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The Astronomer's Mirror

The Astronomer's Mirror
Above: A 16th century portrait of John Dee

John Dee, the polymath and advisor to Elizabeth I, bridged the gap between science and magic. In the late 16th century, he travelled in the circles of astronomy and chemistry as well as occult and alchemical philosophy, helping to define the field of science at the earliest stages of its emergence.

The British Museum, which owns several items of Dee's collection, has completed a study on a peculiar relic, the obsidian spirit mirror. Later in life, Dee was obsessed with speaking with otherworldly forces; this mirror was said to have the divination power to allow communication with fantastical beings. This item is quite similar to Aztec glass found an ocean away, which was thought to be used to speak to the dead.

John Dee's Obsidian Mirror
Above: The mirror in question! Though it looks matte in this photograph, the glass is actually quite reflective and appears not unlike a modern phone screen. Wonder who he was calling with this!

With the use of X-ray technology, the museum determined that the chemical make up of the obsidian in Dee's glass actually matches obsidian found in Mexico, confirming this connection isn't coincidence. It's likely that Dee, who's interest in the Americas is well known, wished to collect and study this item for himself, fascinated with the cultures of the New World. We can't help but see a bit of ourselves in Dee, as a fellow scientist and collector. You can read more about Dee and his mirror in this great article from the Smithsonian!
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