We have an interesting rogues gallery in human history, and there are some figures out there whose lives are shrouded in mystery and mysticism, captivating the imaginations of scholars and occult enthusiasts alike. Among these mysterious individuals, John Dee stands out as one of the strangest characters of the Elizabethan era.
His name is inextricably linked to the esoteric arts and the elusive language and magic system known as Enochian. Steeped in secrecy, to some Enochian holds the promise of unlocking ancient wisdom, bridging the gap between mortal and divine realms. To others, it is the work of a well-educated charlatan.
The Language of Angels
John Dee was born in Tower Ward, London in 1527. He was born into a wealthy family, his father, Rowland Dee, was a wealthy merchant and courtier to King Henry VIII and Dee claimed to be descended from Rhodri the Great, a 9th-century ruler of Gwynedd, a county in north-west Wales.
From an early age, Dee was a bright child, attending Chelmsford Chantry School as a boy before attending St John’s College in Cambridge. He graduated in 1545 at the age of 15 and soon after became an original fellow of Trinity College after its founding by Henry VIII in 1546.
Dee was a multifaceted scholar with an active and inquisitive mind, who was particularly well-versed in mathematics, astronomy, and navigation. His true passion lay in the esoteric arts, however, especially magic and divination. It is for these that John Dee is most famous.
Dee was a strong believer in the existence of hidden knowledge and sought to unravel the world and all of its mysteries through his magical practices. To Dee magic was a means to access higher realms of understanding and communicate with supernatural beings. He was a Christian though as well, and believed he could use magic to communicate with the angels themselves.
Usually, showing an interest in such things during this time period would have been incredibly dangerous. But Dee’s expertise in mathematics and astrology lent an air of credibility to his pursuits, making him a respected figure in his time.
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To indulge his intellectual pursuits Dee needed royal patronage. He managed to position himself as Queen Elizabeth I’s highly trusted advisor. This gave him the freedom to explore his interests. Elizabeth, herself intrigued by astrology and alchemy, recognized Dee’s talents and granted him access to resources and opportunities that enabled his magical research.
Safe from persecution, Dee was able to team up with others who were interested in the esoteric arts. His most famous collaboration was with Edward Kelley, a scryer (a posh way of saying fortune-teller) who claimed to possess the ability to communicate with angels.
Together, they conducted numerous séances and rituals to establish contact with the angelic realm. Kelley would gaze into a crystal or a black mirror while Dee meticulously recorded the angelic messages received.
Dee’s association with magic often placed him in a precarious position. While his work earned him both admiration and respect within intellectual circles, it also attracted suspicion and accusations of sorcery.
It was through his work with Kelley that Dee’s magical system, Enochian, emerged. Enochian consisted of a unique language, symbols, and rituals, which Dee believed had been divinely revealed to him. He saw Enochian as a potent tool to access hidden knowledge, gain spiritual insights, and harness supernatural powers.
Since Dee claimed to have received Enochian from the angels it is often referred to as the “language of the angels” and is believed, by some, to possess potent spiritual and magical properties. As an actual language, Enochian itself consists of an alphabet with its own series of 21 letters, sounds, and words.
Skeptics have pointed out that Enochian sounds suspiciously like Middle English, sharing similar phonology and orthography. The grammar is also almost non-existent, lacking articles and prepositions while adjectives and pronouns are also quite rare.
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The language’s relative simplicity has led skeptics to believe that Dee and his companion made up the language. Dee, however, claimed that Enochian was the original Adamic language, spoken by humanity before the other languages evolved. It would appear that the original Adamic language had a lot in common with English.
While we could spend hours examining the form and linguistic properties of Enochian, for most people that’s not the most interesting thing about the language. As an angelic language, Dee believed that Enochian contained profound wisdom and hidden knowledge about the universe, divine beings, and the structure of reality.
The primary purpose of Enochian was to establish communication with angels and other spiritual beings. By using the Enochian language and symbols, practitioners aimed to bridge the gap between the earthly and celestial realms, seeking guidance, revelation, and spiritual enlightenment. It was thought that through this communication, practitioners could acquire knowledge about the nature of God, the universe, and the secrets of creation.
Additionally, Enochian was believed to offer practical applications. It was thought to provide magicians with the ability to manipulate and control natural forces, such as the elements, allowing for the performance of magical feats. Enochian rituals and practices were seen as a means to manifest desired outcomes, achieve personal transformation, and potentially influence events on both a spiritual and material level.
The End of John Dee
One would think that with his mastery of Enochian and ability to talk to the angels themselves Dee would have risen to spectacular heights. But the opposite is true. Over the years Dee’s star waned as the royals lost interest in his magical abilities.
By 1605 Dee, with no royal patrons left, had fallen into relative obscurity, forced to spend his final years in poverty. In the end, he had to sell off the majority of his possessions to support himself and relied on his daughter, Katherine, to look after him until his death in 1608 at the age of 81.
For some, Enochian, with its intricate language, symbols, and rituals, represents a bridge between the earthly and the celestial, promising access to divine wisdom and supernatural abilities. For others, it is just a made-up language. Though the true nature and efficacy of Enochian remain subjects of debate, its allure persists, drawing modern enthusiasts to explore the enigmatic depths of Dee’s magical legacy.
Top Image: John Dee, who discovered Enochian and claimed to be able to use it to communicate with angels. Source: Unknown Author / CC BY 4.0.