The Fiery Tongues of Angels


I have a perennial fascination with the angelic communications of Dr.  John Dee and Edward Kelly. Part of the reason for my interest has been the spontaneous eruption of quasi-gnostic symbolism in my own meditations, symbolism that seems related to the system of Dee and Kelly. Although my interest has been sustained across decades and many books, it is sporadic. I find there is some truth or insight that is always just beyond my reach. Today I have been deep-diving on the Call of Nineteenth Aethyr. The language intrigues me. Crowley observed:

These Keys being re-written backwards, there then appeared conjurations in a language which they called “Enochian”, or “Angelic”. It is not a jargon; it has a grammar and a syntax of its own. It is far more sonorous, stately and impressive than even Greek or Sanskrit and the English translations, though in places difficult to understand, containing passages of a sustained sublimity that Shakespeare, Milton and the Bible do not surpass.

I would not go quite so far with the claim of  “sustained sublimity”, but there are certainly a few passages (and the Nineteenth Call is one) that possess a marked literary flair. Other Calls feel like someone has opened several pages of the Psalms at random, plucked out random phrases, and stitched them together. Before going on with the deep diving, let me take a step backwards, and say something about the big picture.

The Bible is, in the scheme of things, a relatively recent and heavily redacted document that contains hints of things that didn’t make the final cut. For example, there is an Abrahamic tradition that is alluded to in Genesis, but the associated cultic structure was preserved in the Arabian peninsula and eventually codified as Islam. There is the dominant Mosaic tradition that became Judaism. There are hints at a third independent tradition, an Enoch tradition. The Enoch tradition appears to have deliberately excised, but enough survives for us to get a glimpse of it. The Enoch tradition would appear to have been a gnostic or knowledge-based tradition, a tradition of secret esoteric knowledge concerning the structure of the creation. One could think of it as a Semitic shamanic tradition that existed in parallel with other sects that became mainstream Judaism. We can perhaps glimpse its final late form in 3 Enoch (c. 5th century CE?), a Hekhalot text, at which point the Enoch tradition disappears from history.

An interesting feature of the Enoch tradition (and this is a significant part of 1 Enoch) is judgment. God will cleanse the world of evil at certain discrete times. 1 Enoch contains the entire story of the fallen angels who taught forbidden knowledge to humankind, a story stripped out of the Bible. The Bible describes how God flooded the world to cleanse it, but mumbles over the justification. The fallen angels and their fate is not discussed. All of this redacted material is made clear in 1 Enoch. 1 Enoch describes how the world was cleansed of evil by the Flood, and at the end-of-days will be cleansed of evil once again, and the fallen angels condemned.

A text that echoes the themes of 1 Enoch is the famous Apocalypse or Revelation of St. John. There are several undeniable signs that this is another text out of the Hekhalot tradition overlayed with a heavy Christian gloss. A characteristic feature of Hekhalot literature is a translation through the heavenly realms culminating in a vision of the divine throne, along with standard signposts such as the Holy Living Creatures, functionary angels, the substance mistaken for water etc. The Book of Revelation contains several elements to link it to this tradition, but focuses on that part alluded to in 1 Enoch – the culmination of days, the immanentisation of the eschaton, the end of the world. It combines a detailed esoteric theophany with an eschatology. Apart from the Christian gloss it could easily have been retitled 4 Enoch, with Enoch as the seer rather than John of Patmos.

Now we can return to Dr. Dee and Edward Kelly. They believed they were recovering the lost Book of Enoch – the original Heavenly Book. The angels agreed. If we take the revelatory material Dee and Kelly received from the angels we could be justified in calling it 5 Enoch. It is at this point a scholar sticks up hir hand and says “we should not dignify the transcript of a 16th century seance with the title ‘5 Enoch’. It is just a pastiche, a confabulation”. At which I have to throw up my hands and ask “how do you imagine all the other examples of Enoch literature were obtained?”.

The bizarre thing is: none of the Enoch manuscripts we possess today were available to Dee or Kelly. They were flying blind. And yet what they recovered from the angels is a creditable continuation of the Enoch tradition. It does not describe a translation through the heavenly realms; the angels were transmitting the lost keys necessary to open gates. That is, it is a precusor, the operational means to continue working within the Enoch tradition. This was the purpose of the Calls.

My interest in the 19th Call is its language. Crowley called it “the original curse on creation” because that is what it is. It is beautifully composed, it has the poise and rhythm of some of the finest texts in the Bible. Here it is, exactly as Kelly spoke it and Dee wrote it down:

O you heuens which dwell in the First Ayre, the mightie in the partes of the Erth, and execute the Iudgment of the Highest! To you it is sayd, Beholde the face of your God, the begynning of cumfort, whose eyes are the brightnes of the hevens: which prouided you for the gouernment of the Erth and her vnspeakable varietie, furnishing you wth a powr vnderstand to dispose all things according to the providence of Him that sitteth on the Holy Throne, and rose vp in the begynning, saying: the Earth let her be gouerned by her parts and let there be diuision in her, that the glory of hir may be allwayes drunken and vexed in it self. Her course, let it ronne wth the hevens, and as a handmayd let her serve them. One season let it confownd an other, and let there be no creature vppon or within her the same: all her members let them differ in their qualities, and let there be no one creature aequall wth an other: the reasonable Creatures of the Erth let them vex and weede out one an other, and the dwelling places let them forget thier names: the work of man, and his pomp, let them be defaced: his buyldings let them become caves for the beasts of the feeld. Confownd her vnderstanding with darknes. For why? It repenteth me I made Man. One while let her be known and an other while a stranger: bycause she is the bed of a Harlot, and the dwelling place of Him that is Faln. O you heuens arrise: the lower heuens vnder neath you, let them serve you! Gouern those that govern: cast down such as fall! Bring furth with those that encrease, and destroy the rotten! No place let it remayne in one number: ad and diminish vntill the stars be numbred!

Arrise, Move, and Appere before the Couenant of his mowth, which he hath sworne vnto vs in his Iustice. Open the Mysteries of your Creation: and make vs partakers of Vndefyled Knowledg.

The sentence “It repenteth me I made Man” links us directly to 1 Enoch and the first cleansing of the world; it refers to Genesis 6:7:

And the LORD said, I will destroy man whom I have created from the face of the earth; both man, and beast, and the creeping thing, and the fowls of the air; for it repenteth me that I have made them.

The 19th Call is genuinely horrible. For example “the reasonable creatures of the Earth let them vex and weed out one another …”. This is God deciding to throw His Toyes out of the pram. The sentence “Confound her understanding with darkness” echoes another resonant part of the Bible, the story of the Tower of Babel in Genesis. The story begins with the people united in speech and purpose, and God sees this:

And the Lord said, Behold, the people is one, and they have all one language; and this they begin to do: and now nothing will be restrained from them, which they have imagined to do. Go to, let us go down, and there confound their language, that they may not understand one another’s speech.

So the Lord scattered them abroad from thence upon the face of all the earth: and they left off to build the city. Therefore is the name of it called Babel; because the Lord did there confound the language of all the earth: and from thence did the Lord scatter them abroad upon the face of all the earth.

This is horrible. One can easily understand why many gnostic sects depicted the OT God as an evil tyrant, a false God, an abomination. And here is the thing about the system of Dee and Kelly; it is absolutely saturated with a gnostic sensibility, even down to the details. In the authentically gnostic Secret Book of John the demonic creator is called Ialdebaot. No plausible etymology for this exists. In the angelic (’Enochian’) language communicated by the angels to Dee and Kelly ‘Iad Baltoh’ means ‘God of Righteousness’. Inexplicable. Weird. Did Kelly at some point happen upon the works of Church heresiologists Irenaeus and Hippolytus? We will never know.

As a companion to my thinking I have been reading two books. The first is Tetragrammaton by Donald Tyson and the second is The Angelical Language, Volume I: The Complete History and Mythos of the Tongue of Angels by Aaron Leitch. For overall background context these are the two books I go to. Too many works on Dee and Kelly fail to look at the overall context for their thought, especially the Bible, and the Book of Revelation, and other works such as 2 Esdras. Tyson and Leitch between them have done a lot of homework. My problem with both books (and I do not wish to seem critical, because these are worthwhile explorations of the Angelic communications) is that they are too quick to shoehorn the communications into an existing interpretational framework. Both spent an interminable amount of time ‘explaining’ what the text means, based on extremely fragile assumptions.

For myself I would like to see a more linguistic and textual approach to the entire communications, not just the obviously esoteric parts. The angels employ patterns of speech and textual references that I find fascinating but largely unexplored. I enjoy reading the original handwritten transcripts (especially the later Causabon material) because the angels have a distinctive character that deserves to be listened to more carefully.