Agent 007 and Agent 666
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Centuries before James Bond, John Dee advised the Queen in letters he signed as "007."
On the cover:
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Enoch: the language of angels and spies.
John Dee and Aleister Crowley were separated by centuries, yet inextricably connected by the intelligence services they provided to Britain and by the "language of angels." Centuries before Ian Fleming created the character James Bond, John Dee advised the Queen in letters he signed as "007." Crowley, an associate of Ian Fleming's, was known by the much more infamous "666." While one could easily assume that the services they rendered to the Crown and their interest in the language of the angels were entirely separate endeavors, they were instead one and the same.
Dee's role in history is obscured not only by stories about him, but also by the incorrect belief that some famous characters are modeled after him. Prospero from Shakespeare's The Tempest, for instance, is often credited with being modeled on John Dee. In reality, the only records suggesting that Prospero was based on John Dee apply only to specific adaptations or come from allegations, disproven by NSA cryptographer William Friedman, that the plays were written by John Dee's friend, Sir Francis Bacon. Surprisingly, some also believe that Marlowe's Faustus was inspired by John Dee despite having clearly been inspired by Johann Georg Faust. John Dee's historical reputation was so great that H.P. Lovecraft chose to explicitly bring him into the Cthulhu mythos and credit him with having translated the fictional Necronomicon into English.
Even in his own lifetime, stories about him were embellished by pop culture. Despite having a legitimate and significant role in the occult world, Dee became known as a sorcerer not for his magical endeavors by for his scientific and theatrical ones. When he created a mechanical flying scarab for a stage production of Aristophanes' Pax, he was accused of wielding dark power or being league with evil spirits. It's not hard to see why he's been confused with Shakespearean characters. There's no doubt that he was aware of his reputation and that he exploited it.
Although depictions of John Dee as a spymaster may well be embellishments, there are established connections between him and the Queen's intelligence services. Dee frequently traveled abroad and collected information which was passed back to the Queen in letters which he signed as "007." The two "0"s are said to represent eyes, while the "7" was numerologically significant to Dee, who reportedly believed that science and magic were intrinsically linked and that mathematics, geometry and numerology contained many of the secrets of the physical and metaphysical worlds. As it would turn out, his occult interests and metaphysical studies would be crucial to his service to the British crown.
John Dee's most famous contribution to history might well be Enochian, which was supposedly the language of the angels. According to believers, the Enochian tongue was as magical as the angels themselves. However, analysis has proven that Enochian is an artificially constructed language and alphabet, due to its similarities to English. Statistically, it's impossible to account for this as pure coincidence; but Dee was not a fraud.
The explanation lies in another text, Steganographia. In Gina Kolata's colorful words,
Half a millennium ago, a German abbot wrote a book on communication with spirits. It gained instant notoriety. The author, Johannes Trithemius, was an adviser to emperors and a leading humanist. But he also was a magician, and his book was couched in the language of the occult. It outraged Renaissance intellectuals who said it showed that Trithemius was a dabbler in demonic magic and that he could conjure up spirits.
Trithemius's book, volume three of his trilogy, "Steganographia," circulated widely in manuscript form for a century before it was published by entrepreneurs in Frankfurt. Upon publication, it was banned by the Roman Catholic Church and attacked by Protestants. Yet it remained a cult classic, and, to this day, the book is pored over by believers in witchcraft and demons for spells to conjure spirits. Historians cite it as a prime example of 16th-century black magic.
But some people always thought the book was something more -- a cleverly disguised code.
As the article goes on to explain, they were correct. Two different doctors independently proved that the entire text was itself an example of steganography, which is the art of concealing a message within a message. The parallels to John Dee's angelic script are immediately apparent. While this could be dismissed as pure coincidence, we know from contemporary journals that John Dee acquired a copy in the early 1560s - and that he immediately alerted Queen Elizabeth I's chief advisor, William Cecil.
Examined in context, it's clear that John Dee's language of angels was, in reality, a language for spies.
While Enochian remained a fascination in the occult world for quite some time after John Dee's passing, it's likely that it would now be remembered in purely historical terms if its practice hadn't been revived by Aleister Crowley, who like John Dee was in service to the Crown, although the extent of which is still a matter of debate.
It's also unclear how much of the occult Crowley truly believed. Although he brought Enochian back into the mainstream of the occult world and he synthesized his own philosophy and pseudo-religion, his books also included quotes such as, "It is immaterial whether these exist or not. By doing certain things certain results will follow; students are most earnestly warned against attributing objective reality or philosophic validity to any of them."
666 and the Great Beast
While some view this as advice to young occultists, covert operatives, or intelligence analysts, others see it as his way of acknowledging that he didn't really identify himself with 666 and the Great Beast, and that this was all part of his larger than life cover identity. Regardless of where he draw the line for his personal beliefs, there's no doubt that his writings led to Enochian's reintroduction to the mainstream occult and that his extensive network of contacts would allow him to accumulate and pass on a great deal of information.
His revival of Enochian, complete with numerous "keys" to calling spirits, and the addition of a philosophy on top of that allowed him to communicate surreptitiously by hiding his true messages inside what appeared to be occult writings. He exploited his reputation as a magician and diabolist and his association with 666 by giving people what they expected of him. Who would think to look for hidden messages in the writings of a drug addled occultist and adventurer?
While there remain modern practitioners of chaos magic and some true believers in Enochian, it's unlikely that any modern intelligence services have infiltrated these communities to exploit them. Just as it was unlikely in John Dee's time, and Aleister Crowley's after him.
Michael Best, Counterintelligence Analyst: From an early age, Michael Best was fascinated with the world of spycraft. His love affair with matters of espionage began with the stories of his grandfather's time in the OSS, the World War Two precursor to the modern day CIA. This fascination continued into his teens, when he began reading spy novels and comic books and looked into every conspiracy theory from Area 51 to Watergate. The investigations into things like the JFK assassination and the Iran-Contra scandal provided an in-depth look... (more...)