Occultist, medium, and author Dion Fortune (1890-1946) presented her beliefs in Christian mysticism, pantheism, magic, and psychology through her published works and her association with the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn and the establishment of the Fraternity of the Inner Light.
As a medium, Fortune went to lengths to explain that she did not disturb the spirits of the dead, but rather channeled an intelligence from a higher plane of existence. Her first essays to contain such explanations appeared in the British magazine The Occult Review in the mid-1920s and, later, in her own magazine, The Inner Light, which she edited from 1927 to 1940. Much of this work reflects her interest in the legends of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table as well as the legends of the Welsh poem The Mabinogian. Believing that the historical basis of the Arthurian legends existed in the English countryside at Glastonbury in Somerset, she established a retreat for the Fraternity of the Inner Light there. According to Fortune biographer and essayist Gareth Knight in his introduction to Aspects of Occultism, "She maintained a deep sympathy for the renaissance of native tradition, where she felt this tradition had its heart, combined with an early form of Christianity via the legends of Joseph of Arimathea and of the Holy Grail."
Fortune also examined these concerns in several works of fiction, including her novels The Winged Bull and The Goat-Foot God, which displayed the pantheistic thematic concerns of D. H. Lawrence. Some later works attributed to Fortune's authorship were reputedly dictated from the afterlife to the medium Margaret Lumley Brown. In other essays and fiction, she examined feminine mythological archetypes, human sexuality as a generator of psychic energies, and the visionary and magical concept of pathworkings, an expanded method of the Golden Dawn's explorations of the Tree of Life.
Studied Psychology and Mysticism
Fortune was born Violet Mary Firth in the village of Bryn-y-Bia, in Llandudno, Wales, on December 6, 1890, to parents who followed the Christian Science religion. Her father, Arthur Firth, was a solicitor, and her mother was a registered Christian Science healer. Reportedly cognizant of her mystical abilities from an early age, Fortune claimed to have received visions of Atlantis when she was four years old and believed that she had been a temple priestess there in a former life. Fortune claimed that she first recognized her mediumistic abilities during her adolescence. She is said to have joined the Theosophical Society of Madame Helena Blavatsky briefly in 1906 when her family moved to London, but rejected the theosophists' reliance on Eastern thought, largely due to Indian revolts against British rule. In April 1908, Fortune published a poem, "Angels," in the Christian Science Monitor.
Prior to World War I, Fortune said she had a nervous breakdown, brought on by the "psychic attacks" of a woman with whom she had worked. During this period, she also studied the works of Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung as a student of Professor Flugel at the University of London, who was a member of the Society of Psychical Research. She preferred Jung's work to Freud's, particularly Jung's examination of the archetypes of the collective unconscious, but she ultimately rejected both men as unable to comprehend the full range of the human mind's capabilities. During World War I, Fortune worked with a government agency on the development of protein supplements from soybeans; she subsequently advised her father in a business venture to manufacture and sell dairy substitutes derived from soybeans.
Fortune worked as a lay psychoanalyst in a medico-psychological clinic in London and became a therapist in 1918. While working at the clinic, Fortune is believed to have met Dr. Theodore Moriarty, an Irish Freemason who expressed his metaphysical and theosophical beliefs in a series of lectures on the esoteric subject of astro-etheric psychological conditions. Moriarty's lecture topics included the lost continent of Atlantis, Gnostic Christianity, reincarnation, and psychic disturbances that result in illness. Perhaps more influential on her occult interests, however, was Fortune's childhood friend, Maiya Curtis-Webb, who introduced her to the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. Beginning in 1919, Curtis-Webb instructed Fortune in trance mediumship at the Golden Dawn Temple of the Alpha and Omega Lodge of the Stella Matutina, which was led by J. W. Brodie-Innes. She became disillusioned with the group, however, when she saw that its ranks had been reduced to widows and elderly men because of World War I, and she joined the London-based Golden Dawn group led by Moina Mathers, widow of the group's original founder, MacGregor Mathers. It was during this period that the former Violet Firth adopted the phrase Deo Non Fortuna, which translates as "by God and not by luck," as her name. Intended to be her Golden Dawn magical name, it is also the Latin motto that appeared on the Firth family crest. She subsequently shortened her new appellation to Dion Fortune.
Formed the Fraternity of the Inner Light
In 1921, Fortune worked with Frederick Bligh Bond in a group of Arthurian enthusiasts called the Watchers of Avalon. In 1922, Fortune established her own outer-court Golden Dawn lodge called the Christian Mystic Lodge of the Theosophical Society. Agreeing with Moriarty's conjecture that the Christian Gospels are essentially allegories, Fortune also agreed with her mentor that Jesus Christ was a prophet of the same rank as Orpheus, Mithra, and Melchizedek, while remaining steadfastly resolute in her conviction that the "Master Jesus" was her spiritual guide. Her affinity to Blavatsky's teachings is reflected in her appropriating the term "theosophical" for her new group. Fortune published her first book, Machinery of the Mind in 1922, under her birth name, Violet Firth. It was her subsequent works, however, that brought Fortune fame and notoriety.
In 1922, she and Charles Thomas Loveday, who served as both Fortune's patron and secretary, worked together to produce The Esoteric Philosophy of Love and Marriage, which Fortune narrated from a psychic trance to Loveday, who then transcribed Fortune's narration. The book had repercussions, however, when Moina Mathers became annoyed at what she perceived as Fortune's disclosure of Golden Dawn secrets. In the book, Fortune discussed that human sexuality could be a mystical as well as a physical union, and that the sexual act could be used to generate otherworldly energies. Mathers was infuriated further by articles that were eventually published in Fortune's books The Cosmic Doctrine and Sane Occultism, the latter re-published as What Is Occultism? In this work, Fortune questioned why the occult sciences attracted charlatans rather than the world's leading intellectual thinkers. She also disparaged the sentimentality and unscientific nature of most published works on the occult and declared that most occult practitioners were inept. She also offered recommendations on how to identify past lives, as well as discussions on numerology and astrology, yoga, and vegetarianism. She also staunchly opposed drug use, homosexuality, promiscuity in general, and premarital and extramarital sex.
Mathers suspended Fortune temporarily from the Golden Dawn and eventually terminated Fortune's membership permanently. Fortune responded by aligning herself with the Golden Dawn splinter sect of the Stella Matutina. She believed that Mathers engaged in psychic attacks on her during this period, employing magic to block Fortune's astral projections and inundating her home with black cats and simulacrums, which are apparitions conjured by an individual possessing magical powers. Fortune detailed these claims, as well as her previous nervous breakdown, in an article for the Occult Review entitled "Ceremonial Magic Unveiled," and in her 1929 book Psychic Self-Defense: A Study in Occult Pathology and Criminality, in which she also offered remedies for supernatural aggressions.
After severing her ties with the Golden Dawn, Fortune embarked upon a busy and productive period that included establishing the Community of the Inner Light, which later became the Fraternity of the Inner Light in 1927, and existed into the twenty-first century as the Society of the Inner Light. Her fascination with Celtic mythology also blossomed during this period following an extended stay in Glastonbury in 1923 and 1924. She believed during this time that she had been contacted by the spirits of Greek philosopher Socrates and Arthurian magician Merlin, which she chronicles in her book Glastonbury: Avalon of the Heart. The Fraternity of the Inner Light purchased an unused Army barrack, which they rebuilt as a lodge in Glastonbury and which Fortune named the Chalice Orchard Club to complement the group's London headquarters.
In 1922, Fortune launched her career as a writer of fiction with the first of a series of short stories featuring the character of Dr. Traverner, whom many critics believe was inspired by her friendship with Moriarty. Originally published in Royal Magazine, Fortune's 1926 short story The Secrets of Dr. Traverner details the adventures of an occult investigator who explores the negative psychic aftereffects of World War I, including a soldier possessed by a vampire in the book's opening story, "Blood-Lust." In other stories, Fortune presents Dr. Traverner as an explorer of themes of reincarnation and psychic revenge. While critics usually judge her fiction writing abilities negatively, most agree that Fortune's work often presents lucid explanations for her own theories and concerns. Reception of Fortune's first novel, The Demon Lover in 1927, was more positive. In this novel, Fortune presents the corrupt Lucas, who intends to manipulate the innocent medium, Veronica Mainwaring, in order to apply his black arts in the spiritual realm. He is killed, but condemned to vampirism until Veronica, Lucas's unrequited lover from a previous life, returns him to life. Fortune married Thomas Penry Evans in 1927.
Published The Mystical Qabalah
Fortune continued writing and publishing prodigiously into the early 1930s, then her output slowed considerably. Fortune moved away from Christianity during this period, an action that many critics attributed to her affinity to the paganistic novels of D. H. Lawrence; the influence of her husband, who focused on the Greek pagan spirit, Pan; and her magic partner from 1934 to 1937, Charles Seymour, who was convinced that twentieth-century Christianity was spiritually bankrupt. The Winged Bull and The Goat-Foot God reflect these influences but are considered among her weakest fictional efforts due to what critics perceived as weak characterizations. In 1936, Fortune attended a series of university lectures on tantra given by Bernard Bromage, which led to the pair conducting a series of evening discussions on literature and the occult. She published what many of her followers consider to be her most important work that same year, The Mystical Qabalah. In this work, Fortune discussed perhaps most fully her design for a Western-based esoteric belief system based on the Kabbalah. Employing Carl Jung's concept of the archetypal symbols of humankind's mass unconscious, Fortune postulated that the human mind helped shape the true nature of its gods through human contacts in the astral plane.
In her final two novels, The Sea Priestess and Moon Magic, Fortune introduces the character Lilith Le Fay Morgan. Morgan revives the cult of the ancient goddess Isis and conducts elaborate rituals in her honor. The former novel was completed in 1936, but Fortune was unable to find a publisher for two years. She eventually published the novel herself two years later. Both works serve to introduce the rituals that Fortune herself was conducting in a converted London church. Nicknamed the Belfry, the building was dedicated to the worship of the mysteries of Isis, whom Fortune depicted as a feminine expression of God which the Virgin Mary was also a component. The final chapter of Moon Magic is believed by Inner Light members to have been written after Fortune's death through her close friend and Inner Light medium, Margaret Lumley Brown.
Fortune ceased writing in 1939, which some biographers speculate resulted from three personal upheavals that occurred that year, including divorce, the outbreak of World War II, and the dissolution of her partnership with Seymour. She did continue contributing articles to the Inner Light which illustrated her return to Christian thinking. Other historians speculate that she turned in a new direction and had sought the help of Aleister Crowley in her efforts. During World War II, Fortune continued the work of the Fraternity of the Inner Light during Nazi bombing of London. She attempted to apply magic against Great Britain's enemies in a project she eventually published as The Magical Battle of Britain. She died in 1946, one week after being diagnosed with leukemia. The Society of the Inner Light continued, however, and Fortune's works and the Society continued to inspire occultists, pagans, and students of magic.
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Firth, Violet Mary (1890-1946)
Firth, Violet Mary (1890-1946)
Leading British occultist, author, and founder of the Fraternity of the Inner Light. Firth was born December 6, 1890, at Bryn-y-Bia, Llandudno, Wales. She manifested some medium-istic abilities in her teens. She later became interested in psychoanalysis and studied the work of Freud, but came to prefer C. G. Jung 's perspective. She worked for a time at the Medico-Psychological Clinic in London. She also became interested in the writings of Helena Petrovna Blavatsky but was put off by the Eastern style of occultism dominant in the Theosophical Society.
About 1919 she joined the Alpha and Omega Lodge of the Stella Matutina, an outer order of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, a ritual magic group under the guidance of J. W. Brodie-Innes. He instructed her in various magic practices. Firth's pseudonym, "Dion Fortune," was derived from her period as a member of the Stella Matutina. She took the motto Deo Non Fortuna (By God, not luck), and this was condensed to "Dion Fortune" when she began to write. Under her own name she wrote one early book, Machinery of the Mind (1922).
In 1924 she founded the Community (later Fraternity) of the Inner Light to attract recruits for the Golden Dawn but eventually split off from the main body as warden of the new order. She taught her own variation of magic, based on claimed contacts from the "inner planes" of wisdom.
Firth wrote several books on magic and the occult and several occult novels, notably The Secrets of Dr. Traverner (1926), The Demon Lover (1927), Through the Gates of Death (1932), The Winged Bull (1935), The Goat-Foot God (1936), The Sea Priestess (1938), and Moon Magic (ca. 1939). Her books of occult instruction include Sane Occultism (1929), Psychic Self-Defence (1930), The Training and Work of an Initiate (1930), and The Mystical Qabalah (1935).
Chapman, Janine. Quest for Dion Fortune. York Beach, Maine: Samuel Weiser, 1993.
Fielding, Charles, and Clark Collins. The Story of Dion Fortune. York Beach, Maine: Samuel Weiser, 1985.
Fortune, Dion. Applied Magic. New York: Samuel Weiser, 1962.
——. The Esoteric Orders and Their Work. London: Rider, 1929. Reprint, St. Paul, Minn.: Llewellyn Publications, 1971.
——. The Mystical Qabalah. London: Ernest Benn, 1935.
——. Psychic Self-Defence. London: Rider, 1930.
——. Sane Occultism. London: Rider, 1929.
——. The Secrets of Dr. Traverner. London: Noel Douglas, 1926.
——. The Training and Work of an Initiate. London: Rider, 1930.
——. The Winged Bull. London: Williams & Norgate, 1935.
Richardson, Alan. Priestess: The Life and Magic of Dion Fortune. Wellingborough, England: Aquarian Press, 1987.