Wednesday 13 July 2011

On this Day: John Dee's birthday

Today is the birthday of the famous Elizabethan scientist, astrologer and occultist John Dee. He was born on this day, 13 July, in 1527, in London.

In his early life he made a name for himself as an astronomer and mathematician, but later turned to the occult to acquire knowledge.

In the 1580s he began scrying to try to contact angels with the help of "shew-stones". The photograph to the right shows his dark mirror and a crystal ball that he used for that purpose. Dee's dark mirror and some of his other items are currently in the British Museum.

He teamed up with a scryer called Edward Kelley (or Kelly). Together they wrote down details of the Enochian language - supposedly the language of the angels - revealed through their scrying sessions.

The British Museum website says about the mirror: "The mirror, made of highly-polished obsidian (volcanic glass), was one of many Mexica cult objects and treasures brought to Europe after the conquest of Mexico by Cortés between 1527 and 1530. Mirrors were associated with Tezcatlipoca, the Mexica god of rulers, warriors and sorcerers, whose name can be translated as 'Smoking Mirror'. Mexica priests used mirrors for divination and conjuring up visions. Dee had an interest in optics and optical mirrors or 'glasses' as described in his private diary and works. he was also interested in psychic phenomena and, from 1583, worked with Edward Kelly as his medium. Kelly would see visions in the 'shew-stones' of 'angels' that communicated by pointing to one square after another in tables of letters and unknown symbols, which Dee and Kelly transcribed."

To celebrate Dee's birthday, you can join John Dee enthusiasts for Dee Tea either at St Mary's Church, Mortlake High Street, London (and the Green at Tapestry Court), or the Ashmolean Library, Oxford, from 3pm-5pm for tea and chat. All profits will go to the John Dee plaque to be placed in the church. For more details, visit

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1 comment:

Kevin Faulkner said...

but later turned to the occult to acquire knowledge. !!

Hardly! Science and magic were indistinguishable in Dee's day, magnetism and static electricity for example were seen as possessing 'occult' properties. Dee's whole outlook was founded upon natural philosophy as astrology and astronomy were also indistinguishable. Recommended reading Francis Yates 'The occult philosophy in the Elizabethan Age'