God Not Fate

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An essay on the occult works of Dion Fortune, aka Violet Firth.

Submitted: June 19, 2014

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Submitted: June 19, 2014

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God Not Fate: Dion Fortune in the Modern Age

There seems to be a lack in the majority of commonly accessed books on the occult and esoteric.  This lapse, readily found in any number of text’s indices, is that of twentieth century occultist Dion Fortune. The works of Violet Mary Firth, more commonly known by her alias and penname Dion Fortune, seem to be perpetually overlooked in the occult community and is seldom referenced in the texts of other occultists.  Regardless of this, her studies have had a major influence on occultism, both in study, application, and reference, mainly by prolific fantasy novelists such as Marion Zimmer Bradley and Mercedes Lackey.  Her works and books have a deep relevance to the study of occultism and esotericism today, and these many texts hold numerous quantities of relevant data to the field.  Why then this omission?  And what sort of relevance might Fortune’s studies yield to the field of occult studies today?  Certainly, her works hold remarkable theories on the unseen world, and it is clear that others have applied her works to their own.  There is merit in her studies, and a wealth of wise observations that should no longer be overlooked in this fashion.

Fortune’s life, naturally enough, played a large role in her explorations of the occult.  She was born to the name Violet Mary Firth in Wales during December 1890, to parents who were strong advocates of Christian Science (About Dion Fortune).  She later adopted the name Dion Fortune, from her family’s motto “Deo non fortuna,” translating as “God not fate” (Meet Dion Fortune).  In her youth, she showed a penchant for daydreaming that fast became similar to focused meditation (Grant 174), strengthening her mind and imagination in a way her later teaching would deem necessary to occult practice.  Age twenty saw her working at a school where she claimed to have been confronted for the first time with a psychic attack, by her employer, a woman trained in Indian methods to direct energy to a targeted person (Grant 175).  While this devastated her physically and mentally, it also served as an example of the psychic attacks discussed at great length in her book, Psychic Self-Defense, and discussed later.  She was later a member of the Order of the Golden Dawn, previously the Alpha and Omega, but eventually separated to form her own group: the Community of the Inner Light (About Dion Fortune).  This group lives on as the Society of the Inner Light, and has seen a number of noted occultists as students and members.  Gareth Knight is a notable example, both for his own studies and his biographies of Fortune (Meet Dion Fortune).  At the age of 55, Fortune was diagnosed with leukemia and died soon after in January of 1946, at London’s Middlesex Hospital (Meet Dion Fortune).

The Society of the Inner Light was likely one of the most important creation of Fortune’s life.  Not only has the society continued the push forward her ideals and methods of occult training, but it has kept her books and articles in publication.  The group itself promotes many of Fortune’s ideals about occult training.  Namely, the contact information is readily available in the back of her books as well as online[i].  They provide further information for sincere inquirers, copies of which can be found in Appendix A.  Members must, as Fortune advocated, be mature adults at a minimum of twenty-five years of age, with few exceptions.  They cannot be taking any medications that can affect psychic facilities, which Fortune considered a sign of the Dark Path of occultism to artificially open channels that rightly need proper training and command of the senses (Fortune, Sane Occultism 77).  The fee requested for admittance into the training program of the society, which can be taken without full membership, is nominal (£20) and paid only once, presumably for the cost of supplies and postage.  Information, even through the postal system, came at no cost at all.  These are all in accordance with the ideals faithfully set down by Fortune in various texts, and apparently well adhered to even all these years following her death.

There are common methods in which a given person might encounter the unseen world, two varieties of which are hauntings and vampirism, the latter generally denoting a telepathic rapport and draining rather than the ingestion of blood (Fortune, Psychic Self-Defense 51 and 44).  But Fortune herself admits that there can be other sources for symptoms common with occult encounters, and states: “Needless to say, the possibility of some natural, material explanation must never be ignored, even in cases where the supernatural element appears most obvious” (Fortune, Psychic Self-Defense 9).  This is a pleasant reality check from a person whose works focus on those same supernatural elements, and demands a certain amount of respect.  Fortune readily admits that non-occult possibilities be considered and investigated first.  But, naturally enough, she also addresses powers that are not necessarily measurable, stating, “we find that there are certain powers in our minds, not in the least rare or supernatural, for we are using them every day, which, if developed and consciously directed, will produce the most remarkable results” (Fortune, Training and Work 11).  She focuses at great length on the powers of the mind and what that training can do in a learned individual, the height of which she deems an adept.  Even for these higher levels of experience, she professes that dangers are still inherent in exploration of the occult.  She states that occultists traveling out-of-body, on what many refer to as the astral plane, who encounters “unpleasantness on the astral plane, or if his subtle [astral] body is seen, and struck or shot at, the physical body will show the marks” (Fortune, Psychic Self-Defense 37).  This could be the explanation for some of the hauntings she describes, being a person traveling in a spiritual body to other places than where his physical body lies.  This is a way a person might encounter the supernatural unexpectedly, and generally in a less offensive way than some of the other experiences Fortune details.  This segues directly into the occult as Fortune’s works define it.

What is it that occultism means, then?  More, are occultism and esotericism the same?  The terms have their own meanings, for occult means “hidden” while esoteric means “for the few” (Fortune, Sane Occultism 13): “Esoteric science begins where exoteric science ends” (Fortune, Esoteric Orders 78).  What is its role, though, and who then determines what falls under the category?  According to Fortune, “There are states of consciousness which transcend the normal, and when these states prevail, we can discern forms of existence with which normally we have no contact” (Fortune, Sane Occultism 13).  The practice of the occult, then, is the expansion of the mind.  However, what today is considered commonplace was once believed to be supernatural, and the supernatural of today might yet be moved to what is considered legitimate science.  Fortune seems to advocate such study, and a scientific approach, insisting that mathematics, reading, and writing were once considered to be elitist example of occult studies (Fortune, Esoteric Orders 15).  But, then, she also approaches it from the perspective of a practitioner: “Occultism is more than a science or philosophy, it is a religion, and its secrets are not penetrated by study alone, but by dedication” (Fortune, Sane Occultism 113).  While she often approaches the occult in the form of a practitioner rather than with the objectivity of a researcher, her theories also provide an insider’s perspective to a curious academic, and a well-established introduction to the study of the occult.

Fortune has a great deal to say for the quester on the path of what she deems the mysteries—essentially, the hidden learning of the occultists that have been passed through the centuries, according to her teachings.  This journey, she says, is more than a simple task, and is a life-altering decision.  One of her introductory texts, Esoteric Orders and Their Work, explains: “The Path which leads to initiation is the way of life which enables a man to rise above the desires and limitations of his personality and live in his higher self.... A man sets foot upon the Path immediately he desires to do so” (Fortune 137).  While Fortune’s own approach to the occult stems primarily from Christian and kabalistic sources, she also acknowledges the validity of other traditions, pertinent to the practitioner alone.  She equates the major figures of religious traditions on the same level, inferring that Jesus Christ “stands upon the same degree as the Manus Krishna and Osiris, as a Master of Masters upon his Ray” (Fortune, Esoteric Orders 56).  There are lesser masters in each area, too, who have progressed the spiritual evolution of mankind—that which is sought in the practice of the occult and psychic sciences.

From time to time we shall see some swift-footed soul draw ahead of the great army of mankind and push on alone in the wilderness.  For a period his path is solitary, but presently he catches up with the far-flung line of the scouts, and if able to give the password that proves him to be of their body, is given his place in the ranks of that adventurous company, a boundary-rider of evolution... (Fortune, Esoteric Orders 66)

She advocates the path of light, the path of righteousness, as the occult path promoting the spiritual evolution of humanity.  Those who move away from the common masses, reaching further to bring those lessons back, are the masters and adepts of the esoteric.

Several of Fortune’s works seem to deal with preparing a person for the lessons that can be learned without the aide of a mentor—an adept, in the case of this field.  As her system states that advancements on the esoteric world advance the spiritual evolution of mankind, she naturally advocates the learning of the occult for any interested: “Generally speaking, there is no reason why everybody who is drawn towards the study of occultism should not make a beginning with the use of these powers” (Fortune, Training and Work 12).  Her books provide a starting point for this, on the basis of the idea that a student should do all possible to prepare in the early stages before trying to perform advanced occult works or seek a master; the elementary education that can be mastered without such aide should be sought first, for this neophyte “should come as completely equipped as exoteric studies can make him” (Fortune, Training and Work 24).  In several sources, she even advocates a thorough understanding, if not mastery, of science and worldly matters, which is again a reference to the idea that exoteric possibilities should not be ignored in favor of the supernatural.

Fortune differentiates the paths for the seeker by more than just light and darkness or, put simplistically, good and bad.  The student himself can be either a mystic or occultist, with Fortune clearly favoring the latter: “There are two Paths to the Innermost: the Way of the Mystic, which is the way of devotion and meditation, a solitary and subjective path; and the way of the occultist, which is the way of the intellect, of concentration, and of the trained will” (Esoteric Orders 77).  One is solitary, the other can be more group-oriented, and the occultist seems to be described as a way of study rather than simply turning inward and doing what one believes to be best.  Within the complexities of this is introduced the idea of reincarnation; a person cannot truly become an initiate, much less an adept, without three lives of dedication, and only then can the path Fortune speaks of be walked with great understanding (Esoteric Orders 114-15).  She also mentions, undoubtedly to dissuade discouragement, that every path must begin with a first step, and that everyone interested should take those first steps (Fortune, Esoteric Orders 137).  She advocates this beginning, as well as showing preference in her work for the occultist, as oppose to the mystic.

Evolution is at the heart of Fortune’s works: the evolution of the soul, and growth of mankind in the spiritual sense.  This is what differentiates the path of light, or the Right-hand Path, from its opposite.  The Right-hand Path seeks to promote and advance this idea of evolution, while the Left-hand path would undermine it; within each path, though, are variations, for “no one particular route can be laid down as the true Path or system by which every man must come. ‘The ways to God are as many as the breaths of the sons of men.’  It is the directness or indirectness of the route that counts” (Fortune, Esoteric Orders 105).  She is also aware that some people might alter their path, and cautions the would-be-student not to obey a teacher who is clearly doing wrong.  The student has the right to judge what is or is not morally right, and should bear that in mind in times of question.  Fortune insists, in Esoteric Orders and Their Work, “‘Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength’ and ‘Him only shalt thou serve’; the function of the teacher, initiator, fraternity, or order, is to bring you to God, not to take the place of God and demand your loyalty” (100).  She clearly knows the fallibility of man, and does not confer god-like perfection to any teacher of the occult.  She places all importance on the student, with instruction to trust one’s own moral compass and follow the Right-hand Path and the progression of evolution, even should the master try to push toward the opposite.

The Left-hand Path is the clear converse of the Right-hand.  Instead of promoting evolution, it seeks to backtrack and use coarser, but easier, methods of occult application, often resulting in harm being done to others as a way to draw up the power they perceive exists there.  The cautions to any student about clearly analyzing the morality of their research and practices are necessary, because the dark path can be inadvertently accessed initially.  “Black occultists may be divided into two classes, those who deliberately say to evil, Be thou my good; and those who stray onto the Left-hand Path more or less unintentionally, and having got there, stay there, often deluding themselves” (Fortune, Sane Occultism 76).  As with virtually any path trod, it is easier to go backwards, over the ways that have already been found, rather than blindly foraging ahead.  The parable of the solitary scout again applies, and it can be easier to go in the opposite direction, backwards, over the ground already well-traveled by the masses of humanity.  Once finding this easier path, it can also be tempting to remain there, with baser powers and understandings that were more easily found.  Fortune addresses the consequences of this, and people she identifies as “occult police” who remedy the wrongs they have done:

They might equally be known as astral ambulance workers, for their task is twofold; those cases which require their intervention for the safeguarding of society usually also result in psychic casualties on both sides.  Their task it is to combat black occultism and deal occultly with those evils which arise from the abuse of esoteric knowledge.  (Sane Occultism 117)

This remedy, and the idea of occult-based “magical” guardians of humanity, has an understandably large appeal in the fantasy genre, particularly as a hero.  The appealing notion that there is someone to remedy all of the evils brought about by matters beyond normal human understanding is a comforting one, and one found regularly in modern texts.

Today, in can be something of a trial to find secondary sources referencing Fortune.  Examination of books on the esoteric, whether academic or “new age” in nature, seldom offers information on the occultist or, if one does, it is rarely more than a passing reference or two.  Nevertheless, the work she practiced and ideas she advocated can be found with only a bit of searching in some unexpected areas: namely, the modern fantasy genre.  It has been observed that “Fortune died firm in the belief that her work would form a nucleus enabling the Ancient Mysteries to operate freely once again” (Grant 177).  Indeed, her influence can be discerned in today’s influential fantasy writers, such as Marion Zimmer Bradley and Mercedes Lackey.  Both, in fact, have referenced her directly, and with far more honor than granted by these authors to other occultists of her time.  Bradley refers to her as a pinnacle of the age of reason: “On one side, Darwin and Freud, proclaiming nothing more than a computer made out of meat, assembled by random chance and a blind watchmaker.  And on the other side, Mathers, Case, Waite, Fortune, Crowley...fighting against the Rationalist’s cold equations, working desperately in a world that thought them ludicrous eccentrics or even criminal lunatics” (166).  Lackey makes free use of Fortune’s idea of the occult police, terming them Guardians, best represented by one heroine who is one herself, and who describes what she fights as, “Stuff like Dion Fortune hinted about.  Works like this, or so my grandmother told me—anything or anyone who ‘makes a living’ exploiting others psychically—or hurting or killing them...I either take care of them, when I see them and I’m ready, and they’re not, or I stand around and let ‘em come from me on their terms” (Children of the Night 41).  Direct references by two best-selling novelists support the notion that Fortune’s influence in the world of occultism has not entirely dissolved, and the worlds they have created in their novels display that further.

Bradley’s most thorough and exemplary champion of the Light is Colin MacLaren, protagonist of Heartlight and frequent assistant in other books of that series.  He is directly referred to as “an Adept on the Right-Hand Path, dedicated to the Great Work of Transformation” (13), and his missions throughout the life described in the novel match easily with Fortune’s definitions of such a person.  His goal, much as in Fortune’s occult police, is to ensure that those who have no desire for the knowledge of the esoteric never need face what they are unprepared for, as well as guiding newcomers to his path.  Colin stands firm by his beliefs with a strong statement to that effect: “The great mass of humanity has the right to not be troubled by forces outside the scope of their daily lives, or manipulated by forces they have no way of resisting.  When I find someone interfering in people’s lives with Black Magick, it’s my duty to stop them if I can.  It’s my job” (Bradley 171).  This is very much akin to a responsible keeper of such lore as Fortune describes in her works.  Even more compelling, the notion of spiritual evolution is found relevant in Bradley’s novel, too, first in the idea of mankind’s spiritual growth, and second in the need for reincarnation to attain true spiritual enlightenment.  There is a roughness implied in man’s spiritual evolution, for “spiritual evolution was as harsh and ruthless as the physical evolution practiced by Nature.  Nations were sacrificed, whole races blotted out, in Spirit’s quest for the Light” (Bradley 31).  This is a logical conclusion, when confronted with such an idea as the evolution of spirit.  It is no easy matter, and is a lesson that must be learned difficultly and thoroughly.

So, too, is the personal spiritual evolution of a single man ripe with difficulty, such as Bradley’s fictional Colin MacLaren.  Indeed, he was first introduced much earlier, in a different series and incarnation, as the Atlantean-style priest Riveda, who allowed his pride to nearly destroy an entire civilization[ii], a fact Colin himself becomes aware of around the climax of Heartlight.  Since that time, the culmination of lifetimes of spiritual work has been his atonement for that crime: “Truly, the forgetfulness those on the Path brought with them into Life was a great mercy—how could he ever have lived with the intimate knowledge of that great crime?  He had labored a thousand lifetimes since to atone for what he had done...but at that moment, Colin did not feel it was enough” (Bradley 403).  The penalty he has paid was for accepting and using the Left-hand Path, applying his magical knowledge for his own gain, and, as Fortune’s work implies, he was properly punished for the act.  As much as humanity as a whole evolves in the spiritual fashion, so does the single person.

Lackey’s employment of Fortune’s ideas seems equally clear in her novels.  She herself cites an expression commonly found in Fortune’s works, “when the student is ready, a teacher will find her” (Lackey, Phoenix and Ashes 217).  This is an example of the follower of the Path learning all that can be learned without a master before one shows himself, lest time be wasted on learning elementary aspects at a time when university learning should occur, another statement reflected by Fortune.  Even the methodology of magic parallels some of Fortune’s own ideas: “Imagination.  That was the key.  Whatever she could imagine, if she could do it well enough, and believe in it, she could see.  Intellect ruled the Middle Earth, which lay between the Spheres of the Light Path and the Spheres of the Dark” (Lackey, Phoenix and Ashes 221).  Imagination, controlled by the will, is a key element in Fortune’s ideas of actual magical practice.  Lackey furthers this with a direct comparison to the medieval ideas of alchemy, which can be easily imagined as a direct precursor to what Fortune explored.  Alchemy, as it seems frequently perceived in the occult world, “had never been about finding ways to change base metal into gold.  That particular transmutation itself was merely a philosophical expression for the evolution and maturation of a human soul” (Lackey, Phoenix and Ashes 219).  Again, the idea of spiritual evolution is seen.  Fortune’s works seem to be well applied in these and other works by both Lackey and Bradley, despite her presence as somewhat under the radar in official occult publications.

Dion Fortune developed numerous documents detailing her works and studies, most of which are still in publication today.  Her presence can be hard to detect in studies of the esoteric and famous occultists, particularly compared to such well-recognized figures as Aleister Crowley and Anton LaVey.  Nevertheless, her works have created great influences in the modern world as far as the esoteric goes.  While not particularly well-researched beyond her own followers, her contribution was vast and should be considered among the great contributors in the sphere of mysticism and the occult.

 

[i] See <http://www.innerlight.org.uk> for further information

[ii] Story detailed in: Bradley, Marion Zimmer.  The Fall of Atlantis.  New York: Simon and Schuster, 1997.

Works Cited

“About Dion Fortune.”  Gareth Knight.  19 March 2008.  November 2006. 

<http://www.angelfire.com/az/garethknight/aboutdf.html.>

Bradley, Marion Zimmer.  Heartlight.  New York: Tom Doherty Associates, LLC,

1998.

Fortune, Dion.  Dion Fortune’s Sane Occultism; and, Practical Occultism in Daily

Life.  Wellingborough, Northamptonshire, Englad: The Aquarian Press, 1987.

---.  Esoteric Orders and Their Works.  York Beach, ME: Samuel Weiser, Inc., 2000.

---.  Psychic Self-Defense.  Boston: Red Wheel/Weiser LLC, 2001.

---.  The Training and Work of an Initiate.  New York: Samuel Weiser, Inc., 1979.

Grant, Kenneth.  The Magical Revival. London: Skoob Books Pub Ltd., 1993.  173-

179.

Lackey, Mercedes.  Children of the Night.  New York: Tom Doherty Associates, Inc.,

1990.

---.  Phoenix and Ashes.  New York: DAW Books, 2004.

“Meet Dion Fortune.”  Wisdom of Solomon.  19 March 2008.  1998. 

<http://www.wisdomofsolomon.com/DF-bio.html.>


 


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