The Magical Mirror of Doctor Dee
The greatest magician of all time was undoubtedly the Englishman John Dee. His life and his works are wrapped in shrouds of mystery, surrounded by all sorts of rumours. John Dee would have been Shakespeare’s model for the sorcerer Prospero in “The Tempest”. But this can’t be the reason why he once was called “the friend of the hounds of hell”… can it?
John Dee published a diary and several autobiographical writings; he was a recognized authority in the field of mathematics and the Greek and Latin authors, and the first to translate the Theorem of Euclid in English. He was very interested in the art of navigation, designed the basic idea for the meridian of Greenwich, proposed a strategy for the colonization of America and did research on optical techniques. His knowledge of astronomy led to a reform of the calendar. He was the astrologer of Queen Elizabeth I, and as a philosopher and a physicist he also studied of course alchemy, this noble art of turning base metals into precious metals. Some said he even was on an endless quest to find the potion that would give him and his clients eternal youth.
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John Dee was born in 1527. He was barely fifteen when he was admitted to the University of Cambridge. As a brilliant student, he usually worked 18 hours a day. He was nineteen when he designed for a theatre performance of a work by the Greek author Aristophanes an ingenious flying machine in the form of a beetle, that created some panic among the spectators. It was said that such an unidentified flying object could only have been created by means of black art, by a friend of the hell hounds. This accusation would weigh heavily on the further career of the young magician, who was excluded from the university.
In 1547, John Dee taught geography at the University of Louvain in Flanders. It seems that Mercator provided him with a globe and a bunch of navigational instruments. The young “Doctor Dee” already had the reputation of being a political and industrial spy, who worked in the service of the English crown. His occult practices would only have been a cover for his espionage work, as was also said of that other famous astrologer, Nostradamus.
John Dee was, indeed, often forced into politics. A Protestant by conviction, he was constantly threatened to be crushed between the Catholic and Protestant powers that ravished England. The Catholic Queen Mary imprisoned her half-sister Elizabeth in the castle of Woodstock, because of her Protestant sympathies. Elizabeth was afraid she would be poisoned. Coincidentally, her maid was a cousin of Dee. With the maid as an intermediary, Dee made a carefully optimistic astrological prediction for Elizabeth, saying that the situation was critical, but her life was not in danger. There even was a chance that one day she would become the Queen of England.