In December last year I visited London, and high on my list of attractions to visit was the British Museum. One of many displays in the BM that I was keen to take a look at was the cabinet holding some of the magickal implements of the Elizabethan scholar John Dee. Advisor/philosopher/astrologer to Queen Elizabeth I, Dee straddled the worlds of science and magic (though some might say Dee showed there is hardly any division between the two), as well as politics (and espionage).
A leading contributor to mathematics, astronomy, and navigational theory, John Dee also immersed himself in Hermeticism, alchemy, astrology, and magick. His alleged communication with angelic entities (through his scryer, Edward Kelley) has given birth to a whole strand of ritual magick – along with its own ‘angelic’ language – known as Enochian.
However, when I arrived at the cabinet containing Dee’s magical implements I was a little disappointed to find only three of Dee’s special bee-wax amulets/seals – these implements were placed under the legs of the table being used, and under the ‘shew-stone’ (crystal ball) atop the table used for scrying. Dee’s famous Sigillum dei Aemeth is pictured above.
Usually present, but missing when I visited, were the ‘shew-stone’, an Aztec obsidian mirror also used by Dee for scrying, and a gold disk used for magical purposes – on loan, I was told, to the Royal College of Physicians for an upcoming exhibition entirely devoted to John Dee, beginning in January…a month too late for me, unfortunately (dammit!).
I was therefore very happy, on my return home, to find that Gordon White of RuneSoup (whom I had while met in London at a gathering of Daily Grail-related folk) had been invited by the exhibition’s organisers for a personal tour and discussion, which he captured on video (embedded below) for those of us stuck on the other side of the globe:
It was my very great pleasure to be shown around the Royal College of Physician’s exhibition, Scholar, Courtier, Magician: The Lost Library of John Dee, last week before the event opened to the public. The RCP is the sometimes-proud owner of the largest number of books remaining from Dee’s original library. Having them on display at the college itself seems only fitting.
What is similarly fitting is that the exhibition itself is in the main atrium near the entrance, spread over two floors. I was told the reason for this is -because the college continues to do what it has done over the last five hundred years- which is to be a college, there aren’t really ‘exhibition spaces’. There are just ‘rooms not currently in use.’ It adds an extra level of lived reality to the collection that it must accommodate the living as well.
And it’s the living Dee you get a particular sense of, thanks to the exhibition’s very thoughtful curation. Regular readers of this blog will presumably already be well aware of Dee’s channelling adventures, his spying, his participation in the Continental hermetic underground and all the rest. Whilst you certainly get a sense of Dee the sorcerer, you also get a sense of Dee the student, Dee the thinker… Dee the human.
It’s a must-watch for anyone interested in esoteric history – or, given Dee’s influence on history, really for anyone interested in history, period.
Note too that the Royal College of Physicians has also uploaded a number of videos related to the exhibition: