My sincere thanks to Ian Rons for this insightful review…
The Complete Mystical Records of Dr. John Dee
edited by Kevin Klein
Llewellyn, 2 vol., pp. 1760
The “Enochian” records of Dr. John Dee are arguably the central pillar of modern British occultism, being at once a synthesis of older European magickal traditions within the framework of 16th century theology and English politics, and also an important underpinning (through the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn) for much of 20th century magickal practice on both a conceptual and a practical level. However, our actual knowledge of these spiritual records is not commensurate, to this day, with the degree of respect given to Enochian magick.
One might compare this position with that of the (admittedly much more concise) Book of Abramelin. Somewhat peripheral, but treated with almost equal respect, Mathers’ adequate rendition of Abramelin has existed to inspire young occultists for over a century; and whilst deficient in some ways, Dehn’s recent recension is certainly more than adequate to inform our understanding and praxis.
In contrast to this relatively sober and restrained publication history, Dee’s spiritual diaries have blundered around like a Falstaff on stage. Sensational and obscure, a 17th Century best-seller and an impenetrable effusion of high theology, prophecy and magick, they have appeared in various stages of undress, occasionally exiting being pursued by puritans and pedants. This has only increased the allure of these lost-and-rediscovered manuscripts that have, literally, survived the fire and the pit, and that have over the course of four centuries been figuratively hacked to pieces, reassembled in various guises, written about and argued over endlessly.
A deficit of clear knowledge of the original texts and a barely-restrained exuberance on the part of magicians has led – not only in recent years – to a glut of partial transcriptions of both primary and secondary sources that have sometimes better resembled the nightmare of a dyslexic stenographer than the records of the legendary 16th century polymath and accidental adventurer from which they derive, giving rise to a high degree of scepticism when it comes to any new publication in the field.
Klein’s publication ought to do away with this. This edition is far and away the finest transcript of Dee’s spiritual diaries in existence, and in many ways goes well beyond what is strictly necessary for all but the keenest student. All of the primary manuscripts have been transcribed and collated with the secondary manuscripts, with lacunæ graphically marked and (where possible) readings from secondary sources included without creating confusion between primary and secondary sources. Above all, Klein has shown respect for the primary material and has not attempted to introduce “novelties” or interpose himself between the reader and the text. That said, there is a wealth of appendices for the curious: indeed much more than I would think absolutely necessary.
It is my personal hope that this edition will mark a new era in the study of these fascinating documents, drawing a line under previous transcripts, particularly that of Casaubon, which informed – both directly and indirectly – the work of the Golden Dawn and Crowley. The sheer voluminousness and illegibility of Dee’s diaries has hitherto proved too high a bar for such study. Occasionally, even the location of the manuscripts in London has been in doubt, as attested to by Crowley:
“It was part of my plan for The Equinox to prepare a final edition of the work of Dr. Dee and Sir Edward Kelly. I had a good many of the data and promised myself to complete them by studying the manuscripts in the Bodleian Library at Oxford — which, incidentally, I did in the autumn – […]”
One has to admire the sheerly casual nature of the lie. It’s pure Crowley, of course. However, what’s more surprising is that the “Enochian” records have become a central tenet of Crowleyanity/Thelema (The Vision and the Voice), and also appear distinctly or indistinctly in other explicitly anti-Christian religions, to wit Satanism and Wicca.
This is at odds with John Dee, who began every “spirit action” with a prayer to God – the God of the Israelites, Jehovah – and to Jesus – for at least a few minutes before the vision appeared.
The attitude of most has been to utterly discount the context of the Reverend Doctor John Dee’s spiritual actions. But read them. And read about him.