Article by Chris Bennett, Cannabis Culture
Did the Elizabethian Magicians Dr. John Dee and Edward Kelly use drugs for magick and scrying?
The Elizabethian mathematician, scientist, astrologer, astute business man, and magician Dr. John Dee (1527-1609), “had a famous ‘mirror’ by which he claimed to contact all manner of angels and dead spirits” (Dyer, 2010). Dee, had a variety of magic mirrors and crystals, a particular favourite was a flat obsidian stone, that is on display at the British Museum, and his scribe John Kelly “did all his feats upon The Devil’s Looking-glass, a stone…” (Butler, 1663). Zachary Grey commented on this verse, “This Kelly was chief seer… to Dr. Dee… and bred an apothecary, and was a good proficient in chemistry, and pretended to have the grand elixir (or philosopher’s stone) … He pretended to see apparitions in a chrystal or beryl looking-glass (or a round stone like a chrystal)” (Grey, 1806). The Sloane MS 3846 copy of Sepher Raziel, has been noted for its composition in handwriting similar to that of Dr. Dee’s scryer Edward Kelly, (Karr & Skinner, 2013).
At least two 16th century Grimoires that were in use in England at the time of Dr John Dee, prescribe cannabis for mirror scrying and to see spirits, ‘Sepher Raziel: Liber Salomonis’, and ‘The Book of Magic’, recently rereleased as ‘The Book of Oberon’, and we can be near certain that Dee would have been familiar with these manuscripts…..
“The third herbe is Canabus [cannabis]& it is long in shafte & clothes be made of it. The vertue of the Juse [juice]of it is to anoynt thee with it & with the juse of arthemesy & ordyne thee before a mirrour of stele [steel]& clepe thou spiritts & thou shallt see them & thou shalt haue might of binding & of loosing deuills [devils]& other things.” (Sepher Raziel, 1564).
“Anoint thee with the Joice of Canabus & the Joice of Archangell & before a mirrour of steele call spirits, & thoue shalt see them & have power to binde & to loose them” (Book of Oberon, 1577-1583)
As Whitby has commented, we “may therefore presume that there was an established method of scrying and an stablished ritual of invocation. Such instructions were probably circulated in manuscript along with other magical works” (Whitby, 2012). As cannabis and other psychoactive substances are identified in popular grimoires from the period, particularly for use with mirror scrying and invocations, this leads us to a new understanding of the actual secret practices of magicians from the era, and we can be sure this often included the use of psychoactive substances.
In Dee’s own accounts of his invocations, or “Actions” as he referred to them, there are numbers of references to smoke, indicating the possibility of some sort of fumigation, as well as references to the use of potions and ointments. “These Actions are the records of visions and angels and other spirits and the message delivered by them as seen and heard by the scryers [often Edward Kelly]with the aid of a crystal ball, and then immediately related to Dee, who though present saw and heard nothing” (Whitby, 2012). In Dee’s record of these Actions, we read how “smoke filled the place” and a invoked entity states , “I smell the smoke: procede Syr, in your purpose”* and these could indicate sufumigation . Other references indication some sort of elixir in use that clearly put a person into a drowsy state: “taste of this potion yay the savour onely of the vessel worketh most extremely agaynst the maymed drowsines of ignorance. Yf the hand be heavy, how weight and ponderous shall the whole world be? What will Ye?” (Dee/Peterson, 2003).