Meet Dion Fortune
Dion Fortune was an occultist the likes of which legends are made. Born in 1891 (some
say 1890) she participated in the modern revival of the magical arts, much of which she
learned, distilled, reformulated and brought forth anew in her own teachings. She was by
nature a dramatist with a penchant for deep thoughts, with that sensitive yet tough
character England often produces.
She studied with, taught or bumped horns with the most well-known occultists of our
century: MacGregor Mathers, Robert King, W.B. Yeats, Aleister Crowley, W.E. Butler, Gareth
Knight and Christine Hartley are but a few of the names associated with Dion
Fortunes remarkable path. And, of course, she wrote magical and occult books in both
fiction and non-fictional formats that give us a look into her world. Many have cloned her
work, some have done a better job of one or rarely two books, but few have come close in
communicating esoteric understanding.
Dion Fortune claimed, and others attested, that she was a natural psychic. She
possessed the gifts of clairvoyance and clairaudience along with the ability to read the
Akashic Records in a manner similar to that of Edgar Cayce. She also claimed to be able to
operate consciously on the etheric and astral planes and project her consciousness at
will. Like Madame Blavatsky of the Theosophists she also claimed to be in direct contact
with perfected beings who guided her work. There is little evidence to refute those
claims; many witnesses have attested to Dion Fortunes remarkable talents and the
extraordinary events that took place around her.
Unlike most mystics, Dion Fortune generally drew admiration from even those on
different paths for her integrity and revelations of life on both sides of the veil. Even
Aleister Crowley, widely acknowledged to be highly egotistical and downright abusive, was
known to admire her and sought unsuccessfully on several occasions to draw her into his
Who was Dion Fortune?
Born Violet Firth, she adopted the Anglicized version of her family motto as her
magical name. Deo non fortuna (God not fate) is an expression of her faith in an
Almighty Creator of the Universe with whom she seemed to have a personal relationship. A
student of the famous Golden Dawn mystical order, she formed her own group after a falling
out with Moina Mathers, ex-wife of Golden Dawn founder MacGregor Mathers.
The story of her life makes her seem larger than life, and perhaps she was. Those close
to her also told of her sense of humor, delight in simple fun, and her reactions to hard
times that say she suffered the very normal side of being human. She is revealed as quite
a character and a truly remarkable lady.
Getting to know people who lived a long time ago can be difficult. Fortunately, any of
several biographies can help you get to know this enigmatic figure. Alan Richardsons
Priestess is the best known and oft-quoted. Richardsons book was criticized
as sometimes poorly researched, something which Richardson sought purposely to correct in
a retitled version. Charles Fielding and Carr Collins's The Story of Dion Fortune
gives more of a magical view and has been criticized in some areas for too much of a
"true believer" stance. Most recently Janine Chapmans Quest for Dion
Fortune offers a more cozy and personalized perspective.
For a first-person view of Dion Fortune, the various writings of W.E. Butler and
Chapmans extensive interviews with Butler offer the only decently complete picture.
These are fleshed out by tidbits in Butlers own books, recalled from his many years
as one of her inner-circle pupils. Unfortunately, Butlers books are hard to find,
with only the posthumously produced Lords of Light readily available (through
publisher Samuel Weiser). Thankfully its well worth the read for a good many
reasons. Other pupils of Dion Fortune, such as Gareth Knight, have unfortunately not yet
shared their experiences in publication, but have carried on her work with many excellent
The Non-Fictional Works
Reading Dion Fortunes non-fiction gives the distinct impression that she and
Winston Churchill were cut from the same cloth. They seem two of that rare breed that can
dive into your pain, pull you out, help you heal while telling you to your face its
your own damn fault. Her matter-of-fact approach requires facing problems head-on rather
than avoiding them, apparently following that old axiom "crow is a dish best eaten
hot." No victim consciousness or "poor me" here; one doesnt have to
wonder what Dion Fortune would think of the modern American talk-show mentality.
If one book had to be singled out as her lifes work it would have to be The Mystical Qabalah. This work is encyclopedic in
scope, ranging from mundane observation to absolutely mystical insight into all aspects of
this complex topic. Every work on the topic written since (with the notable exception of
theology from universities and such) either borrows heavily or builds on the vast amount
of information and insight in Mystical Qabalah. While
intended for the serious student, anyone interested in Qabalah or
structure-of-the-Universe sorts of things really should look through it at least once.
Second on the non-fiction list would probably be Psychic
Self-Defense. Only a few rituals and such are included, letting the reader perhaps
think this book has been surpassed by later authors, but this turns out to be a mistaken
conclusion. Rather than deal with psychic defense simply do this ritual, burn a
candle of that color, say this exact prayer she takes the more complete approach of
rooting out the cause, then determining the proper method of approach. Then and only then
does she advocate going in with guns blazing. The method is always one of leading you ever
onward, not giving you pat answers but pointing you in the right direction and letting you
learn for yourself. As you may have discovered yourself, this approach leads to a much
more enlightened understanding than the memorization of color or scent charts.
Other non-fiction, such as Through the Gates of Death, have a much more confined focus.
While all the textbooks (as her non-fiction is sometimes called) have a broad
scope, Dion Fortune is able to restrict herself to the topic at hand, covering it with
sufficient insight to allow students to find useful tidbits the first and fiftieth times
through. It seems like the more times you read each book the more you get out of it.
What about the novels?
Her fiction, on the other hand, can be absolutely mind-blowing. Even sixty years later
the topics covered in her novels thrills the imagination. In the context of the European
post-Victorian 1920s and 30s they seem almost scandalous. No subject seems beyond her
experience: reincarnation, mystical astrology, Atlantis, secret societies, magical orders,
ancient mystery schools, astral planes, out-of-body experiences, crafting spells,
confronting vampires, psychic attack and self-defense all had part in her life as revealed
through her novels.
Dion Fortunes primary purpose in writing fiction was to pass magical knowledge to
a wide audience. While her novels are entertaining as simple fiction, the writing is
occasionally clunky where she inserts keys to greater knowledge. But these arent so
bothersome that they distract from the story. For the casual reader the occasional
soliloquy is acceptable; to the discerning eye the slightly off-kilter sentence is a
doorway to important aspects of psychology and occultism. In her later years she grew very
technically proficient as a writer and more subtly handled the teachings and
mini-lectures, but they are nonetheless there. In fact, her later books are better
approached as magical textbooks than as fiction, Moon Magic being perhaps the best
of these. But you will have to judge that for yourself.
Several topics appear in all of her novels. Especially prevalent is the notion that
perhaps Nature has it right -- a freed person is a happier, more fulfilled, more
productive person in the long run than one repressed and squeezed into a socially
acceptable mold. Foreshadowing todays literary landscape, Dion Fortunes novels
tend to feature strong, functional women helping wayward males more than the other way
around. In her view, men have the energy and women provide the purpose and direction, and
only in the marriage of the two can the best work be accomplished. "Marriage" is
viewed in its wider context, not simply that of a church-blessed union. Many of her novels
feature relationships between distinctly non-married couples who have no intention of
marriage. This must have raised many eyebrows in repressive post-Victorian England.
In particular, the Vivian Le Fay Morgan character is champion of the free feminine lifestyle. Vivian appears and controls two of the best novels, The
Sea Priestess and Moon Magic. It makes perfect sense that Dion Fortune,
arguably the strongest, most balanced of the female occult workers of her day and herself
divorced, would champion the cause of single women as effective people. Single women in her books are independent, making their own lives, though of course there are still romantic entanglements,
flowers by post and sometimes
weddings. Her leading men often begin as wimpy, frustrated or repressed characters who need a bit of unlimbering
before they come fully into their own, always of course with the help of a female needing
a bit of work herself.
Her early writing is punctuated with turn-of-the-century British colloquialisms, slang
and drawn-out explanations, all efforts to draw the reader into the story. These sometimes
leave the modern reader perplexed though their meanings can usually be deduced. The plots
feature well-developed characters finding extraordinary causes and resolutions to their
situations. As you read you get the distinct feeling that there is more than what is
printed on the page, intangible wisdom moving behind the words. And there is.
You also get the feeling that you know much of the material -- it is all so familiar
somehow. Perhaps this is because she succeeded in her lifes work of implanting the
seeds of magical thinking in the group mind of man. After all, a good deal of her own
energy and that of her group, the Society of the Inner Light, was directed toward this
purpose over many years. Judging by modern topics of conversation and the titles of new
books she had considerable success indeed.
A book-by-book look at the novels
The Secrets of Dr. Taverner
The Secrets of Dr. Taverner is a collection of short stories that can, and should,
be read somewhat independently from one another. A short introduction sets the required
general background: these are to be read as experiences she had, roughly fictionalized and
toned down from the real thing. In the intro she states that if she told the more
fantastic details one might be tempted to dismiss the stories. Toned down or not (as her
introduction claims) there is enough spice here for any thrill-seeker. The storyteller
speaks of his apprenticeship to the leader of the "Group of Seven,"
this leader working in the human world as a psychiatrist of no mean talent. The various
stories tell of souls exchanging bodies (not always willingly); of past lives bleeding
through into present reality; of dances with elemental kings and primal entities; of
astral hounds chasing men to their death; and finally of the storytellers meeting
with his own soul on a dark night. Toned down indeed -- what must the reality
have been like!
Dr. Taverner is a good example of Dion Fortunes books. Each story explores
occult, psychology and magical topics as they interplay with the life of one character and
those around him or her. Each story is a thesis on one aspect of life, with the entire
book composing a good all-around introduction into the work of the practicing occultist.
The stories portray the occult path as long and arduous work, definitely not for the faint
of heart or those seeking easy living. Unlike many modern New Age pundits Dion Fortune saw
the mystical path as one which passed through all veils of existence, good, bad and evil,
not just those of peaceful wishes and starry-eyed daydreams.
In Dr. Taverners world people face real problems which dont go away with a
simple meditation, haphazard banishing or pretty mental image -- quite the opposite
sometimes. One lady in a thinly disguised sanatorium turns out to be an ancient
upper-grade initiate who has gone astray, paying in the present life for misdeeds done in
the past. Rather than try to use her significant abilities to get off the hook
she incarnates in a paralyzed, debilitated body and must let go of the one man who loved
her in order to pay off an old karmic debt. Such a storyline is definitely "not
PC" in this day and age, but Dion Fortune thought this point significant enough to
warrant significant attention.
If you could give a friend only one of Dion Fortunes books this would be high on
the list with just a few caveats. It is definitely not for the squeamish; such people
would prefer the smooth style of Moon Magic. For those who like flashy story lines
and intriguing situations, or those with a shorter attention span or limited time, this
may be the best starter. If you tend to get hung up on the fantastic this book might give
the wrong impression, and it is hard to not walk away with the feeling that its all
a bit much. Once again much comes down to the perception of the reader. If youre
unsure start with Moon Magic and/or The Goat-Footed God for a more
believable yet still thrilling introduction.
The Winged Bull
Robert Bly, todays champion of unfulfilled manhood, could have taken his entire
line of thought from this novel complete with conclusion. Ted Murchison, an unemployed
ex-army soldier, wanders into the British Museum during one of those famous London fogs
and confronts the Babylonian Bull face to face. The resulting inner upheaval finds him
outside the Museum invoking Pan until he is fortuitiously interrupted by none other than
his retired army commander. Colonel Brangwyn turns out to be a lifelong student of the
mysteries and recognizes Murchison as an unfulfilled man, a character complete in times of
war but out of touch in gentler society. Brangwyn had been researching mystical knowledge
of the Cult of the Winged Bull with the help of his young and sensitive half-sister, who
of course is in a bit of a state herself.
Turns out the "research" required a man and a woman willing to commit to each
other for life. Brangwyn had located a suitable lover for Ursula named Fouldes. True to
form, Fouldes was vain and possessed of a weak character, and the resulting power went
straight to his head. As the story unfolds we find Fouldes giving Brangwyn fits as he
attempts to wrest control of Ursula away. Recognizing the inner strength and integrity of
Murchison, Brangwyn proposes taking up the work where it was left off, essentially
marrying Ursula and Murchison for the benefit of both. Ursula, lacking in decisiveness,
and Murchison, lacking in direction, find their completion and balance in one another
through a long series of interesting events.
This book highlights the male and female aspects of personality and the need for both
sexual poles in magical and psychological working. Completion and complementation are the
operative words in this novel, which relays vital information on the increase of magical
power and personal stability gained by the commitment of one man to one woman. As in The
Goat Foot God Dion Fortune points out that the resulting commitment is for life and is
not to be trivialized or scorned; no half-way measures here. The message is that there is
a universal basis behind basic morality, and while mankind may over the course of time
stray from this core of truth, the sources of magical power are not deceived. If one
desires access to universal power there are certain rules which need to be followed
regardless of the day, age or beliefs of the magician.
Like other Dion Fortune novels, The Winged Bull has an interesting history.
First published in 1935, the book went out of print after Dion Fortunes death.
Publisher Samuel Weiser brought the book out again in 1980, just in time for students of
occult power who were finding little of help in the sterile New Age offerings of that
time. The Winged Bull teaches there is only so much power one can bring down by
oneself; to really have a complete ritual one needs a well-matched partner of the opposite
The Demon Lover
The Demon Lover is perhaps the most "occult" of all the novels, ranking
only with The Secrets of Dr. Taverner for these honors. The dark side of occultism,
the human ego thinking only of itself, is revealed and explored to a remarkable degree.
Our heroine is Veronica Mainwaring, a naïve country girl who barely got through
secretarial school. Our dark anti-hero is Justin Lucas, young secretary to a secret occult
organization in the heart of London.
Lucas has been well trained in the occult arts by a wealthy mentor and now wants to use
his powers to get ahead in the world. His ambitions are at present being thwarted by his
society recognizing his egotism, he is denied advancement to the highest grades of
occult training. Young Veronica, innocent of innocents, is found to be an extremely
sensitive psychic, and Lucas uses her natural abilities to gain the secrets of power by
less than honest means. When his efforts are discovered he takes Veronica and flees to a
hidden country estate which he inherits by controlling the mind of a dying rich man and
forcing him to write a suitable will.
While in the country, the forces of Nature work through Veronica and win the heart of
Lucas, all well explained by the author. Shortly thereafter, the astral hunting hounds of
the London lodge find their prey, and Lucas is apparently killed by the use of the dark
ray of power. Or is he? After a short absence, he begins appearing to Veronica by using
some of her etheric substance to partially manifest on the physical plane. But of course
Veronica cannot provide enough energy, so Lucas shortly turns to blatant vampirism,
killing several children in the village for their energy. In a fascinating conclusion
which explores the realm between the physical world and the true world of the spirit,
Lucas redeems himself and is brought back to life in his exhumed physical body during a
ritual led by an apparently immortal being.
This book is definitely not for the squeamish, though it is also not to be avoided for
those aspects either. Many aspects of evolution, the dark side of the ego, psychism, the
world beyond the physical, and the nature of vampires, werewolves and wraiths are explored
in some detail. The ways of Nature are repeatedly stressed as the best ways, and the ways
of the egotistical man are shown to be inherently flawed. For those who intend to work
directly with the Powers and the Principalities this book is a must-read, not so much for
its evoking techniques (which are thankfully sparse) as for the descriptions of what
is required of the seeker. An honest measuring of oneself against the possible pitfalls
may help avert rather distasteful results.
The Goat Foot God
The Goat Foot God deals with the effects of both psychological repression and past
lives. Hugh Paston is the wealthy, depressed heir to a large tea company fortune.
Controlled by his family and lacking any spine whatsoever, he wanders into an old
bookstore shortly after his wife and her lover are killed in a car crash. There he meets
the reclusive T. Jelks, a failed priest who delights in the mental world while avoiding
the physical. Thanks to Hughs need for an ear and Jelks need for someone to
psychoanalyze the two become fast if improbable friends. The intrusion of an apparently
past life personality takes Hugh by surprise and provides the backdrop for the rest of the
story. Ambrosius, a medieval monk, was walled up in the cellar of his old priory for
practicing rituals dedicated to the Greek god Pan in the chapel of his remote priory.
Ambrosius gives Hugh a path to chase down and in true heroic fashion Hugh jumps in head
first with both feet. Hugh and Jelks decide it best to draw forth Ambrosius in an attempt
to fulfill his ancient desire. Hugh, having no lack of money and needing something useful
to do, decides to pursue Ambrosius in high style. The need for an interior designer gives
an excuse to introduce Mona Wilton, Jelks niece and general "cat on the
tiles", a footloose artistic type in both appearance and morals. Its a long and
interesting road, but eventually Mona and Hugh get to the bottom of their frustrated
selves to find fulfillment. Through the invocation of Pan the missing parts of their souls
are completed and they find completeness.
The Goat Foot God shows the many ways past life personalities can intrude on the
present. Dialogues between Hugh and Jelks are lectures which illustrate the many possible
reasons why people might do what they do, and to offer alternative explanations for what
happens during the course of the story. As an ex-psychoanalyst (before the introduction of
licensing in that field) Dion Fortune was well versed in the many possible explanations
for human behavior and Jelks becomes her mouthpiece. During the course of this book it
seems like every possible alternative is explored at least in discussion if not on the
physical plane itself. Even magical working is explored as an option for the satisfying of
ancient unfulfilled desires.
Besides the Pannist overtones, this book highlights the psychological and practical
sides of life more than the magical. Some of the discussion gets a bit long, and sometimes
Jelks frustrated cleric personality make you want to throttle him. But Hugh and
Moina are especially well drawn and you sympathize with them right from the start. As
usual, all the minor characters are completely believable and the locations appear before
you in living color. The Goat Foot God is an easier yet no less rewarding adventure
than the similarly toned The Winged Bull, which approaches the idea of manhood from
the side of having too much instead of too little.
The Sea Priestess
The Sea Priestess introduces Vivian Le Fay Morgan, Dion Fortunes most famous
and enduring character. In the introduction the author states
It is a book with an undercurrent; upon the surface, a romance; underneath, a thesis on
the theme: "All women are Isis, and Isis is all women," or in the language of
modern psychology, the anima-animus principle.
Vivian Le Fay is the priestess of Isis in full incarnation, the worshipper of the sea
and tides, the recognizer of the feminine principle in action on the earth. But even Isis
needs her male counterpart for completion; enter Wilfred Maxwell, of the spineless sort
that makes you detest rich people. You know the type, all firm and civil on the surface
with cottage cheese underneath. The book opens with the first-person perspective of
Maxwell giving a rundown of his life thus far well-to-do parents, success in the
antique business and the usual set of hangups right up until Vivian Le Fay walks
in. Then things really get going.
Vivian, it seems, is looking to build a magical place to complete a natural cycle,
while Wilfred falls madly in love with her. She, being of the cold-blooded priestly type,
decides to propose an arrangement where he provides what she needs and she will provide
what he needs, completion of his personality. An altogether left-brained notion for an
altogether right-brained problem, one which Wilfred cant really understand.
Of course it all works out in the end, but not in any way that one could predict.
Wilfred gets a wild ride through his psyche, past lives, compulsions and flaws, with
Vivian in apparently complete control. Her role as the priestess is to build the place and
conditions where Nature can fully manifest; his role is to make the sacrifice of the
priestess in the proper way at the proper time. He finds himself reliving a past life in
almost the same circumstances where his animal desires got the better of his priestly
training, corrupting the ritual and messing up his psyche for the next several thousand
In the end they do it right; a huge storm is summoned up right on schedule, destroying
the physical surroundings but leaving both our heros intact. The ritual is completed and
the participants go their separate ways, but not without some very interesting soul-level
revelations from Vivian. The sea and its tides play a central role throughout the story,
and are used to illuminate the tides which surge within every human psyche. The ritual
washing away of debris is seen as a spiritual crisis which must be gone through before a
pure product can emerge, dripping yet cleansed, on the other side. Much of the deep
mystical meaning of this work is spelled out in no uncertain terms, the rest can be traced
through meditation on the images and scenery drawn so well as the story unfolds.
This is one book you will truly enjoy if you are interested in the active feminine
principle. Dion Fortune spares no effort making sure the reader sees the full scope of the
goddess Isis and what she represents and rules, and what she needs in order to become
whole. Unlike the image of Isis as all-powerful ruler of the galaxy this work presents a
more powerful image of a goddess working through willing subjects, manifesting in very
physical ways in an ignorant society.
This is perhaps Dion Fortunes best-crafted fictional work, and bears annual
rereading for many years. Dr. Rupert Malcolm is the foremost expert on the mechanics of
the mind; needless to say he doesnt do too well using it in his own life. In her
second appearance, Lilith Le Fay, servant of Isis, puts in a masterful performance as the
occult priestess, savior of Rupert, and all-round implanter of (then) radical ideas into
the consciousness of mankind. With her writing technique at its finest, Dion Fortune
crafts (or is it channels?) her smoothest and most entrancing work, easily veiling the
usual magical soliloquies in discussions between the two central characters, or through
watching the musings of Liliths cat-like mind.
As the book opens, Dr. Malcolms life is at its all-time low. Years ago his wife
took up residence by the sea several hours away after the birth and death of their first
child. All she does now is breath air, chat with her live-in nurse, and drain Dr.
Malcolms pocket. He, on the other hand, is a king in his own land that of the
hospital psychiatric ward. He diagnoses with an air of utter finality: this one will live
a normal life, that one is doomed to despair. He is revered for his ability and knowledge
yet abhored for his mannerisms. Rude and obstinate would be high compliments given the way
he treats those around him. Dr. Malcolm is a harsh and exacting taskmaster, hard on his
students and worse on himself, a man completely without natural outlets for his needs,
anxieties and frustrations.
An interesting set of machinations on the part of Lilith finds him walking almost
unconsciously into her converted church-house, and the main body of the story unfolds from
there. Over the next 100 pages Dr. Malcolm is trained in the use of the magical body,
travelling the astrals, viewing auras and other such skills, and the reader gets to watch
what goes on in both his and Liliths minds throughout his transformation into living
priest. Enough detail is given that one can use the descriptions of various techniques as
instructions; be sure to read the entire book first though, as in typical Dion Fortune
style not all the warnings are next to where you might need them. And, as she warns, some
of these things cannot be done alone but must be done with the help of a like-minded
partner or you risk serious damage to your nervous and psychological systems.
Several topics really stand out. The descriptions of astral and etheric separation and
travelling, though only a few pages long, are better than most modern books on the
subjects. (And yes, as she points out, these two are very different things.) For example,
very few authors warn of the strange "shorting out" and slow disintigration of
the etheric body as it travels over water. Dion Fortune puts that warning out very
strongly in the first mention of the technique, instructing the reader to use astral
projection if large bodies of water must be traversed.
Similarly, the construction and use of the simalcrum, that pretend
body used by the consciousness to travel unseen in the physical plane, is given here in
enough detail to allow experimentation. Some modern books claim to reveal it "for the
first time" and then leave out important details; here is the entire description of
the process in three sentences written in the 1930s. How much we have forgotten in
such a short time! If you are interested in astral travel or out-of-body workings there
are enough techniques here to see you well on your way.
The history of this book alludes to its perception among serious occultists. Dion
Fortune died in 1945 a few months before the end of World War II, and obviously finished
this book well before then (some say as early as 1941). Yet the Society of Inner Light
felt it too risky to release the book to press as they felt it contained too much magical
instruction that could be used improperly. After much argument the book was finally
published outside the Society in 1956, having been reserved for members of the Society
until then. An old axiom states that a child will want whatever is denied them in
this case it proves true for occultists as well. Moon Magic has perhaps more useful
keys for the beginner to true magical working than any other book available today.
The novels of Dion Fortune offer a rare look at how esoteric and occult principles play
out in the world of man. Theory and pretty words are wonderful in and of themselves, but
only by seeing how principles work in real life can true understanding occur. By all means
pick any title that sounds like fun and dive right in the mistress of occult
fiction will surely hold your undivided attention.
© Mike Hammer, 1998
You can order these Dion Fortune books through
the Mind Wings Metaphysical Book Store:
Introduction To Ritual Magic
Dion Fortune, Gareth Knight / Paperback
- Dion Fortune; Paperback
& Work of an Initiate
- Dion Fortune; Paperback
- Fortune, Dion Fortune; Paperback
Dion Fortune / Paperback
Dion Fortune / Paperback
of Dr Taverner
Dion Fortune / Paperback
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