Thesis Proposal – Approved (cp)

Just got word my proposal for a Senior Honors Thesis has been approved. This is a 60-80 page paper that will be researched and written over the next two semesters as part of my undergraduate program.

Here’s what I’ll be working on:

Dr. John Dee, Sir Edward Kelly, and Authorship of the ‘Angelic Conversations’

This paper will take an in-depth look at the question of the authorship of Dr. John Dee’s ‘Angelic Conversations,’ his remarkable private transcriptions of hundreds of sessions in which he purportedly made contact with holy spiritual beings, with a particular focus on the role of Dee’s spirit medium, Edward Kelly.

Most writers on the subject of Dee’s ‘Angelic Conversations’ have fallen into two general categories. Those writing from an academic perspective have in the main simply reported his recorded sessions at face value, usually with the goal of placing them within the context of his lifetime of writings, or within the wider context of Elizabethan England at the dawning of the Early Modern era. When these authors have addressed the issue of Dee’s magico-religious focus at all, it has most often been with the faintly dismissive air reminiscent of a 20th Century anthropologist examining the curious beliefs of a more primitive age. Francis Yates and her followers first presented a view of Dee as the archetypal Renaissance ‘magus,’ a sort of Tudor-era Merlin who, like Shakespeare’s Prospero, spent his time poring over dusty tomes and conversing with disembodied voices on matters of statecraft, alchemy, and enchantment. More recent scholars have questioned this assessment, presenting Dee instead as the first great scientist of ‘Natural Magic,’ a proto-Newton with one foot in the tradition of the Medieval conjurers and the other firmly planted in the dawning Scientific Revolution. Popular writers, on the other hand, have focused on presenting excerpts of Dee’s magical corpus with the intent of offering instruction to readers interested in reproducing—or, more often, adapting—the ‘how to’ of the angels’ alleged instructions on “Enochian Magick,” so called. Beginning with the magical renaissance of the late 19th Century and extending right up through the ‘occult explosion’ and ‘New Age’ of the late 20th Century to today, these writers have by and large ignored any contradictions inherent in holding a magical worldview in a rationalistic era. Their books, like those of the academic community, have taken Dee’s spiritualism at face value (while deliberately downplaying or even ignoring his religious viewpoint), with the popular writers presenting Dee’s magical opus from the perspective of believers in such matters, and the scholars with skepticism. One other thing held in common between the scholars and the popular writers is that neither has thus far examined to any major extent the question of authorship of these purported spirit communications.

This paper will take an in-depth look at the question of authorship of the ‘Angelic Conversations,’ with a particular focus on the role of Dee’s spirit medium, Edward Kelly, and whether the entire body of work might in fact have been an elaborate hoax by Kelly. We will examine whether it was possible for Kelly to have carried off such a hoax, the difficulties involved, and possible motivations for doing so. It will be necessary to investigate what resources were available to Kelly, and whether these were such that would enable him to have tricked Dee into believing the two men were receiving genuine communications from God by way of the angels Raphael, Uriel, et al. We will also ask whether Dee, one of the most educated men in England at the time, could have been fooled by such a hoax, and why. These and other related questions are ones that do not appear to have been so far addressed by either Dee scholars or popular writers, from Meric Causabon and Elias Ashmole in the 17th Century to Dame Francis Yates and Lon Milo Duquette in the 20th and 21st. In the course of this paper we will take a step-by-step look at the types of material received in these séances, studying them for evidence of a pattern supportive of a theory that the entire body of work was a hoax perpetrated by Kelly upon Dee. We will also examine the received material in relation to earlier magical texts such as the Solomonic grimoires, the writings of Agrippa and Trithemius, and other works known to have been in Dee’s library, as well as the possibility of Kelly plagiarizing them for his own work. Finally, we will briefly consider whether any other potential theory better fits the facts as we know them.

Credit where credit’s due: the idea for this particular topic, and the method of approaching it, came out of a conversation with K2, who deserves most of the blame credit for it.

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  1. I’d really love to read your essay on this – writers on Dee typically start from a polarized position (usually “proto-scientist” or “necromancer”), when the reality was probably 10x more subtle and nuanced.

    Posted 16 June 2009 at 4:38 am | Permalink
  2. Nick:

    Thanks for the shout. It’s been completed, coming to just under 120 pps counting introductory material, bibliography, etc. It could be stronger, and I feel my analysis is a bit thin (I plead concurrent major life events as an excuse). Now that the deadline is no longer an issue, I’m in the process of asking some of the other advanced Enochian folks like Lon Duquette, David Jones, Scott Wilde, etc., for a peer review and fact-checking. I hope to make time to do a revised version (just for myself and interested others, not for the school) later this summer.

    So, I’d be happy to send you a copy, but the question is whether you want it as is, or if you’d rather wait for the revision? (Or both.)

    - CP

    Posted 16 June 2009 at 11:05 am | Permalink
  3. (Sorry for the delay in responding – I wrongly assumed that the blog daemon would notify me of your reply!)

    I’d be very happy to see it as it is – over the years, I’ve had so many fruitless conversations with Deeophiles (Deltaphiles?) superglued to either end of the spectrum that I’m sure it would be a refreshing change to read your particular take on what might actually lie between. :-)

    For what it’s worth, I think a careful reading of the “zadzaczadlin” page should be sufficient to demonstrate that the various caricatures of Dee people have been happy to go along with for centuries fall well short of the reality. As might have been said of Giordano Bruno: there’s a lot more going on under the hood. :-)

    Posted 29 June 2009 at 3:06 pm | Permalink
  4. Nick, thanks for the response. If you’ll send me an email address (you can mail me at if you want to keep it private) I’ll be happy to send you a copy. Keep in mind the pdf is almost 2MB. Any feedback would be most gratefully acknowledged.

    - CP

    Posted 29 June 2009 at 8:55 pm | Permalink