Dion Fortune was the pen-name of Violet Mary Firth, one of the most striking, enigmatic, and least known women of the twentieth century, whose strange life and beliefs anticipated many of those passions which so concern us today. She was born in Llandudno in 1890 and died in London in 1946, though her life and career was never entirely in this world, or even in this time.
She was above all else a magician who spent her entire existence communing with entities from other dimensions, and who believed that (with their assistance) her peculiar powers and practices would one day bring the world new wisdom, and bring about our own raised awareness along the way. In this sense her whole life can be seen in terms of prophecy: of woman’s equality and her spiritual potential; of the Earth’s own consciousness and our responsibility toward it; of the transforming powers of love and sex and psychism; of the energies to be found within dreams and the imagination—as well the intense and explorable reality of that Otherworld which impinges upon our own.
Today when ponderous clerics within orthodox and established churches still debate on the desirability (if any) of women priests and agonize over the consequences of such, it is worth noting that Dion Fortune was functioning as a true and potent priestess from the 1920s onward. And at a time when the fastest growing religion in the world is Wicca, with Pagan sentiments almost becoming mainstream, it is possible to trace these exotic and vital flowerings back to the seeds she planted as a young woman, and nurtured for the rest of her extraordinary life.
To get to the essence of her for the new reader, how can we sum her up? In an era when witches and magicians vie with each other for air-time, soundbites, and weekend workshops on what might be called “hobby mysticism,” there is a curious purity about the life of DF—as those in the know think of her. She wrote about magic beautifully, directly, and with obvious power. You only have to read her novels The Sea Priestess and Moon Magic—utterly beautiful in their prose and almost hypnotic in their effect upon the reader—to realize that here was real magician. And once you study her classic texts The Mystical Qabalah, Applied Magic, and that very curious autobiography Psychic Self Defence—all written in the 1930s—you become aware of how much modern writers on occult topics have stolen from her.
Dion Fortune touched many of us in different ways. Depending upon your generation, we can all remember where we were and what we were doing when we first heard about the deaths of such debatable icons as John F. Kennedy, John Lennon, Kurt Cobain, and Princess Diana. But there is a hard core of us who can also swap memories of the exact moment when we first stumbled upon the name ‘Dion Fortune’ and felt a curious frisson that was almost like recognition. In fact, no one stumbles upon her by accident. We are drawn to the essence of this rare being like moths to the flame. Or to use a more exact (if less poetic) analogy, like moths to the light bulb: bashing against it again and again, head on, getting somewhat frazzled and almost blinded, but never wholly consumed.
She defined magic as the art of causing changes to occur in consciousness. It was (and is) an evolutionary art, but she insisted upon an attitude and approach toward magic that has now been lost, or corrupted: magic is about service. Unless her pupils could earnestly say: I desire to know in order to serve, they would never get through the first portal. Simply put, here is a soul you can trust… and fall in love with.
By any reckoning, power oozed from her. She had the sort of wisdom and knowledge that transformed the magical arts, and worked through to change the world at large. If she was not the most loving of souls, in the accepted sense, then she had a rare beauty that made people follow her into other dimensions. If there was a fight you would want her on your side. If you were in trouble, you could turn to her for uncompromising advice.
It was her notorious contemporary Aleister Crowley (1875-1947), the self-styled Beast 666, who gained all the publicity for his “magick,” and who is seen in retrospect to have helped inaugurate the counter cultures that so transformed the Western world. Although they shared many of the same impulses and worked in similar areas of the psyche, it was Crowley that became known to millions, while the shade of Dion Fortune sank into relative obscurity (a state of affairs with which she would have been entirely happy). Crowley, by his own estimation, was the Logos of the Aeon, a kind of Pagan Messiah who brought a new Word to live by. In contrast, Dion Fortune was the unacknowledged echo to that Word, and although they probably never worked together she unconsciously became in his terms the woman who made it all possible.
Whatever Crowley did for magick from the masculine point of view, with as much publicity as he could muster, DF did very quietly and secretly from the distaff side. She was an initiate in the legendary Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn and saw it in its zenith, then later formed her own Fraternity of the Inner Light, where they worked the magic of the West: of Atlantis, Ys and Egypt; of the Celts and Scandinavians; of King Arthur and the Holy Grail, and explored all of those obscure by-ways that might now be termed “Native British.” Although there was a Christian Mystic section for the less able, she specialized in the magic of the Great Goddess figures. During the Second World War she was deeply involved in psychic battles against the Nazi occultists. Her pupils went on to create the New Age that we all take for granted now. Her main temple was at 3 Queensborough Terrace in London, but she also had a small centre right at the foot of Glastonbury Tor, at Chalice Orchard.
Most witches, crafting their art in the early days after the War, stole ideas and attitudes from her writing; every magician owes her a debt for the sheer clarity of exposition on obscure topics they might never have grasped otherwise. Every woman who has ever challenged the patriarchy of modern times should give her no small degree of gratitude for paving the way.
That she was a magician at all is worthy of our attention; that she expounded on the topic with a clarity and vigor that has not yet been surpassed must claim our respect; and that she could, at her best, write prose that ranks in evocative power alongside that of any writer in the language, demands that we give her the appraisal that has long been overdue.
The fact is that Dion Fortune’s consciousness extended through many dimensions, over many lives, using numerous masks. To her many admirers she seemed to each one the perfect manifestation of their own spiritual inclinations, whether these were Christian, Pagan, Theosophical, Wiccan, Kabbalistic, Hermetic, or Spiritualist—to name but a few. This, surely, is confirmation of Dion Fortune’s true nature: to be all things to all people.
Over a century after her birth the study of this remarkable woman and her works has only just begun. Even though the major sources of biographical material—diaries, photographs, correspondence, and personal effects—were ceremonially destroyed by her successor in order to stop any kind of cult developing after her death, what remains is still wonderful enough to enrich our imaginations and feed our souls. Her teachings hint at the sort of power that can make your skin prickle with excitement and give you a feeling in your head like the morning stars were singing together.
In fact, among many other things, she was a perfect Priestess of Isis, whose symbol is that of a throne: upon this throne we can seat our own little quirks, our own spiritual idiosyncrasies, and make them all quite regal and closer to the divine.
Everyone who has ever been touched by her work has their own tales about how she “came through” to them in some way on every level from the poetic through to the psychic, and brought strength, beauty, knowledge—and sometimes no small degree of grief to those with whom she communed. Because her work has had such a deep influence on our own consciousness today, she has become part of it, and part of us. When we touch on the spirit of magic, and the powers of the priestess, then in some sense and in ways unique to the individual, we touch upon this woman.
So the story of Dion Fortune is also about an energy and potential that exists within all of us, for in the mystery that can be found within this extraordinary woman’s life, we can begin to explore the secrets of our own possibilities.