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James Randi Educational Foundation

An Encyclopedia of Claims, Frauds, and Hoaxes of the Occult and Supernatural

Introduction | "R" Reading | Curse of the Pharaoh | End-of-the-World Prophecies

Index | A | B | C | D | E | F | G | H | I | J | K | L | M | N | O | P | Q | R | S | T | U | V | W | Y | Z

Dee, Dr. John (1527-1608) Prophecy and other assorted supernatural abilities were attributed to a contemporary of Nostradamus, the brilliant Welshman Dr. John Dee. He was many things——mathematician, navigator, cartographer, prolific writer, master spy, astrologer, and most trusted adviser to Queen Elizabeth I of England. Described as a tall, thin, mysterious man with a long pointed beard, Dee was one of the most powerful but subtle political influences of his day.
      A genuinely accomplished scholar who was never reluctant to mix a little attractive claptrap in with his otherwise valuable teachings, he practiced astrology and searched for the legendary philosopher's stone that could heal all ills and transmute base metals into gold. It is believed that Dee was the model for Shakespeare's character Prospero in The Tempest.
      Beginning in 1581, Dee dabbled in almost all the magical arts, and early in his career he labored under the shady reputation of a sorcerer. Before Elizabeth Tudor ascended the throne, and while she was a reluctant resident of the Tower of London, he predicted for her a very long life and a very high position in the kingdom (a very successful prophecy!), and from that moment on, he enjoyed her considerable patronage and trust.
      In spite of a certain amount of dismay she felt over Dee's open association with acknowledged rascals and rumored practitioners of black magic, the Virgin Queen appointed him to ever more important positions. Elizabeth had in Dee a skilled cartographer, mathematician, and navigator who served her well, but she valued above all his purported abilities to predict the future.
      Some of Dee's magical paraphernalia are still preserved in London at the British Museum, and the prize object of the display is a magic black obsidian glass mirror seven inches in diameter fashioned in Mexico by the Aztec culture. In it, Dee claimed he could see future events by what is known as scrying. This is done by looking into a bowl of water, a crystal, or——as in Dee's case——a special mirror or speculum he called his Angelical Stone. He said that it had been given him by the angels Raphael and Gabriel. (This was later owned by British author Horace Walpole and was sold at auction to an unknown buyer in 1842.) Dee said that an angel appeared to him in the crystal and with a wand pointed out numbers and letters in a chart which spelled out messages in a language he called Enochian, using twenty-one characters. Surprisingly, this language has a real syntax and grammar, though those aspects are closely related to English.
      Dee himself did not actually use the mirror, and admitted that he'd never mastered the ability to scry; he left that to others such as an assistant named Barnabas Saul, who soon lost his power and was replaced by one Edward Kelley (1555-1595), a scoundrel who claimed mediumistic and magical abilities and who transmitted the mystical messages to Dee.

Edward Kelley, the charlatan who ruined the reputation and the life of Dr. John Dee. He was a convicted counterfeiter and thus had cropped ears, so he wore his hair long and full to hide this fact.

      In the later years of his life, John Dee turned his ill-directed attention to alchemy. Worse still, from 1582 on, he furthered his acquaintance with Kelley to the point of dependence. That association was the downfall of the brilliant scholar, for at that point, he abandoned all his truly useful and productive work to seek the ever-elusive shortcut to wealth and to divine wisdom. He soon found himself betrayed by Kelley and others who fed upon what was left of his fast-fleeing fame and repute. In 1583, a mob raided his home at Mortlake and destroyed many of his books, manuscripts, talismans and magical devices.
      He served his last really responsible position as warden of the Collegiate Church in Manchester and was active there during an infamous event known as The Six, in which a group of children in Manchester imagined themselves to be possessed by demons. What was then referred to as a “cunning man” was brought in to observe and report on their situation. This poor man was caught up in the hysteria and was eventually executed on suspicion of being a witch himself. John Dee's only contribution to a solution was to advise the children to fast and pray. It was little comfort to the “cunning man,” whose cunning apparently deserted him when most needed.
      Upon the death of Elizabeth in 1603, and the ascent to the throne of James I, who had no patience with anyone pretending to possess any sort of unorthodox (non-Christian) magical powers, Dr. Dee was stripped of his honors and his income and sent to live in the countryside incommunicado. He spent the final five years of his life in extreme poverty until his death in 1608 at the very remarkable age of eighty-one. His library of more than four thousand books on the occult, mathematics and cartography——the largest collection in Britain at that time——was dispersed soon after his death. He is buried at Mortlake.
      His assistant, Kelley, was convicted of counterfeiting (again) and was killed escaping prison.
      British Museum visitors may also see Dee's rose-tinted crystal, engraved gold and wax talisman tablets (in particular, the Golden Disc of the Four Castles), wands, and formula books on display.

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