He proved a distinctly idiosyncratic occultist who attempted to provide his readers with universal secrets bequeathed by the ancient mystery schools down to the London bookseller stalls where he plied his wares. Such a mysterious and fascinating figure necessarily invites comment. Ezra Pound’s provided a vivid description of Heydon in his Canto III : “Another's a half-cracked fellow—John Heydon, Worker of miracles, dealer in levitation, In thoughts upon pure form, in alchemy, Seer of pretty visions ("servant of God and secretary of nature"); Full of plaintive charm, like Botticelli's, With half-transparent forms, lacking the vigor of gods.” Perhaps it can be said that Heydon serves as a stock figure within British literary traditions for the Rosicrucian obscurantist alchemist out of the past. Certainly his own adumbrated persona in his work gives great strength to this perception.
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Throughout all of Heydon’s esoteric works, this theme of ancient perennialist wisdom continually resurfaces. However, it appears most strongly in his magnum opus, the Theomagia, or the Temple of Wisdom in Three Parts (1664 A.D). As befits its grand title, it offered its readers entree into a celestial temple of divine knowledge. Similarly to the preface of Heinrich Khunrath’s Amphitheatrum (1595), it began by promising hidden wisdom for those capable of accessing it and also attempted to legitimize such revelations via an imaginative intellectual genealogy. Heydon also buttressed his extravagant claims with contributory prefaces by several of his close bookseller friends. Occupying the lower rungs of Royalist polemics and frequently offered esoteric tracts for purchase, they all elaborately praised the genius and perceptive sensibilities of Theomagia’s author. Heydon then continued with a lengthy preface written by himself in which he claims that the following pages offered secret Rosicrucian wisdom transmitted from the priests of pharaonic Thebes down to the Oracle of Delphi and further. Such ancient wisdom possessed secret knowledge including sacred talismans in order to harness this power.
Heydon immediately began by offering his readers secret gnosis according to Rosicrucian beliefs. Depicting an imaginative cosmology, Heydon described primordial Chaos as made up of the bodies of wicked fallen angels while God created the earth amidst the chaotic Void. The Earth is divided into twelve equal parts. Then, the four elements are created which influence subsequent practices within Theomagia. Likewise, the four points of North, South, East and West are emphasized to indicate divine symmetry. For the arcane knowledge of projection to work, four pinpricks, cuts or stars must be made four times for each of the four elements; thereby creating a total of sixteen and thus paralleling the world’s ordering. When this is completed, the mage will order the lines into specific patterns within his left and right hand. Such ordering will allow him to penetrate hidden realms. Heydon then continues within his next chapter with a more practical directive, which is to influence witnesses and judges. Similarly marked lines are arranged in specific patterns with categories marked for multiple witnesses. Also speaks of Genii as providing the authority behind such augury.
There are seven divine rulers of the earth, with twelve Genii subservient to them and sixteen figures representing them. Therefore, Barzabel corresponds to Malchidael and Ambriel, Taphthartharath corresponds to Ambriel and Muriel, Kedemel corresponds to Zuriel and Barchiel, et cetera. Heydon’s cosmogony is precisely intended to legitimate his treatise by providing links to supernatural beings. Thus these angelic names support his claims of gnosis. Each being also possesses specific qualities and may be supplicated by certain people. Their influence also extends into the animal and natural world with protector animals and plants including mandrake root. Heydon explicates each divine ruler, their Genii and individual properties including Zasael and Hismael. Interestingly, one of the divine rulers is female, “Kedemel, Rosicrucians say is Lady of the second and seventh houses of the earth” Being of different sex, this entity affords special protection to wives and virgins. The practicing occultist must therefore know each divine ruler and their properties in order to appeal to the best figure for his purposes.
Noting their appearances in Hebrew, Egyptian and Persian sources, he claims such talismans are Holy Writ and owe to power to divine authority. Theomagia’s magic owes itself only to primordial wisdom communicated from God rather than from fallen angels. The magic power of talismans continued down the ages as chronicled in his unique mythology. He observed that in ancient Egypt the breaking of talismans in the form of a rat or serpent would result in infestations of these vermin. Evoking the Levitical Nehustan, he then discussed the Turks breaking a great serpent talisman after the 1453 A.D. fall of Constantinople. Such talismanic properties avert calamities and therefore must be used judiciously. In Theomagia, Heydon also assigned specific talismans to different civilizations for their respective magical workings. Referencing the Hebrew Tetragrammaton, he also discusses the ancient Egyptian, Persian and Greek magical letterings. Interestingly, he mentions the sacred writings of ancient China but states that they are far too ancient and mysterious for his knowledge.
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Theomagia’s second book begins with recommendations on how to properly question Genii. Firstly, it proves advantageous if the supplicant be handsome, in good health and possessed of clear features. If a child is to be used as an intermediary, the child must be innocent and well-fashioned. Additionally the figures of the witnesses and judges must be properly positioned during the casting of spells in order to elicit the best possible response from the powers entreated. Book Two provided elaborate descriptions of the rewards to be obtained by appealing to the Celestial Figures. Such entreaties will endow the supplicant with riches, wisdom, beauty and higher states of being. Supplicants may entreat the Celestial Figures either on behalf of themselves as individuals or for their respective cities and states. Also, the figures must be appealed to on the basis of family, clan or dynasty. Questions that may be asked span both the practical and the esoteric and included the buying or selling of land, turning the course of rivers, finding buried treasure in the ground and of dynastic politics. Additionally, different celestial figures may be supplicated for medical reason, i.e. the fifth figure can be asked to ensure the health of children within the family. Perhaps the ninth Celestial Figure proved the most intriguing because it connects Heydon’s occultist writings with the political and cultural turmoil of his era. The Ninth House may be supplicated with the questions and demands on ‘Temple, Church, Chapel, Monastery or Hermitage’. Also, it concerns the activities of clerics or any religious persons, their surplices, Divine Services and benefices.
Heydon’s magic allowed the practitioner to foretell whether such clerical applicants may receive certain parishes, benefices and bishoprics; no doubt very useful to those Anglican clergy daring enough to read him. The Ninth figure may additionally be entreated as to the nature of oneiric visions and whether they be significant in one’s life. Perhaps most revealingly, the figures may be asked if ‘Presbytery shall stand, if Independency shall stand, if Anabaptistry shall prosper or not, If Episcopacy shall rise again’, which Heydon describes as the honest Protestant religion and if the supplicant shall obtain the Philosopher’s Stone. Such a mixture between defense of Anglican and alchemical experiments is a uniquely Heydonian combination. Throughout the Second Book, which is far shorter than the First, Heydon wove his politics into his esoteric guides. One can only surmise as to nature of his particular readership. It proves a theoretical possibility that certain members of the Anglican clergy read Heydon’s work out of curiosity. Heydon’s works found favour within both royalist circles and curious half- educated people easily overawed by Heydon’s claimed wisdom and ready references to transmitted Eastern wisdom to support High Church politics. Heydon continued this theme within the Third Book of Theomagia, which can be appropriately described as both palimpsestic and conclusive for this remarkable work.
The figure of John Heydon (1629-1667 A.D.) within English Rosicrucianism is a complicated one with competing claims and counter-narratives. His few chroniclers are tasked with the intensive work of parsing those few verifiable biographical facts from overlaid layers of deceit, exaggeration and outright falsehoods.
Theomagia defended the monarchy based upon current notions of sacral royalty but using texts empathizing mystical kingly powers. As scholars, we must consider the full aspects of holy kingship through such works as Theomagia. That Heydon believed it vital to include an extensive defense of the throne within this text illustrates a profound conviction he professed during the tumultuous years in which he lived. For him, a king must be a perfect man, radiant and splendid before the Altar of God. Although William Laud would have willingly accused Heydon of demonolatry because of his writings on Celestial Figures, their words on Charles’s kingship often echo one another. Heydon’s work is the product of a remarkably unique mind and one steeped in both esoteric and monarchist discourses of his age. Despite his lack of connection to Continental Rosicrucian elements, his works proffer similar access to secret knowledge. However, they must be understand as imitative, plagiaristic offshoots of English Rosicrucian tracts. For the curious reader, true Rosicrucian traditions reside within German intellectual history. There, Rosicrucian literature exists in its purest form along with manifold initiatic traditions.
Although later Eighteenth-century German Rosicrucianism must not be exclusively read within a Gegenaufklärung tradition; there exist distinct elements which are distinctly part of this intellectual Obscurantist corpus. Such works emphasize initiation, hierarchy and mysticism along with typically monarchist and reactionary politics. Later edited collections of original Rosicrucian documents such Ignaz Fessier’s Rosenkreuzerey (1805) and J.J.C. Bode’s Starke Erweise aus den eigenen Schriften des hochheiligen Ordens Gold- und Rosenkreuzer (1788) provide verifiable information on authentic beliefs. Additionally, compiled histories including Ludwig Abafi’s Geschichte der Freimaurerei in Oesterreich-Ungarn, I-V. (1890-99) and Hans Schick’s Das ältere Rosenkreuzertum; ein Beitrag zur Entstehungsgeschichte der Freimaurerei (1942) offer historical analysis of early Rosicrucian organisation and practices. However, Heydon’s work represents a bastardisation of early Rosicrucian thought and reflect the author’s qualities. There exists very little within them that can be described as belonging to Rosicrucian literature. He attracts curiosity for antiquarian reasons but researchers interested in both Rosicrucianism’s genesis and qualities must consult the extant German texts in order to fully understand it as an intellectual and cultural phenomenon.
Bloch, Marc. The Royal Touch: Sacred Monarchy and Scrofula in England and France. London: Routledge & K. Paul, 1973.
Heydon, John. Theomagia, or, The Temple of Wisdome In Three Parts, Spiritual, Celestial, and Elemental : Containing the Occult Powers of the Angels of Astromancy in the Telesmatical Sculpture of the Persians and Ægyptians : the Mysterious Vertues of the Characters of the Stars ... the Knowledge of the Rosie Crucian Physick, and the Miraculous Secrets in Nature. London: Printed by T.M. for Henry Brome ... and for Tho. Rooks, 1663.
Heydon, John, and Frederick Talbot. The Wise-Mans Crown, or, The Glory of the Rosie-Cross Shewing the Wonderful Power of Nature, with the Full Discovery of the True Cœlum Terræ, or First Matter of Metals, and Their Preparations into Incredible Medicines or Elixirs That Cure All Diseases in Young or Old : with the Regio Lucis, and Holy Houshold of Rosie Crucian Philosophers. London: Printed for the author, and are to be sold by Samuel Speed, 1664.
Hani, Jean. Sacred royalty: from the pharaoh to the most Christian king. London: Matheson Trust, 2011.
Horton, Fred L. The Melchizedek Tradition: A Critical Examination of the Sources to the Fifth Century A.D. and in the Epistle to the Hebrews. Cambridge [England]: Cambridge University Press, 1976.
McIntosh, Christopher. The Rosicrucians: The History, Mythology, and Rituals of an Esoteric Order. York Beach, Me: S. Weiser, 1997.
McIntosh, Christopher. The Rose Cross and the Age of Reason: Eighteenth-Century Rosicrucianism in Central Europe and Its Relationship to the Enlightenment. 1992.
Waite, Arthur Edward. The Brotherhood of the Rosy Cross, Being Records of the House of the Holy Spirit in Its Inward and Outward History. London: William Rider & Son Ltd., 1924.