John Dee

John Dee ( born July 13, 1527 London, † 1608 in Mortlake, Surrey ) was an English mathematician, astronomer, astrologer, geographer, mystics. Under Queen Maria I. Dee was accused of black magic and sorcery. After Mary's death, he was appointed by the heir to the throne of Elizabeth I to the court astrologer and royal adviser. 1564, he taught Elizabeth I in astrology and consulted their leading ministers Francis Walsingham and William Cecil.

In his 1564 book publish Monas Hieroglyphica he led the help of mathematics, Kaballah and alchemy back the creation of a unit from point, line and circle.

Dee was dedicated to the Judeo -Christian magic, astrology and Hermetic philosophy and in an effort to contact with angels assisting him 1582-1587 the medium Edward Kelley. This collaboration emerged the Enochian language.

As famous scholar, he devoted himself to technical-scientific, philosophical and Neo-Platonic and esoteric studies and held at a young age lectures at the University of Paris. He was a leading expert in navigation and has many of those Englishmen formed which expeditions should carry across the Atlantic. In one of several treatises which Dee wrote in the 1580s to encourage British exploring expeditions to find the Northwest Passage, he coined the term " British Empire ".

As followers of Neo-Platonism of the Renaissance ( the main representatives Marsilio Ficino ) were mathematical for Dee research and investigation in the hermetic magic and divination not incompatible, but he regarded these activities as different aspects of a consistent world view with the same task: the search for a transcendent understanding the divine ideas, which are located behind the visible world.

The scholar Frances Yates and Peter French, according to Dee possessed during his lifetime the largest library in England and one of the largest in Europe.

  • 2.1 In thinking
  • 2.2 Reputation and significance
  • 2.3 artifacts

Life and work

Early life

Dee was born in 1527 as the son of wealthy and from old nobility derived Rowland Dee in the Tower Ward (City of London). The Welsh surname Dee said to have been derived from the Welsh du (' black' ). Dee attended the Chelmsford Chantry School and from 1542 the St John's College, Cambridge. In 1545 he received the Bachelor of Arts. In May 1547 he traveled to the Netherlands to study with the mathematician and astronomer Gemma Frisius and his pupil, the cartographer Gerhard Mercator. Equipped with Mercator's astronomical instruments, Dee returned a few months later he returned to Cambridge.

1548 Dee was appointed Master of Arts. He left Cambridge again to study in Leuven alchemy and the then branch of science magia naturalis. He gained an excellent academic reputation, gave him access to the highest circles. So he used contacts to the Duke of Mantua, to Johann Capito, the personal physician of the Danish king, to Luis de la Cerda, who later became Duke of Medinaceli, to Sir William Pickering and the court mathematician Mathias Hacus. 1550 Dee traveled to Paris, where he maintained contacts with Turnebus Adrianus Petrus Ramus, Amaru Ranconet, Jean Fernel and Peter vernier. 1552 Gerolamo Cardano he met in London. During their acquaintance they were working on a perpetual motion machine and investigated a gem that was said to have magical properties. Dee lectured in Paris on Euclid.

Dee in 1554 in Oxford a chair of mathematics offered, which he declined, as the English universities are too focused on rhetoric and grammar in his eyes - these two subjects together formed with logic the academic Trivium - while the subjects philosophy and science neglects would - the more advanced quadrivium, the arithmetic, geometry, music and astronomy included. Dee presented Queen Mary I, a visionary plan for the preservation of old books, manuscripts and records and suggested in 1556 the establishment of a national library before, but his plan was not supported. Instead, he built his house in Mortlake a private library on by constantly zukaufte books from England and the European continent. So his library became the largest collection in England of his time and attracted many scholars.

1555 Dee was, like his father, by the system of inheritance ( patrimony ) of the guild of the Worshipful Company of Mercers (, Honorable Guild of dealers ').

In the same year, 1555, he was arrested under the reign of Mary I and accused of practicing black magic and sorcery against the Queen. The charges were later added to the charge of treason against Mary. Dee appeared in the Star Chamber and defended itself, but was assigned to the reactionary Catholic Bishop Bonner for religious examination. Dee was released after a brief detention. Later, Dee became a close friend Bonners.

When Elizabeth I ascended the throne in 1558, she appointed him to her closest advisors in matters of astrology and science. However, he never got a job that guaranteed him financial independence. He was also entrusted with the election of Elizabeth's coronation date. In the 1550s and 1570s he served as a consultant with England's voyages of discovery, providing technical assistance in navigation and ideological support for the creation of the " British Empire ". 1577 Dee published General and Rare Memorials pertayning to the Perfect Arte of Navigation, a work that set out his vision of a maritime empire and alleged English territorial claims on the New World. Dee was acquainted with Humphrey Gilbert and was Sir Philip Sidney and his circle close. It is also known that Queen Elizabeth I visited his house several times in Mortlake.

1564 Dee Hermetic work Monas Hieroglyphica ('The Hieroglyphic Monad '), an exhaustive Cabalistic interpretation of a glyph unique design, with the mystical unity of all creation should be expressed. This work was highly appreciated by many contemporaries Dees, but the loss of the secret oral tradition of Dee's environment is in a decrypted interpretation contrary to today.

He published in 1570 a Mathematical Preface (, Mathematical Introduction ') to Henry Billingsley's English translation of Euclid's Elements, in which he emphasized the central importance of mathematics, and their influence on the other arts and sciences. Although originally designed for the uneducated reader, it proved to be Dee's influential work and was frequently reprinted.

Later life

In the early 1580s, Dee was growing dissatisfied because he made little progress in learning the secrets of nature and had only little influence and visibility. He started to turn to the supernatural, in an effort to gain wisdom. He sought contact with angels using a " Scryer ", respectively Crystal Seer, who acted as a medium between Dee and the angels.

As his collection of books occupied, Dee had more than a casual interest in angels. He devoted himself to angelology and especially with communicating with angels; so he gathered all writing traditional conversations between humans and angels. He studied the similarities of the Angel conversations with various texts, including Ficino, Agrippa and Johannes Trithemius well as the widespread Biblical Apocrypha and the pseudepigraphy. Dee was familiar with one of the greatest mathematicians of his time, Girolamo Cardano, who often spoke of his guardian angel. Agrippa encouraged his readers " a voice from above, a voice that teaches from the top " look. Agrippa teacher, Johannes Trithemius, discussed in De septem secundeis remote communication based on the seven classical planets and their angels " according to the tradition of the sages of antiquity ." Dee also had at least 16 works of Robert Grosseteste, with whom he shared a synergistic interest in angels, but also the optics, mathematics and astronomy. All of these mathematicians, cryptographers and philosophers who claims to have revelations by angels, agreed that divine messengers, companions in travel and disclosure Angels of the Apocalypse, were popular and trusted sources of information of the patriarchs of old.

His own first attempts in this direction does not put him happy, but in 1582 he met Edward Kelley, who impressed him with his alleged abilities to a great extent. Dee took Kelley into his service and began to devote himself entirely to the supernatural goals. This " Angel Calls" or " spiritual conferences " were imbued with intense Christian piety and continuous periods of purification, prayer and fasting. Dee was totally convinced that they could help with the results of mankind. Dee said to have been dictated by the angels in this way several books that allegedly revealed to him the Enochian language and opened a new magic system.

Dee met in 1583 on the Polish nobleman Albert Laski, who invited the Englishman to accompany him on his return to Poland. After a few questions with the angels Dee was ready to set out on the path. Dee, Kelley and their families left England in September 1583, but as it turned out soon, Laski was insolvent and not welcome in his own country. Dee and Kelley began a nomadic life in Central Europe, however, continued their spiritual conferences, which Dee carefully chronicled. He had audiences with Emperor Rudolf II and King Stephen of Poland, in which he accused them of their alleged impiety and she tried to convince them of the importance of his angel calls. He was taken by any of the two monarchs.

During a spiritual conference in Bohemia in 1587 Kelley told him, the angel Uriel had ordered that two men should share their wives. Kelley at the time was just about to make a name for himself as an alchemist and was much in demand as Dee; maybe he was trying in this way to break the " spiritual conferences ". The arrangement was preparing Dee great anguish, but he doubted the authenticity of the same is not and apparently let the matter take its course, but broke the conferences shortly thereafter immediately and looked Kelley never again.

Private life

Dee was married three times and had eight children. His eldest son was Arthur Dee, Dee wrote about him a letter to his headmaster at Westminster School, which reflects the concerns of the parents of boarders; Arthur was also an alchemist and hermetic author. John Aubrey described Dee as follows: " He was tall and slender. He wore a cape similar to an artist cape, with hanging sleeves and a slit [ ... ] a very nice, clear vibrant complexion [ ... ] a long beard as white as milk. A very handsome man. "

The last years

1589 he returned to England, where he found ruined his library, many of his acclaimed books and instruments had been stolen during his absence. He asked Elizabeth to support that finally in 1592 as rector of Christ's College, Manchester (now Manchester Grammar School ) appointed him. However, he was now widely scorned as a black mage and therefore had little influence on his subordinates. He left Manchester in 1605. Meanwhile, Elizabeth had died and James I followed her to the throne who had no use for the supernatural and Dee gave no help. So he spent his last years in poverty and died at the end 1608 or early 1609 in Mortlake. Both the Death and Dee's grave stone has been lost.


In thinking

Dee was an intensely pious Christian, but his religion was profoundly influenced by the Hermetic and Platonic- Pythagorean doctrines that were widespread in the Renaissance. He believed that the basis of all things and the key to wisdom are numbers; God's creation is an act of counting.

The hermetic he took faith in the potential of human beings to be a god, and he believed that divine forces could control with mathematics. His cabalistic angel magic ( which is highly numerological ) and his work on practical mathematics (eg navigation ) he saw as a glorified and earthly ends of the same spectrum, and not as contradictory activities for which one would hold it today. His biggest goal was to contribute to a unified world religion. Due to the bridging of the fracture between the Catholic and Protestant churches and the recovery of the pure theology of the ancients

Reputation and significance

His own library at Mortlake was the largest in the country and was regarded as one of the choicest in all of Europe, perhaps only surpassed by that of de Thous. In addition to his achievements as astrological, scientific and geographical advisor to Elizabeth I and her court, he was also an early advocate for the British colonization of America and a visionary of a over the North Atlantic stretching British Empire.

Dee promoted the sciences of navigation and cartography. He studied with Gerhard Mercator and possessed an important collection of maps, globes and astronomical instruments. He developed both new instruments as well as special navigational techniques for use in polar regions. Dee served as an advisor to England's voyages of discovery and personally chose pilots to train them in navigation. He coined the term Embadometrie.

He believed that mathematics (which he understood mystically as ) was central to the progress of human learning. The centrality of mathematics in his vision lets him in this area appear viable connection to modernity as the scholar Francis Bacon, although Dee's understanding of mathematics radically differed from today's view.

Perhaps his most lasting practical achievement was the promotion of mathematics outside the universities. His Mathematical Preface to Euclid was meant to promote the study and application of mathematics in people without university education, and was very popular and influential among the " mecanicians ", the new and conceived in the ascendant class of technical masters and craftsmen. Dees introduction included demonstrations of mathematical principles that could understand even the reader.

Dee was a friend of Tycho Brahe and was familiar with the work of Nicolaus Copernicus. Many of his astronomical calculations based on the Copernican world view, but he never supported the heliocentric theory in public. Although Dee turned this knowledge to the problem of calendar reform in its recommendations, however, were rejected for political reasons.

It is sometimes mentioned in connection with the Voynich manuscript. Wilfrid M. Voynich, who bought the manuscript in 1912, has indicated that the manuscript may have been in possession Dees, and he sold it to Rudolph II. However, Dee had taken far fewer contacts with Rudolf II than before, and Dee's diaries provide no indication of such a sale. However, it is known that Dee another coded book, the book Soyga possessed.


The British Museum houses several items that belonged to John Dee and associated with its so-called angel calls:

  • Dee's mirror, an Aztec cult object made ​​of highly polished obsidian ( volcanic glass), in the form of a hand mirror; housed in diameter 18.4 cm, and to Europe in the late 1520s. The Mirror acquired in 1771 Horace Walpole.
  • A large and well-preserved wax seal, called Sigillum Dei Aemeth, which was used as a base for the " Schaustein ".
  • Two smaller versions of the aforementioned wax seal that supported the legs of his "holy table ".
  • A golden amulet in the form of a disc, engraved with a representation of Kelley's vision of the four watchtowers on June 20, 1584 in Krakow, the Dee considered particularly important. The disc weighs 38.25 grams, has a diameter of 8.8 cm and consists of a red gold alloy ( 90 % Au and 10% Cu). The disk surface was refined quality by a chemical process. In the center of the disc, a hole was punched out, which obviously was used to facilitate handling. The disk was but returning to his home are made only after Dees, like the sign of a London goldsmith is on it.
  • A crystal ball, six inches in diameter. This piece was for many years unnoticed in the mineral collection; maybe it was one of Dee, but the provenance of this object is less certain than the other.

In December 2004, the show stone together with the accompanying and mitausgestellten instructions for its use was (written by Nicholas Culpeper, mid-16th century) stolen from the Science Museum in London. The exhibits were shortly thereafter regained.

Reception in literature and music

John Dee is William Shakespeare have served as a model for the character of Prospero in The Tempest. In Foucault's Pendulum by Umberto Eco the figure of John Dee has a special significance, and in the novel Maxie 's Demon by Michael Scott Rohan, he is one of the main characters. The writer Mary Hoffman served as a model for Dee the natural philosopher William Dethridge in her trilogy Stravaganza. Gustav Meyrink felt the life of John Dee in his esoteric key novel after The Angel of the West Window in an unusual way. In HP Lovecraft's Cthulhu Mythos Dee is regarded as the one who translated the Necronomicon into English. In Save the round world of Terry Pratchett, Ian Stewart and Jack Cohen, the wizards of Unseen University pass through Dee's library, which is connected by the "L- space " with the Discworld, in order to protect our world us against the influence of the Elves. In the series of novels by Irish writer Michael Scott to the " immortal Alchemyst " John Dee appears as Nicholas Flamel's opponent and his wife. Add in a royal commission and in the house of the magician by Mary Hooper Dee plays one of the main characters. Also in German novel series, such as the series Lycidas by Christoph Marzi, John Dee is a supporting character. In these novels one assumes John Dee, that he had never died, and among other things, John Milton was, and at the present time Lycidas ( = Lucifer / light bringer ) is a faithful servant. He also mentioned the Kronos Secrets of Marie Rutkoski in the series of youth novels below the title.

In the Iron Maiden song The Alchemist from the album The Final Frontier is sung about the meeting of John Dee and Edward Kelley and the transition from magic and science (2010, EMI Records).