Mirror

Posted by on Apr 5, 2014

 

John Dee by an unknown artist, 16th century (Ashmolean Museum, Oxford)

 

Though he is too often remembered chiefly as a quack and/or a fool, Dr. John Dee is one of the more astonishing men in English history. He was, as Kate says, “the greatest magus of the Elizabethan age. A brilliant mathematician, but also an astrologer, alchemist, conjuror of angels and demons. A man whose shadow stretched long and dark across the subject of the occult—and not only in the narrow sense of secrets. One of the foremost practitioners in England—indeed, in all Renaissance Europe—of learned magic.”

 

 

Dr. Dee’s scrying mirror is one of my favorite objects in the British Museum (along with the winged lion gates and the Sutton Hoo treasure). While I was writing Haunt Me Still, Kate was desperate to get into the British Museum to see it. Given the mirror’s Aztec origins, I dearly wanted to get her to Mexico City as well, but she refused to go. Characters have minds of their own. Perhaps in another book…

 

“The mirror may or may not be Dee’s, but it is most certainly Aztec.”

 

“Aztec?” I exclaimed.

 

“An attribute of the god Tezcatlipoca. Dark twin and eternal rival of the better-known Quetzalcoatl. The mirror is supposed to have been fixed to his leg after a sea monster bit off his foot in a titanic battle at the dawn of creation. The Aztecs believed the mirror worked two ways. Priests could see in it visions of whatever the god cared to show them — things near or far, past or present, or yet to come. But the god also used it as a window through which to gaze out at the world he had helped to create, watching the people he sometimes chose, on a whim, to destroy. Lord of the Smoking Mirror, his name means. God of poetry and jokes, he was. Sounds bright and beautiful, doesn’t it?” Her eyes twinkled with mischief. “But he was also the god of night and mockery, of disease and sorcery and death. The Enemy, he was called by those who worshipped him. The Trickster. The Spanish missionaries had another name for him: the Aztec Lucifer.”

 

“How did such a thing fall into Dee’s hands?” asked Eircheard, rolling along on the other side of Joanna.

 

She shrugged. “Nobody knows…. We know he had one. The question has always been, is it this one?”

 

Haunt Me Still

 

 

 

John Dee’s Scrying Mirror
Polished obsidian, Mexica (Aztec), 15th or 16th century
The British Museum, London

 

 




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