smoke & mirrors

One of the oddest of Australian books is Michael Wilding's Raising Spirits, Making Gold & Swapping Wives: The True Adventures Of Dr John Dee & Sir Edward Kelly (Shoestring Press, UK; Abbott Bentley, Sydney). I came across a copy of it in, of all places, the Umina Public Library, several years ago now. However, sadly, so far as I could see, it was another book that did not allow itself to be read. This was partly because it was physically a very unsympathetic object: poorly printed, poorly bound, poorly made as a book.

I have somewhere read another novel about Edward Kelly (or Kelley) and Doctor Dee, quite a good one, but can't remember now what it was called or who wrote it. It was specifically concerned with their trip to central Europe, together with their wives and children, during which they visited various monarchs and attempted various transformations, including, it is said, a successful transmutation in Prague. Later the two men fell out, Dee returned to England, Kelly was imprisoned, then broke his leg apparently attempting to escape, and shortly afterwards died. A curious detail: Kelly had no ears, they had been lopped off in punishment for, I think, coining.

Kelly was Dee's scryer. They would collaborate in the calling up of spirits, which Kelly could see in whatever instrument they were using; he would dictate to Dee, who would write these visions down verbatim. Out of these collaborations, it was said, came several books and it is sometimes alleged that the Voynich Manuscript was one of these. Well, perhaps.

What is curious is that one, perhaps two, of these scrying instruments have surivived and are now in the British Museum. The first is a small crystal ball, about whose provenance there is some doubt; the other certainly belonged to Dr Dee and was used by he and Kelly. It is a polished obsidian mirror of Aztec manufacture, brought back from Mexico in the 1520s by Cortes. How it came to England is not known. The Aztec god of night, of rulers, warriors, sorcerers and all material things, Tezcatlipoca, carried such a magic mirror that gave off smoke and killed enemies; in fact his name can be translated 'Smoking Mirror'. Aztec priests also used mirrrors for divination and conjuring up visions.

A British artist, Rosalind Brodsky, along with much else, has interested herself in Dr Dee's mirror as part of one of her Time Travel Research Projects, Hexen2039. It's worth checking out, especially for the curious connections she makes between seemingly but perhaps not unrelated things.

No comments: