An important new exhibition of some of John Dee’s library has opened in London. This film explains.
When I was researching Nuinn’s (Ross Nichols’) biography, I discovered that he went to the same Cambridge college as Dee – a nice coincidence. Here’s an excerpt on Dee from The Book of English Magic: Magicians rarely work alone. Although periods of seclusion and hermitage may sometimes keep them from human company, their sole desire is for relationship, connection, union. They want to explore the strangeness of the world, to delve into the deepest mysteries of existence and to converse with the brightest minds and greatest souls that they can find – whether they are alive or have died and now live in the celestial realms.
Like the magic circle they draw around themselves in ritual, each magician has a ‘circle’ of influence, and if we are to judge the power of a mage by the nature and quality of that circle, then it is to the Elizabethan wizard Dr John Dee that we must award the title of England’s greatest magician. Like the mythical Merlin who acted in the time-honoured role of the Druid as adviser to his sovereign, Dee became Queen Elizabeth’s astrologer. Like the philosopher Roger Bacon in the thirteenth century, Dee was an alchemist as well as a scientist and a mathematician. Like the Freemason Elias Ashmole in the seventeenth century, he amassed the greatest collection of magical texts in the country, only calamitously to lose much of his collection. Like Aleister Crowley in the twentieth century, he attempted to commune with spirits, and was even prepared to resort to unconventional sexual relations if it seemed necessary to attain his magical ends.
And although each of these contenders for the title of the country’s greatest wizard knew some of the most interesting intellectuals of their time, Dee’s circle of influence extended far wider, to encompass many of the most talented hearts and minds of his age. Like an éminence grise directing operations from behind the scenes, the gaunt figure of Dr John Dee stands at the very heart of the English Renaissance of the arts and sciences that occurred during the Elizabethan era.
The exhibition is at The Royal College of Physicians, 11 St Andrews Place, Regents Park, London NW1 4LE, 18 January – 29 July 2016, Monday-Friday only, 9am-5pm. FREE ENTRY. Exhibition website.