Saturday, 24 March 2018

Dion Fortune, the Star in the East, and the Sermon on the Mount - Part 1

“I ask those who are in sympathy with what I am doing to remember that thought power is potent for protection and support, just as it is for attack, and to lend me their help on the Inner Planes. My task is not a light one. But as long as I am responsible for the conduct of this magazine I will follow the example of the Master Who, while He had compassion for those who fainted by the way, had a scourge for the backs of those who made His Father’s house a den of thieves.”

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.....

*                                 *                           *

I hope you’ve enjoyed reading this blog. I will aim to post the second in the series within the next month or two.

Saturday, 18 November 2017

Violet Firth - Further Fragments

In Summer Term 1911, a young Violet Firth joined Studley Horticultural College For Women in Warwickshire. Gareth Knight's book, Dion Fortune and the Inner Light, dedicates a whole chapter to this part of Violet's life. Alan Adams (writing as Charles Fielding), Janine Chapman and Alan Richardson all touch upon aspects of this time with varying degrees of success and accuracy. With the recent improvements in records accessibility and research capabilities, Knight's telling seems by far the most accurate. However, the other works remain of interest and use. A photograph of the College from the turn of the last century is pictured below, giving a sense of some grandeur. 

It was at Studely College that Violet allegedly met Evelyn Heathfield who would become a lifelong friend and stalwart. However, there is also some suggestion that the two may have been family friends before Studely. It was also here that she would meet the allegedly overbearing Dr Lillias Hamilton, Warden of the College, who would become infamous from a tale retold in Dion Fortune's Pyschic Self Defence. A picture of a formidable and rather stern looking Dr Hamilton is shown below.

It was her experiences with Dr Hamilton which led Violet to take up the study of analytical psychology, and subsequently the path of occultism. While the recounted psychic battle with Dr Hamilton clearly represented a critical point in the development of the person we would come to know as Dion Fortune, her time at Studley was also a time of embryonic creativity and emerging literary talent. The former element is usually the focus of attention, while the latter often remains ignored or at best played down. I think this is a shame, and have written in earlier blog posts about Violet's early writing and how, at times, this shows the early foreshadowings of a style and approach we would come to recognise later in Dion Fortune's work. I'd love to see someone with the time and skills doing a more detailed and expansive analysis of the early influences and burgeoning style of the young Violet. Maybe that will happen one day!

Some of Violet's early poetry and writing is available in the rare library copies Violets, or to buy in More Violets: A Child's Thoughts on Nature in Verse and Prose. It is worth checking out. Gareth Knight kindly published the manuscript of Poultry Department, a poem written while she was a student at Studley. Below is another poem from that time for your consideration, The Professor's  Farewell to his Favourite Blight. It gives a further insight into Violet's formative time at Studely and will most certainly bring a smile to your face and some warmth to your soul. Enjoy...

Monday, 30 October 2017

“Vocatus atques non vocatus, Deus aderit”

Toni Sussmann, the erudite Jungian practitioner and psychotherapist, remains relatively unknown outside Jungian circles. I think that’s rather a shame. 

Arriving in England with her husband in 1938, Toni was one of many refugees fleeing the rising tide of Nazism, who settled and managed to thrive in the bubbling cauldron of London. Importantly, to anyone with an interest in the esoteric history of England, Toni undoubtedly had a quiet and unassuming influence on the thinking and practice of some of the players at the time.

For those interested in the wider story of Dion Fortune, Toni Sussman was on record as a colleague of Dion’s student Helah Fox. Helah had been a member of the Inner Light’s community for a number of years, having lived at both Chalice Orchard and 3 Queensborough Terrace. Helah told the late Janine Chapman in 1973 that Dion Fortune had consulted Toni Sussmann in about 1943 or 1944 as “the best Jung practitioner who there was in London”. That would have been a fascinating consultation to have been a fly on the wall. Helah herself became a relatively a well-respected Jungian.

For those interested in the influences of another magical order, the Aurum Solis, Toni was also a teacher and colleague of the greatly loved London psychotherapist Buntie Wills. Now Buntie Wills also worked closely with Helah Fox in running a Monday night study group for “all things mind and spirit”. Functioning out of Studio H in 10A Cunningham Place, the Monday group’s activity included a fascinating smorgasbord of sessions on psychotherapy, dream work, qabalah and mythology.

One particularly interesting person studied under this group for six years– a young Vivian White (aka Godfrey). Vivian would later become known to the world as one of the public faces of the Aurum Solis, one half of the prolific writers Melita Denning and Osbourne Phillips.  I doubt that three of their most important books - Entrance To The Magical Qabalah, The Sword and Serpent and The Triumph of Light – all hugely influential on modern magical thinking and practice, would have been written in quite the helpful form that they are, without the influences of Toni Sussman, Buntie Wills, and Helah Fox. I also suspect that Dion Fortune’s teachings played a significant part too through Helah’s influence.

Interestingly, Toni Sussmann was also a colleague of Dr E Graham Howe, a Druid and founding member of the Tavistock Clinic, where the young Dion Fortune worked in 1920. While Howe’s writing is sometime challenging, gems like The Mind of the Druid, have influenced many esoteric students. I remember being captivated by his writing in the late ‘80s when Caroline Wise gave me a copy of this to review for the Green Circular occult magazine. Some 28 years later I still dip into its depths for sustenance.

One thing that has always struck me about the little I know about Toni Sussmann is the story she tells of arriving at Carl Jung’s house at Kussnacht, at the start of her working relationship with him. She writes that she was profoundly affected by the words carved into the stone over Jung’s doorway and included in this blog’s title. A translation of these words could be, “Called and not called, God is present.” Many years later Toni wrote that this sentence entered the very centre of her being. She continued by saying, “I carried it – or it carried me – during all these years of my work.” The words are certainly well worth personal contemplation.

When Toni got involved in the Taena Community in Gloucestershire, close to Prinknash Abbey, she felt she could see the truth of the words at actively at work in the community. In a note to her own students, Toni recalled how at the time, the experience also brought to her mind the words of Brother Lawrence quoted below.

“The time of business does not differ with me from the time of prayer, 
and in the noise and clatter of my kitchen, 
while several persons are at the same time calling for different things, 
I possess God as if I were upon my knees at the blessed sacrament.”

I regularly come back to Toni Sussmann and her reflections on Brother Lawrence’s words and hope you also find some insight and illumination from them.

Some Further reading:

Toni Sussmann - a Tribute, Helah Fox/Buntie Wills, Phonapress, UK (1974)
The Quest for Dion Fortune, Janine Chapman, Weiser, USA (1993) 
The Tree of Life: Talks, Buntie Wills,  Buntie Wills Foundation, UK (1990)
Buntie Wills Therapist: A Mosaic, Buntie Wills Foundation, UK (1990)

Sunday, 13 August 2017

Some thoughts on the month of August

Song for Lughnasadh

                   [He:]    O beauty's blossom, most cruel maid,
                             A grievous foe have you been to me:
                             My heart you took and my trust betrayed
                                       And smiled as I sank in the dark sea.
                             But why, why did you turn away
                             And why so faithless when I was true?
                             O, summer love has its shining day,
                                       But winter love watches the night through!

                   [She:]   'Twas you, O golden my lord, confessed
                             To my loving ear your immortal race,
                             And if I tricked you I did but jest
                                       Yet perish now lacking your kind grace.
                             O, blame be to the wind that drives
                             My fainting steps where the first leaves fly!
                             For winter love with the pine-tree thrives
                                       But summer love will with its bloom die.

                   [He:]    My sweet and fairest one, live to seal
                             Our bond of love in my light anew!
                             O turn to me as the heavens wheel,
                                       For I am returned to seek you:
                             So turn again to me now at last
                             And we shall fear for no wind that blows:
                             For winter love through the storm holds fast,
                                       And summer love laughs with the red rose!

                  [Both:]    The year declines from its summer height
                             In burning glory of autumn gold,
                             Yet pales already the early light
                                       And stubble stands in the mists cold:
                             But leads winter to spring's new birth
                             While love and wonder their treasures pour,
                             Still bringing down to this mortal earth
                                                 The beams of a deathless splendour.

-         Vivian Godfrey

I fondly remember as a child magical and seemingly endless summer holidays through the months of July and August. Irish troubadour Van Morrison nicely captures many of the related sentiments of endless summers in two of his wonderful songs, “On Hyndford Street” and “These are the days.”

Now each summer we always spent a fortnight to a month out of the city, up on the Antrim coast, where some of our extended family lived. Inevitably this took us on tours of the Giant’s Causeway, Dunluce Castle and “the auld Lammas fair” in Ballycastle. All generations to this day are still able to sing along to the old song about the fair of the same name.  

The fair was a wondrous experience as a child – fun fair games, livestock, people watching, dulse, and Yellow Man to eat and rot your teeth. Typically happening on the last Monday and Tuesday in August, it remains one of the oldest fairs in Ireland, held continuously for at least three centuries.

Lammas is the name given to the August festival on the Wheel of the Year. The word may derive from the Celtic name Lughnasadh, which meant “the commemoration of Luqh”. Lugh is of course the name for the Irish sun god, known variously as Lugh of the Long Arm, the Shining One, the Fierce Striker and the Lightning Flash. Another explanation on the etymology is that the word is obtained from the Anglo-Saxon “hlaf-mass” or “loaf-mass”, for this festival marks the beginning of the grain harvest.

At this point on the Wheel of the Year it is plain for most of us in the Northern Hemisphere to see that the Sun god is indeed losing the battle; the days are beginning to get shorter and the light receding. Lugh uses his remaining power to ripen the golden wheat before the long and barren winter months. This was often seen by many as Lugh’s sacrifice to humanity who in turn “served” him.

At this time in Celtic lands, corn dollies are still traditionally made. These are rough female figures made from sheaves of wheat. These represent the Goddess, the Earth Mother, keeping the seed safe until the Spring. Families keep a corn dolly in the house, near the hearth, throughout the winter. When the spring finally comes, the grain incorporated in this figure can be mixed with the other seed just before it is sown in the fields, to symbolically increase fertility.

 Again, emphasizing the perennial nature of many of the old ways, in parts of modern day Ireland, environmental education officers are paid to teach school children how to make corn dollies. One of my old friends who is employed in such as role says that the children are clearly fascinated by their experience, no doubt finding themselves connected to something of a deeper and more enduring nature than much of the rest of their modern-day childhood.

At a time of global troubles, ecological disaster and strife, it is one of my deepest wishes that more of these old ways continue to find their ways back into schools, families and wider community life. The world would be a far better place for it. Our personal and global harvests would be healthier for it!

This August we were truly honoured to be invited by OBOD’s Cornovii Grove to participate in a beautiful Lughnasadh ceremony on the edge the Wyre Forest. The ceremony’s purpose was to celebrate Lughnasadh and bless a friend’s apple orchard. What an event it was too. The ceremony was beautifully crafted with richly poetic and symbolic language which really resonated with both my Aurum Solis and Dion Fortune initiatic heritage. Perhaps most interesting was the wide attendance -- families with their children, neighbours, druids, wiccans, rune devotees, qabalists and ceremonial magicians – all coming together in harmony to honour the spirit of life which is Lughnasadh and the start of the harvest season.

We need more common ground like this if we are to make the world a better place.

All hail!

The Springtime of Dion Fortune

There she is staring out at you...or maybe that should be "in to you"! Whether writing as Violet Firth, Violet M Steele...