How to Sequence the Perimeter Letters on John Dee’s Holy Table by Teresa Burns and J. Alan Moore

For Vincent Bridges

 Trying to make magical implements for an Enochian Temple by directly following the instructions in John Dee’s angelic conversations is a losing battle unless one has years of time and a fondness for deciphering poor handwriting and cryptic information.  Because of this, most people who try to make the Holy Table or Table of Practice as described in the appendix to Dee’s Quinti Libri Mysteriorum do so by copying one of the many versions one can find in print or on-line and trusting the explanation that particular writer gives about why his or her version is correct.

That’s not surprising: Dee’s drawing of the Holy Table does not seem to match his explanation of how to create it, and when those two explanations are reconciled it then doesn’t seem to match the only illustration we have of Dee’s actual table.

As the reader may know, the outer letters on the Holy Table are derived from the names of the Heptarchic Kings and Princes.  They’re used in turn to create another 12 x 7 grid; that grid is used to create the central 3 x 4 grid on the Holy Table, then a second permutation of that 12 x 7 grid is used to create a lamen.  The transpositions one goes through to create each of these things would be complicated even if Dee’s explanation (or the angelic explanation, or the explanation scryed by Kelley and written by Dee, take your pick) were straightforward, but it isn’t.

(If you’d like to skip our discussion of how different writers on Enochian have lettered the table and just go straight to how we think the table should be lettered, jump ahead to The Instructions in the Spirit Diaries.)

Fortunately, the Holy Table was one of the few physical implements of Dee and Kelley’s partnership that survived for at least a couple generations after his death: long enough for Elias Ashmole to see it in John Cotton’s library and make meticulous notes.1)Christopher L. Whitby (1982). John Dee’s actions with spirits: 22 December 1581 to 23 May 1583 (Doctoral dissertation, University of Birmingham), pp. 149-150. In 1658-59,2)TFR is listed as being published in 1659, though other evidence suggests it may have come out the year before. when Meric Casaubon published A True & Faithful Relation of What Passed for Many Years Between Dr: John Dee… and Some Spirits, he was able to include an illustration of the Holy Table based on Dee’s physical original.  This is TFR’s illustration, as redone for Aleister Crowley’s Equinox:

Holy Table  Liber Chanokh

Figure 1: John Dee’s Holy Table, from the version in TFR as redone for the Equinox.

Notably, Meric Casaubon did not have all of Dee’s writing.  TFR begins in Leiden on May 28, 1583, well past the date– 26 April 1583, in Cracow—when Dee writes down instructions on how to make the table.  But Casaubon (or his artist or engraver) had access to John Dee’s real Holy Table, and went by that.

Aleister Crowley’s Liber Chanokh reproduced the letters on the Holy Table using the same order as Casaubon.  So did works by Donald Tyson and most others who wrote on Enochian until the turn of this century.

Since then, it has become “received wisdom” from the most well-known writers on Enochian that Casaubon’s rendering of Dee’s actual Holy Table doesn’t match Dee’s writing because it suffers from a printer’s or engraver’s error.  For instance, in Enochian Vision Magic, Lon Milo Duquette says:

Casaubon’s impressively printed image of the Holy Table is perhaps the greatest flaw in his liberally flawed and ill-titled A True  & Faithful Relation.  One look at the description and drawing in Dee’s Quinti Libri Mysteriorum: An Appendix reveals the eighty-four letters that form the border of the Holy Table and the twelve printed letters that fill the 3 x 4 center square of Casaubon’s image are printed in backwards order.3)Lon Milo DuQuette, (2008). Enochian Vision Magick: An Introduction and Practical Guide to the Magick of Mr. John Dee and Edward Kelley. Weiser Books. P. 50.

Similarly, an excellent on-line annotation of Aleister Crowley’s Liber Chanokh by “T.S.” says that while Crowley used Casaubon’s ordering, Crowley was wrong, as were most of the printed versions through the time that annotation was written: “most [as of the late 1990s] printed versions reverse the order left to right from the design in Dee’s diaries, following the printed version of TFR.”4)“T.S.,” ed., in Aleister Crowley, Liber Chanokh or “A Brief Abstract of the Symbolic Representation of the Universe derived by Doctor John Dee through the scrying of Sir Edward Kelly” transcribed and annotated from the Equinox vol. I nos. 7-8. P. 37.Available: http://www.bibliotecapleyades.net/crowley/liber/libers/liber084.pdf

Is this true?  Are most of the renderings of the Holy Table until the past ten or fifteen years wrong?

You can likely guess our answer by looking at the cover art one of us created for this journal a few years ago: ours is basically like Casaubon’s with colors added based on seventeenth century notes from Elias Ashmole.  But don’t trust us.  Work through this on your own, and see what you think.

New-Holy-Table-smaller

Figure 2:  Our Table of Practice, crafted by J. Alan Moore in 2011

When we started this process, the only writer on Enochian we knew who was still using Casaubon’s ordering was Vincent Bridges.   In chapter six of his book The Ophanic Revelation, Vincent takes a reader—perhaps too fast and perhaps with too little explanation—through the way he derived the master 7 x 12 grid from the letters at the periphery of the Holy Table, and the 3 x 4 inner grid and the lamen from the 7 x 12 grid and one of its permutations.  (The explanation he gives in that chapter was originally written as a handbook for a specific lengthy working in Sedona back in 1996, so he focuses more on what the thinks each component does rather than why he’s come to such conclusions.)

Our own work on Dee and Kelley grew out of years of working with Vincent.  Back in 2010, when we still thought we’d have all the time in the world to work through Dee’s manuscripts, the main problem we had in making our Holy Table was that we could not easily connect Vincent’s explanation of how he ordered the outer letters of the Holy Table with the explanation in Dee’s writing, and Vincent acknowledged it had been years—the 1980s and early 1990s—since he’d gone through the original manuscripts.  When he had gone over the original materials, it was back in the day when such research required extended trips to the British Library, and Vincent had spent quite a while there… but that was many years ago, and by the time we knew each other he was much more interested in working his own system than poring over texts that were rapidly being transcribed into more readable formats by a new generation of writers.  Vincent was sure the way he’d constructed the Holy Table was right.  Had he made a mistake, we wondered?  The Holy Table, the way he configured it, worked, and our practice matched his experience.  On a personal level, we saw no need to “fix” anything.

But since we’ve heard again and again that we’re using a “reversed” Holy Table, we decided to work through the system yet again.  The exercise hasn’t changed the design of our Table, but we can better explain why we think ours is in fact not reversed at all.

In this article, we’ve worked through how to create the Holy Table by (1) noting the huge problems with the “printer’s error” as a cause of “reversed letters” argument, (2) reminding our readers of a few axioms concerning the intersection of spywork and spirit communication in Dee’s work, (3) returning to Dee’s original manuscripts to work through the spirit communications that explained how to set up the Holy Table, and (4) trying to see if one could actually use a Holy Table if it were set up the way Dee seems to suggest.

The Problem with the “Printer’s Error” Argument

 Few argue that TFR is anything but a sloppy and unsympathetic transcription of Dee and Kelley’s angelic conversations.  We’ve talked at length other places about how the transcription errors that run throughout TFR  have caused misunderstandings.   In fact, as we’ll get to in our final section, there is indeed a transcription error in Casaubon’s illustration of John Dee’s Holy Table.  One of the letters, in our opinion, is wrong.  But only one.

That’s a far different matter than the engraver’s error posited by many current writers.  That “error,” if it is that, seems to affect 84 of the 88 letters on the perimeter of the Table and reverses the grid inside.  That would show more than simple incompetence.  It would be a stunning series of repeated mistakes followed by another series of unrelated repeated mistakes, at least in terms of how engravers in Casaubon’s day set up their plates.

Both of the writers quoted above say that Casaubon’s version reverses the order left to right from the design in Dee’s diaries.  When we look at Dee’s manuscripts in the next section, we’ll be able to see why they drew that conclusion.  The letters do look reversed, at least on the top and bottom of the Table.  But they aren’t reversed in a way that’s easily explained by viewing them as a printer or engraver’s error.

Engraving an illustration like the one in TFR would have involved preparing a mirror or reversed image on a copper plate.  That meant that the engraver needed to not only mirror images, but mirror the entire document, so that what is on the left side of the original is the right side of the etching and again becomes the left side of the print.

For an engraver to make the kind of error that many writers now posit happened in TFR, the engraver would have had to get complicated etchings correct yet out of order in a way that presents each letter correctly.  In other words, he would have had to make the mirrored shapes of the letters correctly (including making the ones on the top of the table upside-down, the ones on the left rotated 90 degrees clockwise, and the ones on the right rotated 90 degrees counter-clockwise).

And that still doesn’t account for the sides!  As Whitby said in his lengthy 1982 thesis, if one compares Dee’s manuscript drawing to the engraving of the table in TFR ,  “the letters in the top and bottom borders are written from right to left and the letters in the side borders are not only written from right to left but have exchanged sides as well.”5)Whitby, op. cit. p. 150. Now our hypothetical mistaken engraver has switched the sides of the table, too.

That’s a pretty complicated series of errors for an engraver to make.  The other engravings in TFR, such as those of Dee and Kelley themselves, are competently done.  While a printer or engraver’s error is possible, it is so improbable that if that if there were no other likely explanation for why Casaubon’s engraving of John Dee’s Holy Table differed from Dee’s instructions on how to make such a Table, we’d be more inclined to wonder if there had been more information in the parts of the spirit conversations which are now missing than we would be to write off the lettering of the Holy Table as shown in the illustration in TFR as totally wrong due to printer or engraver’s error.

After all, several people had seen the physical item.  No one raised any concern about Casaubon’s illustration until late in the 20th century.  No less a magician than Aleister Crowley used the Holy Table with the Enochian letters ordered the same way as Casaubon.

But still, the letters in Casaubon’s drawing seem to not follow Dee’s pattern, even if it took around 400 years for anyone to notice that.

Compare this to a similar situation with another of Dee’s physical magickal items, the Seal of Aemeth.   Over 400 years after Dee recorded instructions about how to make the Seal, Clay Holden noticed that Dee’s written instructions did not match Dee’s own drawing of the Seal.6)Clay Holden, “Forward,” in Lon Milo Duquette’s Enochian Vision Magick (San Francisco: Red Wheel/Weiser, 2008), xx. In this case, the physical item still exists, so there was no debating whether the discrepancy really was there or not: it was.  Holden’s explanation of that particular blind is one of the most elegant moments in magical scholarship.7)Ibid. Could something similar be at play with the apparent contradiction between Dee’s written instructions about the Holy Table, his lettering of it, and the different sequence of letters which appear in Casaubon’s illustration of the actual item?

Some Background on the Intersection of Spywork and Spirit Communication

If one wants to take the pages and pages of John Dee’s spiritual communications as straightforward (a dangerous assumption, in our opinion) then there is no good explanation for why the table appears one way in some places and differently in others, nor why Casaubon would make such a huge mistake (or not notice if an engraver made such a huge mistake.)

Throughout the hundreds of pages of his recorded spirit communications, Dee claims to be talking to entities who are teaching him the language of the Angels, an Adamic language last revealed to the prophet Enoch… yet these same entities repeatedly seem to lie, change their minds, and throughout have a pretty poor track record of predicting anything that was not already predictable.  Yet Dee has access to the highest levels of Renaissance government—audiences with Queen Elizabeth I, Polish King Stephen Bathory, Holy Roman Emperor Rudolf I.

Some of the “shadier” characters that appear in Dee’s diaries have curious connections: take Vincent De Seve, the brother-in-law of Polish Count Albrecht Laski’s infamous third wife Sabine.  This seems to be the same Vincent de Seve who published a bunch of “lost” predictions of Nostradamus in the late 1500s.   The most mysterious person of all in Dee’s circle of unusual friends seems to be the most talented:  Edward Kelley, about whom we know almost nothing until he begins scrying amazing spirit visions for John Dee.

Sir Edward Dyer, who later became the Chancellor of the Order of the Garter, went to Prague to study alchemy with Kelley in 1590, after Dee and Kelley had parted ways.  By that time, Dee’s scryer had risen from a nobody to Sir Edward Kelley, Golden Knight of the Holy Roman Empire.  Yet amazing as his work reportedly was, few would characterize Kelley as honest and straightforward.  Most would label him a talented and opportunistic spy.

If one wants to acknowledge, as most all historians now do,8)We could cite numerous books here, and you could find others easily on your own.  But since you’ve bothered to check the endnote, try this one for starters:  Glynn Parry, (2012). The Arch Conjuror of England: John Dee. Yale University Press. that Dee and Kelley were intelligencers, then one must also acknowledge that the pages of grids and numbers and instructions on how to transpose letter and numbers from one table into another look like nothing so much as cryptography grids.  It’s almost inconceivable that they weren’t partly used for that.  The Enochian letters themselves have rather fascinating alphanumeric properties that would be ideal for ciphering.  Rather than referring chapter and verse, so to speak, to Dee’s angelic communications as if they were holy writ, it makes more sense to us to look at them as a combination of intelligence work and spirit communication where it is difficult to know where one part of the work ends and another begins.  Are the blinds protection for Dee and Kelley, to make heretical spirit communication look like spywork, or are the spirit communications themselves spywork?  Is Kelley (since he was the one doing the scrying) in part giving theatrical performances to men like King Stephen Bathory and claiming it came from the angels?  We really have no way of knowing, so the safest approach it to assume that both could be true.  That makes the Enochian material, which appeared to “arrive” unexpectedly and whose grids appear cryptographic but have in only one instance been shown to be so, even more enigmatic.

If axiom #1 is to not take Dee’s writing at face value,  axiom #2 is to remember these dual reasons why that is so: we never know when the magic is a cover for spywork and when the magic is partially hidden because of spywork.  As an intelligencer on the European continent, some of what Dee writes may be for the eyes of others.  (Consider: even before they leave England, Kelley is scrying information for Polish Count Laski that purports to establish Laski’s claim to two different thrones, and Dee is writing this down, an act which could get both of he and Kelley quickly strung up if the wrong person reported on them.  That scrying session reads very differently when one realizes Dee was likely reporting information to Sir Francis Walsingham and Kelley to Sir William Cecil, and both Cecil and Walsingham had many reasons to want to know what Laski’s intentions were.)

Over and over again, especially when Kelley is not scrying Enochian material but scrying supposedly angelic answers to geopolitical questions, Dee writes down answers that we know to be wrong… but answers which would have been politically useful tools if one wanted to manipulate someone towards a particular end.  If we move from what Kelley scries in English to the tables he begins to generate in Enochian, we see materials being produced in tables and transformed into other tables using patterns that look, again, like those in different cipher codes or transformations like the Cardan grille which could be used in espionage.

As we’ve worked our way through John Dee and Edward Kelley’s writing, we’ve seen again and again that it’s a poor idea to assume that things are exactly as they seem.   Dee’s writing is filled with blinds, and whether one wants to call them “magical blinds” or “espionage disinformation” or self-protection might well depend on the context.  Those who write strictly on Enochian magic forget that there might be things Dee could assume any magician might know that a person using the same grid for spycraft might well not know.  For instance:  we’ll see that Dee’s instructions for lettering the Holy Table seem to have someone moving counter-clockwise.  The Table is supposed to be an altar of communion connecting heaven and earth.   Usually, if one is raising energy or connecting to “skyward” energies, one moves clockwise, not counter-clockwise.  Wouldn’t that strike most magicians as odd?

While writing about the Holy Table, Dee will use the word “transposition” over and over, and the angel Il will mention Dee’s conversation with Kelley about how to transpose letters.  Is that a hint? Or are Dee, Kelley, and the angel all just randomly speaking about this subject?

Finally, we’ll run into a comment which Dee writes upside-down in Latin next to a hand pointing to a particular letter.  That seems to shout, “read me! read me!”  Yet when one translates the Latin, it seems to say nothing that wasn’t already obvious.  What gives?

We worked our way through a series of such “magical blinds” disguised as apparent mistakes and letter cross-outs in one of our previous articles on Dee and Kelley’s Great Table of Earth.  Rather than running through our own writing, though, let’s turn to the simpler and more elegant case of the blind on Dee’s Sigillum Dei Aemeth, the Seal of Aemeth.

Unlike other parts of Dee’s Enochian system, the tables and correspondences used in the Sigillum Dei Aemeth were already well-known and part of a mnemonic system used by actors, spies, cryptographers and magicians alike.  But none of those correspondences explained the odd letters and numbers around the perimeter, numbers which didn’t match Dee’s own directions on how to make the Seal.  As Clay Holden pointed out, “at the bottom of the Sigillum Dei Aemeth, both in Dee’s original illustration at the end of Mysteriorum Liber Secundus and in virtually every version published since, one finds the character ‘y’ with a ‘14′ under it. The text however clearly gives this number as ‘15.’”9)Holden, op. cit.,  xviii. Dee’s instructions and his illustration (and the actual Seals he made, now property of the British Museum) did not match.

Holden speculated why that might be, and his answer, not surprisingly, required that one know a little about a basic “occult” and ciphering subject: how to derive gematric values from the numbers and letters and what meaning one might impute to those values.  At the most basic level, to solve a blind one must understand something about why the blind is there; that understanding leads to other understandings about how to use the item.  By the time one gets to the Great Table of Earth, the last-received and most complex item in Dee’s spirit diaries, one has to know how different components work with other components to solve the blind.  (In that case, one has to realize that Angelic Governors “govern” the entire Table of Earth, not individual letters, or one can’t work out of the blind.)  Once one sees a basic necessary principle, the “blind” seems to have been hidden in plain sight.  Why would the Holy Table be any different?

In our opinion, it’s not.

Magic and spycraft worked hand-in-hand in the Renaissance.  Someone who works through Dee’s original material should expect, rather than be surprised, when a table or series of tables is not quite what it appears.   If you solve the blinds therein, the tools in your magickal arsenal will work the way they’re supposed to; if not, they’ll still look kind of cool but that’s about it.

The Instructions in the Spirit Diaries

Dee’s spirit diaries are hard to read throughout, and the main section concerning the Holy Table is no different.  In March of 1582, the angel Uriel tells Dee and Edward Talbot (who may or may not have been Edward Kelley) that they needed to make a Table upon which to put the “Sigillum Dei,” they’re later told the plan is false.  By April 28 of 1583, in the material frequently recorded as the appendix to Quinti libri Mysteriorum (or as Sloane MS 3188 folio 94b), Edward Kelley and John Dee are, for reasons unknown, talking about Dee’s rules for how to transpose letters.10)Unless noted otherwise, our quotes in this section all come from Dee’s spiritual diary entry for Sunday, April 28, 1583.  We’ve compared digital copies of the original manuscripts to the transcriptions in Whitby, op. cit., and Joseph Peterson, (2002),  John Dee’s Five Books of Mystery: Original Sourcebook of Enochian Magic. Weiser Books.

We’re only a few days past the date when he’s been told how to pronounce the names of the different Angelic or Enochian letters, names which curiously have no phonetic relationship at all to their Roman equivalent, so the character written with the Roman “b” is pronounced “pa;” “c” or “k” is pronounced “veh,” and so on.   These short entries, all from the same day, will be the one and only place where we get a system showing how to sequence the letters on the perimeter of the Holy Table: first using Roman equivalents, then spelled out the way the letter is pronounced, but in no case using the Enochian letters themselves (although we know from both Ashmole’s description and Casaubon’s illustration of Dee’s Holy Table that the Table Dee finally made did use the Enochian letters.)   If you can’t switch easily between alphabets, you may find this table helpful:

Enochian Alphabet Correspondences

Figure 3: Enochian Alphabet Correspondences

Dee records that he and Kelley had “diuerse talks and discourses of Transposition of letters: and I had declared him my rule for to know certainly how many ways, any number of letter (propownded,) might be transposed or altered in place or order.”

At first glance, it would seem Dee and Kelley are talking about how to transpose letters between the Angelic/Enochian and Roman alphabets, because neither are very skillful yet at transposing a Roman letter into an Enochian one.  But Dee is also telling Kelley that he has a rule for shifting the place or order of letters.

Dee writes next that,

Behold, suddenly appeared, the Spirituall Creatre, Il, and sayd,

Il: Here is a goodly disputation of transposition of letters.  Chuse, whether you will dispute with me, of Transposition, or I shall lerne you.

∆ [Dee]:  I had rather lerne than dispute.  And first I think, that those letters in our Adamicall Alphabet haue a due peculier unchangeable proportion of their formes,–and likewise that their order is also Mysticall.

Il: These letters represent the Creation of man: and therefore they must be in proportion.

Let me see the forme of your Table.

∆: –I shewed him the Characters and words which were to be paynted round abowt in the border of the Table.

Il: How do you like those letters:

∆: I know not well what I may say.  For, perhaps, that which I shuld like, were not so to liked: and contrarywise I shold think well of, might be nothing worth.

Il:  Thou sayest well.

Il’s exhortations as written by Dee and scryed by Kelley continue on to the next page, where we see Dee’s drawing of the Holy Table.  Take a look at this page as a whole before we zoom in on part of it:

Holy-Table-Dee-original-page-1

Figure 4:  The sketch of the Holy Table from John Dee’s Spirit Diary, 4-28-1593

Dee’s writing is sloppy, but the Holy Table has been drawn out neatly on a grid.  Some notes are crammed in at the top; a hand points to one letter; comments above the grid in the center have been crossed out and three of the letters in that grid have also been crossed out and replaced by others.  It seems likely that Dee is continuing his spirit diary on to a page already written on, the page he is showing Il when Il commands him to “Let me see the forme of your Table” in the passage just quoted.

At the top of this page, Il’s exhortations continue.  She tells him how to make the inner square.  She says that every side must have 21 characters, and every corner should have a great “B.”  But apparently something else is going on and/or there are other instructions not written, because, if you look closely, you can see the note Dee has written upside down in Latin in smaller letters, next to the hand pointing at the  “o,” or the Roman letter corresponding to “Med.”   Let’s zoom in on it and take a look:

Dee-Holy-Table-zoom-on-top-of-table-smaller

Figure 5: Close-up of Dee’s Note Pointing to o/Med

The upside-down Latin starts next to the ∆.  Joseph Peterson transcribed and translated it as follows:

∆   vide post foliam, et etiam Tabula cordis carnis et cutis, nam in lineis defendentibus, ibedem habes hane hanc tabula hic incipiendo sed in primo mittendo l et accipiendo o.

That roughly means, “See on the next sheet, and also in the table of the heart, flesh and skin, for in the surrounding lines, you have this table here commencing the same, but omitting ‘l’ at the start and gaining ‘o.’”11)Peterson, Ibid, p. 375. Then the hand points to the “o” or med, in the Table beneath.

It sounds like there might be a pun here— “l” punning on El, a name of God, and “o” meaning not the letter, but “zero.”  The meaning of such wordplay—leave out God and you gain zero—doesn’t seem help much, at least not yet.

What does Dee want us to see on the next sheet?  Well, here it is:

Holy-Table-Dee-original-page-2-top-smaller

Figure 6: The next page of Dee’s Spirit Diary, 4-28-1583

The most literal interpretation of Dee’s upside-down Latin, since “o” is the Enochian letter “med” and Dee has just been told the tables on both pages start the same except that the previous one has gained an “o,” or med, at the start, is that the Holy Table should start with “o” or “med.”  This group on the next page does.  Also, you can see that it’s next to an “l” or “ur” in the adjoining column

Above that group, the words say:

∆:  After our prayers made, EK had sight (in the stone) of innumerable letters and after a little while, they were browght into a lesser square and fewer letters.  First appeared in the border opposite to our standing place, (which I haue used to call, the fronte Tabulae) these letters following, beginning at the right hand, and proceeding towards the left.

Presumably, these are the letters that start at the right hand and proceed towards the left.  He’s labeled column 1 “in fronte Tabulae” or “in front of the Table;” 2 “A sinistris” or “to the left;” 3 “Juxta pectus” or “next to the chest;” and 4 “a dextris” or “to the right.”  The line running from the bottom of column one to the top of column 2 (and from the bottom of 2 to the top of 3, and the bottom of 3 to the top of 4) suggests that this is how the letters are falling in line as they sequence themselves around the table beginning “at the right hand” and proceeding left.

To make it easier to compare with the preceding page, we reproduced this table and added in the Roman letter which transposes into the phonetically-spelled Enochian letter.  Not surprisingly, this list in column one starts with “o,” or med:

1 2 3 4
med o drux n drux n gon i
fam s un a ur l med o
med o tal m ur l un a
drux n fam s don r graph e
fam s don r ur l fam s
fam s ur l drux n mals p
ur l graph e un a tal m
ged g don r med o ur l
graph e or f graph e pa b
drux n gisg t graph e pa b
med o gon i med o drux n
graph e med o med o un a
graph e un a graph e un a
tal* m ged g ceph z van u
med o med o ged g un a
or f graph e ged g med o
med o van u ur l un a
gal d ur l mals p gon ‘ y
ged g don r mals p drux n
ged g don r fam f drux n
drux n un a un a ur l

*Dee has crossed it out and written “perhaps med”

Figure 7: Columns from the preceding figure

Compare this order of letters to that on the preceding page, and it appears the same.  Written upside-down across the top of the Table, we read:

o s o n s s l g e n o e e o o f o d g g n

You can compare the others yourself.  You’ll see that these characters, if assembled around the perimeter of the table from right to left starting with the “o” in the upper right, reverse the order we see on Causabon’s illustration, which (if transposed back to Roman characters from Enochian) would be:

n g g d o f o o e e o n e g l s s n o s o

Work your way around the table, and you’ll see why many – most – contemporary writers on Enochian, from Aaron Leitch to Lon Milo Duquette to the “T.S.” who annotated Liber Chanokh, think that Casaubon’s engraving has the letters reversed due to a printer or engraver’s error.

If we take it a step further and derive a 7 x 12 grid from this (as Dee is told to do later) and take the middle 3 x 4 grid there to fill the middle of the Holy Table, you’ll get this in the center:

Gisg (g) Gon (y) Med (o)
Van (u,v) Ur (l) Don (r)
Ur (l) Don (r) Ur (l)
Graph (e) Med (o) Med (o)

That’s different from Casaubon, and exactly reversed.

Of course, that’s because if you reverse the top letters and go around clockwise instead of counter-clockwise, you create a 7 x 12 grid that produces a 3 x 4 grid that is exactly reversed… that ordering happens to result in a 3 x 4 table that is reversed on one axis from the table you get if the letters start with “o” and run counter-clockwise.  In other words, the perimeter in Casaubon’s drawing yields the center table in the same drawing; they just seem to not match the instructions Kelley has scried… instructions which now do seem to match Dee’s sketch on the previous page.

Case closed? Have we inadvertently wound up proving how the etching of Dee’s actual Holy Table was just so messed up by Casaubon or the printer or engraver or whomever that its little more than a curious relic?

Look closer.  There’s a little problem.  If you try to imagine how you would actually use the Holy Table in practice, you may see what that problem is before our explanation of it finishes.

According to his spirit diary, later that same evening of April 28, 1583, Dee wrote that he had first doubted that the heads of the letters on the perimeter of the table should be oriented the way they were:

I first dowted of the heds of the letters in the border, to be written, which way they owght to be turned, to the center ward of the Table or from the Center ward.

Il:  The heds of the letters must be next or toward the center of the square Table or Figure.

Why would Dee doubt that the tops of the letters should be pointing to the center of the Holy Table?  After all, that’s how he drew them on his own sketch on the previous page.  That sketch seemed to match the vision of the order of the letter that Kelley scried later that same afternoon and which Dee recorded in four columns we saw above.

Next, Il gives a long and fiery speech about how to set up the 7 x 12 grid and how its mathematical properties open up all sorts of “ternary” and “quaternary” powers to man, and then said:   “I have no more to say, but God transpose your myndes, according to his own will and pleasure.  You talked of Transposition.” Dee writes himself a note that Il has “alluded” to the conversation he and Kelley had earlier that day about transposition.

What needs to change places or transpose?  It seems Dee has understood something but not stated it.  No more angelic instructions on the Holy Table perimeter appear; in the next conversation suddenly new grid after transposed new grid come in through Kelly’s scrying.  We can’t think of any other place in the spirit conversation except the early sessions deriving the Seal of Aemeth where Dee is told how to create so many items in reasonably clear terms.  The only problem is that each of the tables which follow must be created from a Holy Table perimeter lettered correctly, or every single one of them will be wrong.

Does Dee realize something, and underscore the word “Transposition,” so we don’t miss it?  It does seem odd to emphasize this word when he isn’t transposing Roman letters into Enochian and hasn’t switched the place or order of any letters.

There is one very large problem with the Holy Table as Dee has lettered it.  Perhaps that was why Dee was puzzling over the whether the tops of the letters should be oriented towards the center of the Holy Table or away from it.

What’s wrong with Dee’s picture of the Holy Table?

Simply put: you can’t read it, at least not very well.  Not unless you change your frame of reference and transpose some of the letters.  If you do, you can follow the directions Dee gives, but then the Holy Table you set up won’t look like the one he drew on the preceding page.  Can you look at Dee’s drawing above and see why that is?

Dee’s question about how the heads of the letters are oriented is a key to realizing how the perspective of the Operator (and how that Operator is oriented in relation to the Holy Table) affect how and if that Operator needs to transpose any of the letters.  You can’t easily interact with the Holy Table if you letter the perimeter the way that Dee has drawn it.  If you have any inclination to (for instance) charge individual letters, you will have a rather difficult time unless you read some of them upside-down and backwards.

Think of where you as the Operator would stand in relation to this Table, and you should be able to see what we mean.  As a thought experiment, imagine you’re standing right in the center of the Holy Table, and the heads of the letters are oriented with their tops away from the center of the Holy Table rather than towards it.   You the Operator, from your perspective in the center of the Table, could follow all of the directions and go around the table.  You’d begin by facing the “front” side, starting with the letter o/Med on the far right, and continuing right to left as you read or vibrate or invoke or charge each letter.  As you come to the end of that row, you’d turn 90 degrees and continue with the next side, moving counter-clockwise around the square and always reading the letters right to left. Every letter would be oriented so you could easily see it.  Every letter would occur in the order given in those four columns.

Perhaps it would feel odd (given that the Holy Table is supposed to be a table of communion linking the Operator and Earth to more celestial energies)that you’re moving counter-clockwise.  That seems akin to trying to raise energy by grounding it, which doesn’t make a lot of sense.  But you could interact with the Table from that perspective and the way you would place or encounter the letters would match the order in Dee’s spirit diaries.  It doesn’t make the best sense in terms of magical energy, but you would be able to correctly follow the instructions on how the perimeter letters should be ordered.

However, Il insisted that the tops of the letters are supposed to be oriented towards the Holy Table’s center, which makes the letters themselves readable from points outside of the Table rather than the inside.

If the Operator tries to read them from the center of the Table, then every single letter is upside-down.  But of course you don’t usually stand in the middle of the table; that was just a thought experiment.  Usually the Operator stands before the altar, and indeed  Dee described the “front” of the table as being across from his standing place.  Let’s try that.  The Holy Table is an altar, after all.

If you imagine that the Holy Table is situated in front of you and you stand across from the upside down letters on the “front,” you’ll have the place where you’re supposed to start (o/med in the first column) across from you to the far right.  But now you’re again looking at a line of letters that is upside down.  Whether in Enochian or Roman characters, you can’t easily read them (or if you can, it begs the question of why you’re being asked to read up-side down letters when they could have easily been placed right-side-up.)

Alphabets aren’t meant to be read upside down.  Perhaps the upside-down Latin was a hint after all.  (Remember, that upside-down Latin told us to start with “o,” and Dee drew a hand that pointed to the “o” in the upper right.)

The only way one can easily read the perimeter of the Table or interact with the letters is if you go around to the other side of the altar and face the “front” from there.  Try doing that, and then place the letters from column 1 in to place, reading them right to left.  Start with the “o” the hand points to.

You can’t.  You’re already at the far left of that row.  You either must place letters so that (from your perspective facing them) you’re reading them left to right (when the directions state right-to-left), or transform the order so they’ll all fit on the line and you can read them from right to left.  Since the former means you’d again be going around counter-clockwise, we’ll pick the latter as making more magical sense, and transpose the letters.

If you stand where you can read the top, or “front,” of the table with letters right-side up, and you start with the “o” as Dee’s diary instructed, you can read the letters from right to left if you transpose the order, by shifting the “o” to what is now, from your perspective, the far right of the side Dee labeled “front.”  [Of course, from the perspective of someone looking at it from across the table (to whom the letters are upside down), you’ve moved the “o” to the far left.  But it isn’t that perspective that we’re interested in.]

Now, you can sequence the letters in the order Kelley scried and Dee wrote into columns, and place them right to left.  You’ll read and place them in this order – o then s then o then n s s l g e n o e e o o f o d g g n, starting at the far right and moving left – but to someone on the other side of the Holy Table, reading them upside down, they appear to be in the opposite order, n g g d o f o o e e o n e g l s s n o s o.  (And if you try to read them left to right like we do English letters, which you shouldn’t be doing, that’s how they’ll look to you, too.)

From your perspective facing the letters, you finish the first column and then continue to the side Dee has labeled “A dentris” and now place (or read or encounter or charge) the letters starting from the top of column 2… the column labeled “A sinistris.”  As before, place them from right to left.

Notice that you are now moving clockwise around the perimeter of the Table, which seems much more appropriate, but you’ve flipped the sides of the Table as it was viewed from the original perspective.  (Also, if your altar is oriented towards the East as most are, you’ve started by moving from the west of the altar looking East to moving to the East of the altar looking west, and are moving clockwise so that for the letters in column 2 you’ve wound up on the south of the altar looking north.) As you continue clockwise around to the next side, and sequence the letters from column 3 right to left, you’ve again reversed the letters from Dee’s sketch although you’ve transposed the sequence perfectly.  Continue clockwise to the next side, labeled “A sinistris,” and place the letters left to right from column 4, which like column 2 seems to have swapped sides.  But “right” and “left” are only a matter of perspective.  From your perspective, that of the Operator who needs to read the letters, you are placing letters right to left.

You’ll finish with the letter “l,” and now maybe the pun on “El” makes more sense, since you’ve moved around the Holy Table clockwise and wound up back at the beginning.  You’re placing the letters counter-clockwise from the perspective of someone in the center looking out, but because you are in effect “orbiting” the table, and making it the center rather than yourself, you’ve circumambulated around it clock-wise and wound up back in the East.

That’s the process by which we set up our Holy Table and then we derived the grids that follow it exactly as Dee instructs in the diary pages which follow: but the letters come out differently, of course.  The 3 x 4 grid in the middle is reversed.   When we charged the individual letters, we went through the same process.

Our Holy Table’s letters match the illustration given by Meric Casaubon, the one based on the actual Holy Table of John Dee.  Amazing?  Not really.

We don’t think there was any printer or engraver’s error that messed up the illustration of the Holy Table in TFR.

Oh, but there is a transcription error!  Take a look at look at the letters you would have around the perimeter using the method above, then look again at Casaubon.  One of his letters is wrong.   The rest are in the same order we have, and the center grid is the one you’d derive if you placed letters in the way we’ve described above.  We’re pretty sure that the transcription error wasn’t the engraver’s fault, or a magical blind: just Meric Casaubon miscopying one letter, and the engraver reproducing his error, perfectly.

Notes   [ + ]

1. Christopher L. Whitby (1982). John Dee’s actions with spirits: 22 December 1581 to 23 May 1583 (Doctoral dissertation, University of Birmingham), pp. 149-150.
2. TFR is listed as being published in 1659, though other evidence suggests it may have come out the year before.
3. Lon Milo DuQuette, (2008). Enochian Vision Magick: An Introduction and Practical Guide to the Magick of Mr. John Dee and Edward Kelley. Weiser Books. P. 50.
4. “T.S.,” ed., in Aleister Crowley, Liber Chanokh or “A Brief Abstract of the Symbolic Representation of the Universe derived by Doctor John Dee through the scrying of Sir Edward Kelly” transcribed and annotated from the Equinox vol. I nos. 7-8. P. 37.Available: http://www.bibliotecapleyades.net/crowley/liber/libers/liber084.pdf
5. Whitby, op. cit. p. 150.
6. Clay Holden, “Forward,” in Lon Milo Duquette’s Enochian Vision Magick (San Francisco: Red Wheel/Weiser, 2008), xx.
7. Ibid.
8. We could cite numerous books here, and you could find others easily on your own.  But since you’ve bothered to check the endnote, try this one for starters:  Glynn Parry, (2012). The Arch Conjuror of England: John Dee. Yale University Press.
9. Holden, op. cit.,  xviii.
10. Unless noted otherwise, our quotes in this section all come from Dee’s spiritual diary entry for Sunday, April 28, 1583.  We’ve compared digital copies of the original manuscripts to the transcriptions in Whitby, op. cit., and Joseph Peterson, (2002),  John Dee’s Five Books of Mystery: Original Sourcebook of Enochian Magic. Weiser Books.
11. Peterson, Ibid, p. 375.