One of the strangest books to come out of Europe in the sixteenth century – and that is saying a lot – is John Dee’s Monas Hieroglyphica (1564). Dee was an English mathematician, court astrologer, diplomat, and spy. He was also a wizard, or at least an aspirant to wizardry. Like many European intellectuals of the 16th century, Dee devoted himself to what we identify today as esoteric studies, which means an interdisciplinary effort to discern a primordial truth through the study of ancient texts, alchemy, astrology, philosophy, theology, and magical practices. Ancient texts such as the Corpus Hermeticum and the Emerald Tablet promised a brand of wisdom that had made the ancient ages more powerful and knowledgeable than any age since, and their introduction into western Europe during the Renaissance gave scholars a hope of recovering ancient wisdom and restoring human nature to the perfection it had once enjoyed in the Garden of Eden, before – well, that part of the story you probably know already.
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