Mirrors are some of the most wonderful and mysterious objects. Hence, supernatural powers have sometimes been attributed to them in the literary world. Of the “mirror Mirror” from ‘Snow White and the Seven Dwarves’ narrated by the Brothers Grimm until the decadence of an Oscar Wilde who sought to be eternally young, the reflection they return can serve as a perfect metaphor to illustrate themes such as narcissism or, in a more magical sense, the door to other enchanted worlds where everything is possible (as in ‘Alice through the mirror’ from Lewis Carroll). Not surprisingly, prominent historical figures who advised great kings and princes made use of mirrors to exploit powers that at that time could seem supernatural. John Dee, advisor and right-hand man to Queen Elizabeth I of England, was one of them.
Son of the Renaissance (born in the first half of the 16th century), Dee dedicated most of his life to study of mathematics, stars and alchemy. It is easy to intuit that at that time, as there were not so many scientific certainties, the borders between science and superstition were much weaker, hence the emergence of scholars who combined both worlds, producing notable advances in the scientific field, but also proclaiming themselves bearers of abilities. supernaturals that escaped logic.
Dee claimed that the mirror had magical properties and the archangel Uriel had given it to him with instructions to turn it into a philosopher’s stone.
Dee could be, establishing a resemblance to the world of tales, one of Queen Elizabeth I’s trusted ‘Merlines’, an extremely important actor in the life of the palace, as well as an introducer of some transcendental concepts in the history of England, such as the ‘British Empire’, as collected ‘The Oxford History of British Empire’ from the historian Nicholas Canny. And, among other feats, he is also known in the world of English historiography for having been involved in magic and the occult thanks to a mirror through which he claimed to communicate with spirits from beyond.
An Aztec mirror to speak with spirits
A recent study, published this month in the academic journal ‘Antiquity‘, has analyzed the chemical composition of the obsidian mirror that Dee used to supposedly speak with ghosts, discovering by surprise its Aztec origin through a geochemical analysis of the piece. The researchers demonstrated that it was a type of volcanic glass from the Mexican region of Pachuca, one of the largest areas of extraction of this igneous rock, which suggests that the alchemist acquired the mirror after it was brought from the New World to Europe.
According to research by the Royal College of Physicians from London, Dee claimed that this object with magical properties had been given to him by the archangel Uriel tied to a chain and with instructions to turn it into a philosopher’s stone, the magic object par excellence of the alchemists, the one who was capable of granting its possessor immortality and transforming metals into gold. The British Museum in London currently exhibits the royal advisor’s obsidian mirror, which weighs 882 grams exactly.
The mirrors of this volcanic material were very common in the Aztec civilization. The Codex Tepetlaoztoc, a set of manuscripts and documents on the Mayan culture collected and copied by the Lord Kingsborough In the 19th century, it includes some drawings of this type of mirrors very similar to John Dee’s. We can access the interior of this codex thanks to a link on the official website of the British Museum. According to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, obsidian mirrors were used by the Aztecs to divine the future or to perform religious rituals, as they were associated to the god Tezcatlipoca (“smoking mirror” in Nahuatl language).
“He was the one who set the coronation date of the queen, in addition to tirelessly encouraging her in the attempt of territorial expansion through navigation”
“At the beginning of the 16th century, the obsidian mirrors that the Aztecs made had a specific cultural context with a set of very specific cultural meanings in the Aztec Empire,” he says. Stuart Campbell, the lead author of the study, in statements collected by ‘Live Science’. “When the colonizers brought them to Europe they also carried the idea that mirrors could be used to divine the future or contact other unknown worlds. “
Scientist and father of the British Empire
As we said, Dee is one of the most important historical figures of 16th century England. One of his intellectual references in the field of astronomy, a discipline that he devoted his entire life to studying, was Copernicus, the father of modern astronomy and heliocentric theories, who established the idea that the Earth revolved around the Sun in his book ‘Copernicus‘against the science of the time. Hence, the alchemist and right hand of Elizabeth I implemented the heliocentric ideas to the British conquest. from other continents by sea, becoming an expert in navigation. According Clara Diaz Pascual, Spanish historian, John Dee “he trained a large number of sailors who later became explorers”, as he assures in an interesting entry on his history blog ‘Onboard diary’.
Who would have told him that, so many centuries later, the spirits he was supposedly speaking to through his mirror ‘were’ actually Aztecs
“When Elizabeth I ascended the throne in 1558, Dee became his advisor, both for scientific and astrological matters, and indirectly, political “, says Díaz Pascual. “He was the one who set the date of the queen’s coronation, always in accordance with the stars, in addition to tirelessly encouraging her in the attempt to expand territorially through navigation.” This is how he wrote the ‘General and rare memorials pertayning to the Perfect Art of Navigation’ in 1576, the first volume detailing British colonization plans.
His acceptance of the heliocentric theories of Copernicus led him to design the Northwest Passage, a maritime route that at that time had not been demonstrated, which linked the Pacific and Atlantic oceans through the Davis and Bering Straits. “The possibility of accessing this pass, considered almost legendary, was one of the main objectives of maritime explorers for centuries, especially during the 16th century, moment when the other possible routes, between Europe and China, that bordered the south of America or Africa, they were dominated exclusively by the armies of Spain and Portugal “, explains the historian on her blog.
Álvaro Van den Brule
It was not until several centuries later that the English finally completed this sea route. In 1817, “the British government offered a reward of £ 20,000 to whoever found the way “, Díaz Pascual continues. “Many unsuccessful expeditions were organized, undoubtedly the most tragic being the one led by Sir John Franklin in 1845, from which none of the components survived.” As early as 1851, it was Sir Robert McClure who discovered the Northwest Passage, realizing that it was not navigable and having to bet on another route, the one discovered by John Rae three years later. John Dee, obviously, did not live to see his imperialist and geographical ideas embodied. Who would say that, so many centuries later, the spirits he supposedly spoke to through his mirror and revealed so many secrets about the world and science, they were actually Aztecs.