Occult London (Pocket Essential series)

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He chose 15 June and, from a position of shame and suspicion, Dee was now elevated to the role of 'intelligencer', an Elizabethan term describing 'a seeker of hidden knowledge, philosophical and scientific, as well as a spy'. For the next five years there is no historical record of Dee's activities although it is probable that he used this time in a study of the Cabbala, simply translated as 'tradition', which is the ancient form of Hebrew mysticism combining words and numbers to reveal the hidden language of God. In Dee published his most famous occult work, the Monas Hieroglyphica, in which he identifies the ultimate symbol of occult knowledge.

By the s, Dee had settled eight miles downstream of London in what was then the village of Mortlake. It was here, in his mother's cottage, that he set about establishing one of the largest libraries in Europe. Dee's Mortlake home gradually came to be perceived as a centre for magical activity.

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Many notable figures came to pay their respects to Dee and to witness his extraordinary collection of occult books and devices. Indeed, Queen Elizabeth herself is known to have visited Dee on at least two occasions and, in , Dee presented Elizabeth with his magnum opus, the four-volume General and Rare Memorials Pertaining to the Perfect Art of Navigation, described by Woolley as 'one of the earliest authoritative statements of the idea of a British Empire'. Whilst ignored at the time and overlooked ever since, Dee's geopolitical blockbuster has proved remarkably astute and his key prescription that an enlarged navy could provide England with the security to realise her imperial ambitions was, of course, to be proven accurate.

However, Dee's political concerns were soon to give way to the notorious occult practices by which he was to be remembered. For many years Dee had been attempting, unsuccessfully, to establish contact with the spirit world. But, in , Dee was to record his first successful contact using his speculum or 'scrying' mirror of polished obsidian now on display in the British Museum. A scryer was a spirit medium and Dee would often employ such figures on his behalf. It was his fateful meeting with such a figure, the forger and conman extraordinaire, Edward Kelley, in that allowed Dee's desire to commune with angels to be finally satisfied.

Kelley seems to have had Dee under his sway from the outset and Dee was soon persuaded of Kelley's unique ability as a medium. By the following year, Dee, Kelley and their entire families left Mortlake for the Continent, embarking on a bizarre six-year occult odyssey that would lead ultimately to their installation as alchemists at the court of the Holy Roman Empire Rudolf II in Prague.

Little is known about the purpose behind this visit and whether it was conducted primarily for occult or for political motives. But this period has since become the stuff of legend, as the credulous Dee and his unscrupulous sidekick crossed Europe in a series of unlikely episodes. Needless to say, this relationship ended badly and Dee returned to England in without Kelley, but not before Kelley had persuaded Dee of the magical necessity for him to sleep with his long-suffering wife.

As Frances Yates was to write, Dee's return to England marks the last and least happy period of his life: 'After Dee's activities abroad, he received no reward on his return home, and was never adequately rewarded for his outstanding contribution to the greatness of Elizabethan England. Semi-banishment, ill-success and poverty were to be his fate Aged 62, his friends dead, the court unrecognisable, he was now isolated and in poverty. He remained in London, determined to restore his fortunes, but this proved futile. Now a figure of mistrust, he was blamed by many Londoners for the outbreak of the plague in the early s.

Finally, in , he was appointed to the position of warden to Christ's College in Manchester, and he remained there in semi-exile for the next ten years before returning to London. He died there in and was buried in Mortlake. After his death, Dee's reputation moved swiftly downhill and he was largely dismissed from the official histories of the Elizabethan era.

However, as Woolley notes, 'the one place where Dee's reputation thrived was in the world of modern mysticism'. Indeed, Dee has since been cited as the founder of the Rosicrucian movement, was seen as the English Nostrodamus in the nineteenth century and was adopted by the Golden Dawn at the start of the twentieth. More recently, however, it was the publication of Frances Yates' The Occult Philosophy in the Elizabethan Age in that led to a reassessment of Dee's position in the light of Yates' argument that it was Dee's marriage of magic and science as a 'Christian Cabalist' that provided the dominant philosophy of the Elizabethan age.

Elsewhere, Dee lives on through a parallel existence in print and on film. If Yates returned Dee to his rightful position within Elizabethan history, however, he has today become emblematic of London history and has taken on an iconic role within London psychogeography.

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With his appealing blend of the occult and the political, allied to his work as a cartographer, Dee appears to satisfy many of the requirements of contemporary psychogeography and its search for lines of resonance through London's occult past. Indeed, one may ask whether Dee is not in fact the first psychogeographer. Through Dee, Mortlake has become a stop on the psychogeographical London circuit and Iain Sinclair has placed Dee within a visionary London tradition: 'Blake at Lambeth, Dee at Mortlake, Pope at Twickenham, Ballard at Shepperton: the great British tradition of expulsion, indifference.

The creation of alternate universes that wrap like Russian dolls around a clapped-out core. Today Dee's influence extends beyond his London home and he appears to have become caught up in a psychogeographical tug of war, as Manchester, no doubt eager to supplement its more modest occult history, seeks to claim him for its own.

In , the Manchester Area Psychogeographic gathered to celebrate the th anniversary of Dee's exile to Manchester, ambitiously proclaiming their intention to levitate the Corn Exchange. Dee and Manchester form a focal point in the invention and realization of everything we have to live through and deal with: mechanization, post-industrialisation, the simulacra of "nationhood" and "the state".

To enter Dee's world of Jacobean Manchester can initiate a deconstruction of now. Of course, the final word must go to London, Dee's home for most of his life. The London Psychogeographical Association, in their largely overlooked piece, 'Nazi Occultists Seize Omphalos', return Dee to his rightful position at the centre of the city and the British Empire that he did so much to inaugurate:. Many people believe that Greenwich is in fact the Omphalos — or spiritual centre — of the British Empire. However, those with a deeper understanding of Feng Shui, the ancient Chinese art of land divination, will recognise that the actual Omphalos must be on the Isle of Dogs, protected by water on all sides.

Those who visit the Mudchute — a piece of park mysteriously built as an exact replica of an ancient hill fort — will find a special staircase leading to a cobbled circle.


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This is the Omphalos, the spiritual centre, where the Magus John Dee conjured up the British Empire in the presence of Christopher Marlowe, four hundred years ago this year. However, using the leyline for such evil purposes necessitated the sacrifice of a human life. A psychic attack on Christopher Marlowe and his friends in a Deptford pub led to a brawl in which the famous playwright died. In terms of his occult reputation, Dr Simon Forman is something of a poor relation to Dr Dee and has received little of the posthumous fame accorded to his sometime rival.

Although the two men inhabited the same city for much of the latter part of Elizabeth's reign, it appears that their lives in no way intersected. Enter your mobile number or email address below and we'll send you a link to download the free Kindle App. Then you can start reading Kindle books on your smartphone, tablet, or computer - no Kindle device required. To get the free app, enter your mobile phone number. Would you like to tell us about a lower price? Read more Read less. Kindle Cloud Reader Read instantly in your browser.

Editorial Reviews Review "Coverley's approach is an enlightening one. Covering an astounding amount of material, both well known and cult writers feature with equal prominence.

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Merlin Coverley is the author of London Writing and Psychogeography. Not Enabled. Share your thoughts with other customers. Write a customer review. Showing of 3 reviews. Top Reviews Most recent Top Reviews. There was a problem filtering reviews right now. Please try again later. Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase.

This is a badly written book, which is misleadingly named. Not what you want if you're planning on visiting London and want to know about landmarks and such. Not essential to anyone's pocket. I cannot do better on this one. I had wanted some specific information for a future trip to London. Instead this is a cursory and sketchy outline of sone famous occult personages and happenings. Sketchy because for example, Dion Fortune is not even mentioned. Clearly the author did not spend much time on research, as his mistakes are easily checked online.

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I would have liked much more detail as to the neighborhoods mentioned, and what places if any are still in existence. See all 3 reviews.

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