Dion Fortune ~ Transactions of the Christian Mystic Lodge, July 1927
In today’s environment many people have said to me just how difficult it is to really understand or empathize with some of the more pugnacious activities of Dion Fortune and the Christian Mystic Lodge during the 1920s. Broader religious beliefs, Neo-paganism and New Age practices have been so ubiquitous for the last half a century or so that it can at times be difficult to read about her and the Lodge's skirmishes without some querulous amusement. Arguably nowadays a broader acceptance of a cornucopia of spiritual beliefs and practices in families, work and wider society makes it difficult at times to see what all the fuss was about back then.
Ninety years ago, Dion Fortune was engaged in direct and indirect warfare with the Order of the Star in the East, a movement within the Theosophical Society, which promulgated the "Coming of the World Teacher". However, over the last half a century, many people have opted to turn a blind eye to this element of Dion Fortune’s legacy, alongside ignoring the wider Christian aspects and influences of her life, worldview and teachings.
I can relate to this turning of a blind eye. Growing up in Ireland during the Troubles, I was exposed to some of the worst excesses of human stupidity and misery imaginable packaged and peddled as Christianity. It was enough to put any sane person off it for life. Now, in 2018, things don’t seem much better with the proliferation of tsunami after tsunami of child abuse cases and scandals in almost all branches of Christianity.
As a result, I often have to work somewhat harder to find the beauty, wisdom and compassion within Christianity…to find the clearer water beneath the human excretions and poison. However, it is clear to me that if we are to more fully understand Dion Fortune and her teachings, we really need to open ourselves to all of her activities and influences. On the Christian side of it I don’t believe we should throw the baby out with the bath water, otherwise we are likely to miss a deeper understanding. Neo-pantheist, pagan, agnostic or other -- with perseverance anyone can find a rich vein to be mined in the depths of Christianity. One of most illuminating teachings to explore is the Sermon on the Mount. That was one of Dion Fortune's favourites too.
I thought I would dedicate my next two blogs on this theme. To this end, today's first post covers some of my initial thoughts alongside a summary of notes taken from a talk that Dion Fortune gave on Sunday the 15th of May 1927. Read alongside the 20th chapter in Gareth Knight’s biography, Dion Fortune and the Inner Light, it provides some supplementary pointers on the warfare against the Star of the East, whilst also highlighting her thoughts on the Sermon on the Mount. The second post, to follow shortly, will elucidate in more detail the esoteric teaching within the Sermon on the Mount.
To start off with, please imagine yourself sitting comfortably in the audience some ninety years ago, attending a lecture by Dion Fortune given at a Theosophical Lodge in the Southeast of England. The subject is the attitude of the Theosophical Society towards Christianity.
Dion Fortune stands upright and begins her talk. The first point she makes is a viewpoint that in the days when Madame Blavatsky founded the Theosophical Society there was a very general reaction against religion in completeness, and that the earlier Theosophists shared in the bias of the times. She postulates that spiritual life was then and is now at a low ebb in European countries, and many people, estranged from Christianity by an un-Christian presentation of its teachings, as a reaction, seek spiritual illumination in others of the great world religions. Therefore, it is that Theosophy has gained itself a reputation for being anti-Christian.
She denies emphatically, however, that it is anti-Christian, and maintains that the liberal policy pursued by the Society recognizes that all religions are paths to God, and, although the study of Western religious thought has been carried on in the Society to the same extent as the study of Eastern religious thought, there is nothing in the Constitution or policy of the Society which debars this from being done. In fact, she says, it is not the fault of the Theosophical Society or the Christians in it if the Christian religion has not received it's just due. Theosophy teaches that all religions are restatements of fundamental truths made by divine Messengers sent periodically to this earth to remind humans of God's law and give out further spiritual teaching as the world became ready to receive it. Therefore, all religions agree as to the basic truths they teach, and are only different in the methods of presentation of these truths; such methods being adapted to the race and time which the teaching came. This liberal doctrine, she tells the audience, is what she considers to be one of the best gifts of Theosophy to the world.
She pauses before continuing by saying that in its birth, Theosophy reminded the Western world of forgotten truths, truths which had been well-known in our hemisphere from when the great Mystery Schools of Greece and of Egypt were in their prime, and in which the East had always retained as part of its traditional faith. It declares that the whole of religious life and thought does not lie upon the surface, but that, in addition to the simple teaching which meet the needs of simple souls, there are depths in every religion which profound thought and experience of the spiritual life can plumb.
In essence, she continues, three types of teaching can be distinguished in the Christian Gospels; the simple ethical teaching of the parables which our Lord gave to those who gathered about him in the villages and marketplaces; a profound teaching which He gave to those who followed Him out of the towns into the wilderness, and which culminated in the Sermon on the Mount, universally recognized as “the loftiest spiritual teaching known to the world”; and finally, teaching which was never written down or recorded, the teaching which He gave to His disciples in the “Upper Chamber” saying, “To you it is given to know the Mysteries of the Kingdom of God.” She emphasizes that He taught them for 40 days after His resurrection, but that that teaching was not recorded in the Orthodox Canon of Scripture. There existed, nevertheless, a curious Gnostic Gospel called the, “Pistis Sophia,” which was said to contain the teaching thus given, and this teaching had a very great deal in common with esoteric side of the religions of the East, and also of the Qabalah, which constituted the Secret Doctrine of Israel.
Dion Fortune next suggests that we do not need to look to the East for teaching on the deeper issues of spiritual life; there is a great Mystical tradition in Christianity itself, both Catholic and Protestant. Importantly she continues by citing as “initiates of the Inner Light of the Western Tradition,” “St Theresa of Ávila and St Francis of Assisi, among Catholics, and George Fox, Wesley, Swedenborg, and Jacob Boehme among those outside the orthodox pale.” As evidence of the fact that the real power behind religion has never been lost, she refers to St Therese of Lisieux, the young French girl, who short life during the latter half of the 19th century showed forth in all its fullness the traditional powers of the Spirit.
She continues by telling the audience that for those whose early associations with the Christian presentation of the One Truth had turned them against religion, it might be helpful to seek God by an Eastern pathway. However, she then postulates that the great majority of those who seek in Theosophy a deeper interpretation of life than the Churches afford do not wish so much to change their faith as to understand it better, and although absolute freedom of thought has always characterised Theosophical Society and always must if it is to retain its position as an inter-racial spiritual movement, it is the Christian presentation of its philosophy which must be developed amongst Christian people if it is to fulfil its mission successfully. The reason Theosophy has been so successful in India, she believes, is because it has shown Buddhists and Hindus the deeper significance of their own faiths. She states that it is her view that it will never be equally successful in Europe until it takes the same line with regard to both aspects of the Christian faith and the Jewish religion, offering opportunities by means of its libraries and study groups for the followers of those faiths to enter into the deeper mystical aspects of their own communions, rather than seeking the philosophical and mystical aspects of religion in Eastern faiths.
The lecture concludes with a short discussion. One speaker disagrees with Dion Fortune as to the attention given to Christianity in Theosophical lodges, declaring that during her own 25-year experience of the Theosophical Society she has always found that great attention has been paid to it. Dion Fortune cautiously responds that “each must speak of the Society as he or she finds it.”
Other members of the audience express warm appreciation of the viewpoint put forward by Dion Fortune and openly agree with the need for the development of the Christian aspect in the Theosophical Society.
In reply to another question after the address, Dion Fortune answers that she has no connection whatsoever with the Liberal Catholic Church.
When asked how the line of study she has outlined in a section of her lecture might be followed up by those not able to attend her lectures in London, she responds that the Christian Mystic Lodge of the Theosophical Society, of which she is the President, issues its transactions as a monthly magazine, edited by herself, and that this can be obtained from the Secretary of the Lodge, 3, Queensborough Terrace, Bayswater, London W2 at 3d. a copy, or 3s. a year post free.
Intrigued by what you have heard tonight, you commit to following up by writing to the Secretary.
On August the 3rd 1929, the Order of the Star of the East dissolved the Order of the Star of the East. No doubt Dion Fortune felt vindicated, but she had new work to be getting on with.....
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I hope you’ve enjoyed reading this blog. I will aim to post the second in the series within the next month or two.