Dee's Objects, Case 20, Magic Mystery and Rites, Enlightenment
British Museum, London, England
viewing drawing/John Dee's Brain
viewing drawing/The Enochian Entities
John Dee (1527-1608/9)
(British Museum text)
astrologer and occultist
Dee was a much respected scientist in his own time, but subsequently
derided as a conjurer and a trickster. He conceived the universe
as being based on essentially magical principles, though believed
that many of its rules and laws could be approached through mathematics.
studying at St John's College, Cambridge, Dee travelled to Continental
Europe, enrolling in the University of Louvain in 1548. He returned
to England in 1551, bringing with him mathematical and scientific
instruments of a quality never before seen in the country. He
was soon accepted in influential circles around Edward VI and
settled down to a life of study.
Under Mary I (reigned 1552-58), Dee seems to have lost popularity,
and in 1555 he was briefly imprisoned, accused of using enchantments
against the Queen's life. He was reinstated after the accession
of Elizabeth in 1558, but he never achieved a position that would
give him financial independence. However, he was entrusted with
the evaluation of the new Gregorian Calendar proposal in 1583,
the introduction of which was subsequently rejected in England.
the next quarter century, Dee lived most of the time at Mortlake,
publishing two important texts, Monas Hieroglyphica (1564), an
abstruse magical treatise, and the Mathematicall Praeface (1570)
to Henry Billingsley's translation of Euclid. The Praeface is
an eloquent defence of mathematics as the basis for practical
work, and greatly stimulated interest in mechanics and scientific
In 1582, Dee came into contact with Edward Kelly (1555?-97), who
soon began to act as his medium, and join him in occult research,
seeking contact with Divine Spirits. In 1583, Dee and Kelley visited
Cracow and Prague, where Dee was made a doctor of medicine at
the University. In 1586, for unclear reasons, Dee was banished
from the Empire, but was given sanctuary at a castle in Bohemia.
He returned to England in 1589, and was made Warden of Christ's
College, Manchester. He continued his occult research, but published
no more. He died in 1608 or 1609.
Objects in the British Museum:
his death, some of Dee's manuscripts passed into the hands of
the antiquary Sir Robert Cotton (1571-1631), whose collection
was one of the founding collections that formed the British Museum
in 1753. The two smaller wax discs are all that survive of the
original four which are recorded in the Cotton manuscripts (now
in the British Library) as having supported the legs of Dee's
'table of practice'. The larger one, the 'Seal of God' (Sigillum
Dei) corresponds exactly with a drawing in Dee's manuscripts.
It was used to support one of Dee's 'shew-stones', the polished
translucent or reflective objects which he used as tools for his
occult research. All three wax discs are engraved with magical
names, symbols and signs.
in the margins of the Cotton manuscript seem to indicate that
one of Dee's stones was spherical, thus it has been thought that
this sphere may be the 'Chrystallum' in which Edward Kelly, Dee's
medium, saw his 'visions'. However, the Cotton provenance cannot
be proven nor can the object be identified in the manuscript catalogues
of Sir Hans Sloane's collection. The
gold disc is engraved with the Vision of Four Castles, experienced
during one of Dee's 'experiments' at Krakow in 1584."