The Mapmaker, the Alchemist and the Island of Magnets: Rupes Nigra

Every child knows magnets are cool.

There’s an entire industry based on affixing the little bugger’s unending stream of artwork unto unsuspecting fridges.

There are, of course, a few other applications; MRIs, Superconductors, Particle Colliders…

And navigation.

Yes, magnets are cool, but there’s also something downright magical about them…


Sometime in what we call the 12th century A.D. (C.E. if you prefer), Chinese and Europeans made an important observation:

Loadstones (a nice descriptive term for magnets) always aligned themselves to Polaris, the North Star (incidentally linked with the Tantric Bodhisattva, Tara). Furthermore, any metal left in contact with a loadstone would acquire this ability, as well as the power to repel other magnets.

If the bug-bear of classical physics is Spooky Action at a Distance, here it was, with all the force of gravity (technically, a much greater force, but we’ll leave that for people who like numbers).

So what could possibly be attracting all of these Magnets North?

The answer was obvious:

It had to be a Big Magnet.


How Big, you ask?

33 miles wide.

Says who? you ask.

This guy:

Who’s that guy?

Geert de Kremer.

Yes, as in the Geert de Kremer.

Fine, you might know him better by his nom de plume, Gerardus Mercator.

If that doesn’t ring a bell, go look him up on a map.


For a man who barely traveled, he was the King of Maps.

And those lines on maps, the ones that navigators have been using for centuries to get around the globe – those lines are named after him.

Mercator gleaned his knowledge from books; it would be fair to say that he was a man of letters.

Enter an enigma: The Queen of England’s Magician; her ambassador, counselor and soothsayer, the Alchemist, John Dee.


John Dee deserves the volumes that have been devoted to his life and work; I would insult him to summarize him other than to note that no less than the World’s Most Infamous Beast, Aleister Crowley, claimed to have been Dee in a previous incarnation.

That’s fan service.

Asides from speaking with Angels (c.f. the Enochian language), scrying in Aztec Obsidian mirrors, necromancing with skulls, and spying on foreign dignitaries (perhaps the most mundane of his duties), Dee was a man of letters.

And it turns out that his interests – his very obscure* interests – were shared by one Geert de Kremer.

Their correspondences lasted over forty years, and one of them happens to pertain to an island called Rupes Nigra.

The Black Rock.

*[obscure being another word for

unseen, i.e. occult]


In the midst of the four countries is a Whirl-pool, into which there empty these four indrawing Seas which divide the North. And the water rushes round and descends into the Earth just as if one were pouring it through a filter funnel. It is four degrees wide on every side of the Pole, that is to say eight degrees altogether. Except that right under the Pole there lies a bare Rock in the midst of the Sea. Its circumference is almost 33 French miles, and it is all of magnetic Stone [Jacobus Cnoyen] years ago.

This was from a letter written by Mercator to Dee in 1577.

Are French miles bigger than other miles?

Are French miles better?

How do Freedom miles feel about this?

And are there conspiracy folks out there making a fuss about a giant magnetic black rock/ phantom island hiding at the North Pole?

Well, break out your tin-foil hats, because yes…though how the Nazi made their secret base up there we might never know…


So, what’s the take-away?

Personally, the idea makes perfect sense – but reality is fairly indifferent to human sensibilities.

Would I hang a map of the world with the Rupes Nigra on my wall?


Would I use it to fly across the world?

Probably not so much…

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