Ruthless Angels: review of Jason Louv - John Dee and the Empire of Angels

Jason Louv - John Dee and the Empire of Angels; Enochian Magic and the Roots of the Modern World.

Back in the 1980s, I and a few friends worked the Enochian System of John Dee and Edward Kelly (see my Tales of Magic, episodes 17-21, soon to appear on It is a system of staggering detail and complexity. Not to mention the distortions and baggage introduced by MacGregor Mathers, which have made it hard to know where to start. One of my co-workers once said: It would take a whole Enochian University working for a hundred years to work out what all the potentials of this system are.

And that was just the technical, magical aspects; we had little idea then of exactly how important Dee's work was in creating the world we live in now. Louv's book makes a compelling case for the angels that Dee and Kelly channelled having a profound influence on both the British and American empires. And that's just for starters.

This is a rich, fact-crammed text. The first thing I'm moved to say is that it is an immensely readable history of John Dee. Louv has gone to the trouble to read dozens of historical books (the references are generally uncommented-on book details) and distil those narratives into something exciting and pacy (well, if you like occult histories!). There's even an examination of occult texts such as the Emerald Tablet which we may catch brief spectral glimpses of in other books. And great obscure facts. How else would I have learned that Hildegard von Bingen channelled an angelic language she called Lingua Ignota? 
Louv refers to a large number of secondary sources, and he's also dug into primary material, the Diaries and the artefacts themselves. The book is generously illustrated, with well-reproduced colour plates of a lot of Dee-related magical kit.

Secondly, it has a great central idea: 'esoteric Protestantism' as a driving force for apocalyptic magic (P32):
'All religions have an exoteric shell-a system of rules and dogmas for lay people-along with smaller inner esoteric groups focused on mysticism, individual experimentation with spiritual techniques, and, very often, apocalypticism.
'Examples include the tantric schools of Hinduism and Buddhism, the Holy Orders in Catholicism, the Kabbalists in Judaism, the Sufi schools of Islam, and many more. Though Protestantism in its many varieties is only five hundred years old, it is, of course, no different. Esoteric Protestant groups like the Rosicrucians, Freemasonry, the Golden Dawn, and, indeed, the collective of scientists that became the Royal Society-  are the esoteric core of Protestantism. Protestantism's often aggressively "bland" approach, even approaching open secularism in the case of many modern denominations, makes it easy to assume that it possesses no depth and to miss  what is (or at least was) hiding in plain sight.'

The magical philosophy Dee built that underlies this esoteric current was fed by Hermeticism and Neoplatonism - the idea that we can climb back up the Great Chain of Being, which amounts to an initiatic method supposed to lead to full spiritual awakening. On which topic, more later.

The history part is also a political/spy thriller. Dee was constantly in danger of being denounced as a heretic, and his position in the foodchain of Elizabethan realpolitik is summarized by the idea that the central reason heresy is taken seriously is that a heretic is someone who is 'defining the narrative of reality' (p87).

The angels themselves are the weirdest characters in this narrative. Their primary interest is apocalypse. This is the central idea of the book - the persistence of the apocalypse myth, and its intimate relationship to esoteric Protestant thinking. The angels behave like remote chess players, saying they are instructed by God, yet admitting at least once that there is war in heaven. Their plans for humanity are grandiose, involving the establishment of a perfect society, but these grand strategies are changed all the time in response to tactical considerations - is this aristocrat in a good enough position for us to use him or not? The angels have no concern for the well-being of their agents; Dee and Kelly were materially ruined, and this was not the only personal cost.

No wonder Enochia is so weird - this work is an invocation of apocalypse, the revelation, the stripping away of everything except divine truth; the 4 Watchtowers are also the 4 Horsemen of the Apocalypse. The angels are brutal and ruthless, not above issuing threats against Dee's son's life, 'for withholding angelic knowledge' from the king they are trying to gain control of. Details such as this are hardly surprising, in the light of the angels Endlösung - an earthly paradise built on the annihilation of all but 144,000 of the world's population. And the angels are as shameless as the lowest kind of politician in rewriting their own past statements, such as when they tell Kelly to take a wife, then years after he has done so, they accuse him of marrying against their wishes!

Late in the story, there is a hint that the angels may come in different flavours of apocalypse, according to who is channelling them. A skryer that Dee used before and after Kelly, Hickman, whose work was almost entirely burned by Dee, seemed to get a much gentler kind of angel, who sought to comfort and reassure rather than curse and threaten.

Book 3 leaves Dee's life behind and traces the influence of his angelic work up to the present day. The sequence runs: Dee to Rosicrucianism, which Louv identifies as the 'shock troops of Protestantism', a Protestant equivalent to the Jesuits, to the establishment of science as a respectable pursuit in Protestant countries; Rosicrucians were the original 'invisible College'. Fans of Grant Morrison will be pleased to see that they were even referred to as 'the Invisibles'. Then via the ideals of Freemasonry, when it was still an esoteric brotherhood, to the American and French revolutions. Even colonialism can be seen as a twisted reflection of the angelic apocalypse, some groups believing they could leave behind the evils of the old world and form a perfect society ruled by illuminated ones.

So why has Dee not been acknowledged as such an influence on modern science and politics? The era he rose to prominence in, that of Elizabeth, was replaced with the puritanical reign of the sadistic witch-torturer James I, a time when it was not wise to speak of magic in any way.

The magical heirs to this current certainly seem to include Crowley's Book of the Law, with its apocalyptic tone. Louv develops a reading of Thelema as essentially Satanic, a current of opposition designed to bring about the fall of the old aeon and a rebirth of true Christianity. His considerations of Crowley's ultra-Christian upbringing make this bizarre position kind of believable. Crowley 'was not exemplifying the Western tradition, but that he instead created an inverted, shadow version of it.' (p369). This is reminiscent of the idea of counter-traditions, such as Setianism, the work of Aquino and followers, who may take the name of Ipsissimus but deny the reality of the awakening on which such A.:A.: titles are based.

The Protestant approach to contact with God fits with the idea that Dee and Kelly would encounter the angelic forces directly, without any human intermediary. This is the beginning of the idea of the individual soul, the sovereign individual, which seemed like such a good idea at the time, compared to the stale violence and corruption of the Roman church. Its endpoint is Crowley's Aeon of Horus, read as a childish hyper-individualism which is wrecking everything. Since the 1940s, people have been pointing this out, that either Babalon (or perhaps Maat) needs adding to AC's theology to balance the destructive individualism of Horus.

The final chapter summarizes nicely the main thesis (p458):
'And just as Dee's imperialism and later angelic proselytizing built a British Empire from the ashes of the Holy Roman Empire that had been created by St Paul, Jack Parsons's creation of solid state rocket fuel and concurrent work with Watchtowers and Aethyrs might be said to have performed a similar role in expanding the boundaries of the Anglo-American empire off world.'

The book ends on a great rant, an outpouring of passionate bile against the current world mess. This brings us to the point: what (if anything) is the point of doing Enochian magic these days? Louv is certainly in a better position than most magical historians to address this question; this is one of those rare books that is written by a magician but whose statements are rooted in consensus reality. He manages that excellent balancing trick of never skimping on academic depth but not dragging the whole thesis down into the pit of academic dismissal of everything outside scientism. As RAWilson might have put it, Louv is using both halves of his brain.

After the (exciting) Satanic interpretation, Louv acknowledges another reading: if we are talking about an initiatic system here then the apocalypse has to be understood as an allegory. In that case, we need more mystery schools, spiritual communities that form support networks for those who are experiencing the mutant realities of inner apocalypse.

An example of a recent use of the Enochian Aethyrs is in Alan Chapman and Duncan Barford's early trilogy (available either as a high-priced rare paperback or free from Chapman and Barford record in detail their use of the Aethyrs to gain understanding of their progress in initiation. The Aethyrs are of course the least messed-about-with part of the Enochian System. Chapman has gone on to found his own mystery school, , which works as a community to support its members in their quest for initiation.

Other uses of Enochia include the invocation of angles or kerubs of the elements. This is something I did a fair bit of back in the 1980s, and it was very interesting. But I wouldn't really advise anyone to follow the track I used, unless they are part of a group who all have a lot of time to spare. You get a lot of excitement, a lot of bizarre (and often strangely-beautiful) information, but not much more.

The most seductive use for this system is to get into the occult side of history and contemporary global politics. This might be the worst idea of all. Whatever sustains the identification of apocalypse with actual historical events is almost certainly going to be bad for world peace. The pervasive Western obsession with apocalypse does not need feeding in this way; the apocalypse is internal and spiritual.

This book is superb. Brilliant, even, though you are unlikely to agree with all his interpretations. If all you have read of Mr Louv's output is some of his early work, do not judge this book accordingly. It is from a different planet.


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