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John Dee on Thaumturgy

The Elizabethan mathemagician John Dee was the first to use Thamaturgy in an English text, in, of all places, his preface to Euclid’s Elements (which is the most published book in the world behind the bible). Its a bit heavy handed, thamaturgy would be what we now call engineering, though in modern fantasy (particularly the fiction of China Meiville) retains arcane elements, which are fully embraced in Armada. As a clerical mathematician, you would be aware of these things. Dee was accused of being a conjurer by his neighbors, the local children were terrified of him, and his rant which follows in this text is quite entertaining.

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  1. Mosseveno Tenk Mosseveno Tenk September 13, 2010

    is that Art Mathematicall, which giueth certaine order to make straunge
    workes, of the sense to be perceiued, and of men greatly to be wondred
    By sundry meanes, this Wonder-worke is wrought. Some,
    by Pneumatithmie. As the workes of Ctesibius and

    Some by waight. wherof Timæus speaketh. Some, by Stringes
    strayned, or Springs, therwith Imitating liuely Motions. Some, by other
    meanes, as the Images of Mercurie: and the brasen hed, made by
    Albertus Magnus, which dyd seme to speake. Boethius was
    excellent in these feates. To whom, Cassiodorus writyng, sayth.
    Your purpose is to know profound thynges: and
    to shew meruayles. By the disposition of your Arte, Metals do low:
    Diomedes of brasse, doth blow a Trumpet loude: a brasen Serpent
    hisseth: byrdes made, sing swetely. Small thynges we rehearse of you,
    who can Imitate the heauen. &c.
    Of the straunge
    Selfmouyng, which, at Saint Denys, by Paris, I saw, ones or twise (Orontius beyng then with me, in Company)
    it were to straunge to tell. But some haue written it. And yet,
    (I hope) it is there, of other to be sene. And by
    Perspectiue also straunge thinges, are done. As partly (before)
    I gaue you to vnderstand in Perspectiue. As, to see in the
    Ayre, a loft, the lyuely Image of an other man, either walkyng to
    and fro: or standyng still. Likewise, to come into an house, and there
    to see the liuely shew of Gold, Siluer or precious stones: and commyng
    to take them in your hand, to finde nought but Ayre. Hereby, haue some
    men (in all other matters counted wise) fouly ouershot thẽ selues:
    misdeaming of the meanes. Therfore sayd Claudius Cælestinus.
    Hodie magnæ literaturæ viros & magna reputationis videmus, opera
    quedam quasi miranda, supra Naturã putare: de quibus in Perspectiua
    doctus causam faciliter reddidisset.
    That is. Now a dayes, we see some men, yea of great learnyng and
    reputation, to Iudge certain workes as meruaylous, aboue the power of
    Nature: Of which workes, one that were skillfull in Perspectiue might
    easely haue giuen the Cause.
    Of Archimedes Sphære,
    Cicero witnesseth.

    Which is very straunge to thinke on. For when
    (sayth he) did fasten in
    a Sphære, the mouynges of the Sonne, Mone, and of the fiue other
    Planets, he did, as the God, which (in Timæus of Plato) did make the
    world. That, one turnyng, should rule motions most vnlike in slownes,
    and swiftnes.
    But a greater cause of meruayling we haue by
    Claudianus report hereof. Who affirmeth this Archimedes
    , to haue ben of Glasse. And discourseth of it more at large:
    which I omit. The Doue of wood, which the Mathematicien Archytas
    did make to flye, is by Agellius spoken of. Of Dædalus
    straunge Images, Plato reporteth. Homere of Vulcans
    , (by secret wheles) leaueth in writyng. Aristotle,
    in hys Politikes, of both, maketh mention. Meruaylous was the
    workemanshyp, of late dayes, performed by good skill of Trochilike.
    For in Noremberge, A flye of Iern, beyng let out of the
    Artificers hand, did (as it were) fly about by the gestes, at the table,
    and at length, as though it were weary, retourne to his masters hand
    agayne. Moreouer, an Artificiall Egle, was ordred, to fly out of the
    same Towne, a mighty way, and that a loft in the Ayre, toward the
    Emperour comming thether: and followed hym, beyng come to the gate of
    the towne. Thus, you see, what, Arte Mathematicall can performe, when Skill, will,
    Industry, and Hability, are duely applyed to profe.

    And for these, and such like marueilous Actes and Feates, Naturally,
    Mathematically, and Mechanically, wrought and contriued:

    ought any honest Student, and Modest Christian Philosopher, be counted,
    & called a Coniurer? Shall the folly
    of Idiotes, and the Mallice of the Scornfull, so much preuaile, that He,
    who seeketh no worldly gaine or glory at their handes: But onely, of
    God, the threasor of heauenly wisedome, & knowledge of pure veritie:
    Shall he (I say) in the meane
    space, be robbed and spoiled of his honest name and fame? He that seketh
    (by S. Paules aduertisement) in the Creatures Properties, and
    wonderfull vertues, to finde iuste cause, to glorifie the Æternall, and
    Almightie Creator by: Shall that man, be (in hugger mugger) condemned,
    as a Companion of the Helhoundes, and a Caller, and Coniurer of wicked
    and damned Spirites? He that bewaileth his great want of time,
    sufficient (to his contentation) for learning of Godly wisdome, and
    Godly Verities in: and onely therin setteth all his delight: Will that
    mã leese and abuse his time, in dealing with the Chiefe enemie of Christ
    our Redemer: the deadly foe of all mankinde: the subtile and impudent
    peruerter of Godly Veritie: the Hypocriticall Crocodile: the Enuious
    Basiliske, continually desirous, in the twinke of an eye, to destroy all
    Mankinde, both in Body and Soule, æternally? Surely (for my part,
    somewhat to say herein) I haue not learned to make so brutish, and
    so wicked a Bargaine. Should I, for my xx. or xxv. yeares Studie:
    for two or three thousand Markes spending: seuen or eight thousand Miles
    going and trauailing, onely for good learninges sake: And that, in all
    maner of wethers: in all maner of waies and passages: both early and
    late: in daunger of violence by man: in daunger of destruction by wilde
    beastes: in hunger: in thirst: in perilous heates by day, with toyle on
    foote: in daungerous dampes of colde, by night, almost bereuing life:
    (as God knoweth): with lodginges, oft times, to small ease: and somtime
    to lesse securitie. And for much more (then all this) done &
    suffred, for Learning and attaining of Wisedome: Should I (I pray
    you) for all this, no otherwise, nor more warily: or (by Gods
    mercifulnes) no more luckily, haue fished, with so large, and costly,
    a Nette, so long time in drawing (and that with the helpe and
    aduise of Lady Philosophie, & Queene Theologie): but at length, to
    haue catched, and drawen vp, a Frog? Nay, a Deuill? For, so, doth the Common peuish Pratler
    Imagine and Iangle: And, so, doth the Malicious skorner, secretly wishe,
    & brauely and boldly face down, behinde my backe. Ah, what a
    miserable thing, is this kinde of Men? How great is the blindnes &
    boldnes, of the Multitude, in thinges aboue their Capacitie? What a
    Land: what a People: what Maners: what Times are these? Are they become
    Deuils, them selues: and, by false witnesse bearing against their
    Neighbour, would they also, become Murderers? Doth God, so long geue
    them respite, to reclaime them selues in, from this horrible slaundering
    of the giltlesse: contrary to their owne Consciences: and yet will they
    not cease? Doth the Innocent, forbeare the calling of them, Iuridically
    to aunswere him, according to the rigour of the Lawes: and will they
    despise his Charitable pacience? As they, against him, by name, do
    forge, fable, rage, and raise slaunder, by Worde & Print: Will they
    prouoke him, by worde and Print, likewise, to Note their Names to the
    World: with their particular deuises, fables, beastly Imaginations, and
    vnchristen-like slaunders? Well: Well. O (you such) my vnkinde
    Countrey men. O vnnaturall Countrey men. O vnthankfull
    Countrey men. O Brainsicke, Rashe, Spitefull, and Disdainfull
    Countrey men. Why oppresse you me, thus violently, with your slaundering
    of me: Contrary to Veritie: and contrary to your owne Consciences?
    And I, to this hower, neither by worde, deede, or thought, haue
    bene, any way, hurtfull, damageable, or iniurious to you, or yours?
    Haue I, so long, so dearly, so farre, so carefully, so painfully,
    so daungerously sought & trauailed for the learning of Wisedome,
    & atteyning of Vertue: And in the end (in your iudgemẽt) am I
    become, worse, then when I begã? Worse, thẽ a Mad man? A dangerous
    Member in the Common Wealth: and no Member of the Church of Christ? Call
    you this, to be Learned? Call you this, to be a Philosopher? and a louer
    of Wisedome? To forsake the straight heauenly way: and to wallow in the
    broad way of damnation? To forsake the light of heauenly Wisedome: and to lurke in
    the dungeon of the Prince of darkenesse? To forsake the Veritie of God,
    & his Creatures: and to fawne vpon the Impudent, Craftie, Obstinate
    Lier, and continuall disgracer of Gods Veritie, to the vttermost of his
    power? To forsake the Life & Blisse Æternall: and to cleaue vnto the
    Author of Death euerlasting? that Murderous Tyrant, most gredily
    awaiting the Pray of Mans Soule? Well: I thanke God and our Lorde
    Iesus Christ, for the Comfort which I haue by the Examples of other men,
    before my time: To whom, neither in godlines of life, nor in perfection
    of learning, I am worthy to be compared: and yet, they sustained
    the very like Iniuries, that I do: or rather, greater. Pacient
    Socrates, his Apologie will testifie: Apuleius his
    Apologies, will declare the Brutishnesse of the Multitude.
    Ioannes Picus, Earle of Mirandula, his Apologie will teach
    you, of the Raging slaunder of the Malicious Ignorant against him.
    Ioannes Trithemius, his Apologie will specifie, how he had
    occasion to make publike Protestation: as well by reason of the Rude
    Simple: as also, in respect of such, as were counted to be of the wisest
    sort of men. Many could I recite: But
    I deferre the precise and determined handling of this matter: being loth
    to detect the Folly & Mallice of my Natiue Countrey men. Who, so hardly, can disgest or like any extraordinary course of
    Philosophicall Studies: not falling within the Cumpasse of their
    Capacitie: or where they are not made priuie of the true and secrete
    cause, of such wonderfull Philosophicall Feates. These men, are of fower sortes, chiefly. The first,
    I may name, Vaine pratling busie bodies: The second, Fond
    : The third, Imperfectly zelous: and the fourth,
    Malicious Ignorant. To eche of these (briefly, and in charitie)
    I will say a word or two, and so returne to my Præface.

    Vaine pratling busie bodies, vse your idle assemblies, and
    conferences, otherwise, then in talke of matter, either aboue your
    Capacities, for hardnesse: or contrary to your Consciences, in Veritie.

    Fonde Frendes, leaue of, so to commend your vnacquainted frend,
    vpon blinde affection: As, because he knoweth more, then the common
    Student: that, therfore, he must needes be skilfull, and a doer, in such
    matter and maner, as you terme Coniuring. Weening, thereby, you
    aduaunce his fame: and that you make other men, great marueilers of your
    hap, to haue such a learned frend. Cease to ascribe Impietie, where you
    pretend Amitie. For, if your tounges were true, then were that your
    frend, Vntrue, both to God, and his Soueraigne. Such
    Frendes and Fondlinges, I shake of, and renounce you:
    Shake you of, your Folly.

    Imperfectly zelous, to you, do I say: that (perhaps) well, do you
    Meane: But farre you misse the Marke: If a Lambe you will kill, to feede
    the flocke with his bloud. Sheepe, with Lambes bloud, haue no naturall
    sustenaunce: No more, is Christes flocke, with horrible slaunders, duely
    ædified. Nor your faire pretense, by such rashe ragged Rhetorike, any
    whit, well graced. But such, as so vse me, will finde a fowle Cracke in
    their Credite. Speake that you know: And know, as you ought: Know not,
    by Heare say, when life lieth in daunger. Search to the quicke, &
    let Charitie be your guide.

    Malicious Ignorant, what shall I say to thee? Prohibe linguam
    tuam a malo. A detractione parcite linguæ. Cause thy toung to refraine frõ euill. Refraine your toung from
    Though your tounges be sharpned, Serpent like,
    & Adders poyson lye in your lippes:
    yet take heede, and thinke, betimes, with your selfe, Vir linguosus
    non stabilietur in terra. Virum violentum venabitur malum, donec
    For, sure I am, Quia faciet Dominus Iudicium
    afflicti: & vindictam pauperum.

  2. Glaubrius Valeska Glaubrius Valeska September 13, 2010

    Well now, I can finally get my mind around what I had been hearing about the New Babbage attitude toward the Hidden Arts on the one hand and Science on the other.  What, indeed, would someone in Dee’s time think of, say, a steam locomotive that moves seemingly on its own, with no beasts pulling it, and belching smoke and flickering flame from inside.  Thaumaturgy would, then, stand for “wonderous things” and would allow for a supernatural understanding even though the “mystic” is standing on scientific grounds.  Even Time Travel could be rationalized as a psychological or philosphical event.

    • Mosseveno Tenk Mosseveno Tenk September 13, 2010

      Armada, which spun off of New Babbage during the infamous mayoral elections, embraces magic under the banner of thamaturgy, based on Meiville’s works, which explains the mechanics of the Remade and others. It is specifically an engineering process, not zappity-zappity (harry potter) or runes and fairy portals (elven hoo-hah).

      I’ve been pointing to Dee a lot. He is the last of the magicians, living on the cusp of the Enlightenment. In the fictious history of our imperial period, the major power generation technology failed around 1700 (see “cloud angels” in the wiki), followed by a total economic collapse in 1750 which dissolved the Old Empire. The philosophical backlash of this is that the Enlightenment was stalled, hence, mathematics was never entirely divorced from its occult origins. Add what you know about mathy personalities from your own experiences, add a dash of frank herbert, shake well, and have fun!

  3. Glaubrius Valeska Glaubrius Valeska September 28, 2010

    That’s what my typist seems to be working on for me!


    btw, is there a spot in the archives where I can read up on the Infamous Mayoral Race?

    • Mr Tenk Mr Tenk September 30, 2010

      that’s gone down with the Ning, there are some thing that just shouldn’t be preserved. Here’s the short version:

      Shaunathan Sprocket
      stepped down from his position as Mayor when he declared elections
      during Founder’s Week in January 2009. The landed population of New
      Babbage was instructed to choose their next Mayor by voting on who would
      have the right to buy then 6 sim estate from Mayor Sprocket. Candidates
      were, in order of declaring candidacy, DreddPirateBob Streeter, KlausWulfenbach Outlander, Aeolus Cleanslate, and Mosseveno Tenk. DreddPirateBob Streeter stepped down from candidacy early in the campaign. Mosseveno Tenk won the elections and was sworn in as New Babbage’s second mayor in February 2009.

  4. Glaubrius Valeska Glaubrius Valeska September 30, 2010

    It is astounding to me that things undertaken for diversion and avocation can turn so bitter.  I was elected 1st Sergeant in my Historical Group( my a two vote margin, later became Captain, and it was nothing but heartache.  Perhaps SL events are more understandable because real commerce occurs.  But still…


    But back to Dee, are you familiar with the Hermetic Associations that stem from Hermes Trismegistus?  Perhaps too tangental to this line of thinking, tho.  I have just stumbled across it relatively recently in a steampunk novel and dunno that much about it; but they seem to center around Myth, Math and Magic.

    • Mr Tenk Mr Tenk September 30, 2010

      heh, would you believe i won by 1 vote? i went to the movies to help pass the time until the decision had been made, was pretty sure AE had won it. we were all glad it was over.

      that novel sounds tasty, i think it needs to be on my nightstand pile. what is the name?

      There was  a web comic called Mathema, unfortunately not hosted on any archive at the moment, but the creator keeps promising to put it back. it was spot on with the occult maths thing.

  5. Glaubrius Valeska Glaubrius Valeska October 6, 2010

    James Blaylock’s Homunculus.  You might already have read it.  The Trisgemestus Club is not the main theme, though, an airship with a dead pilot that has been circumnavigating the world for years is, tho…

  6. Glaubrius Valeska Glaubrius Valeska October 6, 2010

    The Mathema Comic website had something happend last month, but it’s still a snapshot of a non-working page.

  7. Jonathon Spires Jonathon Spires October 6, 2010

    Later occult and theosophical thought is divided on Dee. Some view him as a charlatan, and even Dr Paul Foster Case, one of the most studious of those in the Golden Dawn stream, while not regarding Dee in this light, did view his “Enochian” method in a very negative light. I won’t get into the reasons why. Admittedly Case, among members of the diaspora of the original Golden Dawn (he was expelled by Moina Mathers for some reason) seems to be in the minority in that viewpoint.

    • Glaubrius Valeska Glaubrius Valeska October 6, 2010

      Well, Mr Spires, I’m gonna have to look into the terms and personalities you introduce.  While I am quite the dedicated skeptic, I think that pushing the envelope is what brings innovation into mathematics and science.  Newton the Alchemist came upon fluxxions by imagining ever smaller slices of functions.  I am old enough that the Calculus was not taught in public schools, so when I took it at University I was surprised by the amount of “imagination” required to understand it!

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