Monday, December 30, 2013


First bright spark in my new year comes in the form of a little book by R J Stewart entitled The Arch of Heaven.  The subject of the book and its contents will not be unfamiliar to anyone who has worked with RJS over the years,  who has read his books The Underworld Initiation or Living Magical Arts,  where they are quoted, or indeed  has attended any of his workshops, or worked with him in a magical capacity. It concerns that most evocative of openings to any transcendental work   that begins:

In the Name of the Son of Light – The Son of Maria – Foster-son of Brighd in Avalon – Keystone of the Arch of Heaven – Who joins as One the Forks upholding of the Sky.....

And concludes with:

.....Do you see us here – Oh Son of Light? – Says the Son of Light: “I See!”

There are many of us who can vouch for the evocative power of these lines to the point that – imitation being the sincerest form of flattery – a number of us have used them within our own workings on various occasions.  What this little book does is to give a run down on how these evocative lines came about, and to what use this opening can be put in the wider field of esoteric working.

As a prayer  it provides a simple and effective means for liberating those who are trapped after physical death, and may be unable or unwilling to move on. It also offers a method of attuning a location, typically a room or a house (room by room). It can be recited aloud from the printed page, although is best learned by heart.

As a meditative practice, undertaken daily, it provides the means of attuning to deep spiritual forces and consciousness of liberation, redemption, beauty and harmony.  It gently brings us into balance not only in our consciousness but simultaneously within our bodies.

As a ceremony, it can enable a group or an individual to consciously attune a dedicated or chosen space to compassionate spiritual forces.

Many of us had assumed The Arch of Heaven to be of ancient Celtic provenance, it certainly has that feel to it, along with the unique ability to be at one with those of a Christian or a pagan religious persuasion, and it  is thus usable in a variety of circumstances and with mixed groups.  However, its origins are far from what anyone might have expected, as is revealed in the first part of the book, describing the origin of the verses and their content.  Quite an instructive little ghost story in itself!

The second part of the book describes various ways of working with it and, to my mind, includes some very perceptive and relevant remarks and guidelines on the dynamics of inner plane contact and those assumed to be communicating from there. A lot of this ought to be compulsory reading for a whole host of those who aspire to or who claim to be working along these lines.

As R J Stewart says in his Introduction – “It has taken more than thirty-five years to write this book. Rather than being solely a development of text, it has been a deep current within my life, and in more recent years within the lives of others trained to work with The Arch of Heaven. As the main text affirms, you can use the verses beneficially in many ways without the special training that such deeper levels require. Anyone can open The Arch of Heaven when spiritual aid is truly necessary; please read on to discover why and how, and what happens when you do so.”

Amen to that!  This is certainly a little gem of a book – indeed a potential classic – that deserves a place on anybody’s bookshelf of even handbag or back pocket!

Published by R.J.Stewart Books, printed in USA and UK, contact

ISBN 978-0-9856006-1-7 $14.95  £10.00

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Christ and Qabalah

December 23, 2013 by PeregrinWildoak on his blog magicoftheordinary. Happy Christmas everyone!

I was lucky enough to read the main subject of this book, the late Rev. Anthony Duncan, way back in the day, when I first started out on this esoteric caper – in fact before I read any Gareth Knight. This was due to the local Theosophical Society Library holding a copy of his The Christ, Psychotherapy and Magic. Even though I was immersed in and espousing my newly adopted Pagan ‘faith’, the book touched me deeply and I daresay held me fast during many years of theological speculation and confusion.

Far from being an ordinary village or city Anglican vicar, the Rev. Duncan was also a mystic of great depth, a lover of faeries, a part-time ghost-buster, a natural psychic and a wonderful exponent of the esoteric truths behind Christianity. The Church of England occasionally throws up such a soul, but rarely do they flourish within and outside the bounds of the Church as Rev. Duncan did.

On the outer reaches of the Church one only has to look at his classic The Elements of Celtic Christianity which had wide appeal back in the 90s, even to a Perth Pagan audience :)Within the church one can look at his long career as a parish priest, the respect he garnered and one or two more ‘out there’ moments. Take for example, his authorship of the clergy-only document The Psychic Disturbance of Places describing a rationale for psychic disruptions of places, ghosts and place memories and how a priest may assist in their resolution (which somehow made it past the church’s Doctrine Commission).

Christ & Qabalah, by the respected elder of English Magic, Gareth Knight, traces the meeting and esoteric interaction of ideas and works between himself and Rev Duncan. One can imagine that two innovators within their respective spiritual fields would have much to say to one another, much to spark off each other and much to gain from each other’s depth. Without being unduly intimate, Gareth Knight’s sharing of correspondence, diary entries and poems allows the reader to enter a wonderful and intensely personal relationship. As he describes, even though the two lived in the same town for only a short time as young men, afterwards they were ‘seldom out of each other’s heads’.

Knight recounts their relationship in a largely chronological manner, allowing the development of ideas and works, the refinement of beliefs and practices of each other to be clearly shown. This book is far more than a simple sketch of the life of Rev. Duncan; Knight draws out, places in context and shows how each influenced the other and the ramifications of their work for the greater esoteric and ‘post-Church’ worlds. His writing, as always, is clear, engaging and attractive, here with the addition of personal elements and anecdotes, as the author is quite happy to present the differences between himself and Rev. Duncan when they arose.

The great strength of the book is the snapshot into the diversity and depth of the work of Rev. Duncan, and also (when he elaborates on it) the work of Gareth Knight. Duncan is revealed as a man of great depth and mystic awareness, a (literally) inspired writer and proficient poet.

Myself (of which I make so great

a fuss) is a mere, brittle spike

of consciousness on the circumference of being;

a tiny terminal of unplumbed depth. (‘ME’, p.7)


Our being falls towards this point

Where all the lines converge” (‘NIRVANA POINT’, p.35)

Or in a more elemental mood:

Sprits of wood and water, stone and field,

whom my sophistication disallows, yet abide

and creep beneath my carapace. I know you well; (‘DEVELOPMENT’, p152)

There are many aspects to Duncan’s work and ideas that could easily be labelled ‘Pagan’, his deep faerie and land connection for instance. And the influence of Gareth Knight, steering him towards the Qabalah, produced material which may easily be called ‘magical’ by some people. However, the book shows that throughout it all Duncan was clear and insistent on the need for a Christocentric view of the occult and the hidden dimensions. He was devout in only the way those who have gone to the very depth of their traditions, seeing the Mystery clearly, eye to eye, can be. For Duncan, nature revealed the ‘grandeur of God’ (as Knight aptly summed it up in the words of the poet, Gerard Manley Hopkins) but was not God in toto. And as for magic and esoteric theories:

…magic, the art of making consciousness in accordance with the will, is a ‘lower pyramid’ exercise only. Its fulfilment is in Christ – but then it is no longer magic! (p.93)


Christians believe, not in avatars or incarnations, but in The Incarnation. “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us” as a Person of that One Creature, Mankind. The integrity of the one and the many – and the One – are all bound up inextricably. Mankind is a Love Affair…We have hardly begun to think about the implications of The Incarnation for Mankind. It is easier to waffle on about theology, or “incarnations” or vague “cosmics” of one sort or another, while Godhead lies, like a time-bomb in our midst. (p.139)

The book reveals however that Rev Duncan fully and firmly accepted the reality of the inner worlds, the faeries, reincarnation, psychic power and other mainstays of the occult. He also simply accepted the core Christian doctrine that despite our best efforts we sin (move away from the One) and only with the grace of the One (through Christ) can we hope to begin to ‘want to want God’. Our own efforts, such as his definition of magic, described in quotation above, are bound to fail. These and other aspects of the Christian tradition, which remained core to his understanding of the world, are described and explored well in the book (and in some of Gareth Knight’s other works). They remain both a challenge and an opportunity for all modern students of western magic, and as such this book is ideally suited for anyone interested in magic, the occult or the deeper sides of Christianity. It is as unique as the two men, the two soul friends, who produced it. Highly recommended.

Christ & Qabalah: Or, the Mind in the Heart. Gareth Knight with Anthony Duncan. Skylight Press.


Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Three facets of the Faery Melusine

At Christmas time the traditional role for a faery seems to be perched on top of a Christmas tree, possibly, in a secular age, standing in for one of the angels who scared the pants off the shepherds as they watched their flocks by night. Although the faery Melusine of Lusignan, who knew all about meeting humans more than halfway, insisted that she was a good Christian, along with the belief that a bit of magic never did anyone any harm. Not that all ended up roses for her – but that was largely because of her husband’s fault. Trust a human to muck things up!

Anyhow her story comes to mind for me this Yuletide with the reissue, by Skylight Press, of my first book about her: Melusine of Lusignan and the Cult of the Faery Woman, and it may be helpful to distinguish this approach to Melusine as compared to my other two books about her The Romance of the Faery Melusine and The Book of Melusine of Lusignan in History, Legend and Romance. Each one shows a different facet of the lady.

I was so struck by the legend of Melusine that when I first came upon it I was moved to write out her story for myself – including that of her amazing relations – her faery mother Pressine, who hailed from Scotland (as Queen of Albany) and was on close terms with Morgan le Fay and her magic island that one only finds by chance – her sisters Melior and Palastine, respective guardians of an initiatory test of the hawk each midsummer’s day, and of a great treasure hidden in a mountain guarded by a giant - and her ten sons, most of them marked in some way as a consequence of their faery origin – one with one all seeing eye, another with three. Four of them were great heroes and rescued rich damsels in distress to become kings of Switzerland, Bohemia, Armenia and Cyprus. They had a younger brother, Geoffrey Great-tooth, who was a giant killer but subject to boar like rages and killed his brother Fromond after he had become a monk – by burning down the abbey along with the rest of the community. Then there was the aptly named Horrible, and the less said about him the better. Even his mother suggested having him put down in infancy before he grew up to be completely uncontrollable. There can be quite a savage side to those of the faery kingdoms – they are not all sugar and spice and flimsy draperies. To these stories I added a little of my own experience of contacts with faery and modern facets of the tradition with a chapter on Melusine today. All this has been supplemented in the new edition of  Melusine of Lusignan and the Cult of the Faery Woman, with a fabulous front cover of the picture of the faery flying round her castle from the Duke de Bery’s “Book of Hours” – he being a lord of Lusignan in his day. 

But for those who want to be transported by the story of Melusine by a master story teller can do no better than immerse themselves in The Romance of the Faery Melusine, which is my translation of the story as told by the brilliant French novelist AndrĂ© Lebey –  and I can do no better than quote from a review at the time from the librarian of the Society of the Inner Light:

·         I loved this book. I read it with the music of  French folkies “Malicorne” playing in the background, and I savoured every word. Yes, the descriptions are so evocative that one can almost taste them! Lebey/Knight have achieved a hyperrealism through an almost hallucinatory pageant of minutiae which build and heighten the sense of time and place, of mood, of emotion, creating from the bare bones of legend a world entire. And it’s action packed! All human life is there, love and loss, bravery, betrayal…The people are real, though distant in space and time; we are shown, as it were, a myth through a series of masques or tapestries that dazzle and delight the senses. Comparisons are odious, but if you are thinking to yourself “the reviewer loves it, but will I?” then if you like what Evangeline Walton did with Celtic myth, you probably will. There is in Lebey/Knight’s book a particularly French sensibility which makes it unique, of course. Here is a master of story weaving his magic and bringing the lovely lady Melusine back to us once more, impressing the legend firmly into our mind’s eye.

Suffice to say that it is one of the best selling Skylight fiction titles and one that I am very proud of, to the extent of attempting another translation of a Lebay title all about druids – but more of that later.

Finally, for those who like to buttress themselves with the factual is The Book of Melusine of Lusignan in History, Legend and Romance as a consequence of my own visit to Lusignan from which I have culled the story of Melusine as recounted by a local parish priest; a definitive essay on Melusine by the French academic Louis Stouff who edited the original text of her romance; some photographs and descriptions of the church and town of Lusignan, which the faery was also said to have built, along with a crib of the first English translation of the Melusine story of c.1500-1520. All topped off with a couple of chapters of my own researches into a historical outline of the Lords of Lusignan (a couple of whom were Kings of the Crusader Kingdoms of Cyprus and Jerusalem) and of Faery Tradition and  Jerusalem. As one of my readers, the Avalonian Ian Rees, has remarked: As someone who lives in Glastonbury and who works regularly in Jerusalem I see much potential in what is being offered to us in what can seem like a quaint story of faery ancestry. The juxtaposition of the apparently ethereal world of the Faerie with the blood and guts and ancient hatreds and holiness of Jerusalem might seem a trivial thing – a bit like calling on Tinker Bell to save the world, but trust me, Faerie can handle it. The encounter with the Christian mystery with Faery is at the heart of the Grail and Arthurian traditions and in these books it seems to me we are seeing a new unveiling of the mystery.

For more information on all this and more, take a trip to the Skylight Press web site.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Testing the Limits!

My latest book, CHRIST & QABALAH, that appears appropriately approaching Advent, stretches the limits of both magic and mysticism. It comes as a consequence of a forty year run in with a most remarkable man and priest the Reverend Canon Anthony Duncan – from our meeting at Tewkesbury Abbey back in 1964 to his passing on in 2003. Something of this story is recorded in a chapter of my autobiography I CALLED IT MAGIC as well as one or two letters quoted in YOURS VERY TRULY, GARETH KNIGHT.  However, this is “the full Monty”, the record of a friendly knock down drag out contest between an occultist and a churchman, in which both learned a great deal about each other and themselves and also what they stood for. Much testing of the limits, whether as mystic or magician.

A first consequences of this appeared in a couple of books we produced early on in the contest. On my part EXPERIENCE OF THE INNER WORLDS upon which I trained all subsequent students in what is now the Avalon Group, and on his part by THE CHRIST, PSYCHOTHERAPY AND MAGIC, his first reaction to being introduced to the Qabalah, which was greeted in the national press with the comment “Now at least one clergyman has got the point and in this book urges his fellow Christians not to dismiss occultism either as a cranky fad or as a black art....a wholly fascinating book which should be required reading for all church people.” 

And after a revelatory weekend on the holy island of Iona that opened up Tony Duncan’s psychic and mystical faculties, it was closely followed by THE LORD OF THE DANCE – an “ in your face”  revelation of contemporary mysticism that rocked me on my heels –  and then THE SWORD IN THE SUN – a highly personal conversation with a Holy Guardian Angel, chatting about reincarnation, fairy contacts and other sundry matters that were too hot to publish until Coleston Brown, a lively transatlantic member of my group, produced an edition twenty years later with his Sun Chalice press in California – alas now defunct.

Nothing loth, however, ever a man of integrity, Anthony Duncan also pushed his ideas in theological journals and elsewhere, as for example in “New Fire” – “There appears to be, in the rising generation, a considerable increase in what we may describe as ‘psychical awareness’. In addition, there is a very real and growing desire for God. There is, however, a massive impatience with institutionalism, and a real questioning as to the relevance of the institutional Church to things of the spirit at all. Our public preoccupation with ‘relevance’ has not helped us, but far worse has been the long tradition of ignorance in matters of an interior nature, our mistrust of mysticism and our rejection without very much attempt at comprehension of the ‘psychic’...The great Christian heritage of mysticism and contemplation is going by default through sheer ignorance of it.”  

Following through from all this, as we discovered, was the need to differentiate between the mystical and the magical. Much of magical practice is in terms of the psychic and intuitive, which may not necessarily be an approach to God, but rather to our own interior states, the collective unconscious, or to denizens of the inner planes. We often tend to think of the Tree of Life in two dimensional terms and  heaving ourselves up the grades until, eventually, as Ipsissimi (should we live so long!), we can be on nodding terms with God. Actually it is a lot easier than that if we remember the doctrine of the Four Worlds of the Qabalists.  That is to say in a three dimensional diagram, where the whole Tree is available to us as  Material World,  Formative World, Creative World, and Spiritual World.

We all know all about the Material World, we are well mired within it, and we can as occultists operate within the Formative and Creative worlds by elemental or angelic contacts. The Spiritual world is the one where God Imminent is to be found and quite accessible too. As the early Qabalist Isaac Luriah taught, we and the whole creation are, literally, IN God.  And not for nothing is the present book sub-titled THE MIND IN THE HEART, which is a much superior organ of perception than is generally realised. 

And as Tony Duncan, who put much of his perceptions into verse, expressed it in “Balaam’s Dog”:

The Lord, who made an ass articulate in Holy Writ has, in these latter days inspired my dog who, noticing my state observed: “You seek our Lord in many ways; you meditate for hours, breathe Yoga breath, contort yourself in postures and awake your inner depths to nightmare and near-death, perform the Dhikr, and contemplate, and make an inner Tantric sound, and go to bed exhausted and tormented in the dark. You make of Love such heavy work!” she said. “With all these arrows, do you hit the mark? Our Lord is here,” she said. “Can you not see? Our Lord is Love, and loving, Just like me!”    

Not that his message is all simple evangelism. It extends to the friendship of faery for example. And note the tone of respect.

Shall I return to fairyland who saw them dancing there? Shall I return and part the veil that hangs across thin air? Shall I intrude upon their peace who once did welcome me? Or might our blessed friendship cease should I, intruding, see? True magic is a given thing, its mysteries are not sought; its unexpected light and love not stolen are, nor bought. An open heart, a true respect for brethren yet unseen, shall yield what no man can expect, who comes where Love has been.

Whilst his insights into high mystical states can be quite mind blowing.

How many heavens does this Earth contain? What subtleties of wavelength and what bounds are set? What frequencies are tuned, what lives are lived upon another plane? For I have felt them passing by, intent upon their business, and have seen, have glimpsed their presence, known them near, befriended in the corner of an eye. All life is one. We rise or fall, each persons of one creature: Man. Our mystery proceeds to plan, one Inner Space contains us all.   

That Inner Space being the Mind of God, which  includes awareness of  the wider universe which that Divine Mind created.

Inhabitants of other spheres than this draw near the threshold of my conscious mind. As they are sent, perhaps? Or I am bidden? Some come to see the priest. Others collide, and we regard in mutual puzzlement and gently move our worlds once more apart. I must be vigilant. Four-square I must abide; discernment and compassion in my heart.

I found evidence of this when going through some of his old papers. They included a manuscript called TO THINK WITHOUT FEAR that takes “outer space” into account. In this extraordinary work, shortly to be published by Skylight Press, he includes his own experiences, and frankly examines the experience of psychic communication with "extra-terrestrial" contacts and the theological and other implications.

From this, some might consider him to be as nutty as a fruitcake. Let me assure them that he certainly was not. Anthony Duncan was the most down to earth, commonsensical and practical of men, as some of his descriptions of working as a parish priest, movingly (and sometimes amusingly) reveal – which include taking the blessed sacrament through the streets to the dying, comforting the sick, injured or demented in hospital wards, organising a vicarage garden party, and devising a Bible Quiz for the Women’s Fellowship Beetle-Drive! While as part of his lesser known vocation as a Diocesan Exorcist, producing on his retirement a guide book dealing with the Psychic Disturbance of Places “a booklet I wrote for my successors as ‘spooks’ ministry men. It has the distinction of having passed muster with the Chairman of the Church of England Doctrine Commission. Can one fly higher?”  Not that he would ever talk much about this kind of work, although aspects of  it feature in some of his poems, and in his novel FAVERSHAM’S DREAM and also in UNFINISHED BUSINESS, which has yet to come.

However, for the moment there is more than enough to stimulate, educate and ponder in our mutual effort CHRIST & QABALAH – Skylight Press. And a jolly good Christmas present too!

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Magical Novels and Magical Rites

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.


Friday, October 18, 2013

Dion Fortune's "novel approach" to Magic


In each of the novels that Dion Fortune wrote to illustrate principles described in her textbook The Mystical Qabalah – namely The Winged Bull (1935),  The Goat-foot God (1936), The Sea Priestess (1938) and its sequel Moon Magic (1956), she described a magical working. The circumstances varied but in each case the format was a three-handed one, consisting of hero and heroine overseen by a senior third party.

In The Winged Bull Colonel Brangwyn, who is credited with being a senior adept, is trying to save his niece Ursula from the clutches of Frank Fouldes, who was formerly her fiancĂ© before he fell in with Hugo Astley, an unsavoury figure with a penchant for even more unsavoury rituals. The Colonel seeks to have Ursula form a more wholesome liaison with somebody new, namely Ted Murchisan, an old army comrade down on his luck, and in the process teaching him a species of improvised ritual magic known as the Rite of the Winged Bull, as opposed to the ghastly Astley’s Rite of the Bull which owed something to the legend of Pasiphae. If you don’t know what that is – don’t ask!  After a number of alarms and excursions all is successful and ends with the marriage of Ursula and Ted.

In The Goat-foot God, the leading figure is old Jelkes, who makes no claims to being an adept but knows his way around, having been a Jesuit novitiate in his youth before becoming an antiquarian bookseller with a sideline in occult books. One of his customers is Hugh Paston, a wealthy socialite who is toying with the idea of diverting himself with a bit of black magic.  Jelkes saves him from this insalubrious course by introducing him to ancient pagan beliefs. This leads to Hugh sorting out some of his hang-ups with the help of the artistic and esoterically sympathetic Mona Freeman with whom he performs a spontaneous Rite of Pan in a bosky grove on an ancient site – having preserved their respectability by getting married earlier in the day.

In The Sea Priestess, the feisty adept Vivienne Le Fay Morgan entices Wilfred Maxwell, a provincial estate agent, into helping her locate and decorate a sea temple for her magical work, where she performs with him a Rite of Isis. Here the third and senior party is an inner plane being, a Merlin like figure who is referred to as the Priest of the Moon. In this case, although Vivienne plays fast and loose with the emotions of her occult apprentice there is no question of her becoming involved in any physical relationship with him – let alone marriage. Apart from allegedly being 120 years old, she is totally dedicated to the life of a lone adept. Although before she leaves the scene she instructs a local girl, Molly Coke, in the functions of a moon priestess which Molly, again overseen by the Priest of the Moon, puts into practice after she and Wilfred have wed.

Dion Fortune never completed Moon Magic, which features the same sea priestess, now resident in London and going by the name of Lilith, so we do not know whether Dr Rupert Malcolm, her new apprentice, might have gone on to find a suitable spouse or priestess. But at least he learned a lot about magic and, a changed man, was in a good position to get one.

So does all magical work of this nature end between the sheets we might ask, along with the prospect of wedding bells and orange blossom and holy matrimony?  We might be led to think so, if we did not take into account the genre in which Dion Fortune was writing. That is to say, popular romantic fiction for the patrons of 1930’s circulating libraries – a major institution in their day.

This novel approach (no pun intended!) to teaching occultism to the wider world was a somewhat risky experiment and, as Dion Fortune came to admit, did not  come off quite as she had hoped. She speculated on reasons why in a couple of articles in the Inner Light Magazine (The Novels of Dion Fortune and The Winged Bull – a Study in Esoteric Psychology), both of which are included in a forthcoming book from Skylight Press, Dion Fortune’s Rites of Isis and of Pan,  which gives the rites in full, with cross references to the appropriate novels.  

Whatever the outcome to characters in the books, a real life occult group should not be regarded as a dating agency or marriage bureau, let alone hive of debauchery. For as the sea priestess was at pains to point out, her magical aims transcended the physical and personal levels. Through the psychic tension of their magical working she and Wilfred Maxwell were committed to bringing through the godlike dynamics of a deep polar relationship, not just to themselves but to all men and women via the group soul, the collective unconscious, the astral light, or whatever one likes to call it. Thus in magical work, if sex creeps into the door of the lodge then magic tends to fly out of the window. For the sexual canoodling serves only to short circuit the force, which runs to earth via the physical channels – at best a lightning conductor for those unable to handle the psychic pressure, but with considerable risk of domestic collateral damage.

However, in real life Dion Fortune’s Rites of Isis and Pan were enacted in very different circumstances from the novels, for they took place not in private but in public, before  an invited audience. In 1936, a “new epoch” had been announced in the growth and organisation of the Fraternity, one consequence of which was leasing an old converted church in Belgravia called “The Belfry”. And here, as well as in lecture demonstrations with lantern slides and chanting at her Bayswater headquarters, Dion Fortune and two or three of her senior colleagues were able to present the Rites. In this respect she was by no means a trailblazer, for a Rite of Isis had been performed in Paris by the Golden Dawn founders S.L. and Moina MacGregor Mathers in 1899 when Violet Mary Firth was still a schoolgirl back in Weston-super-Mare.

She seems to have been quite successful in her endeavours. Bernard Bromage, a London University lecturer and researcher on oriental esoteric systems, who witnessed her Rite of Isis was much impressed. As he remarked in a retrospective article on Dion Fortune in Light, (journal of the College of Psychic Studies, Spring 1960) it remained in his memory “one of the best attempts I have ever witnessed to stimulate the subconscious by means of ‘pantomime’ drawn from the more ancient records of the hierophant’s art.”

The use of the word ‘pantomime’ may perhaps seem a little odd in the circumstances but the good academic is obviously using it more in the classical sense, rather than the modern, which was originally a form of performance by a single mute dancer playing all the parts with the help of masks backed up by a chorus of singers and instruments, where the dancer literally played (mimed) all the parts (panta). This is not quite the way Dion Fortune played it but a fair approximation if one does not want to use the dread word “magic”.

But what of the depiction of rites in her novels? Although, to conform to the conventions of popular fiction, the circumstances surrounding the set up of the magical workings could be quite unrealistic, there is considerable value in her description of what it can be like to experience different levels of consciousness when participating in a ritual. And this is where the value of Dion Fortune’s novels lies. She is describing from personal experience – far beyond the capacities of any popular writer whose knowledge is only theoretical or at second or third hand – and she also showed a gradually mounting confidence in presenting the details of the invocations of a magical working.

Thus it is quite unreasonable to think that in The Winged Bull a beginner like Ted Murchison was capable of spontaneously improvising the role of Priest of the Sun to Ursula’s Priestess of the Earth, even to the evocative violin playing of Colonel Brangwyn as High Priest. Indeed the action seems more in the nature of an exotic tea dance than a ritual working. But even if there was a formal Ritual of the Winged Bull (and there is no evidence that Dion Fortune ever wrote one) she would certainly not have published the script in the very secretive esoteric culture of 1935. After all, she felt she had taken something of a risk by publishing her innocuous textbook The Mystical Qabalah! Nonetheless the The Winged Bull gives a very accurate account of the typical feelings of a magical tyro about to be introduced to ritual working, and also of the possible heights of experience which can at times be reached.

In The Goat-foot God there is a similar unlikelihood of Hugh Paston and Mona Freeman being able to perform a Rite of Pan by making it up as they go along, however atmospheric the time and place. And although there certainly was a written Rite of Pan composed by Dion Fortune at the time of writing the novel, she did not feel it appropriate to include any of it – apart from a fragment disguised as a song sung by Mona as she goes about laying the breakfast table.

Bowl of oak and earthen jar,

Honey of the honey-bee;

Milk of kine and Grecian wine,

Golden corn from neighbouring lea –

These our offerings, Pan, to thee,

Goat-foot god of Arcady.

And so on for three verses. The performance of the rite itself comes only after the last paragraph of the novel and is left entirely to the reader’s imagination.

            However, in The Sea Priestess Dion Fortune threw caution to the winds and almost the whole of the Rite of Isis is to be found scattered throughout its pages, which could perhaps be one reason why Williams & Norgate declined to handle it. She was obliged to publish it herself, a year later, in 1938. It is generally accounted to be her best novel although of course the plot is a highly unlikely one, and the sea priestess herself a somewhat unlikely adept in real life.  Nonetheless, the accounts of what successful magical working feels like from the inside are both accurate and revealing, as is also the case with Moon Magic.

 And although the emphasis of the working of the Rites rests upon the priest and priestess, the scripts are more in the nature of a four handed working, with High Priest and Lector taking up the other positions – in the accustomed well balanced four handed traditional system. In a lodge the positions would logically be taken up by priest and priestess in south and north respectively, and High Priest and Lector in east and west, with any supernumerary members in a circle round about. The Belfry performances took place on a stage with an audience looking on.  

Whatever the mode of working however, even reading the rituals today can be a powerful experience, bringing through a considerable surge of inspiration and energy and even healing. And this is probably their best use for the most part, without need for all the ritual trimmings. In other words, just as Dion Fortune hoped that reading one of the novels would stir the subconscious mind of her readers, particularly if they identified unconsciously with one of the characters, so an imaginative reading the rituals today in a meditative state, identifying with one of the officers, can be an invaluable exercise for those who do not have the facilities for actual well run group working.

And this is all now quite possible through the publication, with permission of the Society of the Inner Light, of “Dion Fortune’s Rites of Isis and of Pan” (Skylight Press), with links provided to the relevant novels, together with a series of appendices of contemporary articles by Dion Fortune from The Occult Review and the Inner Light Magazine between 1931 and 1938.


Thursday, September 19, 2013

The Cosmic Doctrine - how it all began!

In Glastonbury back in 30th July 1923 two friends, Violet Mary Firth and Charles Thomas Loveday, were about to embark on a psychic experiment that sent reverberations going in the esoteric world even down to our day. It was the first session of what came to be known as The Cosmic Doctrine. The 33 year old Violet Firth had for some time been intent on teaching herself the art of trance mediumship the basics of which she seemed to have picked up as a close associate of Dr Theodore Moriarty whom she had met eight years before and who had  mightily impressed her. She became a member of a co-masonic group that he founded in 1919, attended residential classes given by him, in which he was, by her own account (in her semi-autobiographical Psychic Self Defence) adept at this kind of work.

            Not that this was the only string to Violet Firth’s bow for, apart from being the daughter of Christian Science parents, she had also become a member of the Theosophical Society, and of a branch of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. All of which, for various reasons, she later moved on from, to form her own esoteric group,  the Community (later Fraternity and then Society) of the Inner Light.

She also had journalistic ambitions and during 1922 wrote some esoteric stories for the Royal Magazine, later published in book form as The Secrets of Dr. Taverner, the first of which, Blood Lust, was closely based on an incident she had observed that involved Moriarty, and that had so impressed her that she gave up her studentship as a psychological counsellor with the Medico-Psychological Clinic to  become, in 1916,  a member of the Women’s Land Army. This was a patriotic gesture in time of war but the main reason was her conviction that psycho-therapy could not make much progress if it did not take cognisance of the esoteric field. Her Dr Taverner stories were aimed at bringing to public awareness the possibilities of psychological problems having their root in preternatural causes – or “little known powers of the human mind” as she liked to call them. She wrote these stories under the pen name of Dion Fortune, by which he has since become more generally known.

The first indication we have of Dion Fortune (as we shall now call her) experimenting in trance techniques was in January 1921 with the assistance of her Golden Dawn mentor and family friend Maiya Curtis-Webb (later Tranchell-Hayes). This was obviously apprentice work, but by September 1921 she had become sufficiently competent to undertake some work for the Glastonbury psychical researcher Frederick Bligh Bond, the result being what became known as the Glastonbury Script to her later followers.

Within six months, through a chance meeting at Chalice Well,  she made the acquaintance of Charles Thomas Loveday, an esoterically inclined Christian mystic some fifteen years her senior, with whom she formed a close esoteric (and completely platonic) association that was to last the rest of their days. He encouraged her trance work, a key point of which, in August 1922, was a more sustained follow up to the Glastonbury script via an inner plane contact with a group known as the Company of Avalon.

However, this did not last, as they were passed on from the mystically based Company of Avalon, with its mission of a national spiritual influx into the church, towards a more Hermetically oriented hierarchy. This began on 28th September 1922 from which there developed a systematic series of teachings about the seven planes of the universe which, in personal terms, were more attuned to Dion Fortune’s long standing psychological/sexual concerns than Thomas Loveday’s mystical/ecclesiastical ones.

This very soon developed into a contact with some specific inner plane communicators with whom Dion Fortune was closely concerned for the rest of her life. The first, known as David Carstairs, became evident in October 1922, a somewhat cheeky informal contact, apparently killed in action in the 1st World War, who acted as a kind of introductor to other more “heavyweight” contacts. The first of these came through on 15th November, apparently the once famous lawyer and Lord Chancellor Thomas Erskine, (1750-1823), and closely followed on November 30th by one referred to as the Greek master, later identified with the ancient philosopher Socrates.

Something of the atmosphere of the time is well caught in a transcript of the time, in the words of Carstairs:

Well, how are you getting on with the new teacher? He is finished for tonight. He does not find it easy to do yet. He has been over a long time. He was a Greek. Yes, the one mentioned before. He is working from a pretty high plane, and the result is that the vibrations get a bit faint. Not like me; just next door. He may be a bit scrappy. It will want sorting out. He is fond of aphorisms.

Lord Erskine was unusually good. He was used to public speaking. This man is more used to dealing with pupils by question and answer, as they did in Greece. He would get on the step of some public building, and young men would come and ask how many eggs made five, and he would tell them. He was later than Pythagoras. He got put to death, was a bit too much for them.

Most of the teaching received at this time was written up and subsequently published as The Esoteric Philosophy of Love and Marriage, in many ways a transitional book that has not stood up too well to the passage of time. It combined elementary esoteric theory, with a strong emphasis on the theory of planes as featured in Theosophical Society literature, combined with social and sexual problems that had concerned Violet Firth in her time at the Medico-Psychological clinic.  

So things continued with weekly meetings along these lines until on 28th March 1923 they were warned by a different communicator ( simply referred to as “an Agent of the Lords of Karma”)  that: This Easter will prove a turning point in more ways than one. You will see a new life opening up before you, and new work. Your first duty will be to equip yourself for the new work that will open up ahead of you. You must be equipped upon the outer and the inner planes, both working together…Conditions are being put in order for the work to go forward. Ties are being adjusted, and the financial position is being made secure. All things are being harmoniously worked out. There is much work ahead, a great work to be done for which conditions are being made. You will always work in obscurity, but your influence will be felt further than you yet dream. Means are being provided to this  end… You will follow the study marked out for you. You will be in the hands of certain teachers. Trust them, but trust no one with confidences.

On the mundane side of things this came to pass the following year in the acquisition of physical premises in which to work in both Glastonbury and London and the foundation of the prototype of the Society of the Inner Light. On the inner side of things it was kicked off  by the arrival of the Greek on 30th July 1923 to begin a series of teachings that became known as The Cosmic Doctrine.

The first six sessions, which lasted over the course of a calendar month (30th July to 30th August 1923), sought nothing less than to describe the genesis of the Universe at a spiritual level.

            Whoever the inner plane communicators were, and it appears there was a group of them, they seem philosophically to be Neoplatonists. That is to say their teaching – although they never said so in so many words – follows closely that of the 3rd  century philosopher Plotinus (c.205-270 A.D.) who was in turn a follower of Plato (429-347 B.C.), a student of the historical Socrates. (469-399 B.C.)

            It would seem that Dion Fortune and Thomas Loveday were quite unacquainted with the terms of Neoplatonic philosophy – (the One, the Demiurge, the World Soul) – so the terms used in The Cosmic Doctrine were whatever happened to be within the medium’s subconscious mind. These were mostly based upon early 20th century popular Theosophical teaching tinged with some of the ideas of Theodore Moriarty.  It was, therefore, a formidable challenge for the communicators to get their message across without the benefit of a classical philosophical vocabulary. Hence many of the terms in The Cosmic Doctrine had to be made up or borrowed from other systems of ideas.

            Neoplatonism is essentially a religious philosophy. According to Neoplatonic teachings the prime Source of all Being is called the ONE or the INFINITE. In Cosmic Doctrine terms it is the source of All. In Judeo-Christian terms it could be equated with God Transcendent, the Creator, the Elohim, the Dove of the Holy Spirit moving upon the face of the Primal Waters. In Qabalistic philosophy it corresponds to the Ain Soph Aur – the Limitless Light of the Three Veils of Negative Existence. In The Cosmic Doctrine it is the creator of the spiritual Cosmos, from which springs all the rest in which we live and move and have our being.

The process of creation is somewhat ingeniously described in terms of a mathematical diagram, starting from a one dimensional point that moves to form a line, that curves to create a two dimensional figure, a circle, which then begins to turn upon itself in a third dimension to form a sphere. From thence the sphere develops an internal organisation or pattern of forces in terms of 7 internal spheres (known as Planes) and 12 ovoid radial figures (known as Rays). These in turn produce within their converging forces tangential movements or eddies each of which has the potential to become a spiritual being in its own right. These in The Cosmic Doctrine are (somewhat confusingly) called Atoms although they have nothing whatever to do with the atoms we learn about at school in chemistry classes. They are the root of all forms of spiritual being – including ourselves!

There are however different degrees of complexity in these Cosmic Atoms. If we just follow the development of one of the more complex ones, by reason of its greater spiritual “weight” (we begin here to move from purely mathematical analogy to one akin to physical mechanics) it becomes a Travelling Atom which undertakes a complete tour of all aspects of the One, through all the Rays and Planes to end up attracted to the very centre of things, called in The Cosmic Doctrine the Central Stillness – which more poetically might be called the Bosom of God.

Then, after assimilating the experience of Godhead it is shot forth down the Cosmic Planes to the periphery of the Cosmos with the ability to project a lesser system of its own.

As such it is known as a Great Entity or Great Organism or, as it is ultimately in its full physical expression, a Star, a Solar Logos capable of producing a Solar system. In classical Neoplatonism this would have been known as the DEMIURGE or the NOUS, capable in its turn of projecting the WORLD SOUL which forms the essence of the corporeal world we know – wherein we find ourselves in physical bodies on a solid planet with the Solar Logos manifesting physically as a flaming nuclear furnace and immediate source of light and life to our planet.

            Where The Cosmic Doctrine makes an advance on classical Neoplatonism is that it regards all the stars we see in the sky in the same terms, each a Demiurge for its own particular system. However, the main thrust of its teaching is confined to our own Earth, our own Sun and the seven planes (from physical to spiritual) of which they are comprised.

The Cosmic Doctrine was reckoned by Dion Fortune, by her inner contacts and by her Fraternity to be one of the most important works of mediation that she ever did. After its initial reception in 1923 it became a confidential study text for senior members of the Fraternity. Despite further pressure from the inner planes in 1930 to do something about getting it published, owing to its abstruse content this was easier said than done, and it was not until 1949 that it eventually publicly appeared via Aquarian Press, edited by the Warden of the time, Arthur Chichester. In 1966 this was succeeded by a slightly revised and enlarged edition, containing additional material received principally by Margaret Lumley Brown, who had largely taken over Dion Fortune`s mediumistic function in the Fraternity after 1946. Despite an interim reprint by Helios Books when Aquarian Press lost interest in the title, it eventually went out of print, until, in 1995 the Society published a completely new edition.

This was particularly interesting because it reverted to the original unedited text of 1923, together with explanatory diagrams drawn up by Dion Fortune`s colleague C.T.Loveday when the work had first been produced. This edition was taken over and republished by the American publisher Samuel Weiser in 2000, although unfortunately without correcting some of the idiosyncratic use of apostrophes that had been sprinkled in by the largely amateur editing of the SIL edition.  However these remain a minor, if irritating, blemish.

            What follows is the result of much personal study of the text over the past sixty years, taking account of variations in the editions, for some of Arthur Chichester`s revisions were the result of a remarkable grasp of the principles involved, and it would be a loss completely to discard them. He had a particularly precise mind that enabled him to refine some of the original terminology more accurately, such as substituting Planetary Being for Planetary Spirit and Ray Exemplar for Star Logos. He also omitted, for reasons that remain obscure, sections on the Laws of Impactation and Polarity that however were restored in the later editions.

            More understandably, he regretted allowing the continued use of the term Negative Evil, as it could be greatly misunderstood. The problem was, and still is, to find an alternative term at this level that means opposition to Good without pejorative connotations. He rather inclined to the term Negative Good.

            There is indeed much in the terminology of The Cosmic Doctrine that can mislead, particularly in the use of the word atoms, when something very different from the current scientific use of the term is intended. Again other terms were borrowed from various esoteric sources, via Moriarty, but used with an entirely different meaning from the original.

However, such problems were to be expected given the initial task of bringing through ground breaking metaphysical teaching of this nature. We at least have the advantage of being able to reflect upon the work at leisure, filling in the gaps and pondering the difficulties, and there is sufficient value within the work for it to form the basis for making an intuitive connection to the source from whence these teachings issued. Or indeed respectfully to take up the role of a “devil’s advocate”!

The term “Devil’s Advocate” referred originally to a canon lawyer in the Roman Catholic church whose duty was to argue against the canonisation or beatification of a person nominated to be a saint. In common parlance it is someone who takes a position against an argument in order to test its quality and identify weaknesses in its structure, either to improve, to correct or even to disprove parts of it if necessary.

            In the case of the Cosmic Doctrine, because of its abstruseness and the less than ideal circumstances of its reception, it seems to be a necessary discipline, particularly as there has been a tendency to regard it almost as infallible holy writ. Dion Fortune can hardly be blamed for such an attitude as she plainly states at the beginning of her introduction to the work:

            I hope my readers will believe that these pages are the result of honest experimentation and acquit me of charlatanry or attempted deception. I vouch for neither the completeness or accuracy of the communications here recorded; in my opinion, no extra weight should be attached to any ideas or teachings because an unusual origin is claimed for them; any value which they possess as a contribution to speculative thought or scientific knowledge must depend on their intrinsic worth, not on their sphere of origin. The manner of their obtaining is a psychological question and has no bearing on the problem of their truth.

            With this in mind, we should, as a matter of duty, seek to test any statements that are made within the teachings and face up to them and any possible errors, misconceptions or misuse of terms that we may find.  Some of these relate to questionable terminology. Some to errors of scientific fact. Yet others to internal contradictions within the script. Hence the rubric that the contents are intended to train the mind as much as to inform it.  This includes intelligent critical analysis. It is not a matter of crying that “the Emperor has no clothes!” but taking account of the fact that he might, here and there, not be quite properly dressed!