Following the release of Damon Albarn’s ‘Dr. Dee’ album this week, ConspiroMedia examines the impact of the 16th Century occultist on modern-day culture

This week saw the release of Damon Albarn’s ’Dr. Dee,’ a new album dedicated to the memory of 16th century English mathematician, astronomer and navigator Dr. John Dee. A trusted adviser to Queen Elizabeth I, he is often regarded as one of the greatest thinkers of renaissance-era England.

Despite his pedigree, Dee’s name and profile is largely unknown today and few are aware of the pioneering achievements he was responsible for and the effect they have had since on the so-called “modern world.” For example, his belief that mathematics was central to the progress of human learning eventually led to it’s widespread application in everyday society, drawing it out from the confines of the universities. He also revolutionised maritime exploration, developing new navigational instruments for use in polar regions and providing technical assistance to English seafarers prior to their voyages of discovery. He also advocated Britain’s expansion into the so-called “New World” and is often credited as the first man to coin the phrase, “British empire.”

His influence has also been felt in the world of music, movies and literature, although few could be blamed for not noticing, because, aside from Damon Albarn’s latest offering, most Dee-related references in 20th and 21st century culture remain hidden.

Many of the musicians, filmmakers and writers who’ve chosen to represent Dee in their work, have drawn a great deal of their inspiration from his active and well-documented interest in the occult, an interest which brought him more than his fair share of unwanted attention during his lifetime. In fact, Dee was arrested and briefly imprisoned in 1580 under the charge of being a “calculated” magician after providing horoscopes for Queen Mary I and her half-sister Princess Elizabeth. However, when Elizabeth succeeded Mary I as Queen of England, she chose the coronation date from a horoscope cast for her by Dee and also appointed him her scientific and medical advisor.
In 1570, Dee wrote about his dismay at being labelled “a companion of the hellhounds, a caller and conjuror of wicked and damned spirits” by those who looked unfavourably towards his fascination for alchemy, crystallomancy and other mystical pursuits.

John Dee presents his latest occult discoveries to Queen Elizabeth I

Ultimately, Dee’s eventual downfall was not only brought about by his occult activities, but his ever-hungry desire to discover the secrets of nature. The fact that Dee was a learned man who’d amassed one of the largest libraries in England at his home in Mortlake was of little consolation. He wanted to find answers to all the Big Questions that Man had been asking since the dawn of existence, so, when books no longer provided him with the answers he wanted, he turned to the supernatural hoping to contact angels through the use of a “scryer“ (crystal ball or mirror gazer). After a number of false starts, he met a mysterious figure by the name of Edward Kelley who he believed possessed the ability to communicate with spirits. This led to a highly intensive and dramatic eight-year relationship all diligently recorded in Dee’s diaries and in books which documented the secret knowledge that was being passed on to him by the angels that Kelley claimed to be conversing with. Their eventful partnership resulted in a six-year tour of Europe during which time they held public magic displays at various courts and had audiences with King Stefan Batory of Poland and Emperor Rudolf in Prague hoping to convince them of the importance of their angelic communications.

Edward Kelley

Dee’s and Kelley’s relationship appears to have soured after both men were said to have followed the orders of an angel during one of their spiritual conferences who ordered them to share their wives. Some scholars claim Kelley might have fabricated this spiritual directive for his own personal gain. They parted their ways and Dee returned to England only to discover that Mortlake had been ransacked. Many of his prized books and scientific instruments had been stolen.
He never again scaled the heights he’d reached during his days as adviser to Queen Elizabeth I. Her successor, King James I is said to have distanced himself from Dee because of his occult practises.
John Dee died in 1608 (or early 1609) at the age of 82 a broken, forgotten, poverty-stricken man.

During an interview with ‘The Guardian’ last year to publicise the ’Dr. Dee’ project, Damon Albarn revealed a certain degree of empathy for the 16th century renaissance man’s fascination with the occult saying, “maybe it’s the distance of 400 years, but he seemed to be like someone who I could really understand why they’d entertain travelling on a more occult, esoteric path.” Albarn also noted that, as a youngster he knew he had a “fascination with aspects of history that were slightly more esoteric,” adding that, “I enjoyed history at school. I’d always had a sense of Pagan England. I have very clear memories of getting caught up in a TV series about Robin Hood when I was a kid. And I can remember having a strong sense of imagery from an old monastery in Sussex, near a house we were living in for the summer. This is all a personal thing: my relationship with these aspects of being English.”
The songs on the new ‘Dr. Dee’ album certainly do evoke a mood of pastoral ’Englishness’ thanks to the utilisation and incorporation of Elizabethan instruments such as lutes and dulcimers, all of it layered with Albarn‘s distinctive vocals which’ll be instantly recognisable to any one familiar with his stints as singer-in-chief of Blur and/or Gorillaz.

The release of the ‘Dr. Dee’ album this week is to be followed by a live re-enactment at the London Coliseum between June 25th and July 7th as part of the Cultural Olympiad list of events marked to coincide with the London 2012 Olympics. Described by Albarn as a “Folk opera” it received it’s world premiere in July 2011 at Manchester’s International Festival.

‘Dr. Dee – An English Opera’ and the subsequent spin-off album were initially instigated by the efforts of Manchester Festival director, Alex Poots who approached Albarn and his Gorillaz partner, Jamie Hewlett circa 2009 with a view to involving them in a stage production. Poots also invited Alan Moore, the critically acclaimed comics writer best known for the ‘Watchmen’ and ‘V for Vendetta’ series to join the team as a co-collaborator.

Damon Albarn’s new album, ‘Dr. Dee.’

Moore recalls that Albarn and Hewlett were “very anxious that I should do something with them, and they suggested a superhero opera. And I said, ‘well I’m definitely not your man, I don’t want anything to do with those wretched creatures ever again.’ I said ‘I suppose you could do an opera about magic, and if you were going to do an opera about magic, it would have to be alchemy, as opera springs out of alchemy.’ I said ‘you could do something about an alchemist… Dr. Dee.’”

The partnership however, was short-lived. Hewlett pulled out, as did Moore who claims he’d written “a third” of the opera and designed the stage “making suggestions for all the costumes, stage directions… practically like, everything.” Moore withdrew after Albarn and Hewlett had failed to honour their side of an agreement to contribute to his magazine ‘Dodgem Logic’ in exchange for his input in the making of the opera.

It’s said that Alan Moore’s well documented interest in the occult occurred when he first read about John Dee sometime during his late thirties. On his 40th birthday in 1993, he made a bold declaration. He says, “rather than bore my friends with anything as mundane as a midlife crisis I decided it might actually be more interesting to actually terrify them by going completely mad and declaring myself a magician. This had been coming for a while, it seemed like a logical end step to my career as a writer.“ He continues, “there is some confusion as to what magic actually is. I think this can be cleared up if you just look at the very earliest descriptions of magic. Magic is its earliest form is often referred to as ‘the art’. I believe that this is entirely literal. I believe that magic is art and that art, whether that’d be writing, music, sculpture or any other form is literally magic. Art is, like magic, the science of manipulating symbols, words or images to achieve changes in the consciousness. The very language of magic seems to be talking as much as it is about writing or art as it is about supernatural events. I believe that all culture must have arisen from a cult. Originally, all facets of our culture, whether they be in the arts or in the sciences, were the province of a Shaman. The fact that in present times, this magical power has degenerated to the level of cheap entertainment and manipulation is, I think, a tragedy. At the moment the people who are using shamanism and magic to shape our culture are advertisers. Rather than try and wake people up their shamanism is used as an opiate to tranquilize people, to make people more manipulable. Their magic box of television, and by their magic words, their jingles, can cause people in the country to be thinking at the same words and to have the same banal thoughts all at exactly the same moment. Writers and people who had command of words were respected and feared as people who manipulated magic. In latter times I think that artists and writers have allowed themselves to be sold down the river. They have accepted the prevailing belief that art, that writing, are merely forms of entertainment. They’re not seen as transformative forces that can change a human being, what can change a society. They are seen as simply entertainment, things in which we can fill 20 minutes, half an hour while we are waiting to die.”

Alan Moore.

Moore claims that his dramatic birthday announcement was inspired by his work on the comic-book series, ‘From Hell.’ Speaking in 2001, he said, “one word balloon in ‘From Hell’ completely hijacked my life… a character says something like, ‘The one place gods inarguably exist is in the human mind‘. After I wrote that, I realised I’d accidentally made a true statement, and now I’d have to rearrange my entire life around it. The only thing that seemed to really be appropriate was to become a magician.”
‘From Hell’ was based on the 1976 book ‘Jack the Ripper: The Final Solution,’ in which author, Stephen Knight suggests the notorious murders were actually part of a freemasonic plot to cover up a secret marriage between Queen Victoria’s grandson, Prince Albert Victor (AKA Prince Eddy) and Annie Crook, a working-class East End girl. Moore’s version retains much of the freemasonic element and also includes a large amount of occult symbolism as well as references to the Illuminati.

Moore’s literary work has often been embraced and praised by Truthers and members of the Alternative community because of the subject matter and themes that are sometimes explored. This has been more than illustrated to great effect by his comic book series, ’V for Vendetta,’ which is set in a dystopian world run by a Fascist, totalitarian regime known as, “Norsefire.” The story follows the efforts of ’V,’ a mask-wearing anarchist who is intent on wiping the dictatorship’s key members from the face of the earth. Back in what we refer to as the “real” world, we’ve witnessed the influence of this comic-strip-story-turned-Hollywood movie on various strands of the protest movement after internet-campaigners, ’Anonymous’ adopted V’s Guy Fawkes mask as a symbol. ‘Occupy,’ ‘Wikileaks,‘ and various anti-New World Order activist groups eventually followed suit. Moore – a self-confessed anarchist – is delighted his story about the struggle to defeat a jack-boot stomping police-state has inspired millions of people across the world to take action. In a 2011 interview for ‘The Guardian,’ he said, “I suppose when I was writing V for Vendetta I would in my secret heart of hearts have thought: ‘wouldn’t it be great if these ideas actually made an impact?’ So when you start to see that idle fantasy intrude on the regular world… It’s peculiar.”

(Left), Alan Moore’s 1980s comic series, ‘V for Vendetta,’ (right), ‘Occupy’ protesters don the mask for a demonstration in New York in 2011.

Although sympathetic with the aims and concerns of those within the ’Occupy’ and ’Anonymous’ movements, he stops short of endorsing the view that the world’s destiny is being carefully orchestrated by a mystery cabal… an “Illuminati” if you will. In the 2003 documentary, ‘The Mindscape of Alan Moore’ he says, “a lot of conspiracy theorists, they find it comforting, secretly. The idea of the Illuminati and the CIA and whoever controlling our lives and destinies. You know, because that means that at least someone is in control, at least someone is at the steering wheel. And it’s not a runaway train. Paranoia is a security blanket, a massive security blanket. Whereas I think that yes these people do try to have an influence, and they often do have a very big influence, the CIA’s unique method of funding its wars over the last thirty years has contributed to the crippling drug problems of most of the Western world. So, yes they have an effect. Do they control our destinies? No, they don’t. They are nowhere near that powerful or organised. Does anything human control our destinies? No. Does this mean that God does? No, for all I know, God might just be a simple, two-line, iterative equation, with no more awareness of itself than that.”

Moore has often talked about one god in particular, namely, the snake deity Glycon, thought by many scholars to have been the creation of the 2nd century Greek mystic Alexander of Abonutichus, an alleged fraudster and false prophet who constructed his deity from a hand puppet. In 1998, Moore said, “a god is the idea of a god. The idea of a god is a god. The idea of Glycon is Glycon, if I can enhance that idea with an anaconda and a speaking tube, fair enough. I am unlikely to start believing that this glove puppet created the universe. It’s a fiction, all gods are fiction. It’s just that I happen to think that fiction’s real. Or that it has its own reality, that is just as valid as ours. I happen to believe that most of the important things in the material world start out as fiction. That everything around us was once fiction – before there was the table there was the idea of a table, and the idea of a table before tables was fiction. This is the most important world, the world of fictional things. That’s the world where all this starts.” He also said, “if I wanted a full-scale manifestation, one that was apparent to other people, then I would do a ritual. I have displayed the snake god to other people. Or I have consciously hypnotised them into accepting my psychotic belief system, given them drugs, and made them think they are having the experience I have. Whatever you want. I’m not fussed.”

A late 2nd century statue of Glycon.

Speaking in an interview with ‘Arthur’ magazine in 2003, he claimed that, “I also had an experience with a demonic creature that told me that its name was Asmoday. Which is Asmodeus. And when I actually was allowed to see what the creature looked like, or what it was prepared to show me, it was this latticework…if you imagine a spider, and then imagine multiple images of that spider, that are kind of linked together – multiple images at different scales, that are all linked together – it’s as if this thing is moving through a different sort of time. Where you can see all the different stages of the movement at once. So if you imagine that you’ve got this spider, that it was moving around, but it was coming from background to foreground, what you’d get is sort of several spiders, if you like, showing the different stages of its movement. Anyway. Over the next couple of weeks I started researching Asmodeus and found out that actually, yeah, he’s the demon of mathematics.” In 2000, Moore told ‘’ that “a demon is that which has been demonised. On a spiritual level you’re talking about blacks, or gays, or the working class, or any group that has been demonised. Demons have had it too. They’re some sort of spiritual entity. I don’t think they’re good or bad, any more than we are.” He continued, “ I understand that the word ‘occult’ means hidden, but surely that is not meant to be the final state of all this information, hidden forever. I don’t see why there is any need to further obscure things that are actually lucid and bright. I think there is too much darkness in magic. I can understand that it is part of the theatre. There are some people who seek evil – I don’t think there is such a thing as evil – but there are people who seek it as a kind of Goth thing. What occultism needs is someone to open the window, it’s too stuffy and it smells. Let’s get some fresh air, throw open the curtains – I can’t go for that posturing, spooky guy stuff… surely this is about illumination, casting light on things. I’m an illuminist, that’d do for me.” In 2003, Moore expressed his high regard for occult film director, Kenneth Anger who’s known for movies such as ‘Lucifer Rising’ and ‘Invocation of My Demon Brother.’ Moore stated that Anger was “somebody I’ve got a great deal of admiration for, he and people who are slightly affiliated with him… these are sort of people who have taken the old ideas of magic and then thought, ‘Well why not apply them to the technology that we have now?’ Kenneth Anger was shrewd enough to see that film was, in its way, as any art form is, a magical technology. It can be used for creating startling effects. Perhaps…magical effects.” Anger is a follower of the ‘Thelema,’ religion which was created by Aleister Crowley, an occultist that Moore has studied during his time. When the writer was asked in a 1995 interview whether he was a “Thelemite” himself, he said, “not entirely. I have got a lot of sympathy with Crowley’s vision. I think he was the 20th century’s magickal equivalent of Einstein. But I think that the Thelemite ideal was probably true for Crowley at that time. It doesn’t feel true for me at this time. I will still take a lot of his ideas, a lot of his thinking and work it into my own scheme of things. But it wouldn’t be fair for me to say that I was a Thelemite because I have problems with some aspects of it.” In 2000, he described Crowley as, “ a brilliant scholar,” adding that, “I think that it’s difficult to make a judgement of Crowley, mainly because he himself did almost everything he could to obscure his – I mean, he played up to all the rumours and the notoriety and for a while I think he thought ‘Oh well, all publicity is good publicity.’ It didn’t actually work out like that.”

Aleister Crowley

Crowley’s influence has been incorporated into some of Moore’s comic stories including ‘The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen’ and ‘From Hell,‘ further adding to the growing list of artists, writers and musicians who’ve paid homage to the occultist known as “The Great Beast.” For example, his face can be seen on the cover of the Beatles’ 1967 album ‘Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,’ and he was reportedly the inspiration behind the character, Le Chiffre in Ian Fleming’s James Bond novel, ‘Casino Royale.’

According to author and history professor Richard Spence, the connections between Crowley and Fleming, who was a naval intelligence officer during WWII, go far deeper. In his book, ‘Secret Agent 666: Aleister Crowley, British Intelligence and the Occult,’ he reveals that Crowley was involved in espionage activities for the British Secret Service and became friendly with the James Bond author during the 1930s. When Hitler’s Nazi Party deputy, Rudolf Hess was detained after flying into Britain in 1941 in an attempt to negotiate peace with the United Kingdom, the then Commander Fleming suggested that he be interviewed by Crowley. Some researchers have claimed that British intelligence officers were confused with the content of Hess’s ramblings at the time of his capture which were said to be riddled with occult references and called on Crowley for his expert assistance. Spence states that the notorious mystic did indeed interview the top ranking Nazi on several occasions at an interrogation centre in London. Whilst researching his book, Spence claims to have read a number of official files that confirm Crowley’s involvement with MI5 dating back as far back as 1906.
A number of researchers have also written about the influence he allegedly had on the MI5 ‘spymaster’ Maxwell Knight, who is alleged to have attended a number of black magic ceremonies. Incidentally, Knight was reportedly the inspiration behind Fleming’s character, “M” in the James Bond stories.
But what of James Bond himself?… Who was he based on? According to Fleming, he was “a compound of all the secret agents and commando types I met during the war.” Perhaps… perhaps not. Is it possible that the suave, debonair spy with a passion for beautiful women and the odd Vodka Martini “shaken, not stirred” is actually based on a white-bearded magician from the 16th century? In fact, none other than Dr. John Dee? Author, Ian Taylor claims that,“Ian Fleming got the idea for his designation, 007, for James Bond, from the fact that, that was how John Dee would sign his correspondence when he was overseas working as a spy for Queen Elizabeth, he would always sign his name ‘007,’ and that’s where the concept came in for James Bond… because he was, James Bond, was originally intended to be kind of a modern-day Dr. John Dee, although it never really developed that way.”

Ian Fleming

Donald McCormick was a British historian who served in naval intelligence during WWII. After the end of the war, he joined the ’Sunday Times’ newspaper as a journalist where he briefly worked with Ian Fleming. He later went on to write a number of books about the Secret Service under the pseudonym, Richard Deacon including the 1968 publication, ‘John Dee: Scientist, Geographer, Astrologer and Secret Agent to Elizabeth I.’ In it, he claims that Sir Francis Walsingham, who was principal secretary to Queen Elizabeth I, set up an English intelligence network and enlisted John Dee as one of it’s secret agents using his “psychic powers” and understanding of magic in Top Secret operations. Deacon writes:

“In 1587 Dee claimed he had received a spirit message from one of his angelic contacts concerning a threat to the English Fleet. The message said that a group of disguised Frenchmen working for the Spaniards was secretly visiting the Forest of Dean. The forest was the centre for English ship-building and the French agents planned to bribe disloyal foresters to burn it down. Dr Dee sent his supernatural intelligence to Walsingham and the saboteurs, who were masquerading as squatters, were arrested.” Furthermore, “information supplied to Sir Francis Walsingham from his European spy network convinced him that a Spanish armada would be launched against England in 1588. He asked Dee to use his knowledge of astrology to calculate the weather prospects for an invasion. The magus (Dee) told him there would an impending disaster in Europe caused by a devastating storm. When news of this prophecy was leaked and reached Spain, naval recruitment fell and there were desertions of sailors from the Spanish Fleet. In Lisbon an astrologer who repeated the prediction was charged with spreading false information. In an act of psychological warfare, Dr Dee also informed Emperor Rudolf of Bohemia (the modern Czech Republic) and King Stephen of Poland that the predicted storm would ‘cause the fall of a mighty empire.’ Rudolf, who was an occultist and Dee’s patron when he stayed in Bohemia, passed on the warning to the Spanish ambassador. It is a fact that in 1588 a great storm did scatter the ships of the Spanish Armada in the English Channel and aided the English victory. This metrological event was popularly credited to a magical ritual performed by the buccaneer Sir Francis Drake on the cliffs at Plymouth. Superstitious people believed Drake was a wizard and sold his soul to the Devil in exchange for success over the Spanish. It is claimed that he also organised several covens of witches to work magically to raise the storm and prevent the invasion. Meanwhile, as a result of scrying in his shewstone or crystal, Dr Dee saw a symbolic vision of a castle with its drawbridge drawn up (England) and the image of the elemental king of fire. As a result he urged the Navy to employ fire-ships against the Armada and they did so with good results.”

“Dee signed his letters with two circles symbolising his own two eyes and indicating that he was the secret eyes of the Queen.” (Richard Deacon)

Deacon suggests that Dee’s “007” motif is, “two circles… guarded by what may be considered a square root sign or an elongated seven.” Some researchers believe it actually derives from the magical Enochian Language, an alphabet of 22 letters that resembles Arabic in some sounds and Hebrew and Latin in others. John Dee and his mysterious colleague, Edward Kelley claim they were given access to this language through their angelic communications. Rufus Harrington, an Enochian magician claims that, “this was the same language that was revealed to Enoch, who in Biblical tradition was the first person to speak with God after the fall of Man. The language, it is said, is the power by which we were all made, by which nature was framed and the whole universe was constructed. It is the very mathematics, it is the very framework of all the mystery of all creation.”

The Enochian Alphabet.

Attempts by scholars and researchers to determine it’s origin have so far proved inconclusive, and some believe it is actually an elaborate fake perhaps invented by Kelley who was a known conman before coming into contact with Dee in 1582. Alan Moore disagrees. He says, “to suppose that this is an invented language, invented by Kelley, you would have to suppose that Kelley was some sort of creative and linguistic genius who was able to spontaneously invent a functional working language complete with grammar and vocabulary, and not only invent it, but invent it backwards.”

So, how does this all figure in the “007” motif? Well, Richard Deacon claims that Dee regarded Seven a “sacred” and “lucky number.” It’s a number that also features prominently in what is known as, “The 49 Good Angels,” which are seven 7×7 tables presented to Dee and Kelley by the archangel Michael during their communications. Each square of each table contains a letter and a number from 1 to 49. By gathering the letters with the same number in a certain sequence, the names of the 49 angels are said to be produced. Dee arranged these into a circular table which he called the, “Tabula Bonorum,” dividing the angels into groups of seven.

The Arrangement of the seven tables:

During the 20th century, so-called “Enochian Magic” was promoted through the writings of Aleister Crowley and in the book, ‘The Satanic Bible’ by Church of Satan leader, Anton LaVey, thus fuelling the concern of critics who believe it is being used for malevolent and dark practises.
Incidentally, Richard Deacon also notes that the number 7 is a “cabbalistic number.”
According to rabbis, Seven in Cabbalah (or, “Kabbalah”) represents wholeness and completion, for it was on the seventh day that the world was complete. Others believe the number stands for equilibrium, contracts, agreements, treaties, bargains, nature, infinity, family, love, harmony or discord. In fact, depending on who you ask, the number could stand for any or one of these because Kabbalah is an esoteric train of thought which varies in definition and meaning according to the traditions and aims of those following it. Kabbalist and orthodox rabbi, Yehuda Ashlag writes in his article, ‘The Essence of the Wisdom of Kabbalah’ that it is, “wisdom… no more and no less than a sequence of roots, which hang down by way of cause and effect, in fixed, determined rules, interweaving to a single, exalted goal described as, ‘the revelation of His Godliness to His creatures in this world.’”
The origins of Kabbalah are also a matter of debate. According to Judaic mysticism, it is said to have been handed down to Adam, although there are those who believe it came to Moses from God on Mount Sinai. Others are of the view that it hails from altogether more earthly origins somewhere between the 6th and 13th centuries (again… depending on who you ask). Present-day Kabbalah is said to have descended through … wait for ityes… John Dee.
In recent times, it has been embraced by the ‘celebrity set,’ including Mick Jagger, Ashton Kutcher, Demi Moore, Naomi Campbell, Mischa Barton and, most famously, Madonna. In fact, her dedication to Kabbalah means she no longer gives concerts on Friday nights (which is the onset of the Shabbat, the Jewish Seventh Day of Rest) and has also introduced Jewish ritual symbols and objects into her music videos.
Critics who’ve suspected Madonna of being an Illuminati stooge point towards her enthusiastic support of Kabbalah as further evidence of this, no doubt further fuelled because of it’s links to secret societies and occult orders.

Celebrities rumoured to be wearing the red Kabbalah wristband, which is said to ward off the “evil eye”. Clockwise from top left; Paris Hilton, Mick Jagger, Gwyneth Paltrow, Madonna, Demi Moore, Ashton Kutcher.

The author, J.K. Rowling has also been subjected to similar scrutiny due to her highly successful series of stories about a young wizard by the name of Harry Potter. The books have been attacked by various religious groups for their “occult” and “Satanic” subtexts and some have accused the writer of being a practising witch. In 2009, a former speech-writer for President George W. Bush released a book which featured the claim that Rowling missed out on being presented with a top US honour because some politicians believed she “encouraged witchcraft.” Matt Latimer writes in ‘Speechless: Tales of a White House Survivor,’ that members of Bush’s administration objected to her receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom because of concerns that the Harry Potter saga promoted sorcery. Speaking to CNN in 1999, Rowling said, “I absolutely did not start writing these books to encourage any child into witchcraft. I’m laughing slightly because to me, the idea is absurd. I have met thousands of children and not even one time has a child come up to me and said, ‘Ms Rowling, I’m so glad I’ve read these books because now I want to be a witch.’” In 2000 she claimed that “practicing Wiccans think I’m also a witch… I’m not.” When she was approached with the accusation during an interview in 1998, she laughed and said, “I’ve never wanted to be a witch, but an alchemist, now that’s a different matter. To invent this wizard world, I’ve learned a ridiculous amount about alchemy. Perhaps much of it I’ll never use in the books, but I have to know in detail what magic can and cannot do in order to set the parameters and establish the stories’ internal logic.”

One should perhaps wonder whether the “ridiculous amount” she learned during her research into magic and alchemy steered her towards John Dee, and also, the Philosopher’s Stone – the title of her first Potter book and movie spin-off?

Some researchers believe that Dee possessed this rare, legendary substance which wasn’t only an elixir of life, but an alchemical device that was said to be capable of turning base metals into gold. Edward Kelley claimed that he’d acquired small amounts of it in powered form in Wales in the raided tomb of a bishop. Dee and Kelley were reported to have successfully used the Philosopher’s Stone to make gold in the presence of Prague’s King Rudolf during their lengthy travels across Europe.

Dee’s audience with Emperor Rudolph.

Dee is also said to have been the inspiration behind the wise white-bearded wizard and headmaster of Hogwarts, Professor Dumbledore although this has never been confirmed, as hasn’t the claim that another wizard, namely Gandalf from the ‘Lord of the Rings‘ books and trilogy of films, is also based on Dee. However, many historians would perhaps agree that the 16th century occultist was most likely the title character, Dr Faustus in Christopher Marlowe’s story first published in 1604 which tells of a man who sells his soul to the Devil for power and knowledge. Dee is also generally regarded to be Prospero in William Shakespeare’s play, ‘The Tempest.’ It’s also been claimed that Dee was inspirational in building the original Globe Theatre in London, a venue closely associated with Shakespeare. This is said to have occurred after the actor, impresario and builder, James Burbage consulted Dee on his knowledge of architecture during the design and construction of what was to be known simply as “The Theatre,” the first permanent dedicated theatre built in England since the Roman times. This information was later used as the blueprint for the building of The Globe.

(left); Richard Harris stars as Professor Dumbledore, (right); Sir Ian Mckellen as Gandalf.

Undoubtedly, there are many more examples that could be listed here which would shed further light on claims that Dee has been a significant influence in the world of theatre, film, music and the written word. In terms of his known activities and achievements, there’s no doubt at all that the information included here thus far is merely a scratch of the surface. As Damon Albarn quite rightly reflected during an interview for the promotion of his new ‘Dr. Dee’ album, “it’s not enough just to read about him. A lot of what he was into was so esoteric that you’ve got to understand a bit of Kabbalah, hermetica, old-school Catholicism, Sufism. I certainly know more than I used to, but I’m not yet able to open portals to different realities.” Indeed, it’s certainly true that Dee’s quest for knowledge was monumental and he lived a life that is the stuff of movies, which is why it’s perhaps ironic that – with a few exceptions – countless writers, directors and producers have chosen to hide his influence behind a curtain of secrecy. Allegedly an inspiration behind two of the biggest film franchises ever, perhaps the time has finally come to lift off the veil and show John Dee for who and what he really was?
Who knows?… Perhaps Albarn’s latest offering is the first step in that direction?

** Damon Albarn’s album, ‘Dr. Dee’ was released May 7th 2012

** Check out more information about the album at the official website:



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