John Dee had an unwanted and unwarranted reputation as a wizard

[John Dee had an unwanted and unwarranted reputation as a wizard.]

“While scholars would systematically soil Dee’s memory over the coming centuries, he became an underground legend—the archetypal cartoon image we inherit of the “wizard,” wearing a pointy hat and robe and wielding a crystal ball, is a survival of folk images of Dee. The eminent historian Francis Yates suggests that Dee’s actions on the Continent and writings are responsible for the Rosicrucian occult revolution in Europe that formed the cradle of the Enlightenment and modern science—and that, in a sense, Dee tricked Europe into having a scientific revolution. The Enochian scholar Stephen Skinner suggests a secret tradition in British high society kept the angelic magic alive—and Dee’s papers in the British Library are well documented as the catalyzing information behind the 19th and 20th century occult revival.”

/ Jason Louv / 2 am Thu, Feb 19 2015

In some minds John Dee is less of an historical

[In some minds John Dee is less of an historical figure than he should be. His “esoteric practices” affected his reputation and legacy. In our own times, we try to re-assesss and rehabilitate him by understanding his influence and his times.]

“Historiographically, Dee’s Protean interests have proved no easier to classify than his spectra of the mathematical arts. Dee’s esoteric pursuits were well known to his contemporary detractors, and continue to occupy the popular imagination today, yet the academy has struggled to reconcile his natural philosophical interests with those apparently antithetical to modern conceptions of science. In the absence of any single, outstanding contribution to support his inclusion in canonical histories of the Scientific Revolution, for much of the twentieth century Dee remained a marginal figure in broader histories of science.

His re-engineering as a hermetic magus in the 1960s and 70s offered a new narrative, in which Dee became the case study par excellence for the influence of Neoplatonic currents on sixteenth- and seventeenth-century developments in astronomy and natural philosophy.”

Jennifer M. Rampling, John Dee and the sciences: early modern networks of knowledge, Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part A, Volume 43, Issue 3, September 2012, Pages 432-436, ISSN 0039-3681,


John Dee and his similarity with (and difference from) Faust

[John Dee and his similarity with (and difference from) Faust]

John Dee: Interdisciplinary Studies in English Renaissance Thought (2006).
Volume 193 of the series International Archives of the History of Ideas/Archives internationales d’histoire des idées pp 207-229
Contexts for John Dee’s Angel Magic

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Nitric acid was known in alchemical days as aqua fortis….

[Nitric acid was known in alchemical days as aqua fortis. It could dissolve almost anything but gold, which in the last quote is referred to as “Sun” or (elsewhere) “Sol,” reflecting its astrological counterpart. First are some Wikipedia entries on aqua fortis:]

“In alchemy, aqua fortis (Latin for “strong water”) is nitric acid (HNO3). Being highly corrosive, the solution was used in alchemy for dissolving silver and most other metals with the notable exception of gold, which can be dissolved using aqua regia or “regal water”. Aqua fortis was prepared by mixing either sand, alum, or vitriol, or the last two together, with saltpeter, then distilling it by a hot fire. The gas collected from this condenses into aqua fortis. It was first described by alchemist Pseudo-Geber.

Aqua fortis was useful to refiners for parting or separating silver from gold and copper; to the workers in mosaic for staining and coloring their woods; to other artists for coloring of bone and ivory, which is done by tinging the items with copper or verdigris, then soaking in aqua fortis. Some also turn it into aqua regia, by dissolving in a quarter of its weight of sal ammoniac, and then use this to stain ivory and bone, of a fine purple color. Bookbinders also put it on leather, making fine marble covers for books. Diamond cutters used it to separate diamonds from metalline powders. It was also used in etching copper or brass plates. It was mixed with oil of vitriol and used to stain canes to appear like a tortoise shell by applying several coats while the cane is over hot coals. The canes were then given a gloss with a little soft wax and a dry cloth.”
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“The first mention of nitric acid is in Pseudo-Geber’s De Inventione Veritatis, wherein it is obtained by calcining a mixture of niter, alum and blue vitriol. It was again described by Albert the Great in the 13th century and by Ramon Lull, who prepared it by heating niter and clay and called it “eau forte” (aqua fortis).

Glauber devised a process to obtain it by distillate potassium nitrate with sulfuric acid. In 1776 Lavoisier showed that it contained oxygen, and in 1785 Henry Cavendish determined its precise composition and showed that it could be synthesized by passing a stream of electric sparks through moist air.”
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[Instructions for working with Nitric acid (aqua fortis):]

Treatise on Metallic Medicine by Joseph Du Chesne

Paris, 1641

“Reduce the Sun in Mercury and calcine it with common aqua fortis, extracting the water and pouring it back three times on the feces. To finish this work properly, put the feces in a crucible on live coal till they turn all red and do not smoke any longer. Then your gold is perfectly calcined or precipitated, and all you have to do is wash it several times with dew water. When this gold lime has been thus prepared, put it in a vessel and pour over it 4 times as much good brandy. Cohobate 7 times in B. M., the last time with a small ash-fire, after which your Sun, at the bottom, will be turned into as fine a liquid as the others, and even more subtle.”
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Constellations and zodiac signs, by Francesco Botticini

Northern constellations and zodiac signs, by Francesco Botticini in Matteo Palmieri's Città di Vita. 15th century.
Northern constellations and zodiac signs, by Francesco Botticini in Matteo Palmieri’s Città di Vita. 15th century.
From Wikipedia:

“Francesco di Giovanni Botticini (1446 – July 22, 1497) was an Italian Early Renaissance painter who studied under Cosimo Rosselli and Andrea del Verrocchio. He was born in Florence in 1446 and is mostly known for his painting “Assumption of the Virgin” in the National Gallery, London showing the angelic hierarchy.

He established a workshop after a brief period as Neri di Bicci’s assistant which became renowned for its decorative works, a few of which can be seen in the cloistered church of Empoli. His son Raffaello Botticini became his first assistant, and later successor at the helm of his father’s workshop. Some of Botticini’s works are said to be overshadowed by his Florentine contemporaries, such as Filippino Lippi and Botticelli, who often influenced Botticini’s works. He died in Florence.”

[The image is of a miniature by Francesco Botticini in Florentine humanist Matteo Palmieri’s heretical three-book poem, Città di Vita, written in the mid 15th century, but printed posthumously, in 1528 (after which his remains were dug up and removed from the church they were interred in).]

Moses and the Burning Bush

[Thousands of years ago, watching the sheep, somewhere in or near the Sinai peninsula, Moses hears God calling out to Moses from a burning bush. God tells Moses to go and get the people of Israel out of Egypt and take them to the promised land. In trying to find a mundane explanation for this, and riveted by the mention of Acacia, which potentially possesses vividly psychoactive DMT, some have speculated that Moses got stoned and consequently saw God (or did God get stoned and see Moses?). Following is the actual passage from the Bible (Exodus 3:1….)]

Exodus 3:1-4:17. Douay-Rheims 1899 American Edition (DRA)

3 Now Moses fed the sheep of Jethro his father in law, the priest of Madian: and he drove the flock to the inner parts of the desert, and came to the mountain of God, Horeb.

2 And the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush: and he saw that the bush was on fire and was not burnt.

3 And Moses said: I will go and see this great sight, why the bush is not burnt.

4 And when the Lord saw that he went forward to see, he called to him out of the midst of the bush, and said: Moses, Moses. And he answered: Here I am.

5 And he said: Come not nigh hither, put off the shoes from thy feet: for the place whereon thou standest is holy ground.

6 And he said: I am the God of thy father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. Moses hid his face: for he durst not look at God.

7 And the Lord said to him: I have seen the affliction of my people in Egypt, and I have heard their cry because of the rigour of them that are over the works:

8 And knowing their sorrow, I am come down to deliver them out of the hands of the Egyptians, and to bring them out of that land into a good and spacious land, into a land that floweth with milk and honey, to the places of the Chanaanite, and Hethite, and Amorrhite, and Pherezite, and Hevite, and Jebusite.

9 For the cry of the children of Israel is come unto me: and I have seen their affliction, wherewith they are oppressed by the Egyptians.

10 But come, and I will send thee to Pharao, that thou mayst bring forth my people, the children of Israel out of Egypt.

11 And Moses said to God: Who am I that I should go to Pharao, and should bring forth the children of Israel out of Egypt?

12 And he said to him: I will be with thee: and this thou shalt have for a sign, that I have sent thee: When thou shalt have brought my people out of Egypt, thou shalt offer sacrifice to God upon this mountain.

13 Moses said to God: Lo, I shall go to the children of Israel, and say to them: The God of your fathers hath sent me to you. If they should say to me: What is his name? what shall I say to them?

14 God said to Moses: I AM WHO AM. He said: Thus shalt thou say to the children of Israel: HE WHO IS, hath sent me to you.

15 And God said again to Moses: Thus shalt thou say to the children of Israel: The Lord God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, hath sent me to you: This is my name for ever, and this is my memorial unto all generations.

16 Go, gather together the ancients of Israel, and thou shalt say to them: The Lord God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, hath appeared to me, saying: Visiting I have visited you: and I have seen all that hath befallen you in Egypt.

17 And I have said the word to bring you forth out of the affliction of Egypt, into the land of the Chanaanite, the Hethite, and the Amorrhite, and Pherezite, and Hevite, and Jebusite, to a land that floweth with milk and honey.

18 And they shall hear thy voice: and thou shalt go in, thou and the ancients of Israel, to the king of Egypt, and thou shalt say to him: The Lord God of the Hebrews hath called us: we will go three days’ journey into the wilderness, to sacrifice unto the Lord our God.

19 But I know that the king of Egypt will not let you go, but by a mighty hand.

20 For I will stretch forth my hand and will strike Egypt with all my wonders which I will do in the midst of them: after these he will let you go.

21 And I will give favour to this people, in the sight of the Egyptians: and when you go forth, you shall not depart empty:

22 But every woman shall ask of her neighbour, and of her that is in her house, vessels of silver and of gold, and raiment: and you shall put them on your sons and daughters, and shall spoil Egypt.

4 Moses answered and said: They will not believe me, nor hear my voice, but they will say: The Lord hath not appeared to thee.

2 Then he said to him: What is that thou holdest in thy hand? He answered: A rod.

3 And the Lord said: Cast it down upon the ground. He cast it down, and it was turned into a serpent: so that Moses fled from it.

4 And the Lord said: Put out thy hand and take it by the tail. He put forth his hand, and took hold of it, and it was turned into a rod.

5 That they may believe, saith he, that the Lord God of their fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, hath appeared to thee.

6 And the Lord said again: Put thy hand into thy bosom. And when he had put it into his bosom, he brought it forth leprous as snow.

7 And he said: Put back thy hand into thy bosom. He put it back, and brought it out again, and it was like the other flesh.

8 If they will not believe thee, saith he, nor hear the voice of the former sign, they will believe the word of the latter sign.

9 But if they will not even believe these two signs, nor hear thy voice: take of the river water, and pour it out upon the dry land, and whatsoever thou drawest out of the river shall be turned into blood.

10 Moses said: I beseech thee, Lord. I am not eloquent from yesterday and the day before: and since thou hast spoken to thy servant, I have more impediment and slowness of tongue.

11 The Lord said to him: Who made man’s mouth? or who made the dumb and the deaf, the seeing and the blind? did not I?

12 Go therefore and I will be in thy mouth: and I will teach thee what thou shalt speak.

13 But he said: I beseech thee, Lord send whom thou wilt send.

14 The Lord being angry at Moses, said Aaron the Levite is thy brother, I know that he is eloquent: behold he cometh forth to meet thee, and seeing thee shall be glad at heart.

15 Speak to him, and put my words in his mouth: and I will be in thy mouth, and in his mouth, and will shew you what you must do.

16 He shall speak in thy stead to the people, and shall be thy mouth: but thou shalt be to him in those things that pertain to God.

17 And take this rod in thy hand, wherewith thou shalt do the signs.
Douay-Rheims 1899 American Edition (DRA)

[Seeking “rational” and alternative explanations for events in the Bible can either support or discredit literal understandings of the Bible. It’s all part of trying to make sense of it – to challenge existing beliefs, and to reach new perspectives. Examining one’s faith is a consequence of seeking knowledge, with the ever-present danger that one will consequently lose that faith. Presumably that happened to Faust. Looking for evidence of drug use in the Bible is a phenomenon of our modern-day drug culture which – evolving out of a culture of prohibition and denial – realizes the potency of drug experiences, and imagines how it might have shaped a religion.]

Flying ointment, also known as witches’ flying ointment, green ointment, magic salve and lycanthropic ointment

“Flying ointment, also known as witches’ flying ointment, green ointment, magic salve and lycanthropic ointment, is a hallucinogenic ointment said to be used by witches in the Early Modern period (first described by Alice Kyteler in 1324).”

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[But did anybody really use this stuff? Or was is just fable? The ingredients sound plausible. We don’t suppose anybody thought they bodily flew to a witch’s sabbath (ie. returning with souvenirs) but entered into an intoxicated mental state, in which they communed, transformed, and visited. Perhaps we err in stressing the “flying” aspect?]

‘Decoctions of hallucinogenic plants such as henbane, belladonna, mandrake, datura, and other plants of the Solanaceae family were central to European witchcraft. All of these plants contain hallucinogenic alkaloids of the tropane family, including hyoscyamine, scopolamine, and atropine—the last of which is unusual in that it can be absorbed through the skin. These concoctions are described in the literature variously as brews, salves, ointments, philtres, oils, and unguents. Ointments were mainly applied by rubbing on the skin, especially in sensitive areas—underarms, the pubic region, the forehead, the mucous membranes of the vagina and anus, or on areas rubbed raw ahead of time. They were often first applied to a “vehicle” to be “ridden” (an object such as a broom, pitchfork, basket, or animal skin that was rubbed against sensitive skin). All of these concoctions were made and used for the purpose of giving the witch special abilities to commune with spirits, transform into animals (lycanthropy), gain love, harm enemies, experience euphoria and sexual pleasure, and—importantly—to “fly to the witches’ Sabbath”.’

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Figure: Witches flying to the Sabbath

Also from Wikipedia:

‘The ointment contains a fatty base and various herbal extracts, usually including solanaceous herbs that contain the alkaloids atropine, hyoscyamine and scopolamine. The herbs’ essential oils are extracted when heated in the base. These oils are poisonous when ingested; when applied to the skin, the alkaloids are absorbed more slowly into the body. Typical ingredients in alleged recipes include hemlock (Conium spp.), deadly nightshade (Atropa belladonna), wolfsbane (Aconitum spp.), and henbane (Hyoscyamus niger), usually in a base of animal fat.

It was said that witches were able to fly to the Sabbath on their brooms with help of the ointment.”


“The interaction between belladonna and poppy was made use of in the so-called “twilight sleep” that was provided for women during childbirth beginning in the Edwardian era. Twilight sleep was a mixture of scopolamine, a belladonna alkaloid, and morphine, a Papaver alkaloid, that was injected and which furnished a combination of painkilling and amnesia for a woman in labor.

There is no definite indication of the proportions of solanaceous herbs vs. poppy used in flying ointments, and most historical recipes for flying ointment do not include poppy.’

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“In the past, witches were believed to use a mixture of belladonna, opium poppy and other plants, typically poisonous (such as monkshood and poison hemlock), in flying ointment, which they applied to help them fly to gatherings with other witches. Carlo Ginzburg and others have argued that flying ointments were preparations meant to encourage hallucinatory dreaming; a possible explanation for the inclusion of belladonna and opium poppy in flying ointments concerns the known antagonism between tropane alkaloids of belladonna (to be specific, scopolamine) and opiate alkaloids in the opium poppy, Papaver somniferum (to be specific, morphine), which produces a dream-like waking state. This antagonism was known in folk medicine, discussed in eclectic (botanical) medicine formularies, and posited as the explanation of how flying ointments might have actually worked in contemporary writing on witchcraft. The antagonism between opiates and tropanes is the original basis of the twilight sleep that was provided to Queen Victoria to deaden pain as well as consciousness during childbirth, and that was later modified, and so isolated alkaloids were used instead of plant materials. The belladonna herb was also notable for its unpredictable effects from toxicity.”

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Attitudes change….attitudes toward drinking

[Attitudes change. Post-temperance movement we may be more inclined to view drinking harshly. Similarly, our attitude to other drugs have changed over time and are still changing. In considering other cultures and times, we can try to be careful about applying our own prejudices and expectations, but it remains difficult to imagine the unimaginable.]


‘During the early modern period (1500–1800), Protestant leaders such as Martin Luther, John Calvin, the leaders of the Anglican Church, and even the Puritans did not differ substantially from the teachings of the Catholic Church: alcohol was a gift of God and created to be used in moderation for pleasure, enjoyment and health; drunkenness was viewed as a sin (see Christianity and alcohol).

From this period through at least the beginning of the 18th century, attitudes toward drinking were characterized by a continued recognition of the positive nature of moderate consumption and an increased concern over the negative effects of drunkenness. The latter, which was generally viewed as arising out of the increased self-indulgence of the time, was seen as a threat to spiritual salvation and societal well being. Intoxication was also inconsistent with the emerging emphasis on rational mastery of self and world and on work and efficiency.

In spite of the ideal of moderation, consumption of alcohol was often high. In the 16th century, alcohol beverage consumption reached 100 liters per person per year in Valladolid, Spain, and Polish peasants consumed up to three liters of beer per day. In Coventry, England, the average amount of beer and ale consumed was about 17 pints per person per week, compared to about three pints today; nationwide, consumption was about one pint per day per capita. Swedish beer consumption may have been 40 times higher than in modern Sweden. English sailors received a ration of a gallon of beer per day, while soldiers received two-thirds of a gallon. In Denmark, the usual consumption of beer appears to have been a gallon per day for adult laborers and sailors.

It is important to note that modern beer is much stronger than the beers of the past. While current beers are 3-5% alcohol, the beer drunk in the historical past was generally 1% or so. This was known as ‘small beer’ and was drunk instead of water which, unboiled, was prone to carrying disease.

However, the production and distribution of spirits spread slowly. Spirit drinking was still largely for medicinal purposes throughout most of the 16th century. It has been said of distilled alcohol that “the sixteenth century created it; the seventeenth century consolidated it; the eighteenth popularized it.”‘

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Rather than drinking the water…small beer contains very little alcohol

[Rather than drinking the water, people – including children – in past times preferred an alcoholic drink. But that does not mean they drank excessively. Drunkenness became more of a problem with the introduction of distilled drinks such as whiskey after the fifteenth century.]

“Small beer (also, small ale) is a beer/ale that contains very little alcohol. Sometimes unfiltered and porridge-like, it was a favoured drink in Medieval Europe and colonial North America as against the more expensive beer with higher alcohol. Small beer was also produced in households for consumption by children and servants.”

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“Small beer was likely consumed when fresh water was not easily available. It was not uncommon for workers (including sailors) who engaged in heavy physical labor to drink more than 10 imperial pints (5.7 litres) of small beer during a workday to slake their thirst. Small beer was also drunk because it contained precious calories, and might even have bits of wheat or bread suspended in the drink.”

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The Romantic period in England was toward the end of the Eighteenth century

[The Romantic period in England was toward the end of the Eighteenth century – three hundred years after Faust and two hundred after the first known manuscript and Marlowe’s 1590-ish rendition of the tale. But those early years were the beginnings of it. Marlowe’s time was England’s “Age of Discovery” when they explored the Earth. They also sought after God, expecting to find Him in through Christian devotion and in His workings on the Earth and in the heavens.

Today we also look for God internally, but through unorthodox spiritual exploration, including through drug use, which when used for that purpose, we call entheogens – a very recent term. In Faust’s time, God was to be found through Christianity and they didn’t possess entheogens like opium, nor would they necessarily expect to find Him that way.

The Faustian creatures that sought knowledge through drug use were of later years. In fact, while the Romantic period was the beginning of that, our own age is the continuation of it. Today people scour the world and the pharmacopeia looking for more drugs… and more drugs… and more…. It seems a strange and frankly unlikely way to find God from history’s perspective.

Anyway, the Romantic period was the start of our own Age of Discovery into the workings of the mind – or is it the brain? While Faust turned to magic, would Faust be a drug user today? ]

From Wikipedia:

“The Romantic era in Britain was not only a time of growth for literature and poetry, but also a time of increased opium use. Interspersed among importation of opium from the Middle and Far East countries, Britain produced a meager amount itself and utilized it, at least initially, as a medicine and also an ingredient in patent medicines to treat a variety of pains and diseases. Given opium’s euphoric and psychologically reinforcing properties, users eventually began using it for recreation instead of healing purposes. Its hypothesized effects on visions and the subsequent products of the Romantic poets who used opium have been met by many theories, but three milestone literary criticisms about opium usually emerge–M. H. Abrams’ claim that opium opened up a creative channel, Elisabeth Schneider’s argument that opium did not inspire visions, but only a day-dream like trance, and Alethea Hayter’s position that opium’s influences were a combination of the previous two claims.”

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“Dr. Charles Alston was the first person in Britain to create opium in the 1730s. In one of his papers he describes the biology or botany of the poppy plant, how he created opium, and the experiments he conducted on animals. One section of his paper describes how opium was believed to treat pain, cause sleep, increase perspiration, raise the spirits, and relax the muscles. With these things in mind, it was recommended for pain and any sort of irritation to the nerves or motions of spirits. Opium became a popular “aspirin-like” product of the early nineteenth century. George Crabbe was prescribed opium in 1790 to relieve pain, and he continued to use it for the rest of his life. At the time of George Crabbe’s first prescription, the East India Company began hiring Indian Villages to cultivate large quantities of opium. Medicinally, it had been used as a reliable cure since the beginning of the medical field. William Cullen and John Brown, two well-known physicians at the time, claimed it cured things such as typhus, cancer, cholera, rheumatism, smallpox, malaria, venereal disease, hysteria, and gout in the eighteenth century. However, some individuals recognized the dangers that opium held. Some wrote into newspapers, such as The Times, and emphasized the dangers of giving a child medication such as the “Syrup of Poppies” or other patent medications, which contained an unspecified amount of opium known to be dangerous to give to infants. A deeper medical analysis revealed that opium created and uplifted spirit and happy disposition, which was then followed by symptoms of a very opposite effect which includes the mind “becoming gradually dull and languid, the body averse to motion, little affected by customary impressions, and inclined to sleep.” Following a larger dose, “all these symptoms continue to increase; and tremors, convulsions, vertigo, stupor, insensibility, and deprivation of muscular action appear.” Regardless of the mixed reviews in the public sphere, during the time of increasing imports and the unconcern of doctors (especially demonstrated by certain journals documenting how to cultivate the poppy plant and create opium), there were more hard drugs in England than any time before or any time that followed. Eventually, the drug moved beyond medicinal use as its imaginative powers attracted attention—the descriptions accompanying the effects of opium moved from drowsy effects to those of its power over the imagination and thought process. This was especially true within the circle of Romantic poets, specifically Samuel Taylor Coleridge and Thomas De Quincey, who suffered from addiction to opium.”

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