Saturday, May 2, 2009

10 Books A Day: #13

John Dee: The World Of An Elizabethan Magus...Peter French...Dorset

John Dee: Essential Readings...Selected by Gerald Suster...Crucible

The Queen's Conjurer...Benjamin Woolley...Henry Holt and Company

The Art Of Memory...Frances Yates...University Of Chicago Press

Giordano Bruno And The Hermetic Tradition...Frances Yates...University Of Chicago Press

Paracelsus: Selected Writings...ed. Jolande Jacobi...Princeton University Press

The Gnostic Bentley Layton...ABRL Doubleday

The Druids...Stuart Piggott...Thames and Hudson

Magi: The Quest For A Secret Tradition...Adrian G. Gilbert...Bloomsbury

The Quest For Merlin...Nikolai Tolstoy...Little, Brown

Merlin...Norma Lorre Goodrich...HarperCollins

Merlin: The Prophet And His History...Geoffrey Ashe...Sutton Publishing

Ghosts: True Encounters With The World Beyond...Hans Holzer...Black Dog & Leventhal

The Encyclopedia Of Ghosts...Daniel Cohen...Dodd Mead

The Encyclopedia Of Monsters...Daniel Cohen...Dodd Mead

The Complete Guide To Mysterious Beings...John Keel...Doubleday

Cryptozoology A To Z...Loren Coleman & Jerome Clark...Fireside/Simon & Schuster

The Goblin Universe...Ted Holiday...Llewellyn

The Occult: A History...Colin Wilson...Vintage

The first half of today's list could very well be subtitled "The History Of Magic"; then it sort of shades into Fortean subjects, winding up with Colin Wilson's book,which is a perfect balance of the two.

Dr. John Dee (1527-1608) has been poorly treated by history for many years. For a long time either despised as a necromancer or pitied as the credulous dupe of Edward Kelly, some of the dirt that has accrued to his portrait has been cleared away and more arresting details of his life have come to the fore. He was one of the most learned scholars of his time: as an historian he first coined the term "Great Britain"; as a mathematician (at a time when that was virtually equivalent in the popular mind with the Black Arts) he was an expert on codes, and it is believed he might even have acted for Sir Francis Walsingham as a spy abroad under cover of his alchemical pursuits; as an astrologer he chose the most propitious day for Queen Elizabeth's coronation (and although it rained that day, the glory of her reign makes one wonder if he chose the right day, at that). Although he acted as Elizabeth's occasional counselor, he was in danger of burning both in the time of Catholic Mary and later under Scotch James, and when he died his house was looted and his library (one of the greatest private ones at the time, and containing much that had been salvaged from the dissolution of the monasteries) was raided and trashed. His "magic" was astrological and alchemical (disciplines undifferentiated at the time from astronomy and physics), and the invocation of angels through the practice of "scrying". It was through his efforts at scrying that he met Edward Kelly, who by degrees conned Dee until the "angels" suggested the swapping of wives; they parted ways soon thereafter. It was for these antics that Dee was remembered long afterward in gossipy accounts such as John Aubrey's; it is only after the researches of Dame Frances Yates that his associations with Elizabeth, Sir Philip Sidney, Drake, and Raleigh are recalled. But Dee may have made a more indelible image in popular culture after all; the character Prospero in Shakespeare's The Tempest is said to be based on Dee, and through this play the archetypal image of the wizard and magician influences all others after it in English literature.

Lot of good names from the field of the Weird Sciences here. Holzer, Cohen, Keel, Coleman, and Wilson have all published multiple volumes on outre and fringe subjects.


AlanDP said...

I have "The Alchemist" by Holzer. It was almost unbearably boring--one of those books that resists being read.

Maybe his non-fiction is better. I hope so.

AlanDP said...

Strange. Only minutes after posting that last comment, I found this:

Holzer just recently passed away.

Brer said...

Huh. Just read that Holzer passed away April 26. He was 89.

John said...

Holzer's ghost investigations were kind of fun but a little too show-biz. That is weird that he just recently died, I looked him up just a couple of weeks ago and was amazed that he was still alive! This Dee fellow is fascinating: would make for a great biopic!