Sunday, October 11, 2015

Dion Fortune and the Three-fold Way

Looking back over my many years of our shared vocation and tribulations as editors of esoteric magazines, my thoughts still dwell with affection on Michael Howard, whose presence will be sorely missed as an intelligent flag waver for what he believed in. I sometimes had the impression that he never quite got over the fact that as a Christian occultist I would deign to talk to a Pagan one. However, whatever part of the spiritual spectrum we come from, we all have to make the best of how others choose to see us, and I do not lack, among the righteous, a fair number who regard me as somewhat to the nether side of a Dennis Wheatley villain. With this in mind I append a lightly edited article I wrote for the Inner Light Journal in 1998 after I had rejoined the Society after a lapse of 33 years doing my own thing. It endeavours to show the all round aims and capabilities of Dion Fortune – after which I went on to write her full biography ‘Dion Fortune & the Inner Light’ in 2000, which should still be available from Thoth Publications.


The three major strands to the Western Mystery Tradition, using the colour symbolism popular when the Society of the Inner Light was first founded, were called the Green Ray, the Orange Ray and the Purple Ray.

The Green Ray consists of the nature contacts in the broadest sense, and encapsulates most mythopoeic formulations relating to nature and to the Earth, including Elemental and Faery traditions. The Orange Ray describes the study of symbolism and its manipulation in ceremonial or visualised forms, frequently in terms of the Tree of Life of the Qabalah. The Purple Ray denotes religious mysticism, a direct approach to the spirit, and the devotional way usually expressed in the West in Christian terms.

These three Ways can be equated with the three Paths that depart from Malkuth as we leave earth consciousness on the Tree of Life and visualise the three immediate Sephiroth in their Queen Scale of colours: the Green of Netzach at the base of the Pillar of Energy, the Orange of Hod at the base of the Pillar of Form, and the Purple of Yesod on the Middle Pillar of Aspiration.

The reason for this short dissertation upon the Three Rays is because Dion Fortune’ s whole life and work was based upon them. I was recently reminded of this when approached by someone seeking information about her, and whose preconceptions were so inaccurate as to be bizarre. They assumed she had started out as a pious moralist in the 1920’ s, had become an active convert to paganism in the 1930’s, and by the time of her death was on the way to becoming a disciple of Aleister Crowley. In colour terms I suppose this might have been expressed in terms of watery violet, turning bright green before relapsing into rather murky grey.

Taking this scenario for granted the question put to me was, had she lived longer, what direction would her next work have taken? The answer to this question was simple. She would have gone on writing in much the same way that she always had - by a balanced exposition of the three fold way.

As in any practical occult work, there is always a certain cyclic action at work, based upon inner tides of one sort and another. One aspect may come more to fore at any particular time, but overall the balanced picture will be seen. One simply has to make out a chronological list of Dion Fortune’s published work for this to be plain.

However, a little learning is a dangerous thing, and it would appear that a cursory glance at the 1920’s titles of The Esoteric Philosophy of Love and Marriage and The Problem of Purity, were enough to give substance to my respondent’s assumption that Dion Fortune began life as a pious moralist. Her novel The Winged Bull was sufficient to label her as a pagan evangelist in the 1930’s, and an entry in Crowley’s diaries recording some correspondence from her in 1945 was enough to put her in the ranks of the followers of the Great Beast.

To appreciate the full picture of a great occultist we have to take account of the many other books she wrote and their true nature. The 1920’ s titles mentioned above are of the nature of psychology rather than sanctimony, to which we might add The Machinery of the Mind, with an introduction by an eminent scientist of the day. Together with The Secrets of Dr. Taverner they reveal her early interest in psychoanalysis and in the medical applications of esoteric knowledge. She was married to a doctor with esoteric interests in 1927, and her principal teacher in the Golden Dawn, from 1919 onwards, was the wife of an eminent head of a large psychiatric hospital.

.During the same period she wrote a number of articles on the nature of the esoteric tradition as it was currently being practised. These were collected and published in volume form as Sane Occultism, The Training and Work of an Initiate, The Esoteric Orders and their Work and Avalon of the Heart, rounded off by Psychic Self Defence and an early occult thriller The Demon Lover.

Moving into the 1930’s we have an analysis of spiritualism in Spiritualism in the Light of Occult Science and a couple of popular booklets Through the Gates of Death and Practical Occultism in Daily Life. The major event of this decade however is her pioneering textbook The Mystical Qabalah, that spelt out the theory of occultism in readable and commonsense terms. The clutch of novels that immediately followed it, The Winged Bull, The Goat-foot God, The Sea Priestess and Moon Magic were written to exemplify in practical terms some of the theoretical principles expounded in The Mystical Qabalah.

Whether they were altogether successful in this respect is a matter for informed debate, part of which she initiated in a series of articles in the Inner Light Magazine. The novels were written to demonstrate certain applications of particular Sephiroth, Tiphareth for The Winged Bull, Malkuth for The Goat-foot God and Yesod for The Sea-Priestess, whilst its sequel Moon Magic also has elements of the higher analogue of Yesod in the “hidden Sephirah” Daath. She was not an advocate of working directly upon the side Sephiroth, at any rate in her public works.

With their commercial requirement to entertain as well as instruct it is arguable whether the full demonstration of any particular Sephirah of the Tree of Life is attained by any of the novels, or even whether this aspiration is possible in works of popular fiction. However they may rate in terms of esoteric or commercial success or failure, the novels were an interesting and courageous literary experiment and have proved to be a lasting monument in genre fiction.

To appreciate some of the thinking behind the experiment we have to cast our minds back to the general atmosphere of secrecy that was very much a part of the Western Esoteric Tradition in those days. Israel Regardie, as he later confessed to me, was distinctly nervous at the time and for some time afterwards, of what might happen to him as a consequence of publishing the Knowledge Papers of the Golden Dawn. There is also evidence to suggest that Dion Fortune had a qualm or two as to whether she had gone too far in revealing esoteric secrets in The Mystical Qabalah. Such fears over such an innocuous book may seem little short of ludicrous today, but only a few years previously she had been bitterly attacked for allegedly revealing secrets in some of her early works. “Secrets” moreover that she had not been vouchsafed in the first place!

Nowadays at any weekend “workshop” one can sample magical techniques that were once held sacred to the innermost inner, whether presented in these terms or in the guise of some form of psychotherapeutics. My own first introduction to “path working” was conducted in most guarded Lodge conditions but nowadays similar techniques are the stock in trade of anything from day centres for the elderly to adult education classes in creative fiction.

Thus have the Mysteries progressed over the past sixty years in what is sometimes known as “the externalisation of the Hierarchy.” This does not mean, however, that the Mystery schools are denuded of all power and wisdom. The greater secrets are concerned not so much with techniques but with the mythopoeic calibre of the material being processed, where indeed the secrets do not have to be artificially guarded for the simple reason that they are likely to be incomprehensible to whoever is not of the “grade” to work them. The pearls of wisdom are quite safely rolled before the snouts of the porcine fraternity.

The outbreak of war in 1939 put a sudden stop to the flow of publications, fictional or otherwise. In Dion Fortune’ s case this did not mean a withdrawal from the world or some kind of mental collapse as some have speculated. The reason is rather more prosaic, that is to say - paper rationing.

Even the Inner Light Magazine had to fold for lack of paper in May 1940 but Dion Fortune still kept writing away in open letters for students and associates, first on a weekly basis until 1942 and then, rather more expansively, every month. It has been my privilege to sort through much of this recently with a view to book publication.

Already published under the somewhat bizarre and catchpenny title of  The Magical Battle of Britain is a selection from the weekly letters of 1939-41. It is odd to hear that some have chosen to look at this phase of Dion Fortune’s work in terms of jingoistic patriotism. One can only say, as one who still remembers those times, that being machine gunned, bombed and threatened with invasion puts a rather different emphasis upon what may be deemed to be politically correct, whatever the long term merits of universal pacifism. Even so, the general tenor of Dion Fortune’s approach to current danger, without rancour or vindictiveness, gives nothing that calls for apology.

Other writings of this time include The Circuit of Force, which appeared between 1938 and 1940 before closure of in the magazine, and Principles of Hermetic Philosophy  together with Esoteric Principles of Astrology that date from the monthly letters of 1941-2. . Most of this work, it should be said, is of a more practical nature than the pre-war material. She discusses in some detail the circulation of force within the human aura, comparing western methods with those of the east, including tantrik yoga and the raising of kundalini.

Another initiative she pursued of a practical nature in 1942, evidently under inner plane direction, was an approach to the spiritualist movement, seeking common ground. She gave lectures at the Marylebone Spiritualist Association and wrote some articles for Light a weekly newspaper of the spiritualist movement since 1881 that is still published as a quarterly journal by the College of Psychic Studies. It also appears that C.R.Cammell, then editor of Light, was given the highly unusual privilege of being invited to the headquarters of the Society to attend trances at which Dion Fortune was the medium.

Her mediumistic skills were announced in the Monthly Letters in 1942 although there had always been a series of articles called Words of the Masters in the Inner Light Magazine, and in an article of April 1938 entitled How Communication is Made she quite openly describes the technique of trance mediumship and what it feels like to the medium concerned, which is obviously herself.

The Editor of Light was not the only outsider to be allowed into the inner recesses of the Society however, for there are scripts surviving of medical doctors being invited in for trance interviews with one known as the Master of Medicine through the mediumship of Dion Fortune. These were of variable success. One early attempt shows the doctor concerned trying to trip up the communicator with technical questions and the atmosphere is plainly sceptical. Later interviews with a more open minded medical practitioner seem more promising and useful to all concerned however.

Some of these scripts circulated privately to those sufficiently discrete or qualified and the earliest date from 1921 and have since been included in Principles of Esoteric Healing. It is worth bearing in mind Dion Fortune’s long association with medical practitioners, since her pioneering days in psychoanalysis in 1913 through to her meeting with Dr Penry Evans in 1925 and their subsequent marriage. This regrettably did not last much beyond 1938 but it is an interesting synchronicity that in the immediate post-war years a very bright young medical student was generally regarded as likely to be her eventual successor as Warden in the years to come. That this did not come to pass is another matter.

This is a far cry from the mysterious correspondence with Aleister Crowley in early 1945 and the last year of her life. They had known of each other for some years, but kept rather distant relations, as if often the way with occultists of some reputation, who find no call to cosy up and join each other’s groups. He did send her a fulsomely autographed copy of The Book of Thoth upon its publication but whether she returned the compliment with copies of her own books is open to question. The resemblance of the villainous Hugo Astley in The Winged Bull to the Mega Therion suggests that she was not entirely impressed by Crowley as a person but if he was aware of the parallel it would probably have amused rather than irritated him.

There is evidence to suggest that a rather sinister oriental group was flinging its inner weight about in the disturbed political conditions of 1945 and this may have led her to seek some advice from one who was certainly familiar in one way or another with various kinds of occult unpleasantness. There has even been speculation that an occult attack of some sort may have led to her death. Unexpected as this event was, it is not a theory I subscribe to, nor is it confirmed in the esoteric diaries of those actively involved at the time.

Indeed, by some accounts she seems to have been quite a bouncy inner plane presence very shortly after her physical demise, even becoming involved in helping to finish writing the incomplete Moon Magic. Some intermittent inner unpleasantness from an oriental source certainly went on for those sensitive enough to receive it, of which Margaret Lumley Brown bore the brunt, but it seems that all was satisfactorily resolved by August of 1946.

Contrary to popular fiction and film that sees occultism in terms of cops and robbers there is a very much more weighty and metaphysical side to it, which because of its abstruse nature, tends not to attract the public eye. Central to this is one of the first books that Dion Fortune wrote, on a high cosmic trance contact, The Cosmic Doctrine dating from July 1923 to February 1925. Until its publication in 1949 it was a text reserved as a senior study course, and was only published in full in a new edition of 1995.

The problem that one finds with outsiders trying to assess the work of any occultist is that most of the important work goes on behind the scenes, that is to say upon the inner planes, where few commentators have the ability to operate. Even if they have a certain facility in this respect they tend to be limited by their own esoteric horizons. Thus those not capable of appreciating the three-fold nature of the Mysteries, as expressed by Dion Fortune, will ever be lumbered with somewhat dim and distorting spectacles, only able to register the limited wavelengths to which they happen to be focused.

There is nothing that tends to throw this problem into glaring light as the so-called purple ray of devotional mysticism. Time and again one sees problems being thrown up by individual occultists or schools trying to come to terms with the Christ force. I use the term “force” with some reluctance as it is a very personal contact. However, in metaphysical and personal terms it is also a very potent force - and one that is not easy to deal with, by virtue of two millennia of historical presence in the west with many misapplications and distortions of it upon the way, by those who have sought to bend its power to their own institutional devices or dogmatic preferences.

The history of modern esoteric movements is becoming a fashionable subject in academic circles these days and I recommend to some aspiring PhD to attempt a thesis upon this particular subject. I have no time to develop it in depth but can give a few pointers to crisis points in the past where one can see the sparks fly. The electrical analogy is appropriate for such crises are just like a lightning flash - complete with rumbling thunder. They are caused by the same kind of hidden conditions, a difference of potential (electrical or spiritual) between the above and the below.

An early thunderclap and pyrotechnic display was to be witnessed at the foundation of the London Lodge of the Theosophical Society in 1883. The two poles between which the sparks flew were those who looked to the east for wisdom, as represented by Madame Blavatsky’s protégé A.P.Sinnett (the recipient of most of the Mahatma letters) or the photogenic and charismatic Christian hermeticist Anna Kingsford.

Later we see similar sparks flying in the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn which led A.E.Waite to form his own more mystical group, the Fellowship of the Rosy Cross. One of the more distinguished members of this was Charles Williams, who went on to write some profoundly occult novels shortly before Dion Fortune was writing her own. I have analysed his fiction at some length in The Magical World of the Inklings (Element Books 1990) together with that of his friends C.S.Lewis, J.R.R.Tolkien and the anthroposophist Owen Barfield.

We find Dion Fortune herself involved with the self same spark generating problem when she had a profound vision involving the Christ and the Lord of Civilisation that propelled her in the direction of the Theosophical Society in 1925 and its Christian Mystic Lodge, despite already being a member of the Golden Dawn and having her own small informal but very active group. So hot and fast did the sparks fly that little documentary information has survived to tell the story. Suffice to say that the official Theosophical line at the time remained with a largely Hindu perspective of the Christian dynamic as interpreted by Besant and Leadbeater, and the Christian Mystic Lodge, of which Dion Fortune was then President, relaunched itself as the Community of the Inner Light.

The Christian element continued to be nurtured by a regular Sunday performance of a Grail related communion rite under the banner of the Guild of the Master Jesus. Dion Fortune herself also published a series of mystical meditations upon the Collects of the Anglican church.

So things continued in the three fold strand of Hermetic, Pagan and Christian Mystical celebration until the outbreak of war. It is true that for a number of members, any one of these three strands might be the preferred option. One of her stalwarts, an ex-military gentleman who wrote some fine pagan articles in the magazine under the pen name of F.P.D. was famous for his attitude to those he considered his esoteric and intellectual inferiors by his recommendation to “chuck ‘em in the Guild!” However, although specialisation has its place, either in the beginning of an esoteric career or at certain more advanced stages, true adeptship requires that one play more than a one-stringed fiddle, and sooner or later all three paths from Malkuth have to be trodden on the long and complex road to higher consciousness in Tiphareth.

The post-war Society of the Inner Light as I knew it no longer operated the Guild although there was a genuine mystical religious strand within its workings, as one might expect under a Warden who had been educated by the Jesuits and whom some even suspected of being an under cover Jesuit himself! However, a very powerful Christian dynamic burst into the group in 1960/1 and one which was sufficiently powerful to cause many sparks to fly and various members to disperse and go their separate ways.

I had a very powerful experience of this myself whilst by myself in the Library. Suddenly, out of thin air, it seemed that Jesus, the Risen Christ, simply walked into the room. He did not do anything or say anything, and the experience lasted but a few seconds, but it was sufficiently powerful for me to go straight out and buy a devotional book to mark the occasion. It was a copy of Thomas a Kempis’ The Imitation of Christ and I wrote the date in it. I have it before me now: 27th September 1961.

The group as a whole took a new turn as a consequence of all this. The old graded structure was abandoned and all reverted to the 1st Degree again. Members were encouraged to wear plain clothes or ecclesiastical cassocks instead of magical robes. I was prepared to accept all this as a necessary cleansing period prior to building up the structure of the lodge again. However after four years of things, according to my lights, remaining much the same almost exclusive emphasis on the purple ray, I felt a yearning for the orange and the green and came to the conclusion I would have to seek elsewhere to find it. So reluctantly I resigned. If you don’t like where you are being led there is no point in dragging your feet and grizzling.

Anyhow if your dedication remains in the Mysteries, when one door is closed another will open, and “coincidence” caused my path to cross with that of a highly psychic and mystically experienced Anglican clergyman, who as a young curate had the daunting task of preparing me for confirmation into the Anglican communion. The result of the sparks we struck off each other led to the writing and publication of a handful of books, including The Lord of the Dance and The Christ, Psychotherapy & Magic by Anthony Duncan, and Experience of the Inner Worlds by myself. [Also, very latterly, Christ and Qabalah, from Skylight Press, a record of our forty year relationship.]

Suitably equipped with what I hoped was now a stable foundation, I set about building my own lodge, with a structure incorporating bricks of purple, orange and green. How well I succeeded over the subsequent years is part of another story. [I Called it Magic – also from Skylight Press.]


1 comment:

cambel99 said...

My impression [very simplistic, I know, please correct me] has been that the fin de siècle [ca. 1900] splintering of GD was at first into two groups, representing mystical and magical emphases respectively, then again into divisions of these.

When the dust had settled, in the inter-war period, we were left with four discernible GD-lineage groups with recognisable differences. The magical group split early into a more GD orthodox 'magic theatre' group [AO=1] remaining loyal to Mathers; and a radical 'sex magic' group of Thelemites [=2] led by Crowley through his two organisations, AA and OTO. The mystico-magical group, originally 'Morgonrothe', suffered considerable turmoil, with Farr and her theatre friends fascinated by astral travel separating early to form the soon to be extinct 'Sphere' group [=X], and the Rosicrucian [Christian] mystics [=3] led by Waite [and numbering C-Williams and Evelyn Underhill among their ranks?] eventually forming the Fellowship of the Rosy Cross. The remainder 'Stella Matutina' [=4] pursued a course that linked psycho-drama with GD- [Qabalistic] ritual.

I am confused about the progression of Dion Fortune through these schisms, as she seems to have joined and formed a plethora of esoteric groups, including the Alpha and Omega [=1] of Moina Mathers, as well as the Hermes Temple of Stella Matutina [=4] in Bristol, before taking her mature direction with the Inner Light [=5] which essentially distilled and then developed the lucid dreaming and virtual reality approach of Stella Matutina. This included aspects of theosophy, Christian occultism, and certain craft magic notions, including feminist 'Goddess' theology [from the 'Elohim' and the 'Shekinah' or 'Bride of Christ'], and spiritual ecology.

The real impetus to 'Christian occultism' seems to me to have been an astonishing coalescing of four strands: the lineage of [originally Rosicrucian] Order Crotona [=A] in Wicca; the increasingly eclectic, synergistic and 'Christian feminist' GD-Qabalism [=B] of Dion Fortune; the Goddess theurgy of Christian Wicca [=C], itself owing much to Fortune's 'Rite of Isis', as well as to a reworking of the Apocalypse of St. John-the-Divine to reinterpret the Holy Spirit as the essence of the Divine Marriage; and the Order of the Co-inherence, and related general theological and cosmological influence of Charles Williams [=D].

Is this approximately correct?

Kind regards,
Alexander C-W

[ps. you may contact me at