“Perfect partners don’t exist. Perfect conditions exist for a limited time in which partnerships express themselves best” – Wayne Rooney
William Blake once said, “It’s easier to forgive an enemy than to forgive a friend”. Perhaps this is why so many occult partnerships go sour. Once you start dabbling in ritual magic and your eternal soul and sanity are on the line, molehills of ideological difference quickly become mountains, so you detest abject disbelievers less than fellow travelers with alternative viewpoints. One of the most celebrated sorcerous collaborations, that of Dr. John Dee (1527-1608) and Edward Kelley (1555-1597), ended thusly. These founding fathers of Enochian magic (which would later be expanded upon by such notable personages as Samuel Liddell, MacGregor Mathers, Aleister Crowley, Thomas Rudd, Elias Ashmole, William Wynn Westcott and Israel Regardie), went from bosom buddies in the exploration of the Black Arts to fearful enemies.
John Dee, son of a gentleman courtier to Henry VIII, was a mathematician, astronomer, astrologer, occult philosopher, and advisor to Queen Elizabeth I, regarded as one of the most learned men of his age, but by the 1580’s the political patronage was on the wane, mostly because many of his official recommendations were astonishingly bad for a guy reputed to be smarter than the average bear. He figured he had missed something when it came to the secrets of the universe, and decided it might be worth a more committed turn to the supernatural as a source of wisdom. He decided to hit up a few magicians for some assistance in scrying (staring into some sort of translucent material until you start feeling funky and having visions). Initially, he wasn’t satisfied with the results. In walked the mysterious Edward Kelley.
Edward Kelly, whose real name was Edward Talbot, has a murky biography. He might have been an apothecary’s apprentice. He might have studied at Oxford (he does seem to have been fairly educated). He changed his name from Talbot to Kelley after being pilloried in Lancaster for forgery and counterfeiting, where his ears were “cropped” – a lovely Tudor punishment that basically involved cutting them off. This would certainly explain Kelley’s fascination with hats. In 1582, Kelley approached Dr. Dee, offering his services as a spiritual medium. This was a gutsy move for a guy with a fake name, criminal record, and distinct lack of ears, but fortune obviously favors the bold, as Dee was deeply impressed with Kelley’s mediumistic abilities, and the two became inseparable.
Now, despite his occult interests, Dr. Dee was extremely concerned with maintaining his Christian piety, reconciling his preternatural pursuits with his theology as a means of betterment for mankind. Thus, from 1582-1589, Dee and Kelley would undertake elaborate experiments involving fasting, prayer, and purification, followed by Kelley conducting séances to commune with what they both deemed “angelic” spirits. This resulted in the transcription of the Enochian language (sometimes referred to as Angelical, Celestial Language, or Adamical i.e. the language spoken by Adam in the Garden of Eden), which has been popular for ceremonial magic ever since (for more details on Enochian, see A Foray into Demon Linguistics: What Language Do Devils File Their TPS Reports In?). Dee and Kelley spent a few years touring Central Europe in style, but by 1587, some cracks were beginning to show in their relationship. Kelley was much more interested in alchemical pursuits, while Dee was still obsessed with talking to angels. Kelley also told Dee that the angel Uriel had ordered them to share all their possessions, including their wives. Surprisingly, this was not the straw that broke the camel’s back. It turns out that Dee had become increasingly concerned with Kelley’s mucking about in necromancy for what he regarded as “base” purposes.
The story related is, that Edward Kelley and one Paul Waring, went together to the churchyard of Walton Ledale, where they had information of a person being buried, believed to have hidden a considerable sum of money, and to have died without disclosing to any person where it had been deposited. They entered the churchyard exactly at 12 o’clock at night, and having had the grave pointed out to them the preceding day, they made an opening, by which access was had to the naked body, and having drawn on the ground the circle which is prescribed by magical rites, and placed themselves within it, a magical torch was lighted, and Kelley, with his wand touching the body three times, repeated a form of incantation, concluding with the words—”I conjure and exorcise thee, spirit of the dead, to answer my demands—Arise, arise, I charge and command thee!” The ghost or apparition of the deceased then became visible, and not only answered Kelley’s enquiries as to the place where the money was hidden, but delivered several strange predictions concerning his neighbours, which, the account avers, were literally and exactly fulfilled (Finch, 1887, p26).
Historians of the occult have not been kind to Kelley, unfavorably comparing him to Dee, and where many concluded that Dee was merely deluded in believing the supernatural critters he was talking to were angels, rather than something more nefarious, Kelley is thought to have been quite deliberate in his attempts to pursue somewhat darker aims and antagonists.
Edward Kelley was also a famous magician and the companion and associate of Dr. Dee in most of his magical operations and exploits; having been brought in unison with him (as the doctor himself declares, in the preface to his work upon the ministration of spirits) by mediation of the angel Uriel. But Dr. Dee was undoubtedly deceived in his opinion, that the spirits which ministered to him were executing the divine will, and were the messengers and servants of the Deity. Throughout his writings on the subject, he evidently considers them in this light, which is still more indisputably confirmed by the piety and devotion invariably observed at all times when these spirits had intercourse with him. And further, when he found his coadjutor Kelley was degenerating into the lowest and worst species of the magic art, for the purposes of fraud and avaricious gain, he broke off all manner of connexion with him, and would never after be seen in his company. But it is believed, that the doctor, a little before his death, became sensible that he had been imposed upon by these invisible agents, and that all their pretences of acting under the auspices of the angel Uriel, and for the honour and glory of God, were but mere hypocrisy, and the delusions of the devil. Kelley, being thus rejected and discountenanced by the doctor, betook himself to the meanest and most vile practices of the magic-art; in all which pursuits money, and the works of the devil, appear to have been his chief aim. Many wicked and abominable transactions are recorded of him, which were performed by witchcraft, and the mediation of infernal spirits (Sibly, 1822, p1099-1100).
The partners would never speak again. Dee died in poverty in 1608, as England was increasingly inhospitable for sorcerers, and Kelley died in prison in Prague, after failing to alchemically produce gold for the King of Hungary and Bohemia Rudolph II, killing a court official in a duel, and maiming himself during a failed escape attempt. On his deathbed, Dee is said to have waffled about the nature of his spiritual communications, agreeing that Kelley might have been right regarding their darker nature after all. Maybe as Helen Keller noted, “Walking with a friend in the dark is better than walking alone in the light”.
Finch, A. Elley. Witchcraft, Conjuration, Exorcism, And Other Assumed Dealings With the Devil. London: Sunday Lecture Society, 1887.
Kelly, Edward, 1555-1595. The Alchemical Writings of Edward Kelly. London: J. Elliot and co., 1893.
Sibly, E. 1751-1800. A New and Complete Illustration of the Celestial Science of Astrology; Or, The Art of Foretelling Future Events And Contingencies. London: Printed for, and sold by, the Proprietor, 1822.