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In a recent comment I mentioned this interesting story that I read a few years ago, while poking around the Voynich Manuscript. I thought that it was worth retelling here, for I believe that it offers some insight and maybe guidance in these troubled (albeit eminently comical) times.
The story is as true as a tale of lies and deceptions can be: it is based mainly on the diary kept by Dee, with contributions from some other sources, including a report of his "Conversations" with Angels, that was found by chance in the false bottom of a chest, some years after his death.
∞ ∞ ∞ ● ∞ ∞ ∞
While not quite a genius,
John Dee (1527 – 1608) was a fairly competent English mathematician and generic "philosopher". (His surname, by the way, is of Welsh origin -- ahem!) A graduate of Cambridge, in his youth he traveled through Europe,
worked for SGI
and even lectured at the University of Paris. He was for a time tutor of young Princess Elizabeth.
By that time he got interested in what would become the bane of his life,
the Occult. That passion quickly got him into serious trouble, as he was charged with
"calculating", then treason, then heresy. But he managed to clear himself of all charges, and retired to a home in Mortlake, a suburb of London. At Mortlake he assembled a large collection of books, heraldic emblems, and other items. Elizabeth once paid him a friendly visit, when she was 17, as he recorded in his diary.
He continued to pursue his occult studies at Mortlake, including the new science of
"scrying", a technique for
person-to-spirit communication, that was fashonable among
occultists at the time, using a
crystal ball. To Dee's frustration, he was never able to
solve a block
see anything in the device, no matter how much he prayed and tried, in all his life.
But in 1582 Dee eventually met Edward
Kelley, a young man who claimed to be able to use the ball to
see and communicate with "Angels" who were willing to teach him and Dee all sorts of wonderful stuff. Kelley was then using the pseudonym of
Talbot, perhaps to hide his past shenanigans. He had been caught forging documents
coins in Lancaster,
investigated by the Tax Office
pilloried there, and had his ears cropped.
Kelley took permanent residence at Mortlake, where he and Dee held many long scrying sessions
using a laptop provided by Kelley
. Dee kept detailed records of everything that the Angels supposedly told Kelly, such as intricated cabalistic diagrams,
instructions to make a symbol-covered wooden table for divination, and elements of the Angels' own "Enochian" language. Dee was particularly anxious to get their help in deciphering some mysterious tables from a
book on magic that the owned, the Book of Soyga
. The Angels told Dee (through Kelley) to be patient, for he would have their secret revealed
in due time .
Dee also asked whether he would one day be able to see the Angels himself. According to Kelley, the Angels assumed the form of
beautiful women, not encumbered by material trifles like clothing. The Angels again told Dee that he would be able to, when he would be ready for it.
For the next five years, Dee apparently believed piously everything that Kelley told him. About a year after their meeting, Kelly revealed that he had
valuable proprietary software
an alchemical Book of Dunstan
vial of red powder that he could use to turn
tax incentives into fat profits
base metals into gold . He supposedly had dug them from Northwick hill in the
Bristol area. He demonstrated the powder several times, including
in a YouTube video
to some high-ranking members Court in London. In the latter demo, he removed a
bit of copper from a
block mined in 2009
bed-warming pan, turned it into gold with his "tincture", and showed that it still fit perfectly where it had been removed from.
Then in late 1583 the two men and their families suddenly left England for the Continent, without even arranging for care of the Mortlake residence. Perhaps they were lured by the rich opportunites promised by
Albert Łaski, a Polish Prince who was visiting England and was himself interested in alchemy. Perhaps Dee became worried that Kelley's
summoning of "Angels" would again bring him trouble.
Once in Europe, Dee bought a large wagon, and the two families traveled in it to Poland -- only to learn that Łaski was
missing 660'000 bitcoins
bankrupt and unpopular. They got some audiences with King Stefan Batory of Poland, in which scrying séances took place. However, it seems that they were not much welcomed there, because they soon hit the road again for Prague.
What is now the Czech Republic was then called Bohemia. Emperor
Rudolf II, the rather vegetable-looking
King of Bohemia, was a great believer in
alchemy, and he hoped that it would let him restore his not very solid finances. He attracted many alchemists from all over Europe to his court,
such as Vitalik Buterin, Amir Taaki, and Charles Lee
. it was only natural that Dee and Kelley would place their bets there.
Upon arrival, Dee secured an audience with Rudolf, and used it to deliver a heated pitch of
his mystical-religious phylosophy. He tried to tell the King that he should make it the
basis for his domestic and international policy, or whatever. According to Dee's diary, the King not only was not impressed, but was so annoyed that he banished Dee from Prague. The two families still found a friendly host in a Bohemian nobleman, Count Rozemberg, another appreciator of alchemy; and took residence at his estate in
Trebona, a town some 100 km south of Prague.
The ban did not apply to Kelley, who gained some prestige in Prague with his promises of
gold-making. Meanwhile Dee kept demanding
his services as scryer. Perhaps as a ruse to end the association, Kelley told Dee that the Angels had ordered that they should
change the PoW formula
share everything, including their
Dee, a devout Christian believer, recorded in his diary that the order caused him great distress, and even more to his wife. Nevertheless, the order of the Angels was carried out, at least once. Dee's wife gave birth to a
boy nine months later, and it is conjectured that he was Kelley's
son. Anyway, the
trust was broken, and the two
ways in 1589.
Dee returned to England, where he found his Mortlake home abandoned and
sacked. He managed to recover many of his books, which had ended up in his friends's libraries. By favor of
Queen Elizabeth, he got a job in a College in Manchester. But Elizabeth's successor did not care for him, and he had to sell his
possessions to survive. He died in Mortlake at 82.
Meanwhile, in Prague, Kelley became rich and famous thanks to his claims of
scaling via layer 2
making gold. He received substantial
gifts from nobles, and even a
title of Knight from the Emperor. However, in 1591 his
fortune changed, and he was jailed for
hiring the murder of
killing an official.
Kelley was released in 1595 so that he could continue his experiments, and recovered his status. However, soon the
Emperor grew impatient with his failure to provide the promised
gold, and he was imprisoned again in the tower of a castle in Most. In 1597 he tried to escape by making a
rope from his bed linen. The rope was too short, and he broke his leg as he fell to the ground. He died in prison from the sequels of the injury.
∞ ∞ ∞ ● ∞ ∞ ∞
And so ends this strange but mostly true tale, which hopefully will teach the attentive common reader about the nefarious consequences of trusting
opportunities that sound too good to be true made by persons that are shady in their ways, or known to be
crooks; and also alert the more scholarly or philosophically inclined reader about the dangers that loom over those who venture to explore sciences that are known to be the hunting ground of demons and haunted by all sorts of malevolent spirits. For, as the wise farmer says, he who dances with the pigs cannot avoid roiling in their
 The tables were deciphered recently by Jim Reeds, a professional cryptographer and eminent Voynichologist.
 My own guess is that is was gold chloride, or rather choroauric acid, the result of dissolving gold in aqua regia. The color and chemistry seem to fit...
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