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Born in 1527 AD, John Dee typified the Renaissance intellectual. He was a noted astronomer as well as court astrologer (and occasionally spy) to Queen Elizabeth I, a noted mathematician who wrote a preface to the English edition of Euclid’s Elements of Geometrie, an innovator of navigational aids which helped enable the British exploration of the Americas, and a founding fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge. John Dee was also an avid Hermetic magician.
It was Dee’s wish to “aspire to an exploration and understanding of the supracelestial virtues and metaphysical influences.” (French, p. 65) In order to do so, he would, in his opinion, have to become like the biblical patriarch Enoch, and converse with the holy angels themselves. In the year 1581, as mentioned in his diary, he had been troubled by unknown knockings in the night as well as odd and disturbing dreams. Whatever the reasons for these disturbances, Dee believed that it was time for his magical workings to include a skryer – a medium able to see, hear, and/or converse with spirits. After being unimpressed by the work of a skryer known as Barnabas Saul, Dee eventually came into contact with a man who would become the key to unlocking some of the most bizarre mystical workings Dee would ever be privy to. His name was Edward Kelley.
Kelley was approximately twenty-seven years old, and had been wandering around England selling supposedly magical elixirs and alchemical concoctions. He had previously been an undergraduate at Oxford, but was summarily dismissed for unknown reasons. His Latin was good enough to travel around Europe and converse with others in Dee’s circle of intelligentsia, but was well known for regular grammatical mistakes. Little did Kelley or Dee know, upon first meeting, that the two of them would be close compatriots and partners in occult rituals for the next seven years.
On the first recorded skrying session, not only did Dee and Kelley supposedly make contact with the archangel Uriel, but a magical sigil was revealed along with instructions dictating the construction of a magical pantacle known as the Sigillum Dei Aemeth, which was to be used in further sessions. John Dee had found his medium. Over the following two years, Dee and Kelley would regularly perform rituals and seances in order to communicate with Uriel and other spirits, whom the ever-so-pious Dee believed were angels. A series of magical squares were dictated through Kelley, revealing new angelic names and symbols to be employed in the practice of the astrological magic of the “7 Holy Planets”. This series of sessions yielded what Dee would deem De Heptarchia Mystica, or the Heptarchic system of magic. The construction of various occult instruments, mostly tablets, were dictated during this period, as well as a system constructed for employing the powers of forty-nine angels (note: 7 X 7) for various tasks. The names of the angels in question, which were each constructed out of seven letters, were received through a rather complicated system of decoding a cross-shaped table with 343 squares broken up into seven smaller tables, further divided into grids consisting of forty-nine squares each. This was supposedly dictated to the magicians by the archangel Michael during an obviously tedious three-hour session.
The year 1583 would set a new precedent in the lives of the two occultists, for it was at that time that further seances would begin, but this time yielding something that has baffled scholars for over four hundred years. Starting in March, Kelley had a vision of a book whose leaves needed to be filled, and over the next thirteen months, they were to be filled with what was to be deemed the angelic language, or Enochian, as it is referred to today. Twenty-one specific letters were first dictated, each with its own particular name and phonetic value, and over time, and entire language was either created or dictated, depending upon one’s point of view.
The magicians were told by the angels that the language and magical system being dictated o them was indeed the same taught by God to Enoch (the seventh man from Adam) thousands of years before. God had supposedly purposefully let this wisdom slip away from he world for generation upon generation, specifically after “wicked hands” had gained access to “the Book”, but John Dee’s fervent prayers and piety had supposedly moved the heart of God to once again share this wisdom with mankind.
Although the characters of the language are to be written right to left, like most Semitic languages, the grammar of Enochian tends to follow a relatively English format, containing identifiable pronouns, but lacking any particular verb declension or conjugation.
The so-called “Calls” of Enochian appear to be the centerpiece of the entire linguistic magical system. They are simultaneously hymns of devotion as well as invocations to the various “holy” powers that control and manipulate the universe. The first four of these calls were dictated to Dee and Kelley in a somewhat painstaking manner. The angels had voiced fears that the calls wee too powerful to be read aloud, and therefore had to be read letter by letter in backwards order. Shortly afterwards, the angels gave the translation of the text that had been dictated. Eventually, the angels, as well as Dee and Kelley, grew tired of this method, and began dictating the remaining calls (five through eighteen) in a straightforward manner, although they would wait six weeks before translating these latter calls.
“The East is a house of virgins singing praises amongst the flames of first glory wherein the Lord hath opened his mouth and they are become 28 living dwellings in whom the strength of man rejoiceth, and they are appareled with ornaments of brightness such as work wonders on all creatures. Whose Kingdoms and continuance are as the third and fourth strong towers and places of comfort, the seats of mercy and continuance. O you Servants of Mercy, Move, Appear, sing praises unto the Creator and be mighty amongst us. For to this remembrance is given power and our strength waxeth strong in our Comforter.” – English translation of the Seventh Call, found in Enochian Vision Magick, by Lon Milo DuQuette
It should be mentioned, specifically, that the Enochian language contains its own grammar and syntax, and is not merely a string of barbarous names and/or glossalalia. The word meanings found in each call are entirely consistent with one another, which is remarkable in its own right, considering that the first four of these calls were dictated backwards, letter by letter. If the language was indeed created by either Dee or Kelley, and not dictated to them by the angels in question, this would have been a remarkable feat of mental gymnastics for even the most disciplined of minds.
Mounting tensions between Dee and Kelley eventually reached a fever pitch, however. At the behest of the angels, the pair and their families had been wandering the European continent, eventually settling for a time in Krakow, Poland. Kelley was becoming more and more distrustful of the angels, whilst Dee still wished to regularly contact them, sometimes having to bribe and/or threaten Kelley to work with him. Their magical seances were somewhat regularly disturbed by what they would deem “evil spirits”, who attempted to coerce the two into abandoning the project in question, and even the angels themselves told the two magicians that they had to complete the séance sessions by August. Conveniently, the final key to the Enochian magical system, the reception of the names of the thirty “Aethyrs”, occurred on Dee’s fifty-seventh birthday, July 13th, 1584. Shortly afterwards, the angels fell silent, and Dee and Kelley were not to communicate with them again, and almost entirely cease to mention (in their diaries, anyway) the systems of angelic magic that they had been privy to. Dee and Kelley were to eventually drift apart, Dee returning to England, and Kelley wandering the continent selling his services as an alchemist yet again.
Lon Milo DuQuette, Enochian Vision Magick: An Introduction and Practical Guide to the Magick of Dr. John Dee and Edward Kelley. San Francisco: Red Wheel/Weiser, 2008.
Peter J. French, John Dee: The World of an Elizabethan Magus. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1972.
Donald C. Laycock, The Complete Enochian Dictionary: A Dictionary of the Angelic Language as Revealed to Dr. John Dee and Edward Kelley. San Francisco: Red Wheel/Weiser, 2001.