediction and divination. It was rumoured that Kelley dabbled frequently in the black arts, but Dee sternly told Kelley to concentrate on conversations with Angels and not Devils.
Dee's approach to his spiritualism was almost entirely through scrying but he often sought revelations through mystic trances and hallucinations.
Kelley would sit before the crystal and describe whatever spirits he saw and what they said to him. Dee would record all what Kelley told him and Dee would often ask Kelley to put questions to the spirits. Through the communications came through a spirit guide called Madimi, who was half-elfin and half-angel. She was described by Dee as "a spiritual creature like a pretty girl of seven or nine years of age". Dee also named one of his daughters Madimi and kept in contact with her for the rest of his relationship with Kelley.
Dee, with Kelley began to develop or communicate with the angel's own language called Enochian, the basis of the idea is featured in Monas. Analysis of the language shows that it can be variously interpreted and is part magic, part mathematical and astrological and pure cryptography. Enochian is a complete language of it own; with it own alphabet and grammar. Dr Laycock who carried out a detailed study of Enochian concluded that its structure and grammar was remarkably similar to English but was prepared to admit that there may be something in Enochian magic. He remarks "I have known well people who have pursued the study of Enochian from the point of view of practical occultism and who claim that, whatever the origin of the system, work as practical magic."
At this point Dee and Kelley began to tour Europe casting horoscopes for some of its leaders and royalty. Dee was always short of money, mainly due to his alchemical experiments and his book colle
ction, which would later form the start of the British Library.
On the continent Dee found more trouble when he visited the King of Poland and the Emperor Rudolph II, after passing on "warnings" to the both of them, Papal Nuncio issued a document to Rudolph demanding that Dee should be expelled from Prague on counts of Necromancy. Within days Dee and Kelley found a new patron in Count Rosenberg who invited them to stay in his palace in Trebon. It was during this time that Dee received an amazing invitation from the Czar of Russian to go to Moscow and receive an annual salary of ?2000 (about ?100,000), a house and "to be honourably accounted as one of the chief men in the land" and yet Dee turned this down even though he always lived on the brink of poverty.
Some writers claim that Dee and Kelley were fraudulently using crystal-gazing to obtain money from Europe's leaders and royalty, but surely if Dee was driven by greed why did he not take the Czar's offer? What seems more probable is that these angelic conversations were a cover for espionage. What better a method to find out what the most important people of Europe wanted to know and what the aims of these men were, through the questions that they asked during the angel conversations?
Although not completely recognised in Britain, on the continent it was believed Dee was an official spy for Elizabeth I. Indeed, there are many references to Dee having passed Walsingham intelligence on a regular occurrence.
It was at this point that Dee was finding Kelley's behaviour more and more unacceptable and for a long while Kelley refused to scry. The incident that seemed to end it, occurred when Kelley claimed that the spirit-child Madimi had counselled the Dees and the Kelleys to "share all things in common, including our wives." Dee refused straight away and for a long-time disbelieved that Madimi had said this. However she was eventually obeyed and the wives were swapped. We are unsure how the arrangement went, but in 1587, not long after this incident the Dees returned to England leaving the Kelleys on the continent.
For the rest of his life Dee struggled to make a living, seeing his plight, Elizabeth gave him first the position of chancellor of St. Paul's Cathedral in London and then the wardenship of Manchester College that he held until 1603 when he finally retired to his home for good.
Back at Mortlake for good, Dee was a fortune-teller which gave him the reputation of being a wizard. Dee petitioned James I in 1604 for protection against such accusation but Dee died at the age of 81 in 1608, in extreme poverty.
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