Mathematician, astronomer, astrologer, teacher, occultist, alchemist, hermetic philosopher, magician and even court astronomer and advisor to Elizabeth I; John Dee was a man of renown serious intellect, gaining his BA from John’s college, Cambridge at the age 19; soon after becoming a founding fellow of Henry VIII’s new Trinity College. An Elizabethan polymath with work that is as relevant today as it was groundbreaking in the mid 1500’s.
In commonplace with the general public at the time, Dee was an avid believer in astrological practices; however Dee’s key difference was his distinction with it as a scientific and rational field. Astrology to the world was for the mystics, the shamans and the magicians, but for Dee it was a science. Dee sought a reasonable explanation to prove a direct correlation between the positioning of the planets at the time of a persons birth and how it would effect their personality, their relationships and ultimately their future. Dee stated that material bodies emitted rays of force which all acted upon one another. One must bear in mind this is before Newtons universal gravitation and laws of motion, before William Gilbert’s description of Earth having magnetic potential and before quantum electrodynamics. What is generally considered as anti-science, Dee is a keystone in the reasoning supporting astrological science, and his ideas influenced and grew across multiple disciplines.
In 1572 John Dee was one of the first to observe and record the strange appearance of a new star in the cosmos; what is now known as SN 1572, Tycho’s Supernova. Dee later wrote the “Parallacticae commentationis praxosque” which listed trigonometric methods in which he applied to calculate the distance to this new star. Dee’s passion for mathematics lead him to famously lecture on Euclid and utilise mathematics as a cardinal tool for his life works. Dee immersed himself in sorcery, occult practices and natural philosophy at a time in which they were heavily criticised and disallowed, so much in fact that he was at times imprisoned for his ‘calculations’ as he cast horoscopes of Queen Mary and Princess Elizabeth. Dee authored works on Hermeticism including his work “The Hieroglyphic Monad”; an immersive cabbalistic interpretation of a glyph of his personal concord as means to express the mystical unity of all creation.
Dee believed that his era was experiencing an unbalance in which there was a general shift towards a total reliance on irrationality for answers and explanations and not enough emphasis on science and mathematics. To counter this unbalance Dee was an avid supporter of mathematics, and he wrote heavily to justify its general use, a notable work is his 1570 “Mathematical Preface” in which he emphasised the cardinal influence of mathematics on the arts and sciences; marking the way for the modern world in his early rendition of pre-enlightened age of reason. Dee indeed developed a distinct relationship between science and religion, subjects that are considered as a counter Dee understood as integral parts to a whole, much like Leonardo Da Vinci. Dee’s incredible intellect mixed with his open-minded imagination allowed him to merge his scientific knowledge with his hermetic and occult interests to form a concrete scientific basis for his investigations into Hermetic magic, angel summoning and divination; all being part of his personal ongoing quest for a transcendent understanding of the divinity that supports the material world. Dee spent the majority of the last 30 years of his life in an attempt to cross communicate with divine beings in order to study the universal language of creation to in turn achieve a pre-apocalyptic unity of mankind.
Dee’s work echoes in today’s world and reminds us that the intuitive mind is sacred, and that between rationality and abstract wisdom lies a formidable key to universal knowledge. As we progress in one field of thought its data should ripple information across into other practices to allow them all to flourish. An academic unity is one that utilises science, philosophy and art in harmonious form.