On the Shelf Review: The Magic Seal of Dr. John Dee

The latest offering from Teitan is The Magic Seal of Dr. John Dee:  The Sigillum Dei Aemeth by Colin Campbell.

The Sigillum Dei, or “Seal of God,” is a complex magical sigil that first appeared in the thirteenth or fourteenth-century work The Sworn Book of Honorius.  Therein it is intended to be held in the right hand during the summoning of the angels.  It became most famous, however, through the work of the Elizabethan magus John Dee, who was familiar with the Sworn Book.  During his crystal scrying sessions, Dee was purportedly given instructions for making corrections to the seal, after which a wax copy was to be placed both under the scrying crystal and under the four legs of the table on which it rested.  One of these, made by Dee himself, is on display in the British Museum.  Since then, it has turned up in various works of magic and artistic works, usually in the latter when the artist wants to include something bizarre and horribly complex.  If you check the right-hand column of Joe Peterson’s site, you can see several different versions of the Sigillum.

Campbell’s work follows Dee’s work with the Sigillum, discussing the changes that Dee made to its structure and its integration into Enochian magic.  By re-examining Dee’s diaries, Campbell has arrived at some potential changes to be made to the seal itself, and he discusses those transformations at length, showing Dee’s original version and his interpretation thereof.  This is followed with a discussion of the Seal’s place among the tools of Enochian magic.  Feeling that previous magicians have done little with Dee’s sigil rather than treat it as an elaborate doily, Campbell rounds out the discussion with a crystal-gazing ritual combining the structure of the Heptameron with Enochian key words to call up spirits associated with various permutations of the planets and the elements.

The book rounds out with several appendices.  These include a transcription from Dee’s Second Book of Mystery covering the Seal, the part of the Sworn Book of Honorius that does the same, a discussion of the possible origins of the Enochian alphabet, and Enochian names and their planetary attributes from many different systems.  A bibliography and an index round out the book.

I’d have to say that this book comes down more firmly on the practitioner’s side of my divide than the scholar’s.  That isn’t to say that the book isn’t incredibly well-documented, and those seeking to know exactly how to practice the Enochian system will no doubt greatly appreciate how Campbell shows the math.  If you’re like me and find your mind filled with speculations as to whether the magus could have teamed up with Boye the Wonder Dog to fight dastardly Spaniards, you might not be as appreciative of the long discussions as to how to derive specific aspects of the seal from particular magic squares.  I would have liked to see more discussion of the context of the seal in history and art outside its use by Dee, a few of Campbell’s nods to Honorius and Kircher aside.  Nonetheless, this is a solid contribution to the field of Enochian studies.

Published in: on January 24, 2010 at 12:30 pm  Comments (3)  

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3 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Overall a nice analysis of the relevant references in Dee and Honorius. Unfortunately, there is kind of a big hole in the research, in not taking into account the recent findings of Carlos Gilly regarding Ganellus’ Summa Magica (13th century), and Dee’s use of it. The sigil in this manuscript is very similar to that in Liber Iuratus, but the description differs considerably. I would also liked to have seen some discussion of Gikatilla’s references to the Seal of Aemeth.

  2. Another area that would be interesting to explore is the use of the Seal in various versions of the Key of Solomon.

  3. Gikatilla writes about the Seal of Aemeth? Is there a kabbalistic connection?

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