Before Harry Potter, There Was Dr. John Dee...
History is full of mysterious magicians. The modern world gives us Anton LaVey, Gerald Gardner and Aleister Crowley. In the ancient world you had Edward Kelley, Nicolas Flamel, and the Count of St. Germain. Of all those illustrious names, however, the name of Dr. John Dee stands out from the crowd. Today is his 484th birthday, and for all we know he's still walking around. After all, his gravestone in the churchyard of St. Mary the Virgin has been lost.
Dr. Dee was one of the most interesting figures during Elizabethan England. He garnered his reputation as a magician from creating brilliant stage effects for Greek plays, studied alchemy, and was a personal consultant to Elizabeth on many esoteric matters.
Mathematics was what drove Dr. Dee, and he was brilliant. He made great strides forward in both math and navigation, but that was only half of his work. The other half involved a belief that the universe, God and all the supernatural mysteries of the world all boiled down to understanding the math behind them. He spent his entire life attempting to speak to angels and develop universal, scientific understanding of the miraculous through his magical and numerological experiments.
So when Hermione Granger was studying Arithmancy in the Harry Potter novels, you can pretty much count on Dr. Dee having written the textbook. He was also a big proponent of crystal gazing and scrying. Angels are said to have dictated texts to him during these sessions.
So before you head out this weekend to watch Harry Potter's final showdown with Lord Voldemort, take a moment to raise a glass of absinthe to one of the great wizards of yesteryear and listen to five tunes we've prepared for a playlist. Cheers, Dr. Dee.
The second we started talking about black magic, you had to know a metal band would be on the list. Well, here's Iron Maiden with "The Alchemist" off The Final Frontier. The song deals heavily with Dr. Dee's dream of England's expansion into the New World, about which, despite the song's lyrics, Elizabeth I was actually pretty ambivalent. Dr. Dee also believed that King Arthur had visited America, which is as awesome as it is nuts.
Grant Lee Buffalo never really made it big except for 1998 single "Truly, Truly." This tribute to Dr. Dee was part of a compilation of singles and rarities called Storm Hymnal, released long after the band broke up. One of the things the song deals with is the fact that Dr. Dee died penniless during the reign of virulent witch hunter and all-around magical buzzkill James I.