I had forgotten that I had subscribed to the journal Magic, Ritual and Witchcraft, so the arrival of my first issue was quite a welcome surprise. Even better, it featured an article to readers of the Goetia of Dr. Rudd debate – Egil Asprem’s “False, Lying Spirits and Angels of Light: Ambiguous Mediation in Dr. Rudd’s Seventeenth-Century Treatise on Angel Magic.”
For those of you who don’t recall, we had quite the controversy over the possible identity of Dr. Rudd in the discussion surrounding The Goetia of Dr. Rudd (for the full story, go here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here). According to Skinner and Rankine in that work, following the work of Frances Yates, this book was the work of Thomas Rudd (1584-1656), who might have been a pupil of John Dee and the head of his own secretive order of magicians. My analysis, on the other hand, suggested that Thomas Rudd was only peripherally connected to Dee, and that the “Dr. Rudd” mentioned in the manuscripts was almost certainly not Thomas – in fact, he might have been a creation of Peter Smart, who supposedly transcribed these experiments.
Asprem performs a close analysis of “Rudd’s” Treatise on Angel Magic. In the course of this, he observes that some of the contents are taken word-from-word from the translation of Agrippa’s Three Books of Occult Philosophy published in 1651. Of course, this gives Thomas only five years to transcribe this into his manuscripts. Still more troubling, all of the Rudd Enochian material seems to come from a single source – Casaubon’s True and Faithfull Relation, which was first published in 1659. Further, given the chain of transmission of the Dee manuscripts, it is unlikely that any magician saw them between Dee’s death and 1659, meaning that “Rudd” likely was part of a revival of Enochian magic brought on by Casaubon’s work instead of an heir of a lineage deriving from Dee.
A final major difference between Rudd and Dee was their approaches to magic. Whereas Dee saw most of his contacted beings as benign, Rudd was practically obsessed with demons and their ability to impersonate good spirits. As a result, Rudd incorporated many elements of demonic magic into his practice of the Enochian material. This seriously weakens the contention that Rudd learned magic from Dee – if he had, he’d be unlikely to include such elements.
This doesn’t completely eliminate Rudd, but it does suggest the shape of the coming debate. Those who think Rudd really was a magician will need to find evidence that manuscripts of Enochian magic were in circulation before Casaubon. Those who oppose this idea will have to prove that the errors in Casaubon’s work when he transcribed Dee’s manuscripts are reflected in later texts of Enochian magic. (I’ve heard that the originals are in a poor state of preservation, so this might not be possible.)
Asprem does see Rudd -whoever he might have been – as an important figure, but not as part of a lineage dating back to Dee. Instead, his genius was taking the magical material available at the time, ranging from Agrippa to Dee to Solomon to the Neoplatonists, and incorporating them into a single paradigm. For more on how that developed, and on Doctor Rudd in general, I highly recommend tracking down this article.