The more I read about John Dee, the more he makes me think -- despite the obvious and substantial differences -- of Joseph Smith. Consider for example, this passage from William Henry Davenport Adams's Dwellers on the Threshold: Or, Magic and Magicians (1865):
[I]n November, 1582, while on his knees and fervently praying, he became aware of a sudden glory which filled the west window of his laboratory, and in whose midst shone the bright angel Uriel. It was impossible for Dee to speak. His tongue was frozen with awe. But Uriel smiled benignly upon him, gave him a convex piece of crystal, and told him that when he wished to communicate with the beings of another world he had but to examine it intently, and they would immediately appear and reveal the mysteries of the future. Then the angel vanished.
And compare it with Joseph Smith's familiar (to Mormons) story of the visitation of the Angel Moroni.
[O]n the evening of the above-mentioned twenty-first of September, after I had retired to my bed for the night, I betook myself to prayer and supplication to Almighty God for forgiveness of all my sins and follies, and also for a manifestation to me, that I might know of my state and standing before him; for I had full confidence in obtaining a divine manifestation, as I previously had one.While I was thus in the act of calling upon God, I discovered a light appearing in my room, which continued to increase until the room was lighter than at noonday, when immediately a personage appeared at my bedside, standing in the air, for his feet did not touch the floor. . . . Not only was his robe exceedingly white, but his whole person was glorious beyond description, and his countenance truly like lightning. The room was exceedingly light, but not so very bright as immediately around his person. When I first looked upon him, I was afraid; but the fear soon left me.He called me by name, and said unto me that he was a messenger sent from the presence of God to me, and that his name was Moroni; that God had a work for me to do . . . . He said there was a book deposited, written upon gold plates, giving an account of the former inhabitants of this continent, and the source from whence they sprang. He also said that the fulness of the everlasting Gospel was contained in it, as delivered by the Savior to the ancient inhabitants;Also, that there were two stones in silver bows—and these stones, fastened to a breastplate, constituted what is called the Urim and Thummim—deposited with the plates; and the possession and use of these stones were what constituted “seers” in ancient or former times; and that God had prepared them for the purpose of translating the book.
Elsewhere Smith describes these stones as transparent crystals, fastened together like the lenses of a pair of spectacles.
Like Smith, who sometimes used this crystalline "Urim and Thummim" and sometimes "seer stones" found by non-miraculous means, Dee used various "shew-stones" of terrestrial origin as well as the one given him by Uriel. Like Smith, he used them both for religious purposes (communication with angels) and for treasure-hunting. Both men used their miraculous stones to produce works of staggering complexity under circumstances that make it almost impossible to believe that the revelations could have been faked. Both produced a few specific prophecies that were later borne out by real-world events.
(At one point in my research, I adapted one of Dee's own methods and attempted to contact the spirit Madimi because, well, I'm just sort of reckless like that. I received a three-word message in English: "NOT A TOY." Okay, point taken. Don't try this at home, kids.)
Both men gravitated to the name Enoch. The term Enochian is synonymous with Dee's occult work; Smith, for his part, wrote extensively about the biblical patriarch Enoch and sometimes used Enoch as a code name for himself. Dee's highly complex but pretty obviously fake "Enochian language" finds its counterpart in Joseph Smith's similarly complex-but-bogus Grammar and Alphabet of the Egyptian Language.
Most disturbingly, both Dee and Smith were eventually commanded by the angels to engage in scandalous marital irregularities. Dee and Kelley were ordered by Madimi to share their wives with each other in a system called "cross-matching"; while Smith for his part took thirty-some secret "plural wives," some of whom were already married to other men, claiming that he had been forced to do so by an angel with a drawn sword. Both men loved their wives and professed deep reluctance to practice polygamy, both were threatened by the angels with horrible consequences if they refused, and both used the rationalization that what God forbade in general terms he might nevertheless command in a particular instance, as when Abraham was commanded to murder Isaac. Neither Dee nor Smith had any children with anyone but his legal wife, leading some interpreters of each man to speculate that the polygamous matches were never actually consummated.
(When I first heard of Dee and Kelley's "cross-matching," my immediate reaction was that it proved that whatever spirits they may have been in communication with were obviously not good ones. Only later did I realize that I was holding them to a much higher moral standard than Joseph Smith.)
Dee is in many ways an easier character to come to terms with than Joseph Smith, because of the former's partnership with Edward Kelley. It is temptingly easy to ascribe all the negative or unsettling aspects of his life and work to the disreputable Kelley (correctly recognized as a kindred spirit by Aleister Crowley) and to see Dee as a good and godly (if somewhat gullible) man whose only real flaw was the company he kept. In Smith, aspects of Dee and Kelley are united in a single individual, removing that easy option from the table.
Dee is also easier to deal with because in the end it just doesn't matter that much whether he was in contact with angels or devils or only his own imagination. He's just some random historical figure. There is no "Dee-ism," no Dee-derived doctrine and way of life which we must choose to engage with or reject. The fact is, for all Dee's great piety and erudition, he was nowhere near the philosopher and theologian that Joseph Smith was. For all his superficial otherworldliness, Dee was fundamentally a secular man with secular interests; even when he believed himself to be in communication with the very angels of God, he remained focused on such mundane questions as what the Spanish were up to and how base metals might be transmuted into gold.
What, then, is to be made of the many parallels between the two men? That Smith -- separated from the world of Dee by two centuries, the Atlantic Ocean, and a near-complete lack of education -- could have been directly influenced by his Elizabethan predecessor seems exceedingly unlikely. Why, then, all the similarities -- the angels, the seer stones, the hokey "revealed" languages, the Enochian affinities, the angel-enforced polygamy? Is it evidence that the two men, despite their vast differences, were in contact with the same objective (if maddeningly ambiguous!) spiritual reality? I don't know, but I think it's an interesting question to ask.