Once I was a clever boy learning the arts of Oxford... is a quotation from the verses written by Bishop Richard Fleming (c.1385-1431) for his tomb in Lincoln Cathedral. Fleming, the founder of Lincoln College in Oxford, is the subject of my research for a D. Phil., and, like me, a son of the West Riding. I have remarked in the past that I have a deeply meaningful on-going relationship with a dead fifteenth century bishop... it was Fleming who, in effect, enabled me to come to Oxford and to learn its arts, and for that I am immensely grateful.

Wednesday, 13 October 2021

Dr John Dee and his Magic Mirror

Recently there has been publicity about the identification of the Magic Mirror of the Elizabethan Magus Dr John Dee (1527-1608/9) as being Aztec. It has been shown to be from an identical source as other similar scrying discs that come from Mexico.

The Mirror is in the British Museum, having been acquired by it in the 1950s Alongside it are other artefacts related to Dee which are listed in the Wikipedia entry linked to below.

Apart from London museums and libraries Oxford is the other  notable centre for studies of Dr Dee. His portrait is in the Ashmolean, the Bodleian holds some of his manuscripts and in the neighbouring Museum of the History of Science is a seventeenth century copy in marble of Dr Dee’s table for communication in Enochian with Angels.
A painting of Dee with a beard and skullcap

Dr John Dee at the age of 67
A painting in the Ashmolean Museum

Image: Wikipedia 

The Wikipedia biography of the obviously highly intelligent and highly educated Doctor can be seen at John_DeeThis is not only detailed and wide ranging, seeking to dispel long-held misunderstandings about him and to explain his seemingly diverse interests as a quest for universal knowledge within an overall Christian tradition, but also has a good bibliography for those who are tempted into the complex and esoteric thought world of the Dee and his contemporaries.

Amongst these is a book I read a while ago, Benjamin Woolley’s biography The Queen’s Conjuror: The Life and Magic of Dr Dee,which I would recommend both as an insight into the world of later sixteenth century magic and occultism at the courts of Queen Elizabeth I,  Emperor Rudolph II and King Stephen Báthory of Poland and is an entertaining account of an eventful, not to say colourful, life in which Dee mixed with the weird and the wonderful, with an impressive mixture of the great and the good, the courtier and the charlatan. This was an exotic mix in an age of religious and confessional dispute ( Dee himself seems to navigated that with remarkable ease ) and of the occult and the discoveries from the New World - with a bit of wife-swapping involving his ‘medium’ Edward Kelley thrown in for good measure.

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