Monday, 2 July 2012

Doctor of Physick

                                 The spheres of science and magic overlapped greatly in the past. This was true in the time of Sir Kenelm Digby, and it was true in the time of another interesting figure – Dr John Dee. Dee was born in London on July 13th 1527, and showed great promise as a schoolboy, going up to Cambridge University at the age of fifteen. He studied the Trivium – grammar, logic and rhetoric – for three years, and the Quadrivium – mathematics, astronomy, music and geography – for a further four years. He was a formidable scholar, allowing himself four hours for sleep and a further two for eating and recreation; the rest of the day was devoted to his studies. In his early twenties he travelled to Europe to continue his studies, (all teaching was conducted in Latin in those days, so there were no language barriers), and in 1550 he delivered a series of free lectures on Euclid in Paris, where he was offered a professorship, which he declined. He returned to England, where again he was offered and declined a professorship, of Mathematical Science at Oxford. 

Dr John Dee

When Mary Tudor came to the throne, Dee became Royal Astrologer, and drew horoscopes for Mary and for her half-sister Elizabeth, with whom he discussed and compared the charts. For this indiscretion, he was accused of treason and brought before the Star Chamber, where his knowledge of Divinity bought him his freedom. In 1558, after Mary’s death, the new Queen Elizabeth remembered her meeting with the astrologer, and invited him to calculate the most favourable day for her coronation, which Dee did – January 14th 1559. Dee went to live at Mortlake, then a small village on the outskirts of London, where he amassed the greatest private library in Europe and busied himself in his laboratory. He married in 1574, but his wife died the following year, on the very day Queen Elizabeth made one of her informal visits to him. In 1578, at the age of fifty- one, he married the twenty-three year old Jane Fromond, who bore him eight children. In 1582, Dee was introduced to Edward Kelly (then using the name Mr Talbot), a meeting that would change both their lives. Dee had already gained a reputation as a sage, and as a practitioner of ‘natural magic’. 

Dr Dee - Monas Hieroglyphia - Title Page

In 1564, he published his Monas Hieroglyphica, a Cabalistic work seeking to explain the unity of the Universe. Dee turned to more supernatural means of acquiring knowledge, and sought to communicate with Angels by means of a scrying mirror. 

Edward Kelly

Kelly professed to be a seer, and convinced Dee that he could speak with spirits through the crystal. Born in 1555, Kelly also claimed aristocratic Irish descent, and had a varied past; he is said to have been put in the pillory and had his ears cropped in Lancaster, for the crime of forgery and coin clipping, and had worked as an apothecary’s assistant.

One of Dee & Kelly's Enochian Cyphers

In an atmosphere of prayer and sanctity, Dee and Kelly spoke with Angels using a language called Enochian, said to be the language with which God and Angels spoke to Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, prior to the Fall. Kelly also dabbled in alchemy, and had found a certain red powder, thanks to the spirits, which could turn base metal to gold. In 1583, in the company of a Polish noble, the families Dee and Kelly left for the continent, where they wandered for years, visiting various courts and palaces.

A True and Faithful Relation - Title Page

The spirits ‘told’ Kelly that he and Dee should share wives, (it may be that Kelly sired Theodore, Dee’s fifth child), but Dee was not happy with the arrangement, and he and Kelly eventually parted company in 1587. Kelly was arrested on murder charges by Rudolf II, the Holy Roman Emperor, and is said to have died from injuries incurred whilst attempting to escape from Hnevin Castle. The Dees slowly made their way back to England via Germany, and arrived back in 1589, to find the house at Mortlake had been ransacked and robbed by a mob. Dee accepted a position as Warden of Christ’s College, Manchester in 1596, and spent time between Manchester and Mortlake until his death in 1608. His wife, Jane, had died in Manchester from plague in 1605.

The following legend comes from Lancashire Folk-Lore (1882) by J Harland and T T Wilkinson. See if you can spot the mistakes.



“In the reign of Queen Elizabeth and the year 1560, three judicial astrologers met in Preston, for the purpose of raising a corpse by incantations. They were Dr. Dee, Warden of Manchester, Edward Kelly, his assistant, and ‘seer’, and Paul Wareing, of Dove Cotes, near Clayton Brook. Casaubon, in his "True and faithful Account of what passed for many years between John Dee and some Spirits,"(apparently quoting from Weever's Funeral Monuments) states that, “The aforesaid Master Edward Kelly, a person well skilled in judicial astrology; with one Paul Wareing (who acted with him in these incantations and all these conjurations) and Dr. Dee, went to the churchyard of St. Leonard's, in Walton-le-Dale, near Preston, and entered the burial ground exactly at midnight, the moon shining brightly, for the purpose of raising the body of a person who had been interred there, and who had during his life hidden a quantity of money without disclosing the fact previous to his death. 

Dee and Kelly at Walton-le-Dale

Having had the grave pointed out to them on the preceding day, they opened it, removed the coffin lid, and set to work by various exorcisms, until the body became animated, by the spirit entering it again. The body then rose out of the grave and stood upright before them. It not only satisfied their wicked desires, it is said, but delivered several strange predictions concerning persons in the neighbourhood, which were literally and exactly fulfilled.” 

Another version of the same incident

Sibley, in his Occult Sciences, relates a similar account of this transaction, and also gives an engraving representing the scene, which took place at the midnight hour in the church of Walton. Another account states that Dr. Dee with Kelly in this enterprise, August 12th, 1560, and that Paul Wareing, of Clayton Brook, was the other who gave assistance in endeavouring to obtain an intercourse with familiar spirits."

Excerpt from Meric Casaubon's Preface to A True and Faithful Relation

Well, apart from the impossibility of raising the dead back to life, in 1560 Edward Kelly was just five years old, and Dee did not become Warden of Manchester until 1596. Don’t believe everything you read in books.

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