de Laat (2020 Congress)

Sanne de Laat
(English Department, Radboud University Nijmegen)

“Seeing the Whole Picture:
Scryers and Their Networks in Medieval and Early Modern England”

Abstract of Paper for the 55th International Congress on Medieval Studies [CANCELLED]
(Kalamazoo, 2020)

Rescheduled for the 56th International Congress on Medieval Studies
(Kalamazoo, 2021)

Session I of II on
“Revealing the Unknown”
Part I: “Scryers and Scrying in the Middle Ages and Early Modern Period”

Sponsored by the Research Group on Manuscript Evidence and the Societas Magica
Organized by Sanne de Laat and László Sándor Chardonnens

(Session Rescheduled from the 2020 Congress and partly Rearranged for the 2021 Congress)
2020 Congress Program
2021 Congress Program Announced



[Published on 22 March 2020, revised on 14 April 2021 to reflect further work]

While most people are familiar with the scryer Edward Kelley and will be able to tell anyone that he worked for John Dee, less is known about the relationships Kelley built for himself. The same goes for the brief but intense contact the scryer John Davis had with Adrian and Humphrey Gilbert and Walter Raleigh, and the relationship between the scryer Stephen Mitchell and Simon Forman. Although all three started their careers as scryers for specific patrons, they eventually moved on to other positions. In doing so, they employed their master’s connections to other influential members of society to create their own network and further their own careers. They left their initial position as scryer, which like other types of magic can be seen as a high-risk-high-gain career, and moved on to navigation, privateering, and alchemy, with the ups and downs associated to high-risk-high-gain careers in general.

This paper shows the connections between three early modern scryers and their employment of their master’s connections to further their own career. The paper will show that their careers were similar to some degree even though they did not end up in exactly the same position, and it will show that scrying was a gift that separated the scryer from other magic practitioners and enabled them to move on to other equally high-risk-high-gain careers such as navigation or seafaring, privateering, or alchemy.