I have always been fascinated by the 16th century tale of Dr. John Dee and the Alchemist Edward Kelly (not to be confused with the Camberwell tutor of the same name!) and their seven year obsession with ‘conversing with Angels’ in an ancient Enochian language that both lead them through dark portals and ultimately their own downfall. Channel 4 featured a program on it in 2002 . and in a recent online lecture on this course the Dean of Camberwell touched on it when mentioning a failed project and seeing John Dee’s obsidian scrying mirror in the British museum.
Obsidian is a naturally occurring black glass and has been used throughout the ages by many cultures, John Dee used it in his translucent ‘scrying mirror’ in conjuncture with his ‘crystal gazers’ to attempt to foretell the future. Many black surfaces can be used for scrying, even dark water.
Charlie Brooker created the TV series ‘Black Mirror’ . which is set in the very near future. It examines through speculative fiction, contemporary society and the unanticapted consquences of new technologies. The term Black Mirror refers to the shiny black screen of our tablet and mobile devices.
I see a parallel in Dee’s 16th century scrying interfaces and present day Virtual reality (VR). Imagine Dee the ‘intelligencer’ or seeker of knowledge with his dubious sidekick Kelly donning Oculus Rift Headsets and immersing themselves in the ‘magic of presence’. Conceptually, both are considered parallel worlds to ours. One is created visually within the mind, the other digitally created and immersive.
Maybe I am reaching here…VR used as some means of digital prophecy? the headset surplanting the crystal gazer of old? but both Dee’s journeys into other realms and the Rift’s advanced display technology combined with its precise, low-latency constellation tracking system enables the sensation of presence – the feeling as though you’re actually there. Both the scrying Mirror and the Rift headsets have as objects/divine interfaces an otherworldly ritualistic quality to them.
As Oculus say on their own website….”The magic of presence changes everything” .