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The Original Wizard

May 8, 2015

Dr. John Dee was an English mathematician, astronomer, alchemist, astrologer, and mystic. He also served, at times, as political advisor to Elizabeth I and cast horoscopes for her (and other members of the English nobility). He was also nearly constantly broke, because curating the best library in England is expensive, and frequently under attack for being a magician, because people were easily confused and Elizabeth had enemies. John_Dee_Ashmolean

A full biography of the man takes approximately 400 pages (I’ve read them), so I’m forced to be brief. The highlights:

  • befriend Gerardus Mercator, the inventor of the modern mapping system
  • urge Elizabeth I to continue colonial expansion and seeking a Northwest Passage
  • suggest that England claim the Canadian Far North due to King Arthur getting there first
  • create navigational instruments and charts for explorers such as Sir Martin Frobisher and Sir Francis Drake
  • attempt to discover the truths of creation through alchemy, astronomy, math, and prayer
  • fall in with a man who claimed to speak to angels (this was a Thing at the time, apparently)
  • spend a lot of money he couldn’t really afford on specialized equipment to talk to said angels
  • ask the angels a lot of questions about the nature of the universe
  • write several books in Enochian, which were dictated by the angels
  • flee England with his wife, children, and “skryer”, due to renewed claims he was a magician
  • hang out in Poland and then in Prague, befriending Rudolf II and trying to convince him to fund his angel sessions
  • be convinced by the skryer that he and the skryer should hold all property in common, including their wives
  • return to England to find his library ransacked and nearly everything missing
  • died in poverty

It’s believed that he inspired Prospero, and he’s one of several sources for the Grey-Bearded Wizard archetype. (See also: Odin.) There’s a story that he summoned the storm that wrecked the Spanish Armada, but it’s probably just that. Because of the magical and mystical elements of his life, he tends to get name-checked fairly frequently in fantasy novels. Including mine, which is why I took the following pictures in the U.K. last year.

 

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An 18th-century mirror case, and a crystal ball and gold disc for talking to angels British Museum, September 2014

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An Aztec obsidian mirror, used for talking to angels British Museum, September 2014

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A wax tablet carved with a pentagram and other symbols, used to support the table that held the crystal ball British Museum, September 2014

 

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Two more tablets, for the same purpose British Museum, September 2014

 

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A chart of Enochian writing, carved in marble in the 18th century, originally wooden Museum of the History of Science, Oxford, September 2014

Not sure if I’ll end up using much of my research in the book, or if any of the pictures are worthwhile on that front, but hey, I’m always up for reading about people with especially odd lives. Honestly, after reading the bio, I feel kind of bad for the guy. Nobody understood what he was trying to do, he was constantly poor and persecuted, and then there’s the whole thing with the skryer…. Poor man.

 

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