Dion Fortune and the Masonic Tradition
Talk by Gareth Knight at Canonbury Masonic Research Centre
18th October 2006
I take it that I do not have to say too much about Dion Fortune, as she will be quite familiar to those of you who follow my usual lines of thought and practice. However, as there may be some of you who come from a more strictly Masonic line perhaps I should say briefly that she is a leading figure in esoteric circles, who founded a school of initiation in 1927, although she had been active on the esoteric scene for some years before that, in the Golden Dawn and the Theosophical Society amongst others, learning her trade so to speak. And that she is perhaps best known by her written work, which ranges from a user-friendly work on the Qabalah, and through many of its aspects in fact and fiction. Her school, still exists as The Society of the Inner Light, and I, amongst a number of other teachers and writers of my generation, have passed through its doors and owe our apprenticeship to it, before becoming in our various ways either journeymen or mastercraftsmen in our chosen field.
Even amongst her aficionados I think the Masonic foundation of her own esoteric apprenticeship is not generally realised. The teacher who had a major effect upon her early esoteric work was a Mason of considerable erudition, remarkable occult abilities, and wide ranging freedom of thought. Indeed she made a fictional character of him in a series of short stories, “The Secrets of Dr Taverner”, casting him as a doctor who ran a strange nursing home that catered for unusual psycho-physical problems in a highly unorthodox manner.
She later wrote, “if there had been no Dr Taverner, there would have been no Dion Fortune.”
Well Dr Taverner was known in real life Dr Theodore Moriarty who seems to have been only slightly less larger than life than the fictional character based upon him. An Irishman, born on July 27th 1873 in Dublin, he was the son of a captain in the Royal Navy, the Republic of Ireland still being under the British crown at that time.
According to scraps of biographical reminiscence recalled by his students, he ran away to sea and joined the merchant service. Then after one of the ship`s officers had interested him in philosophy, he returned to Dublin to study, and from thence went on to Heidelberg, where it is assumed he obtained a doctorate, although if he did it was not in medicine. University records in Dublin and Heidelberg throw no light upon his possible academic attainments.
Anyhow, at the age of twenty four he contracted tuberculosis, a not uncommon disease in those days, and on being advised to seek a dryer climate, emigrated, in 1897, to South Africa. There he worked on surveying roads before enlisting in the Customs service. He married, had two children and developed an interest in anthropology, particularly of local tribes of primitive Bushmen.
He also became a freemason. He was initiated into the St. Blaize Lodge, No. 1938 of the United Grand Lodge of England at Mossel Bay, but later transferred, in 1906, to the Edward H. Corgland Lodge, No. 247 of the Grand Lodge of Ireland, in Johannesberg. Then in 1911 he was back under the jurisdiction of the United Grand Lodge of England, in the Unanimity Lodge No. 3126, at Walmer, near Port Elizabeth.
During this time he became co-author of two books on the subject, “The Freemason’s Vade Mecum” and “Notes on Masonic Etiquette and Jurisprudence”, his co-author being another mason of some distinction, Thomas N. Cranstoun-Day.
In documents he signed himself as being of the 18th degree, which signifies the Rosicrucian initiations that are open within Freemasonry. For all this information, and much that follows, we are indebted to the painstaking research of Alan Richardson, Dion Fortune’s other biographer, a new edition of whose work “Priestess” is, I am pleased to say, shortly forthcoming.
He must also have studied esoteric subjects in considerable depth for by the time Dion Fortune met him, soon after he had returned to England, in 1916, he had gained a reputation as a teacher of a system that he called “Universal Theosophy”. This had attracted a body of students that included three loyal and dedicated sisters who provided him, each in their way, with facilities for his classes. They were daughters of Francis Allen JP, of Swaffham in Norfolk.
The first was Elsie Reeves, the widow of a surgeon. She provided residential accommodation for courses at her home in Eversley, a village in Hampshire. These were attended on several occasions by Dion Fortune as she records in her semi-autobiography, “Psychic Self-Defence”. The second sister was Ursula Allen-Williams, the wife of an army officer, who provided Moriarty with a large shed for lectures at the bottom of her garden at Inverness Terrace, Bayswater, barely a stone`s throw away from Dion Fortune`s later London headquarters in Queensborough Terrace. And the third sister was Gwen Stafford-Allen, who allowed Moriarty to run his Science, Arts and Craft Society from her home, the Grange, in Bishops Stortford, where she ran a home for unwanted babies with the help of two doctors and nursing staff under the auspices of the County Council. Dion Fortune it seems was also acquainted with this location, for the district provides the locale for one of her novels, “The Goat-foot God”.
Dion Fortune thus seems to have availed herself of all three centres of his activity and it is an amalgam of these that forms the fictional nursing home described in “The Secrets of Dr. Taverner”, which ran as a series of stories in “The Royal Magazine” between February and July 1922, and which was the first published work of Violet Mary Firth to appear under the pen name Dion Fortune, by which she is now more generally known.
Her first meeting with Moriarty, at the age of 26, had a climactic effect upon the rest of her life. Until then she had been something of a misfit, unable to find a true direction in life, looking for some kind of career at a time when little was open to young women. After dabbling with horticulture and aspirations to free lance journalism, she had however begun to settle into the newly burgeoning field of psychology at the Medico-Psychological Clinic in Brunswick Square. Here she had become a leading student employed as a psychotherapeutic counsellor as back-up to the qualified medical staff. She had even had published a little book on elementary psychology, entitled “The Machinery of the Mind” graced with a foreword by a distinguished scientist, A.G.Tansley F.R.S., author of a major psychological textbook of the day.
She had however begun to become a little disillusioned by the lack of success that she discerned in current psychotherapeutic methods. Until, on a particularly unusual and difficult case, involving what might be called modern vampirism allied to psychic phenomena and necrophilia, Dr. Moriarty was called in, who apparently cleared it all up in spectacular fashion.
She was sufficiently impressed to write up the incident as the first of the Dr. Taverner stories, under the title “Blood Lust”, and to throw up her intentions of a career in psychotherapy. From henceforth she dedicated herself to investigating the psychic side of things.
She was quite eclectic in her approach, dividing her time between the Theosophical Society, the Golden Dawn tradition, and Theodore Moriarty’s activities.
The latter included a co-masonic lodge that he had set up at Sinclair Road in Hammersmith, and a record survives of ritual officers in the year 1919/20. Theodore Moriarty is registered as Adeptus with most, if not all, of the other officers being female, the office of Junior Warden being filled by V.M.Firth – the future Dion Fortune.
She does not appear in the list of officers for the following year, possibly because she had transferred her allegiance to the Golden Dawn system. However, her great friend Netta Fornario, is named as Outer Guardian, and the group seems to have made excellent strides for there had been thirteen initiations and an affiliation during the year.
The Golden Dawn of course had its origins in 1888 with three members of the Societas Rosicruciana in Anglia but by 1919 had changed its name and divided into a number of temples. The one that Dion Fortune joined was the Alpha and Omega, that had been founded in Edinburgh in 1913 by the Scottish novelist Brodie Innes, but which had a London branch in which Maiya Curtis-Webb (an old friend of the Firth family) played a leading role. Dion Fortune seems to have thrived under Maiya Curtis-Webb’s tutelage but after Moina Macgregor Mathers, following the death of her husband, returned to England and took over the London branch of the Alpha et Omega, the stage seemed set for some kind of eventual confrontation. The newly initiated Soror Deo Non Fortuna apparently had something of an independent streak that did not go down too well with those whom she later described as the “widows and grey beards” who now ran the society.
As one who in later life was to demonstrate her natural flair in powers of leadership those about her no doubt found her rather than a trifle too pushy. This included the Allen sisters, when following Moriarty`s death from a heart attack in 1923, she put herself forward as a natural candidate to take over his group. This received a somewhat dusty response from the Allen girls for it was Gwen Stafford-Allen who seemed the natural heir-apparent.
Accordingly, Dion Fortune went her own way and formed and developed her own group, which went from strength to strength over the years. Establishing herself in Glastonbury she set about developing powers of trance mediumship, apparently after the manner that she had observed practised by Theodore Moriarty. This was not the type of mediumship usually practised by spiritualists, concerning family messages from the recently departed, but attempts to contact superior intelligences of one kind and another for metaphysical teaching and practice.
There was a great deal of this about at the time. It was the period when Alice Bailey made her first contacts with the Tibetan, when Olive Pixley developed her system of the Armour of Light under inner instruction, when W.B.Yeats received the complex teaching, through the automatic writing of his wife Georgie, that he later published as “A Vision”. And indeed if truth were told it was the modus operandi of pioneers of the previous generation, including the Secret Chiefs of the Golden Dawn, and the remarkable visions of Anna Kingsford that developed into the Hermetic Society, which was an immediate predecessor to the Golden Dawn and inspiration to Macgregor Mathers as he acknowledges in his dedication to her in “The Kaballah Unveiled”. Dion Fortune`s involvement in communications of this nature resulted in a body of teaching known as “The Cosmic Doctrine”.
An interesting factor in this body of teaching lies in some of its terminology, which shows a considerable subconscious influence from the writings of Moriarty. Although there is a difference of outlook and approach that distances it from any possible accusation of plagiarism. Some of the same terms may be being used, but they are used in a completely different way. And a way, it should be said, that is quite demanding on the intuitive powers of anyone who seeks to comes to grips with it. Indeed it has been designated as being designed “to train the mind rather than to inform it”. And indeed much the same could be said of much cosmic mediumship of this type. It stretches the intellect into intuitive modes of speculation, even possible spiritual revelation, somewhat after the manner of the writings of Jacob Boehme or William Blake.
Dion Fortune came to rely a great deal on what came to her through her mediumistic work, although not exclusively, for she threw her net wide. But there is one session in particular that I would like to concentrate upon, which is very revealing of the pattern of ritual work and the Masonic influence as it impacted upon her Fraternity.
This session occurred on March 29th 1925 and is evidently a response, given in deep trance, to a recent recruit to her group who is worried about whether he has received quittance from his obligation to his original Masonic, or possibly Golden Dawn, affiliations. It is worth examining in some detail, for a good deal can be gleaned I think, fairly accurately, from reading between the lines.
The immediate response to the neophyte`s question is unequivocal. “There is no question of quittance, my son, it is one and the same thing. There are the same Inner Chiefs. You have not changed your allegiance, you have merely changed your lodge. There is but one keystone to the arch, though there are two pillars.”
There follows a potted history of the history of Freemasonry as understood by the communicator, or by the subconscious mind of Dion Fortune, however you like to interpret these matters.
“The Lesser Mysteries were given in their present form in the year 1717, but you are also no doubt aware that they existed long prior to that date. The tradition of their origin in Solomon’s Temple is mainly symbolical, though it has a substratum of historical fact, as have all allegorical histories. The facts of the matter I will briefly explain.
“The Temples were the repositories of the Secret Wisdom, which was derived from the Manus and added to by the Illuminati as evolution permitted a wider consciousness. There were employed in the service of the Temple, craftsmen and artificers. These of necessity had to have conveyed to them certain knowledge, because it was their province to work the symbols which were used in the rituals. It thus came about that there grew up around each Temple groups of lay brethren, and in order to bind these to secrecy, oaths were administered. They thus formed a Lesser Fraternity, which was possessed of the secret symbols, but not of their interpretations.
“In ancient days promotion never took place from the Lesser Fraternity to the Greater, for the men of the Greater Fraternity were specially bred for the purpose, and derived their blood from the Sacred Clan, whereas the men of the Lesser Fraternity came from the populace. A soul that aspired to pass from the Lesser to the Greater had to disincarnate.”
I should perhaps interject at this point that the ancient days being spoken of are far beyond those of the Temple of Solomon and refer to the legendary lost continent of Atlantis. This was a subject that was the topic of hot speculation in the 1920`s, although subsequent scientific investigation seems to throw some doubt upon the matter. Nonetheless it is keeps cropping up with great persistence in many manners of ways, including Tolkien’s Numenor, so that I think it can be legitimately be regarded as a valid element of what we might call psycho-geography or psycho-historiography. Like the square root of minus one in mathematics, it may not exist, but nonetheless allows us to explain much!
However, Dion Fortune`s communicator does not labour the point but leapfrogs quite quickly to the more familiar territory of the building of the Temple of Solomon in early Judaic times.
“When King Solomon desired to reorganise the Jewish or Melchisedechian mysteries, he sent to the Tyrian School for an Initiator, and this Initiator brought with him certain artificers who were familiar with the art of working in stone which, in its more refined aspects, was unknown to the Jews. There were then at Jerusalem the Clan of the Craftsmen and the Sacred College. Into the Clan of the Craftsmen were admitted numerous Jewish subordinates, and these, with the enterprise of their race, desired opportunity for admission to the Greater Mysteries.
“This was refused, and there was an insurrection, which was quelled but not before serious developments had followed. But the building had progressed sufficiently far to be capable of completion without further need of Tyrian science, and so arrangements were made for the Tyrian artificers to return to their homes, and the work was completed by the Jewish craftsmen, and the services of the Temple were duly inaugurated and conducted by the Levites.
“There remained, however, a considerable body of men, who by means of the experiences they had undergone, and the symbols they had handled, had attained a degree of enlightenment, but these were neither priests nor populace. Many of the labourers and workmen, having profited nothing by their opportunities, but remaining hewers of wood and drawers of water, were reabsorbed by the populace on the completion of that Great Work.
“Others, however, having learnt the exoteric or technical arts of applied geometry, were capable of constructing edifices. They therefore banded themselves together into the first Building Guilds, and wandered as nomads wherever their work was required; the head man of the clan driving a bargain for the service of his people, who, with their wives and families, tools and implements, borne on the backs of asses, and driving herds of goats, wandered all over the known world, leaving the mark of their training on the edifices they erected, and conserving their knowledge of the building arts as tribal secrets. These were the forerunners and ancestors of the medieval Building Guilds.
“Now it was the custom of these patriarchal Fraternities to employ solemn worship, whose ritual they derived from the days of the Temple building, and each edifice was consecrated at its commencement and dedicated at its completion by the rituals known only to the Builders.
“In the dedication they aimed at the propitiation of the Earth Spirits of the site, that they might withhold accidents from the workmen. And at the completion they rendered thanks lest resentful spirits should revenge themselves in the future. It is to the Earth Spirits of the site that the coins of dedication are tendered. For, as you doubtless know, coins of the realm are placed beneath the Corner Stone. This is the remote relic of the Great Invocations with which the Tyrian Adept consecrated each corner of his Temple.
“The medieval Building Guilds, substituting the Saints for the Elementals, continued the Tradition, using the symbolism, of which they had no interpretation, and employing an art of whose esoteric significance they were ignorant.
“The line of the Greater Mysteries, however, had never died out neither had its flame been quenched, for each new Illuminatus rekindled the Light from the hidden fire; and the tradition stretched down the ages, despite the persecutions of the Church.
“During the earlier years of the 18th century and the concluding years of the 17th the Secret Science had received a great impetus owing to the activities of certain men of outstanding character, and many students pursued these arts.
“It was desired by the Adepti to organise the training of the aspirants and it was decided that for this purpose the rituals of the Lesser Mysteries were required. These, however, had become extinct. For though the Greater Mysteries could relume the torch at the Light of the Inner Fire, the Lesser Mysteries were dependent on the Greater; and when the Light went out it was not relit. Therefore it was that there was no School of the Lesser Mysteries to act as a bridge whereby the populace could reach the Temple.
“Now the Adepti, seeking to construct rituals suitable for the Initiation of Candidates of the grades of the Lesser Mysteries, cast about for such relics of the old rituals as might still be extant. They had no more affinity with the Building Guilds than they had with the Scribes or Papermaking Guilds who also were descendants of the Temple servants. But in the superstitious practices of the Building Guilds they found the relics of the ancient Craft Mysteries and on these relics they based their work.
“Therefore it is that the Lesser Mysteries of the Western races express abstract truths in the formulae of masons` technicalities. The principles are those common to all the Lesser Mystery Schools. The form is peculiar to the particular trade which happened to be selected for the purpose of picking up the contacts.”
It will be gathered from this that the largely unspoken assumption is that what we are concerned with is a secret tradition of means of communicating with various inner powers, that is the motivating and indeed the driving engine behind Masonic symbolism. And moreover that there is a division between the members of such guilds as might be privy to the symbolism, even if they did not understand it, and the general populace. But moreover there is a division within, between what might be called the Lesser and the Greater Mysteries, which the communicator goes on to define as Rosicrucian. And in the original script such words do not appear printed out, but only by a row of dots, indicating not so much a requirement for secrecy, for the meaning is perfectly obvious, but a certain reverence in the hearts and minds of those who are receiving this material. The importance and glory of which of course, they may well hope, rubs off a little on themselves, as being entrusted to be in the know.
But back to the script, which may possibly cause the hackles of some more down to earth Masonic brothers to rise. But don`t blame me, I am only quoting what the man said!
“You will see from this that the validity of the Lesser Mystery ritual depends entirely on its being operated by Initiates of the Greater Mysteries, and mark you this – no Mason can initiate. It is only a Rosicrucian that can initiate, and the Rosicrucians are the masters of the Masons, and they know it, my brother.
“ And if you take your initiation from the hand of the Rosicrucian you have no occasion to question its validity, rather you may question the validity of Initiations received from other hands.
“Now mark this well – it was only the three Craft Degrees that were instituted by the Adepts, and these are the only degrees of the Lesser Mysteries. The higher Masonic Degrees are but attempts on the part of the populace to enter the Mysteries which were reserved for the Sacred Clan; and now, as then, it is necessary to be twice-born – born of the Spirit as well as of the flesh in order to enter the Greater Mysteries.
“Of recent years evolution, having advanced, and the development of the feminine aspect of the race having reached a degree which enabled the average woman to benefit by the Masonic Initiations, those who ruled the Order from within desired that the gates should be open, but those who ruled the Order from without held the gates shut in England. Among the French Masons, however, were a larger proportion of occultists, and these, acting under instructions, opened the gates and gave the Charter to three noble women that they might initiate their sex.
“This Charter is valid: By their works ye shall know them.”.
Now I am no scholar of Masonic history and tradition, and so am in no position to be able to put names and faces to what is generally implied here. But in that which follows, which comes closer to home, I can certainly hazard an informed guess as to who is being referred to. Let us continue.
“A difficulty arose however; Masonry is designed to act as an introductory school to the Rosicrucian Mysteries. Women’s Masonry was used under Eastern contacts, for which it was unsuited…” Here, I think we have the writing off, in the script, of any Theosophical Society initiatives in this direction under Annie Besant and C.W.Leadbeater.
“… and therefore another attempt was made at founding a mixed Lodge, and, the Anglo-saxon race being too unreceptive and hidebound by prejudice, the task was given before to a Celt.”
Is this a reference to Samuel Liddell Macgregor Mathers I ask myself?
“Later a Celt was used again, and this time an Irishman received and acted upon the mandate.”
Would this be Theodore Moriarty?
“He worked for a time and then the mandate was withdrawn and the Lodge closed – for the force had broken bounds.”
That is, he too had died, and his successors did not seem able to pick up the torch, at any rate in Dion Fortune`s estimation.
“Again the attempt was made, but this time, the Celtic stock being deemed too unstable, the Nordic stock was used. That briefly is the history of your Fraternity.”
The Nordic stock is of course that of Violet Mary Firth, or Dion Fortune, who was greatly proud of her Yorkshire origins, part of which she indirectly celebrates in the character to Tim Murchison in her novel “The Winged Bull”.
“Now the Irishman who founded the Neo-Essenes sought a contact, just as the Adepts of 1717 sought a contact, but he, being able to function on the inner planes, established his contact by touching the planetary memories and linked up with the ancient Essenes of Palestine, who were the residuum of the builders settled among the mountains of Lebanon – men too old for the task of building who retired to end their lives in peaceful meditation upon the mysteries of God and Nature. It is from these that this Fraternity first derived its contacts, though these contacts are enshrined in the form of the Masonic symbolism as being most appropriate thereto and likewise the lineal descendants thereof.”
This reference to an Irishman who founded the Neo-Essenes I think must also refer to Moriarty, although I am not aware of his connection with any such organisation. Neo-Essenes tend to call to my mind the later successors of Anna Kingsford, who embraced their own kind of mystical Christianity. However, Moriarty was certainly well enough informed in the esoteric elements of Christian religion to have been involved in such an enterprise, and I cite as evidence a series of lectures he gave called “Metaphysical Aspects, (or Concepts), of Religion” with particular reference to the Gospel of St John.
In one of these particularly, and it appears to be the first, is evidence of his pervading influence on Dion Fortune`s conceptions.
As an initiate of her school, albeit having entered it rather more than fifty years ago, I do not think I am giving away any esoteric secrets in saying that much of the ritual symbolism she used is broadly Masonic. Indeed pillars and such appear in the introductory study course, but I recall the sense of shock I received when in later years I found much that I had thought to be secret symbolism of the innermost inner plainly laid out in a Masonic handbook! However, there can be considerable differences between one lodge or tradition and another, in detail and addition to the general symbolic scenario, as well as various perceptual developments and shifts of emphasis from one generation to another.
Some of these have been publicly revealed already by the amusing and occasionally iconoclastic writer Francis King, in “Ritual Magic in England”, who does not pull his punches, even if they sometimes swing somewhat wide of the mark. He found cause for risibility in an Inner Light ritual that he attended on the close association of such symbolic elements as wheat, honey and asbestos.
Now just such a bizarre sounding triad is to be found in one of the Moriarty lectures I have mentioned, given God knows when, but which by coincidence has come my way, and with annotations that I am part persuaded are in Dion Fortune`s hand.
In this, along with the assumption of the existence of Atlantis, is a dissertation upon the sun hero, representing the divine aspect in man, that is paralleled by the passage of the sun through the signs of the zodiac, which sinks to relative impotence in the winter to rise again gloriously in the spring. And as the sun begins its descent in the sign Leo, so the lion is found in all sun myths, and from whose carcase proceed bees.
The bee he sees as an important symbol within the Mysteries, with allusions in many Bible passages – in Genesis, Ezra, the Psalms and the Pauline Epistles – and also as an especial mark of the Order of Melchizedek, bees being creatures capable of creating a perfect figure, the hexagon, within their cells.
Another aspect of the sun hero is as god of agriculture, and as god of the corn the sun hero is said to scatter the seed. From earliest times the ear of corn has been the symbol of fertility, of “the bread of life”, and with the essential quality inherent in all seeds, the abstract being only waiting for fertilisation to spring into activity and growth.
And then we come upon asbestos as the third member of a symbolic trinity, which according to Moriarty has been a symbol in the Mysteries from earliest days. And the reason for the connection between these three things he says – the bee, the corn and asbestos – is because they all came to earth from other evolutions. That is, they have no archetypes on this planet, but have been brought over to us to teach definite lessons, and for this reason are called Manu manifestations.
And he goes on to explain that although at first sight there does not appear to be any mention of asbestos in the Bible, the Toltec word pettri, though meaning primarily a stone, also stands for asbestos, and equally the Greek word petros, used so much in the gospels, is the same word as pitheros, which also stands for asbestos, which stands for the indestructibility of the spirit principle even by fire.
In these old Mysteries, asbestos is described as “the unaffected yet bound”.
The wheat is described as “the living yet dead”.
And the bee as “the free yet enslaved.”
All three of which, I suggest, are profound definitions as to what being an initiate in the world entails.
“The unaffected yet bound.”
“The living yet dead.”
“The free yet enslaved.”
Think on these things. For whatever our outward differences or perceived paths may seem, be they Rosicrucian, Masonic, Neo-Essene, Golden Dawn or Inner Light, these definitions are symbolic pointers to essential and universal truth. They were good enough for Theodore Moriarty. They were good enough for Dion Fortune. And they are certainly good enough for me!