Monday, July 13, 2009

John Dee & Edward Kelley & the Spirit World

Dr. John Dee was born on 13 July 1527, in Tower Ward, London, England-exactly 482 years ago-give or take a few Julian-Gregorian calendar screw-ups (joke). He attended Chelmsford Catholic School from 1535 to 1542. After this, he attended St. John's College in Cambridge. Dee's great abilities in mathematics and the sciences were recognized there, and he was made a founding fellow of Trinity College. The amazing stage effects Dee produced for a production of Aristophanes' Peace gave him the reputation for being a magician that would follow him throughout his life. In fact, many in the audience thought his wondrous construction of a flying beetle was too good-and thought it had to be the work of Ole Scratch himself! After Dee's studies in Cambridge he travelled to the Continent in the late 1540s and early 1550s. He studied at the University of Leuven in Belgium (still famous as the repository for the largest collection of theological books in the world), Brussels and gave a series of much acclaimed lectures in France. During these travels, Dee began meeting men with a wide range of scientific and philosophical interests. Dee studied with Gemma Frisius, a famous cartographer who had also studied at Leuven. Dee also became a close friend of the famous cartographer Gerardus Mercator.

Dee also met men interested in esoteric studies of subjects like the Kabbalah, alchemy and magic. John Dee was already famous for his knowledge and expertise in the fields of mathematics, astrology, classics, astronomy, navigation, history and the antiquities. Dee was not content to just absorb the information in books alone. He went on tours of England to seek out first-hand knowledge and experience of things as different as buried treasure, hauntings, the recording of ancient monuments and ancestral coats of arms. He was indeed a typical Renaissance Man. Dee met Gerolamo Cardano, an Italian Renaissance mathematician, physician, and astrologer in 1552. Together the two investigated the ever-chimerical perpetual motion machine, as well as a gem that was believed to have magical properties. Dr. John Dee was an innovator in many different areas and in his middle years many people came to his Thameside home at Mortlake to ask him about practical and esoteric matters. In 1554, Dee was offered a readership of mathematics at Oxford University, which he declined as he was busy with other things. In 1555 Dee became a member of the Worshipful Company of Mercers, whose goal was to act as a trade association for general merchants, especially for exporters of wool and importers of velvet, silk and other luxurious fabrics. The word mercero in Spanish has a meaning similar to haberdasher.

Queen Elizabeth I, for whom Dee had selected a coronation date for astrologically, met with him regularly although he was never given the status he felt he deserved. Dee also became famous as an author, especially for his preface to Euclid and for Monas Hieroglyphica, which is a work describing cosmic unity represented by the glyph at the top of the page. However, Dr. John Dee's life was anything but smooth and free of bumps and bruises. In 1555 he was imprisoned for casting enchantments against Queen Mary. Dee appeared before the Star Chamber, which was an English court of law set up to ensure the enforcement of laws against prominent people, who would normally be so powerful that no ordinary court would ever convict them of any crimes. Dee exonerated himself in this affair. After this he was turned over to the Catholic Bishop Bonner for religious examination. His strong and lifelong penchant for secrecy probably made matters worse for him at this time in his life. The episode with Bonner and the Star Chamber was merely the latest scandal perpetrated against him. Dee and Bonner became close associates after the affair was over. Dee presented Queen Mary with a visionary plan for the preservation of old manuscripts, books, etc and the foundation of a national library, but his proposal was not taken up. Instead he expanded his personal library at his house in Mortlake, tirelessly expanding his library with books from England and the European continent. Dee's library, outside of the centers of learning in England, became famous for the wealth of information it contained and was visited by many scholars.

I hope to be able to continue this new series at a halfway decent clip-I can't promise anything, as it seems when I do things go the opposite way that I had intended. I would like to have the next post in this series here by the 18th-hopefully earlier. There is a lot of background history and other things I think I could include in this series if I can keep my energy level somewhat higher than it has been-and lately I would make Abe Vigoda look like Lance Armstrong! If this starts to get ridiculously long between posts there is a "guide" by which I can finish things up much faster, but I am hoping that doesn't happen. Thanks again all of you for your friendly, insightful, intelligent comments! I hope to be around tomorrow (unless a handsome dark looking fellow decides to sweep all 195 pounds of me off my feet and "take me to his mansion in the sky"-haha remember that one anybody??:) For today I think I will collapse into a sweat soaked puddle in the middle of my kitchen and drown myself in a glass of iced tea! Peace and best to all of you!


Aggie said...

Another thought provoking post. We have much to thank outside the square thinkers for. I hope you are well and not cooking too much. Take care.

Devin said...

Aggie I so appreciate you stopping by-great to hear from you!!! Dont worry not cooking to much at all as long as i am indoors! I hope all is great with you in NZ-best as always!!

Autumnforest said...

Hey, I'm a southern gal and I say you have to drink sweet tea (pronounced "swayet tee." I like this series. I thought I was overly ambitious trying to learn about everything all at once, but I'm a novice. Wow!

Alex Robinson said...

Greetings Adonis
If you haven't been swept off your feet (yet) I thought I'd just drop a comment in your post box :) I've read some on Dee but could definitely do with being more informed, so will be pleased to read whatever you publish, whenever you come up for air or iced tea :)
Very, very best to you as always
word veri = padvici - vene vidi etc - a sign of tall, dark things to come perhaps :)

Justin Russell said...

Ye olde 007. Dee's a fascinating topic. The whole Elizabethan era is as well. A good film to see is "Elizabeth: The Golden Age." On the surface it is merely an arty puff piece, all swelling breasts and bulging cod pieces, but I found that it may have been hinting strongly at something, the end in particular.

Dee features in the narrative, with the legendary story of how he apparently conjured a storm to sink the invading Spanish fleet.

I also would have loved to be a fly on the wall when Dee met Francis Bacon. It seems they met just the once, but it was an encounter that had a most significant role to play in the development of Bacon and his methodologies some say.

Sir Francis Bacon and John Dee : the Original 007

Devin said...

Autumnforest thanks so very much for stopping by-I am glad you put the southern pronunciation of sweet tea in your comment as it reminds me of my great relatives "down there" best to you as always!:)

Hey alex-so glad to see you here and I am hoping the WV might lead to something:) I only hope I can do this justice and maybe shouldn't have started something until I had more info ready to go-best to you as always!:)

Justin thanks so much for your comment and the link-I will definitely have to check it out-I often thought the sinking of the Spanish fleet very interesting-and I agree with you the whole Elizabethan age is interesting as well-and thanks for the heads up about the other movie-the era of Mary/Elizabeth was what I wanted to do research on today if I can just wake up! best to you as always!!