Dion Fortune

9781578632893Dion Fortune (a.k.a. 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 was 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.” 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 likely 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 impressed by the writings of Freud and Jung, both of whom she wrote about in her first publication, Machinery of the Mind (1922). Fortune frequently uses the term, “archetype,” in her esoteric writ­ings, and Jung is cited in both her nonfiction and her fiction. She is credited 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 occultism as an extension of psychol­ogy. In Sane Occultism (1929), Fortune theorized, “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.”

In Fortune’s first major esoteric work, The Mystical Qabalah (1935), she interpreted the esoteric practices as techniques of auto-suggestion for creating altered states of consciousness: “Viewed as a means of invoking the spirit of God, ceremonial is pure superstition; 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 was 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 was 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 map of the micro­cosm of the human mind. In The Mystical Qabalah, she associates 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 forces at work in the subconscious of the individual. Meditation on the Tree is 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 that have hitherto only responded blindly to their appropriate stimuli.”

In some places, Fortune seems more Freudian than Jungian, but like Jung, her 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 answered that they are neither “real persons as we understand personality,” nor illusions; they are rather “emanations of the group-minds of races”** that are powerful because of their influ­ence over the imaginations of their worshipers. Fortune related esoteric work to dream association, except “in the case of the Qaba­lah the dreamer is the racial [i.e., collective] 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 that became foundational for Wicca. Fortune’s novels, The Sea Priestess (1938) and The Goat Foot God (1936), helped inspire the Neo-Pagan concep­tion of the Goddess and Horned God. Fortune’s most well-known quotation among Pagans is “All the gods are one god, and all the goddesses are one goddess…” The quote comes from Fortune’s novel, The Sea Priestess (1938), which provided a blueprint for the Wiccan rituals of Drawing Down the Moon and the Great Rite.

In The Sea Priestess, Fortune has one of her characters say: “[T]he old gods are coming back, and [humankind] is finding Aphrodite and Ares and great Zeus in [their] own heart, for that is the revelation of the aeon.” Similarly, in 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 [human­kind].” This concep­tion of the relationship between humankind and the gods was to inspire several generations of Neo-Pagans to come.

* “Occultism” is synonymous with “esotericism,” and refers to a nexus of related quasi-religious movements, the common trait of which is the notion that secret or hidden knowledge is available only to a small, elect group and only through intense study.

* Fortune frequently used terms like the “racial mind,” “racial imagina­tion,” and “racial subconscious,” to mean something like Jung’s “Collective Unconscious.”

Updated 2019

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