Monas Hieroglyphica

Monas Hieroglyphica-John Dee 1564
Monas Hieroglyphica-John Dee 1564

In many respects the brilliant but baffling Dr John Dee is the archetypal Renaissance man and magus. Mathematician, astronomer, expert in navigation, advisor to Queen Elizabeth I and the man credited with coining the term ‘British Empire’, Dee was also a very serious magician and occult philosopher who devoted much of his life to the study of astrology, alchemy, divination and the summoning of angels.

In 1564 Dee published his enigmatic treatise on the Monas Hieroglyphica, a symbol of his own design meant to express the mystical unity of all creation. The text was probably devised as a brief introduction to symbolic language; after piquing the learned reader’s interest Dee would presumably then offer to provide personal tutelage on the subject.

The glyph makes an appearance in one of the founding documents of the Rosicrucians, the alchemical allegory The Chymical Wedding of Christian Rosenkreutz. Quite how it ended up there is explored in detail in Francis Yates’s fascinating The Rosicrucian Enlightenment.

Above is the frontispiece to an early edition published in Antwerp. Below are selected images of the glyph from the treatise, as well as John Coulthart’s stunning variation of the Monas Hieroglyphica.

I will leave you with concluding words of the treatise, which could really serve as the guiding maxim for all alchemical/esoteric literature.

Here the vulgar eye will see nothing but Obscurity and will despair considerably.


24 thoughts on “Monas Hieroglyphica

      1. I am no Renaissance genius like Dr Dee so I do know pretend to know. What I can glean though is that the glyph combines symbols for the moon (the horns at the top) the sun (circle) elementals then fire at the bottom. It purposely resembles a human being (or demon with those horns) so you have a macrocosm/microcosm. The universe is reflected in man and man is reflected in the universe. As above, so below. Translations of the text can be found online. A very strange and enigmatic work.

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      2. I might write more on the good Doctor, though a lot has been written already by others but a little bit wouldn’t hurt. The Renaissance has a coherent worldview by and large, not our modern interpretation but a worldview nevertheless.

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  1. What an impressive resume. Obviously a brilliant and imaginative man. The last image is quite beautiful. I like how the repeating symbol forms such an intricate design. Thanks for giving us a glimpse

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    1. You could say that they don’t make them like that anymore but really such figures are a rarity during any age. The last figure is Mr Coulthart’s rendition of the glyph into a mandala. It is excellent.

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