The Hieroglyphic Monad of John Dee
By The Patrician Lady
A talk given to The Silent Eye’s ‘Jewel in the Claw’ workshop on 21st April 2018
In my talk today I’m going to tell you a little about Dr. John Dee, one of the characters you have met in the drama, and something of his famous symbol the Hieroglyphic Monad or Monas Hieroglyphica. Most people, myself included, know or knew very little about this symbol so I decided to research it. As with all research I started by reading as much about it as I could find. This led me to articles and papers and it grew and grew and grew and I realised that this symbol incorporated the whole of creation and its processes; hence its name – the symbol of One-ness, Monas Hieroglyphica. Today I’m going to try and tell you something of what it means. This is no mean feat to try and tell you about the whole of creation and its processes in 45 minutes. Anyway, I will tell you a little about the history of John Dee, describe the components within the symbol and try and convey some aspects of the deep knowledge held within the symbol.
It is a symbol of creation similar to the Qabalistic Tree of Life but not emanationist, that is flowing from nothing into something, as is the Tree of Life, but creation as it is in the whole – a monad, a unit. This is it:
Those of you familiar with Qabalah will know that the Tree of Life is viewed basically in a series of spheres whereas this symbol is viewed in layers of awareness and meaning from very simple to highly complex. These layers are very well explained by modern authors who have put articles and papers on the internet, unlike Dee who could only publish information as a booklet and send it to influential people. He understood the processes of the universe on a numerical and geometrical basis. Another person who thought very similarly to Dee was Buckminster Fuller and I’ll tell you a little about him later.
The Hieroglyphic Monad, or the Monas Hieroglyphica, dates from the 16th century. It’s a glyph, a composite symbol, already in existence in 16th century in spiritual circles but augmented by Dr. John Dee, and explained in a short book of the same name the Monas Hieroglyphica. The booklet consists of 24 theorems or statements. This sounds fairly straight-forward until you try reading the book. It starts off quite simply but half way through it gets complicated and by the time you reach the end you’ll wonder what it was all about. But let’s take a look at the symbol and the theorems and see what we can make of them. Trust me, it can be well worth the effort if you’re interested in numbers and metaphysics.
William Gray in his book ‘The Ladder of Lights’ described some qualities of the well-known glyph the Tree of Life and what he says to describe the Tree can very well be said about the Monad symbol: ‘(It) may be likened to a well-designed crossword puzzle with its clues. The entire meaning and value of the puzzle lies with the mental exercise involved in its construction and solution. In solving it, a mind must be used to some considerable extent, which naturally improves and develops the mind of the thinker. By presenting (it) as a puzzle of mental and spiritual magnitude, an opportunity is afforded for genuine progress of mind and spirit to whomsoever has the wits and endurance to attempt its solution. (What is written about it) must be considered as the clues to the enigma and not its answers except on some broad issues. The real solution must be worked out individually, for it lies in the souls of those who seek it and nowhere else.” Fortunately others have gone a long way before us to unravel the secrets of the Monad.
As a brief history, much of which you already learned in the drama, John Dee was born in 1527. During his life he was a mathematician, astrologer, navigator and magician and a prominent figure in the royal court of Elizabeth 1st . Dee was well-travelled and had great knowledge of navigation and maps. In 1553 at the age of 26 he became astrologer and close advisor to Queen Elizabeth I. As a member of her court she came to rely on him for navigation of her fleet and for astrology. He calculated for her the most auspicious date for her coronation. He was an obsessive collector of books and owned a great library of more than 4,000 books which he is said to have kept at his mother’s house at Mortlake in London. In later life at the age of 55 he met and worked with the psychic Edward Kelley who was almost 30 years younger than him. Kelley was a scryer who psychically saw things in a crystal ball. Dee and Kelley started experiments with Angelic Magic, conversing with angels and spirits which became known as Enochian or Chaos Magic but we won’t be dealing with that today. Two dates exist for Dee’s death either in 1608 or 1609 at the age of 81. So we are looking at 16th century magic.
The glyph is made up of 4 symbols: moon; sun; elemental cross or cross of the elements; and the zodiac symbol of Aries (the cardinal Fire sign).
Dee presented the symbol on the front of a small book entitled Monas Hieroglyphica, written in Latin.
Essentially it’s a book about numbers and geometry but hidden within it is information on the universe, its structure and how it works. Unfortunately this information is profound, deeply hidden and not easily accessible. Yet for those who take the time and trouble to excavate and unravel the hidden treasures, the wealth of knowledge is tremendous. However he knows it’s going to be difficult and advocates that ‘those who do not understand should keep silent’ – in modern parlance, put up or shut up. It is generally accepted that the book and the glyph were to be backed up by an oral teaching which has since been lost – the book and the symbol are not enough yet they make exciting reading and can carry us from the 16th into the 21st century as you will see in the final section of the talk. Dee completed the work on the Monad in 13 days at the age of 37 in 1564, almost 20 years before he met Kelley.
The symbol is said to represent Unity or Godhead. The meaning of Monas in this context is generally translated as ‘unity’ which implies union of more than one but this is incorrect as Dee was quite clear that he meant it as A Unit, A Monad, The One. The individual fragments of the drawing can be understood on many levels so each has more than one way of being understood. In this way the Monad glyph represents all of creation on all levels, all planes. It represents everything there is in manifestation.
The small book starts with a long preface to Maximilian, King of Bohemia, probably as Dee felt this was a good place to go for sponsorship and support. This was followed by detailed instructions to the printer who was to be sure to include all the Capital letters, all the spacings and ‘other things’ making the printed book an exact copy of the hand-written one because everything had significance.
Let’s look at the parts of the glyph: Moon + Sun + Cross of Elements + Fire (Aries).
In essence we are looking at a symbol of the process of creation by the union of opposites. Polarity. Place your imagination on the dot at the centre of the circle depicting the Sun. The moon, although it is depicted as a half-moon and located above the sun is to be imagined as viewed from the central point of the sun ie. not as seen from earth but located as the moon would circle around the sun. Moon represents: Female, silver, receptive, the Below, receiving. Negative polarity.
The Sun represents : Male, gold, active, the Above, radiating. Positive polarity.
Imagine that the dot represents the point of Divine emanation, the point of light that comes into the void at the beginning of creation (here representing the Above of ‘As Above, so Below’), now switch your mind to imagine that the central dot-point represents the Earth in the solar system (thus representing the Below); (Note: The dot at the centre representing Earth appears to imply geocentricity ie. Earth at the centre of the universe, as we see it, which we know is not how things are, but it is to be used as a frame of reference, not a cosmic view. It represents the ‘I’, as the spark of consciousness at the centre receiving forces and influences from around [see Burns and Moore]). You see here how viewpoint is important to meaning.
The cross represents the four-fold cross of the Elements ie Earth, Air, Water and Fire.
The two half-circles at the base represent the astrological glyph for Aries ie: cardinal Fire.
To explain the diagram he presents 24 theorems or statements. However in order to understand the theorems, especially the later ones, he realised he needed to provide more basics so he wrote another booklet called Propaedumata Aphoristica (Preparatory Aphorisms).
An Aphorism is a concise statement, a Theorem is a theoretical proposition. Both booklets can be found on the net at a website on ‘The Works of John Dee’ translated by Jim Egan. Of these Dee says “I realise that these Aphorisms are for the more advanced…… some may find them rather long and difficult” – too true, and we haven’t even got to the theorems yet,so Egan recommends that you read the Preparatory Aphorisms first but only the first 20 or so. As this is only an informational talk and not an in-depth study we won’t go there; however for anyone wishing to investigate further I can provide a list of useful articles in which people have given their own views on explanations; articles which are invaluable if you have the interest. I think by now you might be getting the message that this glyph is deceptively simple.
Moving back to the Monas Hieroglyphica, a very readable though still obtuse version of the Hieroglyphic Monad book is available in Adobe Acrobat created by Benjamin Rowe in the year 2000.
From this I will read you the first 4 theorems:
On the Monad, consider a line from the central point to the circumference.
No. 1. It is by the straight line and the circle that the first and most simple example and representation of all things may be demonstrated, whether such things be either non-existent or merely hidden under Nature’s veils.
No.2. Neither the circle without the line, nor the line without the point, can be artificially produced. It is therefore, by virtue of the point and the Monad that all things commence to emerge in principle. That which is affected at the periphery, however large it may be, cannot in any way lack support of the central point.
No. 3. Therefore the central point which we see in the centre of the hieroglyphic Monad produces the Earth, round which the Sun, the Moon and the other planets follow their respective paths. The Sun has supreme dignity and we represent him by a circle having a visible centre.
No. 4. Although the semicircle of the Moon is placed above the circle of the Sun and would appear to be superior, nevertheless we know that the Sun is ruler and King. We see that the Moon in her shape and her proximity rivals the sun with her grandeur, which is apparent to ordinary men, yet the face, or a semi-sphere of the Moon, always reflects the light of the Sun. It desires so much to be impregnated with solar rays and to be transformed into the Sun that at times it disappears completely from the skies and some days after reappears, and we have represented her by the figure of the Horns (a Cornucopia).
Don’t be deceived. By the time he gets to theorem 24 he is including so much information in every line that your mind will whirl! But not to be daunted, let’s simplify and go through them.
5. The Sun and the Moon represent morning and evening of the first day of creation during which Light was produced.
6. The right-angled cross may represent either the Ternary(3) or Quaternary(4) – the ternary from two straight lines and a crossing point, the quaternary from four straight lines.
7. The four elementary lines are produced by a continual cascade of droplets as in our magic.
8. The four is made up from 1,2,3 and 4. 1+2+3+4 =10 as in the Pythagorus Tetractys and this defines the place where the Ternary conducts into the Septenary (3 goes to 7).
From theorem 9 onwards he then goes into great details providing diagrams and tables.
Theorem 10 deals with Aries, leads into a review of the zodiac 12 and the two halves of the Aries symbol as 12+12=24 being the hours of equal day and night at the equinox. He describes how the hieroglyphs for the planets are made up from the components of the glyph.
And in another table divides them into solar and lunar. He touches and hints at deeper things but does not elaborate. In our modern days of the internet and access to information by Keywords we can find out what he expected the students to determine by contemplation and by the assumed accompanying oral teaching, now lost. He then refers us back to Hermes and the Emerald Tablet.
Much of this makes little or no sense at all to most of us but others have persevered and built upon the knowledge of still others, leaving a trail of explanation for us to follow if we have the will and stamina.
Dee then spends time looking at the cross, its composition and use in Latin letters. You will find much of this information used in Rosicrucian and Golden Dawn rituals especially around the word LUX spelt LVX meaning Light. But these are not just letters they also relate to numerology L 50, V 5, X 10 and secrets of multiplication etc. –what Dee calls qualitative and quantitative virtues.
He moves on to discuss the figure of the egg in the symbol on the front of the book as related to planets and numerology.
He returns to touching on the binary, the ternary, the quaternary, hinting at the great secrets held within, fearing that he has already said too much (not that it was understandable by anyone who does not delve deeply).
By theorem 22 he is becoming extremely obtuse and his diagrams move on to include Greek letters.
He concludes by including some tables and diagrams and finally signs off as “The fourth letter ΔDelta” which is D … his name Dee.
The depth of information and knowledge contained within this simple glyph is hard to accept at first glance but if you have the interest, are fascinated by mysteries, numbers, symbols, alchemy and are willing to follow the trail of elucidation provided by others, the rewards are tremendous, as Dee in his preface promised they would be.
He shows us the ‘Tree of Rarity’ and how the Adept (that is, one who knows and can make use of the hidden information) the Adept is one in a million – in other words, Rare.
The glyph can be viewed as anthropomorphic representing the figure of man with the Aries symbol as feet or legs, the cross as the body with arms, the circle as the head and the moon as the horns of wisdom. It is also symbolic of alchemy that is life in general, or can represent the combination of ingredients such as metals and elements (relating back to the base metals of the planets) which with the aid of fire, Aries (heat) can be transformed into precious metals, gold and silver (sun and moon).
On leaving the 16th century I can bring you into the 21st century by taking a look at the work of Buckminster Fuller, an engineer known generally as ‘Bucky’. He was not an academic but he painstakingly put down his thoughts in two very long documents called Synergetics 1 and 2 available in pdf, simplified somewhat in ‘A Fuller Explanation’ by Amy Edmonson available in print or pdf.
Bucky was responsible for the Epcot geodesic dome the enormously impressive centrepiece of the Disney park in Florida. You can also see his work in every crane used for high rise construction and made of open struts in triangular geometric pattern providing strength with minimal weight. The basis of Bucky’s calculations is the tetrahedron leading on to the cuboctahedron.
Jim Egan shows how both Dee’s diagrams and Bucky’s lead to the cuboctahedron which both state to be the central constructional form of the universe. The cuboctahedron is an Archimedian composite solid made up of 8 triangles and 6 squares which form a relative sphere, not one of the simple platonic solids.
As it says on the front of the Aphorisms booklet – the quaternary rests in the ternary, the 4 in the 3. Both Dee and Buckminster Fuller were men of genius minds. Dee was desperate for his discoveries to be made known to a wider audience and so he sent his book to Emperor Maximilian. Bucky made a living out of his engineering constructions and wrote his theses Synergetics 1 and Synergetics 2 which probably only enthusiasts will have read, yet we owe much of our theoretical and practical knowledge of the working of the universe to these two men and Bucky’s inventions are used to this day although his name is not generally widely known even in engineering circles.
In general John Dee was given a bad press as a black magician. The Hieroglyphic Monad even found a place in a recent TV drama which linked Dee to black magic but this is too simplistic. Like all symbols it can be both good and bad because a prerequisite of all magic is imagination and intention. Intention is the fulcrum on which the direction of magic turns. Good or evil is founded in intention, not on the symbol but on the use of it. As Bill Gray says. ‘The only value of any symbol is the use to which it is put’.
I can tell you what the symbol represents in the physical but take it to a higher plane – what is it at the spiritual level? It is God projected into creation. It is a representation, a picture, a symbol of creation as the thought-form of God. In order to touch the higher levels we have to accept on the mental level that what exists on the physical level is a thought-form in the mind of a creator that we call God. Creation is built from forces and forms existing in rhythms and waves of vibrations. It is all based on number and geometry and from it comes the beauty of life and form that make up our world of existence. We vibrate to a model.
The Monas Hieroglyphica itself will tell you very little – it is a key; it will open doors, portals to other spaces filled with knowledge. For those interested I wish you luck and hope you gain as much intellectual pleasure from following the trails as I have.
Dee’s final words are “Here the vulgar eye will see nothing but obscurity and will despair considerably” and on that I leave you to ponder – or not.
The Patrician Lady