Kelley, Edward (August 1, 1555—1597) - Witchcraft Hall of Fame

The Element Encyclopedia of Witchcraft: The Complete A-Z for the Entire Magical World - Judika Illes 2005

Kelley, Edward (August 1, 1555—1597)
Witchcraft Hall of Fame

Edward Kelley, also known as Edward Talbot or Edward Kelly, was an alchemist, spirit medium, and necromancer. However, he is most famous as the most successful scryer employed by Dr John Dee (see page 725). Together they created the system of Enochian Magic.

Kelley was apparently from Worcestershire. There is much conjecture about his history prior to his work with Dr Dee. He apparently studied law and Old English with the intention of entering the legal profession. He may or may not have studied at the University of Oxford under the name Talbot. He was fluent in Latin and proficient in Greek. He was adept at deciphering old scripts and documents and was a good copyist. Perhaps too good: Kelley always wore a tight black skullcap pulled down low over his ears, allegedly to conceal that they were missing. (Although this is frequently stated as fact, there is no evidence one way or the other.) His ears had allegedly been cropped as punishment for forgery or counterfeiting. Rumor had it he had been pilloried in Lancaster as punishment, too.

Kelley is usually described as being “of ill repute” and many believe he was a scam artist who conned the gullible Dee. (And for those who are ambivalent about magic, Dee can be a “good” magician, if Kelley is the fraud.) Kelley and Dee met in 1581. Dee was passionately interested in contacting angels but needed a scryer (a crystal-gazer) to assist him. Kelley became Dee’s scryer at a salary of £50 a year. Kelley saw and communicated with the spirits while Dee kept records. Kelley gazed within a crystal ball or magic mirror until he received visions or was able to make contact with spirits and angels. He spoke while Dee recorded his descriptions and conversation.

Dee was so enthusiastic about Kelley’s scrying skills that Kelley complained of being kept a virtual prisoner at Dee’s estate at Mortlake. Kelley periodically threatened to quit unless he received more money. Some interpret this as Kelley exploiting Dee, although one could argue that many skilled technicians frequently ask for raises without being accused of exploitation, and that Kelley never particularly wanted to scry; he was more interested in alchemy and necromancy. In any case, inevitably Dee gave in to his requests; they worked closely together for seven years.

Dee and Kelley’s work together produced the occult tradition, Enochian Magic. In a trance, Kelley dictated The Book of Enoch to Dr Dee, which revealed mysteries of creation.

In 1583, Kelley and Dee traveled to Europe, together with their families, seeking patrons for their alchemical work. They gave public demonstrations of their alchemical gifts as they traveled. They also simultaneously continued their angelic communications.

Kelley allegedly was able to extract the Philosopher’s Stone. His sister claimed that he made gold and silver and showed it to visitors in England. Arthur Dee, Dr Dee’s son, claimed to have seen Kelley make gold. In April 1587, Kelley insisted on concentrating on alchemy and refused to scry for Dee any longer.

Kelley convinced Dee that the angels wanted them to share all things including their wives. Jane Dee was reluctant but Dr Dee agreed. It didn’t work out: the two women had violent arguments. Their dire financial situation and the constant threat of legal persecution didn’t help either. In 1589 Dee decided to go back to England. They never saw each other again.

Kelley continued to travel in Europe, looking for patrons and supplementing his income via fortune-telling. He was arrested at least once on charges of heresy and witchcraft.

Emperor Rudolf II of Bohemia ultimately became Kelley’s patron, knighting him in 1593. He set him up in laboratory, expecting him to produce gold. Kelley was paid handsomely and temporarily enjoyed a lavish lifestyle. Rudolf grew tired of waiting for the gold, however, and periodically imprisoned Kelley, allegedly to stimulate him to produce gold faster. In 1597, Kelley was once again imprisoned, this time in the Castle of Hnevin where he died. According to legend, he tried to escape by lowering himself from the tower with a rope but the rope was too short and he fell, broke his leg and eventually died from his injuries (Whether or not he was chained in a dungeon when he died is subject to debate.)