Monday, 4 August 2008

John Dee's "Tuba Veneris"...

Note: this article has now moved to john-dees-tuba-veneris on Cipher Mysteries

Was the "Consecrated Little Book of Black Venus" really written by John Dee? I first saw this several years back, when I stumbled upon Joseph Peterson's transcription of it on the Esoteric Archives website.

The link with Dee seemed (and still seems) to me to be spurious: even though he is mentioned right at the start of the text, for me the language, the drawings, the style, the thinking, in fact all of it fails to please as a match. But then again, the earliest copy (held by our old friend the Warburg Institute, MS FBH 51) is apparently 16th century, so would have been written while Dee was still alive. It's a nice little mystery, I thought, though one which at the time I assumed few had any interest in.

However, I recently found a paper online by occasional Voynich mailing list member Teresa Burns published in the Journal of the Western Mystery Tradition (No. 12, Vol. 2. Vernal Equinox 2007), called "The Little Book of Black Venus and the Three-Fold Transformationof Hermetic Astrology". This fascinating little piece takes the reader on a journey around Dee's conceptual world and how it might link in with the Tuba Veneris, all the way to a suggested link with the "Familists", the Family of Love, and from there to an underground Dark Goddess movement.

There's also an Appendix by Phil Legard, which provides a different (but resonantly similar) angle. Nicely, he discusses whether the invocations might be Trithemian-style steganography (Legard thinks not, but it's good that this has been explored).

In the same issue, Terri and Nancy Burns also put forward a parallel translation of the Tuba Veneris - this is probably the place most people coming to it for the first time should start.

The next issue's follow-up piece (by Vincent Bridges and Teresa Burns) is also online, called "The Little Book of Black Venus – Part Two Olympic Spirits, the Cult of the Dark Goddess, and the Seal of Ameth". This tries to link the Tuba Veneris with Dee's early book-buying expedition in Italy, and (though not so successfully, I have to say) with the benendanti of Northern Italy, which you may possibly have heard of in connection with Carlo Ginzburg's fascinating book "The Night Battles".

Finally, there's a beautiful hand-crafted modern edition of the Tuba Veneris mentioned here (apparently based on the same set of articles) though its price of $189 may possibly be just a tad more than many people would spend on books in a year.

My opinion? Having absorbed all these articles, I'm now far more comfortable than I was before with the notion that the Tuba Veneris might well actually be by John Dee - it is dated 1580, which was before the whole Edward Kelley / angelic conversation farrago started kicking off, and placed in London. Yet I'm not taken by the Dark Goddess connection: though I appreciate the possibility, that's a whole step further than I can take (for the moment, at least). Ultimately, I suspect that the Tuba Veneris will turn out to be in a very loose Trithemian-style steganographic cipher, perhaps for carrying a Familist message around Europe.

Hmmm... perhaps (pace Koestler & Owen Gingerich) someone will end up writing a book on it called "The Spell Nobody Cast"? Just a thought...

No comments: