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Excerpt from C. H. Josten, A Translation of John Dee's "Monas Hieroglyphica"

Ambix, Vol. XII, 1964, p. 100-101:

From Josten's introduction:

The Platonist Dee, to whom the power of a cosmic symbol invented by himself could seem to make the astronomers' work superfluous, also reveals himself in a passage of his dedicatory letter to King Maximilian, where he declares his restitution of the planetary and zodiacal symbols to their proper shapes to be such as either in times past these symbols had actually been or as our forebears would have wished them to be; he is not sure, therefore, whether he is the restorer of an old discipline or the founder of a new one. In other words he asserts that, by means of anamnesis, he had found the past within himself such as it was, or had reached a level of introspection from which it was possible for him to develop the thoughts of his spiritual ancestors, the ancient sages, precisely as they would have wished. There does not appear to exist for him any material difference between those alternatives. Indeed the object of the true Platonist is to get nearer to the one ideal truth, which is secretly, and more or less perfectly, mirrored in the depths of the human mind just as it may, with more or less clarity, he recognized in the vestiges of a venerable past that had been nearer to the golden age of knowledge than the debased present.

This reconstruction of Dee's impassive attitude towards the world of external appearances and of action, and of his sceptical view of the chances of spiritual attainment remaining in his own age is confirmed by his opinions on alchemy. The alchemists, i.e. those labouring in the transmutation of metals are denounced as wretched and inexperienced impostors [Ibid., f 17v; below, p. 177.]. In the context a hint is given to the effect that man, not metal, is the subject of alchemical transmutation, if rightly conceived [Ibid., f. 18; below, p. 179 and n. 78.]. Yet Dee does by no means regard the alchemical quest as lying entirely in the spiritual field. Man may be the primary subject of transmutation, but he who has been transmuted will be able to produce the philosophers' stone in the external world. This, at least, seems to be the only interpretation of Dee's views on alchemy compatible with his assertion that, besides certain mystical vessels (darkly described in Theorem XXII), certain common vessels will also be required in the process, vessels whose shapes and materials, he says, it is unnecessary for him to discuss [Ibid., f. 22v; below, p. 197.]. In another dark passage, which alludes to the philosophers' mercury and its replacement by the Sun, i.e., gold, Dee asserts that this operation (which is the final stage in the transmutation of metals) can no longer be performed in the present age, as it was in the past performed by some great experts, unless indeed one let the work be governed by a certain soul which has been severed from its body by the art of controlling the fire (ars pyronomica), a work very difficult and fraught with dangers because of the fiery and sulphurous fumes which it occasions [Ibid., f. 14v; below, p. 165.]. This passage defies complete and certain interpretation, but indicates beyond doubt that, in Dee's view, the chances of alchemical success in the external world are diminishing as that world, by progressing in time, descends into spiritually darker ages, and that any palpable success in the transmutation of metals may, if at all, be hoped for only after the successful completion of a most unusual and dangerous work. If one assumes that the soul, which in this dangerous adventure is to be separated from its body, is the human soul (or part thereof), then the ars pyronomica by which the work is to be performed must be primarily spiritual alchemy, the very astronomia inferior of which the monad is Dee's chosen symbol. The fiery and sulphurous fumes attendant on the work would thus seem to denote spiritual, or psychological, dangers rather than poisonous vapours. Yet another passage suggests that the subject which is to be transmuted in the process symbolized by the monad is the artist, or magus, himself, and that it is his soul which, in a mystical sense, has to be separated from its body: When the terrestrial centre of the monad (which centre may here well mean the human body) has been united in a perpetual marriage to a certain supernal influence of solar and lunar quality, the monad can no longer "be fed or watered on its native soil", and he who fed it will himself undergo a metamorphosis as a result of which he will henceforth only rarely be beheld by mortal eye; he will then enjoy that invisibility of the magi which the doctrine of the monad has the power to confer [Ibid., ff. 7-7v; below, pp. 135, 137.]. It would seem, therefore, that the aim of the secret discipline which Dee wished to express as well as to conceal in his treatise was the elevation of certain chosen and most rare mortals to an existence transfigured by direct participation in astral and supracelestial influences, an existence in which they would be masters of Nature and free from the humbling limitations of ordinary life in the body. Those alchemists of his own time who were merely trying to produce gold, therefore, appeared to him as impostors and as the unworthy heirs of a doctrine whose essential parts were not only unknown to them, but also beyond their reach. In this light it becomes less surprising that Dee should never have given the name of alchemy to the process of spiritual transmutation with which his treatise is chiefly concerned [Cf. above, pp. 84-85.], though in doing so he would not have contravened ancient alchemical tradition or the usage current among the more spiritual alchemists of his time.

From the text (pg. 164-5):

Theorem XIII.

Is not, then, the mystical sign of Mars produced from the hieroglyphs of the Sun and of Aries? With the doctrine of the elements included to some extent? And is not, I ask, the sign of Venus produced by a fuller unfolding of the Sun and the elements? These [two] planets, therefore, have regard to the solar revolution and to the work of rehabilitating [metals] by fire, in whose progress there becomes at length apparent that other Mercury [see figure in original text] -- who indeed is the uterine brother of the first -- when the lunar and solar magic of the elements is completed, as the hieroglyphic messenger [sc. Mercury manifested in the hieroglyphic monad] himself tells us most expressly if only we will fix our eyes on him and lend him a more attentive ear. He is (by the will of God) that most famous Mercury of the philosophers, the microcosm, and Adam. Yet some great experts used to put the Sun itself in his place and degree. In our present age we cannot perform this, unless we let this golden work be governed by a certain soul that has been separated from [its] body by the art of controlling the fire [ars pyronomica]. This work is difficult, and also very dangerous because of the fiery and sulphurous fumes which it occasions; but surely that soul will be able to work wonders, tying, no doubt, with bonds that cannot be loosed, Venus and indeed Mars to the disk of the Moon (or at least to that of Mercury), and producing -- in the third place (as they will have it) (to complete our septenary number -- the Sun of the philosophers. You [will] see how exactly, how openly, the anatomy of our hieroglyphic monad [as here illustrated] [see diagram on f. 14v] answers the arcana, [here] to be intimated, of these two theorems.

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