Early Fine Print Collection and 17th Century Occult Philosophy

It is really interesting what you can find when you’re not looking for it.

Whilst searching the library’s Early and Fine Print Collection for Sir Walter Raleigh’s The History of the World, 1614, for an enquiring customer, I came across the two volumes of Robert Fludd’s Utriusque Cosmi, 1614, [AQ094/1617/9A/B] a really beautiful book with over 60 wonderful and intricate engravings.

Frontispiece 1

Frontispiece 1

Frontispiece 2

Frontispiece 2









As well as the images, the text, though in Latin, was also fascinating.  Fludd wrote on a range of topics including music, mathematics, geometry, art, militia, mechanics, astrology, astronomy, alchemy, fortune-telling and the relationship of God and the natural world.


Images of some of Fudd's nasty looking military armaments

Images of some of Fludd’s nasty looking military armaments


He was employed at the court of King James I of England and travelled the continent widely. His beliefs and practices put him in direct conflict with the British medical profession as he prescribed remedies based solely on prayer derived from a theology based on the secret mystical teaching of the Kabbalah.


Fludd’s depiction of the mind


Fludd’s depiction of the mind (above image) placed God, the Son, the Father and the Holy Spirit at the pinnacle of consciousness with conscience, reflection, soul, motive, memory, science and imagination following after.

The writings of Robert Fludd led me to further explore occult practice within our Early and Fine Print collection and found the works of John Dee in ‘Relation of Dr Dee With Some Spirits’, Casaubon, 1659.  [AQ094/1659/3] The book comprised records of Dee’s communications with spirits.

Dee, 1527 – 1608/09 was a mathematician, astronomer, astrologer and alchemist and an advisor to Queen Elizabeth I.  He devoted much of his time to magic and philosophy and attempted to communicate with angels and learn the universal language of creation to establish a unity between God and man.

With his scryer, William Kelley, he worked on communicating with spirits through the use of Christian piety, fasting and prayer. He claimed that angels dictated several books to him in an unknown, yet structured angelic language.


The layout of the ‘Holy Table’ Dee and Kelley used to commune with spirits


Depiction of a communication between Kelley and a spirit

Depiction of a communication between Kelley and a spirit


The text above taken from ‘Relation of Dr Dee With Some Spirits’reads:

Kelley:    Tell me who you are?

Spirit:     I pray you let me play with you a little, and I will tell you who I  am

Kelley:    In the name of Jesus then tell me

Spirit:     I rejoice in the name of Jesus, and I am a poor little Maiden, Madini, I am the last but one of my Mother’s children, I have little Baby-children at home.

Kelley:    Where is your home?

Spirit:     I dare not tell you where I dwell, I shall be beaten

Kelley:   You shall not be beaten for telling the truth to them that love the truth, to the eternal truth all Creatures must be obedient

‘Relation of Dr Dee With Some Spirits’ is a compilation of communications with a range of spirits over several years and has been reprinted many times since.

Each of these volumes are available to be seen by appointment in the Library of Birmingham’s searchroom, The Wolfson Centre. For further details please contact archives.appointments@birmingham.gov.uk.

Phil Burns, Collections Curator




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