I'm starting this thread to share occasional notes about the works of author Dion Fortune (nee Violet Firth, lived 1890-1946). Before I share some thoughts about her novel The Winged Bull which I just read, I'll paste in this quote from noted anthologist and author (under her pseudonym of Flavia Richardson) Christine Campbell Thomson about Dion's books. From a 1946 article about the art of writing supernatural and horror themed fiction, which you can read in its complete form elsewhere on the Vault. CCT writes:
"For full-length books (on occult themes), try the novels of Dion Fortune - The Winged Bull, The Goatfoot God and The Sea Priestess and if you are lucky enough to get a hold of it, The Secrets of Doctor Taverner; try also The Devil Rides Out by Dennis Wheatley, The Undying Monster by Jessie Douglas Kerruish and, among the short stories, Margaret Irwin's Madame Fears the Dark, with its companions in the volume."
I'm including her mentions of Wheatley et al for the sake of completeness; it's interesting to reflect upon the numerous distinguished authors she might have mentioned here, but does not. I'm curious about the Margaret Irwin tale noted; have any of you read it?
I meant to mention what has been discussed before in other threads--CCT was a pupil of Dion Fortune's occult order, the Fraternity of the Inner Light, during the period of the 1930s. (CCT went on to publish some expanded reflections on Dion's teachings under her later married name, Christine Hartley.) I found this slightly edited transcription of a story by Dion CCT included in her anthology, Nightmare by Daylight, in 1936.
I have a book called Practical Solitary Magic by Nancy B. Watson (disciple of Dion Fortune). I rather enjoyed it, and practiced a few of its rituals. Not sure if these magic rituals had any lasting effect, and I did not pursue it much further. Nevertheless, it was an interesting introduction to the flow of the elements, and of planting suggestions into the mind.
I also have Practical Greek Magic and Practical Celtic Magic, by Murry Hope, but have not read them yet.
I personally don't care for the books of Murry Hope, but that's not to say that there may not be some value in them.
I was surprised to learn while checking the interwebs yesterday that Dion Fortune's "thriller-romances" written under the pseudonym V. M. Steele have been reprinted in electronic editions (there may be print versions of these reprints; I haven't checked--the one I looked at bore a 2018 date, which may be meaningless). In an article the author wrote about the novels she published under the name Dion Fortune, she stated that these books, unlike the Steele novels, "have a purpose, which is the purpose of [occult] initiation." She also said of herself:
I have a story-teller's imagination, and must write novels, whether they serve any useful purpose or not, in the same way that a hen must lay eggs, for otherwise the poor creature would burst.
I certainly thought that was an unusual way of phrasing the writer's compulsion to write.
The Winged Bull has a wonderful beginning and really never has anything as good subsequently as the stage-setting moments of the first couple of chapters. In particular, the scene in chapter one where the protagonist, a World War I veteran down on his luck in the depths of the Thirties, suddenly thinks one of the massive Babylonian Winged Bull statues in the halls of the British Museum has come alive and is about to speak to him, is a marvelously captured moment. I've had similar experiences myself whilst communing with ancient statuary in various museums. In succeeding chapters, the author hints at a Mystery embodied by the winged bull spirit. Unfortunately for this reader, where she goes with that "Mystery" is a rather banal and uninteresting place unless you're a big fan of the Hallmark greeting card narrative of courtship and marriage.
In fact, the "Initiation" this book explores seems tied in with one of Dion's instructional books, The Esoteric Philosophy of Love and Marriage. She uses the verbs "magnetize" and "polarize" in a manner that is technically specific to her own occult teachings. It refers to an energy exchange between a man and a woman that is confined physically to holding hands or embracing (fully clothed, of course! why, what EVER were you thinking??) and she hangs a huge amount of significance upon this. Although she writes derisively of "Freud fans," her approach to human nature and sexuality seems quite Freudian.
The villain in the novel is quite obviously a crude caricature of Aleister Crowley. Crude though it may be, some of the details of how this character lives and speaks do seem accurate from the books I have read about old "Uncle Ali." The character even bears the name of Astley which almost seems like an anagram of Aleister Crowley. Her attempts to make the character seem evil, formidable and threatening come off as pathetic more than frightening or horrifying. The heroine-in-peril also comes across, for this reader at least, as pathetically unable to stand up for herself. Dion's prose often has what would have been perceived in the 1930s (and several decades thereafter) as possessing a distinctly "masculine" slant to it. You can hear her thinking "pull yourself together, girl!" as she slogs her way through yet another scene of Ursula Brangwyn collapsing in pallid disarray when one of her pursuers even does so much as look cross-eyed at her.
The main interest in this book for me was historical. Her influence upon mid to late 20th century regimens of occult teaching curriculum was formidable and to this day, her books appear on many coven training reading lists. I was surprised nevertheless at how little in-depth material on specific occult practice was incorporated into this book. The main adept, the hero's friend Brangwyn, seems to barely know just what he is trying to do. The "hard work" he requires of the hero seems to consist simply of reading Bullfinch's Mythology and then daydreaming about various of the myths.
It's perhaps unfortunate that the main ritual sequence described in the book takes place in a "Sun Temple" room which features a heavily over-emphasized solid gold decor with gold painted ceiling and walls that provided a distasteful reminder for this reader of "Ronnie Dump's" infamous Manhattan digs. Revolting.