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The Rosicrucian Age The German Brotherhoods • Christian Rosenkreuz • Hieronymus Bosch • The Secret Mission of Dr Dee

LITTLE IS KNOWN ABOUT MEISTER ECKHART, the shadowy thirteenth-century German mystic, but, just as his contemporary Dante can be seen as the source of the Renaissance, Eckhart can be seen as the source of the broader but more slowly moving Reformation. In Eckhart we can also see the source of a new form of consciousness which would lead Northern Europe to world domination.

Born in near Gotha in Germany in 1260, he entered a Dominican friary, became a prior and eventually succeeded Thomas Aquinas teaching theology in Paris. His great Opus Tripartitum, as ambitious in scope as the Summa Theologica, was never finished. He died while on trial for his life, accused of heresy.

A few sermons have come down to us, some of them transcribed by people in Strasbourg. They had never heard anything like these notions before:

I pray to God to rid me of God.

If I myself were not, God would not be either.

If I were not, God would not be God.

God is within, we are without.

The eye through which I see God and the eye through which God sees me is the same eye.

He is He because He is not He. This cannot be understood by the outer man, only the inner man.

Find the one desire behind all desires.

God is at home. It is we who have gone out for a walk.

Through nothing I become what I am.

Only the hand that erases can write the true thing.

These sound exceptionally modern. You would probably even be a bit surprised to hear them coming out of the mouth of your local clergyman today.

Like a Zen Master, Meister Eckhart tries to shock us out of fixed ways of thinking, sometimes with what at first sounds like nonsense.

He also teaches an oriental style of meditation that involves both sustained detachment from the material world and emptiness of the mind. He says that when the powers have all been withdrawn from their bodily form and functions, when man has absconded from the senses, then he ‘lapses into the oblivion of things and of himself’.

Like Buddhist ‘emptiness’ this oblivion is a void containing infinite and inexhaustible possibilities, and so a place of rebirth and creativity. It is also a difficult and dangerous place. Eckhart was showing the way not of consolation for a harsh, repressed life, not rewards deferred, but a strange and testing dimension you enter at your peril, ‘the desert of the Godhead where no one is at home’.

Like Mohammed, like Dante, Eckhart had direct personal experience of the spirit worlds. Again and again what he reported back is not what you’d expect:

‘When you’re frightened of dying and you’re holding on, you’ll see demons tearing your life away. If you’ve made your peace, you’ll see that the demons are really angels freeing you from the earth. The only things that burn us is the part you won’t let go, your memories, your attachments.’

Eckhart is sometimes spoken of as one of ‘the twelve sublime Masters of Paris’, a phrase that reminds us of the ancient traditions of hidden masters and adepts, the Great White Brotherhood, the Thirty-Six Righteous of Cabalistic tradition, the Brotherhood on the Roof of the World, the Inner Circle of Adepts or the Nine Unknown. According to ancient traditions knowledge, the way to gain experience of the spirit words is passed on by an initiatic chain of transmission from master to pupil. In the East this is sometimes called satsong. It is not just a matter of information passed on by word, but a sort of magical mind-to-mind process. Plato may be read as referring to something similar when he talks of mimesis. In the Allegory of the Cave, Plato is inviting his pupil to create an imaginative image which will work on his mind in a way that operates beyond the narrowly rational. In Plato’s opinion, the best writing - he is talking of Hesiod’s poetry - casts a hypnotic spell that carries with it the transmission of knowledge.

An initiate I knew told me how, when he was a young man living in New York, his Master had reached over to him, drawn a circle on a table and asked him what he saw.

‘A table top,’ he replied.

‘That is good,’ said the Master. ‘The eyes of a young man should look outward.’ Then, without saying any more, he leaned forward and touched my friend on the forehead between the eyes with his outstretched finger.

Immediately the world faded and he was dazzled by a vision of what seemed to him a cold, white goddess of the moon, carrying a skull and a rosary. She had six faces each with three eyes.

The goddess danced and my friend lost track of time. Then, after a while, the vision faded and shrank until it became a dot and disappeared.

My friend knew, though, it was still living inside him somewhere like a burning seed and would do so forever.

His Master said, ‘You saw it?’

I was thrilled when I heard this story, because I knew I was very close to the chain of mystic transmission.

THE DIRECT SPIRITUAL EXPERIENCE THAT Meister Eckhart talked about with such conviction in his sermons was experience of a kind organized religion no longer seemed able to provide. The Church seemed pedantically tied to the dead letter of the law both in theology and ritual.

So it was in a climate of spiritual dissatisfaction and restlessness that loose and shadowy associations arose among like-minded people. Groups of lay people questing for spiritual experience, ‘wandering stars’ as they were sometimes known, were said to meet in secret: the Brethren and Sisters of the Free Spirit, the Brethren and Sisters of the Common Life, the Family of Love and the Friends of God. Stories were rife among all levels of society in Germany, the Netherlands and Switzerland, even among the underprivileged and alienated poor, of people being approached by mysterious strangers who took them to secret meetings or even on journeys into strange, otherworldly dimensions.

One of the more intriguing notions associated with the secret societies is that you can never track them down. Instead they operate some form of occult but benevolent surveillance. When the time is right, when you are ready, a member of the secret schools will come to you and offer himself as your spiritual guide or master.

The same initiate told me how at a gathering of top academics who all shared an interest in the esoteric - he himself was an art historian - it eventually emerged that the great teacher in their presence was none of the doctors or professors but the cleaning lady with mop and pail at the back of the lecture theatre. Such stories may have an apocryphal air about them, but they also have a universal resonance. The spiritual master of the greatest esoteric teacher of the twentieth century, Rudolf Steiner, was a woodcutter and herb-gatherer.

Karl von Eckartshausen, the early theosophist, wrote: ‘These sages whose number is small are children of light. Their business is to do as much good to humanity as is in their power and to drink wisdom from the eternal fountain of truth. Some live in Europe, others in Africa, but they are bound together by the harmony of their souls, and they are therefore one. They are joined even though they may be thousands of miles apart from each other. They understand each other, although they speak in different tongues, because the language of the sages is spiritual perception. No evil person could possibly live among them, because he would be recognized immediately.’

People today freely and openly describe meetings with Indian mystics such as Mother Meera, who confer life-changing mystical experiences. On the other hand we tend to be shy of ascribing supernatural powers to remarkable Christians these days. But you really do not need to look very far into the lives of the great Christian mystics to find evidence of psychic powers. Reading von Eckartshausen you might suspect that he had been influenced by ideas about Hindu holy men. That may be true, but this should not stop us from recognizing that the great Christian mystics and Hindu adepts have much in common.

The mystic John Tauler, for example, was a pupil of Meister Eckhart. The older man does not seem to have been Tauler’s spiritual master in the sense in which we have just been using that phrase. Tauler was preaching in 1339 when he was approached by a mysterious layman from the Oberland, who told him his teaching lacked true spirituality. Tauler gave up his life and followed this man, who is supposed in some Rosicrucian traditions to have been a reincarnation of Zarathustra.

Tauler disappeared for two years. When he reappeared, he tried to preach again, but could only stand there and cry. On his second attempt he was inspired, and it was said of him that the Holy Spirit played upon him as upon a lute. Tauler himself said of his experience of initiation, ‘My prayer is answered. God sent me the man long sought to teach me wisdom the schoolmen never knew.’

Tauler’s is the mysticism of everyday life. When a poor man asked if he should stop working to go to church, Tauler replied: ‘One can spin, another make shoes and these are the gifts of the Holy Spirit.’ In Tauler we may recognize the great sincerity and practical probity of the German people. Martin Luther would say of him, ‘Nowhere in either Latin or German have I found more wholesome, powerful teaching, nor any that more fully agrees with the Gospels.’

OF COURSE NOT ALL INITIATES ARE MYSTICS, and neither is everyone who has genuine communication with the spirit worlds. Certain great individuals, such as Melchizedek, have been avatars, embodiments of great spiritual beings who are able to live in constant communication with the spirit worlds. Others, such as Isaiah, were initiates in previous incarnations, carrying the powers of an initiate into their new incarnation. The cosmos prepares people in different ways. Mozart is believed to have undergone a series of short incarnations which had the purpose of interrupting his experience of the spirit worlds only briefly, so that in his incarnation as Mozart he could still hear the Music of the Spheres. Others, such as Joan of Arc, inhabit bodies that have been prepared to be so sensitive, so finely tuned, that spirits of a very high level are able to work through them, even though they are not in any sense incarnations of these spirits. Modern mediums are sometimes people who have suffered a trauma in childhood which has caused a rent in the membrane between the material and spirit worlds.

Anyone who has spent time with mediums or psychics accepts that they often, even routinely, receive information by supernatural means - anyone, that is, whose cast of mind is not such that they are absolutely determined to disbelieve. However, it is equally apparent that most mediums cannot control spirits with whom they converse. Often they cannot even recognize them. These spirits are sometimes mischievous, giving them a lot of reliable information on trivial matters, but then tripping them up on important things.

Unlike mediums, initiates are concerned to communicate their altered states of consciousness, either directly, as happened to my friend in New York, or by teaching techniques to achieve altered states.

THE LIFE OF CHRISTIAN ROSENKREUZ is usually thought of as an allegory - or a fantasy. In the secret tradition the great being who had incarnated briefly in the thirteenth century, as the boy with the luminous skin, was incarnated again in 1378. He was born into a poor German family living on the border of Hesse and Thuringia. Orphaned at the age of five, he was sent to live in a convent, where he learned Greek and Latin not very well.

At the age of sixteen he set out on a pilgrimage. He longed to visit the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. He travelled to Egypt, Libya and Fez. He went, too, to Cyrpus, where a friend who was accompanying him died. Then on to Damascus and Jerusalem and finally to somewhere called Damcar, where he studied for three years and was initiated by a Sufi brotherhood known as the Ikhwan al-Safa, or Brethren of Purity. During this time he translated into Latin The Liber M, or Book of the World, said to contain the past and future history of the world.

When he returned to Europe, he was determined to pass on what he had learned. He landed first in Spain, where he was laughed at. After several humiliations he returned to Germany to live in seclusion. Five years later he gathered around him three old friends from his day in the convent.

This was the beginning of the Fraternity of the Rosy Cross.

He taught his friends the initiatic sciences he had learned on his travels. Together they wrote a book containing ‘all that man could desire, ask and hope for’. They also agreed to submit to six obligations: to heal the sick for free; to adopt the clothing and habits of the countries they visited in order to remain inconspicuous; that every year they would return to the house of Christian Rosencreuz, now known as the House of the Holy Spirit, or otherwise send a letter explaining their absence; before death each brother would choose a successor whom he would initiate. They agreed that their fraternity would remain hidden for a hundred years.

They were joined by four more brothers, before all eight set out to the far corners of the earth in order to reform and transform it.

The extraordinary supernatural gifts attributed to the Rosicrucians made them one of the great romantic legends of European history. They had the gift of great longevity - Rosencrantz died in 1485 at the age of 107. Because they knew ‘the secrets of nature’ and could command disembodied beings, they could exert their will magically, which they did mostly for the sake of performing healing miracles. They could read minds, understand all languages, even project living images of themselves over great distances and communicate over great distances. They could also make themselves invisible.

The great Cabalist Robert Fludd was, according to esoteric tradition, one of the scholars employed by James I to work on the Authorized Version of the Bible. Often thought to have been a Rosicrucian himself, he was at the least a well-informed and sympathetic fellow traveller. Fludd came to the defence of the Brotherhood in print, repudiating accusations of black magic. He argued that the supernatural gifts of the Rosicrucians were the gifts of the Holy Spirit laid out by St Paul in the Epistle to the Corinthians - prophecy, performing miracles, possession of languages, visions, healings, expelling demons. That the local parish priest could no longer do these things helps to account for Europe’s growing fascination with the shadowy Rosicrucians.

By all accounts the priests of antiquity had been able to summon gods to appear in the inner sanctum of the temple, but, following the Church’s abolition of the distinction between soul and spirit in 869, the understanding of how to reach the spirit worlds had gradually been lost. By the eleventh century priests were no longer capable of summoning even visions of the spirit worlds during Mass. Now in the fifteenth century the spirit worlds began to flood back via the portal of the Rosicrucians.

But there is something else. Eckhart and Tauler had talked of the material transformation of the body by spiritual practice. Eckhart had left intriguing hints at alchemy - ‘Copper’, he had said, ‘is restless until it becomes Mercury.’ But a more systematic account only began to emerge with Rosicrucianism.

NO OTHER ARTIST OF THE FIRST RANK HAS alchemical ideas quite so close to the surface of his work as Hieronymus Bosch.

Little is known about the Dutch magus except that he was married, owned a horse and is said to have contributed altarpieces and designs for stained-glass windows in the cathedral of his native city of Aachen. Bosch died in 1516, so he must have been painting while Christian Rosencrantz was still alive.

In the 1960s Professor William Fraenger published a monumental study of Bosch in terms of the esoteric thought of the times in which the artist lived. Fraenger made sense of paintings which had otherwise just seemed baffling and weird.

Many Bosch paintings have been labelled Heaven, Hell or Apocalypse, sometimes perhaps in a rather perfunctory way, just because they contain strange visionary elements not part of conventional Christian iconography and theology. But in fact Bosch’s paintings are really deeply esoteric - and contrary to Church dogma. For example, it was not Bosch’s view that unrepentant wrongdoers go to Hell - that’s it and serve them right for eternity. He believed that after death the spirit journeys through the sphere of the moon, then ascends through the planetary spheres to the highest heavens - then descends again into the next incarnation. The detail below from a panel of The Garden of Earthly Delights, conventionally labelled Hell, in fact shows a spirit about to descend from one sphere to another.

According to Fraenger, Bosch’s paintings, for example the famous Table of Wisdom also in the Prado in Madrid, shows that he knew of a technique for achieving altered states practised in different esoteric schools around the world. According to Indian esoteric teaching, the golden lord of the cosmic powers - the Purusha - is at work both in the sun and in the pupil of the eye. In the Upinashads it is written, ‘The Purusha in the mirror, on him I meditate.’ By staring at one’s reflection mirrored in the right eye, you can expand your consciousness from contemplation of your limited ego-self to contemplation of the sun-like god-self at the heart of everything. This method was also practised by the Dutch mystic Jan van Ruysbroek, who described how self-forgetting and world-forgetting leads at first to sensations of vacuity and chaos. Then the field of vision becomes charged with a cosmic energy. Images which at first appear dream-like and chaotic suddenly move together in a meaningful way.

This eye-to-eye method of meditation can also be practised in a sexual context.

An earlier mystic, Mechthild of Magdeburg, had had visions of a time when the life of sensuality would be fully integrated into the spiritual order of things. This impulse, she believed, would grow and take root in Northern Europe where something very different from the asceticism of Ramón Lull emerged. Esoteric groups like the Brothers and Sisters of the Free Spirit, influential during Bosch’s lifetime, were guided by a vision of communities held together not by law but by love. Wisely controlled, love is the way to divine perfection.

Sex, as Fraenger puts it, is the knife blade.

Detail from The Garden of Earthly Delights.

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THE AUTHOR MOST CLOSELY ASSOCIATED with the Rosicrucian brotherhood, not least because some of his writings were said to have been buried with its founder, was Paracelsus.

‘I am a rough man,’ said Paracelsus ‘born into a rough country.’ More specifically he was born in a village near Zurich in 1493. A strange, aggressive character, he seems never to have grown a beard and to have retained a youthful appearance into old age.

He went to study under Trithemius, Abbot of St Jacob at Würzburg. Trithemius was one of the greatest adepts of the day and teacher, too, of Cornelius Agrippa. Trithemius claimed to know how to send his thoughts on the wings of angels over hundreds of miles. He was asked by the Emperor Maximilian I to summon up the ghost of his dead wife, and when Trithemius obliged, the Emperor was able to be sure that this phantom really was her by the mole on the back of her neck.

Paracelsus’s fellow pupil Cornelius Agrippa became an itinerant intellectual vagabond, surrounded by rumours of magic. His great black dog, Monsieur, was said to be demonic, keeping his master informed of events in a hundred-mile radius. De Occulta Philosophia was his attempt to write an encyclopaedic account of practical Christianized Cabala, including a massive grimoire of magic spells still used by occultists today.

However, Paracelsus does not seem to have been very impressed by Trithemius. It seems he did not want to study in a library but learn from experience. He went to live among miners in order to learn about minerals for himself. He also travelled widely from Ireland to the crocodile-infested swamps of Africa, learning folk remedies and cures. In one way he can be seen as anticipating the Brothers Grimm, collecting ancient, esoteric knowledge before it disappeared. He knew that consciousness was changing and that, as the intellect developed, humanity would lose the instinctive knowledge of herbs that heal - a knowledge that up till then it had shared with the higher animals. On the cusp of that change, he wrote as systematic an account of these things as he could.

In 1527 he set up as a doctor in Basle in Switzerland and soon became famous for his miraculous cures. Naturally he made enemies of doctors already working in the region. Paracelsus was scornful of the conventional medicine of the day. In a typical piece of bombast he wrote of Galen, author of the standard medical textbooks of the day: ‘If only your artists knew that their prince Galen - they call none like him - was sticky in Hell from where he has sent letters to me, they would make the sign of the cross upon themselves with a fox’s tail.’

His seemingly miraculous healing abilities attracted rumours of necromancy. He habitually carried a swordstick in the pommel of which it was rumoured he kept his most efficacious, alchemical medicine. He cured a wealthy canon whom the other doctors had failed to cure, but when this man refused to pay, the local magistrates found in the canon’s favour, and Paracelsus’s friends advised him to flee.

He spent years wandering. Nature, he said, was his teacher. ‘I desire neither to live comfortably, nor do I wish to become rich. Happiness is better than riches and happy is he who wanders about, possessing nothing that requires his care. He who wants to study the book of nature must wander with his feet over its leaves.’

You might think that this eminently sane philosophy, combined with a down-to-earth, practical methodology, might lead to something approaching modern medical science. But some of the writings of Paracelsus are wild and strange …

He wrote, for instance of the Monstra, an invisible being that may arise from the putrefaction of sperm. He also talked about Mangonaria, a magical power of suspension by means of which heavy objects could be lifted into the air. He said he knew of certain localities where large numbers of Elementals live together, adopting human clothing and manners.

Paracelsus also had strange and wonderful ideas about sleep and dreams. He said that during sleep the sidereal body - the animal spirit - becomes free in its movement. It may rise up, he said, to the sphere of its ancestors and converse with the stars. He said that spirits wishing to make use of men often act on them during dreams, that a sleeping person can visit another in his dreams. He talked of incubi and succubae feeding on nocturnal emissions.

Paracelsus was also a prophet and in his later years took to prophesying the return of Elijah, who would come and ‘restore all things’.

However, as well as these magical practices, Paracelsus did indeed make the discoveries and advances we will touch on later that have led some to call him ‘the father of modern experimental medicine’.

In this paradox lies the key to understanding the secret of our age.

SOMETIMES ALSO SAID TO BE A Rosicrucian, though he nowhere made the claim himself, the great English magus Dr Dee was motivated by an overwhelming desire to experience the spirit worlds directly.

Dr Dee is perhaps the greatest archetype of the magus since Zarathustra. The image of Dee has entered popular mainstream culture. Here is the black-gowned, skull-cap-wearing wizard with a long white beard working in a laboratory surrounded by alchemical instruments. Amid flashes of lightning, he summons disembodied spirits by means of pentacles and other devices drawn on the ground with chalk.

John Dee was born into a Welsh family living in London. A brilliant young scholar he was teaching Euclid in Paris in his twenties and became a friend of Tycho Brahe. In the late 1570s he formed a circle called the Dionisii Areopagites with Sir Philip Sidney and Edmund Spenser, whose poem The Faerie Queene is famously replete with Rosicrucian and other esoteric imagery. A memoir of Sidney talks of him as ‘seeking out the mysteries of chemistry led by Dee’.

Dee had built up a magnificent library, said to be second only to that of the celebrated French historian de Thou. The Cabala was central to all his studies. He believed in the mathematical foundation of all things, a set of unifying principles he believed he could discern in the teachings of the ancients. He embodied these principles in his highly complex glyph, the Monas Hieroglyphica.

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Paracelsus and his swordstick. One of the popular legends about Paracelsus was that he carried in the pommel of his swordstick a portion of the ‘azoth’. A small thing missed in The Devil’s Doctor, the excellent, recent biography of Paracelsus by Philip Ball is that there is a sly joke in all of this. The azoth was the name given to the secret fire of the alchemists, a fire that would liberate the soul from the body. It is contained in a seed. We may be reminded that in Indian alchemy Mercury is sometimes called the semen of Shiva. The sword of Paracelsus, then, is one that has been forged in the heat of sexual desire. It is a fleshly sword and the azoth that issues from the top of it is the philosophical Mercury. In the natural course of things there is a quality in semen that is like a net in which a spirit may land and then be incarnated. Paracelsus also knew of some unnatural practices, secret sexual techniques performed before going to sleep, that could loosen the vegetable body from the material body and could also help other kinds of spirits to come to earth and appear to him in dreams.

Dee’s reputation was such that the young princess invited him to choose a date for her coronation as Elizabeth I by means of his astrological calculations. Dee also helped direct Elizabethan foreign policy, both in Europe and as regards the settling of America. It is a little known fact, but documented, that at the height of his fortunes Dr Dee owned a charter granting him ownership of the vast landmass called Canada, and his vision of a British Empire - a phrase he coined - helped inspire and guide the nation’s voyages of discovery.

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The Monas Hieroglyphica. My friend, the esoteric scholar Fred Gettings, has deconstructed this glyph, revealing a layer of meaning to do with the evolution of the two parallel universes - we might call them the Baconian and the Shakespearean - we discussed in the previous chapter.

In 1580, evidently craving more direct, spiritual experience, he decided to hook up with a medium.

Dee’s dreams had been disturbed. There had been strange knocking sounds in his house. He had employed a medium called Barnabus Saul, who said he could see angels in his magic crystal, but Dee had dismissed him after six months. Then in 1582 he met Edward Kelley, a strange man who apparently wore a skull cap to hide the fact that his ears had been cut off as a punishment for coining. Kelley claimed to be able to see the Archangel Uriel in Dee’s shewstone, and so began hundreds of séances. These enabled Dee to learn how to decipher the speech of the angels which he called the Enochian language.

The great magus’s decline can be traced from this association with Kelley. The man whose dreams of empire would help shape the globe was beginning to explore the more discreditable byways of esoteric speculation and practice.

On a trip to Prague, Dee told the Holy Roman Emperor Rudolf II that he had tried for forty years to find what he wanted and no book had been able to tell him. He had therefore decided to call upon angels to intercede for him with God, in order to ask the secrets of creation. He told Rudolf he used a stone for this and always made sure the spirits he dealt with were good and not demonic.

Was Kelley always so scrupulous? On the same trip the pair boasted to Rudolf that they could transform base metals into gold. They were forced to flee when they were unable to do so. It seems Kelley was abusing the older man by this time, forcing him into a humiliating wife-swapping. Many suspected Kelley of being a fraud, of only pretending to receive responses to the Enochian invocations.

Then in 1590 Kelley seems to have received a message in the Enochian language that so terrified him that he ceased operating the system and cut off relations with Dee altogether. Translated from the Angelic language into English it reads as follows:

‘The Lion knoweth not where I walk, neither do the beasts of the field understand me. I am deflowered, yet a virgin; I sanctify and am not sanctified. Happy is he that embraceth me: for in the night season I am sweet … my lips are sweeter than health itself, I am a harlot for such as ravish me, and a virgin with such as know me not. Purge your streets, O ye sons of men, and wash your houses clean …’ Did Kelley see in this the Scarlet Harlot of Revelation and a vision of the imminent end of the world?

Dee was left back in England in Lear-like penury, unable to support his family, ranting and raving, grandly paranoid, seeing everywhere conspiracy and counter-conspiracy. After his death a cult of Dr Dee emerged and many, including the diarist John Aubrey and the eminent Freemason Elias Ashmole, supposed him to have been a Rosicrucian.

That, anyway is the ‘pop’ story of Dee. A deeper layer of meaning - and Dee’s real motivation in all of this - concerns the history of humanity’s relations with the spirit worlds.

As we have seen Christians were experiencing a withdrawal of the spirit worlds. The Church seemed unable to provide direct spiritual experience or personal contact with spiritual realities. The people demanded wonders and only the secret societies knew how to provide them.

Dr Dee had also told the Holy Roman Emperor that if his occult techniques of ceremonial magic were introduced, every church in Christendom could enjoy apparitions every day of the week. It would be a return to the spiritual fervour of the early Church, the Church of Clement and Origen where cabalistic and hermetic elements were not excluded. The world Church would again become a magic Church.

This was Dr Dee’s great evangelical vision.

It might seem outrageous to modern sensibility, but it’s important to see it in the context of Church practice at the time. As we have seen, it was impossible to draw a clear line between priestcraft and witchcraft. Yet to Dr Dee the magical, spirit-invoking practices of the parish priests seemed mere superstitious folklore, lacking in intellectual rigour, sophistication and a systematic approach.

The neoplatonic drive to think systematically about spiritual experience and the spirit worlds had been spreading up from Southern Europe, influencing scholars like Trithemius, Agrippa and Dee. The German Johannes Reuchlin formulated a Christianized Cabala. He proved the divinity of Jesus Christ using cabalistic arguments, showing that the name of Jesus was encoded in the Tetragrammaton, or sacred name of God.

Dee was undoubtedly interested in all these theories, but, as we have seen, he craved experience. His approach was experimental as well as systematic. Dee was proposing reasoned application of techniques to produce spiritual phenomena on a controlled, regular, predictable basis. In Dee as in Bacon we see early stirrings of the scientific spirit. The development of the mental faculties that would be needed to devise modern science evolved partly in an occult context.

What Dee was whispering into the Holy Roman Emperor’s ear was that if he fasted for a set length of time, performed this breathing exercise for a prescribed number of times and at prescribed intervals, that if he engaged in this sexual practice and pronounced this formula at this astrologically pre-determined time, he would enter an altered state of consciousness in which he could communicate in a free and reasoned way with denizens of the spirit worlds. All this had been established by repeatable experiment and the precedent of thousands of years of practice and led to predictable results.

Dee’s mission, then, was to introduce something entirely new into the stream of history. It is always the aim of initiatic brotherhoods like the Rosicrucians to help spread newly evolving forms of consciousness, appropriate for the changing times. Michael Maier, a contemporary commentator writing with apparent insider knowledge of the Rosicrucians, said ‘the activities of the Rose Cross are determined by the knowledge of history and by knowledge of the laws of evolution of the human race’.

These ‘laws of evolution’ operated both in history and in individual human lives. They are the laws that describe the paradoxical nature of life that we earlier called the deeper laws. They are described in the Autobiography of a Yogi by Paramahansa Yogananda as ‘subtler laws that rule the hidden spiritual planes and the inner realm of consciousness … knowable through the science of yoga’. Formulations of these laws can be found scattered throughout Rosicrucian literature:

Heaven is never where we believe it to be.

If you cease to limit a thing within yourself, that’s to say by wanting it, and if you withdraw from it, it will come to you.

That which kills produces life. That which causes death leads to resurrection.

Rosicrucian conceptions of these laws would shortly surface in the mainstream of history and transform the culture of the West.

PERHAPS WHAT IS MOST EXTRAORDINARY about Dee’s career is how close it runs to the surface of exoteric history. Not only was he openly installed at the court of Elizabeth I as her resident Merlin, not only did he attempt to introduce ceremonial magic into the Church under the aegis of the Holy Roman Emperor, but he was so well known that playwrights could portray him and expect their audience to recognize him - in Ben Jonson’s The Alchemist and William Shakespeare’s The Tempest.

As we shall see, Dee was only the first of several strange and tragic personalities who tried to introduce esoteric doctrines into public life.

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