DION FORTUNE IN BRISTOL & SOMERSET
Talk given by Gareth Knight at Quest Conference 4th March 2006
I am not sure that Bristol is entirely the most appropriate place to celebrate Dion Fortune, as she tended to express a certain antipathy to the city. This was based in part, I think, on an assumed reincarnationary memory of once having been hanged here as a pirate!
However she did have happier associations in her most recent incarnation when affiliated to a temple of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, that operated here under the control of her friend Hope Hughes. She was very grateful for this at the time, having been drummed out of her original temple through falling out with Moina Macgregor Mathers. The formidable widow of the founder of the Golden Dawn, it seems, considered her something of an upstart. And perhaps what is more unforgiveable, a highly successful upstart - with her own group, establishments in Glastonbury and London, and her own direct access to the Secret Chiefs, under whose aegis she published a raft of teachings which Moina felt ought to be reserved for the elect of the innermost inner.
Unfortunately, her reinstatement to the Order, albeit by another branch, did not last for long. For Dion Fortune and her husband were instrumental in introducing the young Israel Regardie to the Bristol temple. In fact they were present at his initiation – coyly referred to in correspondence as his vaccination. It turned out to be however a vaccination with a violent and painful reaction. For Regardie found the kind of magic dispensed by Hope Hughes and her friends at the Hermes Temple of the Stella Matutina to be far beneath his expectations.
This is perhaps not surprising given the fact that, despite his youth, he had already written two books on the subject, and had just spent three years in Paris as an acolyte of Aleister Crowley. The upshot was that he denounced the Golden Dawn adepti, root and branch, and published all their secret papers, on the grounds that they ought to be out in the public domain rather than kept under close concealment by those whom he considered to be incompetent.
Whilst it is arguable that this may be have been a good thing in the long run, it shattered Dion Fortune`s relationship with Hope Hughes and she was once more cast upon her own resources. Again no great harm was done in the long run, for she proved quite capable of establishing her own school which became, and still remains, a force to be reckoned with upon the esoteric scene, through the portals of which many well known occult writers and teachers have passed.
Nonetheless, whether or not she did end a former life swinging from a yard arm on the Bristol waterfront, there was arguably something of the buccaneer in Dion Fortune. Indeed such an element might well have been deemed essential in the character of one destined to prove such a pioneer and adventurer. One who, so to speak, built, vitalled and captained her own ship, and made up her own rules of engagement on the esoteric scene.
We could well ask how much of a transition there might be from plying the trade of Captain Morgan, to following in the footsteps of Morgan le Fay? She was not afraid to cut loose from any organisation which seemed to her to be falling short of her expectations, and then set to, to do things better herself.
Her interest in the inner side of things started with psycho-analysis, which in her early twenties, before the 1st World War, she hoped to make her living as well as her life`s work. However, despite achieving some standing among her fellow practitioners she became increasingly aware that none of them seem to be having much success in alleviating human misery, and that because a whole dimension was missing from orthodox psychological theory. Thus she moved on to para-psychology, having been greatly impressed by the case work of Dr. Theodore Moriarty, a maverick anthropologist, freemason and practical occultist, who became her exemplar and first teacher. She later eulogised him in a series of short stories entitled The Secrets of Dr. Taverner and went so far as to claim that if there had been no Dr. Taverner there would have been no Dion Fortune.
She also joined almost everything esoteric in sight, including the Theosophical Society and the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. But spurred on by the example of Moriarty, she was not content with taking other people`s theories or psychic impressions for granted, but deliberately set out to develop mediumistic powers of her own. Which took her some years to achieve, her method being intense concentration in identifying herself with an inner communicator to the point of losing awareness of the physical vehicle. She could keep this up for several hours. This technique was the secret weapon in her armoury, the source of most of her own teaching, and, she maintained, the source of spiritual power to inspire others and make things happen.
The first written evidence we have of her seership was in collaboration with Frederick Bligh Bond, at Glastonbury, in the autumn of 1921. Bligh Bond was an architect and antiquary who many years before, in 1907, had been appointed by the Somerset Archeological Society to direct excavations at the ruins of Glastonbury Abbey.
He achieved remarkable success, but provoked a storm of controversy when, in a book called The Gate of Remembrance, published some years later in 1918, he revealed that he had been guided where to dig by recourse to a psychic skilled in automatic writing. The Church of England authorities, who had subsequently come into ownership of the ruins, were horrified rather than enthused by these disclosures from beyond the grave, and took firm steps to distance themselves from Mr Bligh Bond and Mr Bligh Bond from their hallowed ruins.
Somewhat frustrated and sidelined, and shortly to emigrate for most of his life to the United States, Bligh Bond, who had become editor of a journal of the College of Psychic Science, was apparently interested to try out the burgeoning talents of Miss Violet Firth, as Dion Fortune was then more generally known.
The result was an interesting document, generally referred to as the Glastonbury Script, which formed an important plank in Dion Fortune`s platform of belief. It proclaimed the uniqueness of Glastonbury as a gate between the Seen and the Unseen, and one that had been open from long before Christian times. And one where, in accord with the legend of Joseph of Arimathea founding the first Christian church in England, a link was established between the ancient Druid faith and the incoming religion for the new age, at a time when no antagonism was felt between Christian and pagan. Indeed where both Christian and pagan felt the best way was to hedge their bets and have a foot in each spiritual camp.
This meant that there was an unbroken line of descent of mystic power, from past to present, connecting directly with the elemental powers of the soil, in which are the roots of the soul of the race. That is to say, of those who inhabit the land, who are its children. It is this heritage that is the power behind the wide field of esoteric lore surrounding Glastonbury, not least of which is the Arthurian legend.
Much of this heritage is celebrated in Dion Fortune`s little book Avalon of the Heart, which began as articles in her monthly magazine, and was published as a book for the general reader in 1934. It is still in print, albeit published in America, and remains a moving evocation of the place and its varied traditions.
Growth of the work she had so tentatively begun with Bligh Bond at Glastonbury was rapid, when she found herself linking up with a wider spectrum of inner plane contacts than the medieval monks. Some years before she had been much impressed by Annie Besant`s book The Ancient Wisdom, whose teaching about hidden Masters in the Himalayas induced in the young Violet Firth a profound early visionary experience, in which she felt herself to be confronted by two of such beings.
Those with whom she now found herself in touch were not, however, the largely oriental contacts promulgated by the Theosophical Society, but a group of individuals with strong connections to the west. Of ancient Greece at the time of Pericles, Plato and Socrates; of Georgian England, via a former Lord Chancellor, animal rights pioneer and defender of human rights; and a representative of the recently fallen in the 1st World War. Later too, with a 19th century pioneer of modern medicine.
This inner group had a specific end in view, which was to found an esoteric school, and moreover seemed to have the ability to operate the levers of power by which to do it. The small group of like minded friends and psychical experimenters, who first met up in 1922, thus became a formal group by 1927, with sanctuary and guest house at the foot of Glastonbury Tor and headquarters in the west end of London, who published a monthly magazine, followed shortly by a series of textbooks and works of occult fiction. The Society thus founded continues its work to this day.
Times pass, and priorities change, and it no longer owns a nest of chalets at the foot of Glastonbury Tor. The last material link with Glastonbury are perhaps the physical remains of Dion Fortune herself, which lie within the municipal cemetery, with that of her close friend, colleague and general factotum, Thomas Loveday, close by. A steady flow of visitors still goes there to pay their respects, although, as was said in another context, there may be better places to seek for the living than amongst the dead. The spirit of Dion Fortune, and the spirit of what she stood for, is closely associated not only with Glastonbury at large, but with the country surrounding it.
And so as we are all met today in Bristol, which is not a million miles away from any of these places, it would seem appropriate to pay attention to this particular tract of land, the wider Avalon, which embraces most of the county of Somerset. And hopefully, some of you may feel inspired to take a trip to this fascinating territory, this doorway to the Unseen, that lies upon your doorstep.
As Dion Fortune says of it, in the opening pages of Avalon of the Heart, “Legend and history and the vision of the heart blend in the building of the Mystical Avalon. It is to this Avalon of the heart the pilgrims still go. Some in bands, knowing what they seek. Some alone, with the staff of vision in their hands, awaiting what may come to meet them on this holy ground. None go away as they came. Here the veil that hides the Unseen is thin. Here the invisible tides flow strongly; here indeed rests the foot of Jacob`s Ladder whereby the souls of men may come and go between the inner and outer planes. Glastonbury is a gateway to the Unseen.”
Nor is this confined to the more obvious historical and religious human associations. She was also aware of another level of the powers behind the Veil of outer appearances.
An opening up to her of this level was at the Glastonbury Festival of 1920 – which, I hasten to add, was a rather more decorous affair than the pop music raves of our own day. She attended a performance of The Immortal Hour at the Glastonbury assembly rooms – with lyrics by Fiona McLeod, the Celtic secondary personality, if you will, of the journalist William Sharp, and haunting music by the local composer Rutland Boughton - which apart from its literary or musical merits is a powerful evocation of the realm of faery.
As she wrote more than a dozen years later, “I had the unique privilege of seeing a performance of The Immortal Hour, which, timed to fit in with the exigencies of the local buses and trains, began at sunset. The first scene started with broad daylight shining in through the uncurtained windows of the Assembly Rooms. But as it progressed the dusk grew on, till only phantom figures could be seen moving on the stage and the hooting laughter of the shadowy horrors in the magic wood rang out in complete darkness, lit only by the stars that shone strangely brilliant through the skylights of the hall. It was a thing never to be forgotten.”
Indeed, one can believe so, simply by contemplating the lyrics of the voices from beyond the Veil, as King Eochaidh`s faery lover is drawn back to her own people:
How beautiful they are,/The lordly ones/Who dwell in the hills,/The hollow hills.
They have faces like flowers/And their breath is a wind/That blows through summer meadows/Filled with dewy clover.
Their limbs are more white/Than shafts of moonshine, They are more fleet/Than the March wind.
They laugh and are glad,/And are terrible./When their lances shake and glitter/Every green reed quivers.
I am pleased to say that it is now possible to savour, in some degree, something of what Dion Fortune experienced all those years ago, as an excellent recording has been released in two CD`s on the Hyperion label. (CDD22040). Two hours of sheer magic.
But as in all things Dion Fortune was not content to experience things at second hand. And in the Pentecost of 1926, walking with some friends on Glastonbury Tor, shortly after performing an invocation of the Element of Air apparently, they were all overtaken by a feeling of ecstasy - which set then whirling spontaneously in an impromptu dance. Then they saw a friend rushing across the fields below, who raced up the hill to join in their revelry. In the whirling dance a repetitive chant seemed to beat through into consciousness, which they rendered into words, a kind of affirmative ritual, often used in later years as a means of stimulating Elemental contact and vitality.
The wind and the fire work on the hill –
The wind and the fire work on the hill -
The wind and the fire work on the hill -
Evoke ye the wind and the fire.
The wind and the fire work on the hill -
The wind and the fire work on the hill -
The wind and the fire work on the hill -
Trust ye the wind and the fire.
And as they later sat in their newly erected hut at the foot of the Tor one of the Masters under whom they worked explained that they had met a messenger from the Elemental kingdoms, and that this was no chance contact, but part of their development and training as a group.
He went on to say: “In the Elements is power if you dare to use it. And that is a thing we have always tried to teach you, that you must have Elemental power if you are going to do anything. Many people have the best of intentions but they have not got the Elemental power, and therefore their intentions are fruitless. That is why you have been given this house at the very centre of these forces. It is not for nothing that you came to the Tor and have built on the Tor. Not for nothing believe me. You will have your devotional aspect in the city. You will have your nature contacts here, but you will have your deeper wisdom contacts where earth and water meet.”
I find these latter sentiments quite intriguing. It is true that at their headquarters in London, together with their hermetic ritual working, they did have a focus for devotional mysticism open to the public on a Sunday morning that eventually became known as the Church of the Graal. Here they endeavoured to bring a direct mystical experience to those who attended, by evoking the presence of the Holy Graal, which was built up in the form of a chalice over the heads of the congregation by a band of acolytes trained in the techniques of magical visualisation and the descent of power. These meetings continued until the outbreak of war in 1939 when hostilities and restrictions on travel and public meetings made them impracticable.
However, what is this we hear about this other place, and the “deeper wisdom contacts where earth and water meet”? My feeling is that here we have an indication of the line of work that blossomed into her foray into occult fiction and the most evocative of all her novels, The Sea Priestess.
This takes us beyond Glastonbury to the surrounding countryside of the Somerset levels, and a ridge of land that forms the southern arm of the bay that contains Weston-super-Mare.
It was at the end of this promontory, called Bell Head in the novel, that the Sea Priestess built her Temple.
It is an evocative countryside both in fact and fiction. Bell Head exists in real life as Brean Down, a limestone peninsular one and a half miles long and a quarter of a mile wide, that juts from the coast of Somerset off the small stretch of shoreline that faces due west onto the deep Atlantic, without Ireland or the coasts of Wales or Devon and Cornwall getting in the way. It forms part of a ridge that makes up the local group of hills, knolls and tors that once were islands in an archipelago of which the Mendip Hills, Glastonbury Tor, and the islands of Steep Holme and Flat Holme in the Bristol channel form a part.
Brean Down was owned by Glastonbury Abbey in medieval times, but is now in the care of the National Trust not least as a nature reserve. It contains traces of civilisation and worship that go back through Romano-Celtic to Bronze Age and Neolithic times. The ruined fort at its end, dating from the 1860`s as a defence against the French, was abandoned in 1900 although pressed into service again during the second world war, the buildings of which still stand.
Dion Fortune spent much of her schooldays at Weston and took the land into her consciousness to form the esoteric topography of the novel. Of the surrounding country described in the book, Bell Knowle may well be the very prominent Brent Knoll just off the modern M5 motorway, whilst Dickmouth compares closely with the seaside resort of Weston-super-Mare. And Dickford equates with the village of Axbridge, which sits on the River Axe, a river which Dion Fortune chose to call the Dick, as a play on the name Naradek – which is traditionally the river which ran by the City of the Golden Gates in ancient Atlantis.
It is in the context of this physical and legendary topography that the sea priestess and her acolyte weave their psychic visions which in turn form the channel for their magical work.
One lesson the novel teaches is the importance of creative fantasy. Whether such fantasy is objectively correct in all its historical or legendary details is less important than the pooled intention of the pair of them to believe in it. If faith can move mountains it should also be efficacious in the context of the green hills of Somerset.
This is the rationale behind the importance of a group being of one mind and in one place. And a group can be as little as two. This is the basis of magical polarity work, which is not a form of exotic sexual foreplay that prurient outsiders or naïve and lonely esoteric wannabes often assume it to be. Or wish that it was.
The imaginative pictures that most people spin in various circumstances of daily life are generally kaleidoscopic and evanescent, and so remain for the most part subjective. However, if others can be induced to share a steadily held vision, then mutual suggestion is added to autosuggestion, and a kind of oscillatory circuit may be set up, a form of psychic feed-back.
Then subjective imagery can take a quantum leap into a state of inner objectivity. In conventional esoteric terms, a form will have been built upon the astral ethers that can become the channel for occult or spiritual forces. The level and type of force depending upon the moral, ethical, and spiritual status of the participants, both inner and outer.
In the case of the sea priestess, Vivien Le Fay Morgan, and her assistant and trainee, Wilfred Maxwell, their shared vision, buttressed by some weeks of hard and demanding dedication and work, mental, imaginative, and physical, in building a fitting temple in a remote location, results in their increasing awareness of an inner plane presence, who is simply called in the book the Priest of the Moon.
Of this being, one of the characters says: “The Priest of the Moon had personality in a very marked degree, and if he was a product of my subconscious, I am proud of it. There were times, not infrequent, when I used to wonder what he was, and whether I was deluding myself, or whether I was loopy; but each time I met him afresh I knew what he was, beyond all doubting, and he left his mark on me.”
All this is in much the same fashion that Dion Fortune and Thomas Loveday and their small circle of friends at Glastonbury made contact with their own inner priesthood, or masters of wisdom, and embarked upon the work that still goes on today, a couple of generations after its inception.
The intention behind the magic of the sea priestess and her inner plane contact, the Priest of the Moon, was nothing less than to tap, as a source of power, the inner tides of moon and the sea. This is why they were out there establishing a gateway between the planes upon this deserted headland. Nor is it for nothing that she went by the name of Vivien Le Fay Morgan, with its legendary and magical overtones.
Within the artistic licence of a popular novel, this apparent exhibitionism is an outward demonstration of the archetypal role playing and image making of an adept, rather than the superficial trappings of an esoteric poseur.
Although alas, she has perhaps provided a somewhat distorted role model for a number of misguided aspirants who may think that all that is necessary is to camp up and down in a long cloak and floppy hat. Terry Pratchett has described the type well in his novel Lords and Ladies.
If you would like to view the physical launch pad of Dion Fortune`s fictional and magical imagination, then a trek along the back of Brean Down is well worth the effort. Whether along the rough track of its spine, which was transformed into a sacred way in the novel, or via the old single track military road that leads along the northern side out to the fort.
Beyond the fort, with its moat and underground rooms, a rough pathway runs out to a little cabin, covered with sea weed, that once housed a searchlight. It retains an evocative resonance of the temple envisaged by the Sea Priestess, as it overlooks the dark line of rocks that extends into the sea where Wilfred Maxwell, one moonlit night, saw to his wonder and alarm the sea priestess, treading their shining and slippery surfaces, as the Atlantic rollers broke at her feet. There she raised her arms to the sky in the form of the horns of a crescent moon, to chant her evocation to Isis:
O Isis, veiled on earth, but shining clear
In the high heaven now the full moon draws near,
Hear the invoking words, hear and appear
Shaddai el Chai, and Ea, Binah, Ge.
I will say, that even now, viewed in broad daylight, that location has an ambience sufficient to bring you out in goose bumps! It still holds a certain magical ambience.
At least it did, the last time that I was there. Hopefully it has not been improved into a cafeteria or other tourist amenities by now. There is, however more to magic than going in search of atmospheres for a bit of otherworldly frisson. What was it that the Sea Priestess was about?
In the book, Wilfred Maxwell is matured and empowered by the experience to throw off his previous emotional shackles of being an ineffectual wimp, hen pecked by his mother and elder sister. He marries one of the office girls, despite her being of a lower social class than his immediate female relations would like, and embarks upon a happy married life, in which he and Molly form and continue a contact with the Priest of the Moon. Thus their home, besides being a perfectly natural expression of human domesticity becomes also a hallowed place where the goddess is recognised and revered. No bad achievement in the nineteen thirties – even if we are still in the realms of fiction.
For her part, the dedicated sea priestess moves her sphere of operations to London, where she sets up a temple in a disused church overlooking the south bank of the Thames - another place where earth and water meet, and embarks upon another magical operation, described at length in the ensuing novel Moon Magic.
Here again her mode of working consists of polarity magic, this time with a very different neophyte of her choosing, who once again benefits personally from the experience by coming to terms with his repressed emotional nature.
Once more there is a certain connection between fictional and factual life, in that at about this time Dion Fortune was herself operating from an old former Presbyterian church, known as the Belfry. Although it was not actually located on the water front, but anyway within a mile of it, to south and east, as the Thames curves around Westminster and Belgravia.
Here she celebrated semi-public performances of the Rite of Isis, parts of which are quoted in both Moon Magic and The Sea Priestess. And also, it would seem, to keep the balance right, the Rite of Pan that features in her earlier novel The Goat-foot God.
Much of this work she had developed intuitionally but at about this time she began to formulate an intellectual background for it after meeting up with Bernard Bromage, a University of London academic who was running a course of extension lectures on occultism in literature. She became one of his best students and together they set up a series of public meetings with literary celebrities of the day discussing the merits of occultism in general. At the same time Bromage had been researching elements of eastern religion and mysticism, and through him she was able to borrow translations of texts on tantrik yoga which enabled her to formulate a series of articles entitled The Circuit of Force. She just had time to publish these in her magazine before war broke out and brought an end to all that had gone before.
One of the first tasks I embarked upon when invited to go through Dion Fortune`s papers with a view to rescuing anything that was worth publishing, was indeed to issue The Circuit of Force, through Thoth Publications. Again, I have heard this work described, most bizarrely, and by those who ought to know better, as “a most dangerous book”. Danger, like evil, or beauty, or any other emotive power source, is often in the eye of the beholder. But as far as Dion Fortune was concerned, the principle of polarity, or the Circuit of Force, was “one of the lost secrets of western occultism.”
Therefore it much pleased me when two former students of mine, Wendy Berg and Mike Harris, recently published a book of their own, precisely with the title Polarity Magic.
It moves things along considerably from Dion Fortune`s early The Esoteric Philosophy of Love and Marriage, in the 1920`s, which so upset Moina Macgregor Mathers for its explicitness, although which now, it must be said, seems rather quaint. But is an example of how the torch is passed along from one generation to another, and how the esoteric tradition is an evolving entity with insights that move in step with the realisations and attitudes of society at large.
It is to a larger and wider context that I would however now seek to draw your attention. Beyond the personal, or microcosmic view of magical dynamics, to the general, or macrocosmic view of human life in the world. For we are all bound up in this together. No one is on a magic island divorced from general human problems or general human responsibility. So although there is an important element in the personal approach to Isis, it is also important to realise just what is implied in the wider vision of the goddess Isis.
As Dion Fortune saw her, she is a power that is veiled on Earth by the luminous garment of nature, but who can be imagined, unveiled, in the heavens, in the radiance of the moon`s reflected light. Thus is Isis appropriately evoked by the sea priestess at the time of the full moon. Yet she is not specifically identified with the moon, but with the entire divine feminine principle, which can be evoked under a variety of names, associated with the heavens, with the earth itself, or with the sea.
Isis Veiled is Our Lady of Nature. Isis Unveiled is the Heavenly Isis. Ea is the soul of space and parent of time. Ge, or Gaia, is the magnetic earth that forms an aura about the physical planet. Binah is the Great Sea of the Qabalah from whence all spiritual life arose. And beyond that the Limitless Light of the Uncreate Realities from whence all creation springs.
So it is more than personal polarity magic that is being evoked.
Let us go back to the early days of Dion Fortune`s work, at Glastonbury. Before she had even set up her chalets on the Tor, and was staying either at Alice Buckton`s guest house at Chalice Well or else renting an old farmhouse in Chilkwell Street. This was a series of metaphysical teachings that came to be known as The Cosmic Doctrine.
This was quite demanding stuff, not at all easy to understand. So much so that it was generally referred to as being “designed to train the mind rather than to inform it”. However, it contained a number of insights that proved to be of considerable importance once their significance was realised. And perhaps the one of most immediate importance is the concept of the Planetary Being – although it was called Planetary Spirit in the original script – a term later changed because the being involved is not so much spirit, in the sense of living up there on Cloud Nine, but very much closer to our business and bosoms, being the physical and etheric globe upon which we all currently live, and move and have our being.
It came to be realised that we owe a considerable debt to this Being, and indeed have a responsibility towards it – which if ignored might very well hold karmic consequences, to use an eastern metaphysical concept, that would be dire indeed.
This has but comparatively lately been taken at all seriously by the world at large. And that thanks largely to a scientist, an environmentalist by the name of James Lovelock, who thirty years ago, conceived the idea that the planet is special in a way no-one has hitherto realised. That it is indeed a great super-organism that regulates itself chemically and atmospherically to keep itself fit to bear life. That it is, to all intents and purposes, a living being itself.
He did not call it the Planetary Being, but being a scientist, preferred the term, “biocybernetic universal system tendency.” It was left to a literary neighbour, the novelist William Golding, to come up with a more preferable name – Gaia – after the Greek goddess of the Earth. She whom Dion Fortune`s sea priestess sung of as Ge.
Well I am sure we are all aware of the resultant controversy that blows about our heads in the increasing concern about global warming and all the rest of it – but this is simply the most materialist outlook and concern with it, looking entirely on the outside of things. What is the outlook and concern of the esoteric world? Which includes you and me. Surely we should be able to contribute something, not only in perception but in some form of action – with our knowledge and belief in the inside of things?
Not least of which is that we are not the only inhabitants of the globe, but that we share it. Not only with the animal kingdom, but with many and various elemental beings, from the lordly ones in the hollow hills to the lesser beings who are intimately concerned with the organic functioning of mineral, plant, animal and indeed human life.
The need for this is not new. And we owe it to a contemporary and fellow student of ours, R.J.Stewart, who used to live in these parts, and was particularly well known for his researches into the inner side of the ancient waters of Bath. Indeed some of us remember well a series of workshops and various workings in a temple above his flat, just across the road from the baths, that are now a neo-Regency tourist attraction, but once a temple of Sulis-Minerva and of more ancient mysteries beyond that, going back to the mysterious King Bladud.
The concept he proposes is known as the Triune or Three-fold Alliance – which is between the human, the animal and the faery kingdoms.
This is no mere contemporary fad dreamed up out of his own head. This crisis has been seen coming for some time now, and he quotes extensively from an 18th century document in his possession, which you can read for yourselves in two of his books The Living World of Faery, and Power Within the Land, which, along with both his earlier and more recent work, seek a working relationship between humans and the spiritual forces of the land or region in which they live. Within these spiritual forces are included the animal as well as the elemental.
This is why I have felt it important to draw your attention to the land round about us here, and particularly in relation to Dion Fortune who did a great deal of practical import here within your own backyard.
For all this challenges us in many different ways. It is not enough to confine our interest in these matters to a safe and purely intellectual level. It calls upon us not only to “believe in” faeries, but to understand who and what they are, where they come from, where they are going, and what our mutual relationship with them may be.
It makes similar demands on us to think about how we relate to the animal kingdom, for the patience and suffering of the animal kingdom needs to come through to our awareness loud and clear. It requires us to open our minds to areas we are not accustomed to explore; to open doors of consciousness which have remained shut for a very long time.
The faery and elemental forces are the only true inner expression of the natural world, since much of scientific thinking remains detached, mechanical and Newtonian. The human majority are conditioned by the familiarity of everyday perception and see nothing to be wondered at in the constant sustaining of the entire universe second by second and day by day, from the stars down to the tiniest atomic infrastructure.
So we should rouse ourselves and reach out to our companions on this planetary globe. Make ourselves known to these beings who are part of the evolution of the inner Earth in high or low degree. Seek out what lies within these parallel worlds behind appearances. And in particular the hidden evolutionary expression of the faery world that is often concealed behind the curtains of myth and fantasy.
This challenging relationship to the world of faery is real enough to those who may have experienced it, but has been sadly misrepresented. Despite the witness of seers from Thomas the Rhymer, and Robert Kirk, to Evans-Wentz, W.B.Yeats and George Russell, it remains a fragmented and misunderstood corpus of legend and folklore. Even condemned as demonic by religious authority.
And in some respects this may be understandable. Even Terry Pratchett`s young witches discovered it was possible to get the wrong side of a stroppy elf queen. Although the hidden lesson here is that they made that kind of contact because it was a reflection of their own stroppy adolescent hubris. The inner worlds can be very reflective of our own attitudes. Which is why dedication and pure motive are all important.
There are many types of faeries. Just as there are many types of animal species, and ethnic variations of the human race. And there may well be some who have little love for human beings – and not without just cause.
However, the general concensus from a more cooperative part of the faery host is that time is running short for this kind of work; that they are affected by our neglect of them, and that we emasculate them with our notions of prettiness and “airy fairy”. That element of human whimsy and sentimentality that sees them all gossamer wings and frilly knickers.
However, there is a general resurgence of awareness of the existence of this kingdom, in various forms. We see it evident in the imaginative response to the works of Tolkien, a somewhat cantankerous Oxford don who decided to sit down and write his own mythology, just for his own satisfaction, and ended up, albeit posthumously, stirring the imagination of a new generation with his tales of elven kingdoms. Not that all Tolkien wrote should be taken as literal truth, but he dug deep in mining his fantasy, and has presented a painted curtain behind which breathes a true elven reality. As may be apparent by close reading of his essay On Faery Stories or his short faery tale Smith of Wooton Major.
The theme of a threefold alliance of human, animal and faery seems also evident in the filming and popular reception of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, by his friend C.S.Lewis. Whether or not you choose to accept any element of Christian allegory within his work, it nonetheless depicts a joint communication and cooperation between human, animal and faery against devolutionary forces.
There are also more specialist works available for those who seek to pursue these lines. One, recently published, that comes to mind is by John Matthews, entitled The Sidhe – Wisdom from the Celtic Otherworld. It is an account of a contact with what would appear to be a representative of one of the Lordly Ones at an Irish archeological site, a Neolithic barrow, on a trip which turned out to be the most exciting journey of his life.
It may be that John has psychic gifts a little beyond the ordinary, but the gist of the message he received was that work of this nature does not require any especial psychic gifts, or the organisational requirements of formal ritual, but is simply a matter of attitude, or what William Blake might have called “cleansing the doors of perception.”
I quote from a key passage of what he received, in relation to a view of the sidhe as to how the human race were falling short.
“You would be better to see yourselves as allies of creation rather than its rulers. By choosing to work in harmony with the natural world – as once all living things did – you could still redress the balance.
“If your life brushes against that of another creature you feel something. If you take the life of another creature you feel something. It is no great step to extend this to feeling something when you touch a rock or a tree, when you feel the energy of a river or the sea.
“Many feel these things, yet your race continually shut out these feelings. Just as you attach devices to your horses so that they can see only ahead, so you have done to yourselves, limiting your vision until you can see nothing save that which is before you. Only when you learn to remove the guards will you experience true vision. You must seek to become reconnected to everything, end the separation you have created for yourselves.
“There are many things you can do to bring about a re-connection. Begin by noticing the world around you. By truly looking. By seeing past the surface of things to the level of Spirit.
“At the moment when you go out into nature you see only the surface of things. Trees, grass, water, plants. Yet the reality of these things is far greater. Once you knew this. You can discover it again if you truly wish. Next time you are outside look around you. Try to see beyond the surface into the true nature of things you see. Though you may find it difficult to do so at first, in time you will begin to see more. If you continue far enough and deeply enough you will even begin to communicate with the spirit within the things you are observing. In truth you will cease to be observers at all and become part of the thing you are looking at.
“This is what the ancient bards of this land meant when they spoke of having `been` a thing. This was more than a poetic image, but a very real truth. To truly know a thing is to become one with it. Just as to become one with it is to truly know it.
“When you do this you will begin to understand the true nature of things, and of your own relationship to them. Perhaps then, when plants and rocks and animals are no longer soulless things, you will cease to treat them as such, cease to take them and use them as you have now for so many of your ages. If you are truly ready to enter a new era then you must discover how to make such changes to the way you view things. Only when you have done so will you be truly liberated from the narrow place in which you have put yourselves.
“At present you are just as much prisoners as if you were truly locked up within stone walls. The walls of your prison are not ones that you can see with your eyes, but they can still be recognised.”
It seems to me that this may well be true of the great majority of the human race, although I venture to think that it may be less true of those of us who are assembled here. The very fact that we are present here demonstrates that we realise that there is something more to life than the surface illusion – hard, brash and self-sufficient though that surface illusion might appear.
Thus it is with a certain degree of puzzlement, mixed with sympathy, that I read within the pages of Quest sometimes, the plight of those who feel they follow a path alone. Believe me, you are never less alone than when you think you are alone. You simply have to reach out. Have faith and be aware. And prepare to be surprised.
So I suggest you could do yourselves and others a favour by going forth to tread the land that Dion Fortune trod with your senses open to what you may discover. And I conclude with the comments that David Carstairs, one of her contacts, made to her in 1923.
“You should make a practice, when the occasion offers, of getting into touch with the elements and the Nature Spirits, you`ll find it a very enjoyable process. They quicken the vitality and the perceptions and the sense of enjoyment. They quicken the `animal` in you of course, but as long as it`s a healthy animal and properly broken in you`ll be none the worse for that.
“You do it by going to the appointed place at the appointed time and sympathising with them – that is to say, feeling with them. You want to practice in getting the feel of a place and analysing it.
“You`ll find it consists of several layers. There will be a layer of human associations on the surface, then below that you will get the animal or the natural life that lived there, and below that the trees and the sub-tones of the plants – herbaceous stuff that dies to the roots each year – and below that again you`ll get the elements themselves, and you want to train your ear so that you can hear the different themes and pick them out and listen to them.”
And so these words I leave you to ponder, in the hope that they inspire you, as they did Dion Fortune, with the urge for diligent travelling, imaginative courage, and fruitful listening.
Dion Fortune: The Secrets of Dr Taverner
Frederick Bligh Bond: The Gate of Remembrance
Dion Fortune: Avalon of the Heart
Annie Besant: The Ancient Wisdom
Rutland Boughton & Fiona McLeod: The Immortal Hour
Dion Fortune: The Sea Priestess
Terry Pratchett: Lords and Ladies
Dion Fortune: Moon Magic
Dion Fortune: The Goat-foot God
Dion Fortune & Gareth Knight: The Circuit of Force
Wendy Berg & Mike Harris: Polarity Magic
Dion Fortune: The Esoteric Philosophy of Love and Marriage
Dion Fortune: The Cosmic Doctrine
R.J.Stewart: The Living World of Faery
R.J.Stewart: Power within the Land
C.S.Lewis: The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe
J.R.R.Tolkien: On Faery Stories
J.R.R.Tolkien: Smith of Wooton Major
John Matthews: The Sidhe