- Christogenea Saturdays
The Jews in Europe: John Dee and the Kabbalah, Part 1
Our purpose here, before beginning a presentation of The Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion, or as we like to more appropriately title them, The Protocols of Satan, is to demonstrate that Kabbalistic thought had permeated Britain and was in a position where it could captivate the minds of many an unsuspecting Englishman right at a time when scientific thought and liberty of conscience were becoming popular ideas in the concurrent wars of religious reformation of Europe. This kabbalistic thought would lend to the formation of modern Freemasonry and the secret societies of Europe from which all of the subsequent revolutions were launched which overturned Christian society and resulted in world Jewish supremacy.
A child was being born, and Satan could not kill it, so he persecuted and made war against its mother. In the Protocols, the objectives of the Jews and the agenda which to a large degree has been executed with the help of the lodges of Freemasonry come together as one, and are fully expressed.
To introduce the Kabbalah as a godly authority to otherwise Christian scholars is tantamount to giving the Jewish rabbis religious authority over countless Christian minds. This is what was happening in the Freemasonic lodges of Europe through the 18th and 19th centuries, and it is still ongoing today, whether or not lower-level Freemasons and its initiates realize this objective. That is because it is done not in the name of religion, although religion plays a role in the Freemasonic mantras and rituals, nor in the name of politics, although the end result is political. Rather, it is done in the name of science and scientific inquiry.
John Dee seems to have done for the Kabbalah in England what Johann Reuchlin had done for the Kabbalah in Germany just a few decades before him. He romanticized and popularized kabbalistic sorcery and captivated the minds of those who would seek the ancient knowledge that it allegedly possessed. But the rabbis of Judaism were of course its ultimate authorities, as they remained in the shadows.
But before proceeding, in all fairness let it be said that Europe had its share of disputes over the occult so-called sciences long before the introduction of the Kabbalah. For instance, in a defense of medieval astrology as an acceptable Christian science, Albertus Magnus wrote a book called the Speculum astronomiae [The Mirror of Astronomy] some time around 1260 AD. This in part resulted in a convention at the University of Paris where official condemnations were issued against many heresies, including a number of the treatises of Aristotle. But such condemnations had gone back to 1210 AD. So the obscurantism of which Erasmus had complained had been ongoing for centuries. In 1277, one particular French bishop, Stephen Tempier, had a list of over two hundred propositions, or articles, that were forbidden to be believed, or even to be discussed. The ongoing concern was that much of the Aristotelian knowledge which was at the time becoming integrated into European universities represented a challenge to Christianity. Astrology was the subject of many of those condemnations. Tempier allegedly believed that any form of knowledge promising to allow one to predict the future would negate the concept of the free will of man. However quite plainly, the Bible condemns such avenues of inquiry. So John Dee was a late-comer to astrology and other such so-called “sciences”.
However the Kabbalah did not appear in publication until the 13th century, and was probably unknown to at least the vast majority of French academics at that time. The time was not good for anything Jewish in France, as Talmuds were burned after the disputation of Paris in 1240 AD. The Kabbalah was not introduced into Christian circles until the time of men such as Johann Reuchlin, and John Dee.
John Dee was a polymath, skilled in Latin and other languages, advanced mathematics and astronomy. But he was also an astrologer, occult or Hermetic philosopher, alchemist, and diviner. More significantly, he was an advisory member of the court of Queen Elizabeth I, his constant patron and employer.
But real and unbiased information about John Dee is difficult to find. No authoritative biography of his life was published for 300 years after his death. Much of the information which is available is found in the writings of other mystics or, at the opposite pole, from conspiracy theorists, and it is not always balanced or learned, or even well-cited. However a seemingly less biased author published a biography of his life in 1909, who seems to have been rather altruistic towards John Dee and therefore may be relatively free of any underlying agenda, but nevertheless sought to defend Dee’s reputation against his critics.
Not much information can be found concerning Charlotte Fell Smith (1851–1937), who was a British historian and the author of the first biography of John Dee, in 1909, and a contributor to the British Dictionary of National Biography. Her biography of John Dee seems to be well-studied and sincere, even though she readily exposes herself as his supporter and defender in the face of the criticism he had received. Therefore we shall employ her work with the hope of obtaining a fair picture of a man who, even if his motives were innocent, did something which we believe was actually quite treacherous, by advancing the promotion of kabbalistic mysteries in England. That is treacherous indeed, because it puts undue power into the hands of the Jewish rabbis who are esteemed to have the greatest insight into those mysteries and the language which unlocks them. It hands the Jews an authority over so-called “science” which they never warranted.
Charlotte Fell Smith’s biography of John Dee contains nearly 400 pages. Therefore we hope to present only those pages necessary to exhibit the proofs of our assertions here, and enough background information to put them into context. We have provided a PDF facsimile of the entire book available by clicking the icon to the left. In Part 2 of this presentation, we will cite other writers as well as some of Dee’s own writings in order to establish his ise of the Kabbalah in his work.
So we will begin with a review of John Dee’s early life, from chapter 1:
It seems remarkable that three hundred years should have been allowed to elapse since the death of John Dee in December, 1608, without producing any Life of an individual so conspicuous, so debatable, and so remarkably picturesque.
There is perhaps no learned author in history who has been so persistently misjudged, nay, even slandered, by his posterity, and not a voice in all the three centuries uplifted even to claim for him a fair hearing. Surely it is time that the cause of all this universal condemnation should be examined in the light of reason and science; and perhaps it will be found to exist mainly in the fact that he was too far advanced in speculative thought for his own age to understand. For more than fifty years out of the eighty-one of his life. Dee was famous, even if suspected and looked askance at as clever beyond human interpretation. Then his Queen died. With the narrow-minded Scotsman who succeeded her came a change in the fashion of men's minds. The reign of the devil and his handmaidens — the witches and possessed persons — was set up in order to be piously overthrown, and the very bigotry of the times gave birth to independent and rational thought — to Newton, Bacon, Locke.
We cannot imagine that Charlotte Fell Smith did not see references to the Kabbalah in the work of John Dee. On that account, it seems that she must therefore have been absolutely naive as to why his use of such magic texts was treacherous and wicked, even if John Dee himself did not realize that. She continues:
But Dee was already labelled once and for all. Every succeeding writer who has touched upon his career, has followed the leaders blindly, and has only cast another, and yet another, stone to the heap of obloquy piled upon his name. The fascination of his psychic projections has always led the critic to ignore his more solid achievements in the realms of history and science, while at the same time, these are only cited to be loudly condemned. The learned Dr. Meric Casaubon, who, fifty years after Dee's death, edited his Book of Mysteries — the absorbing recital of four out of the six or seven years of his crystal gazing — was perhaps the fairest critic he yet has had. Although he calls Dee's spiritual revelations a "sad record," and a " work of darkness," he confesses that he himself, and other learned and holy men (including an archbishop), read it with avidity to the end, and were eager to see it printed. He felt certain, as he remarks in his preface, that men's curiosity would lead them to devour what seems to him "not parallelled in that kind, by any book that hath been set out in any age to read." And yet on no account was he publishing it to satisfy curiosity, but only "to do good and promote Religion." For Dee, he is persuaded, was a true, sincere Christian, his Relation made in the most absolute good faith, although undoubtedly he was imposed upon and deluded by the evil spirits whom he sometimes mistook for good ones.
Here we see Charlotte Fell Smith accepting the assessment of Casaubon in reference to John Dee’s religious sincerity, and so many people throw around phrases such as “good Christian” or “sincere Christian” without actually understanding what it means to be a Christian. Referring to Dee’s “crystal-gazing”, which he had engaged in for six or seven years, Smith is indeed referring to the practice of sorcery and sooth-saying. John Dee spent countless hours gazing into a crystal ball and imagining himself to be seeing visions and having conversations with angels. It is also clear in her biography that he held seances and other similar engagements. These things, as well as the divination John Dee attempted through them, are forbidden to Christians in Scripture, in places such as Leviticus 19:26, Deuteronomy 18:10, Acts 19:19, Galatians 5:20, Revelation 9:21 and elsewhere. John Dee was learned in Latin, and the Vulgate often expresses these things much more clearly in Latin than the King James Version does in English, so he must have been familiar with them. We would not consider John Dee to be a “good Christian”. Continuing with Charlotte Smith:
It may be well here to remark that this voluminous Book of Mysteries or True and Faithful Relation (fol. 1659), from which in the following pages there will be found many extracts, abounds in tedious and unintelligible pages of what Casaubon calls "sermon-like stuff," interspersed with passages of extraordinary beauty. Some of the figures and parables, as well as the language used, are full of a rare poetic imagery, singularly free from any coarse or sensual symbolism. Like jewels embedded in dull settings, here and there a gem of loftiest religious thought shines and sparkles. There are descriptive touches of costume and appearance that possess considerable dramatic value. As the story is unfolded in a kind of spiritual drama, the sense of a gradual moving development, and the choice of a fitting vehicle in which to clothe it, is striking. The dramatis personae too, the "spiritual creatures" who, as Dee believed, influence the destinies of man, become living and real, as of course they were to the seer. In many respects these "actions" were an exact counterpart of the dealings inaugurated by psychical scientists 275 years later, if we omit the close investigation for fraud.
Casaubon's successor in dealing with the shunned and avoided subject of John Dee was Thomas Smith, Fellow of Magdalen College, Oxford, who, in 1707, wrote the fiirst connected Life of him, in a book of the Lives of Learned Men [Vitae Quorundam, Eruditissimorum, et Illustrium Virorum (1707)]. It was based upon some of Dee's autobiographical papers, and out of a total of a hundred pages, gave fifty to letters already printed by Casaubon. [So apparently this was a meager effort.]
After this no sustained account of Dee's romantic career is to be found outside the pages of biographical dictionaries and magazine articles, or among writers upon necromancy, hermetic philosophy, and alchemy. [As we have suggested.] Many of these decorate their collections with apocryphal marvels culled from the well-worn traditional stories of Dee and his companion, Edward Kelley. Thus, throughout his lifetime and since, he has continued to run the gauntlet of criticism. "Old imposturing juggler," "fanatic," "quack," are mild terms: in the Biographia Britannica he is called "extremely credulous, extravagantly vain, and a most deluded enthusiast." Even the writer on Dee in the Dictionary of National Biography says his conferences with the angels are "such a tissue of blasphemy and absurdity that they might suggest insanity." Many more such summary verdicts might be quoted, but these will suffice for the present.
Here we may perceive why we chose this source for the material which we want to present. This writer rejected all the claims of treachery or insanity against John Dee. Therefore, once we see what the writer does admit, it will be easier to accept the admissions as truth.
It has been said that no Life of Dee exists. And yet the materials for such a Life are so abundant that only a selection can be here used. His private diary, for instance, if properly edited, would supply much supplementary, useful, and interesting historical information.
It is the object of this work to present the facts of John Dee's life as calmly and impartially as possible, and to let them speak for themselves. In the course of writing it, many false assertions have disentangled themselves from truth, many doubts have been resolved, and a mass of information sees the Light for the first time. The subject is of course hedged about with innumerable difficulties; but in spite of the temptations to stray into a hundred bypaths, an endeavour has been strictly made to do no more than throw a little dim light on the point where the paths break off from the main road. If, at the end of the way, any who have persevered so far, feel they have followed a magnetic and interesting personality, the labour expended will not have been in vain. With a word of apology to serious historical readers for the incorrigibly romantic tendency of much of the narrative, which, in spite of the stern sentinel of a literary conscience, would continually reassert itself, the story of our astrologer's strange life may now begin.
Now Charlotte Fell Smith gets into the details of John Dee’s early life, and we are going to give only a synopsis.
John Dee was the son of Rowland Dee; he was born in London, according to the horoscope of his own drawing, on July 13, 1527. His mother was Jane, daughter of William Wild. Various Welsh writers have assigned to Dee a genealogical descent of the highest antiquity, and the pedigree [Cotton Charter, xiv. I.] which he drew up for himself in later life traces back his family history from his grandfather, Bedo Dee, to Roderick the Great, Prince of Wales. All authorities agree that Radnor was the county from whence the Dees sprang.
Rowland Dee, the father, held an appointment at Court, as gentleman server to Henry VIII., but was very indifferently treated by the King. This may partly account for the persistence with which Dee exhibited before Queen Elizabeth his claims to preferment at her hands. To be in habitual attendance at Court in those days, however, bred in men a great desire for place, and a courtier was but a mendicant [or a beggar] on a grand scale.
So Dee, the son of a courtier, had an opportunity for education which many boys of the age certainly did not have. Here it is suggested that the fact that his father was a courtier before him sharpened his skills in that respect.
The boy, John Dee, was early bred in ''grammar learning," and was inured to Latin from his tender years. Perhaps he was not more than nine or ten when he was sent to Chelmsford, to the chantry school founded there seven years before the great school at Winchester came into existence.
After describing Dee’s wonderful mastery of Latin, Smith continues:
In November, 1542, Dee, being then fifteen years and four months old, left Chelmsford to enter at St. John's College, Cambridge, where, as he tells us in his autobiography, he soon became a most assiduous student. [Compendious Rehearsall "The Entrance and Ground Plat of my First Studies." Chetham Society, vol. i., p. 4. ] "In the years 1543, 1544, 1545, I was so vehemently bent to studie, that for those years I did inviolably keep this order: only to sleep four houres every night; to allow to meate and drink (and some refreshing after) two houres every day; and of the other eighteen houres all (except the tyme of going to and being at divine service) was spent in my studies and learning." Early in 1546 he graduated B.A. from St. John's College. At the close of the same year, Trinity College was founded by Henry VIII,, and Dee was selected one of the original Fellows. He was also appointed under-reader in Greek to Trinity College, the principal Greek reader being then Robert Pember.
Here Smith describes a wonderful task Dee performed of managing the production of a stage presentation of the Εἰρήνη (Eirene — Peace) of Aristophanes. Dee evidently had an interest in theatre and English drama which he did not pursue, and later dismissed as “boyish attempts and exploites scholasticall.” After this, Smith says:
He turned to sterner studies, and became a skilful astronomer, taking "thousands of observations (very many to the hour and minute) of the heavenly influences and operations actual in this elementall portion of the world." These he afterwards published in various "Ephemerides." [An ephemeris is a table which displays the calculated positions of celestial objects at given intervals over a period of time.]
In May, 1547, Dee made his first journey abroad, to confer with learned men of the Dutch Universities upon the science of mathematics, to which he had already begun to devote his serious attention. He spent several months in the Low Countries, formed close friendships with Gerard Mercator, Gemma Frisius [both well-known geographers], Joannes Caspar Myricasus, the Orientalist Antonius Gogava [a physician most famous for translating Greek music treatises], and other philosophers of worldwide fame. Upon his return to Cambridge, he brought with him two great globes of Mercator's making, and an astronomer's armillary ring and staff of brass, "such as Frisius had newly devised and was in the habit of using." These he afterwards gave to the Fellows and students of Trinity College; he cites a letter of acknowledgment from John Christopherson (afterwards Bishop of Chichester), but upon search being made for the objects recently, through the kindness of the Master, it appears they are not now to be found. Dee returned to Cambridge in the year 1548 to take his degree of M.A., and soon after went abroad. "And never after that was I any more student in Cambridge." Before he left, he obtained under the seal of the Vice-Chancellor and Convocation, April 14, 1548, a testimonial to his learning and good conduct [Autobiogr. Tracts of Dr. John Dee, Chetham Society, vol. i., p. 82.], which he proposed to take with him abroad. Many times did he prove it to be of some value.
In Midsummer Term, 1548, he entered as a student at the University of Louvain, which had been founded more than a hundred years before in this quaint old Brabantian town of mediaeval ramparts and textile industries. At Louvain, Dee continued his studies for two years, and here he soon acquired a reputation for learning quite beyond his years. It has been presumed that he here graduated doctor, to account for the title that has always been given him. [By the courtesy of M. le Secrétaire de l'Université Catholique, at Louvain, I am informed no such degree appears.] "Doctor Dee" certainly possesses an alliterative value not to be neglected. At Cambridge he was only M.A.
Long after, when he had passed middle life, and when his remarkable genius in every branch of science had carried him so far beyond the dull wit of the people who surrounded him that they could only explain his manifestations by the old cry of "sorcery and magic," Dee made a passionate appeal to the Queen, his constant patron and employer, to send two emissaries of her own choosing to his house at Mortlake, and bid them examine everything they could find, that his character might be cleared from the damaging charges laid against him. He prepared for these two commissioners, to whose visit we shall revert in its proper place, an autobiographical document of the greatest value, which he calls "The Compendious Rehearsal of John Dee: his dutiful declaration and proofe of the course and race of his studious life, for the space of half an hundred years, now (by God's favour and help) fully spent." [The original, partly burned, is in Cotton MS., Vitell, C. vii., ff. 1 — 14. Ashmole's copy was printed by Heame in Johannis Glastoniensis Chron., Oxford, 1726; and in Chetham Soc., vol. I. (1851).] It is from this narrative that the facts of his early life are ascertainable. Perhaps we discern them through a faint mist of retrospective glorification for which the strange streak of vanity almost inseparable from attainments like Dee's was accountable. But there is every reason to rely upon the accuracy of the mathematician's story.
"Beyond the seas, far and nere, was a good opinion conceived of my studies philosophicall and mathematicall." People of all ranks began to flock to see this wonderful young man. He gives the names of those who came to Louvain, a few hours' journey from Brussels, where the brilliant court of Charles V. was assembled, with evident pride. [Charles V. was the Holy Roman Emperor in the early years of the German Reformation. Charles died when John Dee was about 31 years old, in 1558.] Italian and Spanish nobles; the dukes of Mantua and Medina Celi; the Danish king's mathematician, Mathias Hacus; and his physician, Joannes Capito; Bohemian students, all arrived to put his reputation to the test. A distinguished Englishman, Sir William Pickering, afterwards ambassador to France, came as his pupil, to study astronomy "by the light of Mercator's globes, the astrolabe, and the astronomer's ring of brass that Frisius had invented." For his recreation, the teacher "looked into the method of civil law," and mastered easily the points of jurisprudence, even "those accounted very intricate and dark." It was at Louvain, no doubt, that his interest in the subject of alchemy became strengthened and fixed. Stories were rife of course of the famous alchemist, Henricus Cornelius Agrippa, who had died there, in the service of Margaret of Austria, only a dozen years or so before. Agrippa had been secretary to the Emperor Maximillan, had lived in France, London, and Italy, and Louvain, no doubt, was bursting with his extraordinary feats of magic.
The two years soon came to an end, and a couple of days after his twenty-third birthday, young Dee left the Low Countries for Paris, where he arrived on July 20, 1550. His fame had preceded him, and within a few days, at the request of some English gentlemen and for the honour of his country, he began a course of free public lectures or readings in Euclid, "Mathematicé, Physicé et Pythagoricé," at the College of Rheims, in Paris, a thing, he says, which had never been done before in any university in Christendom. His audience (most of them older than himself) was so large that the mathematical schools would not hold them, and many of the students were forced in their eagerness to climb up outside the windows, where, if they could not hear the lecturer, they could at least see him. He demonstrated upon every proposition, and gave dictation and exposition. A greater astonishment was created, he says, than even at his scarabaeus mounting up to the top of Trinity Hall in Cambridge. The members of the University in Paris at the time numbered over 4,000 students, who came from every part of the known world. He made many friends among the professors and graduates, friends of "all estates and professions," several of whose names he gives; among them, the learned writers and theologians of the day, Orontius, Mizaldus, Petrus Montaureus, Ranconetus (Ranconnet), Fernelius, and Francis Silvius.
The fruit of these years spent in Louvain and Paris was that Dee afterwards maintained throughout his life a lively correspondence with professors and doctors in almost every university of note upon the Continent. He names especially his correspondents in the universities of Orleans, Cologne, Heidelberg, Strasburg, Verona, Padua, Ferrara, Bologna, Urbino, Rome, and many others, whose letters lay open for the inspection of the commissioners on that later visit already alluded to. [Where Dee was defending himself before Elizabeth upon charges of sorcery.]
An offer was made him to become a King's Reader in mathematics in Paris University, with a stipend of two hundred French crowns yearly, but he had made up his mind to return to England, and nothing would tempt him to stay. He received other proposals, promising enough, to enter the service of M. Babeu, M. de Rohan, and M. de Monluc, who was starting as special ambassador to the Great Turk, but his thoughts turned back to England, and thither, in 1551, he bent his steps.
The names mentioned in this last paragraph are obscure, but belong to noble French families. The de Rohans of this period were Counts and Viscounts of Rohan in Brittany. The last one must refer to Jean de Monluc, a famous French diplomat of the period who participated in an embassy of Francis I to the Ottoman Empire. Francis I allied himself with the Turks as a ploy in his wars against the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V.
Just as Johann Reuchlin was considered the second greatest scholar of his time in Europe, behind Erasmus, we see that John Dee had also built up credentials as a great scholar. As a brief review, so that we understand the context which follows, Henry VIII was king of England until 1547. He lifted the restrictions on usury set in place by Edward I over 200 years before, and asserted both the divine right of kings, and kingly authority over the churches of England. Henry initiated the English Reformation, but not for any noble cause. Evidently, Jews were coming to England in his time, but they were coming as Spanish or Portuguese merchants, and therefore they could not practice their religion openly. He was succeeded by Edward VI, who died at age 15 in 1553. After a disputation over the ascension of Lady Jane Grey, Mary I, the Catholic Bloody Mary, became queen, and things got tough for the Protestants. Here we shall continue with our author:
In December, 1551, Dee obtained, through the offices of Mr. (afterwards Sir) John Cheke, an introduction to Secretary Cecil and to King Edward VI. He had already written for and dedicated to the young King two books (in manuscript) : De usi Globi Coelestis [The use of the Celestial Globe], 1550, and De nubium, solis, lunae, ac reliquorum planetarum, etc. [Of the clouds, the sun, the moon, and of the other planets], 1551. These perhaps had been sent to Cheke, the King's tutor, in the hope that they might prove useful lesson books. The pleasing result of the dedication was the gift of an annual royal pension of a hundred crowns. This allowance was afterwards exchanged for the rectory of Upton-upon-Severn, in Worcestershire, which Dee found an extremely bad bargain. [Smith later informs us that the rectory was worth about £80 a year.]
Dee then turned down an opportunity to be a Lecturer on Mathematical Science at Oxford, and in 1553 produced, among other things, works on The Cause of Floods and Ebbs and The Philosophical and Political Occasions and Names of the Heavenly Asterismes, both written at the request of Jane, Duchess of Northumberland, or Lady Jane Grey, who would be queen for nine days in 1553 and executed by Bloody Mary, daughter of Henry VIII. Smith writes of John Dee’s encounter with Queen Mary:
When Mary Tudor succeeded her young brother as queen in 1553 [omitting mention of Jane], Dee was invited to calculate her nativity. He began soon after to open up a correspondence with the Princess Elizabeth [his future patron], who was then living at Woodstock, and he cast her horoscope also. Before long he was arrested on the plea of an informant named George Ferrys, who alleged that one of his children had been struck blind and another killed by Dee's "magic." [CaL State Papers Dom. 1547-1580, p. 67.] Ferrys also declared that Dee was directing his enchantments against the Queen's life. Dee's lodgings in London were searched and sealed up, and he himself was sent to prison. He was examined before the Secretary of State, afterwards upon eighteen articles by the Privy Council, and at last brought into the Star Chamber for trial. There he was cleared of all suspicion of treason, and liberated by an Order in Council, August 29, 1555, but handed over to Bishop Bonner for examination in matters of religion. Bonner was apparently equally satisfied. Dee was certainly enjoined by him, at John Philpot's examination on November 19, 1555, to put questions as a test of his orthodoxy. He quoted St. Cyprian to Philpot, who replied : "Master Dee, you are too young in divinity to teach me in the matters of my faith, though you be more learned in other things." [Foxe, Acts and Monuments, 1847 ed., vol. vii., p. 638, et passim. Dee's name is suppressed after the first editions.]
Dee deserves well of all writers and students for time everlasting because of his most praiseworthy efforts to found a State National Library of books and manuscripts, with copies of foreign treasures, wherever they might be. On January 15, 1556, he presented to Queen Mary "a Supplication for the recovery and preservation of ancient writers and monuments." [Autobiogr. Tracts, p. 46. A fragment of the original, saved from fire, is in Cotton MS., Vitell, C. vii. 310.] Within a few years he had seen the monasteries dissolved and the priceless collections of these houses lamentably dispersed, some burned and others buried. He drew up a very remarkable address to the Queen dwelling on the calamity of thus distributing "the treasure of all antiquity and the everlasting seeds of continual excellency within this your Grace's realm." Many precious jewels, he knows, have already utterly perished, but in time there may be saved and recovered the remnants of a store of theological and scientific writings which are now being scattered up and down the kingdom, some in unlearned men's hands, some walled up or buried in the ground. Dee uses powerful arguments to enforce his plea, choosing such as would make the most direct appeal to both Queen and people. She will build for herself a lasting name and monument; they will be able all in common to enjoy what is now only the privilege of a few scholars, and even these have to depend on the goodwill of private owners. He proposes first that a commission shall be appointed to inquire what valuable manuscripts exist; that those reported on shall be borrowed (on demand), a fair copy made, and if the owner will not relinquish it, the original be returned. Secondly, he points out that the commission should get to work at once, lest some owners, hearing of it, should hide or convey away their treasures, and so, he pithily adds, "prove by a certain token that they are not sincere lovers of good learning because they will not share them with others." The expenses of the commission and of the copying, etc., he proposed should be borne by the Lord Cardinal and the Synod of the province of Canterbury, who should also be charged to oversee the manuscripts and books collected until a library "apt in all points " is made ready for their reception.
Finally, Dee suggests that to him be committed the procuring of copies of many famous manuscript volumes to be found in the great libraries abroad: the Vatican Library at Rome, St. Mark's at Venice, and in Bologna, Florence, Vienna, etc. He offers to set to work to obtain these, the expenses only of transcription and carriage to England to be charged to the State. As to printed books, they are to "be gotten in wonderfull abundance." In this generous offer of his life to be spent in transcribing crabbed manuscripts, we cannot see the restless genius of John Dee long satisfied, but at any rate he proved himself not seeking for private gain….
It is needless to say that nothing came of Dee's very disinterested proposition. So he became the more industrious in collecting a Library of his own, which soon consisted of more than 4,000 volumes, which were always at the disposal of the friends who came often to see him.
They came, also for another reason.
Astrology was a very essential part of astronomy in the sixteenth century, and the belief in the controlling power of the stars over human destinies is almost as old as man himself. The relative positions of the planets in the firmament, their situations amongst the constellations, at the hour of a man's birth, were considered by the ancients to be dominant factors and influences throughout his whole life. It is not too much to say that a belief in the truth of horoscopes cast by a skilled calculator still survives in our Western civilisation as well as in the East. Medical science to-day pays its due respect to astrology in the sign, little altered from the astrological figure for Jupiter, with which all prescriptions are still headed….
When Elizabeth mounted with firm steps the throne that her unhappy sister [Bloody Mary] had found so precarious and uneasy a heritage, Dee was very quickly sought for at Court, His first commission was entirely sui generis [or one of a kind]. He was commanded by Robert Dudley to name an auspicious day for the coronation, and his astrological calculations thereupon seem to have impressed the Queen and all her courtiers. Whether or no we believe in the future auguries of such a combination of influences as presided over the selection of the 14th of January, 1559, for the day of crowning Elizabeth in Westminster Abbey, we must acknowledge that Dee's choice of a date was succeeded by benign and happy destinies.
He was then living in London. We do not know where his lodging was, but several of the books belonging to his library have come down to us with his autograph, "Johannes Dee, Londini," and the dates of the years 1555, 1557, and 1558.
Elizabeth sent for him soon after her accession, and invited him to her service at Whitehall with all fair promises. He was introduced by Dudley, then and long afterwards her first favourite ; so he was likely to stand well. "Where my brother hath given him a crown," she said to Dudley, or to Dee's other sponsor, the Earl of Pembroke, "I will give him a noble." This was the first of innumerable vague promises made, but it was long indeed before any real and tangible gift was conferred on the astrologer, although he was continually busied about one thing and another at the fancy of the Queen….
At this point Charlotte Fell Smith recalls a few anecdotes reflecting the superstition of the time, and affirming the reliance which Elizabeth I had upon John Dee as a close advisor, which seems to be much more emotional than practical. She explains that it was very likely for that reason that Dee had many promises of appointments, but nothing tangible was forthcoming. After these she continues:
[Dee] is called a bachelor of divinity by Foxe in 1555, and as a matter of fact he does, both in 1558 and in 1564, add the letters S. D. T. to his name in his printed works. [Propaedeumata Aphoristica, 1558. Address to the Printer in Monas Hieroglyphica, 1564.] This degree also was not from Cambridge. At last he grew tired of waiting [for an appointment], and a certain restlessness in his character, not incompatible with the long patience of the true follower of science, drove him again abroad. His intention was to arrange for printing works already prepared in manuscript. To search among out-of-the-way book-mongers and book-lovers in high-walled German towns, for rare treasures wherewith to enrich his native country, was another magnet that drew his feet. In February, 1563, after he had been thus employed for more than a year, he wrote from the sign of the Golden Angel, in Antwerp, to Cecil, to ask if he was expected to return to England, or if he might remain to oversee the printing of his books, and continue his researches among Dutch books and scholars. He had intended, he says, to return before Easter, but this was now impossible, owing to printer's delays. When we remember that a hundred years had barely elapsed since the first metal types had been cast and used in a hand press, it is not wonderful that Dee's treatise, with its hieroglyphic and cabalistic signs, took long to print. He announces in the letter to Cecil [Printed by the Philobiblon Society, Hist. Misc., vol. i., 1854] a great bargain he has picked up, a work, "for which many a learned man hath long sought and dayley yet doth seek," upon cipher writing, viz. Steganographia, by the famous Abbot Trithemius of Würzburg. It is the earliest elaborate treatise upon shorthand and cipher, a subject in which Cecil was particularly interested. It was then in manuscript (first printed, Frankfort, 1606). Dee continues that he knows his correspondent will be well acquainted with the name of the book, for the author mentions it in his Epistles, and in both the editions of his Polygraphia. He urges its claims upon the future Lord Treasurer, already a statesman of ripe experience, in the following words: "A boke for your honor or a Prince, so meet, so nedefull and commodious, as in human knowledge none can be meeter or more behovefull Of this boke, either as I now have yt, or hereafter shall have yt, fully wholl and perfect, (yf it pleas you to accept my present) I give unto your Honor as the most precious juell that I have yet of other mens travailes recovered."
According to very recent sources, Johannes Trithemius’ Steganographia appeared to be a book concerning black magic and the occult, and things such as the conjuring of angels to span space and communicate with heaven. But under the surface, it was evidently written in complex cipher as an exercise in cryptography. The book was banned by the Church, and both John Dee and his predecessor in the field of alchemy, Henricus Cornelius Agrippa are remembered as proponents of its apparently occult content. Since John Dee left writings behind where he himself had claimed to communicate with angels, it is doubtful he saw the book merely as an exercise in cryptography.
The book being in manuscript, and not in print, Dee copied half of it by hand, and, as he reported, a Hungarian nobleman offered to copy the other half so long as Dee remained in Antwerp. The “sign of the Golden Angel” appears to be a reference to a 16th century guildhall in Antwerp, located at the Grote Markt, a market surrounded by guildhalls and the Antwerp city hall. In the 16th century, the city became a noted safe-haven for crypto-Jews, who fleeing Spain and Portugal settled in Antwerp.
We cannot demonstrate from our biographer just when John Dee picked up the Kabbalah, but we do hope to discuss that subject later. However it is at this point that Charlotte Fell Smith begins to refer to Dee’s “cabalistic signs”, which were indeed made after the manner of the Kabbalah. This anecdote we have just read certainly shows the lengths Dee would go to to acquire and study books of secrets and ciphers and other mystical writings. After finishing a book of his own in 1564, Monas Hieroglyphica, Dee dedicated it and presented it to emperor Maximillian I. This is significant, because that book has explicit mention of the Kabbalah and presents explicit argument for the mathematical basis of the Kabbalah. For that we shall make a greater presentation in part two of this presentation on John Dee. Shortly after presenting his book to Maximillian, Dee expressed disappointment that many "universitie graduates of high degree, and other gentlemen, dispraised it because they understood it not," but, speaking of Elizabeth, "Her Majestie graciously defended my credit in my absence beyond the seas." That certainly seems to permit an inference that the academics introduced to Dees work in Monas Hieroglyphica were not yet familiar with Kabbalistic philosophy. John Dee returned to England in June of that year, upon which Smith describes more of Elizabeth’s enamorment with Dee. She also describes that when John Dee returned to England, Elizabeth had him tutor her in his new book, Monas Hieroglyphica, with its many references to the Kabbalah. So at this point, John Dee introduced the Kabbalah to Elizabeth I and the court of England. From that point our author continues:
Elizabeth was always Dee's very good friend, and she made a grant to him on December 8, 1564, of the Deanery of Gloucester, then void, but other counsels prevailed, and it was soon bestowed upon some other man. No doubt the appointment would have given great offence, for the popular eye was already beginning to see in Dee no highly equipped mathematician, geographer and astronomer, but a conjuror and magician of doubtful reputation, in fact, in the current jargon, one who "had dealings with the devil." [Perhaps some Englishmen knew better in light of Dee’s use of the Kabbalah.] What there had been at this time to excite these suspicions beyond the fact that Dee was always ready to expound a comet or an eclipse, to cast a horoscope, or explain that the Queen would not immediately expire because a wax doll with a stiletto in its heart was found under a tree, it is hard to say. But that these rumours were extremely persistent is seen by the astrologer's defence of himself in the "very fruitfull" preface which he, as the first mathematician of the day, was asked to write to Henry Billngsley's [Afterwards Sir Henry Billingsley, Sheriff and Lord Mayor of London (1596)] first English translation of Euclid's Elements, in February, 1570. [There is a rare copy of this folio, of John Day's printings in the King's Library, British Museum, with a fine title-page, covered with a Blake-like drawing of the Arts and Sciences. It is in the original binding, with corners mended, and has the following interesting inscription on a flyleaf: "J'ai acheté ce livre ả Oxfor en Juillet, 1598, et ma couste 16 shelins. Saint Sauveur."] Charlotte Smith describes this preface and uses her description as a defense of Dee’s reputation, which she obviously seeks to rehabilitate.
Here we are going to skip ahead to 1571, where we have the next mention of alchemy in Smith’s biography in relation to Dee. This topic had not arisen since Dee was at Louvain nearly 20 years earlier. This is at a time where he is past the age of forty, and settled into a house on the Thames river near London. Dee fell ill a short time later, where Elizabeth herself sent physicians and saw that while he was ill his needs were fulfilled. Our author continues:
The Queen seems to have felt a special obligation to look after him, as she had sent him on some mission of her own, which probably we shall not be far wrong in thinking connected with Dee's alchemistic experiments. Every Court in Europe at this time had astrologers and alchemists in its employ, and the Queen and [Lord Treasurer] Burleigh were as anxious as Dee that he should really attain the ever-elusive secret of transmutation. Dee had of course carried the Queen's passport for himself and a couple of servants, with horses, and had obtained permits through foreign ambassadors in London to travel freely through various countries. [Compendious Rehearsal. Chetham Soc., pp. 11, 12.]
Moving ahead to the year 1581:
A new phase of his character is now forced upon us. He has appeared hitherto as the man of learning, astronomer and mathematician, a brilliant lecturer and demonstrator, diligent in probing the chemical and alchemical secrets of which his vast reading, his foreign correspondence, and his unique library gave him cognisance. Interested in geographical discovery and history, a bibliographical and mathematical writer, his genuine contributions to science had been considerable. He had written upon navigation and history, logic, travel, geometry, astrology, heraldry, genealogy, and many other subjects. He had essayed to found a National Library, and was contemplating a great work upon the reformation of the Calendar. But these purely legitimate efforts of his genius were discounted in the eyes of his contemporaries by the absurd suspicions with which his name had been associated ever since his college days.
After his arrest and trial by Bonner, he never really succeeded in shaking off this savour of something magical. The popular idea of Dee in league with evil powers was, of course, the natural result of ignorance and dull understanding. To a public reared in superstition, untrained in reasoning, unacquainted with the simple laws of gravitation, the power to raise heavy bodies in the air at will, to see pictures in a simple crystal globe, or converse with projections of the air, to forecast a man's life by geometric or planetary calculations, and to discern the influence of one chemical or mineral substance upon another, seemed diabolically clever and quite beyond human agency. Even to study Nature and her secrets was to lay oneself open to the suspicion of being a magician. We must remember that in the early years of Queen Elizabeth's reign it was thought necessary to pass an Act of Parliament decreeing that all who practised sorcery causing death should suffer death; if only injury was caused, imprisonment and the pillory should be the punishment. Any conjuration of an evil spirit was to be punished by death as a felon, without benefit of clergy or sanctuary. Any discovery of hidden treasure by magical means was punishable by death for a second offence.
But if "magic" was tottering on its throne, the reign of alchemy was still uncontested. Belief in it was universal, its great votaries in the past were of all nations. St. Dunstan of Glastonbury, Roger Bacon, Raymond Lully [the Majorcan missionary to Muslims], Canon George Ripley of Bridlington, Albertus Magnus, Cornelius Agrippa, Arnold de Villa Nova and Paracelsus, all their writings, and hundreds of others, Dee had in his library and constantly upon his tongue. Alchemy was not only a science, it was a religion and a romance. It was even then enduring the birth-throes and sickly infancy of modem chemistry, and the alchemists' long search for the secret of making gold has been called one of its crises. Long after this it was still an article of faith, that such a man as Robert Boyle did not deny. We cannot forget that even that great chemist. Sir Humphry Davy, reverenced the possibility, and refused to say that the alchemist's belief in the power to make gold was erroneous. How unlike Dante's keen irony of the dark and groping men who seek for "peltro," or tin whitened with mercury. But alchemy was bursting with many other secrets beyond the manufacture of gold. The spiritual element abounding in all minerals, and the symbolism underlying every actual substance, were deeply imbedded in it. It was a science of ideals. It ever led its followers on to scale illimitable heights of knowledge, for in order to surpass all material and rational nature, and attain the crowning end, did not God delegate His own powers to the sage? So the art of healing was thought the noblest, the most Godlike task, and no means of attaining hermetic wisdom were untried. The psychical world became every bit as real to these religious mystics as the physical and rational, which they understood so vaguely. Even the strange shapes which escaped from the retorts of the old alchemists were known to them as "souls." Their successors called them spirits. Paracelsus named them as mercury, and it was left to his pupil, Van Helmont, the true founder of all modern chemistry, to give the name of gas.
It is easy to see how Dee, the astrologer, grew into close touch with those psychic phenomena which, though they have become extremely familiar to us, as yet continue to baffle our most scientific researches. When he first became conscious of his psychic powers, and how far he himself was mediumistic, is harder to discern. It is on May 25, 1581, that he makes in his diary the momentous entry: — "I had sight in Chrystallo offered me, and I saw." We may take it that he "saw" through a medium, for he never afterwards seems to have been able to skry without one. Perhaps his first crystal had then been given him, although, as we have seen, he already owned several curious mirrors, one said to be of Mexican obsidian such as was used for toilet purposes by that ancient race. He had made a study of optics, and in his catalogue of the manuscripts of his library are many famous writings on the spectrum, perspective and burning glasses, etc.
Where the author discusses “psychic phenomena which ... have become extremely familiar to us,” it seems to us that she exposes herself as an occultist, and perhaps that is why she seeks to defend Dee, while also being naive in reference to the Kabbalah. However the suspicion is circumstantial. As for the Mexican obsidian, we can hardly help but notice that its possession infers a possible acquaintance with the Jewish merchants of Spain.
A gold disk with the Vision of Four Castles, a crystal ball (shew stone) with a looser connection to Dee, Dee's Mirror (one of his shew stones, a Mexica - Aztec - obsidian mirror), the large Seal of God or Truth (wax seal) for supporting a crystal ball or shew stone, two smaller wax seals (of four that supported the scrying table).
The author then gives an account of the many strange incidents which supposedly occurred at the Dee household. What is evident, is that John Dee was continually suspected of sorcery, witchcraft and worse by his countrymen, and that his curiosity and lack of Christian boundaries gave him no limits as to where he would search for elusive information.
In 1583 another alchemist, Albert, or Olbrecht Laski, had come to England and became acquainted with John Dee. Laski would later convince Dee to travel to Poland. Many people to this day are convinced that Dee actually went to Poland as a spy for the English crown, and we may mention that further in the next part of this series. After describing “Albert or Adelbert Laski, Count Palatine of Siradia, a Polish Prince then about to arrive on a visit to the Queen” who had “wished to make Dee's acquaintance, to see his library, and discuss magic, of which he had made a study”, our author says:
Dee first saw Laski on May 13, at half-past seven in the evening, in the Earl of Leicester's apartments at the Court at Greenwich, when he was introduced by Leicester himself.
Five days after the first meeting, Laski "came to me at Mortlake with only two men. He cam at aftemone and tarryed supper, and [till] after sone set." Near a month elapsed before his next visit, when he made a sort of royal progress down the Thames from Oxford to Mortlake. [Mortlake was the name of Dee’s home on the Thames near London.]
Upon this and another visit of Laski with his entourage to the home of John Dee, Dee had complained that his funds were exhausted with the entertainments. At that point, Elizabeth sent him a large sum of gold, so that he could afford to entertain Laski. This seems to support the contentions that Dee later accompanied Laski to Poland as a spy, rather than out of any intellectual curiosity. But there is more to the story. At this time Dee was spending countless hours crystal-gazing, and wrote of the spirits he encountered, or sometimes he called them angels. Our author says:
In the intervals between these visits of the Prince, the spirits had been consulted about Laski's prospects. They had at once interested themselves in him, and Madimi, one of the most fascinating of these psychical projections, had vouchsafed some kind of genealogical information, connecting him with the Lacys and Richard, Duke of York. She was the first of the female angels who appeared to Dee, as it seemed in answer to his arguments reproving Trithemius, who had asserted that no good spirits ever took the shape of women. Madimi, who suddenly appeared on May 28, was " like a pretty girle of 7 or 9 years, attired in a gown of Sey, changeable green and red, with a train"; her hair was "rowled up before and hanging down very long behind." She came into the study and played by herself; "she seemed to go in and out behind my books; ... the books seemed to give place sufficiently, one heap with the other, while she passed between them." She announced that her elder sister would come presently, and corrected Dee's pronunciation of her name. "My sister is not so short as you make her: Eseméli not Esémeli." Madimi was a very clever an accomplished little fairy. She learned Greek, Arabic, and Syrian on purpose to be useful to Dee. On June 14 Dee asked the spirit Galvah, or Finis, what she had to say about the "Polandish Lord Albertus Laski." The reply came, "Ask me these things to-morrow," But when the next day came, Kelley, the seer [a fellow of John Dee], "spent all that afternoon (almost) in angling, when I was very desirous to have had his company and helping hand in this action." So at the next sitting Galvah administers to Kelley a sharply pointed reproof: "You, sir, were best to hunt and fish after Verity." Dee adds that "she spake so to E. K. because he spent too much time in Fishing and Angling." Then he asked if Laski should return to Poland in August, if his relation with the Prince should bring him credit, and how should he "use himself therin to God's liking, his country's honour, and his own credit." Galvah replied oracularly : " He shall want no direction in anything he desireth." "Whom God hath armed, no man can prevaile against." Again, on June 19, Dee asked if it would be best for the Prince to take the first opportunity of going homeward.
"It shall be answered soon," replied Galvah.
"May he be present at the action?"
"Those that are of this house are not to be denied the Banquets therein."
"May I request you to cause some sensible apparition to appear to him, to comfort him and establish his minde more abundantly in the godly intent of God his service?"
"If he follow us, let him be governed by us. But whatsoever is of flesh is not of us."
"You perceive how he understandeth of the Lord Treasurer his grudge against him. And perhaps some others also are of like malicious nature. What danger may follow hereof, or encombrance?"
"The sum of his life is already appointed ; one jot cannot be diminished. But he that is Almighty can augment at his pleasure. Let him rejoice in poverty, be sorry for his enemies, and do the works of justice."
Then "the cloud of invisibility" — a drop scene between the acts — came over Galvah, and she disappeared.
It seems that John Dee was beholden to two types of demons: those embodied demons who had written the Kabbalah, known as Jews, and these disembodied demons of his visions.
Next day Laski was present at the action. An angel named Jubanladec appeared, and said he was appointed the Prince's "good governour or Angel," "the keeper and defender of this man present." He bade him ''look to the steps of his youth, measure the length of his body, live better and see himself inwardly." Excellent advice, which might have been continued had not a man named Tanfield, attached to the Prince, arrived suddenly at Mortlake with a message from the Court, and, contrary to all good manners, burst into the study. Laski had gone out another way through the oratory to meet him. The angel was annoyed, and prophesied rather unkindly that in five months the rash interrupter should be devoured by fishes of the sea. Was he drowned then or ever? Then the thread was resumed.
"What do ye seek after? Do ye hunt after the swiftness of the winds? Or are you imagining a form unto the clouds? Or go ye forth to hear the braying of an Asse, which passeth away with the swiftness of the air? Seek for true wisdom, for it beholdeth the highest and appeareth unto the lowest."
Then Laski's guardian angel becomes extremely practical and interesting: "Cecil hateth him [Laski] to the heart, and desireth he were gone hence. Many others do privily sting at him."
Dee endeavours to keep him to the point.
"For his return, what is your advice ? Perhaps he wanteth necessary provision, and money."
"He shall be helpen, perhaps miraculously. Let him go so soon as he can conveniently."
"I say again, perhaps he wanteth money; but the Treasures of the Lord are not sent to them whom he favoureth."
"His help shall be strange. The Queen loveth him faithfully and hath fallen out with Cecil about him. Leicester flattereth him. His doings are looked into narrowly. But I do alwayes inwardly direct him. I will minister such comfort to him as shall be necessary in the midst of all his doings."
Mingled with these sayings were some prophetical utterances about Laski overcoming the Saracens and Paynims with a bloody cross shown in his hand, and about Dee's passing to his country and aiding him to establish his kingdom. Then the familiar spirit sank through the table like a spark of fire, " seeming to make haste to his charge, I mean the Lord Laski."
On Wednesday, the 26th, Laski again being present, the good angel Il appeared with a besom in his hand. The Prince's pedigree was then barely begun, but on June 29 the clever little Madimi promised to finish the book exactly as Dee would have written it. It was no matter where the book was left, she told him, locked up or lying about. "Your locks are no hindrance to us."
"You have eased my heart of a thousand pound weight," ejaculated Dee, fervently. "Now I shall have leisure to follow my sute, and to do all Mr. Gilbert's businesse."
We cannot present all of the hardly believable soothsaying episodes which our author has reproduced from John Dee’s own biographical notes. However John Dee, in spite of his critics, had many influential friends in Elizabeth and her court and the nobles of London, and this is the spell they were under. One of those friends is mentioned here in this last quote from Dee, which refers to Adrian Gilbert, brother of Sir Humphrey Gilbert, half-brother of Sir Walter Raleigh and cousin of Sir Richard Grenville, all prominent men in the reigns of Elizabeth I and the famous King James.
There is a lot of other information we may have included here, but we would have to carry this on for months, from which we shall refrain. Rather, our objective was to supply a background of John Dee sufficient enough to characterize the presumably great English scholar’s fascination with all things esoteric, and how he may have helped to foster that fascination among his friends, contacts, students and peers. Queen Elizabeth I and much of the English nobility were certainly enamored in spite of the fact that many of his countrymen remained suspect.
This all fits into our assertion that men such as Johann Reuchlin and John Dee paved the way for Jewish Freemasonry and Illuminism by popularizing the Kabbalah. When we return, we will discuss certain aspects of John Dee’s visits to Poland and Prague, and among other things, discuss his familiarity with the work of Kabbalists such as Reuchlin and his connections and references to the Kabbalah, which are explicitly found in his books.
The ultimate point in all of this, is that Europe’s academics accepted the Kabbalah, then ultimately they had to accept the Jewish rabbis as its utmost authorities. Accepting the rabbis and the Kabbalah, we can understand how Freemasonry, founded on Jewish tradition, fable and ritual, could have attracted so many Christians in subsequent centuries.