Dee, Dr. John

Doctor John I. Dee (1527-1608) is one of the famed translators of the Necronomicon. Though Lovecraft claimed it was into garbled English. Wilbur Whateley owned a copy but it failed to meet his needs and he sought out the Latin version. Though the translation is a fiction, John Dee was a flamboyant historical character.

[The Dunwich Horror - H.P.L.]

He was, actually, one of the greatest mathematicians of his age, a man of great and wide learning with that extraordinary capacity for concentration which seemed to characterize the men of the Renaissance. Dee's father was a Welshman, a minor official at the court of Henry VIII. Dee was born in London on July 13, 1527. Attended Chantry School at Chelmsford. At fifteen he entered St. John's College, Cambridge. A voracious student, he was made a fellow of Trinity at nineteen and an under-reader (assistant professor) in Greek. He was already an enthusiastic astronomer. Stifled at Cambridge, he moved to the University of Louvain, one of the best universities in Europe. He read Agrippa's "Occult Philosophy" and was excited by the notion that magic and alchemy were not diabolic studies but a mystical quest for God. By the time he reached Paris in 1550, he had a reputation and was offered a professorship at Rheims to lecture on Euclid. Instead he returned to England. Edward VI granted him a pension which he sold for two rectorships. In 1552 he met the occlutist Jerome Cardan, who was a 'witch' in the precise sense of the word: that is, he possessed a high degree of second sight and other occult faculties. He directed Dee's interests towards spirits who might be contacted. With money his major problem, he could not turn to the monarchy which, with the death of Edward VII, was in chaos. Then he cast Queen Mary's horoscope. And then he cast Elizabeth's for which 'Bloody Mary' had him imprisoned. He was released in 1555. Mary died three years later and Elizabeth became Queen. She asked him to calculate the most favorable date for the coronation. He suggested January 14, 1559. Unfortunately for Dee's finances, Elizabeth I was cheap. Though he officially becme her court astrologyer, he was actually her errand boy and involved in unlikely intrigue.

In Amsterdam in 1563, he discovered a book called 'Steganographia' by Trithemius, a work on magic, alchemy, and the meaning of numbers; it influenced Dee's own work on magic, 'Monas Hierogpyphica,' which he finished in twelve days after reading Trithemius. Commentators have been puzzled by the remark of Lord Burleigh, the secretary of state, that it was 'of the utmost improtance for the security of the realm.' Perhaps it was used in his secret missions for the Queen, Burleigh her minister, and Sir Francis Walsingham, head of the Queen's spy system. Perhaps it was only that Dee thought it would find him treasure or foretell the plans of their enemies. Who knows. As the intrigue died down, Dee returned to England and in 1564 settled in his mother's house at the Thameside village of Mortlake. In 1574, at 47, he married but his wife died the following year. It happened that that day the Queen showed up at his door to see his 'magic glass' which was a convex mirror. Hearing of the death, the Queen wouldn't enter but looked at the glass in a nearby field. Two years later Dee married Jane Fromond, a lady in waiting to Lady Howard of Effingham, some years his junior. She bore him eight children. His mother died in 1580.

He settled down as the court astrologer; casting horoscopes, drawing maps for the queen, and working on a new calendar. He wrote a record of his dreams, 'Spiritual Diary'and tales of spirit rappings and other manifestations. He turned to crystal gazing and in 1581 thought he saw something in the crystal but could not explain what it was. Since he did not have much patience for staring at the glass, he hired a 'scryer,' Barnabus Saul. But young Barnabus almost immediately got into trouble with the law and, rather than get into trouble, denounced Dee as a witch. Two days later a young Irishman named Edward Kelley showed up on his doorstep claiming to be a 'scryer.' Kelley had been an apothocary's apprentice turned forger and coiner (for which he had lost his ears). To show his piety in the art, Kelley dropped to his knees and prayed. Shortly afterwards he said he saw a cherub in the crystal which Dee assumed was Uriel. Dee accepted Kelley though his young wife didn't trust the stranger. Kelley married a local girl but always had an eye for the young Mrs. Dee.

His association with Kelley only led to more accusations. Life in the Dee household became boring for Kelley and Dee was getting tired of not discovering the Philosopher's Stone, his great quest. In November 1582, Dee had his own vision of Uriel outside his window holding a crystal egg. The Archangel Michael called out to Dee to take the egg. It is now in the British Museum (pretty strange for a vision to offer a tangible object).

In 1583, Pole Count Adalbert Laski, invited Dee to the Continent to foretell the future for Henry III of France. In 1585, the Dees and the Kelleys set out, only days before Mortlake was attacked by a mob and who sacked Dee's magnificent library of over 4,000 volumes. The next four years were a horror for Dee. Kelley was beginning to want prominence. He claimed to own a rare alchemical manuscript and powder of projection (to change base metals to gold) which he had found at Glastonbury, legendary home of Arthur and Merlin.

They met with King Stephen Bathory of Poland at Kracau, but were expelled on the command of the Pope fearing necromancy. Count Wilhelm Rosenberg, viceroy of Bohemia, invited them to his castle at Tribau, and, despite quarrels with Kelley, Dee was happy for 18 months.

Kelly, always controlling, made the angels of the crystal tell Dee that the two should share everything including their wives. Jane Dee was far more beautiful than Mrs. Kelly. When Dee agreed to do as the angels told him, the wives stepped in. It was the end of the Dee/Kelly association. Dee returned to England in 1589 and lived there until his death at Mortlake in 1608 at the age of eighty-one; Kelley achieved some success as an alchemist and scryer, but seems to have died in prison some years later.

While he had been gone, his house was vandalized, his instruments destroyed. The Queen finally granted him a wardenship of Christ's College at Manchester, then little more than a village, but he found it frustrating. His wife died of the plague there. He continued to write, inculding his Dream Diary. The Queen died in 1603. James I had no use for 'reputed' sorcerers.

His new scryer, Bartholomew Hickman, had visions of the angel Raphael who uttered comforting secrets and foretold suceess. But that was not to be. He was one of the first great occultists to make constant use of spiritual communication; he was the founder of the modern psychic research, two hundred years before his time.

He wrote the 'Liber Mysteriorum - Book of Mysteries.' This may be the same work which was printed in English by Meric Casaubon under the title "A True & Faithful Relation of What passed for many Years between Dr. John Dee .. and Some Spirits: Tending (had it Succeeded) To a General Alteration of most States and Kingdomes in the World." It did no good for Dee's reputation, which has, however, been largely vindicated by the writings of Dr Frances A. Yates.

The British Museum owns his speculum or magical mirror.

As for his translation of the Necronomicon, that is a question between you and the librarian at the Miskatonic University Library.

(Much thanks to Catherine Briggs, author of THE ENCYCLOPEDIA OF FAIRIES)

The Magus
by Francis Barrett
London, 1801

Biographia Antiqua


DOCTOR JOHN DEE, and SIR EDWARD KELLY, knight, being professed associates, their story is best delivered together. They have some title to the philosopher's stone in common fame. Dee, besides his being deep in chymistry, was very well versed in mathematics, particularly geometry and astrology: but Sir Edward Kelly appears to have been the leading man in alchymy. In some of Dee's books are found short memoirs of the events of his operations: as, Donum Dei, five ounces. And in another place, "This day Edward Kelly discovered the grand secret to me, sit nomen Domini benedictum." Ashmole says, absolutely, they were masters of the powder of projection, and, with a piece not bigger than the smallest grain of sand, turned an ounce and a quarter of mercury into pure gold: but here is an equivoque; for granting them possessed of the powder of projection, it does not appear they had the secret of making it. The story is, that they found a considerable quantity of it in the ruins of Glastonbury Abbey, with which they performed many notable transmutations for the satisfaction of several persons. Kelly, in particular, is said to have given away rings of gold wire to the tune of 4000l. at the

p. 196

marriage of his servant maid. And a piece of a brass warming-pan being cut out by order of queen Elizabeth, and sent to them when abroad, was returned pure gold. Likewise Dee made a present to the landgrave of Hesse of twelve Hungarian horses, which could never be expected from a man of his circumstances without some extraordinary means.

In the year 1591 they went into Germany, and settled some time at Trebona, in Bohemia ; the design of which journey is very mysterious. Some say their design was to visit the alchymists of these countries, in order to get some light into the art of making the powder. Accordingly they travelled through Poland , &c. in quest thereof, and, some say, attained it; others say, not. Others, again, will make them sent by the queen as spies, and that alchymy was only a pretence, or means, to bring them into confidence with the people. But what will give most light upon this subject, is a book, now extant, wrote by Dee, entitled Dee's Conferences with Spirits, but some conjecture it to be with Trithemius's mere Cryptography; which light Doctor Hook takes it in. However, this book is truly curious in respect of the many magical operations there displayed, it being wrote journal-fashion by the Doctor's own hand, and relates circumstantially the conferences he held with some spirits (either good or bad) in company with Sir Edward Kelly.

They were no sooner gone out of England than Dee's library was opened by the queen's order, and 4000 books, and 700 choice manuscripts, were taken away on pretence of his being a conjuror. That princess soon after used means to bring him back again, which a quarrel with Kelly happening to promote, he returned in 1596, and in 1598 was made warden of Manchester college, where he died 1

Some very curious manuscripts, with the chrystal he used to invoke the spirits into, are at this time carefully laid up in the British Museum. 2

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As for Sir Edward Kelly, the Emperor, suspecting he had the secret of the philosophers in his possession, clapped him up in prison, in hopes to become a sharer in the profits of transmutation: however, Kelly defeated his intentions. After having been twice imprisoned, the last time he was shut up endeavouring to make his escape by means of the sheets of his bed tied together, they happened to slip the knots, and so let him fall, by which he broke his leg, and soon after lost his life.

196:1 Authors differ very much in respect of the place where Doctor Dee resigned his life: it appears from the most eminent historians that he died at his house at Mortlake.

196:2 Although Dee's manuscripts, and his Magic Chrystal, are to be seen at the Museum, there are six or seven individuals in London who assert they have the stone in their possession; thereby wishing to deceive the credulous, and to tempt them to a purchase at an enormous price.


The Heptarchia Mystica of John Dee
Transcribed from Ms Sloane 3191 in the British Library. Introduced and annotated by Robert Turner
This magical note book written by Dee during 1582-83 is an elaborate and spiritual account of planetary magical operations for invoking the planetary angels, and includes a list of the forms in which some of these spirits appear, together with some magic letter squares and sigils. The angel Uriel is foremost in these operations which obviously are the foundation upon which much of the Enochian or Angelic workings were built. Robert Turner has transcribed the text from the original manuscript and provides explanatory notes and commentary on this important text. The Heptarchia Mystica seems to be a work standing between the 16th century magical systems derived from Peter of Abano or the Picatrix, and the unique system that Dee and Kelley brought into being in their Angelic Magic.