The Occult Novels of Dion Fortune


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Originally published at: https://library.hrmtc.com/2018/08/01/the-occult-novels-of-dion-fortune/

Alex Sumner reviews the works of Dion Fortune at The Occult Novels of Dion Fortune in Journal of the Western Mystery Tradition, No 0, Introduction to the Western Mystery Tradition.

The Occult Novels of Dion Fortune

Introduction

“Dion Fortune” was the pen-name of Violet Mary Firth, 1890 - 1946: it is derived from “Deo Non Fortuna” (“By God not Luck”), which she adopted as her motto when she was a member of the AO.

Dion was (along with Israel Regardie), one of the most prominent members of the first wave of occultists who joined the Golden Dawn tradition after the split at the turn of the 20th century. A former member of the Theosophical Society, she was inspired by Annie Besant’s description of the later Masters, and believed that she herself had made contact with two of them. It was whilst attending a Theosophical meeting that Fortune discerned she had a gift for psychism. Indeed, when she later joined the AO, it would appear that Fortune already had enough confidence in her abilities to believe that she didn’t have to thank her superiors in that Order for them.

It is crucial to understand Dion Fortune that she was a “Free Thinker”. She developed her own views on the Qabalah, on mystical cosmology, paganism, etc which were unlike those taught by either Theosophy or the AO - in this she relied purely on her own genius. It was this tendency to be a Free Thinker which eventually got her into trouble with Moina Mathers, the head of the particular lodge of the AO to which Fortune belonged. Moina pointed out that the writings which Fortune was channelling from her occult sources were not consistent with AO teaching - this lead Fortune to leave, and eventually set up her own occult organisation, the Society of Inner Light.

Dion’s writing career can be divided into two phases, corresponding to her AO and post-AO periods. It was in the first part (which lasted up to about 1930), she seems to be careful to appease her superiors, and conform to the loyalty and confidentiality expected of a “good little initiate”. However, this was completely against her nature, and towards the later part of this first phase one can recognise Fortune asserting her own Will and her own ideas through her writing, leading inevitably to the confrontation with Moina. It was during this time that Dion wrote Psychic Self-Defence, and the fictional works The Secrets of Doctor Taverner and The Demon Lover.

In the second, post-AO phase, from 1930 until the end of her life in 1946, Dion gave up any pretence of toeing the line as just another initiate, and was quite blatantly using her writing to set out her own magical manifesto. It is from this period that her classic work The Mystical Qabalah dates, as well as her fictional novels The Winged Bull, The Goat-Foot God, and her pièce de resistance, The Sea Priestess. Dion also worked on a further novel, Moon Magic, though this was unfinished in her lifetime, and published posthumously in 1956.

Fortune herself said of her fictional output from the post-AO period:

“The ‘Mystical Qabalah’ gives the theory, but the novels give the practice. … [T]hose who study the ‘Mystical Qabalah’ with the help of the novels get the keys of the Temple put into their hands.” [1]

The Secrets of Doctor Taverner

Dion’s first attempt at fiction was this collection of short stories. John Taverner MD is a Harley Street physician, and the proprietor of a sanatorium in the west country. He engages a young doctor, Eric Rhodes, who has been discharged from the Army following World War One. Rhodes soon discovers some strange things about his employer: that he belongs to some kind of secret society, that he believes in astrology, that he regularly deals with paranormal phenomena, that mysterious people address him as “Greatly Honoured Frater”, etc.

In short, Taverner is a powerful Hermetic magician, who uses Magic to cure the afflictions of the patients that come to him. It appears that “Taverner” is based on a real-life character - Theodore Moriarty, a 7=4 of the AO under whom Fortune studied - whilst the character of “Rhodes” is Fortune herself in the thinnest of disguises.

Fortune therefore uses this scenario to relate a number of incidents which she apparently witnessed whilst under Moriarty’s tutelage. For example, in the story “Blood Lust”, Taverner deals with a Vampire, which is in fact an etheric being or ghost which is sucking the vitality of the living: an incident which Fortune later stated happened in real-life.

Fortune uses the various stories in this book to outline her views on reincarnation: not just the fact that it occurs, but that previous lives exert a strong influence on the present one. Unusually strong in fact: it seems that the characters who become involved in the various plots of the stories are usually destined to have done so by their “ante-natal” activities. Fortune takes this to the extent that people who were lovers in former lives are again drawn together by their karma.

There is at least one incident inspired by her connection to Theosophy. In “Recalled” Fortune writes about a messianic child, The Reconciler between East and West, described as a “mahatma-soul”. The imagery is pure Besant, with “the Reconciler” being modelled on the concept of “the World Teacher” which Besant was grooming. Indeed in The Training and Work of an Initiate Fortune admits she believes in this concept. However, this dates the story terribly, as “the World Teacher” idea disappeared in 1925 when Besant’s protegé, Krishnamurti, publicly disowned Theosophy. Yet in this story we have a quote which reveals another of Fortune’s ideas. When a woman discerns, through occult means, that her husband has had an affair with a native girl in India - and that the girl, pregnant, committed suicide - she says of the girl:

“…[I]t was a woman, and I am a woman, and it seems to hurt me because it hurts womanhood. I can’t put it plainly, but I feel it, I feel it as a hurt to all that is best in me.”

Clearly, Dion is an early Feminist, and is using this story to put forward her beliefs.

However there are a number of problems with “The Secrets of Doctor Taverner” which mark it out as Fortune’s least successful venture into Occult fiction. Firstly, it is written from the viewpoint of a non-psychic (Rhodes). All the interesting phenomena happen to Taverner. Thus whilst Taverner is off in the various regions of the Astral plane, we are often left with Rhodes’ description of these incidents, i.e. that he watches over Taverner lying on a couch. This is quite a serious flaw, as the plots of several of the stories rely on the fact that Taverner gets a number of psychic messages via his astral contacts, and often works his cures on the astral. Hence most of the action is happening in invisible realms which, because the narrator is a non-psychic, we are unable to observe.

Secondly, Fortune unwisely decided to tone-down some of the more interesting incidents. For example, in “Blood Lust”, the Vampire is dispatched in the following manner:

“Then the end came. Taverner leapt forward. There was a Sign then a Sound.”

This is the extent of the detail concerning the method which Taverner used to destroy this fearsome entity, and note that neither the Sign nor Sound was defined. Taverner makes a lot of undetailed Signs throughout the book. Yet in Psychic Self-Defence, Fortune goes into much more detail about what Moriarty did: apparently he surrounded it with Love, and absorbing it into his own aura, he neutralised the creature by meditating on Peace. As a result of this venture, Moriarty lay unconscious for three days - but the Vampire was successfully consigned to oblivion. Clearly, the version in Psychic Self-Defence is both more dramatic and gives a better idea about the magical principles involved. It would appear that Dion was still trying to observe her vows of secrecy and loyalty at this point: hence, she was unwilling to give away anything that might be construed as a secret of the order.

Read the rest of this JWMT article at the library!