Dion Fortune

9781578632893Dion Fortune (Violet Firth) was a well-known occultist of the early 20th century. She belonged to the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn and founded her own occult order, the Society of Inner Light.

According to Ronald Hutton, Valiente’s greatest single legacy to modern Pagan witchcraft to be her idea of magical polarity, the notion that erotic attraction between the sexes could be channeled into magical operations. Fortune coined the phrase, “A religion without a goddess is halfway to atheism”, and it was through Fortune’s influence that Doreen Valiente introduced a larger role for the Goddess (and hence the High Priestess) into Gardnerian Wicca. Without Fortune’s influence, it is possible that the women’s spirituality movement of the 1970s would never have embraced Neo-Pagan witchcraft and witchcraft would have remained an obscure esoteric tradition.

Fortune studied psychology and actually practiced as a psychoanalyst for a time. In the course of her studies, she was influenced most strongly by the writings of Freud and Jung, both of whom she writes about in her first publication in 1922, Machinery of the Mind. Fortune frequently uses the term “archetype” in her esoteric writings, and Jung is cited in both her nonfiction and her fiction. She is credited by Chas Clifton with being the first occult author to approach magic from a Jungian perspective.

Fortune believed that a “sound knowledge of the psychology of the subconscious mind” was necessary for the safe practice of occultism. She saw esotericism as an extension of psychology. In Sane Occultism (1929), Fortune wrote, “We can define occultism as an extension of psychology, for it studies certain little-known aspects of the human mind and the mind side of Nature. Its findings, rightly formulated and understood, fit in with what is already established in psychology and natural science.”  She even believed that “in the possibilities of ritual magic we shall find an invaluable therapeutic agent for use in certain forms of mental disease.”

Fortune’s first major esoteric work, The Mystical Qabalah, was published in 1935. In it, she interpreted the esoteric practices as techniques of auto-suggestion for creating altered states of consciousness. She writes, “Viewed as a means of invoking the spirit of God, ceremonial is pure superstitution; but viewed as a means of evoking the spirit of man, it is pure psychology, and that is how I view it.”

The subject of the book is a psychological interpretation of the Qabalistic Tree of Life. Like Jung, Fortune believed that the human soul was “many-sided”, and for Fortune, the goal of esoteric work was to balance the forces of the subconscious under the dominion of the “Higher Self”. This is accomplished by taking advantage of the “symbolizing power of the subconscious mind”, which draws associations spontaneously between symbols. According to Fortune, the Tree of Life is a microcosmic map of the human mind. In The Mystical Qabalah, she relates the gods and goddesses of the various pantheons to the various positions on the Tree. Like Jung, Fortune taught that the gods are personifications of the forces at work in the subconscious of the individual. Meditation on the Tree is then used “to evoke images from the subconscious mind into conscious content” producing an “artificially produced waking dream”, similar to Jung’s practice of “active imagination”. The result is an integration of the subconscious forces into conscious control:

“The ceremony of initiation, and the teachings that should be given in the various grades, are simply designed to make conscious what was previously subconscious, and to bring under the control of the will, directed by the higher intelligence, those developed reaction-capacities which have hitherto only responded blindly to their appropriate stimuli.”

In some places, Fortune seems more Freudian than Jungian, but like Jung, Fortune’s conception of the “subconscious” is not exclusively negative.  Thus, the goal of ceremonial magic was not only to integrate destructive complexes, but also to awaken “latent capacities of our own higher selves.”

In answer to the question whether the gods are real, Fortune wrote that they are neither “real persons as we understand personality” nor illusions; they are rather “emanations of the group-minds of races” which are powerful because of their influence over the imaginations of their worshipers. Fortune frequently used terms like the “racial mind”, “racial imagination”, and “racial subconscious”, by which she seemed to mean something like Jung’s “collective unconscious”.  Fortune related esoteric work to dream association, except “in the case of the Qabalah the dreamer is the racial subconscious.”

Jungian concepts are also found in Fortune’s occult fiction, the theme of which is often the erotico-magical polarity of the male and female characters, a concept which became foundational for Wicca. Fortune’s novels, The Sea Priestess (1938) and The Goat Foot God (1936), are clearly the inspiration behind the Neo-Pagan Goddess and Horned God. Fortune’s most famous quotation for Pagans is “all the gods are one god, and all the goddesses are one goddess…”, which has become a kind of proof text for Jungian Neo-Paganism. (Neo-Pagans often leave off the rest of the quotation: “… and there is one initiator”.) The quote comes from Fortune’s novel, The Sea Priestess (1938), which provided a blueprint for the Garnderian Drawing Down the Moon ceremony and the Great Rite. It is interesting to note that Fortune’s tale is based on the proposition that the sacrificial hero is sacrificed to the Goddess, several years before Robert Graves proposed this idea in his King Jesus (1946).

In The Sea Priestess, Fortune has one of her characters say: “… the old gods are coming back, and man is finding Aphrodite and Ares and great Zeus in his own heart, for that is the revelation of the aeon.”  Similarly, in her book, The Winged Bull (1935), Fortune’s character says: “God was many-sided, you couldn’t see every side at once; and the gods were the facets of the One. … God was as many-sided as the soul of man.” Statements like these were to inspire several generations of Neo-Pagans to come.


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