What seems likely to be the most popular esoteric title so far in the publications of Skylight Press is the recently published Dion Fortune’s Rites of Isis and of Pan containing scripts of the rites that were written and performed by Dion Fortune back in the 1930’s. They have rather been kept under wraps ever since, but there comes a time for everything, on this occasion sparked when Wendy Berg, out of the blue, asked me if Dion Fortune had ever written a Rite of Pan, and if so, was it likely to be hanging around anywhere?
I passed on the enquiry to the Warden of the Society of the Inner Light, feeling prompted at the same time to suggest that, if there was, it might be a good idea to publish it – along with the Rite of Isis. To my delight an answer quickly came back, not only in the affirmative but with a great deal of enthusiasm, along with copies of the original scripts.
It remained only for me to add some research of my own showing how the rites linked to her novels The Winged Bull, The Goat-foot God, The Sea Priestess and Moon Magic. And in reading these through again I learned quite a lot as to their close links and mutual importance.
Along with this I was able to add a couple of articles that Dion Fortune wrote about her novels in The Inner Light Magazine at the time. Also an historically important article she wrote for The Occult Review in 1933, entitled Ceremonial Magic Unveiled, which hailed two new books by the young Israel Regardie, whom she took under her wing and supported his initiation into a Bristol branch of the Golden Dawn, (from which much upturning of apple carts would later ensue!) However, his Tree of Life and Garden of Pomegranates effectively ended the culture of secrecy that had hitherto surrounded the Golden Dawn tradition of magic, and Dion Fortune's own work, The Mystical Qabalah, was soon to follow.
She had been working on The Mystical Qabalah since 1931 and its publication led in turn to her writing and publicly performing her Rite of Isis and Rite of Pan, and illustrating their principles in her novels. Sexual polarity played a large part in their format although the topic, in the form of “etheric magnetism” is much broader than this, as she went on to describe in a series of articles called The Circuit of Force in 1939-40 – since published by Thoth Publications with a commentary by me that was much helped by my coming across an old text on etheric magnetism on a bookstall in Paris. Nice piece of synchronicity!
In her novels she gives some practical examples of this, notably in The Winged Bull where Ursula Brangwyn “charges up” Ted Murchison when he is in a particularly depleted state, and in the novels that followed she became increasingly open about its application in a ritual context.
The Rite of Pan is alluded to in The Goat-foot God but without very much detail, but the script of the Rite of Isis is quite extensively quoted in The Sea Priestess and in Moon Magic. What is perhaps more important, and which can tend to be overlooked, are her descriptions of what participation in a magical ritual may feel like – given the right conditions and attitude to what is going on. Over the years she had also set out, in various articles in The Inner Light Magazine various hints about the technique of ritual, most of which have been collected together with matching articles by me, published by Thoth Publications as An Introduction to Ritual Magic in 1997.
For example she is at pains to point out:
“Ceremonial magic is not primarily designed to produce objective phenomena, but to operate in the invisible kingdoms. The immediate results are not observed by the physical eye, but by psychic vision, and the end results are diffused and indirect, but nevertheless very definite. If we approach ceremonial magic from this point of view, we can learn a great deal, and we can also do a great deal; but if we expect of it what it is not designed to perform, we shall be disappointed...It must be clearly realised that magic can only be done effectually by a trained person, and that results are not a foregone conclusion, but in proportion to skill and experience. Natural aptitude also plays a part. The first requisite is the power to concentrate; the second, the power to build up an image in the imagination with the same clarity as a novelist visualises his characters; the third is the power to throw consciousness out of gear and let the subconscious mind ‘take over’. ... The result of such an operation, if successful, is to produce a profound psychological effect on all concerned and an extraordinary atmosphere in the room where it is performed.”
Such is the aim of the performance of scripts such as the Rite of Isis and the Rite of Pan. But what is the point of all this? She goes on to say:
“Now if temporary exaltation and nothing more were produced, ceremonial magic would rank with alcohol as an intoxicant with possible medicinal uses and a definite entertainment value; but such an exaltation extends consciousness, develops capacity, and affects character to a marked degree. It will not change a person’s character, making him something he is not, but it will bring out anything of a corresponding nature that is latent in just the same way that hypnotism will, and for the same reason – that it touches the deepest levels of consciousness and releases inhibitions. It is for this reason that ceremonial will do in an hour what can only be done by meditation in months or years.”
Although along with this come some caveats:
“The persons taking part must be carefully chosen, both for their own sakes and for the sake of the success of the operation; they must be properly trained and know what they are about, and they must gain experience with minor potencies and rites before they attempt the high-powered ones. Some exponent s of occultism decry all ritual as dangerous, and no doubt it would be so in their hands; but there is no reason why foxes who have got tails should cut them off!”
For this reason there was no doubt a discrete selection process in her performing these rites in public, but it was her theory that beneficial results without too much risk could be achieved by reading her novels and identifying with the characters. Not that this was entirely fool proof, as she notes in 1936:
“The Winged Bull was published last year with results that were to be expected – the reviewers passed by on the other side; a fair number of folk wrote to express unbridled admiration; and a few let off screeches of agony and abuse which showed that their complexes had been trodden on. In fact our library is enriched by a copy which was presented by a lady who was so horrified at it that she not only would not keep it in the house, but would not place it in the dustbin lest it corrupt the scavengers.”
Nonetheless, her esoteric novels have remained in print, off and on, for over seventy years – which is one celebrated definition of “literary immortality”. They are currently published by Weiser Books in the U.S.A.
With this new book, discerning readers can now read them in the light of the actual Rites of Isis and of Pan, along with some of her own comments on her intentions in a couple of contemporary articles The Novels of Dion Fortune (1936) and The Winged Bull: A Study in Esoteric Psychology (1938), to which I have added an extract from her magical diary of 1931 on The Establishment of the Sphere of Yesod in the Aura; some notes on The Circuit of Force that was circulated to members of her Society in 1939 (some were a bit nervous about it!); and finally a transcript of a trance address to senior members of the Society of the Inner Light in December 1940 on the subjects of magical and mystical polarity.