John Dee and the Empire of Angels: Enochian Magick and the Occult Roots of The Modern World by Jason Louv
Just to be clear from the start — John Dee and the Empire of Angels is not a book for everyone. It provides an excellent and remarkably granular history of John Dee and Edward Kelly, and for that reason alone I would recommend it. However, this book (unlike any other historical record of John Dee), goes balls deep into Dee’s angelic scrying sessions with Kelly, and then goes even further to relate how those scrying sessions went on to influence the realms of science, as well as the Western Esoteric Tradition in its entirety. If you are interested in occult studies, it is extremely interesting to follow the thread of Dr. John Dee and see how his impact inspired countless esoteric teachings and philosophies of the modern era.
I tend to jump back and forth between fiction and non-fiction, with my love of fiction lying somewhere in a niche space where it is highly-believable. Much to the same, my love of non-fiction lies in a niche space that is always somewhere in the realm of unbelievable. That’s just what I love to read about. I am absolutely fascinated by the realm where fact and fiction collide, and it is in this liminal space, where my mind palace exists, and I simply enjoy the view from that particular throne.
Shannon is highly dubious of this mind palace and refuses to take up her throne next to me, because 1) she doesn’t particularly care for non-fiction, 2) she is highly skeptical of any non-fiction that delves into the realm of paranormal phenomena, and 3) she [not unwarrantedly] fears for my sanity. God bless her, because she brings much needed balance to my life, and if it weren’t for her, my mind would probably have been traveling through outer space years ago. That being said, I have found that if you approach this type of non-fiction with a solid, grounded foundation, a level head, and a hefty amount of reasoning, while not expecting to gain major insight, but only the knowledge of observing the experiences of others, then that is a good and healthy headspace to be in when approaching heavy psychological reading. Because after all, while you are reading things that seem unbelievable, you are reading a human’s account of things that they perceived with their senses. Everyone experiences things differently, and I simply find it interesting to see how universal archetypes of the unconscious mind tend to come through and play out in the mind of conscious individuals.
This same thing happens constantly in the world of fiction, and these archetypes are seen as tropes, while in the world of non-fiction, the difference is that people are trying to consciously interact with the same thoughts and ideas, and I simply enjoy watching the struggle as they try to define ever-changing thought forms and ideas that are simply undefinable. These archetypes and ideas are symbols that are known to undeniably yield universal truths, but it always seems that the specific truths are subjective to the individual, which I simply find fascinating. A very good example of this is religious texts, where we find undeniable archetypes that are written as non-fiction from the perspective of one individual. The problem arises, however, when you adopt the direct ideology of the individual and spread it as gospel, where it is adopted by large masses of people. Then, someone else comes along with further insight and tries to correct the archetype as it appeared to them, which resonates with a different group of people, and before you know it, you have religious wars.
In order to read books that delve into the realm of spirituality and the psyche of humans, you must take everything with a grain of salt and realize that this was one person’s account of what transpired, and while it may be absolute fact for them, you are not in fact that person, so you should simply observe their experiences and reactions, entertain the knowledge of those experiences and reactions, and then move along without falling down the rabbit hole. I don’t mean to discredit anyone, but this is honestly the smartest way to approach psychological texts dealing with “high strangeness,” and could sometimes make the difference between gaining valuable insight and losing your mind into some fantasy land. I’ve been there once or twice. 3/7, would not recommend.
But I digress. Jason Louv‘s accounts in this book are anything but fantasy. He is simply biographically documenting exactly what appears in the diaries of Dr. John Dee, himself, as well as further accounts of Aleister Crowley, and how he took the work further and documented it in his own firsthand accounts, which later became the religious texts that make up the body of Thelema.
The historical account of John Dee was excruciatingly documented in high detail, which I applaud Louv for, tremendously. You can easily see the living situation and mind of Dee, and how it was greatly influenced by the politics and religious situations at the time.
Dee was an alchemist and one of the most learned scholars of his time. He was a secret spy for Queen Elizabeth, and influenced Ian Fleming to give the fictional British secret agent, James Bond, the codename 007, which is how Dee signed his letters to the queen. We see how Dee can be seen as arguably having given birth to the future of modern science, with his influence on figures such as Francis Bacon, who was the true father of The Scientific Method.
Louv enables us to see how John Dee is widely-known in more esoteric and occult circles for his perceived success in contact and communication with angels, but goes widely unknown in the scientific community, with the main reason being that no one gave him credit for his previous work that lead to their success, simply because of the fact that they didn’t want their name associated with Dee for fear of being excommunicated, thrown in prison, or burned at the stake. Dee himself was imprisoned for a time, and it was only his association with friends in high places that kept him out of prison, off the stake, and barely scraping by to feed himself and his family.
John Dee was an ordained Catholic priest, who jumped back and forth between the corrupt Catholic Church and the ignorant, rebellious protestants of the time, and looking back at this time allows us to see why our religious systems are as messed up as they currently are. Not only switching religions periodically in order to gain favor of the court and stay alive, Dee also jumped back and forth between Great Britain and Continental Europe to try and work for whichever monarch was willing to fund his work at the time.
This book doesn’t stop with the death of John Dee, however. It goes on to flesh out the influence his work had on modern esotericism. Dee’s alchemical work directly inspired the earliest Rosicrucian Manifestos, which themselves went on to inspire The Hermetic Order of The Golden Dawn, who used Dee and Kelly’s scrying tables along with Rosicrucian teachings in order to conduct ritual magic, which was later termed “Enochiana”. Aleister Crowley, who broke off from The Golden Dawn, and went on to head the Ordo Templi Orientis, took up where Dee and Kelly left off, and went on to “scry the 30 Aethyrs,” which seems like an incredibly taxing undertaking.
By taking the perspective of Crowley, we can again see how it is possible that his personal life experience and situations at the time affected his experience, which was nearly the complete opposite of Dee and Kelly’s, though they did share some of the very same archetypal visions. It’s nothing short of amazing to hear the biographical accounts of these people and the incredible amount of documented work they put into their experimentation with the unknown.
I would never want to live the life of Dee, Kelly, or especially Crowley, but by reading so much about their historical timelines, it is easy to see what a huge influence they have had on the modern world today, which I believe was the exact impact that Jason Louv set out to prove in John Dee and The Empire of Angels, and in doing so, I think he should consider this book a great success. I don’t recommend this book to the average reader, but for esoteric and occult scholars, it is a solid 5 out of 5.