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 Deeâ€™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 Deeâ€™s spirit medium, Edward Kelly.
Most writers on the subject of Deeâ€™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 reproducingâ€”or, more often, adaptingâ€”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 sÃ©ances, 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.