John Dee’s Conversations with Angels: Obsession and Sacrifice in the Pursuit of Heavenly Knowledge

John Dee. Line engraving by F. Cleyn, 1658. Wellcome Collection. 

Dr John Dee is among the most fascinating figures of the Elizabethan period with a life akin to the plot of a historical fantasy novel. Born in London on 13 July 1527, Dee attended St John’s College at Cambridge University at the young age of 15 and graduated after intense study with a Bachelor of Arts in 1545. He then obtained his master’s degree in 1548 and by the time he was twenty years old he was a fellow of Cambridge’s new Trinity College. Despite being offered positions at both University of Paris and University of Oxford, Dee had his eyes set on work within the court of the English monarchy. After accusations of treason against the Catholic Queen Mary I, Dee saw success in advising her Protestant half-sister Queen Elizabeth I in the areas of astrology, medicine, navigation, and cartography. Following Mary I’s death, Elizabeth I tasked Dee with choosing the appropriate date of her coronation (15 January 1559), which illustrated the new Queen’s trust in her astrological advisor as well as Dee’s respected position within her court. In 1564 he was officially appointed the title of Court Astrologer.

While Dee was no longer directly involved in academia, his self-study continued at his home in Mortlake, Surrey. At the time, his home was believed to house the largest private library in England. The estimated 4,000 books and manuscripts in his collection contained material that reflected Dee’s eclectic academic pursuits. It wasn’t uncommon for him to welcome into his library those with curiosity in both the mundane and sublime. His never-ending thirst for knowledge defined his life, but it was his more esoteric interests for which we remember him. 

By the end of the 1550s Dee was fully consumed by the world of the occult. While his background sat within the realms of conventional academia, he believed genuinely in a knowledge untapped by humanity that lay in a realm far beyond our own. In an attempt to gain a stronger understanding of his interests in Natural Philosophy (or the philosophical study of physics), Dee turned to contacting beings he felt could answer his complex questions angels. Dee believed that obtaining divine knowledge from God’s sphere would provide him with not only the answers he craved, but answers to questions he would have never known to ask. 

While belief in angels was widely accepted during Dee’s lifetime, there were certainly questions surrounding whether or not mortals should attempt communication. It didn’t help that Dee was approaching these conversations outside the realms of the Church and that he was walking a fine line between conversing with God’s messengers and the frowned upon practice of necromancy. And as Dee would soon learn, the energy he projected into the universe to attract heavenly creatures would soon begin to lure in demonic entities that wished him harm.

Scrying and Angels

Chart showing the Enochian Alphabet with the letter names and their pronunciation (source)

Dee was unable to communicate with angels on his own and required the assistance of a scryer. In March 1582 Edward Kelley, an occultist twenty-eight-years Dee’s junior, arrived at Dee’s home in Mortlake. Kelley’s background was enough to raise suspicions. He had a known criminal background and was said to wear a cap to cover his head since his ears had been cut off for his crimes. He had however worked as an apprentice at an apothecary in Worcester and expressed a deep interest in the occult. More importantly, Kelley had an alleged gift for scrying. Outside of his association with Dee, history often remembers Kelley as one of numerous alchemists with a keen interest in the Philosopher’s Stone, hoping to obtain the ability to turn base metal into gold. During their first meeting, Kelley was able to speak with an angel after less than forty-five minutes of attempting to make contact. Dee was impressed and hired Kelley for an eventual salary of £50 a year.

To contact angels, Kelley would look into a ‘shew stone’, and report his findings to Dee who would record them in his journal. One shew stone used during these conversations was an obsidian mirror of Mexican origin currently on display at the British Museum in London. Kelley claimed that the reflective surface of the obsidian allowed him to see the angels he was conversing with. A small crystal ball was also used during these meetings. However, this was only part of the complex ritual. According to Kelley, the angels instructed the construction of a Holy Table, inscribed with letters of the Enochian alphabet. What was called the ‘The Seal of God’ was placed in the middle of the table with the shew stone placed on top. Under each of the tables’ four legs were four additional wax Seals of God.

3D Model of the Holy Table (source)

Sometimes spirits or angels would emerge from the shew stone and point with a wand at the Enochian symbols on the table. When this occurred, Dee would record what Kelley observed in a pre-prepared chart in his notebook. Over time the Enochian language, allegedly passed onto Dee and Kelley through the archangel Raphael on 26 March 1583, was deciphered. The angels told them that Enochian was used by Adam when he named all the animals in the Garden of Eden. This conflicts with the sixteenth-century belief that God, Adam, and Eve would have spoken in Hebrew. Prior to Dee and Kelley’s seances, no historical record of the Enochian language existed, but its influence carried on throughout the centuries and piqued the interest of occultist Aleister Crowley (1875-1947) who allegedly learned to both write and speak Enochian.

The knowledge given to Dee through Kelley during these conversations included information on how angels oversaw the world’s quarters. To garner this knowledge, they spoke to twenty-four different angels during these sessions. A recurring angel that communicated with Dee and Kelley was the archangel Uriel. In fact, Uriel was the first angel Kelley claimed to summon in his shew stone the first time he visited Dee’s home in Mortlake. According to Jewish Apocrypha, Uriel is thought to be the angel that drove Adam and Eve out of the Garden of Eden after they ate fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Uriel is often associated with concepts of prophecy and mystery, making him a good candidate to deliver messages to those in the mortal realm.

It wasn’t just angels that Dee and Kelley spoke with through their scrying sessions. Demons and evil spirits made the occasional appearance as well. Uriel informed Dee that his house was haunted by a spirit named Lundrumguffa who sought to hurt Dee’s wife and daughter. The angels suggested Dee removed the spirit with Brimstone. Another instance of an evil spirit intruding on Dee’s home occurred on 28 March when Dee was away in London. When he returned, the spirit revealed himself as Gargat, telling Dee that the demon was damned forever and that he wanted Dee to suffer the same fate. The angels defended Dee by ripping Gargat to pieces and then throwing him in a hole that they dug with their swords.

Other demons, evil spirits, fallen angels are mentioned in various contexts including Beezlebub, Azael, Mamon, Panalacarp, and Morvorgran (described as a black man with a white face). Some appeared as human-animal hybrids, like an incident on 4 July 1583 when fourteen demons appeared that took the form of monkeys, dogs, and hairy, grotesque men. In another instance demons appeared in the form of a group of men with spades that began attacking both Kelley and Dee. Dealing with these demons was in some cases incredibly theatrical and involved Dee attempting to fight off evil spirits that only Kelley was able to see. As a Christian man, these types of encounters would have disturbed Dee, but he blamed them on the fact that Kelley was a shady individual with an unpleasant past. Demonic magic is thought to be present within Dee’s magic, specifically through the influence of the Key of Solomon, which was filled with rituals, curses, demons, and instructions on how ritualistic exorcisms should commence including instructions on animal sacrifice. 

The Book of Enoch (or Liber Logaeth) and the Book of Soyga (or Aldaraia sive Soyga vocor)

Enoch from the 1728 Figures de la Bible; illustrated by Gerard Hoet.(source)

In 1582, the archangel Uriel informed Dee (through Kelley) of a book that would grant him full knowledge of the heavenly sphere including the knowledge of God himself, which Dee was desperate to understand. The book was said to be originally written by a Biblical patriarch named Enoch, the great-grandfather of Noah. Enoch had written a number of books that were believed to be either lost, hidden, or destroyed around fifteen-hundred years earlier. Enochian legend dictates that Enoch hand-wrote 366 books while transcribing The Tablets of Heaven (or the Book of Life). According to Genesis 5:21-24 Enoch was welcomed into Heaven without dying after spending 365 years on Earth and that he “walked with God; then he was no more for God took him.” Some traditions believe that Enoch then became the archangel Matatron and was granted all divine secrets and knowledge. Which all sounds very similar to the type of experience Dee was hoping to obtain.

The mystery around the writings of Enoch was somewhat of a fad among occultists contemporary to Dee thanks to increasing interest in Merkavah mysticism. So the mention of Enoch’s allegedly lost writing would have greatly piqued Dee’s interest. The book was revealed by the angels to Dee and Kelley, which the pair referred to as Liber Logaeth, or The Book of the Speech of God, not to be confused with the Book of Enoch which was actually rediscovered during the eighteenth-century. While it was known at the time that the Book of Enoch (1 Enoch, 2 Enoch, 3 Enoch), did in fact exist at some time, the book Uriel spoke with Dee and Kelley about was said to be the original true version written by Enoch. The angels spoke of the end of times and how the Liber Loagaeth would bring about a new age where religions (likely meaning Christian religions) would live in harmony. 

The Book of Soyga (or Aldaraia Sive Soyga Vocor), was a magical treatise that Dee had in his library’s collection. In Dee and Kelley’s first conversation with Uriel in 1582, Dee inquired about the significance of his copy, to which Uriel replied that God’s angels had given the book to Adam (who is referred to as ‘Zadzaczadlin’ within the book) in Paradise. The fact that this was one of the first questions Dee asked the angels during their first meeting shows how much importance Dee had placed on this particular book. The contents of the Book of Soyga resembled a traditional medieval grimoire and contained spells involving both astrology, alchemy, demonology, and genealogies of angels. The contents of the Book of Soyga have been compared to the previously mentioned Key of Solomon, another grimoire written around 100-200 years earlier. Dee’s book also contained 36 letter filled magical tables, known as The Tables of Soyga, that Dee was never able to successfully decipher during this lifetime. Dee had asked Uriel for help with translating, but the angel told him that only the archangel Michael was allowed to provide such assistance. Despite only being able to read the parts of the book that were in Latin, the Book of Soyga had a huge influence on Dee’s other work, specifically his Monas Hieroglyphica. 

Unfortunately, Dee lost his copy sometime in April the following year. He asked another angel, Illmese, if he knew where the book went but Illmese didn’t hold the text in the same high esteem as Uriel, instead referring to the book as false witchcraft. The angel did, however, offer later assistance with Liber Logaeth. Little was known about Dee’s Book of Soyga outside references in his journal until 1994 when Deborah Harkness, scholar and author of A Discovery of Witches (2011), found a copy at Bodleian Library at Oxford and another at the British Library in London. It’s thought that the British Library’s copy might have been the one that belonged to Dee.

Was Kelley Making it All Up?

Portrait of Edward Kelley from A Tour in Wales by Thomas Pennant (1781)

In Joseph H Peterson’s edited edition of John Dee’s Five Books of Mystery: Original Sourcebook of Enochian Magic (2003), the author highlights instances where the answers Dee was hoping to seek through his conversations with angels were either unanswered or resulted in less than satisfactory results. This included asking for locations of hidden treasure and the locations of lost books (for instance, Dee never found the Book of Enoch). Other pieces of information, such as the names of angels and locations, were already available in books. It’s also curious that Dee’s intense focus on having the Tables of Soyga translated are avoided entirely and that conveniently Michael, who wasn’t present, was the only angel that could advise how to read them. 

Could this be blamed on Kelley also not knowing the answers to the questions Dee sought? It could be argued that Kelley was very much making the information up as he went along, especially considering the close relationship he had with Dee, access to his library, and the many conversations the two men would have had regarding Dee’s own goals and ambitions when it came to forbidden or unobtainable knowledge. It wouldn’t be difficult for Kelley to fabricate exactly what Dee wanted to hear.

There was also the very suspicious instance where the conversations with angels took a sharp turn towards the world of sex magic. The first appearance of the spirit named Madimi occurred in May 1583, a year after Kelley and Dee first began their seances. Initially, Madimi showed herself as a young, pretty child no older than ten and Dee wrote (through Kelley’s description)  that she had a child-like innocence. Madini continued to appear throughout the years and the illusion of innocence began to turn into something more sinister. 

In 1587 Madimi ordered Dee and Kelley to sleep with each others’ wives in order for the conversations with angels to continue. At this point Kelley had been warning Dee that the beings they were dealing with were nefarious in nature and the scryer had grown increasingly tired over the years of Dee’s angelic obsessions. It’s thought that Kelley introduced sex magic into their seances expecting that Dee would refuse and thus free Kelley from his role as Dee’s scryer and allow him to focus on his alchemical pursuits. There’s also the theory that Kelley had his eyes on Dee’s much younger wife Jane and took advantage of Dee’s dedication to the pursuit of Heavenly knowledge to sleep with his wife. Either way, Dee agreed and the two men swapped wives. Nine months later Jane gave birth to a son, Theodore, that may or may not have actually belonged to Kelley.

Dee’s pursuit of work with Kelley mirrored his enjoyment of collaboration. Unlike the stoic isolation and introversion we may imagine consuming magicians and wizards of fantasy, Dee was keen to share his intellectual pursuits among his peers. It was this large social circle that inspired insecurity in Dee regarding implications of fraud and the fabrication of the dialogue obtained through Dee and Kelley’s sessions with angels. 

He was also operating in a time where witchcraft and occult pursuits were beginning to draw great suspicion. Rumours of sorcery had followed him since the late 1540s when Dee created special effects for a play at Trinity College that many felt were a little too real to be anything but supernatural. But Dee appeared to dislike these labels and fought against being called a conjurer. He was first and foremost a devout Christian man, which is incredibly apparent through the language he uses within his diaries during the angel conversations. 

In 1599, James I published his Daemonologie which supported widespread witch hunts in Scotland and detailed the King’s hatred for what he believed to be the growing threat of black magic. Dee was unfortunately in the line of James I’s fire and though he was not tortured or killed like countless of accused witches, Dee died penniless and alone in 1608 (or 1609) at the age of 81. Dee’s persistent hunt for knowledge beyond humanity’s reach had ultimately ruined him. But his fascination in the occult and obsession with pushing the boundaries of human understanding reverberated through the centuries and continues to inspire and captivate our imaginations to this day.

Sources and Addition Reading

“3922 – Reproduction Painting of John Dee and Edward Kelley.” Museum of Witchcraft and Magic,

Bevan, Richard. “The Magical Life of John Dee.” Sky History,

Feingold, Mordechai. “John Dee, English mathematician.” Britannica,

Findell, Martin. “The ‘Book of Enoch’, the Angelic Alphabet and the ‘Real Cabbala’ in the Angelic Conferences of John Dee (1527–1608/9).” Henry Sweet Society for the History of Linguistic Ideas Bulletin, vol. 48, no. 1, 2007, pp. 7–22.,

Harkness, Deborah E. John Dee’s Conversations with Angels: Cabala, Alchemy, and the End of Nature. Cambridge University Press, 1999.

“John Dee’s De Heptarchia Mystica, a guide to summoning angels, 1582.” British Library,

“Marble Copy of Dee’s Holy Table.” History of Science Museum,

Nicholl, Charles. “The Last Years of Edward Kelley, Alchemist to the Emperor.” London Review of Books, April 2001,

Spoto, Stephanie. “’Showeth Herself All Naked’: Madimi in John Dee’s Conversations with Spirits.” Daimonic Imagination: Uncanny Intelligence, edited by Angela Voss and William Rowlandson, Cambridge Scholars Publishing, Newcastle upon Tyne, 2013, pp. 86–101.

“The Book of Enoch.” Britannica,

Woolley, Benjamin. The Queen’s Conjurer: The Science and Magic of Dr. John Dee, Advisor to Queen Elizabeth I. St Martin’s Press, 2002.


Ashley is a history lover, paranormal enthusiast, and easily swayed sceptic with a BA and MA in the History of Art. Originally from Canada, Ashley lives on England's Isle of Wight (one of the most haunted islands in the world!) and enjoys internet deep dives into peculiar histories from around our weird and wonderful planet.