March 3rd, 2008


Dee Is For Deelightful

Many thanks to jnutley, who from the infinite goodness of his heart sent me a copy of A True and Faithful Relation of What Passed for Many Years Between Dr. John Dee and Some Spirits, compiled by Meric Casaubon in 1659 from Dee's manuscript diaries, and as (slightly more recently) displayed on my Amazon wish list, from whence jnutley plucked it to wend its way to me. (For those interested in such things, it is also available online here, nestled within what seems like a very nice interface. Searchable, too. (EDIT: Or, rather, it is if your Internet access, like mine, is via a University that provides access to the EEBO site. Failing that, there's a (non-searchable) PDF version of the book downloadable here.)

Just reading along in it is so much more informative and evocative of the process of skrying angels than mere description; Edward Kelly must have been a master actor to keep all the various voices and speech patterns in his head. I think my personal favorite angel-aethyr-whatever is "Il," who shows up on page 41 in front of a curtain, in ragged apparel but wearing a "white satten" jerkin, and says: "Room for a player. Jesus, who would have thought I should have met you here?" In an earlier seance, Il was even described as looking like "a Vice in a play"; and sure enough on page 42, Il claims "I have business in Denmark." I could troll through the rest of Il's appearances and pull out plenty more like that -- in short, I think I've found the smoking goetic gun for Dee's dramaturgies.

There's also a lot of untapped prophecies in the various angelic and aethyric utterances; the notion of Dee and Kelly as Nostradamian figures has a lot of pernicious potential.

But my favorite bit so far is one that Phil Masters and I stumbled over in Cambridge when we were looking at the microfilm collection there; it's from a seance on May 23, 1584, and from page 156 of Casaubon's edition:
Now appear many Crocodiles, long necked, scaled on the body, with long tales. A great place appeareth, covered about with fire. Many great Serpents appear here of 200 foot. It appeareth very Eastward. No people appear here."

The narrating angel (Nalvage) calls the place Coxlant, and in the tour of the world Nalvage is conducting, it immediately precedes the Garden of Eden. Did Kelly skry up dinosaurs? After all, if he were making things up, wouldn't dragons have made more sense to him?

Fun on every page. Untranslated Latin on many pages, but such is the price one pays for being a dabbler instead of a real scholar.

That said, my Dee dabbling is now well and truly enabled. I've already got the nice Peterson edition of the Mysteriorum, published by Weiser as John Dee's Five Books of Mystery: Original Sourcebook of Enochian Magic, and a copy of The Private Diary of Dr. John Dee and the Catalogue of His Library of Alchemical Manuscripts, so I'm pretty well fixed for primary Dee activities, and I've already discovered that I can't make heads or tails out of his formal magical-Hermetic texts, so I'm just as happy to depend on Robert Turner's Elizabethan Magic: The Art and the Magus where need be. (That book, by the way, is just impossible to find; I stumbled over a copy for thirty bucks at Fields in San Francisco a few years back and counted myself lucky. I'm not sure what I'd recommend that's actually available. There's probably something out there, though.)

So big thanks again to jnutley for helping a brother out. Over the years, every so often someone has (to my dumfounded amazement) been so nice as to out of the blue send me books they suspect (or know) I want; I've embarrassingly less often been so nice as to thank them publicly. Well, my Leap Weekend Resolution is to thank such people going forward, in a format very like this one.