13 July 1527 - 1608 (or 1609)
Mathematician, Astrologer, Spiritual Seeker
Starting his life in a well-off family, and being later distinguished for his charismatic intellect and his extraordinary abilities, John Dee was one of the most educated men of his time. His multiple talents included expertise in mathematics, astrology and astronomy, chemistry, alchemy and divination. He was a man of extensive reading and deep knowledge, diligent in searching for physical and metaphysical secrets, with considerable contribution to science through his lectures, his treatises and his unique library.
However, the superstitions and ignorance that prevailed during his time, along with the fact that most people were completely unaware of natural laws, astronomical observations, planetary movements and the influence they could have on human beings, connected John Dee to sorcery and the belief that he was in league with the devil. But he, himself was determined to attain wisdom and be in God's service through his communications with angels and spirits.
The Life of John Dee
John Dee was born on July 13th 1527, in London. He came from a Welsh family and his father Roland was a merchant and a Superintendent of the Royal table in the court of Henry VIII. Searching for his roots, Dee believed to have been a descendant of Roderick the Great, Prince of Wales.
When he was a very young boy, John had lessons in Latin, and at the age of eight he was sent to Chelmsford, Catholic Grammar School where he must have had the chance of participating in religious rituals and Masses as an altar boy. After finishing Chelmsford in 1542, John Dee entered St. John's College in Cambridge where he studied mathematics, geometry, Latin, Greek, philosophy and astronomy.
Despite the fact that he was only 15 years old, and he had a very tough schedule to follow, he managed to obtain his B.A. Degree in 1546, and to be accepted as a founding member of Trinity College where he became the under-reader in Greek. It was during that time, and because he used some special stage effects to simulate the flight of Trygaeus in the representation of Aristophanes' Peace, that rumours of him being a sorcerer began and were to follow him till the end of his life and put his life at risk on several occasions.
At the age of 20, and in his search for further knowledge he travelled to the Low Countries and entered the famous Louvain University in Belgium, where he was distinguished as a great mathematician and philosopher and where he became a friend of Gerardus Mercator, the famous cartographer. After leaving Louvain, he visited Paris where he gave a series of free lectures on Euclid, which attracted large audiences.
John Dee's Glyph from
It represents, from top to bottom, the moon, the sun, the elements and fire.
Rejecting a permanent post in Paris University, as the King's Reader in mathematics, he returned to England and became Rector at Upton-upon-Severn. In 1555, he was arrested for casting a horoscope for Elizabeth, who was the heir to the throne and Queen Mary's sister. He was charged with heresy and was imprisoned at Hampton Court but was set free by an act of the Privy Council. In 1558, when Elizabeth took the throne he became the Queen's personal astrologer and advisor on scientific matters, and it is said that he gave her lessons in astrology.
Later, he left England once again and travelled to Antwerp, which at that time was a center of magical and alchemical experimentation as well as Hermetic studies. In 1564, he wrote a book on the unity of all creation, Monas Hieroglyphica, which he personally presented to Maximilian II, in Hungary, and in 1568, he published his work Propaedeumata Aphoristica, with studies on mathematics, astrology and magic, which he dedicated to Queen Elizabeth.
In 1571, he bought a mansion at Mortlake by the river Thames, in West London and he started collecting books, manuscripts and scientific instruments. His collection included more than 4000 rare books and manuscripts forming the largest library of the time. In 1577, he wrote a book on the art of navigation as he had in mind the strengthening and expansion of Britain across the Atlantic. He was the first one to use the term "British Empire" and he thought that it could be established by colonizing the New World.
When he was 51, he married his second wife, Jane Fromond and they had eight children. After 1580, Dee turned his interest towards the secrets of nature, the study of the supernatural, the summoning of spirits and encounters with angels. His meeting with Edward Kelley, who was a man of considerable mediumistic abilities, inspired him to conduct plenty of spiritual experiments.
They travelled together across Central Europe, visiting the courts of Kings and Emperors of the time. When they parted Dee returned to England only to find his home and library damaged by mobs who thought he was a dangerous magician. With the help of Queen Elizabeth, he was appointed Warden of Christ's College in Manchester, where he stayed until 1605. It was at that time that his wife Jane and several of his children died in the plague.
Devastated, he returned to London and spent his final years in Mortlake, in the company and care of his daughter Catherine. Those were years of extreme poverty and he was obliged to sell some of his possessions in order to support himself. He died in December 1608 and was buried in the churchyard of St Mary the Virgin, opposite his home.
A True Spiritual Seeker
John Dee was a "deep spirit" and as such he studied and practiced astrology, Rosicrucian and Hermetic theories, he studied the Hebrew language, the Talmud and the Kabbala, and practiced alchemy hoping to find the elixir for eternal life. He nurtured the idea that the human nature is definitely connected to the divine, and that the germs of supernatural abilities lie within every individual. He believed that with careful development and under the proper circumstances, the germs can become a path that will lead to a real communication with the Spiritual and Angelic World.
In most of his books he dealt with man's divine nature and the spiritual transformation of the mankind through knowledge. Even in his famous Preface to Euclid, mathematics was explained in such a way as to be easily applied to fields such as metaphysics, mysticism and philosophy.
No doubt, Dee was a man of God, despite the fact that he did not adhere to any formal religion of his time. He sought the guidance of God and he was keen on communicating with the unseen world of angels. Assisted by Edward Kelly who acted as a medium and using a crystal ball, he maintained that he managed to communicate with the angels, was able to make predictions, acquire secret knowledge and receive and reconstruct the Enochian Language, which is the language of God and Angels and which he describes in his Five Books of Mystical Exercises. The language is a kind of bridge that connects this material world with the spiritual world, it is the language of Adam and Eve which was recorded by the patriarch Enoch in his book "Speech from God" but was lost in the Deluge of Noah.
Although he was termed as a conjurer by many of his contemporary and later scholars, Dee was a great intellectual and spiritual force of Elizabethan era, he enjoyed the respect of the most erudite scientists in England and Europe and he became a great source of inspiration for many books on his life, scientific and spiritual achievements. His vision was a world of continuous harmony in accordance with the laws of Nature and the Higher Wisdom that he never stopped seeking throughout his life.