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Infinite Fire Webinar III – Monas Hieroglyphica

Posted on by Peter Forshaw

Welcome to dr. Peter J. Forshaw’s third webinar in the Infinite Fire series. Today he introduces the early modern mathematician, natural philosopher and magus, John Dee (1527-1608/9), another significant figure in the history of science, esotericism and Hermetic Philosophy. Dee is a fascinating example of a thinker deeply engaged with both orthodox and unorthodox fields of knowledge, judged by the standards of his own period or today. This webinar provides some information about his scholarly interests, his travels in continental Europe, where he came into contact with influential thinkers, like the cartographer Gerard Mercator (1512-1594), fellow occult philosophers like Heinrich Khunrath (1560-1605), and powerful aristocrats like Emperor Rudolph II (1552-1612).

TItle page of Monas Hieroglyphica (1564)

The main focus of the webinar is on Dee’s publications, most notably the Propaedeumata Aphoristica – Aphoristic Introduction concerning certain outstanding virtues of Nature (1558) and Monas Hieroglyphica (1564). The first of these concerns itself with a mixture of astronomy and astrology, cosmology, natural philosophy and scientific method. The second book, which Dee describes as being ‘mathematically, magically, cabalistically and anagogically explained’ concerns itself – in an extremely opaque way – with the theory and practice of alchemy. Both works feature Dee’s symbol of the Hieroglyphic Monad on their title pages and dr. Forshaw discusses its signficance for Dee and later occult thinkers.

Stay tuned for the next Infinite Fire webinar by dr. W.J. Hanegraaff on the revival of Ancient Wisdom in the Renaissance with a focus on Plethon and Marsilio Ficino.

Bibliography of Infinite Fire Webinar III – John Dee and his Hieroglyphic Monad

Some of John Dee’s own works
• Casaubon, Meric (ed.), A True and Faithful Relation of What passed for many Yeers Between Dr. John Dee and Some Spirits. London, 1659.
• Debus, Allen G. (ed.), The Mathematical Praeface to the Elements of Geometrie of Euclid of Megara (1570). New York: Science History Publications, 1975.
• Josten, C.H., ‘A Translation of John Dee’s “Monas Hieroglyphica” (Antwerp, 1564), With an Introduction and Annotations’, Ambix, Vol. 12 (1964): 84-221.
• Peterson, Joseph H. (ed.), John Dee’s Five Books of Mystery: Original Sourcebook of Enochian Magic. York Beach, ME: Red Wheel/Weiser, 2003.
• Shumaker, Wayne (ed.), John Dee on Astronomy: Propaedeumata Aphoristica (1558 & 1568). Berkeley: University of California
Press, 1978.
Some Scholarly Studies about John Dee
• Clucas, Stephen (ed.) John Dee: Interdisciplinary Studies in Renaissance Thought. Dordrecht: Springer, 2006.
• Clucas, Stephen (ed.) John Dee’s Monas Hieroglyphica, Ambix Special Issue. Vol. 52, Part 3 (2005), includes articles by Nicholas Clulee, Hilde Norrgren, Peter Forshaw and Penny Bayer.
• Clulee, Nicholas H. John Dee’s Natural Philosophy: Between Science and Religion. London: Routledge, 1988.
• French, Peter J. John Dee: The World of an Elizabethan Magus. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1972.
• Håkansson, Håkan. Seeing the Word: John Dee and Renaissance Occultism. Lund: Lunds Universiteit, 2001.
• Parry, Glyn. The Arch-Conjuror of England: John Dee and Magic at the Courts of Renaissance Europe New Haven: Yale University Press, 2012.
• Sherman, William H. John Dee: The Politics of Reading and Writing in the English Renaissance. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1995.

9 Responses to Infinite Fire Webinar III – Monas Hieroglyphica

  1. Pingback: Mysteria Misc. Maxima: February 15th, 2013 « Invocatio

  2. Karine says:

    Hello Peter,

    I could not get the date of your webinar, what is it?


  3. IMBS says:

    Thank you for this most interesting presentation of one of most important books in early renaissance Hermetic and Rosicrucian thought. Great explanations! Please take us further in the journey,
    Dr S. IMBS, MD, Paris, France

    • Thanks for the kind words. I’d be interested to hear which other figures from the early modern period people would like to see discussed in a webinar. All best wishes, Peter

  4. I’ve received a few emails with suggestions for future webinars, including requests for sessions on Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa, Robert Fludd, and Athanasius Kircher. Would anyone be interested in these figures or do you have other requests from the Early Modern Period? Of course, we could do a few webinars on certain themes, such as a session on alchemy, one on astrological image magic and another on ritual magic. Just a few ideas. If you have any suggestions please leave a message here or contact me on
    All best wishes,

    • IMBS says:

      Hi Peter,

      Thank you so much for your fantastic work!

      I have been thinking these last months that, from the perspective of France, the figure of Cornelius Agrippa is an interesting one: because he was in touche with french alchemists as Lefèvre d’Etaples and Charles de Bovelle, because he knew Marguerite de Bourgogne and the king Henry the 4th, and because he was one of the main european figures of the Renaissance, prefigurating in his works almost every possible scientific developments of our modern times.

      Sylvain IMBS, Paris, France.

  5. Glyde Hart King says:

    I would like to know about the connection between practical magic and theatrical ritual in late1500-early 1600s England. I know that Yates wrote about this in re: Shakespeare. But didn’t Dee also write plays? Didn’t Walsingham and his daughter and the Wizard Earl and etc. write theatricals for major events? Weren’t theatrical events and ritual magic often confused/combined for private parties at say Gray’s Inn, parties the Queen herself often attended? I would love to hear more about this. I would also love to get my hands on any plays Dee or the WIzard Earl might have written? Thanks, G.

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Peter Forshaw

Peter Forshaw