A Little Library on John Dee

For further reading on John Dee your first port of call should be the two recent biographies of Elizabeth’s favourite philosopher: “The Queen’s Conjuror – The Science and Magic of Dr Dee” by Benjamin Woolley (2001) and Glyn Parry’s “The Arch-Conjuror of England” (2011). Woolley’s book is a beautifully written and illustrated gallop through Dee’s life. Its focus is on Dee’s place in the esoteric tradition of science and magic, and tries to take its subject’s point of view with long accounts, drawn from Dee’s diaries, of his angelic actions. There is a useful chronology of Dee’s complicated, globe-trotting life too. Parry takes a more dispassionate view of Dee, to the point where he appears a little embarrassed by some of Dee’s pursuits. It is however meticulously researched and very strong on the workings of Elizabeth’s court, if a little dry at times, and Parry is very ready to disavow certain myths and legends surrounding his subject. Which is perhaps a shame!

Online and in book form there are lots of versions of Dee’s diaries and writing to be found. He has inspired generations of practitioners and researchers into the occult and the internet has opened up their work to the world. For good or ill, you decide.

Anyone interested in the period should turn to Keith Thomas’s classic “Religion and the Decline of Magic” for an overview of the esoteric hidden history of Early Modern England. Astrology, witchcraft and prophecies are all placed in their context of a country gripped by religious and political upheaval. “Elizabeth’s London” by Liza Picard is a brilliant depiction of everyday life in the late Tudor capital and there are many colourful biographies of Elizabeth herself from Anne Somerset and Alison Weir, amongst others. John Guy’s fantastic “Elizabeth: The Forgotten Years”, covering the second half of the queen’s reign, is just out and is highly recommended.

For something both informative and fun do check out The History of Alchemy podcast from Travis Dow and Pete Collman. Running since 2013 it covers every single major alchemist (including Dee and Kelley) as well as wider beliefs such as Hermeticism that influenced them.

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