Author Archives: George Hoyle

About George Hoyle

I am a folk singer & musician, a promoter of folk nights, a songwriter & music producer. I run the South East London Folklore Society

Esoterica 101

I gave a talk at the weekend called Esoterica 101. It’s a whistlestop tour though esoterica with a few fun biographies attached. Enjoy…

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Esoterica: Things that are esoteric

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Esoteric: Mystical concepts understood by only a small number of people with a specialised knowledge or interest, or an enlightened inner circle. Often hidden.

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Occult: knowledge of the hidden. A deeper spiritual reality beyond reason & science.

Occult Practices include:

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Magic

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Alchemy

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Extrasensory Perception

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Astrology

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Spiritualism

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Religion

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& Divination.

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Magic: the use of rituals, symbols, actions, gestures, and language with the aim of utilising supernatural forces.

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Alchemy: transmutation of base metals into noble metals, creation of an elixir of immortality,
the creation of panaceas to cure all disease.

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Astrology: the study of the movements and relative positions of celestial objects as a means for divining information about human affairs and terrestrial events

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Extrasensory perception: also called sixth sense or second sight; psychic abilities such as intuition, telepathy, psychometry, clairaudience, and clairvoyance, and their trans-temporal operation as precognition or retrocognition.

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Spiritualism: he belief that the spirits of the dead have both the ability and the inclination to communicate with the living.

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Religion: any cultural system of designated behaviours and practices, world views, texts, sanctified places, ethics, or organisations, that relate humanity to the supernatural or transcendental

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Divination: the reading of signs, events, or omens, or contact with a supernatural agency in order to gain insight into a question or situation.

Lets talk about magic in a little more detail:

Sympathetic Magic: a type of magic based on imitation or correspondence. An object can affect another similar object if connected in some way; “like affects like” as it were.

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Imitation uses effigies, or poppets to affect people or their direct environment.
An example of imitation would be a poppet where whatever happens to the effigy happens to the target. A lock of hair from the victim would create a link between the person & the doll.

Correspondence is the idea that one thing can influence another based upon it’s relationship or resemblance to it. A lot of folk medicine is based upon this.

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For example a cunning folk cure for hernia or cleft in a child is to find an Ash tree near to the home of the child cut a cleft in the tree & every day before dawn for seven days carry the child out to the tree & as the sun rises pass the child through the cleft from west to east pass the child through the cleft 7 times. On the 7th day tie the cleft Ash tree together & as the tree heals so will the child.

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Natural Magic: the medieval concept that there is an elemental force pervading all natural processes. Natural Magic was proto-scientific, Astrology & Alchemy come under the definition of Natural Magic.
It’s magic as technology, magic as science. Which is what these fields became: Astrology into Astronomy & Alchemy into Chemistry

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Ceremonial Magic: also known as Ritual Magic. It covers a wide variety of long, complex & elaborate rituals to effect a supernatural outcome. The magic of Aleister Crowley & the Hermetic Order Of The Holy Dawn certainly fall into this category, as does the Enochian Magic of Doctor Dee & Cabala too.

It pretty much goes without saying that since the founding of an organised Christian church, magic has been thought to be antithetical to Christianity, drawing it’s power from evil places, but Christianity’s relationship with magic is complicated.

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Some magical practitioners were devout Christians. Doctor Dee, the adviser to Queen Elizabeth the First was certainly devout. His magical practice was based largely upon communication with Angels.

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William Lilly, the Astrologer who advised the Roundhead Parliamentarians during the War Of The Three Kingdoms (popularly known as the English Civil War) was a devout puritan who believed Astrology to be a science.

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Aleister Crowley, however, was not a Christian

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Chaos Magic: is a 20th century magical discipline the central concept of which is that belief is a magical force in itself. Chaos magicians attest that the beliefs we have are flexible & by consciously changing our beliefs instead of thinking of them as absolute parts of our personalities. Other Chaos magicians don’t believe that to be true. But they would wouldn’t they.

As you might see by now, esoterica is can complicated & obscure & have odd, confusing & often complicated concepts associated with them.

I’m going to talk about a few interesting figures from esoteric history now.

Doctor Dee: 16th century scientist, alchemist, astrologer, mathematician & practitioner of natural magic. Queen Elizabeth 1st’s scientific adviser he also used astrological charts to choose the most auspicious date for her coronation.

Dee was a pioneer of the concept of Natural Magic. Dee believed that God’s creation of the universe let loose a divine force which causes planets to turn, the Sun to rise, the Moon to wax & wane. Magic would be the human ability to tap into this force. Dee’s Magic is technology; the more we understand how it drives the universe the more powerful it gets.

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Dee was also a Cabalist. Hebrew Cabala emerged from Palestine in the 1st century AD. Cabala was a combination of language, mathematics & mysticism based around the Hebrew language . For Cabalists, Hebrew was more than just a language, they believed the language itself had the secrets of the universe encoded within it.

St John’s gospel starts “In the beginning was the Word”. Dee believed that this word would have been in Hebrew. Thus an analysis of Hebrew was a way of finding the underlying structure of God’s creation. The laws of nature were were it’s grammar, matter it’s nouns.

The Cabala was preoccupied with Angels. One of the functions of Gematria was to calculate how many there were (301,655,172 apparently). The Cabala provided a means for working out the names & relationships of Angels.

Cabala had a magical side: since language was tied to the formation of the universe, words had the potential to change it. Cabalism provided a magical technology for making incantations to summon spirits & influence events which would act as prayers which would always work.

Dee had an interest in another practical use of Cabala which is the creation of secret codes & ciphers.

Since Dee was most likely a spy among other things the codes & ciphers would have interested his next door neighbour in Mortlake, the Elizabethan spymaster, Walsingham, greatly.

Dee was obsessed with optics & believed that with the correct lenses & if you were sensitive to such things you could communicate with angels.

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Dee together with his scryer, a cunning man by the name of Edward Kelly, performed many rituals, known as actions to communicate with the angels. Kelly stared into a crystal & dictated what he saw & Dee transcribed it. Kelly spoke with angels in their own language & Dee translated it.

Dee is considered to be a pioneer of Enochian magic. According to those who believe in such things Angels converse in the language of Enoch, the great-grandfather of Noah. It’s really complicated.

Dee & Kelly parted company after Kelly told Dee that a spirit had told them that they should swap wives for the night & they did.

This is just the tip of the iceberg with Dee who lived a pretty crazy life.

Aleister Crowley:

Aleister Crowley was born in Royal Leamington Spa, Warwickshire, on 12 October 1875. His mother had a strained relationship with her son; she described him as “The Beast”, a name that he revelled in. 666 was his favourite number. His parents were Plymouth Brethren; ultra conservative christians.

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At the age of 11 he inherited a fortune from the family brewing business when his father died.

As a teenager, Aleister became increasingly sceptical regarding Christianity, pointing out inconsistencies in the Bible to his religious teachers, and went against the Christian morality of his upbringing by smoking, masturbating, and having sex with prostitutes. It is fair to say that Crowley lived a highly promiscuous life.

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At Cambridge University he became an enthusiastic mountaineer & climbed all the Alps required to become a member of the alpine society.
It is quite likely that he was recruited by British intelligence to spy for them, as he appears to have acted on behalf of the crown on several occasions. He started publishing erotic poetry, something he would do for the rest of his life. One notable collection of poetry was published under the title “White Stains”. He also started to become interested in the esoteric.

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He was initiated into the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, a masonic lodge with a specialism in occult ceremony, in 1898.
He learned about ceremonial magic & the use of drugs in ritual first hand. Aleister was fascinated by Doctor Dee & incorporated Enochian Magic into his practice. He went a little overboard by trying to summon demons too.

After a fight in the street outside the Golden Dawn temple involving Crowley in full highland dress, the Irish Poet W.B. Yeats & a professional wrestler. Crowley parted company with the order.

Crowley than went on a worldwide mountaineering trip which may have been a cover for spying. He went to Mexico & the far east. He was the first westerner to organise an ascent of K2 which he had to abandon due to having recently contracted syphilis.

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In 1903 he married a Camberwell vicar’s daughter, Rose Edith Kelly & while honeymooning in Cairo they received a visitation from a spirit messenger of the god Horus. Crowley spent 3 days writing a book called “The Book Of The Law” & thus sowed the seeds of the occult religion of Thelema.

The famous cornerstone tenet of the religion is; “Do what thy will for that is the law”

On 28 July 1905, Rose gave birth to Crowley’s first child, a daughter named Lilith, with Crowley authoring the pornographic book, Snowdrops From a Curate’s Garden, to entertain his recuperating wife. It’s filthy.

Shortly after this Crowley went on a mountaineering trip to the Himalayas which it has been speculated was on behalf of British Intelligence to assess the state of the opium trade.

Crowley assessed opium very thoroughly.

He regularly engaged in magical rituals to communicate with Angels & Egyptian Gods & also became interested in & pioneered a new kind of ritual magic to the esoteric world. Sex Magic.

Sex Magic rituals were very much Crowley’s thing & he would perform them with whoever was up for it.

In 1909 Crowley sued for divorce of Rose giving the reason as his own adultery.

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The Australian violinist Leila Waddell soon became Crowley’s lover, his “Scarlet Woman”, his muse. Deciding to expand his teachings to a wider audience, Crowley developed the Rites of Artemis, a public performance of magic and symbolism.

Over his life Crowley would have a succession of scarlet women & somewhat dreamy male secretaries.

In the 1st World War Crowley acted on behalf of British Intelligence by entering into the employ of a German propagandist in New York & discrediting the German cause to such an extent that America entered the war on the side of Britain.

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In 1920 he started a Thelemic religious community in an old abbey in Sicily. He was deported from Italy by Mussolini after a man died in mysterious circumstances & the British tabloid, John Bull, labelled him “The Most Evil Man In The World”

By this time Crowley was a hopeless heroin & cocaine addict & had to have operations to repair his somewhat destroyed nose. He continued to perform notorious magical rituals involving large amounts of drugs & sex. To an outsider it is almost as if the point was to take large amounts of drugs & to have a lot of sex.

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By the 1930s Crowley was a somewhat dissipated figure spending time in Germany, quite likely gathering information for British Intelligence in between numerous acts of filthiness.

He died in 1947 aged 72.

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Madame Blavatsky: Helena Petrovna Blavatsky was a 19th Century Russian occultist, spirit medium, and author who co-founded the Theosophical Society in 1875. She gained an international following as the leading theoretician of Theosophy, the esoteric religion that the society promoted.

Blavatsky was a controversial figure during her lifetime, championed by supporters as an enlightened guru and derided as a fraudulent charlatan and plagiarist by critics. Her Theosophical doctrines influenced the spread of Hindu and Buddhist ideas in the West as well as the development of the New Age Movement.

According to her believers she was a powerful psychic & occultist whose nascent powers were brought into fruition after waking from a several month long coma caused by a fall from a horse.

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She claims to have spent time in Tibet where she was taught an ancient, unknown language known as Senzar, and translated a number of ancient texts written in this language that were preserved by the monks of a monastery; she stated that she was, however, not permitted entry into the monastery itself.

She also claimed that while in Tibet, she was able to further develop and control her psychic powers. Among the abilities that she ascribed to these “Masters” were clairvoyance, clairaudience, telepathy, the ability to control another’s consciousness, to dematerialize and rematerialize physical objects, and to project their astral bodies, thus giving the appearance of being in two places at once.

After a variety of spectacular & not necessarily provable adventures including shipwrecks & fighting on the side of Garibaldi in revolutionary battles she co founded Theosophy, which she attested was a revival of an “ancient wisdom religion” which had once been found across the world, and which was known to various ancient figures, such as the Greek philosopher Plato and the ancient Hindu sages.

The Theosophical society aims were

1. To form a nucleus of the Universal Brotherhood of Humanity, without distinction of race, creed, sex, caste, or colour.
2. To encourage the study of Comparative Religion, Philosophy, and Science.
3. To investigate the unexplained laws of Nature and the powers latent in man.

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Blavatsky was a pantheist, and emphasised the idea of an impersonal divinity, referring to the Theosophical God as a “universal Divine Principle, the root of All, from which all proceeds, and within which all shall be absorbed at the end of the great cycle of being”

By the time of her death in 1891 she was the acknowledged head of a community numbering nearly 100,000, with journalistic organs in London, Paris, New York and Madras. Her writings have been translated and published in a wide range of European and Asian languages.

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L Ron Hubbard: Lafayette Ronald Hubbard was a 20th century phenomenon who transformed from science fiction author to head of a worldwide religion which is structured very much in the way an esoteric organisation would be with levels of initiation from novice to master.

He was born in 1911 & died in 1986

Many aspects of Hubbard’s life story are disputed.

Scientology history celebrates him as child prodigy who could ride horses before he could walk & who was a blood brother of the Native American Blackfoot tribe by the age of 6.

There is no record to corroborate this.

According to Scientology he studied nuclear physics at university.

He attended one class on atomic & molecular phenomena.

You can continue with this biographical guessing game throughout his life, but in fact his actual life was really interesting & he was undoubtably an exceptional person.

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He was a highly prolific pulp fiction author able to write at an astonishing rate: at his peak he was writing around 100,000 words a month. He is best known for his science fiction & was a contemporary of Isaac Asimov & Robert A. Heinlein.

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In August 1945 Hubbard moved into the Pasadena mansion of John “Jack” Whiteside Parsons. A leading rocket propulsion researcher at the California Institute of Technology and a founder of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Parsons led a double life as an avid occultist and Thelemite, follower of the English ceremonial magician Aleister Crowley and leader of a lodge of Crowley’s magical order.

Hubbard befriended Parsons then seduced his girlfriend. Despite this Parsons was very impressed with Hubbard and wrote in a letter to Crowley:
[Hubbard] is a gentleman; he has red hair, green eyes, is honest and intelligent, and we have become great friends. He moved in with me about two months ago, and although Betty and I are still friendly, she has transferred her sexual affection to Ron. Although he has no formal training in Magick, he has an extraordinary amount of experience and understanding in the field. From some of his experiences I deduced that he is in direct touch with some higher intelligence, possibly his Guardian Angel. He describes his Angel as a beautiful winged woman with red hair whom he calls the Empress and who has guided him through his life and saved him many times. He is the most Thelemic person I have ever met and is in complete accord with our own principles.
The two men collaborated on the “Babalon Working”, a sex magic ritual intended to summon an incarnation of Babalon, the supreme Thelemite Goddess. It was undertaken over several nights in February and March 1946 in order to summon an “elemental” who would participate in further sex magic.
Parsons used his “magical wand” to whip up a vortex of energy so the elemental would be summoned whilst Hubbard (referred to as “The Scribe” in the diary of the event) scanned the astral plane for signs and visions.

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The “elemental” arrived a few days later in the form of a lady called Marjorie Cameron, who agreed to participate in Parsons’ rites.
Soon afterwards, Parsons, Hubbard and Sara agreed to set up a business partnership, “Allied Enterprises”, in which they invested nearly their entire savings—the vast majority contributed by Parsons.
The plan was for Hubbard and Sara to buy yachts in Miami and sail them to the West Coast to sell for a profit. Hubbard had a different idea; he wrote to the U.S. Navy requesting permission to leave the country “to visit Central & South America & China” for the purposes of “collecting writing material”—in other words, undertaking a world cruise.
Aleister Crowley strongly criticized Parsons’s actions, writing: “Suspect Ron playing confidence trick—Jack Parsons weak fool—obvious victim prowling swindlers.”
Parsons attempted to recover his money by obtaining an injunction to prevent Hubbard and Sara leaving the country or disposing of the remnants of his assets.They attempted to sail anyway but were forced back to port by a storm. A week later, Allied Enterprises was dissolved. Parsons received only a $2,900 promissory note from Hubbard and returned home “shattered”. He had to sell his mansion to developers soon afterwards to recoup his losses.
For some reason this episode is not recorded in the annals of Scientology.
In 1950 Hubbard founded Dianetics, from which Scientology came.
Hubbard described Dianetics as “the hidden source of all psychosomatic ills and human aberration”

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Hubbard abandoned freelance writing in order to promote Dianetics, writing several books about it in the next decade, delivering an estimated 4,000 lectures while founding Dianetics research organizations.

Hubbard defined it as “a spiritual healing technology” and “an organized science of thought.”

Hubbard expanded upon the basics of Dianetics to construct a spiritually oriented doctrine based on the concept that the true self of a person was a thetan—an immortal, omniscient and potentially omnipotent entity.

& Scientology was born.

Hubbard taught that the thetans, having created the material universe, had forgotten their god-like powers and become trapped in physical bodies.

Scientology aimed to “rehabilitate” each person’s thetan to restore its original capacities and become once again an “Operating Thetan”.[204]

Hubbard insisted humanity was imperiled by the forces of “aberration”, which were the result of engrams (memories) carried by the immortal thetans for billions of years.

Like all esoteric religions Scientology is complicated. It is also expensive as each ascension to a new level costs money.

This concludes Esoterica 101. I hope you liked it.

 

 

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The Life & Times Of William Lilly

The Life And Times Of William Lilly

Recently took a leisurely stroll eastwards down the Strand. I passed Somerset House and Kings College and came across a disused underground station.

This is the Strand Station. It was closed in 1997. The track is still working and the station is still used as a film location. Over the years the premises has graced such works as 28 Weeks Later, V For Vendetta, Death Line and Superman IV: The Quest For Peace.

I digress. However it was a digression that brought William Lilly to my attention. I was admiring the station when I happened across a plaque on the side of it.

“William Lilly (1602-1681)

Master Astrologer

Lived in a house near this site.”

My curiosity was piqued.

Upon returning home I got researching & the result is this blog.

William Lilly was a very interesting man living in very interesting times.

William Lilly’s life began in the village of Diseworth, Leicestershire, on April 30th 1602, in a cottage close to the fourteenth century church. He was the eldest son of a yeoman farmer called William Lilly and Alice was his mother.

Senior was a prosperous landowner at the time of Junior’s birth. However by the time Junior was coming to school age (which was about 7 in those times) the farm was experiencing financial difficulties. Alice Lilly, however, refused to let this get in the way of her son’s education. Maybe she saw the dwindling estate and thought that a bit of quality learning would be the best bet for her boy. So off William went to primary, and then to grammar school in nearby Ashby-de-la-Zouch.

He left school in 1619 with great command of Latin and English. Many of his peers would have gone to university at this point, as this was an extremely good school. The financial situation at home, in Diseworth, meant that this was not to be William Lilly’s path.

Senior was in a last ditch battle to avoid debtors prison. William took teaching work in his old primary school and also acted as messenger boy for the correspondence between Senior and Senior’s lawyer. The lawyer recognized that William was bright and well educated, and told him about a man in London he had dealings with who was on the lookout for a secretary and a general servant.

William seized the opportunity. He did not get on with his father who wanted his sons to be farmers, something William was obviously not cut out for.

So William walked to London. It took him about a week.

He set off on Monday April the 3rd 1620 and arrived on the Strand the following Sunday.

(Incidentally, “strand” is an Old English word meaning shore or bank. Presumably the name of the road referred to the shore of the, then wider, pre-embankment River Thames.)

Lilly’s master, Gilbert Wright, was high up in the salt business. Gilbert Wright was illiterate, so Lilly became indispensable for his business. He lived with the Wrights in their house: “the corner house in the Strand”. This may not have been on the riverfront side, as the properties on the riverfront were very grand. The corner house may have been on the corner of Drury Court.

Gilbert Wright had married his second wife, Margery, for her money. By the time Lilly had arrived, Margery was a suspicious woman. She was constantly asking Lilly if Gilbert had been up to any funny business.

In 1622 Margery developed a cancer, which worsened in 1623. Lilly nursed her throughout her illness, and she insisted that he was the only person to apply the bandages, ointments and ultimately to perform surgery on her. She was terminally ill.

On her deathbed she gave him five pounds and told him to go to her friends house where he would find a chest with a hundred pounds in gold. But it was empty. Someone had seen an opportunity and seized the day. She was mightily hacked off, and told William he could have anything in the corner house.

Margery passed and William saw to the burial arrangements. As he was preparing her body he found a little scarlet bag under her arm. It contained talismen made of iron, gold and one of “pure angel gold, of the bigness of a thirty three shilling piece of King James’ Coin”. (This had been made for Margery by Simon Forman. Simon Forman was a famous Elizabethan Astrologer.)

By his own account, this was the moment when William Lilly discovered Astrology. He copied the markings on the talismen and sold them.

Plague struck London in1625 and Gilbert Wright fled town, leaving Lilly to run the house. There wasn’t that much to do, apart from not die. This outbreak was serious. Lilly learnt the bass viol, went bowling in Lincoln’s Inn Fields and went to church a lot.

He went to St Anthony’s Church, known as “Antholin’s”, on the corner of Watling Street and Sise Lane, east of St Pauls. (The one he attended was destroyed in the great fire: this is the replacement.)

He was a puritan.

When the plague subsided Gilbert Wright returned to London and remarried.

In May 1627 Gilbert died. As Gilbert’s brother and widow were illiterate, Lilly tidied up his affairs, and administered his estate. Then he married the widow. He was 25.

On September 8th, 1627, Ellen Wright and William Lilly were married at St George’s, Southwark. Lilly’s life changed from that of a servant to that of a man of leisure. He fished in the Thames down by Somerset house, went to the theatre, played cards, and also enjoyed watching the dancing around the giant maypole which was on the Strand literally feet from his front door.

He also regularly attended services and religious lectures at Antholin’s.

It was in church one Sunday in 1632, waiting for a service to begin, that he struck up a conversation with his neighbour in the pews. The conversation turned to the subject of almanacs and those who made them. Lilly was very interested and his acquaintance arranged for him to meet an astrologer.

The man they went to meet was John Evans. He lived in a hovel in Gunpowder Alley, off Shoe Lane (in the region of Fleet Street). He made his living making and selling Antimonial Cups. These were the 17th century equivalent of Epsom salts.

First impressions were not great. John Evans was “much addicted to debauchery”, Lilly noted, “ and when very abusive and quarrelsome, seldom without a black eye, or one mischief or other”. However Lilly thought he was a good astrologer and became his student.

Nowadays astrology is commonly equated with the popular Sun-sign newspaper columns, which originated in the 1920s. In the time of Lilly astrology was widely considered to be a science. Astronomy and astrology were often synonymous.

The astrologer made a forecast and assessment of character of subject based upon more complex systems than the simple one of what sign the Sun occupied when someone was born. The precise position of the planets at the moment of, and for the place of birth would be calculated. By that reckoning no birth-chart can be identical unless one was born in the same room within 4 minutes of another person.

When the planetary positions had been calculated, the symbols representing the planets were placed in a birth-chart (known as a “figure” or “scheme”). The astrologer would consider the relative positions of the planets and the angles they made with each other. He (it was usually a man) would also consider the planet’s positions within the Zodiacal signs and houses. The system was strict, based on collection of information going back over 4 millenia, with written evidence for astrological techniques dating from 500BC onwards.

Prior to Lilly’s birth, astrological theory fitted into the Elizabethan worldview and concept of the universe. It emphasized the order of things, that the planets and fixed stars within the observable universe exerted regulatory powers. It provided a paradigm, a framework of ideas by which a man could learn about his place in the universal, natural order of things.

During the Renaissance, art and science continually made use of astrology.

Astronomers were invariably, until after Newton, also astrologers. It could be argued that one of the driving forces behind more accurate astronomical observation was the desire for more accurate horoscopes.

Probably the most famous astrologer of the 16th century was John Dee, known popularly as “Queen Elizabeth’s astrologer”. He was engaged to calculate a good date for her coronation, and during her reign he was called upon for advice and to cast horoscopes. He was also the most infamous practitioner of astrology of his time and it has been argued by some that his reputation contributed to the erosion of respect given to astrology. He was rumoured to be a sorceror and a witch, being referred to as “Dr Dee the great Conjurer” and as a “caller of Divils” by John Foxe in a book widely circulated in cathedral churches of the land. Dee successfully petitioned to have these references removed from later editions of Foxe’s book of martyrs but his reputation was greatly damaged.

Another famous astrologer of Elizabethan times, one whose consulting practice Lilly’s would have been similar to was Simon Forman. Born in 1552, as an apprentice in Salisbury he persuaded a schoolboy who lodged with his master to teach him at night what he had been taught during the day. He became a schoolmaster and then he went to the Hague to study astrology. He set up practice in London as a consulting astrologer in 1585, remaining there until his death in 1611.

Incidentally Simon Forman was a fan of theatre and is remembered for his “reviews”, his impressions, of Shakespeare’s plays, which are among the earliest on record.

Forman was consulted about lawsuits, the sailing and safety of ships, the whereabouts of lost or stolen items and, naturally, about matters of the heart.

For example Dean Thomas Blague, of Rochester, a chaplain to the Queen went to him to ask “whether his wife be enchanted by Dean Wood or no,” while Mrs Blague gave Forman 28d.8d. to look into the matter of Dean Wood’s lovers and what would become of them, and promised to pay a further five pounds “when he (Wood) is a full friend of her”.

As more astrologers, like Forman and after him Lilly, took on consultative roles the consideration of Astrology as a serious study was eroded

Treatise on astrology in Europe in the 16th and first half of the 17th centuries were largely pro-astrology and the tendency was to uphold these beliefs.

In England, however, the tide was turning. Astrology could be very profitable. During the years when Lilly was learning and beginning to practice astrology there were many more quacks than serious astrologers and Lilly encountered a fair few of them. Here are a few he met.

There was Alexander Hart, of Houndsditch, whose practice mostly concerned telling gamblers when they might most profitably play at dice. Lilly recounts going to see Hart several times and never getting a satisfactory answer.

In 1633,not long after Lilly had begun his Astrological studies, Mrs Lilly died. With the inheritance he bought the lease on the Corner House (naturally he drew up a chart to advise him) and other properties on the Strand. He remarried in 1634, to Jane Rowley. Not much is known of Jane apart from Lilly’s comment that “she was of the nature of Mars”. What was he inferring? That she was sensual or that she was vicious.

Lilly learnt the basic techniques of astrology from Evans. He learnt how to set up a birth chart and to interpret it. So he could draw conclusions about the character and personality of the subject.

He learnt how draw up a chart for the moment an event took place (the arrival of an important letter, say, or even an idea) and to conclude the probable course of events to follow.

He learnt how to cast a chart to predict the ideal time for starting a venture and to answer a question by drawing up a “figure” for the moment it was asked.

He also learnt how to set up the “annual revolution”, to chart the time when every year the Sun reached the same degree and minute of the Zodiac as it occupied in the birth chart. This would reveal trends for the year ahead.

He also learnt how to use astrological means to predict where on a client’s body one might find moles and other distinguishing features.

Lilly was augmenting his studies with Evans with voracious book reading. He built up a large library of astrological works. No mean feat in a time when books were printed in editions of around a hundred, and were expensive.

Lilly parted with Evans after witnessing him give a false judgment to please a client. Throughout his career, Lilly was an astrologer of principle.

He began to practice as an astrologer around 1634, age 32.

In the early seventeenth century astrology was aligned with occultism, and Lilly did have an interest in ghosts and fairies, alchemy and communications with spirits. While not an occultist like John Dee, his knowledge would be called upon for certain cases.

In 1634 the king’s clockmaker, David Ramsey, had come to believe that valuable treasure was buried in the cloisters of Westminster Abbey. The Dean gave him permission to search for it in exchange for a share of any treasure found. Ramsey elicited the services of a dowser and of Lilly. Here is Lilly’s account of the affair (bookmark 4)

Lilly left London in 1636 to live in Hersham, near Esher. He was suffering from some kind of depression and for five years or so lived almost like a hermit. In 1640 he had a fever and had violent visions, which he took to be warnings of the coming Civil War.

Leaving London may have had something to do with King Charles. King Charles was ruling without a Parliament, favouring high church, tolerating Catholics and persecuting Puritans.

Lilly had been a royalist but the present circumstances caused him to revise his opinion somewhat. By the time he decided to move back to London in 1641, aged 39, he believed that Charles was not an upright representative of the royalist system he believed in. As a Puritan he would have been engaged on Cromwell’s behalf.

By his own account he was guided by his astrology. He had the confidence in the revelations of the planets regarding his future and he believed that the signs were in Cromwell’s favour.

Civil war started in the summer of 1642. By this point, Lilly was on the side of the Parliament.

After his period out of town, Lilly returned to his astrological studies and to his ever-increasing number of clients. The 1640s were an important time for Lilly. He became established as a well-known astrologer in London and the provinces, and he came into contact with eminent folk who would be of great help to him in his future.

For example a woman came with a urine sample from an ill friend, asking about prospects for recovery. Lilly set up a “figure” for when the sample was brought to him, and told her that her friend would recover, though there would be a relapse in a month’s time.

This indeed happened, with the subject having a relapse caused by eating too much trout at a dinner party. Lilly was sent for and assured him that the planets would preside over a return to full health.

The patient was Sir Bulstrode Whitlocke, soon to become Keeper of the Great Seal. Like Lilly, Bulstrode was to walk a balancing act between republicanism and monarchy. Bulstrode was a great friend of Lilly and helped him out on numerous occasions. Through Bulstrode, Lilly also met many of the great and good.

In 1644, Lilly published his first almanac, Merlinus Anglicus Junior. He published an annual almanac from that date until his death. It was a means of preparing the country for horrors and delights to come. It also acted as a self-advertisement and as a means to argue with and to put down fellow astrologers.

It became the most popular of the many astrological almanacs published at the time. An astrological almanac is a calendar containing astronomical detail with astrological interpretation.

At that time nothing could be printed without a licence. The licencer of astrological books was a man called John Booker, himself an astrologer. Lilly rated John Booker, in 1640 calling him “the greatest and most compleat astrologer in the world”.

John Booker published an almanac himself, and may have been looking after his interests by censoring Lilly’s work. However when the first impression sold out in a week, many copies to members of parliament, Lilly was able to get the second run printed extant.

In his almanacs Lilly would offer a disclaimer, setting out what astrology could and could not do. It could not find lost or stolen goods (the practice of asking astrologers to do this was illegal), it could warn a man if the woman he loved was unsuitable, it could advise on the matters of health, on the success of voyages, on good times to start a venture, on physical danger. It could predict the outcome of unwise actions.

Throughout his life Lilly made these warnings, which he personally disregarded.

In 1644 after the success of Merlinus Anglicus Junior, Lilly published England’s Prophetical Merline, and also A Prophesy of the White King, which was the most successful and notorious of the three. I will come back to that a little later.

Lilly was prospering now, with his publications and his private practice. So much so that he could afford to have his portrait taken.

You may notice he is holding a blank chart bearing the words “non cogunt”. The implication is that the stars incline, not compel. The idea was that the astrologer predicted possible trends and the subjects had the free will to act within the circumstances.

Other evidence of Lilly’s rise is the increasing incidence of printed criticism.

In 1647 the royalist astrologer William Wharton alleged in a publication that Lilly had, for a bribe, made a chart telling an heiress to walk in a particular place at a particular time to meet her future husband. Wharton then alleged that Lilly had set this up so that the man who had bribed him could meet the heiress and marry her. This was a serious slander, which an anonymous pamphlet bearing considerable stylistic similarity to Lilly’s own writing addressed. The heiress in question also confirmed Lilly’s innocence of wrongdoing and a scandal was averted.

Apart from his astrological practice and almanacs, during the 1640s William Lilly wrote a book that put him on the map as a serious scholar of astrology. It was called Christian Astrology modestly treated in Three Books, was published in 1647 and is his major published work.

In Book One he describes how to use an ephemeris (a table of values giving positions of astral objects), how to draw up an astrological chart, the nature of the twelve astrological signs and of the planets.

In Book Two he tells the student how to approach questions wishing to be answered by astrology.

In Book Three he tells the student how to interpret a birth chart.

He dedicated the book to his friend Bulstrode.

The English Civil War, which was a series of armed conflicts between the Parliamentarian Roundheads and the Royalist Cavaliers, started in 1642.

The Civil War led to the trial and execution of Charles I, the exile of his son Charles II and replacement of the English monarchy with the Commonwealth of England. The Commonwealth lasted from 1649-1653.

The Commonwealth was replaced with a Protectorate, under Oliver Cromwell’s personal rule. This lasted until 1659 with the restoration of the monarchy and crowning of Charles II in 1660.

Lilly moved back to London roundabout the time of the start of the Civil War.

For the first 18 months of the war it looked very much like the King was going to win the war. London was a parliamentary citadel and was not in the best of health. The Royalist army menaced the city, folk were panicked and disturbed and civil defenses were set up. Some streets were bricked up (St James’s, Holburn, St John Street) and there were turnpikes, roadblocks, where one had to provide evidence of identity.

Lilly didn’t make any pronouncements in the early years of the war, but as the conflict progressed and the course was becoming more clear he began making predictions for the Roundhead cause.

Most English Astrologers of the 17th century published their opinions on the war, but Lilly and the royalist astrologer George Wharton were the most active.

Wharton had been publishing his own almanacs since 1641, a few years before Lilly started. In 1643 he was in Oxford where the King was and was pronouncing astrologically for the King.

Wharton’s first literary and astrological opponent was none other than John Booker, the licenser of astrological books with whom Lilly had had an argument with.

Booker attacked Wharton’s 1644 almanac, written “with His Majesty’s command”, in a paper called Mercurius Coelius.

Wharton wasn’t going to take any criticism lying down and fired off Mercurio-Coelico-Mastix, “an Anti-caveat to all such, as have had the misfortune to be cheated and Deluded by that grand and Traiterous Imposter of this Rebellious Age, John Booker”

Booker was up for it and returned fire with A Rope for a Parrot, or, a Cure for a Rebell Past Cure. He wasn’t messing about

Lilly escaped Wharton’s notice until the publication of A Prophecy Of A White King in August 1644. Lilly set his political stall out with this piece:

“You see what stormes, what miseries, what cruel warres our Nation is once like to suffer by the meanes and procurement of a King called a White King who brings over strangers to destroy us and God gives us command to provide sepulchers and graves for him and them…”

The White King was immediately recognized as Charles, whom favoured wearing the colour white, choosing to wear white clothing at his coronation rather that the more usual purple. Lilly claimed that the prophecy was translated from a Welsh prophecy from about 1677AD.

It predicted the death of the White King.

Lilly encouraged Parliament to hope for victory, despite setbacks.

While the Prophecy was still at the printers there was a Roundhead victory. On July 2nd York fell to the Roundheads and the North was lost to the King.

Wharton attacked Lilly by name in his 1645 almanac.

These almanacs and pamphlets had wide circulations. Lilly’s almanacs rose in circulation from around 13,500 in 1646 up to around 30,000 in 1649. They certainly had propaganda value.

Lilly made a prediction in his 1645 Merlinus Anglicus based upon the King’s nativity, finding that his ascendant was approaching the the quadrature of Mars, about June 1645; “If now we fight, a victory stealeth upon us.” So it did: in June 1645 at Naseby the Roundheads defeated the Royalists in a key battle of the Civil War.

Wharton once again attacked Lilly and Booker by name in his Astrological Judgement upon his Majesties Present Martch: Begun from Oxford, May 7 1645, a pamphlet encouraging the King and his forces on their march from Oxford.

The planetary positions appeared to support Warton’s optimistic Royalist viewpoint (something he was rewarded for in the Reformation when Charles II awarded him with a Baronetcy in 1677.)

Lilly didn’t like being called “an impudent and senseless fellow” in Wharton’s Astrological Judgement and penned The Starry Messenger in a matter of hours of receiving a copy of Wharton’s piece. It was published on the day of

the Roundhead victory at the battle of Naseby and was a great success.

In The Starry Messenger, Lilly was showing even more determined support of Parliament. In the 8,000 word interpretation of the eclipse of the Sun which was to come on August 11th 1645, Lilly clinched King Charles’s future and that of his supporters.

The success of The Starry Messenger brought more enemies out of the woodwork, and not only royalist. Miles Corbett, parliamentarian chairman of the Committee of Examinations, was not happy about Lilly’s criticism of the parliamentary practice of not paying it’s soldiers. Corbett ordered Lilly be seized and brought before the committee. Luckily, some influential parliamentary friends of Lilly came along to aid him in his defense at committee and the committee found no case to answer for.

One of the accusations leveled at Lilly was from the Solicitor for the Excise who claimed that the “slander” of The Starry Messenger incited a mob to burn down his house. This was proved not to be the case as the mob had burned down the house before The Starry Messenger was published.

Lilly attracted compliments from one time rival, the astrologer, John Booker.

By now, Wharton had it in for Lilly and published Merlini Anglica Errata, or, the Errors, Mistakes and Misapplications of Master Lilly’s New Ephemeris for the yeare 1647. Discovered, Refuted and Corrected.

He went to great lengths to disprove Lilly’s predictions before throwing in a character assassination for good measure.

Bt this stage, Lilly and Wharton were outright propagandists for their chosen causes and their criticisms of each other’s interpretations, abilities and probity became more and more venomous.

In 1647 Lilly came to the aid of Charles I.

Throughout the Civil War, despite his political position, Lilly was a consulting astrologer to a large number of Royalist clients.

In 1647 King Charles I was kept under guard at Hampton Court and, sensing his tenuous position, began plotting his escape. The plotters got in touch with Jane Whorewood who went to visit Lilly at the Corner House in the Strand. She explained that she came on behalf of the King, that the King intended to escape, and asked Lilly to cast a chart and advise “in what quarter of this nation might be most safe”

Lilly drew up a chart and advised that the King should hide in Essex. He received 20 pieces of gold.

The King made his escape attempt on November 11th but headed for Southampton, hoping to take ship for the continent. The only ship was to the Isle of Wight. He was, again, detained.

In 1648, the year that Lilly was awarded monies by Parliament thanking him for his support, he was, once again approached by Jane Whorewood. The King was imprisoned in Carisbrooke Castle, and there was another escape plan afoot. Lilly was approached for help of a more practical nature. He got a locksmith in Bow to make a hacksaw strong enough to saw through the iron bars of the King’s cell. With hours to go before the escape attempt, the King was moved. The King had been betrayed.

In September Mrs Whorewood asked Lilly to set up a chart for when would be a good time for the King to negotiate with Parliament to make some kind of settlement. Lilly did this. Once again his advice wasn’t followed.

One get’s the impression that the King’s advisors may have trusted Lilly more than the King.

Maybe the King had a point. In 1648 Lilly and Booker were invited by Parliament to travel to Colchester to which the Roundheads were laying siege.

There they encouraged the troops “assuring them the town would very shortly be surrendered, as indeed it was”.

On January 20th 1649, Lilly was walking in Whitehall and met an acquaintance, the preacher Hugh Peter. Hugh invited him to come to see the trial of the King. So Lilly was there at the trial where the King was condemned as “a tyrant, a traitor, murderer and public enemy to the good people of this nation”, to be executed “by the severing of his head by his body”.

Lilly did not attend the execution.

Lilly wrote; “For my part, I do believe he was not the worst, but the most unfortunate of Kings”.

Elias Ashmole was a celebrated English politician, antiquary, astrologer and alchemist. During the Restoration he was astrologer to King Charles II.

When Lilly met him in 1646 he was on the Royalist side and about to co-write with Wharton another attack on Lilly. However Ashmole and Lilly struck an immediate friendship, which was to be lifelong, and Ashmole withdrew from his partnership with Wharton.

Lilly took Ashmole to the Astrological Feast at the White Heart in the Old Bailey that year. The annual Astrological Feast was organized by the society of astrologers. Over 40 astrologers and invited guests would meet in convivial atmosphere, all hostilities suspended under a temporary ceasefire. Typical meetings would have Lilly, Booker, Wharton, Culpeper (the herbalist) sitting at the same table with psychic and cabbalistic astrologers, scientists and astrologers. Royalists and Parliamentarians drank together in good spirits, the discussion of politics being banned.

Lilly’s and Ashmole’s friendship, though immediate, was initially guarded. Lilly wasn’t pleased when he found out that Ashmole had been reporting their conversations to Wharton, but still forgave him.

After the King’s execution Wharton’s anti-parliamentarian rhetoric had become rabid. Wharton was arrested in 1649. The word on the grapevine was that Wharton was to be hung for sedition. Ashmole went to Lilly to ask for help on Wharton’s behalf.

Lilly went to the aid of his erstwhile enemy Wharton. He visited Wharton in prison and advised him to lie low, to not make any statements that would draw attention to himself. Lilly’s friend and patron Bulstrode Whitelocke became president of the council in 1650 and quietly released Wharton.

Wharton was grudgingly grateful.

Ashmole, seeing Lilly come to the aid of his antagonist, Wharton, became a firm friend to Lilly at this point.

In the early 1650s Lilly became less and less impressed with Parliamentary rule, predicting its overthrow in his almanacs. Censorship, heavy taxation, confiscation of property, suppression of popular entertainments, enforcement of strict moral code: life under the Rump Parliament was rubbish. Unless you were an MP.

Lilly’s Almanac for 1652 landed him in front of the Committee for Plundered Ministers

Luckily the Speaker of the House, William Lenthall, was a friend of Lilly’s and let him see the passages of the almanac that the committee were going to interrogate him of. Lilly got 6 new copies printed with the passages removed from them.

When he got to the Committee he was handed an almanac. He looked at it and then said; “This is none of my book. Some malicious Presbyterian hath wrote it, who are my mortal enemies. I disown it.”

He then produced the new almanacs to a now stunned room; “These I own, the others are counterfeits, published purposefully to ruin me.”

Even so, and in spite of the representations made by MP friends on his behalf, he was committed.

As he was leaving the Court Oliver Cromwell personally intervened. First he allowed Lilly to be freed for the night, as no warrant had been drawn up for his arrest. Second he ensured that Lilly only spent a few days in Newgate before helping to organize his release.

In 1652, after his brush with the Presbyterians, Lilly bought a house in Walton-upon-Thames. This became his main home for the rest of his life; he would pop up to the Corner House on the Strand for consultations, but for the main would consult and teach from his country home.

Lilly was not loved by the Royalists in exile with Charles II in the Hague. His biography of Charles I was particularly unpopular.

So now Lilly was unpopular with the Parliamentarian and with the Royalist causes. His rival astrologers were as ever keen to take him down, as were certain churchmen. In 1653 the Presbyterian preacher Thomas Gataker published an attack on astrologers in general and “the scurrilous aspersions of that grand imposter, My William Lillie” in particular.

Lilly was, however, still an influential figure. The appointment of Cromwell as Lord Protector gave him some security and he had a list of extremely august clients. He was able to recommend his patron Bulstrode Whitelocke for the position of Ambassador to Sweden.

Lilly’s second wife passed that year. In his autobiography he noted that “I shed no tears” so they can’t have been close.

In 1654 he remarried to a Ruth Needham, and it was a happy marriage. Ruth, ultimately, survived Lilly.

Gataker continued to attack Lilly in print so vociferously that even fellow astrologers with no love for him came to his defence.

In 1655 Lilly was accused of unlawfully using astrology to help a woman recover stolen goods. This prosecution was under the act of 1603, “against conjuration, witchcraft and dealings with evill and wicked spirits”, which said that if anyone used witchcraft, enchantment, charms or sorcery to help recover stolen goods they should be imprisoned for a year with regular 6-hour appearances at the pillory on market day. Second offence was a capital offence.

In a courtroom packed full of Lilly’s favourite religious denomination, Presbyterians, he was accused, by one Anne East of receiving half-a-crown for telling where 10 stolen waistcoats could be recovered.

He was also accused of making several successful astrological predictions for other clients.

Lilly explained that Astrology was legal and was not contradicted by scripture and that he had advised Anne East that her possessions would never be recovered. The case was dismissed before Anne East went off the testimony prepared for her by her ministers and claimed that after meeting Lilly she was troubled by bears, lions and tigers.

In 1659 Lilly received a gold chain and medal from the King of Sweden. He had been offering support for the king in his annual almanacs. In 1656 he had predicted successes against the Poles, in 1659 he had suggested that a new star discovered by Tycho De Brahe referred to the King of Sweden, in 1658 he predicted more military successes. These predictions were translated and given to the troops in the King of Sweden’s army. His predictions of success for Sweden in 1659 were rather wide of the mark, and henceforth he distanced himself from making further predictions.

His rivals had a field day, ridiculing him in pamphlets. The astrologer John Gadbury, once an admirer now a critic was particularly nasty.

Oliver Cromwell died in 1658, and his eldest surviving son “Tumbledown Dick” took on the protectorship. Lilly predicted success for Richard, this was not to be. The “free parliament” voted for the restoration of the monarchy in 1660.

Lilly was now in a tight spot. He was parliamentarian astrologer in a royalist ascendence. Within weeks of the Reformation his rival astrologers published A declaration of the several treasons, blasphemies and misdemeanors acted, spoken and published against God, the late King, his present Majesty, the nobility, clergy, city etc by that grand wizard and imposter William Lilly otherwise known as Merlinus Anglicus.

In the coming months friends of Lilly’s, like the preacher Hugh Peter who had taken Lilly to see the trial of King Charles I, were tried and executed.

Lilly got off lightly: his friends in high places ensured that he survived any enquires sent his way and he merely had some of his properties confiscated.

Lilly’s friend, Elias Ashmole, was appointed Windsor Herald and Controller of the Excise by the King. Ashmole had the King’s ear and this ensured Lilly’s safety.

In 1665 his friend Ashmole asked Lilly about a passage in his Collection of Ancient and Modern Prophecies he had made in 1645, which referred to the year 1666:

“The influence and efficiency of the third conjunction with Saturn and Jupiter in Sagittarius then impending will produce no small alteration of the church and commonwealth in England”

Lilly answered carefully: a controversial interpretation could be argued to be seditious. He wouldn’t elaborate further on the passage.

A couple of years later an astrologer, John Heydon, was imprisoned and tortured for drawing up a birth chart for Charles II. The Duke of Buckingham, who commissioned the chart, was put in the Tower.

In 1665 the Great Plague struck London. The woodcut from Lilly’s 1651 publication Monarchy or no Monarchy was considered by many to be a direct prophecy of the plague.

Monarchy or no Monarchy contained 19 plates of “heirogliphics”, ”which in enigmatical types, forms, figures and shapes doth perfectly represent the future condition of the English Nation and Commonwealth for many hundreds of years yet to come.”

4 plates in particular were to become notorious in the late 1660s.

2 are printed on the same page and show emaciated corpses wrapped in bundles and gravediggers busy at work.

Another shows a city in flames by a river.

Another shows men pouring water onto a bonfire with the Gemini Twins falling into the flames. Gemini is the zodiacal sign associated with the city of London.

In his own copy of Monarchy or no Monarchy, Lilly had written the words “mortalis circa 1665” under the plague woodcut, and under one of the fire woodcuts had written “1666”

In April 1666 an army colonel, John Rathbone, and 7 officers and soldiers were charged with conspiring to kill the King and overthrow the government.

They were found guilty and executed.

The Great Fire Of London started on Sunday 2nd September 1666 and lasted until the Wednesday.

Lilly was ordered to attend the inquiry into the cause of the Great Fire on the 25th October to answer questions.

Lilly was extremely worried. He went to ask for help from his friend Ashmole, who accompanied him to the enquiry. Ashmole was a mover and a shaker and knew a few of the committee members; he quietly had words on Lilly’s behalf.

The committee did not question Lilly about any association with the Rathbone plot: Lilly’s 1666 almanac did not mention anything about the downfall of the monarch, the 3rd was the anniversary of Cromwell’s death and always brought out the fanatics.

The committee was more concerned with the idea that Lilly may have had a hand in laying the fire to prove his prophecies in Monarchy or no Monarchy right. Lilly was able to convince them that he was not. He was allowed to leave the enquiry. He was most relieved. In fact the episode did no end of good to his reputation.

As he got older, Lilly developed a passion for medicine, and in 1670 was granted a licence to practice physick by the Archbishop of Canterbury.

Part of Lilly’s medical practice was dedicated to the poor: he would travel every Saturday to Kingston where he would offer advice and treatment free of charge.

Astrological physicians tended to rely on herbal remedy, consulting the planets to determine the best times to bleed a patient or to operate.

In fact Culpepper’s Complete Herbal contains comprehensive instructions to astrologers.

Lilly would have cast figures to aid diagnosis.

He would have drawn up charts upon receipt of samples, or meeting the patient to trace the course of the illness and the prognosis.

Particular illnesses were associated with astrological signs: Gemini tended to encourage diseases of the arms, for example. The planets had their associations also: Mars was the planet of Gouts, Jaundice and Vomiting of Blood, for example.

In the last 10 years of his life he spent much time with his friend Ashmole, who was now court astrologer. Among other things they tracked down papers written by Doctor Dee and researched into his career together.

The pace of life for Lilly was slowing, and he was more frequently troubled by illness. He suffered a stroke in March 1681 he died in June of that year.

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A Beginners Guide To Doctor Dee

On this Sunday afternoon coming, myself & my partner (in crime & in storytelling adventures) Vanessa Woolf will be in Mortlake leading a story walk about famous local John Dee. You can see the event on this page link. Some of you may not know who this fine gentleman was. This may help to enlighten.

John Dee was born at 4.02pm on the 13th July 1527, 51 degrees & 32 seconds north of the Equator (about the latitude of London.)

1dee-birth-chart

We know this from his birth chart. There is no official record of his birth. No longitude is recorded as the Greenwich Meridian was only established in 1851. The position of the sun & the date on the chart point to Dee being born in or around the City of London.

He was the first & only surviving child of Roland & Jane Dee. Roland was a textile merchant, a mercer. He also occupied a position in Henry VIII’s court in Greenwich Palace as a gentleman sewer. Henry was born in Greenwich & it was his main residence.

Roland Dee was a Welshman & John in later years would claim to be a descendant of Rhodri The Great, a 9th century Welsh Monarch.

John Dee attended Chelmsford Chantry School until the age of 15

Dee went to study at St John’s College Cambridge in 1542, gaining a BA in 1546 or so. In 1547, at the age of 19, he became an original fellow of Trinity College.

2Cambridge_1575_colour_Trinity_College

He said that when he was at Trinity, his enthusiasm was so great, he worked for 18 hours a day, allowing 4 hours for sleep & 2 for meals.

His great passion was mathematics, a subject considered suspicious in some quarters.
Mathematics was popularly associated with the magical black arts, the term ‘calculating’ was synonymous with conjuration.

3pythagoras

Pythagoras, one of the founding figures of mathematics, was considered to be a magician. Pythagoras believed that numbers had inherent powers, because mathematical concepts were easier to regulate & classify than physical ones, they had greater actuality, greater truth.

Pythagorus pointed out that the first 4 integers 1,2,3,&4 expressed not only the most basic elements of geometry (the point, the line, the triangle, the solid) but also the harmonic ratios underlying both music & cosmic proportions.

Ideas like this inspired other thinkers to search for other significant numbers, construct numerical hierarchies, assess the meaning of the number of elements & planets, count the number of angels on a pinhead & so on.

Dee loved all this numerological cosmology & undertook an experiment to demonstrate the power of number.

4image_1484_1e-Scarab-beetle

Dee mounted a production of a play called “Peace” by the Greek playwright, Aristophenes, first produced in 421BC. The opening scene concerns the hero Trigaeus’s attempts to reach Zeus’s heavenly palace. He tries ladders but they keep toppling. He finally ascends on the back of a giant dung beetle, a scarab, a ride so scary the hero nearly “forms food” for the hero!

Dee wanted this moment to be as realistic as possible & turned to mathematics for a solution. Dee probably invented the term “Thaumatology” the study of miracles. He thought mathematics, not magic, was the key. He constructed an illusion with a scarab which leapt from the stage in the main hall of Trinity & lifted the hero to the eaves. Like a member of the magic circle he didn’t reveal how he made the creature fly around the stage, however in one of his writings on the subject of Thaumatology he did allude to using pneumatics, mirrors & springs.

Many did not believe it was an illusion & that the scarab actually levitated & that Dee was assisted by “wicked powers.”

Dee’s fascination with astronomy first flourished in 1547 too & he would spend many an evening from then on until the end of his life under the stars making observations & measurements.

Dee’s appetite for knowledge of the secrets of the universe was insatiable & he felt that England did not provide the best intellectual viewpoint to study this. He decided to head for the Low Countries, where the Renaissance was in full flower.

6Leo_belgicus

Termed “Low” because much of the land was below sea level, comprising what is now Belgium, Luxembourg & the Netherlands, they were rich commercial centres, prone to foreign influences. Dee called this “the intertraffique of the mind”; protestantism from Germany, Renaissance science & art from Italy, navigational innovations from Portugal & imperial forces from Spain whose king, Charles V, ruled the Low Countries.

7Brussels Belguim

Dee arrived at the University of Louvain, near Brussels, on the 24th June 1548. He enrolled in a law course “for leisure” but spent the majority of his time with the mathematicians, particularly Gemma Fresius, the university’s professor of medicine & mathematics.

Reinerus Frisius Gemma

Reinerus Frisius Gemma

Frisius pioneered the use of triangulation in land surveying, which enabled the position of a landmark to be measured from 2 points a known distance apart. This method relied on the new technique of trigonometry, which was almost unknown in England.

9fig1l

Under Frisius’s influence, Louvain was caught up with scientific measurement. There were workshops making precision measuring instruments: cross staffs, astrolabes & the like.

In one of these workshops Dee met the cartographer, Gerard Mercator, who was working on a series of globes & maps incorporating the discoveries of Columbus.
This new geography was revolutionary. Medieval charts showed the earth as a disc or semicircle comprising 3 continents often including religious features like the Tower of Babel & the Garden of Eden. Mercator’s maps showed a world of 4 continents with a curved surface “projected” onto a rectangular map using a mathematical method to enable more accurate navigation.

10mctr02_1

It was in Louvain that Dee’s “whole system of philosophising in the foreign manner laid down it’s first & deepest roots”. He became great friends with Mercator who gave him a globe of the heavens & a globe of the earth: princely gifts, which were stolen from Dee later in his life.

11Mercator-globe1

Dee dedicated his astronomical work, “Propaeduemata Aphoristica” 1558 to Mercator.

Compernicus’s heretical concept that the sun rather than the earth was the centre of the universe was seeping into the scientific community since his publication of “De Revolutionibus” in 1543. Dee & Mercator may have discussed this & were certainly experimenting with concepts of the universe.

12fig1

The standard view of the universe had 8 spheres with 7 planets, including the sun & moon, & an outer shell carrying the stars. Mercator & Dee came up with a brass “Theorick” comprising of 10 concentric circles. Nothing more is known about this object as it was stolen from Dee later in his life.

Dee was friends with many trailblazing European scientists & philosophers, but did not mix with many English while abroad, with the exception of Sir William Pickering who was ambassador to the court of King Charles V in Brussels. Dee would eat at William’s house & tutored him in the new mathematical & astronomical techniques.

NPG D25178; Sir William Pickering by Thomas Fisher

by Thomas Fisher, etching, published 1 July 1807

Dee & Pickering would have a long friendship with his fellow Cambridge alumnus; Pickering would send him books from his foreign postings & also bequeathed Dee a black mirror.

Dee was making his mark in the Low Countries: he was at the centre of the political & intellectual world. Charles V offered him a position at court, the first of 5 such offers from “Christian Emperors”. Dee would turn them all down. Maybe he feared exile from an increasingly Protestant England if he joined a Catholic court, maybe he was hoping for an offer from the English court…

By 1551 he was lecturing in Paris to packed houses on Euclidian Geometry, work offers were coming from monarchs & he was starting to build a goodly collection of books. He then returned to England aged 24.

England was a different place to the one he had left. Henry VIII’s son Edward VI was 9: protestant fervour was demonstrated with destruction of statues & crucifixes in churches. Also there was a spirit of progressive academic reform receptive to Dee’s continental learnings.

14Edward_VI_Scrots_c1550_cropped

Dee’s former tutor John Cheke introduced him to the Edwardian court, he was introduced to Edward & given a pension of 100 crowns, which he exchanged for an income from a rectory in Upton-upon-Severn.

Dee became the tutor to the sons of The Earl of Pembroke, with whom he got on very well, casting horoscopes for the family members.

He was then recommended to the service of the Duke of Northumberland (Edward’s protector) as a tutor to his sons.

Dee was an established intellectual of some standing in the new Protestant order, poised to become a favourite of the king, destined for rank & wealth.

What could possibly go wrong?

King Edward fell ill in 1552. The Duke of Northumberland called on the Italian physician & astrologer, Girolamo Cardano, to treat him. Before seeing the King, Girolamo cast his horoscope, discovering “omens of great calamity”. Upon examination of the king he diagnosed consumption. He did not mention the horoscope as unrequested horoscopes were considered to be a form of magical spying.

By the end of 1552 Edward was coughing up blood & it was rumoured that he was being poisoned. Northumberland planted the rumour that Princess Mary had given him the evil eye, implying she was a witch. Mary was Henry VIII’s child from his first marriage, considered by Catholics to be the only true heir to the throne. Northumberland feared Mary. He persuaded Edward to disinherit her in favour of Henry VII’s great granddaughter. He then married one of his sons to Lady Jane & one of Pembroke’s sons to her sister. Both Northumberland & Pembroke were Dee’s patrons.

Edward died in July 1553, as people do, & Northumberland attempted to put Lady Jane on the throne, but Mary was favoured by many aristocrats & by popular sentiment. These included Pembroke who celebrated Mary’s accession by getting his son’s marriage to Grey 2 annulled & by throwing coins to peasants from his castle wall.

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Within a month of Edward’s death, Northumberland found himself in front of a crowd of 10,000 Londoners on Tower Hill. He publicly renounced his Protestant beliefs & was beheaded. Mary’s Privy council were purging the court.

Roland Dee, John’s dad was on a list. Under Henry & Edward he prospered. In August 1553 he was identified as a Protestant activist & taken for interview by the Privy Council. He was released after 10 days, ruined. This had a knock on effect for John Dee who now could no longer rely on an inheritance & possible promotion to nobility which would have provided the security he craved to continue his studies.

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In 1555 Mary’s supporters started to burn Protestants. The church could not legally execute heretics so Mary’s state took on this responsibility. Enthusiastically. Hundreds were burned.

On 28th May 1555 the Privy Council ordered to “make search for John Dee, dwelling in London, & to apprehend him & seize him hither.” His house was sealed, & his papers & books impounded as evidence. His living from Upton-upon-Severn was confiscated.

Dee was arrested with a group of people closely associated with Princess Elizabeth. It is likely that he was suspected of being part of a secret Protestant cell clustered around Elizabeth. Elizabeth herself was arrested & was brought to Hampton Court, where Mary was approaching term of what turned out to be a phantom pregnancy. (Mary was married to the Spanish Charles V’s son Philip)

Elizabeth was considered to be a threat to the English re-establishment of Catholicism, & was in danger of being bumped off. Mary’s advisers were trying to implicate her so she could be safely executed.

Dee’s accusations were focussed not on his religious beliefs, rather on his links with mathematics & magic. He was charged with “Calculating, conjuring & witchcraft” on the grounds that he had drawn up horoscopes for Mary, her husband Philip & Elizabeth.

It’s quite likely he did. The remnant of his diary for that time shows the date & time of Mary & Philip’s wedding, noting that the rising sign at the moment of the wedding was Libra, a good omen for marriage.

Horoscopes on their own was not enough to take Dee down. 2 informers were said to have evidence that Dee had “endeavoured by enchantments to destroy Queen Mary”

One of the informers, a man identified by Dee as “Prideaux” may have have been a Catholic spy that later fled to Spain under the protection of King Philip.

The other informer was a certain George Ferrers, Lawyer, MP & convicted debtor. Ferrers accused Dee of using “enchantments” to blind one of his children & to kill another.

Dee was brought before the council to be examined on his “lewd & vain practices of calculing & conjuring” No charges could be substantiated.

He was released after 3 months, permanently deprived of his revenue from Upton & handed over to further religious investigation for heresy by “Bloody Bonner” the Bishop of London. He disappeared into St Paul’s Cathedral a suspected heretic & presumably by some persuasion & threat of being burned to death at Smithfield. survived & emerged an obedient chaplain.

Dee actually became a member of Bishop Bonner’s household & a friend of the bishop, remaining a friend even in the late 1560s when Bonner lay disgraced & dying in Marshalsea prison, stripped of his honours by Elizabeth’s Protestant government.
Dee may even have been ordained by Bonner. Dee acquired his Doctor title around this time, referring to his knowledge of divinity & religious subjects.

Throughout his life Dee tiptoed a line between Catholicism & Protestantism,a priest ordained in Catholic England,a priest marrying in Protestant England. Dee believed that neither doctrines nor even the Pope or Bible had a monopoly on God’s truth.

In 1556 Dee had transformed from outsider to being at home with the new English Catholic order. In 1556 he petitioned Queen Mary “for the recovery & preservation of ancient writers & monuments”. Dee was concerned that much of England’s ancient & medieval manuscripts were being lost to pilferage & action needed to be taken to preserve England’s intellectual heritage post haste.

Dee wanted agents to collect works from across the country for a new “Library Royal”, a great national archive, a resource for “learned men”. The scheme did not get official backing, but the idea had captured Dee & he pursued the endeavour himself with frantic enthusiasm. He scoured the land for texts, sometimes “borrowing” manuscripts & failing to return them, sometimes acquiring books from gentlemen who had found themselves arrested by Mary’s regime.

He was particularly interested in scientific publications. It is about this time that Dee started work on one of his own.

“Propaemanda Aphoristica”; Preliminary Aphoristic Teachings was a series of maxims explaining astrological processes by rational processes. Dee wanted to discover the “true virtues of nature”, how celestial events, the movements of the Sun, Moon & planets against the stars influenced the sublunar terrestrial events.

In early 16th century England, astrology was in decline. Not because folk didn’t believe in astrology, it was a widespread belief that the planets influenced earthly events. It was more that English science & mathematics was in a state: few practiced it & ephemerides, tables showing the position of celestial objects at particular dates & times, had to be imported. Without ephemerides it was harder to calculate charts & make almanacs. Dee wanted to change this situation & his book was an opening salvo.

Dee’s book theorised that every object in the universe emitted “rays” which influenced other objects when the rays struck them. He believed that the forces of repulsion & attraction shown by lodestones (magnetised iron ore) were a miniature demonstration of what happened at a cosmic level. Dee believed these rays could be studied scientifically & he really needed more detailed astronomical surveys so the true sizes & distances, therefore influence of the heavenly bodies could be established.

Dee’s natural philosophy, a scientific view of the universe, may be seen as an antecedent to Newton’s up to a point. Dee wrote papers on perspective, on astronomical instruments & on properties of circular motions. As early as 1553 he wrote a work on the ebb & flow of tides, a subject directly related to gravity, also an interest of Newton.

Dee endorsed the observation that 2 objects of different weight fall to the ground at the same speed. This is a discovery attributed to Galileo Galilei. Dee knew of this & observed that others had observed it before Galileo!

Where Dee’s published work differs from Newton’s Principia Mathmatica is that the forces at the heart of Dee’s rays were as much magical as physical.

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You can see it in the book’s title page which shows the qualities of heat & humidity, the sun & the moon, the elements of earth & water & firev all connected to a mystical symbol slap bang in the frontispiece. This Monad was an astrological sign Dee invented.

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He saw it as the key to understanding the cosmos. Having this on front of your book on physics may show your idea of physics strays way beyond the limits of physical reality. He believed these rays emanating from physical objects could affect the human soul as well as the body. This is astrological thinking.

Dee believed that optical tools could manipulate these rays as well as light, even making the magical emanations visible. Dee was circumspect about whether a crystal ball focussed these invisible rays into the seeing world, presumably so as not to be accused of conjuration.

So Dee was a pioneer of the concept of Natural Magic. Dee believed that God’s creation of the universe let loose a divine force which causes planets to turn, the Sun to rise, the Moon to wax & wane. Magic would be the human ability to tap into this force. Dee’s Magic is technology; the more we understand how it drives the universe the more powerful it gets.

Propaemanda was to be Dee’s magnum opus, but he only managed a rushed summary. There were 2 devastating flu epidemics in 1557 & 1558 & Dee fell seriously ill. Thinking he was going to die he set his affairs in order & sent the rushed book with the rest of his literary affairs to his executor.

Influenza gets it’s name from the belief that it was caused by malign astrological influences. The etymology is from the Italian, meaning influence, or visitation from the stars.

At the end of 1557 things were changing at the top of English society. King Philip, Mary’s husband, left for Spain. Mary had another phantom pregnancy then died in May 1558. Anyone associated with Mary & Catholicism was in the firing line.

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Elizabeth was informed of Mary’s death by the flip-flopping Earl of Pembroke who switched allegiance to Elizabeth & was given a position on her council

Elizabeth arrived in London less than a week after Mary’s death. The Bishop Of London waited in line to welcome her with other dignitaries. She offered her hand to the Mayor & aldermen to be kissed but withdrew it when Bonner approached & walked on. Bonner ended up dying in Marshalsea Prison.

She appointed the son of the Duke of Northumberland, Robert Dudley, to organise the coronation. Dudley wanted a scholar to aid him in choosing the most auspicious date. He chose Dee above returning Protestant exiles.

Dee was well qualified. His book, Propaedeumata, had established him as one of the country’s leading natural philosophers & revived interest in mathematical based astrology (as opposed to divination, a notable practitioner being Nostradamus).
His frenetic library building during Mary’s reign had put a sizeable array of ancient texts at his disposal from which to cite precedents & authorities.

While many members of Mary’s regime were shamed & cast out, Dee was brought into the fold. He was even awarded the living at Leadenham to replace the loss of income from the confiscated rectorship of Upton. Perhaps Dee’s presence in the Bishop of London’s household was of benefit to Elizabeth’s circle during Mary’s reign. Dee is quite likely to have been an”intellegencer”, not only a seeker of hidden philosophies & scientific discoveries but also a spy.

During the Christmas revelries of 1558, Dee wrote a long & detailed analysis of the historical augers for her reign. He chose 15th January as the start date. Jupiter would be in Aquarius, suggesting impartiality, independence & tolerance. Mars would be in Scorpio suggesting passion & commitment.

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Having set the day, Dee was invited by Robert Dudley for an audience with the Queen at Whitehall Palace & was presented to her by Dudley & the Earl Of Pembroke. She said to Dee “Where my brother hath given him a crown, I will give him a noble.” A noble was a gold coin worth 2 silver crowns. Dee was a favoured member of the court.

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Soon after Elizabeth’s coronation, Dee vanished. For nearly 5 years he is absent from all historical records. It is thought that he spent much of this time abroad, collecting books & learning about the Cabala. The Cabala was a combination of language, mathematics & mysticism based around Hebrew. Dee taught himself Hebrew & started getting Hebrew texts around this time. For Cabalists, Hebrew was more than just a language, they believed it had the secrets of the universe encoded within it.

St John’s gospel starts “In the beginning was the Word”. Dee believed that this word would have been in Hebrew. Thus an analysis of Hebrew was a way of finding the underlying structure of God’s creation. The laws of nature were were it’s grammar, matter it’s nouns.

Cabala originated in 1st century Palestine. By the 16th century it was treated with the same suspicion as mathematics. A lot of Cabala seems to have been numerological or cryptological. One branch of Cabala, Gematria, searched for numbers which could be substituted for each letter of the Hebrew alphabet. Then you could perform arithmetic on combinations of words to find a mathematical relationship underlying language.

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The Cabala was preoccupied with the numerology of Angels. One of the functions of Gematria was to calculate how many there were (301,655,172 apparently). The Cabala provided a means for working out the names & relationships of Angels.

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It identified the 72 Angels who provided a route to understanding the “Sephiroth”; the 10 names most common to God which together make his 1 great name.

Angels live at the top, divine level of the Cabala’s 3 level universe. Below Angels lie the celestial realm of the stars & at the bottom, the elemental layer of the physical world. This structure is thought to be represented in the Hebrew language itself & in the Hebrew alphabet.

Cabala had a magical side: since language was tied to the formation of the universe, words had the potential to change it. Cabalism provided a magical technology for making incantations to summon spirits & influence events which would act as prayers which would always work.

Dee had an interest in another practical use of Cabala which is the creation of secret codes & ciphers.

Dee resurfaced in February 1563 in the busy merchant town of Antwerp. He heard rumours of a book “Steganographia” having turned up there. This was written by Johannes Trithemius in the first decade of the 1500s.

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Trithemius was one of the pioneers of cryptography. He was an abbot & fascinated by the Cabala. He drew a sharp division between magic & superstition. Magic was science, witchcraft diabolical.

His book “Polygraphia”was about specifically about codes.

Steganographia had a load of hidden language systems, methods of transmitting messages over great distances using fire, a method of teaching Latin in 2 hours & silent communication without movement. Trithemius was often accused of being a magician. He died in 1516. There were thought to be 3 surviving books.

Dee was very excited & went to great efforts to find the manuscript. Through an intermediary, “a mysterious nobleman of Hungary”, Dee was able to secure the manuscript for 10 days. This coast him all of his funds, £20. He worked around the clock to transcribe it.

Dee then wrote a letter to William Cecil, Queen Elizabeth’s key minister reporting the discovery of “the most precious jewel that I have yet of other men’s travails recovered”. He asked for reimbursement for his spending.

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While the book “Polygraphia” was specifically about secret codes, “Steganographia” went one further. It proposed a method of communication between 2 people across long distances using incantations. One system involves the message giver writing out the message, then speaking a special formula to summon one of the many spirits identified in the book, then giving the message for the sprit. The message is taken to the recipient who has to perform an incantation to receive it.

So on first look it would appear that “Steganographia” was a purely occult collection of 3 chapter, the last of which was lists of tables of the motions of the planet Saturn.

In fact the tables in the final chapter provided keys to the “incantations” in the first 2 chapters which were not in fact spells but encoded messages.

In the 1990s a German linguist called Thomas Ernst & an American cryptographer called Jim Reeds independently of each other both looked at the tables in the 3rd chapter & a table in the 1st chapter & were able to decode the “incantations”.

So when Dee was writing back to Elizabeth’s man, Cecil, he was not celebrating an occult breakthrough but a coding one.

Cecil was in the process of putting together an international espionage network which, under his successor, Francis Walsingham, would become one of the best in Europe. The network relied heavily on codes.

Dee saw the “Steganographia” as a way of deciphering encoded occult texts like “The Book of Soyga”, which supposedly contained an ancient message in the language originally spoken by Adam: the true unspoiled word of God. Another was “The Voynich Manuscript” a notorious work a yet undeciphered.

Dee pointed out to Cecil that the “Steganographia” was an example of the intellectual treasure that the Continent had & England lacked.

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Dee returned to England in 1564 with a book he had written in 12 days called Monas Hieroglyphica, which he presented to Queen Elizabeth. This was a risky move as the book was full of controversial magical ideas, numerology, Cabala, cosmology & mathematics. He may have been testing the waters to see if his brand of science would be welcome in England.

Elizabeth was intrigued & encouraging, promising to become Dee’s scholar if he explained the secrets of the book. Monas was different to his previous work which was a collection of theories from observations & experimentation. Monas is a collection of theories from intuitions & pure thought.

The central theme of Monas Heiroglyphica was that the common astronomical symbols of the planets were relics of a lost universal language that transcended national & religious barriers. Dee claimed to have discovered that the all the symbols could be combined into one symbol, exemplifying the unity of the universe.

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Dee described some of the theories in the book as “Cosmopolitical”, referring to a universal perspective on political affairs. Dee is recorded as referring to himself as a “Cosmopolites”, a “citizen & member of the whole & one Mystical City Universe”.
It’s possible these theories related to Dee’s ideas on imperialism, a vision of world government run according to universal Christian principles.

Elizabeth loved all this stuff, English academia less so. Dee had turned down an academic post teaching Mathematical Sciences at Oxford 10 years before, in 1554, & his continental mathematical & philosophical ideas were not popular with the more conservative English Universities now.

So although he had intellectual freedom, he could not count on an academic income & with his father’s catastrophic fall from grace in Mary’s reign meant he had no funds to fall back on. His only way of making money was at court.

If you were in favour with the Queen you were rewarded with money, influence & prospects. It did not serve you to fall out of favour.

Dee was one of the few commoners to be honoured with personal visits by the Queen & he was frequently summoned to court to talk about various matters.
One commentator noticed that he had become “Her Philosipher”

The Queen sometimes visited at less than ideal times: on one occasion 4 hours after the death of his second wife the Queen & the entire privy council turned up on his doorstep. He entertained them with a magic mirror on his doorstep.

Elizabeth believed that her powers as a monarch were magical. She was an enthusiastic practitioner of the “Royal Touch”, a rite dating back to the reign of Henry II (12c). The monarch would touch the neck of a sufferer of epilepsy or of scrofula (also known as “King’s Evil, an inflammation of the lymph glands), curing them. It is recorded that Elizabeth was very effective as this; this was cited as a vindication of her claim to throne.
Dee endeavoured to help the queen make the most of her powers & become an adept at the magical practices of monarchy.

While Dee was called on for many matters, like when “A blazing star fell from the sky”, or when a wax effigy of Elizabeth stuck with pig bristles was found under a tree at Lincoln’s Inn Fields, or on the subject of trade or naval maintenance, he was called on as a loyal subject, not a paid professional.

Dee had no patrons as such, being unaffiliated to either Catholic or Protestant factions in court & apart from the Queen seemed incapable of making friends with the nobility.

Out of financial necessity Dee lived with his mother in Mortlake, 8 miles upstream from London from the mid 1560’s on. Dee brought his second wife to Mortlake, Katherine Constable, who died there.

Dee’s main focus at this time appears to have been his Library. He bought neighbouring buildings & made an “Externa Biblioteca”, a chief & open library, a reading room for scholars & copyists to consult the main body of his collection.

Among other subjects, his library covered magic, mathematics, botany, chastity, demonology, dreams, earthquakes, falconry, games, horticulture, Islam, logic, marriage, mythology, the nobility, oils, pharmacology, rhetoric, saints, surveying, tides, veterinary science, weather, women, zoology & the Armenian Church.

While there was no discernible order to the books on the shelves Dee knew his way around the library.

Dee also had laboratories leading off from the library with alchemical stills

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Dee had a private study with his magical equipment & his most precious magical texts.

Dee financed this by private consultations: tuition, astrological readings, dream interpretations, medical consultations, forensic advice.

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He also accepted government contracts. In January 1570, James Stewart, the 1st Earl of Moray, Protestant Regent of Scotland, was assassinated. Mary, Queen Of Scots, was currently imprisoned in England & there was concern about plots to overthrow Elizabeth.

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On June 2 Pope Pius V issued a papal bull, Regnans In Excelsis, which was nailed to the door of the Bishop Of London’s palace. It was basically a fatwa against Elizabeth, talking of her damnation & absolving her subjects from loyalty to her with promise of eternal reward for her death.

In this context, Dee was commissioned to write an analysis of the state of the nation. “Brytannicae Republicae Synopsis”, a synopsis of the British Republic was a snapshot of the nation’s economy, political institutions & defences. It identified economical problems, debasement of currency & unemployment. His reference to a republic emphasised the concept of the state being a commonwealth, Dee was against privateers & “enclosers of commons” believing that every man was born to encourage public prosperity rather than private gain.

In 1571 Dee went on a trip to The duchy of Lorraine to buy alchemical equipment.
There was growing government interest in alchemy & Dee was close the backers of the government project to turn iron into copper.

Dee, being Dee, was less interested in the practical devices of alchemy, more in the theory. The transmutation of soul rather than substance.

Dee’s alchemical studied was interrupted by serious illness, quite likely to be poisoning from the chemicals he was using. The Queen sent her own physicians to treat him.

Dee was very good at spending money & not very talented at making it. By 1574 he resorted to writing to William Cecil again asking for two or three hundred pounds a year to keep him going. In return he promised a cost free method for finding buried treasure.

Dee may have come across treasure maps on his travels around Britain looking for books. Treasure maps were usually in code but that would not have been a problem for Dee. Dee was an expert in surveying & geology with extensive book collections on mining.
Dee believed that the Earth & the Stars were linked, signs from the heavens delineate what lies under the soil & rock. Celestial & terrestrial correspondence was one of the principles underlying alchemy. The sign for the metal Mercury is the same as for the planet & both were thought to share similar “Mercurial” characteristics.

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Venus was copper, the Moon, silver. The Sun was gold. It was believed that where one was plentiful so was the other, the heat of the Sun promoted the formation of gold seams in the soil. It was thus assumed that the biggest concentration of gold was in the tropics.

Dee believed that as lenses & mirrors were used to pick up astral forces, there were tools that could be used to pick up emanations from buried treasure.

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Divining rods were the best known of these tools.

Dee would have known that there had been an Act of Parliament in 1563 which prohibited the discovery of treasure or recovery of stolen goods by magical means. 1st offence got a year in prison & 4 trips to the pillory, 2nd offence was a capital offence. Dee would also have known that, according to ancient law, any treasure found was automatically the property of the Queen.

Dee believed his natural magic was not the same as the forbidden by Deuteronomy & the state but was a science. He proposed in his letter that in return for 50% of any treasure he be granted a licence to hunt on the Queen’s behalf.

Cecil said no.

Dee became involved as a navigational consultant in the Cathay Company, an exploratory venture to determine the existence of the Northwest Passage, the fabled route to Cathay across the northern coast of America. He trained navigators & put some money into the venture. The expedition did not find the Northwest Passage, but did hit Greenland & then Baffin Island

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For a while it was believed that the explorers had found gold, silver & precious stones, but the rocks they brought back from several increasingly pricey expeditions turned out to be worthless.

In November 1577 Dee went to Windsor for audience with the Queen. On one meeting he proposed that England should challenge Spain’s imperial claim to the New World. After Columbus’s discovery of America in 1492 Pope Alexander VI had issued a bull dividing the New World between Portugal & Spain. Dee proposed that, seeing as some of the New World lands were already being colonised by the English that the claim was invalid.
Dee was probably the first person to envisage the concept & coin the term of British Empire. He brought these ideas of reshaping English foreign policy into an expansionist mode in a 4 volume work called “General & Rare Memorials Pertaining To The Perfect Art Of Navigation”

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On the frontispiece Elizabeth sits at the helm of the ship of imperial monarchy, watched over by St Michael, drawn by the figure of Lady Occasion. Above hang the Sun, Moon & stars & a glowing sphere containing a cabalistic formula, the tetragammaton all shining down their blessings on the endeavour.

Volume I focused on the building & financing of a large navy, the “Master Key” of the whole scheme. The Elizabethan navy was small, Dee proposed the building of 60 “tall ships” of 160-200tons & 20 smaller boats crewed by 6600 men. This was to be financed by extra taxation on the grounds that the nation’s wealth would benefit under the investment.
Volume II was navigational charts & tables
Volume III was secret & has been lost.
Volume IV “Of Famous & Rich Discoveries” was burnt.

He wrote a smaller book aimed exclusively at the Queen called “Brytanici Imperi Limites”; The Limits Of The British Empire which summarised Dee’s contention that Britain could lay claim to foreign lands way beyond the borders of the British Isles.

These daring ideas were popular with the Queen, however her chief minister, Cecil was less convinced, concerned about antagonising the Spanish. Cecil said no.

Much of what Dee had written in Brytanici Imperi came true in some form or another. The Navy did become the “Master Key”, England did challenge the Spanish (Defeating the Armada in 1558), North America was colonised & a British Empire emerged.

Dee married for the third time in 1578 to Jane Fromonds, Lady in Waiting to Lady Howard of Effingham. Dee was 50, Jane 22.

In 1579 the Duke Of Anjou visited Queen Elizabeth with a bag of jewels intent on reviving marriage negotiations between the Queen. 8 years before Elizabeth had thought him too young, too small & too ugly.
Queen Elizabeth’s marital status was a sensitive issue. For many her virginity emphasised the divine aspects of her rule. Merlin supposedly prophesied “Then shall a Royal Virgin reign, which shall stretch her white rod over the Belgic shore and the great Castile smite so sore that it shall make him shake & fall.” Elizabeth was the Virgin & the great Castile, her catholic enemy, Philip of Spain. However, her virginity also meant she could not have a child which was a denial of her dynastic duties.
The French ambassador’s approach was probably her last chance of marriage, as she was in her mid 40s. The Queen was quite keen & the Duke made quite a few secret visits which Dee noted in his diary. The Protestant elements of the court & country were not happy & pamphlets were distributed claiming she was surrendering the throne to a “pox ridden Catholic foreigner.”
Elizabeth consulted Dee on what to do. His predictions were gloomy. On one occasion she called in on him before meeting with his neighbour Francis Walsingham. She asked him his assessment of the Duke’d prospects. Dee said the Duke would die & die he did, of Typhoid, a year later.

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On Thursday 8th March 1682 a gentleman called Mr Clerkson, an agent for itinerant spirit mediums, otherwise known a s scryers, introduced Dee to a young gentleman called Edward Talbot. That wasn’t his real name. His real name was Edward Kelley.
Walking with aid of a staff, he wore a monkish cowl which concealed his ears, or lack of, as it was commonly supposed he had had his ears lopped for forgery. He is reputed to have been a notary in London specialising in the forgery of title deeds. He is also reputed to have been found guilty of “coining”, forging coins.

Kelley was also reputed to be a necromancer, able to speak with the dead by means of conjuration & incantations.

A Berkshire Alchemist called William Backhouse told his friend Elias Ashmole that Kelley was a conman who had stolen jewels from a lady & had arrived at Dee’s house in Mortlake under an assumed name to lay low.

Dee himself wrote in his diary 3 months after meeting Kelley “I have confirmed that Talbot was a cosener”, a fraud. Kelley wrote “this is a horrible & slanderous lie” besides this entry in Dee’s private diary.

Dee is thought to have been using scryers, spirit mediums, since at least 1568. Dee believed in the concept of Natural Magic, magic as technology, but often faced accusations of being a Conjurer or caller of Devils. In 1577 he published a “Necessary Advertisement” refuting these. He was engaged in “Optical Science” & also “Archemastry”. For Dee Crystal gazing had the same validity as star gazing.
The difference was that Dee could observe the stars himself but could not see visions in crystals & required outside assistance.

Kelley was not Dee’s first scryer. He had used crystal gazers recommended by Elizabethan courtiers in the late 1570s & had his own resident scryer, Barnabus Saul, for the 5 months preceding Kelley’s arrival.

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Barnabus had seen the Angel Anael, one of the 7 angels of creation, in one of Dee’s scrying stones. Dee was excited but suspicious that Barnabus had mis-spelt the name of the angel, as the Cabala took spelling very seriously. Barnabus also revealed that another scrying stone was assigned to the Archangel Michael, which was impressive.

Barnabus disappeared from the household the day after Dee’s first meeting with “Talbot”. “Talbot” told Dee that a spiritual creature had revealed that Barnabus was a cozener, had engaged in “Naughty Dealing” & had spoken against Dee behind his back.

“Talbot” told Dee in private that he could show Dee how to talk to the Fairies & further his knowledge in magic, which horrified Dee as Kelley had insinuated that Dee was a Conjuror. Dee noted this “monstrous & horrible lie” in his diary. This was also scribbled out by Kelley.

Dee warned “Talbot” that he only wanted to communicate with the blessed angels of God.

On this understanding they had a taster session. “Talbot” was taken to Dee’s study & fell to his knees before a scrying stone. Dee prayed in a neighbouring room.

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The scryer claimed to see the Archangel, Uriel. Uriel is identified as the angel who warned Noah of the flood, who buried Adam’s body with the angel Michael. Uriel also revealed the secrets of the stars & planets to Enoch.

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Enoch was 7 generations down from Adam, was Methuselah’s Dad & had prophesied the “Day Of Judgement”. He was also rumoured to have written a record of the language God had taught to Adam, which he had used to name all the beasts & birds.

Dee was impressed. He immediately asked Uriel, through “Talbot”, about “The Book Of Soyga”. This was a precious book in Dee’s library, so precious that he had it fumigated the year before to prevent mildew. It is a book of lists, tables, spirit names & invocations: Cabalistic codes.

“Is my Book of Soyga” of any excellency”

“It was revealed to Adam in paradise by the good Angels of God”, Uriel replied.

“Will you give me instructions, how may I read these tables of Soyga?”

“I can, but only Michael can interpret the book.”

Apparently the stone Kelley was using was the stone that the previous scryer Barnabus had said was associated with Michael.

“What may I, or must I do, to have the sight & presence of Michael, that blessed angel?”

“Michael is the angel who lights your way & these things are revealed in virtue & truth, not by force.”

At this point Kelley reported a vision in the stone of a vision of a triangular talisman engraved in gold. Uriel promised that if it was worn on the chest it would protect the bearer at every time place & occasion.

After a pause of a few hours, “Talbot” & Dee resumed. Uriel was summoned again & provided helpful & detailed instructions on how to summon Michael. Dee & “Talbot” were to work closely together in prayerful conjunction with God to learn the secrets together. Uriel explicitly blamed the failure to contact Michael before on Dee’s previous scryer Barnabus. Uriel provided Dee with detailed specifications for the equipment needed to contact Michael including this table.

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The tone of the communication changed at this point when Uriel revealed that Dee’s house was haunted by an evil spirit called “Lundrumguffa”, who had previously maimed Dee in the shoulder & wished ill of Dee’s wife & daughter. Brimstone (Sulphur) was needed to exorcise the demon.

The next day, at the time of prayers, Dee ignited Brimstone to smoke out Lumdrumguffa. “Talbot” stared into the stone & beheld Uriel, who fought with Lumdrumguffa & banished him. Then the Archangel Michael appeared to “Talbot” & said

“ Go forward: God hath blessed thee. I will be thy guide. Thou shalt attain to thy seeking. The world begins with thy doings. Praise God. The Angels under my power will be at thy commandment. Lo, I will do this much for thee. Lo, God will do this much for thee. Thou shalt see me: & I will be seen of thee & I will direct thy living & conversation. Those that sought thy life, are vanished away. Put up thy pen.”

Dee put up his pen for 3 days. At the next seance “Talbot” saw Michael enter the stone accompanied by a figure in a black cloak & hood. Uriel removed the cloak from the figure & placed laurels on his head. The figure knelt in front of Michael who dubbed him on the shoulders with a sword. The figure turned around & “Talbot” saw that it was Dee!

Dee had a list of instructions of how to behave before consorting with the spirits. For 3 days before a seance the participants should abstain from “coitus & gluttony” & on the day should wash hands & face, cut nails, shave beard. Just before a session invocations would be made 5 times to the compass points. The spirits could only be called at certain phases of the moon, under the influence of a good planet in the sunshine.

At 8.15pm on the 29th April 1582, breaking one of these rules, Michael appeared to “Talbot” announcing the names of the 49 angels. This was numerological significant, being the square of 7, the number of heavenly bodies in the cosmos (Sun, Moon , Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn) “Talbot” dictated tables for 3 hours, relating to subjects including wit & wisdom, quality of earth & waters, motion of the air & divine government. The angelic revelations seemed to be about a new world order based upon godly principles.

At 11.30 “Talbot” revealed that Michael had ordered him to marry “contrary to my vow & profession”, the inference is that “Talbot” was a Catholic priest.

It was risky having a Catholic priest around in such turbulent times in England & this would have worried Dee.

A few days later Dee’s wife Jane flew into a rage over “Talbot” because she believed that Dee had been deceived once again by a cozener. “Talbot” left in July & returned in November as Edward Kelley & was welcomed with open arms. He must have been a very good medium.

In November Kelley summoned up a spirit called “King Camara”. Dee was finding difficult to understand the tables that had been made earlier in the year. King Camara explained that a new scrying crystal was needed & provided it. Kelley saw an angel offering it to Dee & found a crystal in the room which Dee had never seen before. The most powerful magical lens, apparently.

Kelley left for a few months, travelling to London & an Oxfordshire village called Blockley. He returned in March 1583 with a book & a scroll which he had been directed to find by a spiritual creature. The scroll was a map in an unidentified alphabet. The book was written by St Dunstan. Kelley also claimed to have found a portion of the “Philosopher’s Stone”, which could turn base metal into gold, dead matter into living.

Kelley & Dee had a scrying session where Kelley had a vision of the Archangel Raphael eating fruit from a tree under the label “Medecina Dei”, the medicine of God.

It lighteth the hearts of those that are chosen, Raphael told Kelley, & said it would be the same for Dee. Raphael appeared the next day, lying down being licked in the face by a lamb. Raphael rose saying “Man’s memory is dull” & that he had a medicine to cure it: “Understanding & reason.” Raphael then produced a book with leaves of gold covered in text written in blood. There were 48 pages. Dee asked Raphael about the scroll but Raphael said it was nothing to do with him.

A few days later Raphael appeared again. Dee wanted to know about the medicine, Raphael replied that the medicine was truth. Raphael got his book out again & dictated the 21 characters of the celestial alphabet, the written language handed down by God to Adam, apparently.

Around about this time Dee had been acting as a navigational consultant to the explorer Adrian Gilbert who was preparing to explore the New World. Without Dee’s knowledge Gilbert applied for & was awarded sole & exclusive rights on all royalties the expedition might yield. Dee was furious.

Also around this time Dee was involved in a secret report for the government about calendar reform. In 1583 Pope GregoryXIII had issued a papal bull removing 10 days from the calendar of the Catholic world. The Julian calendar was based on bad measurements of solar & lunar cycles & holy & feast days & solstices & equinoxes were drifting out of alignment. Walsingham asked Dee on his thoughts & Dee came up with a 62 page illuminated document which was delivered to William Cecil.It proposed a removal of 11 days. Dee was concerned that the Gregorian Calendar was drawn up from the wrong starting date; that of the Council of Nicosia, the first ecumenical council of the church (in 325AD) as opposed to being drawn up from the date of the birth of Christ.

Walsingham & Cecil loved the idea but the Archbishop of Canterbury torpedoed the idea in March saying that the very idea of reforming the calendar was Papist. As a consequence England remained on the Julian calendar for another 170 years.

On Good Friday as Dee & Kelley prepared for another scrying session, Kelley saw a sword emerge from the crystal which struck him on the head & complained of feeling something creeping in his head.
On Easter Sunday Kelley reported hearing music in his head.

A week later Uriel reappeared to Kelley & commanded that daily scrying was to take place in order that “the book of the secrets & key of this world be written”.

Over the next few days lines from this book were dictated to Kelley.

While this was happening, Dee was puzzling over the scroll Kelley had brought back & realised that the language was some kind of coded Latin & he cracked the code & found it to be some kind of treasure map showing where the effects of the Danish warrior king Menabon & others were hid.

That April Elizabeth dropped by on the suggestion of Sir Walter Raleigh, who had become a close ally of Dee. She promised to find him a more secure position & living.
On the same day that Elizabeth visited, a new spirit visited Kelley called “El” & told Dee that the Book Of Enoch would be his within a month. El said that in the meantime Dee & Kelley should use the treasure map to find the booty.

Dee was a bit nervous about this: without a royal license digging for treasure was dangerous. El had a solution. Simply collect soil from each of the locations & the spirits would recover the treasure for them.

This was all very confusing. Dictation of Adamic language daily without time to transcribe it, all the other crazy revelations, the strange alphabet, the Danish treasure.

Kelley was unstable discontented & quarrelsome. He was now unhappily married to Joanna Cooper: he had been paid to marry her to legitimise the children she had had with an aristocratic lover. He did not get on well with Jane Dee who sided with Joanna. Prior to Kelley’s arrival the Dee household was calmer.

Dee was concerned that they would not meet the spiritual deadlines that Kelleys visions had set, also some of the spirits Kelley was channeling were saying rather worrying things like “How pitiful a thing is it, when the wise are deluded” & “All is done in lies.”

Kelley left on May 9th to get the earth from the locations on the scrolls.

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On the 19th May a Polish prince, Lord Albert Laski came to visit Dee at Mortlake in secret . Laski knew of Dee’s spiritual adventures & wanted to ask the spirits how long the present king of Poland would live, whether Laski was to be the successor & whether Laski would gain possession over the kingdom of Moldavia.

Kelley arrived back in Mortlake on the 23rd May with the soil samples. Dee focused his inquiry to the angels on Laski. The Angel Raphael said he would help. A girl spirit called Madimi intimated that there was a link between the English royal family & Laski. Other spirits consented to allow Laski to join in the seances. Laski was due to have an official visit to Mortlake onto 15th of June.

On the 5th June Kelley’s brother Thomas arrived at Mortlake to tell him that a n arrest warrant had been issued accusing him of coining money, forging coins.
Dee & Kelley consulted the Angels on this. They advised that if Kelley was arrested, Dee should contact his relative Richard Young, a member of the judiciary but not to worry unduly. They also advised Dee that in the face of all obstacles he should persist.

The charges against Kelley evaporated. It is speculated that the charges may have been brought by the Elizabethan spymaster Walsingham to coerce Kelley into the secret service to spy on the Polish prince Laski.

After the Prince came on his official visit Kelley reported that the female spirit Galvah had confirmed that he would become a king of Poland & Moldavia. At the next seance Galvah explained that not all revelations from scrying could be taken as truth. Some angels were fallen & could be demons in disguise. Galvah then communicated the 49th page of the angelic revelations that had been revealed to Dee & Kelley over the past few months.

As Galvah began to recite the 21 words that would make up the final page Kelley saw visions of all the animals of the world especially serpents, dragons, toads & ugly beasts. Kelley proclaimed that he did not trust Galvah.

Dee was concerned about Kelley’s state of mind.

The Prince came for a seance. Dee was worried that the Prince would think that demons were being summoned.

When Laksi came into the study, Kelley summoned up his guardian angel Jubanladeach who was dressed in white with a bloody cross in his right hand.
Jubanladeach told Laksi that “The Jews in his time shall taste the cross: & with this cross shall he overcome the Saracens… for I will establish one faith”, significant as Moldavia, the country Laksi wanted to claim, was part of the Ottoman Empire.
The spirit Madimi returned to warn Laksi about Walsingham & Cecil, & also warned Dee that they were going to search his house. Dee considered an expedition to Poland.

At the end of June Dee received a message from a spirit about Kelley. Dictated in Greek so Kelley could not understand the message he was relaying it warned that Kelley had packed his bags & was going to make a run.

A week later Dee returned to Mortlake from a trip to court to see the prince to find Kelley getting ready to leave on a horse. “If I tarry here I will be hanged & if I go with this Prince he will cut off my head” he said, then “I cannot abide my wife, I love her not, nay, I abhor her.” Then he went.

Kelley returned 3 hours later.

In July the Queen came to visit Dee, no record is made of what they discussed, but the next day she sent him a gift of money, 40 Angels. Sir Walter Raleigh sent a letter to Dee telling him of Elizabeth’s good dispositions towards him.

In September Dee made a catalogue of all the books he owned. It was 170 pages long.

On the 21st September Dee, Kelley, Laski & the wives & children went to Gravesend & boarded ships for the continent. The house & the library were entrusted to Dee’s brother in law, Nicholas Fromonds.

Dee may have left tempted by a good wage in Laski’s employ. This is unlikely as Dee himself knew that Laski was skint. Dee hinted that he was on a private mission on behalf of the Queen, maybe himself & Kelley were “intelligencers” using their position in Laski’s entourage to gather sensitive foreign information.

Maybe he was concerned about hostility from certain members of court or by chaps like Henry Howard who had written “Defensative against the Poyson of supposed Prophecies”, a criticism of astrology & scrying.

By Christmas they were in Poland. In February 1584 they finally reached their destination; Lasko. Throughout the journey, Dee & Kelley made their actions, contacting the Angels. The Angels told Dee about the land he had left behind, that he was considered a renegade in England, that Laski’s brother in law was in London, that Dee’s brother in law had been imprisoned.

The Angels continued to communicate Cabalistic tables at an almost untranscribable rate.

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In March 1584 Dee & Kelley set up in Krakow & got down to more actions.
Kelley was unsettled & wanted to return to England. He produced evidence that some of the information from the spirits he had actually copied from books in Dee’s library. He was careful to claim that this was spiritual mischief not actual fraud.

Laski was out of favour with the King of Poland & very cash strapped & Dee was worried that association with Laski might put his family in danger.

Through Kelley the spirits were continually telling Dee that he should go to the Holy Roman Emperor, Rudolph, in Prague.

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On August 1st Dee & Kelley parted company with Laski & made their way to Prague.

Rudolph had dominion over Austria, Germany, Hungary & Bohemia. He was not interested in the practicalities of running an empire, preferring cerebral pursuits such as science, art, spiritualism, Hermeticism & alchemy. Prague was an arcane centre.

Dee & Kelley found lodgings in the house of Rudolph’s Physician, a gentleman called Thaddeus Hajek, who was also one of Europe’s foremost astronomers & a Protestant.

Dee had corresponded with Hajek for over 10 years on astronomical matters, & was warmly welcomed. Hajek gave Dee access to his Imperial contacts.

Dee & Kelley made their first scrying action in Prague on 15th August. Kelley had a terrible vision that Satan was going to destroy Dee’s family unless they were brought to Prague & Dee was commanded to write to Emperor Rudolph telling him that “the Angel of the Lord hath appeared unto thee & rebuketh him for his sins.”

Dee made an obsequious letter of approach to the Emperor which made no reference to the angelic rebuke & surprisingly got the Spanish Ambassador to deliver it to the Emperor. Despite being told that Dee was a conjuror & bankrupt alchemist & possibly a spy, the ambassador really liked Dee, even becoming godfather to Dee’s son born in Prague that next year.

The Emperor received the message & an audience was arranged.

Dee met the Emperor in his luxurious palace full of curiosities & priceless works of art & a great arcane library. The Emperor was aware of Dee & his works, possessing several of his books. After some preamble Dee passed the Angel’s message directly to the Emperor. The Emperor believed him & was contrite. Dee reported back to the spirits & Uriel was pleased.

A week later the Emperor’s chamberlain sent a letter to Dee telling him to report to Jakob Kurz, one of the Emperors most trusted courtiers. Dee went to Kurz’s house & was received most courteously. Dee told Kurz the nature of his mission: showing Kurz his books of actions & a crystal. Dee had filled 18 books with Adamic language.

After a few weeks Kurz came to visit Dee & Kelley & Kelley hid. Kurz asked to take the books to the Emperor, Dee refused but promised to make copies.

At their next meeting Dee was dismissed, Dee being told that Emperor Rudolph’s sins were a matter between him & his confessor.

Dee’s welcome in Prague was wearing thin. He intercepted a private report from one of Rudolph’s secretaries summarising that the Catholic ambassador to Bohemia. The ambassador had heard rumours of Dee summoning spirits with the aid of certain magical characters”. The ambassador pointed out that according to Catholic orthodoxy “good spirits are not enchanted & moved to appear” so Dee must be acting on the behalf of evil spirits. Also, Dee was married thus lacking the essential purity that enabled the celibate Catholic priesthood to mediate between God & his flock.

Dee was considered to be extremely learned & a threat to the Catholic mission to bring Prague into the Catholic fold.

By the summer of 1585 Dee managed to bring his family from Krakow to Prague. Soon after they had arrived, Kelley received a message from Madimi that Dee & Kelley must immediately go to Krakow. They performed actions in front of the Polish King, the Angels rebuked the king in a manner strikingly similar to that of the Emperor.

Back in Krakow Dee & Kelley began attending Catholic masses. Dee believed any form of religious observance was better than none & worried for the soul of Kelley. Dee & Kelley fell into the company of a dissident Catholic philosopher called Francesco Pucci.

In Pucci’s company they contacted the Angels. Uriel gave an Angelic assessment of the reformation. Uriel intimated that the Church was an important bridge between God & man. He also, however, said that the Church did not have a monopoly on the truth & that “Partakers of the heavenly visions & celestial comforts”, people like Dee, had a role too.

Uriel agreed that the Pope may be capable of evil, but wasn’t the Antichrist, that there were varying levels of truth in different Protestant orders.

Dee & Kelley were straying into a heretical place.

Dee & Kelley & Pucci returned to Prague in the spring of 1586. The new Catholic Ambassador wanted a meeting with Dee. Dee stalled, scared that a trap was being laid for him. The Ambassador was persistent, sending different emissaries until Pucci met the Ambassador & got Dee & Kelley to agree to a meeting.
The Ambassador engaged in a civil but probing conversation with Dee with the aim of getting Dee to talk about his recent conversations with Angels about the Catholic Church. Dee told the Ambassador that it was not for Dee to offer counsel or solutions, evading a trap. The meeting was concluding.

Then Kelley waded in with a speech about how the Catholic Church needed reformation & that there was hypocrisy amongst some of the priesthood which needed to be addressed.

The Ambassador was less impressed with Kelley than with Dee.

The Pope was warned that Dee had managed to infiltrate the Imperial Court where he was spreading a “new superstition” There was growing imperial suspicion that Dee was a spy.

In May 1586 Dee sent a message to Francis Walsingham, Queen Elizabeth’s spymaster. “I am forced to be brief. That which England suspected was also here.”

At the end of May, Dee was accused of necromancy & other prohibited arts. The Emperor himself signed a decree banishing Dee & Kelley from Bohemia.

They wandered for 3 months before a Bohemian alchemist Prince by the name of Rozmberk secured permission for Dee & Kelley to return to Bohemia & set them up in his castle at Trebon in southern Bohemia. Rozmberk was having problems getting an heir & his alchemical interests were driven by that as much as the usual promises of unlimited wealth. Dee & Kelley were on a quest for the Philosopher’s Stone.

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They engaged in a systematic attempt to explore Alchemy under guidance from the Angels. Alchemy was a hot technology at the time. Dee was offered a £2000 annual salary by Ivan the Terrible’s successor to be philosopher of the Russian Court.

At this point Kelley appeared to have become a master alchemist. He produced a piece of Philosopher’s Stone the size of a grain of sand which transmuted an ounce of Mercury into Gold.

The English Court heard of this & were increasingly fascinated with Kelley. Less so with Dee.

As Kelley’s alchemical exploits continued he became wealthier. In early 1587 he was given a gold necklace by Rozmberk which he gave to Dee’s wife.

Dee was devoted to Jane. Also being an astrologer, he was fastidious in noting the dates & heaviness of her periods & the dates & times they had sex.

Throughout this alchemical adventure, Dee & Kelley continued to scry.
In April 1587 the Angel that appeared cursed those who loved their families over God.
“Be obedient, be full of humility & abandon pride.”

The Angel told Kelley that his inability to father a child was because of his lack of humility & obedience. His scrying power was diminished for the same reason.

Then the Angel told Kelley that the spiritual mission of transcribing the Angelic holy books was going to pass to Dee’s 7 year old son, Arthur.

Arthur had to do 3 sessions a day with little success.

2 weeks later, to Dee’s relief, Kelley was ordained by the spirits to resume his role & turned up in the presence of Dee & Arthur.

Kelley had a vision of a message written on the side of a distant globe “All sins committed in me are forgiven. He who goes mad on my account, let hime be wise. He who commits adultery because of me, let him be blessed for eternity & receive the eternal prize.”

The next day the female spirit, Madimi, appeared naked & “showeth her shame”. Dee told her to go.

“In the name of God, why do you find fault with me?” asked Madimi

“Because your yesterday’s doings & words are provocations to sin” replied Dee.

At this point Dee’s son, Arthur, fainted.

Then Kelley had a vision of 4 heads on a pillar, the heads of Dee & Kelley & of their wives Jane & Joanna. Madimi produced a heavenly half moon inscribed with “Nothing is unlawful which is lawful unto God” She then went into an Orchard & grafted the branches of one tree onto another.

Kelley had an interpretation, one he claimed to hate & must have come from the spirits. Dee & Kelley were to share wives, both in the sense of spiritual love & unity of mind & carnally.

On the 21st of May Dee wrote 2 words in his diary “Pactum Factum”. Pact Fulfilled.

On the 23rd May Kelley & Dee performed their last recorded spiritual action together. A spirit horseman appeared & asked “Kelly, was thy brother’s wife obedient & humble to thee?”

“She was”

“Dee, was thy brother’s wife obedient unto thee?”

“She was”

The horseman rode off into a field. The spirit Madimi appeared & questioned Dee’s honesty.

Dee said that Joanna wasn’t particularly enthusiastic about the state of affairs but had been obedient.

Then Kelley had a somewhat pornographic vision of a Golden Woman, simultaneously virgin & harlot standing naked in the green field.

& that was that.

A rift formed between the Kelleys & the Dees, which Dee tried to bridge but to no avail.

40 weeks after the wife swap Jane gave birth to another child, most likely Dee’s

On 20 July 1588 Dee’s old friend Edward Dyer, Athur Dee’s Godfather arrived at Trebon. He walked straight past Dee into the arms of Kelley. England was impressed with Kelley’s alchemical skills & wanted him back. Dee was forgotten.

By the winter of 1588 Dee was no longer welcome in Trebon & Kelley had been made a baron of Bohemia with extensive estates including a castle, 9 villages & a house in Prague. The Emperor Rudolph sought Kelley’s services.

Kelley & Dee never saw each other again.

Dee returned to Mortlake in December 1589, 6 years after leaving to find it in ruins. The house had been ransacked. The furniture was gone, most of his scientific instruments too, including the globes he had been given by his cartographer friend Mercator many years before.

Dee estimated that 500 hundred volumes had gone from his library. Many of the books were stolen by acquaintances, associates & former pupils.

One gentleman, a Nicholas Saunder seems to have come into possession of a suspiciously large number of Dee’s books. Often Dee’s signature was bleached out & replaced with Saunder’s.

Dee was 62, many of his friends & associates were dead.

In the spring of 1590 Jane gave birth to a daughter, their 5th child. They named her Madimi.

Dee was in debt & on his uppers, relying on donations from friends & patrons. He got money from the Archbishop of Canterbury, assorted alchemists & explorers & Queen Elizabeth.

He worked as a freelance astrologer & advisor to help make ends meet, performing horary astrology & riskily astrology to aid the recovery of stolen objects.

From the age of 69 to 79 he was a warden of a college in Manchester far from the court of Elizabeth. 5 of his 8 children had died as had his wife Jane.

He died in London sometime between December 1608 & March 1609.

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The Real Matthew Hopkins, Witchfinder General

1One of my favourite British horror films is called “The Witchfinder General”. It was made in 1968 & starred Vincent Price as Matthew Hopkins, the eponymous villain. It is a folk horror trip to a 17th century East England in the grip of civil war & hysteria. While historically inaccurate it does provide a sense of the witch craze that engulfed the eastern counties in the mid 17th century. This blog will shed a little more light on what actually happened.
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The real Matthew Hopkins was born in 1620 & died most likely on August 11th 1647 of tuberculosis aged 27. Histories which say that he was lynched or swum are likely to be more hopeful than accurate.
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He proclaimed himself ‘Witchfinder General’  in a pamphlet published in May of 1647, the year of his death, titled ‘The Discovery of Witches: in answer to several queries lately delivered to Judges of Assize for the county of Norfolk”

The title ‘Witchfinder General’ was not bestowed upon him; it was self appointed.

Hopkins’ witch-finding career began in March 1644, when he was 24 years old, and lasted until his retirement & death in 1647.

Matthew Hopkins & his associate John Stearne are believed to have been responsible for the deaths of 300 women between the years 1644 and 1646.It has been estimated that all of the English witch trials between the early 15th and late 18th centuries resulted in fewer than 500 executions for witchcraft.

Therefore, presuming the number executed as a result of “investigations” by Hopkins and his colleague John Stearne is at the lower end of the various estimates, their efforts accounted for about 60 per cent of the total; in their short crusade Hopkins and Stearne sent to the gallows more people than all the other witch-hunters in England of the previous 160 years.

Very little is known of Matthew Hopkins before 1644, and there are no surviving contemporary documents concerning him or his family.

He was born in Great Wenham, Suffolk and was the fourth son of six children.

His father, James Hopkins, was a Puritan clergyman and vicar of St John’s of Great Wenham, in Suffolk.
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In the early 1640s Hopkins moved to Manningtree, Essex, a town on the River Stour, about 10 miles (16 km) from Wenham. According to tradition Hopkins used his recently acquired inheritance of a hundred marks to establish himself as a gentleman and to buy the Thorn Inn in Mistley. From the way that he presented evidence in trials, Hopkins is commonly thought to have been trained as a lawyer, but there is scant evidence to suggest this was the case.

Following the Lancaster Witch Trial of 1634, William Harvey, physician to King Charles I of England, had been ordered to examine the four women accused, and from this there came a requirement to have material proof of being a witch.
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The aim of Hopkins and John Stearne was not necessarily to prove any of the accused had committed acts of maleficium, magical acts intended to cause harm or death to persons or property, but the fact they had made a covenant with the Devil.

This is the difference between Hopkins’ approach & that of the JP who investigated the Pendle Witches in 1612. In 1612 the aim was to prove maleficium, causing harm by witchcraft. Hopkins’ aim was to prove a covenant with the Devil.

By making covenant with the Devil, witches became heretics to Christianity, which became the greatest of their crimes and sins.

Within continental and Roman Law witchcraft was crimen exceptum: a crime so foul that all normal legal procedures were superseded. Because the Devil was not going to “confess”, it was necessary to gain a confession from the human involved.

Methods of investigation

Matthew Hopkins’ methods of investigating witchcraft heavily drew inspiration from the Daemonologie of King James which was directly cited in Hopkins’ pamphlet, ‘The Discovery of Witches.’

Although torture was unlawful in England, Hopkins often used techniques such as sleep deprivation to extract confessions from his victims. Often the accused would be “watched” for days on end to see if  imps or familiars would appear to come & suckle on their blood. It seems to be a common thread that when someone had been “watched” for a few days they were very much more willing to confess.

On occasion the accused would be “walked”, forcibly exercised to the point of exhaustion to encourage confession.
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Another of his methods was the swimming test, based on the idea that as witches had renounced their baptism, water would reject them. Suspects were tied and thrown into water: all those who “swam” (floated) were considered to be witches. Those who sank & drowned were innocent.

Hopkins was warned against the use of “swimming” without receiving the victim’s permission first.

The problem with ordeal by water was that the test was regarded as a superstition: by law it was an assault to swim a witch & if he or she drowned it was murder.
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However from the early 17th century to the mid 17th century the object of the witch trial changed from proving maleficium to proving a pact with the Devil & the swimming test became more widespread.

For example in the best selling legal handbook of the day, Dalton’s Counterey Justice, magistrates were advised “not alwaies to expect direct evidence (from witches), seeing all their works are the works of darknesse”
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Hopkins and his assistants also looked for the Devil’s mark. This was a mark that all witches or sorcerers were supposed to possess that was said to be dead to all feeling and would not bleed – although in reality it was usually a mole, birthmark or an extra nipple or breast.

If the suspected witch had no such visible marks, invisible ones could be discovered by pricking, the witch finder therefore employed “witch prickers” to prick the accused with knives and special needles, looking for such marks, & places where the accused would feel no pain, normally after the suspect had been shaved of all body hair.
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It was believed that the witch’s familiar, an animal such as a cat or dog, or mole or insect or even a child would drink the witch’s blood from a “witches teat”, as a baby drinks milk from the nipple. Local women would be employed to search the accused female witches & men would search the men.

One belief was that familiars suckled the witch to remind him or her of their fealty to the devil, a dark parallel to holy communion.

Sometimes the familiar would suckle blood & in exchange would perform acts of harm, for example killing off livestock belonging to those the witch bore a grudge to.

When you read through the reports of the watchers’ findings it was common for the “Witches teat” to be found in, on or around the private parts of the accused. For such pure souls, the Puritans seemed to be rather obsessed with private parts.

From reading the confessions of the witches it is striking how similar their confessions are. Often the ladies are seduced by the devil & repeatedly take him into their beds.

They will have ‘familiars’, spirit animals which will do their bidding which is invariably to the ill of their neighbours. The familiars will kill livestock or neighbours children or the neighbours themselves or make people ill.
Never is it recorded that the familiars better the circumstances of the witch only worsen the circumstances of his or her ‘enemies’.

The similarities between the many confessions is so great you can’t help but think that the words have been put into their mouths by the inquisitor.

The witch-fever that gripped East Anglia for around 14 months between 1645 & 1646 happened at a historic & tumultuous time in English history.

England was in the midst of a bloody civil war between the forces of King Charles I & the forces of Parliament. The country was in chaos, the normal workings of the state were not functioning. Circuit courts were not running normally & justice was being administered in a disjointed way at a local level.

Before the war had started the eastern counties were solidly Puritan, rabidly anti-Catholic & ever vigilant for heresies. As the war progressed & times grew harder fear & suspicion of neighbours mounted & scores were settled by accusations of witchcraft.

Matthew Hopkins & his associates were adept at turning local gossip & innuendo into formal accusations of witchcraft.

In the previous century Essex had seen more witchtrials than the rest of England.

The towns & villages of the Eastern Association had lost most of their able men who were off fighting in the war. The farms were not being worked, crops were rotting in the fields without sufficient folk to harvest them. The weather was unseasonably bad.

The poor were dirt poor & the folk whom they normally relied upon for charity & alms were stretched by the straightened circumstances of the war & not so able to give. Resentments grew. Many of those accused of witchcraft were from the beggar class or were old widows who took alms from the parishes but did not give alms. (The local church would collect alms money from the parishioners & dole it out to the poor.)

Add to this the widespread Calvinist belief in the elect, the idea that it is a predestined choice of God who will go to heaven & who is damned to hell. It was the idea that some folk are born to sin & some are born to be pure. Some folk are born to be heretics & some are born to be doctrinally pure. Some folk are born to be witches & some folk are born to be witch finders. It was a time of real fanaticism. Ignorance & dogmatic belief in the scripture went hand in hand with genuine belief in the supernatural.

Many folk genuinely believed that it was the end times: signs & portents & omens were widely reported in pamphlets.
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“Have there not been strange Comets seen in the air, prodigies, sights on the seas, marvellous tempests & storms on the land? Have not nature altered her course so much that woman framed of pure flesh & blood bringeth forth ugly & deformed monsters?”

On the 21st May 1646 a meteorite fell in a cornfield in Swaffham, Cambridgeshire, setting it ablaze. Hailstones the size of pigeons eggs fell from the sky. Hysterics said it was judgement day. On the same day in Newmarket, Suffolk, a vision of three men fighting in the sky was seen suggesting war in the 3 kingdoms of England, Scotland & Ireland.

The war between the Puritan Roundheads & the Royalists (possibly in league with the Antichrist Pope) was interpreted widely as a war between Christ & the Devil. The civil war was punishment for the nation’s sins.
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The witch-hunts undertaken by Hopkins & Stearne mainly took place in the counties of Suffolk, Essex, Norfolk, Cambridgeshire and Huntingdonshire, and also beyond East Anglia in the counties of Northamptonshire and Bedfordshire. This is a large area of England. A lot of ground was covered.

At times Hopkins & Stearne worked together, at other times they worked independently.

They hunted for witches throughout the area of strongest Puritan and Parliamentarian influences which formed the powerful and influential Eastern Association from 1644 to 1647, centred on Essex.

In times of peace witch trials would take place at county assizes, the accused would be tried by juries of strangers directed by professional judges. At this time of the civil war the assize system in East Anglia collapsed. It was this judicial vacuum that Matthew Hopkins filled with a massive witch hunt.

Both Hopkins and Stearne would have required some form of letters of safe conduct to be able to travel throughout the counties.
In fact they were often invited to towns & villages in their witchhunt.

According to his book The Discovery of Witches, Hopkins began his career as a witch-finder after he overheard various women discussing their meetings with the Devil in March 1644 in Manningtree.

In fact, the first accusations were made by Stearne and Hopkins was appointed as his assistant. Twenty-three women were accused of witchcraft & tried at Chelmsford in 1645. With the English Civil War under way, this trial was conducted not by justices of assize, but by justices of the peace presided over by the Earl of Warwick.

Four died in prison and nineteen were convicted and hanged. During this period, excepting Middlesex and chartered towns, no records show any person charged of witchcraft being sentenced to death other than by the judges of the assizes.

The Chelmsford witch trial made Matthew Hopkins’ & John Stearnes’ names as witchfinders. They claimed that they had an official commission from Parliament to uncover & prosecute witches & enthusiastically travelled from town to village to execute their commission.

Hopkins and Stearne, accompanied by the women who performed the pricking, watching & searching were soon travelling over eastern England, in demand from the puritan townsfolk eager to root out evil in their midst.

Together with their female assistants, they were well paid for their work, and it is possible that money was a motivation for Hopkins.

Hopkins states in his pamphlet ‘A Discovery Of Witchcraft’ that “his fees were to maintain his company with three horses”, and that he took “twenty shillings a town”.

The records at Stowmarket show their costs to the town to have been £28 & 3pence plus his travelling expenses (the usual daily wage at the time was sixpence). He used his pretended commission from Parliament to persuade the local community to levy a special tax

In Suffolk Hopkins discovered that the church minister of Brandeston, John Lowes an old man of seventy ‘was naught but a foul witch’.  It appears that Lowes had been a quarrelsome old man and was sorely disliked by many in his parish.  At first he stoutly denied his guilt, but a confession was gained when he was subjected to Hopkins’s most approved methods by teams of his watchers who, “kept him awake several nights together while running him backwards and forwards about his cell until out of breath.  After a brief rest, they then ran him again.  And thus they did for several days and nights together, till he was weary of his life and scarce sensible of what he said or did”.

It was in this state of mind that Lowes finally confessed, “he had covenanted with the devil, suckled familiars (Tom, Flo, Bess and Mary) for five years, and had bewitched cattle.  He had also caused a ship to sink off Harwich, on a calm sea, with the loss of fourteen lives”.  A later pamphlet by Stearne states that Lowes “was joyfull to see what power his imps had”.  Lowes later retracted his confession, but this didn’t save him, and since he was not allowed a clergyman to read the burial service for him, he recited it himself on his way to the scaffold at Bury St Edmunds on the 27th August 1645.

As well documented as the infamous trial at Bury St. Edmond is, it is also perhaps, the best illustration of just how the prejudice and hysteria against witches during those times, affected even the high courts and justices of the land.  No record or suggestion was ever made to check whether a ship had floundered off Harwich.

Within a space of a few months Hopkins & Stearne had 200 alleged witches in jails awaiting trial. This was a problem as civil war was ranging & Parliament wanted the jails as empty as possible.

After the Bury St. Edmond witch trials, people began to question the alleged commission from Parliament.

The Moderate Intelligencer, a parliamentary paper published during the English Civil War, in an editorial of 4–11 September 1645 expressed unease with the affairs in Bury.

A special judicial commission was formed, the “Commission of Oyer and Terminer”.  Its task was to deal specifically with the backlog of witchcraft trials in eastern England, and Hopkins was ordered to stop his Swimming activities.

Witch trials now began in earnest in and such was the state of witchcraft hysteria, in quick succession another 18 were tried and hanged in the Eastern Association.  The sessions however were quickly abandoned as the Royalist forces of the rebellion approached Bedford and Cambridge.  When eventually they started again, another fifty witches were executed.

His career as the Witch-Finder General firmly established, Hopkins together with his faithful band of assistants, traveled at break-neck speed urging on trials with fatal rapidity.  By the 26th of July 1646 he was in Norfolk were another twenty witches met their fate.

In September he was in Yarmouth by special demand of the authorities.  He was recalled there again in December, but who knows how many died.  He also visited Ipswich and shortly after Aldeburgh before moving on to Stowmarket.

Along the way he also stopped at King’s Lynn and many other small towns and villages, but wherever they went fear and apprehension followed. In some respects you could say that Matthew Hopkins was a “Fingerman” an informer paid by the authorities to commit perjury.

However time was running out for Hopkins, as he overextended himself in greed and zeal.  Toward the end of 1946, the tide began to turn against him.  At a time when most people feared him, criticism was launched against him by the courageous efforts of an old country parson, “John Gaule” the Vicar of Great Staughton in Huntingdonshire.

Hearing that Hopkins was preparing to visit his part of the country, Gaule preached openly against him from the pulpit and started collecting evidence of his excessive methods and use of torture.
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Gaule published his findings and his condemnation of Hopkins in a book called “Select Cases of Conscience Touching Witches and Witchcraft” (London, 1646).  The book was well written and convincing, and public opinion was aroused against the abuses it exposed:

“Every old woman with a wrinkled face, a furrowed brow, a hairy lip, a robber tooth, a squint eye, a squeaking voice or scolding tongue, having a rugged coat on her back, a skull cap on her head, a spindle in her hand & a dog or cat by her side, is not only suspect but pronounced for a witch”

Hopkins prudently avoided visiting Great Staughton.

By the end of 1646 as his credibility and activities petered out

It was around this time that the Assizes started to run again & this was the end for the witchfinders.

In Norfolk both Hopkins and Stearne were questioned by justices of the assizes, about the torturing and fees. Hopkins was asked if methods of investigation did not make the finders themselves witches, and if with all his knowledge did he not also have a secret, or had used “unlawful courses of torture”. It was rumoured that Matthew Hopkins had ‘The Devils Book’, a directory of all the witches in England.

In early 1647 Matthew Hopkins parted company with his faithful assistants and retired back to Manningtree where his infamous career had started. He published his book “The Discovery Of Witches” in May of that year, which was a rebuttal of the enquiries he had been subjected to in Norfolk.

It makes for interesting reading.

He died on August 11th. He wasn’t a nice man.

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The Pendle Witch Trials

This is a video for a song from the upcoming Cunning Folk album. It is called

“Lancashire, God’s Country”. It is about the Lancashire witch trials of 1612. I gave a talk about the Pendle Witches last week at the South East London Folklore Society & this is the transcript.

1 pendle_sunset

Pendle Hill is in East Lancashire. It is North of Manchester, West of Blackpool & East of Leeds. It’s pretty near to Burnley. A lot of the countryside around it is referred to as Pendle Forest because in the middle ages it was a royal forest.

The name “Pendle Hill” combines the words for hill from three different languages & times. In the 13th century it was called Pennul or Penhul, apparently from the Old Celtic pen and Old English hyll, both meaning “hill”. The modern English “hill” was added later, after the original meaning of Pendle had become opaque. So you could say that Pendle Hill means “Hill, Hill, Hill”. There is a bronze age burial site at the top of it.

The surrounding area is closely associated with the Pendle Witch Trials.

The trials of the Pendle witches in 1612 are among the most famous witch trials in English history, & some of the best recorded of the 17th century. The twelve accused lived in the area around Pendle Hill in Lancashire, & were charged with the murders of ten people by the use of witchcraft.

All but two were tried at Lancaster Assizes on 18–19 August 1612, along with the Samlesbury witches and others, in a series of trials that have become known as the Lancashire witch trials.

Of the other two, one  was tried at York Assizes on 27 July 1612, & another died in prison. Of the eleven who went to trial – nine women & two men – ten were found guilty & executed by hanging; one was found not guilty.

The number of witches hanged together – nine at Lancaster & one at York – make the trials unusual for England at that time.

It has been estimated that all the English witch trials between the early 15th and early 18th centuries resulted in fewer than 500 executions; this series of trials accounts for more than two per cent of that total.

Six of the Pendle witches came from one of two families, each at the time headed by a woman in her eighties: Elizabeth Southerns (also known as Demdike),
her daughter Elizabeth Device
& her grandchildren James and Alizon Device

Anne Whittle (also known as Chattox),
& her daughter Anne Redferne.

The others accused were Jane Bulcock & her son John Bulcock, Alice Nutter, Katherine Hewitt, Alice Grey, & Jennet Preston.

This outbreak of witchcraft in and around Pendle may demonstrate the extent to which people could make a living by cunning means. Many of the allegations resulted from accusations that members of the Demdike and Chattox families made against each other, perhaps because they were in competition, both trying to make a living from healing, begging, and extortion.

Here is a little bit of religious & political background information.

Lancashire at the end of the 16th century, was regarded by the authorities as a wild and lawless region: an area “fabled for its theft, violence and sexual laxity, where the church was honoured without much understanding of its doctrines by the common people”.

The nearby Cistercian abbey at Whalley had been dissolved by Henry VIII in 1537, a move strongly resisted by the locals. Despite the abbey’s closure, and the execution of its abbot, the people of Pendle remained largely faithful to their Roman Catholic beliefs and were quick to revert to Catholicism when Mary became queen in 1553.

When Mary’s Protestant half-sister Elizabeth came to the throne in 1558 Catholic priests once again had to go into hiding, but in remote areas such as Pendle they continued to celebrate Mass in secret.

In 1562, early in her reign, Elizabeth passed a law in the form of An Act Against Conjurations, Enchantments and Witchcrafts .

This demanded the death penalty, but only where harm had been caused; lesser offences were punishable by a term of imprisonment.

The Act provided that anyone who should “use, practise, or exercise any Witchcraft, Enchantment, Charm, or Sorcery, whereby any person shall happen to be killed or destroyed”, was guilty of a felony without benefit of clergy, and was to be put to death. This meant that even clergy (who were usually exempt from capital punishment) could be executed for the crime of witchcraft.

On Elizabeth’s death in 1603 she was succeeded by James I (of England, James VI of Scotland).

James was raised in Scotland, obviously. The Scottish Reformation was distinct from & different to the English Reformation. Scottish Presbyterianism arose from a more doctrinal place than Henry VIII’s creation of a Church of England.

James was intensely interested in Protestant theology, focusing much of his curiosity on the theology of witchcraft.

By the early 1590s he had become convinced that he was being plotted against by Scottish witches. He attended the trial in 1590 of the North Berwick witches, who were convicted of using witchcraft to send a storm against the ship that carried the newly wedded King James and Queen Anne when they were returning from their marriage in Denmark.

In 1597 he wrote a book, Daemonologie, instructing his followers that they must denounce and prosecute any supporters or practitioners of witchcraft.

One year after James acceded to the English throne, a law was enacted imposing the death penalty in cases where it was proven that harm had been caused through the use of magic, or corpses had been exhumed for magical purposes.

In the King James Bible published in 1611 it is famously written; “Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live”

On the 5th of November, 1605 there was an failed assassination attempt against King James by a group of provincial English Catholics. Some were from Lancashire.

In early 1612, the year of the trials, every justice of the peace in Lancashire was ordered to compile a list of  those who refused to take communion at an English Church.
Roger Nowell of Read Hall, on the edge of Pendle Forest, was the JP for Pendle. It was against this background of seeking out religious nonconformists that, in March 1612, Nowell investigated a complaint made to him by the family of John Law, a pedlar, who claimed to have been injured by witchcraft.

Many of those who subsequently became implicated as the investigation progressed did indeed consider themselves to be witches, in the sense of being village healers who practised magic, probably in return for payment, but such men and women were common in 16th-century rural England. Cunning folk were an accepted part of village life.

One of the accused, Demdike, had been regarded in the area as a witch for fifty years, and some of the deaths the witches were accused of had happened many years before Roger Nowell started to take an interest in 1612.

The name Demdike is derived from “Demon Woman” which may suggest that she was not entirely loved locally.

The event that seems to have triggered Nowell’s investigation, culminating in the Pendle witch trials, occurred on 21 March 1612.

Walking down a country track Demdike’s granddaughter, Alizon Device, encountered John Law, a pedlar from Halifax, and asked him for some pins. He refused to give her any pins.

Seventeenth-century metal pins were handmade and relatively expensive. They were also frequently needed for magical purposes, such as in healing (particularly for treating warts) for divination, & for love magic, which may have been why Alizon was so keen to get hold of them & why Law was so reluctant to let her have any.

Whether she meant to buy them, as she claimed, and Law refused to undo his pack for such a small transaction, or whether she had no money & was begging for them, as Law’s son Abraham claimed, is unclear.

A few minutes after their encounter Alizon saw Law stumble & fall. He managed to regain his feet & reach a nearby inn but he was not in a good way. He was described thus “His head is drawn away, his eyes & face deformed, his speech not well to be understood, his arms lame especially the left side”

Modern commentators have noted the similarities between the symptoms associated with a stroke (death of brain cells due to poor blood flow) & the description of the tinker’s plight.

Initially Law made no accusations against Alizon, but she appears to have been convinced of her own powers; when Abraham Law took her to visit his father a few days after the incident, she reportedly confessed that she had bewitched him & asked for his forgiveness.

Alizon Device, her mother Elizabeth, and her brother James were summoned to appear before Nowell on 30 March 1612. Alizon confessed that she had sold her soul to the Devil, and that she had told the Devil to lame John Law after he had called her a thief.

Her brother, James, stated that his sister had also confessed to bewitching a local child.

Elizabeth was more reticent, admitting only that her mother, Demdike, had a mark on her body, something that many, including Nowell, would have regarded as having been left by the Devil after he had sucked her blood.

When questioned about Anne Whittle (Chattox), the matriarch of the other family reputedly involved in witchcraft in and around Pendle, Alizon perhaps saw an opportunity to settle old scores.

There may have been bad blood between the two families, possibly dating from 1601, when a member of Chattox’s family broke into Malkin Tower, the home of the Devices, and stole goods worth about £1, equivalent to about £100 nowadays.

Alizon accused Chattox of making clay figures, of murdering four men by witchcraft, and of killing her father, John Device, who had died in 1601. She claimed that her father had been so frightened of Old Chattox that he had agreed to give her 8 pounds (3.6 kg) of oatmeal each year in return for her promise not to hurt his family. The meal was handed over annually until the year before John’s death; on his deathbed John claimed that his sickness had been caused by Chattox because they had not paid for protection.

On 2 April 1612, Demdike, Chattox, and Chattox’s daughter Anne Redferne, were summoned to appear before Nowell. Both Demdike and Chattox were by then blind and in their eighties, and both provided Nowell with damaging confessions.

Demdike claimed that she had given her soul to the Devil 20 years previously, and Chattox that she had given her soul to “a Thing like a Christian man”, on his promise that “she would not lack anything and would get any revenge she desired”.

Although Anne Redferne (Chattox’s daughter) made no confession, Demdike said that she had seen her making clay figures.

Margaret Crooke, another witness seen by Nowell that day, claimed that her brother had fallen sick and died after having had a disagreement with Redferne, and that he had frequently blamed her for his illness.

Based on the evidence and confessions he had obtained, Nowell committed Demdike, Chattox, Anne Redferne and Alizon Device to Lancaster Gaol, to be tried for maleficium – causing harm by witchcraft – at the next assizes.

The committal and subsequent trial of the four women might have been the end of the matter, had it not been for a meeting organised by Elizabeth Device at Malkin Tower, the home of the Demdikes, held on Good Friday 10 April 1612. To feed the party, James Device stole a neighbour’s sheep.

At the time Malkin was a dialect term for a lower class of woman, it was also a dialect term for a cat.

There would have been a mass at the English Church on Good Friday. A mass which none of those at Malkin Tower on that day would be present at.

Friends and others sympathetic to the family attended, and when word of it reached Roger Nowell, he decided to investigate. On 27 April 1612, an inquiry was held before Nowell and another magistrate to determine the purpose of the meeting at Malkin Tower, who had attended, and what had happened there.

As a result of the inquiry, eight more people were accused of witchcraft and committed for trial: Elizabeth Device, James Device, Alice Nutter, Katherine Hewitt, John Bulcock, Jane Bulcock, Alice Grey and Jennet Preston.

There was also the accusation levelled that there was a conspiracy to blow up Lancaster Castle & to murder the head jailer.

Preston lived across the border in Yorkshire, so she was sent for trial at York Assizes; the others were sent to Lancaster Gaol, to join the four already imprisoned there.

The Trials

The Pendle witches were tried with some other Lancashire witch cases in a kind of job lot by 2 judges, Sir James Altham & Sir Edward Bromley.

So there was also the trial of the 3 Samlesbury witches, the charges against whom included child murder and cannibalism; the Padiham witch, who was facing her third trial for witchcraft, this time for killing a horse; and the Windle witch, accused of using witchcraft to cause sickness.

Some of the accused Pendle witches, such as Alizon Device, seem to have genuinely believed in their guilt, but others protested their innocence to the end. Jennet Preston was the first to be tried, almost a month before the others.

York Assizes, 27 July 1612
Jennet Preston lived in Gisburn, which was then in Yorkshire, so she was sent to York Assizes for trial. The judges were Sir James Altham & Sir Edward Bromley: the same as for the Lancashire Assizes.

Jennet was charged with the murder by witchcraft of a local landowner, Thomas Lister of Westby Hall, to which she pleaded not guilty. Thomas Lister died 5 years before in 1607. She was also accused of planning to murder Thomas Lister’s son by witchcraft.

In 1611 she had stood trial, accused of the murder of a child by witchcraft, but had been found not guilty.

A witness told the court; “ When Master Lister lay upon his death-bedd, he cried out in great extremitie; Jennet Preston lays heavy on me; help me: & so departed, crying out against her.
Look where she is & take holde of her; for God’s sake shut the doors & take her, she cannot escape away. Look about for her & lay hold of her, for she is in the house.”

The judge instructed the jury to observe that the man on his death-bed was “railing” against the witch. In 16th &17th century witch-trials, evidence of the crying out of the victim was common.

The most damning evidence given against her was that when she had been taken to see Lister’s body, the corpse “bled fresh bloud presently, in the presence of all that were there present” after she touched it.

In King James’ book on witchcraft, Demonologie, he wrote “in a secret murther, if the deade carcase be at any time handled by the murtherer, it will gush out bloud, as if the blud wer crying to the heaven for revenge of the murtherer, God having appoynted that secret super-naturall signe, for tryall of thet secret unnatural crime.”

According to a statement made to Nowell by James Device on 27 April, Jennet had attended the Malkin Tower meeting to seek help to murder her accuser, Lister’s son. She was found guilty and sentenced to death by hanging; She was executed on July 29th.

There has been speculation that Jennet Preston may have been having an affair with the man she was accused of killing by witchcraft.

Lancaster Assizes, 18–19 August 1612

All the other accused lived in Lancashire, so they were sent to Lancaster Assizes for trial, where the judges were once again Altham and Bromley. The prosecutor was local magistrate Roger Nowell, who had been responsible for collecting the various statements and confessions from the accused.

The Lancaster Assizes were held at Lancaster Castle (a working prison up to spring 2011) The 20 accused of witchcraft had been held in a cell 20ft by 12ft since their arrests in April.

Nine year old Jennet Device was not accused of witchcraft or imprisoned. In the period between April & the trial in August she may have been looked after by Roger Nowell at his home.

Nine-year-old Jennet Device was a key witness for the prosecution, something that would not have been permitted in many other 17th-century criminal trials.

However, King James had made a case for suspending the normal rules of evidence for witchcraft trials in his Daemonologie.

As well as identifying those who had attended the Malkin Tower meeting, Jennet also gave evidence against her mother, brother, and sister.

Nine of the accused – Alizon Device, Elizabeth Device, James Device, Anne Whittle, Anne Redferne, Alice Nutter, Katherine Hewitt, John Bulcock and Jane Bulcock – were found guilty during the two-day trial and hanged at Gallows Hill in Lancaster on 20 August 1612; Elizabeth Southerns (Demdike) died in prison while awaiting trial. Only one of the accused, Alice Grey, was found not guilty.

18 August

Anne Whittle (Chattox) was accused of the murder of one Robert Nutter 19 years previously. She pleaded not guilty, but the confession she had made to Roger Nowell was read out in court, and evidence against her was presented by James Robinson, who had lived with the Nutter family 20 years earlier. According to Robinson & surviving members of the Nutter family, Robert had believed himself to be bewitched by Chattox & had repeatedly said so before his death.

Robinson stated that Chattox & Anne Redferne “are commonly reputed & reported to be witches”. Robinson also told of how Chattox had spoiled a brew of beer in his house 6 years previously when he had employed her in his household to card wool for a few days.

Chattox had claimed to Nowell that Robert Nutter had made advances upon her daughter Anne, & when refused he said he would find a way of evicting her from the area. Chattox called her familiar, called Fancie, to her & she asked Fancie to “revenge her of the sayd Robert Nutter”

Chattox broke down and admitted her guilt, calling on God for forgiveness and the judges to be merciful to her daughter, Anne Redferne.

Elizabeth Device was charged with the murders of James Robinson, John Robinson and, together with Alice Nutter and Demdike, the murder of Henry Mitton.

Elizabeth Device vehemently maintained her innocence. Potts records that “this odious witch” suffered from a facial deformity resulting in her left eye being set lower than her right.

The main witness against Device was her own daughter, Jennet, who was, as we know, about nine years old.

When Jennet was brought into the courtroom and asked to stand up and give evidence against her mother, Elizabeth, confronted with her own child making accusations that would lead to her execution, began to curse and scream at her daughter. Her own daughter asked to have her removed from the courtroom before she would speak. It’s likely that Elizabeth more fully understood the consequences of Jennet’s testimony than Jennet did.

Jennet was placed on a table and denounced her mother as a witch. She stated that she believed her mother had been a witch for three or four years. She also said her mother had a familiar called Ball, who appeared in the shape of a brown dog.

Jennet claimed to have witnessed conversations between Ball and her mother, in which Ball had been asked to help with various murders.

“My mother is a witch & I that know to be true. I have seen her spirit in the likeness of a brown dog called Ball. The dog would ask her what she would do & she answered that she would have him help her to kill John Robinson of Farley, James Robinson, Henry Mitten.”

She described the meeting at Malkin Tower on Good Friday thus; “at 12 noon about 20 people came to our house. My Mother told me they were all witches.”

James Device also gave evidence against his mother, saying he had seen her making a clay figure of one of her victims, John Robinson.

James also said that 3 skulls had been robbed from graves at the new church in Pendle & 4 of the teeth were kept at Malkin Tower.

4 teeth were presented in court which had been found in Malkin Tower by the constable alongside a clay figure buried in the ground.

Elizabeth Device was found guilty.

James Device pleaded not guilty to the murders by witchcraft of Anne Townley and John Duckworth.

However he, like Chattox, had earlier made a confession to Nowell, which was read out in court.

He was also denounced by his sister Jennet who recited a charm she had heard her brother use. Jennet said that James had been a witch for 3 or 4 years & that she had seen him asking a black dog he had conjured up to help him kill Anne Townley.

This evidence was sufficient to persuade the jury to find him guilty.

The trials of the three Salmesbury witches were heard before Anne Redferne’s first appearance in court, late in the afternoon, charged with the murder of Robert Nutter. The evidence against her was considered unsatisfactory, and she was acquitted.

19 August

Anne Redferne was not so fortunate the following day, when she faced her second trial, for the murder of Robert Nutter’s father, Christopher, to which she pleaded not guilty.

Demdike’s statement to Nowell, which accused Anne of having made clay figures of the Nutter family, was read out in court. Witnesses were called to testify that Anne was a witch “more dangerous than her Mother”. But she refused to admit her guilt to the end, and had given no evidence against any others of the accused. Anne Redferne was found guilty.

Jane Bulcock and her son John Bulcock, both from Newchurch in Pendle, were accused and found guilty of the murder by witchcraft of Jennet Deane. Both denied that they had attended the meeting at Malkin Tower, but Jennet Device identified Jane as having been one of those present, and John as having turned the spit to roast the stolen sheep, the centrepiece of the Good Friday meeting at the Demdike’s home.

Alice Nutter was unusual among the accused in being comparatively wealthy, the widow of a farmer. She made no statement either before or during her trial, except to enter her plea of not guilty to the charge of murdering Henry Mitton by witchcraft.

The prosecution alleged that she, together with Demdike and Elizabeth Device, had caused Mitton’s death after he had refused to give Demdike a penny she had begged from him.

The only evidence against Alice seems to have been that James Device claimed Demdike had told him of the murder, and Jennet Device in her statement said that Alice had been present at the Malkin Tower meeting.

Alice may have called in on the meeting at Malkin Tower on her way to a secret (and illegal) Good Friday Catholic service, and refused to speak for fear of incriminating her fellow Catholics.

Many of the Nutter family were Catholics, and two had been executed as Jesuit priests.

Alice Nutter was found guilty.

Katherine Hewitt (also known as Mould-Heeles) was charged and found guilty of the murder of Anne Foulds. She was the wife of a clothier from Colne, and had attended the meeting at Malkin Tower with Alice Grey.

According to the evidence given by James Device, both Hewitt and Grey told the others at that meeting that they had killed a child from Colne, Anne Foulds. Jennet Device also picked Katherine out of a line-up, and confirmed her attendance at the Malkin Tower meeting.

Alice Grey was accused with Katherine Hewitt of the murder of Anne Foulds. Potts does not provide an account of Alice Grey’s trial, simply recording her as one of the Samlesbury witches – which she was not, as she was one of those identified as having been at the Malkin Tower meeting – and naming her in the list of those found not guilty.

Alizon Device, whose encounter with John Law had triggered the events leading up to the trials, was charged with causing harm by witchcraft. Uniquely among the accused, Alizon was confronted in court by her alleged victim, John Law. She seems to have genuinely believed in her own guilt; when Law was brought into court Alizon fell to her knees in tears and confessed. She was found guilty.

All those found guilty were hanged the following day, August 20th. Hanging would have been a death by strangulation not by snapped neck. Before being executed the condemned were given a chance to confess to save their souls. Elizabeth Device & Alice
Nutter never confessed. Jennet Device may have witnessed the execution of her mother & brother.

Thomas Potts

A lot more is known about the Lancashire Witch Trials than many others because of one Thomas Potts.
Potts was a Clerk to the Justices of Assize on the Northern Circuit & was clerk to the trials of the Pendle Witches at both Lancaster & York Assizes

At the end of 1612 Thomas Potts lodged in Chancery Lane in London.

He first produced a pamphlet on the trial of Jennet Preston in York from the court depositions & from the interrogation accounts of the 4 witnesses made by Roger Nowell the Lancashire JP.

Potts was instructed to write an account of the Lancaster Witch Trials by the trial judges, and had completed the work by 16 November 1612, when he submitted it for review. Bromley, one of the judges, revised and corrected the manuscript before its publication in 1613, declaring it to be “truly reported” and “fit and worthie to be published”.

It has been suggested that the trial judges worked closely with Potts in the writing of The Wonderfull Discoverie “to manipulate the extraordinary records into an account that would protect and advance their careers”. Potts’ book has been called the “clearest example of an account [of a witch trial] obviously published to display the shining efficiency and justice of the legal system”. Although written as an apparently verbatim account, Potts was not reporting what had actually been said during the trials; he was reflecting what had happened.

This “Wonderfull Discoverie of Witches In The Countie Of Lancaster” was 10 times as long as the pamphlet about Jennet Preston’s trial.

It may be significant that Potts dedicated The Wonderfull Discoverie to Thomas Knyvet and his wife Elizabeth; Knyvet was the man credited with apprehending Guy Fawkes & helping to foil the Gunpowder Plot.

Spells

In the course of the trial 3 charms were quoted by the prosecutor, Roger Nowell.

The first was a charm claimed by Chattox to remove a curse from a brew of beer which had been ‘forespoken or bewitched’. The charm strongly resembles charms used to lift curses on people.

A Charme

Three biters hast thou bitten,
Ill Harte, ill Eye, ill Tonge;
Three better shall be thy Boote,
Father, Sonne & Holy Ghost.
a Gods name.
Five Pater-nosters, five Avies & a Creed,
In worship of five wound of our Lord

The bewitched person or object is addressed as if it had been bitten by 3 snakes.

‘Boote’ means help
‘a God’s name’ means the action is being done in God’s name
the Paternosters, Ave Marias & Creed would all be intoned

In worship of 5 wounds of our Lord expresses late medieval piety. Devotion to the 5 wounds of Christ was a popular cult in England until the Reformation.

Prayers of the Church served as spells.

The second was a charm claimed by young Jennet Device to be used by her mother, Elizabeth Device, ‘to get drinke’. Jennet had said that her brother James ‘hath confessed to her that he by this power hath gotten drinke: and that within an hour after the saying the said Prayer, drinke hath come into the house after a very strange manner.’

The charm is this:
Cruxifixus hoc signum vitum Eturnum. Amen
Christ crucified. In this sign is eternal life.

It is a common pre-Reformation liturgical formula used in public worship. It would be said while making the sign of the cross.

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The third charm was recited to the court by the 9 year old Jennet Device & attributed to her brother James. It is a ‘prayer that would cure one bewitched’

Upon Good-Friday I will fast while I may
Until I hear them knell our Lords owne Bell,
Lord in his messe with his twelve Apostles good, (messe: mass)
What hath he in his hand
Ligh in leath wand: (Anglo-Saxon; Lith-won: not a lot)
What hath he in his other hand?
Heavens doore key,
Open, open Heaven doore keyes.
Steck, steck Hell doore. (Middle-Eng. Steken: Fasten)
Let Crizum child goe to it Mother mild
What is yonder that casts a light so farrandly,(dialect: pleasantly)
Mine own deare Sonne that’s nailed to the Tree
He is naild sore by the heart and hand,
And holy barne Panne, (barne: bairn or child. Panne: Head)
Well is that man
That Friday spell can his Childe to learne;
A Crosse of Blew and another of Red,
As good Lord was to the Roode.
Gabriel laid him down to sleepe
Upon the ground of holy weepe
Good Lord came walking by,
Sleep’st thou, wak’st thou Gabriel,
No Lord I am sted with sticke and stake, (sted: beset with)
That I can neither sleep nor wake;
Rise up Gabriel and goe with me,
The stick nor the stake shall never deere thee. (deere: harm)
Sweet Jesus our Lord, Amen
The charm appears to have the form of a religious drama with fragments referring to Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, The Last Supper, The Garden of Gethsemane & the Crucifixion & the Last Judgement though not in that order.

It’s interesting that all 3 charms appear to be derived from Catholic orthodoxy.

Pictures Of Clay

The most common method of laying on a curse is by effigy or “poppet”, which is an image or representation of the victim or the person who is to be harmed (sometimes known as “image magic”). In the Pendle Witch trials the effigies were made of clay. The theory behind the use of effigies is that of “sympathetic magic”: as the effigy is harmed, so the victim is harmed; when the effigy is destroyed, so the victim dies.

Jennet Device

Jennet’s story is not quite done. 20 years after her devastating testimony at the Pendle Witch Trials it is possible that she herself was accused of witchcraft.

A woman with that name was listed in a group of 20 tried at Lancaster Assizes on 24 March 1634, although it cannot be certain that it was the same Jennet Device. The charge against her was the murder of one Isabel Nutter. In that series of trials the chief prosecution witness was a ten-year-old boy from Pendle, Edmund Robinson.

In 1633 he claimed that he had been bewitched while he was out picking berries. His father took him from village to village and got him to point out witches. Jennet Device was pointed out & imprisoned at Lancaster Castle

At the trial all but one of the accused were found guilty by the jury, but the judges were unhappy with the verdict & refused to pass death sentences, deciding instead to refer the case to the king, Charles I.

Under cross-examination in London, Robinson admitted that he had fabricated his evidence using stories of the Pendle Witch Trials as basis for his lies.

Even though four of the accused were eventually pardoned, they all remained incarcerated in Lancaster Gaol, where it is likely that they died. An official record dated 22 August 1636 lists Jennet Device as one of those still held in the prison.

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A History Of Agriculture & Mining

The 7th track on the Cunning Folk Album, Ritual Land, Uncommon Ground, has the snappy title, A History Of Agriculture & Mining. Here is what inspired me to write it.

We walk an ancient ritual landscape & it is also a landscape of old & new industry. The story of the farms & mines of Britain goes way back.
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When Stone Age hunters first walked across Doggerland from the continent around 300,000 BC the land was a treeless Ice Age plain. The ice retreated around 10,000 BC & by about 5000 BC Britain was covered by a thick layer of deciduous forest.

Stone Age people made little impact on the land until the first farmers arrived by sea from Belgium & France around 3500 BC bringing wheat & barley & probably cattle. Forest was felled with stone axe & fields were ploughed with forked branches. By 3000 BC parts of chalk down lands of the South were permanently deforested. Flint was mined & carried along trackways to communities hundreds of miles away. The Wessex Ridgeway & the Icknield Way are such paths we still can walk.
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Round 2000 BC the Beaker People with their ceramics arrived from the Netherlands & Rhineland heralding the end of the Stone Age with their use of copper for tools & weapons. At the time the climate was warm & dry & hilly uplands were farmed. Moors like Dartmoor & Bodmin were cleared of forests & parcelled up into fields with long stone reaves. Stones were cleared & dumped in heaps or cairns which can still be seen today.
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The clearing & grazing of the uplands exposed them to erosion & when the climate became wetter & cooler around 1200 BC, moss blanketed the poor soil & the farming communities abandoned what was now moor.
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Round 100 BC Belgic Celtic tribes came to the South East of England & built Britain’s first towns. Inside their massive earth banks & ditches there would be space for fields, craft centres, & timber houses for hundreds, sometimes thousands of people.
Temporarily used for contact details: The Engine House, Fire Fly Avenue, Swindon, SN2 2EH, United Kingdom, Tel: 01793 414600, Email: archive@english-heritage.org.uk, Website: http://www.english-heritage.org.uk
When the Romans invaded around 43 AD they built roads. 6,000 miles in 400 years. Long straight lines which are echoed in our modern road network. Watling Street from Dover to London is the A2, & on to Birmingham as the A5.
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Craftsfolk were concentrated in towns supplied by farming estates of up to 1,000 acres organised from central villas. The Romans drained the fenlands making lowlands suitable for farming.
Roman troops left in 407 AD to defend Rome itself from barbarian hordes. For the first time in 400 years Britain south of the Tyne had to run itself. The “Dark Ages” had rival factions fighting for power while Scots from Ireland, Picts from Scotland & Anglo-Saxons from North West coastal Europe were coming into the mix.
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By 600 AD the Anglo-Saxons had settled much of England save the far West. Anglo-Saxon life was village life. Street villages were a string of houses on either side of a road with a church at one end. Green villages were built around a green usually containing the church or well. The structure of the Green village may have been defensive.
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Saxon villages were surrounded by 2 or 3 “open fields” each covering thousands of acres. The fields were divided into blocks, or furlongs, each containing dozens of narrow strips. Each strip was an acre: how much a man could plough in a day. Each farmer farmed about 30 strips scattered through the fields ensuring a fair distribution of good & poor land.
The ridge & furrow strips can still be seen under the grass in many parts.

When William The Conqueror invaded in 1066 he set about making his new kingdom into his private hunting ground. The forests became Royal game preserves protected by repressive Forest laws. Under William’s reign poachers were blinded, successive rulers had poachers executed.

The New Forest & Cranborne Chase were cleansed of many villages as The King’s Preserve as was the whole of Essex & large amounts of the Midlands.

The New Forest is the unhappy hunting ground where William Rufus was felled by an arrow to the heart. The son of William The Conqueror slain, his body bled out all the way to Winchester. Divine victim called upon to give his life & blood to rejuvenate the land on the day after harvest festival. A royal sacrifice to the old gods from a time when kings were almost gods themselves.

In the 12th & 13th century new boroughs were created by royal charter, a form of property speculation whereby landowners created towns on the land they owned. Towns like Ludlow, Stratford on Avon & Salisbury were some of the first planned settlements since Roman times.

In the 13th century drainage of arable land in Kent, Somerset & Lincolnshire continued the work of the Romans. The farmers in Norfolk built 6 foot high flood defences on which roads now run. Sheep were sent out into the reclaimed land & the wool industry of Norfolk & Suffolk is reflected in disproportionately large churches in small villages.
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The Black Death in the mid 14th century killed between a third & a half of all British residents. Over 1800 villages were deserted as farmers moved to vacant land in better areas.

In the 18th century there was a farming revolution which altered the face of the land. Up to then millions of acres of land were farmed in great open fields that had stood unchanged for millennia.

2 Norfolk Farmers, Viscount “Turnip” Townsend & Thomas Coke came up with a 4 year crop rotation system which increased yields & reduced pests & disease but which needed enclosure of land into smaller fields to keep livestock away from crops. This agricultural revolution swept through the land with 10 acre fields enclosed by 5 or so million miles of hawthorn hedge.
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As the 18th century transited into the 19th an industrial revolution created new landscapes in the island, from white Cornish moonscapes to black mountains in Wales & the North of England. Slate mining created cathedral like caverns.
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I was walking with my friend Will & his family on the Roseland coast of Cornwall a few years back & he told me about the tin miners who tunnelled far out underneath the sea. Tin had been mined in Cornwall since prehistoric times & in the 19th century they were very adventurous running for miles & miles. When the tin miners accidentally breached the sea floor the tunnels would fill with the brine & the miners would drown. A ship would sail out to the point where the hole had been made with a vast metal plug & bung the hole, water would be pumped out & the mining would recommence. Great risk & great reward. All gone now.

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Chalk Horses

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The chalk hills of old England have had figures cut into them for millennia. Some of these have faded back into the hills others have been recut regularly in order to preserve them.

The Cerne Abbas Giant is carved into the green turf of a steep hill near the village of Cerne Abbas in Dorset. He stands proud at 55m tall holding a club in his right hand. His left hand may also have held a cloak or a dismembered head at some point.

Local legend is that he was a real giant who caused havoc in the area smashing up houses & eating sheep. One day he lay down on the hill to digest his meal & the locals set on him & killed him in his sleep. They then carved out his outline in chalk. This folktale makes no mention of the giant erect penis.

In 1774 in the History of Dorset by John Hutchins this is said of the giant, “I have heard from the steward of the manor that it is a modern thing cut out in Lord Hollis’ time” This dates to between 1641 & 1666. However Lord Hollis may have only recut the figure. In the Churchwardens’ accounts from St Mary’s Church in Cerne Abbas there is an entry for 1694; “for repairing ye giant, 3 shillings”
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The earliest known drawing of the Giant appears in the August 1764 issue of Gentleman’s Magazine. By the Victorian period (after 1837) the penis was removed from academic and tourist depictions.

There are several ideas concerning the age of the Giant, and whom he might represent:

One theory is that because there is no medieval documentary evidence, then the Giant was created in the 17th century, perhaps by Lord Holles, who resided in Cerne Abbas, and perhaps as a parody of Oliver Cromwell.

Another is that the Giant dates to the time of the Romans in Britain (i.e. Romano-British), because the Giant resembles the Roman god Hercules, who was based on the Greek god Heracles.

Yet another is that the Giant is of Pagan Celtic origin, because it is stylistically similar to a Celtic god on a skillet handle found at Hod Hill, Dorset, and dated to around AD 10 to AD 51 & of Northern European depictions of gods of the time.

Since Victorian times there has been documented folklore about fertility rituals associated with the giant.

There is a small iron age earthwork on top of Trendle Hill & locals would erect a maypole in the earthwork around which childless couples would dance on May Day in order to promote fertility. The May Pole is a phallic symbol.

Barren women would sit on the giant in the hope of becoming pregnant. The folklore I heard when growing up in Dorset was that if you had intercourse within the penis outline a pregnancy would occur.

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In 1921 Walter Long of Gillingham, Dorset objected to the giant’s nudity and conducted a campaign to either convert it to a simple nude, or to cover its supposed obscenity with a leaf. Long’s protest gained some support, including that of two bishops, and eventually reached the Home Office. The Home Office considered the protest to be in humour, though the chief constable responded to say the office could not act against a protected scheduled monument.
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Cut into the northern slope of Windover Hill, at the eastern end of the South Downs near Wilmington in Sussex is a giant carrying a long staff in either hand. He is 70m tall. Close to the Long Man are a collection of burial mounds including a long barrow.

He has been variously identified as a local giant, St Paul, a Roman soldier, a Saxon haymaker or as a prehistoric surveyor, or dodman, who used his two staffs as sighting poles. Alfred Watkins came up with the dodman theory. During neolithic times the figure may have been aligned to mark the movement of the constellation Orion over the hill behind it. So he may have been a manifestation of Neolithic astral religion.

The origin is unclear. Up until recently he was thought to have been a neolithic creation as part of the ritual landscape of burial mounds.
More recent surveys have dated the figure to the 16th or 17th century possibly after there was a period of geological instability on the hill.

This is speculation on my part, but I am of the opinion that both the Cerne Abbas & Wilmington Giants are likely to have been older then early modern period based on the style of the figures.
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The huge stylised drawing of the White Horse near Uffington in Oxfordshire is dated to between 1740 & 210 BC. It is 110 metres from head to tail & was probably carved by Iron Age Celts. There is an Iron Age hill fort on top of the hill.
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The steep sided dry valley below the horse is known as the Manger and legend says that the horse grazes there at night.

Other prominent prehistoric sites are located nearby, notably Wayland’s Smithy, a long barrow less than a mile to the west.

Does this constitute a ritual landscape?

The horse was venerated in Celtic times & may have represented the horse goddess Epona. It may have been a tribal territory marker; the Vale of the White Horse falls at a point where three Celtic tribal zones met.

According to local tradition the horse may actually be a dragon. Close to the horse is Dragon Hill where St George is said to have killed the dragon. No grass grows on the top of the hill where the fabled beast bled out.

Chalk horses & figures stride across the landscape of England & Scotland & we can see them from far away. Some are lost to the hills & forgotten but maybe a sense memory in Plymouth or Gag Magog leaves a faint imprint.

The 5th song on the upcoming Cunning Folk Album is called Chalk Horses…

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What Has Been & Gone Before

The 4th song on the upcoming Cunning Folk album; Ritual Land, Uncommon Ground is titled What Has Been & Gone Before, & this is what inspired it.

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On the 17th June 601AD Pope Gregory gave a letter to Abbot Mellitus, who was departing for England:
“When (by God’s help) you come to our most reverend brother, Bishop Augustine (in Kent), I want you to tell him how earnestly I have been pondering the affairs of the English: I have come to the conclusion that the temples of the idols in England should not on any account be destroyed. Augustine must smash the idols, but the temples themselves should be sprinkled with holy water & alters set up in them in which relics are to be enclosed. For we ought to take advantage of well-built temples by purifying them from devil worship & dedicating them to the service of the true God. In this way, I hope the people (seeing their temples are not destroyed) will leave the idolatry & yet continue to frequent the places as formerly, so coming to know & revere the true God. & since the sacrifice of many oxen to devils is their custom, some other rite ought to be solemnized in it’s place such as a Day of Dedication or Festivals for the holy martyrs whose relics are there enshrined. On such high days the people might well build themselves shelters of boughs round about the churches that were once temples & celebrate the occasion with pious feasting. They must no longer sacrifice animals to the Devil, but they may kill them for food to the glory of God while giving thanks for his bounty as the provider of all gifts.”
In this letter were the blueprints for the erasure of old ways.
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I grew up near Knowlton Church, a ruined church built inside a Neolithic henge monument on Cranborne Chase. The ruin is evidence of the village of Knowlton which was wiped out by the Black Death in medieval times.
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As children we would run around the ramparts & hide in the small Yew grove & climb on the ruin. It was rumoured that witches would meet there on dark nights. That would have been a fascinating example of continuity of purpose echoing past beliefs.

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The Modern Antiquarian

 

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My experience of ritual landscapes of Britain is pedestrian. It is on foot. Maybe these landscapes were meant to be taken in on foot.

I have lost count of the times I have visited & walked the Avebury complex in Wiltshire. You can easily in the space of a day walk down from the Wessex ridgeway into the village & the stone circle, along the avenue of stones,to the Sanctuary, then past Silbury Hill & on to West Kennet Long Barrow.

The act of walking between these places feels significant as it is what the people who created these earthworks & stone avenues & chamber tombs would have done. Avebury is a complex of sites close to each other perhaps with interlocking significances.

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West Kennet Long Barrow was built around 3650 BC & used for around 1000 years until it was sealed up, filled to the roof  by the Beaker People with earth & stones. It is a chamber tomb about 25 metres long which you can walk in. Whenever I go I offer a libation before entering the chamber. I pour out the contents of a fine bottle of beer to show my respect to the older ones.
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Silbury Hill is the largest man made mound in Europe. It is about the size of a pyramid & was completed around 2500 BC. There is no evidence of human burial associated with the hill.
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Built around 3000 BC, the Sanctuary was originally a complex circular arrangement of timber posts, which were later replaced by stones. These components are presently indicated with concrete slabs. Huge numbers of human bones have been excavated from here accompanied by food, suggesting elaborate death rites & ceremonies.
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The stones & henges of Avebury were not all constructed at the same time. 3000BC for the central cove, 2900 for the inner stone circle, 2600 for the outer circle & henge & 2400BC for the avenue. This is the late Neolithic period.

The henge, a large circular bank with an internal ditch is over 1000 metres in circumference. Within the henge is the outer stone circle, Britains largest, with a diameter of 300 metres or so. Within the outer stone circle is the inner circle.

The avenue of paired stones leading from the south-eastern entrance to the henge is a designed passage through the landscape leading us from the Avebury stone circle towards Silbury & West Kennet.

There is no written record of what the function of the Avebury complex is. Maybe the stone circles were a representation of the world of the Neolithic peoples. Some historians have speculated that between 5000 to 10000 people would gather regularly at the site to demonstrate tribal loyalty or for religious observance.
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Pagan rites seem to have been practiced at the circle as late as the 14th century, for at this time the local Christians considered it their religious duty to fell the stones. One of the Christians was crushed to death by the stone as it fell & his skeleton was discovered in the 1930s pinned to the side of a burial hole. The contents of his purse identified him as a barber surgeon & the stone is now known as the Barber Stone.

With the advent of the modern religions of Druidry & Wicca, Avebury has regained ritual significance & at equinoxes & solstices neopagan ceremonies are performed at the site which is considered to be a living temple.
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On a visit in the year 2000 I picked up a book from the village shop in Avebury called “The Modern Antiquarian: A Pre-Millennial Odyssey Through Megalithic Britain”. It is a poetical gazetteer of scores of barrows, standing stones, megalithic monuments scattered across the British Isles. Written in 1998 by Julian Cope, it is one of my treasured books. It has accompanied me on drives across Scotland to see chambered cairns & carved stones, on hikes across Bodmin Moor & Dartmoor to interlocking stone circles & Arthur’s Hall, & on & on.
It seems fitting that I found it in a bookshop in a village encircled by a living temple.

I take it with me on most journeys. It is a fine sleeved hardcover which is starting to fray & dog. I like the erosion from pristine to decrepit that loved objects undergo. Eventually the spine will crack & the sleeve will split & I am not sure whether I will repair it or let it fall apart. Maybe I should take pages from it & place them on the monuments they have led me to. The stones will be here long after the book has gone & it’s where the book takes you which is important. The pilgrimage to these sites is a ritual in itself, an observance that these places have importance.

The third song on my upcoming album; Ritual Land, Uncommon Ground (released March 24th) is titled The Modern Antiquarian.

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The Old Straight Track

The second song from the upcoming Cunning Folk album: Ritual Land, Uncommon Ground is called The Old Straight Track. Here is a blog about what inspired it.

I grew up in East Dorset close to Cranborne Chase, a large area of countryside the Norman kings kept clear of habitation to make room for hunting ground. There is plenty of evidence of our ancestors left in the local landscape. 9

There is Badbury Rings, an iron age hill fort reputed in local legend to be the final resting place of King Arthur.

10Knowlton Church, a Norman ruin within a henge complex.
There is Bokerley Dyke, a Saxon defensive ditch running for miles through the countryside & there are countless round barrow tumuli in the corn & barley fields. You can literally see where our ancestors made their mark. I grew up trying to see if there are connections between places, significances.13

A Herefordshire man by the name of Alfred Watkins was a pioneer of trying to make connections between old places on the landscape. He thought the locations of ancient monuments & settlements were very significant. He thought that they were aligned.

15He wrote a book in 1925 called “The Old Straight Track” on the subject. He called these alignments, “Ley Lines”.

Alfred Watkins’ ideas are controversial & influential. They are not taken seriously by orthodox archaeologists but have inspired ley hunters & artists.

17The writer Alan Garner in his book  “The Moon Of Gomrath” portrays the Old Straight Track appearing at moonrise near Alderley Edge.

IMG_1901.JPGI am fascinated by the concept of the ley line; the connection between old places over distance & time. The idea of old, wild magic transmitted through the land between standing stones & hills, along ancient tracks from forgotten settlements to barrows & cursi. Maybe we cross these lines every day.

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