I am SUPER excited to to returning to my 21st Century Witchcraft series this week with the 1940s and I decided that what better way to highlight the energy of a decade than to do a blog focusing on one of the most notable figures within the occult world at that time. Now that I am moving into the 1940s, I thought it would be the perfect opportunity to learn and share more about one of the mothers of modern witchcraft: Dion Fortune!
Dion Fortune was actually born Violet Mary Firth (also a super pretty name, for the record) in December of 1890. Although she passed away in 1946, her impression on the occult community has persisted and many of her ideas and teachings have become absorbed into the practice of modern witchcraft. Interestingly, Fortune did not actually identity as a witch or even a pagan herself. She was a self-identified Christian mystic and occultist.
Fortune showed a talent and interest for writing and poetry at a very young age. Her work was first published in 1904 at the tender age of 13. A promotional image shot for that publication is the only publicly known photograph in existence of her as a child. (At right)
As a child her family also saw her as “troubled”. They sent her to a horticultural academy for children who were troubled, but by Fortune’s own recollection she was mentally abused and manipulated there. This caused her to make the decision to study psychology and psychotherapy herself. Although she worked in the field, quite successfully, for a short while, she found what she perceived to be in the inefficacy of the technique frustrating and began to dive deeply into study of the occult through the Theosophical Society.
In 1919 she as initiate into the occult group Alpha et Omega which was an off-shoot of the Order of the Golden Dawn in addition to some training under Irish Freemason Theodore Moriarty previously. While she found the ceremonial magick of the Golden Dawn a bit stuffy and sterile, the background studies she undertook in Kabbalah and mediumship formed a foundation for her practice that would guide her through the rest of her spiritual journey.
She became fascinated with the concept of the “Ascended Masters” and over the course of several experiences claimed to have met figures such as Jesus himself, Socrates, Thomas Erskine, and the “Watchers of Avalon” who informed her that there had once been a druid college in Glastonbury, England; a thought that persists even today. Through work with mediumship and contacting these Ascended Masters, she created “The Cosmic Doctrine” in partnership with her friend Charles Loveday which was mostly distributed amongst her student but was published in 1949 after her death.
Fortune and Loveday started their own occult group, The Fraternity of Inner Light, and she was eventually excommunicated from Alpha et Omega due to what was probably some bad blood between Fortune at the leaders of the occult group at the time over her branching off into her own organization. She also briefly rejoined the Theosophical Society quickly rising to the status of president, but left over a disagreement on how much focus should have been placed on working with Jesus as an Ascended Master. Fortune clearly had her own ideas for the ways things should be done that rubbed some people the wrong way.
In the 1930s Fortune’s spiritual path took her in a more personally, introspected direction as she began to focus less on mediumship and more on the construction of ritual. In 1938, Dion published a novel (one of several written in her lifetime) by the name of “The Sea Priestess“. While her works are many, the Sea Priestess has become an integral piece of occult and witchcraft history. Despite being classified as fiction within its pages Fortune as good as lays out clearly for any reader the structure for occult ritual. Fortune describes in the book, from her knowledge of her own training, the important of polarities and opposites (usually described in terms of gender which many are trying to get away from in the modern day). The “friction” between the divine masculine and divine feminine are what create.(Although in her personal life she was often described as being something of a “prude”.) This idea was absorbed quite thoroughly by modern Wicca and Witchcraft. Some have described the ritual in The Sea Priestess as the closest description to “Drawing Down the Moon” as they have ever seen in text.
Fortune wrote other famous occult-related works and rituals including a book about The Greek God Pan in 1936, but never does quite touch on the power and impact of The Sea Priestess; far better describing goddess work than work with the divine masculine. (This makes me personally wonder what this says about gender-based occult practices and if she didn’t write it as well because it wasn’t really taught to her in the same way.) She refers to the need for society to get in touch with the essence of Pan as “vitamin P” in her writing which is just hilarious to me, so I had to pass it on here so now you know about “vitamin P” for, you know, PAN, too. (*wink, wink, nudge, nudge*)
Towards the end of her life, Fortune had the opportunity to meet Aleister Crowley whom she believed to be very powerful and adept as an occultist. She had dreams and aspirations for her late life to unite all the occultists in England, but she fell ill in 1945 and eventually passed away in 1946 from leukemia. Her dream of uniting the occult world never quite came to fruition. Because many of the Fraternity of Inner Light members feared the organization had been becoming a cult that simply centered around Fortune, many of her diaries, photos, letters, and even manuscripts were destroyed.
Her published works include 20 pieces of non-fiction occult works and 9 pieces of fiction including a collection of short stories. (You can find the complete list on her Wikipedia page.)
Have you ever read any of Dion Fortune’s works? Tell me about your favorites in the comments below!