A very mysterious figure in history is the man they call John Dee. Born in the year 1527, the Anglo-Welsh figure would go on to become a prominent mathematician, astronomer, doctor, astrologer, teacher, occultist, and alchemist during the course of his rather strange life. He is perhaps best known for being an advisor to Queen Elizabeth I, where he served in the capacity of guiding her in astrological and scientific matters, as well as on political business. He was very heavily into advocating for the founding of the English colonies in the New World, and he is in fact credited with coining the term “British Empire,” making him a very prominent historical figure, indeed. He is also known for having been deep into the realms of the occult and supernatural, engaging in alchemy, scrying, talking to real angels, and collecting some rather bizarre mystical artifacts. One of these was a mysterious crystal that purportedly held all manner of supernatural powers, including the ability to communicate with actual angels.
It must first be understood that Dee was no nutcase or quack. He was a highly respected scientist, mathematician, navigator, and astronomer in his time, collecting one of England’s biggest libraries during his life, yet his interests often veered off into the decidedly more fringe. He was very into astrology, Hermetic philosophy, magic, alchemy, and in particular divination utilizing various objects such as crystals and mirrors. He was interested in transcending what we see in the physical world, writing numerous tomes on such matters, collecting mystical items, and he also claims to have frequently spoken to both spirits and angels.
One of Dee’s favorite tools for reaching out to the world beyond the veil of our reality was the use of various crystals and mirrors in order to pursue the art of scrying, or divining the future and messages from beyond through looking into these reflective surfaces for signs and images. In the 16th century, the use of “crystallomancy,” or using crystals, and “catoptromancy,” using mirrors, were well established methods of scrying. Indeed, the practice of using reflective surfaces to conjure up magic had been going on for centuries before Dee had ever come along. Dee’s scrying mirror itself was a black glass mirror stored in a sharkskin case, yet rather than use it to find lost objects or treasure, as so many were wont to do at the time, Dee sought to reach out to summon spirits and communicate with actual angels, with whom he would allegedly discuss all manner of topics ranging from politics to the realms of the esoteric. It was during one such supposed exchange with an angel that he would allegedly come into his most prized possession.
In the year 1582, Dee claimed that he had been using his personal “scrying mirror” when he was contacted by the angel Uriel. After an exchange, the angel purportedly gifted him with a large purple crystal, which was claimed to hold all manner of powers, from communicating with angels to the power to read the future or heal any ailment. It was even purportedly imbued with the secret to making the legendary “Philosopher’s Stone,” making it quite an important artifact to say the least. In appearance it was a clear-cut purple crystal attached to a chain and ring, very pretty but hiding its grand purpose and powers behind the façade of what was basically a trinket. Through this crystal Dee would claim to be in regular contact with angels, even saying that they had written several books through him using it. Dee and his colleague Edward Kelley even claimed that they were taught the language of angels through it, called Enochian. One message that Dee apparently received through the crystal from the angel Raphael was:
John Dee, I am Raphael, one of the blessed and elect Angels of the Almighty; and at his will and his good pleasure, he hath commanded me to appear here at this time, to set forth the will and pleasure of the Almighty God. So if thou wilt do as God shall command thee by this message, thou shalt have all these messages, promises and wisdom, both for the Philosopher’s Stone, the book of St Dunstan, the secret wisdom of that Jewel that was delivered, as thou knowest, in what manner it is plainly known unto thee.
The crystal would eventually fall into the possession of Dee’s son, Arthur Dee, who ended up passing it on to his physician, Nicholas Culpeper, who also happened to be an alchemist. Culpeper would allegedly use the crystal to cure all manner of illnesses and ailments during his career, but passed it on when he claimed that a “demonic” entity had once materialized from it to menace him. The crystal would then pass through a succession of owners, including Lady Betty Germaine, the Duke of Argyll, and later to Horace Walpole, before coming into the possession of the Wellcome Historical Medical Museum, now the Wellcome Trust, in 1936, where it remains. There have since been many replicas and fakes produced of Dee’s mysterious crystal, and we are left to wonder just how much any of this tale is true. What was this item and did it do all he said it could? Was Dee really in contact with angels? What about the others who also claimed that the crystal had mysterious powers? We will probably never know, and it certainly serves to add another layer to the mystery of the historical figure who is John Dee.