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John Dee, Queen Elizabeth’s Gandalf who designed 007 – book review

John Dee: The Life and Legacy of the English Occultist, Alchemist, and Philosopher Who Became Queen Elizabeth I’s Spiritual Advisor by Charles River Editors

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


Ben Jonson’s alchemist Subtle in his famous Elizabethan play ‘The Alchemist’ is a knave quack intent upon doing a lucrative occult business by luring the gullible, rich or poor, learned or general. But John Dee, Queen Elizabeth I’s English-Welsh astrologer, was anything but. He was a highly educated man graduating from Cambridge University with a penchant for esoteric knowledge beyond the realm of the physical world, and brilliant engineering feat contributed to his epithet as the queen’s occultist to the eyes of those who regarded him as something of Rasputin in the queen’s retinue. To me, Dee was a curious figure of science and magic, fact and mystery dissolving into one another.

From the cradle to the grave, John Dee’s life appears to be starlit with mystical numbers and stars that govern his destiny to pursue the knowledge of the beyond. Born in the household of a well-to-do textile merchant on July 13th, 1527, Dee’s fate was already revealed in the combination of the lucky number 7 and the ominous 13. He was endowed with intellect and heart, which is not typical for an astute scholar with a high education degree. Also, an ingenious engineer in stage productions of plays, Dee created the modern-day equivalent of special effects employing a man-powered crane and other apparatuses used as a counterweight fly system. He was fascinated with the science behind mathematics and used it to know astrology and celestial navigation in understanding human lives. He chose the coronation date for Elizabeth when Jupiter juxtaposed alone with Venus, opposing Saturn, and conjecturing Mars. The astrological interpretation betrays the virgin queen’s reign with the beauty of the goddesses and the power of the god of gods. Methinks, Dee’s interpretation must have attributed to the queen’s famous Tilbury Address in which she described herself as possessing “the body of a weak, feeble woman but the heart and stomach of a king.” Furthermore, the famous secret code of “007” was an invention of Dee used between Dee and the queen meaning “For your eyes only” as in “00” as a symbol of eyes and “7” Dee’s favorite lucky number.

Dee had a bona fide intention to use his knowledge to benefit people of all classes. During his post as royal astrologer under Queen Mary’s reign, Dee proposed to the queen that she establish a national library accessible to all for the universal education of the minds. This revolutionary idea was unprecedented and rejected. Dee was a man of books and used his learning from reading for the welfare of England. He propelled England into the Age of Exploration. He legitimized the British expansion of territories, including America, to which, according to Dee’s certification, a Welsh prince sailed in 1170, which was three centuries before Columbus’ voyage. Patriotic stargazer elucidated further that it was Grate Britain’s destiny to gain all of the territories supposedly appropriated by King Arthur by coining the term “The British Empire.”

After the death of his beloved Queen Elizabeth, Dee dwindled in his career and fell into obscurity, not least because he lost favor with the successor King James I, the scourge of god against witchcraft and magic as deviltry. We don’t know whether he was secretly in league with the devil in his once magnificent personal library. The opinions on John Dee are still debatable, if not controversial. Some might say he was a would-be Merlin or Gandalf. Some might call him a Rasputin who tricked the virgin queen into believing superstitions with his mephistophelean pact for the souls to populate the circles of hell. I want to say Dee was akin to Atlas, one of the Titans who was also fascinated with astrology and astronomy and generous with munificent generosity in the form of divine fire to mortals, for which he was condemned to bear the weight of the celestial globe.



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