Chas. S. Clifton is the copyright holder of this article.
His website is at
This article originally appeared in GNOSIS #9, Fall 1988.
GNOSIS can be found at https://www.lumen.org.
- sacred texts editor.
A GODDESS ARRIVES
THE NOVELS OF DION FORTUNE
AND THE DEVELOPMENT OF
by CHAS S. CLIFTON
No one occultist of the 20th century worked more vehemently in ad-
vocating a "Western" - and within that, "Northern" - path of esoteric
spirituality than did the English ceremonial magician, Dion Fortune.
She founded an esoteric school that still persists, but beyond that
direct transmission, her ideas seeded themselves into modern Neopagan
religion to the point that they seem completely indigenous, their
Certain of Fortune's key ideas, however, were not so much transmitted
through her mystical writings and articles in The Occult Review of the
1920s, as they were passed on through a unique series of novels, one
of which stands fifty years later as "the finest novel on real magic
ever written," in the words of Alan Richardson, her most adept biog-
rapher1. Primary among these key ideas was her raising up of a lunar,
feminine divine power - not that she was the first modern magician to
do it, but by taking the two paths of ritual and literature she gave
the power two ways to go.
The second idea was that of egalitarian magical working, something she
came to late in her life (she lived from 1890-1946). This was a fairly
radical idea in that all her associations with the Theosophical
Society, the Order of the Golden Dawn, and her own Fraternity (later
Society) of the Inner Light included the idea of hierarchies and
grades, going back in her own self-proclaimed reincarnational history
to lifetimes among the sacred priestly caste of legendary Atlantis.
Both of these ideas are found in the Anglo-American branches of modern
Witchcraft, which first made its presence known in Great Britain in
the early 1950s, having, I suspect, been developed and codified into
its modern form during the later 1930s and 1940s. While a demonstrable
personal connection between the modern witches and Dion Fortune cannot
be proven - unless one had her entire mailing list circa 1939 in hand
- I think a literary connection can be shown.
Her ideas about an earth-based Western tradition of esoteric, magical
religion, which exalted the feminine principle, fit so neatly with the
cosmology of those modern witches who came out of a similar esoteric
British milieu, that the connection is unmistakable. The reason it has
not been acknowledged until recently is that to do so would conflict
with the frequent assertion that Witchcraft was the "Old Religion"
brought forward unchanged in its essentials from centuries ago.
Unfortunately for that assertion, the historical records, such as they
are, showed little evidence for secret goddess religion persisting
until recent centuries in Northern Europe. The voluminous "witch
trial" documents of England, Scotland, and France, which the archaeol-
ogist and folklorist Margaret Murray used to buttress her argument for
the survival of a pre-Christian religion, do not mention goddess
If one looks for other evidence of a goddess arriving in the mid-20th
century, the other suspect typically is Robert Graves, whose widely
influential book, The White Goddess, was written in 1944. Parallel and
contemporary with Graves is Gertrude Rachel Levy's The Gate of Horn,
which treats much of the same material Graves does, principally from
the viewpoint of art history.2
The thesis of The White Goddess, which has been enormously influential
among modern Pagan groups, is "that the language of poetic myth
anciently current in the Mediterranean and Northern Europe was a
magical language bound up with popular religious ceremonies in honour
of the Moon-Goddess, or Muse,some of them dating from the Old Stone
Age (Palaeolithic), and that this remains the language of true poe-
try." Graves believed that this language "was still taught...in the
Witchcovens of medieval Western Europe."3
I do not contend that Graves and Levy supplied the dual male and
female divinities of most modern Witchcraft covens. Their books were
both first published in 1948, after Fortune's works had been in print
for a decade or more. Before examining the influence of Fortune's
works, however, I will summarise the "coming out" of the British
THE RE-EMERGENCE OF BRITISH WITCHCRAFT
In 1951 the British Parliament repealed the Witchcraft Act of 1735 -
largely at the urging of Spiritualist churches, who objected to its
prohibition of mediumship. This statutory change unexpectedly led to
the emergence into public view of a religious tradition thought to be
extinct: Witchcraft.4 These British witches defied definitions of the
term common both in the vernacular and in anthropology textbooks. They
were of both sexes, all ages, and were not isolated practitioners of
maleficent magic; rather they claimed to be inheritors of the islands'
pre-Christian religions. Their religion was duotheistic: they wor-
shipped a male god, often called Cernnunos, Kernaya, or Herne; and a
goddess, sometimes called Aradia or Tana. Of the two, sometimes seen
as manifestations of a nonpersonal Godhead, the goddess had the
greater importance, and her earthly representatives, the coven's
priestess, had greater ritual authority.
Greatly condensed, this is a description of what came to be known as
"Gardnerian Witchcraft," after Gerald Gardner (1884-1964), who retired
from the British colonial customs service in Malaya in 1936, returned
to England and - as he described - was initiated into what he himself
thought was a dying religion in 1938.5 This was no overnight conver-
sion: Gardner was fascinated for many years with magical religion and
"practical mysticism". A recognised avocational archaeologist and
anthropologist in Malaya, during a visit to England in the 1920s, he
set out to investigate the claims of British Spiritualists, trance
mediums and the like.
As he wrote: "I have been interested in magic and kindred subjects all
my life and have made a collection of magical instruments and charms.
These studies led me to spiritualist and other societies..."6
Gardner wrote three books on Witchcraft, one novel, and two nonfiction
works. The novel was High Magic's Aid (1949), a stirring tale of late-
medieval English coveners dodging secular and clerical foes with
something of the feel of Walter Scott's Ivanhoe or Robert Louis
Stevenson's The Black Arrow to it. Interestingly enough, the "witch-
craft" portrayed in High Magic's Aid differs from what was later
called "Gardnerian Witchcraft." In it the goddess is de-emphasised;
the rituals are more in line with the post-Renaissance traditions of
Gardner's next two books, The Meaning of Witchcraft (1959) and Witch-
craft Today (1954), are more definitive of the tradition. All three of
the forenamed remain in print; an earlier novel, with the suggestive
title A Goddess Arrives, is long out of print, and I have not been
able to locate a copy. Gardner and his followers also produced a
"book" that was, until the early 1970s, passed on as handcopied
manuscripts: "The Book of Shadows." It is a collection of "laws" and
suggestions for running a clandestine coven, performing rituals,
resolving disputes between witches inside the group, and so forth.
Although it appears to be written in perhaps the English of the 17th
century, I have concluded that it was produced during and immediately
after World War II. Its atmosphere of secrecy and underground organ-
ising is not a product of the witch-trial era, but of the early years
of World War II when an invasion of southern England by the German
Army appeared quite likely, and patriotic Britons were planning how
they would organise a Resistance movement like those in France,
Norway, and elsewhere in Nazi-occupied Europe.
The woman often assumed to have birthed the idea of a Pagan under-
ground in Christian Western Europe was not Dion Fortune, but the
Egyptologist Margaret Murray of University College, London. Professor
Murray, better known as the time for her work with Sir Flinders Petrie
in Egypt, began researching Pagan carryovers while convalescing from
an illness in 1915. World War I had interrupted her work in Egypt, and
she wrote in her autobiography, My First Hundred Years:7
"I chose Glastonbury [to convalesce in]. One cannot stay in Glaston-
bury without becoming interested in Joseph of Arimathea and the Holy
Grail. As soon as I got back to London I did a careful piece of
research, which resulted in a paper on Egyptian elements in the Grail
Someone, I forget who, had once told me that the Witches obviously had
a special form of religion, 'for they danced around a black goat.' As
ancient religion is my pet subject this seemed to be in my line and
during all the rest of the war I worked on Witches... I had started
with the usual idea that the Witches were all old women suffering from
illusions about the Devil and that their persecutors were wickedly
prejudiced and perjured. I worked only from contemporary records, and
when I suddenly realised that the so-called Devil was simply a dis-
guised man I was startled, almost alarmed, by the way the recorded
facts fell into place, and showed that the Witches were members of an
old and primitive form of religion, and that the records had been made
by members of a new and persecuting form."
Murray's researches into medieval and Renaissance witch-trial docu-
ments from Britain, Ireland, and the Continent (including those
relating to Joan of Arc and Gilles de Rais) led to her writing three
books, The Witch-Cult in Western Europe (1921), The God of the Witches
(1931), and The Divine King in England (1954). In them she described
her evidence for the survival of a pre-Christian religion centred on
the Horned God of fertility (later labelled "The Devil" by Christian
authorities) up until at least the 16th century in Britain.
As the late historian of religion Mircea Eliade wrote, "Murray's
theory was criticised by archaeologists, historians and folklorists
alike."8 Pointing out some parallels between medieval witchcraft and
Indo-Tibetan magical religion, Eliade gives qualified approval to part
of Murray's conclusions.
"As a matter of fact, almost everything in her construction was wrong
except for one important assumption: that there existed a pre-Chris-
tian fertility cult and that specific survivals of this pagan cult
were stigmatised during the Middle Ages as witchcraft....recent
research seems to confirm at least some aspects of her thesis. The
Italian historian Carlo Ginsburg has proved that a popular fertility
cult, active in the province of Friule in the 16th and 17th centuries,
was progressively modified under pressure of the Inquisition and ended
by resembling the traditional notion of witchcraft. Moreover, recent
investigations of Romanian popular culture have brought to light a
number of pagan survivals which clearly indicate the existence of a
fertility cult and of what may be called a "white magic," comparable
to some aspects of Western medieval witchcraft."
One may thus argue that the existence of Murray's three works "paved
the way for Gardner's reformation", as J. Gordon Melton of the In-
stitute for the Study of American Religion put it.9 Gardner's "reform-
ation" of whatever British witchcraft existed prior to his initiation
into it had both theological and ritual aspects. The works he and his
associates produced give a style of worship, a new set of ritual texts
- and increasing emphasis on the goddess-aspect as the tradition grew
- all of them pre-figured not in Murray's works but in Dion Fortune's.
A PRACTICAL OCCULTIST
In my experience, there is hardly a British, Irish or American witch
of the revived, post-Gardnerian traditions who has not read something
by Dion Fortune, and the same probably holds true in Canada, Aust-
ralia, or New Zealand. Until 1985, however, biographies of her were
nonexistent, even while the American Books in Print reference volumes
listed twenty of her books in that year's volume - not bad for someone
considered at best an obscure genre writer by the literary establish-
ment of fifty years ago and of today.
Neither her book on psychology, The Machinery of the Mind, written in
the 1920s nor her works on occult philosophy, nor her five "occult"
novels and volume of short stories received much critical notice when
they came out. Such notice as was received was almost worse than none.
A 1934 (London) Times Literary Supplement review of her book Avalon of
the Heart begins, "The author tells us that she is the last of the
Avalonians - of those who were drawn to Glastonbury as 'a centre of
ever-renewed spiritual and artistic inspiration,' whatever that may
And clearly the reviewer was not interested in finding out! Alan Ri-
chardson's 1985 work, Dancers to the Gods, while primarily about two
members of Fortune's magical order, contained the first well-res-
earched material on her life.10 He followed it with a full biography,
Priestess, two years later, an affectionate and sensitive portrait of
this woman whose spiritual trajectory has yet to reach the horizon.11
Charles Fielding's and Carr Collins's The Story of Dion Fortune
contains more details of her and her associates' magical work, but is
written in a wooden "true believer" style and marred by numerous edi-
To summarise greatly, she was born Violet Mary Firth in 1890 in Wales,
where her English father, together with his wife's relatives, operated
a seaside hotel and health spa catering to a well-to-do clientele.
When her grandfather's death led to a dissolving of the partnership,
her father moved the family to London where he could live comfortably
off his inheritance. Her spiritual quest as a young woman led her to
Christian Science (which her mother adopted when it came to England),
Freudian psychology, the "Eastern wisdom" of the Theosophical Society,
the Qabalistic magic of the Order of the Golden Dawn,
8and study with an Anglo-Irish occultist, T.W.C. Moriarty, the model
for "Dr Taverner" in her book of short stories, The Secrets of Dr
Taverner. She would have liked to have studied Freemasonry, but could
not, being a woman.
She studied psychology while in her twenties, before the outbreak of
World War I, and practiced as a psychoanalyst for a time, the field
not yet being closely controlled by the medical establishment. Fortune
was probably the first writer on ceremonial magic and hermetic ideas
to draw upon and acknowledge the work of Freud and later Jung. In her
novel The Goat-Foot God, published in 1936 and dealing with the
effects of both psychological repression and past lives, its central
character, Hugh Paston, asks a friend,
"Are the Old Gods synonymous with the Devil?"
"Christians think they are.
"What do you think they are?"
"I think they're the same thing as the Freudian subconscious."13
After Moriarty's death she headed the Christian Mystic Lodge of the
Theosophical Society. In 1927 she married Thomas Penry Evans, a Welsh
doctor practising in London, nicknamed "Merlin" or "Merl" for his own
magical interests. They were priest and priestess, but never father
and mother. The marriage, magically productive but contentious in the
mundane world, lasted until 1939 when Evans left her for another
woman. Fortune continued to head their group, which became the Society
of the Inner Light and maintained, for a time, both a large communal
house in London and another establishment in Glastonbury. The Society
continues to this day, but Dion Fortune herself died of leukemia in
Her penname derived from the motto she took as her magical name in the
Golden Dawn, "Deo Non Fortuna", or roughly, "by God, not by Chance."
Her involvement with the Golden Dawn lasted roughly from 1919 to about
1922, and while these were the sunset years of the Order, which had
been founded in 1888, they set for her a significant pattern of what
an esoteric order should be.
That Fortune also eventually was influenced by Jung is apparent in her
work, although she was an occultist first and a Jungian second. Since
her time there has been a great deal of discussion of the "gods and
goddesses" by such neo-Jungians as James Hillman and Charlotte Downin-
g. Surely Fortune's blending of
psychoanalytical ideas, Hermeticism, Qabalah, and Christian mysticism
in the two orders she headed prefigures Hillman's question, "Can the
atomism of our psychic paganism, that is, the individual symbol-
formation now breaking out as the Christian cult fades, be contained
by a psychology of self-integration that echoes its expiring Christian
I doubt that Dion Fortune would have answered as dogmatically as H-
illman did, "The danger is that a true revival of paganism as religion
is then possible, with all its accoutrements of popular soothsaying,
quack priesthoods, astrological divination, extravagant practices, and
the erosion of psychic differentiation through delusional enthus-
Where she did agree with Jung is that Western methods are best for
Western people. Jung wrote: "Instead of learning the spiritual tec-
hniques of the East by heart and imitating them... it would be far
more to the point to find out whether there exists in the unconscious
an introverted tendency similar to that which has been developed in
spiritual principles in the East. We should then be in a position to
build on our own ground with our own methods."15
Compare Fortune's chapter "Eastern Methods and Western Bodies" in Sane
in which she stated:16
"The pagan faiths of the West developed the nature contacts. Modern
Western occultism, rising from this basis, seems to be taking for its
field the little-known powers of the mind. The Eastern tradition has a
very highly developed metaphysics.... Nevertheless, when it comes to
the practical application of those principles and especially the proc-
esses of occult training and initiation, it is best for a man to foll-
ow the line of his own racial evolution.... The reason for the in-
advisability of an alien initiation does not lie in racial antagonism,
nor in any failure to appreciate the beauty and profundity of the
Eastern systems, but for the same reason that Eastern methods of
agriculture are inapplicable to the West - because conditions are
It is clear from Fortune's novels that a "true", that is psychologic-
ally informed, Paganism, was indeed what she sought in the late 1920s
and 1930s. Time after time she created plots that mixed the t-
herapeutic and the magical, drawing characters who combined psycho-
logical acumen with non-ordinary wisdom. She defined her ideal mixture
thus in Sane Occultism: A knowledge of [occult] philosophy can give a
clue to the researches of the scientist and balance the ecstasies of
the mystic; it may very well be that in the possibilities of ritual
magic we shall find an invaluable therapeutic agent for use in certain
forms of mental disease; psychoanalysis has demonstrated that these
have no physiological cause, but it can seldom effect a cure."17
I see her as someone who shared a significant degree of philosophical
accord with what would become "Neo-Pagan Witchcraft", but who in
practice followed a different path. I have said her contribution to
"the Craft" has not been sufficiently acknowledged; there is one
exception. The works of two English Witches, Janet and Stewart Farrar,
produced during the late 1970s and early 1980s, frequently refer their
readers to Dion Fortune. In a recent instance, having laid out a
ritual based on one in Fortune's novel The Sea Priestess and having
received permission from the current leadership of the Society of the
Inner Light to do so, they write:18
"In their letter of permission, the Society asked us to say 'that Dion
Fortune was not a Witch and did not have any connection with a coven,
and that this Society is not in any way associated with the Craft of
Witches.' We accede to their request; and when this book is published,
we shall send them a copy with our compliments, in the hope that it
may give them second thoughts about whether Wiccan philosophy is as
alien to that of Dion Fortune (whom witches hold in great respect) as
they seem to imagine."
Despite the Society of the Inner Light's disavowal, a good circumsta-
ntial case can be made that Fortune's works, particularly her novels,
could have influenced Gerald Gardner and his initiates. This insight
was brought home to me while reading The Goat-Foot God, published two
years before Gardner's initiation into the Craft. Its plot is typical
of Fortune: a person down on his or her luck and near psychological
collapse is rescued by a powerful magician or priestess and re-inte-
grated socially and psychically.
Hugh Paston, quoted above, is a wealthy Londoner on the verge of a
nervous breakdown following the death of his wife and his friend -
revealed to be her lover - in a car wreck. Aimlessly walking the
streets, Paston finds a used-book shop run by a scholarly occultist
who becomes the catalyst of his psychological integration. This incl-
udes finishing some actions begun by a heretical medieval prior in an
English monastery who may have been an earlier incarnation of Paston's
or who otherwise overshadows him. What caught my attention was a
remark given to the character of Jelkes, the bookseller, who in
guiding Paston's reading on magic tells him, "Writers will put things
into a novel that they daren't put in sober prose, where you have to
dot the Is and cross the Ts.19
Fortune's literary output was divided between novels and "sober prose-
". Other "sober titles" included Practical Occultism in Daily Life,
The Cosmic Doctrine, Esoteric Philosophy of Love and Marriage and what
is often considered to be her masterpiece, The Mystical Qabalah.
Robert Galbreath, writing a bibliographic survey of modern occultism,
defined her message as "spiritual occultism."20
"Spiritual occultists state that it is possible to acquire personal,
empirical knowledge of that which can only be taken on faith in
religion or demonstrated through deductive reasoning in philosophy.
Further, this knowledge, arrived at in full consciousness through the
use of spiritual disciplines, is said to reveal man's place in the
spiritual plan of the universe and to reconcile the debilitating
conflict between science and religion. The goal of occultism, the-
refore, is the complete spiritualisation of man and the cosmos, and
the attainment of a condition of unity."
The novels, however, convey a parallel but somewhat different message.
They do it using a different vocabulary, a more consciously Pagan
vocabulary. While published statements of the Society of Inner Light
proclaimed it "established on the enlightened and informed Christian
ethic and morality," its founder's novels say repeatedly that
Christianity has had its day and a new Renaissance is dawning. After
his experience of inner integration Hugh Paston muses:21
"It is a curious fact that when men began to re-assemble the fragments
of Greek culture - the peerless statues of the gods and the ageless
wisdom of the sages - a Renaissance came to the civilisation that had
sat in intellectual darkness since the days when the gods had with-
drawn before the assaults of the Galileans. What is going to happen
in our day, now that Freud has come along crying, "Great Pan is
risen!" - ? Hugh wondered whether his own problems were not part of a
universal problem, and his own awakening part of a much wider awakeni-
ng? He wondered how far the realisation of an idea by one man, even if
he spoke no word, might not inject that idea into the group-mind of
the race and set it working like a ferment?
Likewise, in The Winged Bull, set not long after World War I, Colonel
Brangwyn the magician tells his new student, one of his former junior
"It [Christianity] had its place, Murchison, it had its place. It
sweetened life when paganism had become corrupt. We lack something if
we haven't got it. But we also lack something if we get too much of
it. It isn't true to life if we take it neat."
Later, during a ritual Brangwyn quotes Swinburne's poem "The Last
Oracle" in praise of Paganism past - it was this aspect of Swinburne
that G.K. Chesterton mockingly called "neo-Pagan" - making Murchison
remember "that great pagan, Julian the Apostate, striving to make head
against the set of the tide," and Murchison thinks to himself:23
"And the trouble with Christianity was that it was so darned lop-si-
ded. Good, and jolly good, as far as it went, but you couldn't stretch
it clean round the circle of experience because it just wouldn't go.
What it was originally, nobody knew, save that it must have been
something mighty potent. All we knew of it was what was left after th-
ose two crusty old bachelors, Paul and Augustine, had finished with
And then came the heresy hunters and gave it a final curry-combing,
taking infinite pains to get rid of everything that it had inherited
from older faiths. And they had been like the modern miller, who
refines all the vitamins out of the bread and gives half the popul-
ation rickets. That was what was the matter with civilisation, it had
spiritual rickets because its spiritual food was too refined. Man
can't get on without a dash of paganism, and for the most part, he
doesn't try to."
The notion of injecting a key idea into the collective unconscious of
Western humanity appears over and over in Fortune's novels. It is not
surprising that the writer who had two favourite maxims - "A religion
without a goddess is halfway to atheism" and "All the gods are one god
and all the goddesses are one goddess and there is one initiator" -
should repeatedly call for attention to be paid to the Great Goddess.
In another of his soliloquies, Hugh Paston thinks, "Surely our of all
her richness and abundance the Great Mother of us all could meet his
need? Why do we forget the Mother in the worship of the Father? What
particular virtue is there in virgin begetting?"
DRAWING DOWN THE MOON
When the British witches went public in the early 1950s, the idea that
Christianity had had its day and furthermore was not always the right
path for Westerners was often heard. The major difference between
their religion and that portrayed in the witch-trial documents Mar-
garet Murray studied, however, was the reintroduction of worship of
the Great Goddess. She was seen both as Queen of Heaven and Earth/Sea
Mother, depending on the context. The best evidence for Fortune's inf-
luence here lies in the construction of the key "Gardnerian" ritual
called "Drawing Down the Moon."25
In that ritual, developed and/or modified by Gardner and his contempo-
raries, the Goddess is invoked by the priest in the body of the
priestess. It is expected that a type of divine inspiration will res-
ult. Drawing down the Moon is a key part of every Gardnerian ritual c-
ircle - and its elements and purpose are easily discernible in Fort-
une's novel The Sea Priestess, which she was forced by publishers'
lack of interest to self-publish in 1938.26 Richardson, her biographe-
r, calls it and its sequel, Moon Magic, "the only novels on magic ever
written," considering the competition.
Although Gardner only hints at the workings of the ritual in his boo-
ks, his successors, the Farrars, explain it more fully in Eight Sabb-
ats for Witches.27 It comes after the drawing of the ritual circle - a
conscious creating and marking of sacred space, defined by the cardi-
nal directions and purified with the four magical elements, fire and
air (incense), water and earth (salt). While the priestess stands
before the altar (in a traditional Gardnerian circle she holds a wand
and a lightweight scourge in her crossed arms, like a figure of
Osiris), the priest kneels and blesses with a kiss her feet, knees,
womb, breast and lips. Then a shift occurs, both in language and
action. He ceases to address her as a woman and begins to address her
as the Mother Goddess, beginning with the words,"I invoke thee and
call upon thee, Mighty Mother of us all..."28
When the invocation is completed, the priestess is considered to be
speaking as the Goddess, not as herself. She may go on to deliver a
passage (authored by Doreen Valiente, whose role I deal with below)
that is based partly on material collected during the 1890s in Italy
by the American folklorist Charles Leland.29
I am the gracious Goddess, who gives the gift of joy unto the heart of
man. Upon earth, I give the knowledge of the spirit eternal; and bey-
ond death, I give peace, and freedom, and reunion with those who have
gone before. Nor do I demand sacrifice; for behold, I am the Mother of
all living, and my love is poured out upon the earth."
She may, of course, speak spontaneously; Janet Farrar comments that
"'she never knows how it will come out.' Sometimes the wording itself
is completely altered, with a spontaneous flow she listens to with a
detached part of her mind."30
Dion Fortune believed that a re-introduction of both ritual and ps-
ychological approaches to the Great Goddess would even the psychic
balance between men and women, a theme carried on today by a number of
feminist psychologists and writers, although with scant acknowled-
gment. She wished every marriage to take on an aspect of the hieros
gamos (divine marriage), and it is there that a parallel with Witch-
craft ritual lies, since many rituals turn on sexual polarity, both
symbolically and literally. Fortune foreshadowed this in The Sea
Priestess when she wrote:31
"In this sacrament the woman must take her ancient place as priestess
of the rite, calling down lightning from heaven; the initiator, not
the initiated.... She had to become the priestess of the Goddess, and
I [the male narrator], the kneeling worshipper, had to receive the
sacrament at her hands....When the body of a woman is made an altar
for the worship of the Goddess who is all beauty and magnetic life...
then the Goddess enters the temple."
This is not just Fortune's description of the magical side of marri-
age, but a virtual schematic of the Drawing Down the Moon ceremony and
its concluding Great Rite, as Gardner called ritual intercourse at its
conclusion (something more frequently performed symbolically). As the
Farrars state, "The Great Rite specifically declares that the body of
the woman taking part is an altar, with her womb and generative organs
as its sacred focus, and reveres it as such."32
I would suggest that when the Farrars openly built a new ritual upon
the Sea Priestess, the "seashore ritual" mentioned earlier, which for-
ms Chapter X of The Witches' Way, they were openly admitting a debt to
Fortune which modern Witchcraft has always carried on its books.
To recapitulate, the circumstantial case for Fortune's influence on
the beginnings of modern Witchcraft fits the chronology. Gerald Gardn-
er's initiation took place in 1939 in Hampshire. In the late 1940s he
"received permission" to publish some things about Witchcraft in his
novel High Magic's Aid, which appeared in 1949 and had little of the
Goddess element in it. The Sea Priestess was written in the 1930s, but
only available in a private edition at first, while its sequel, Moon
Magic, was available in 1956.
The Great Goddess becomes more central in Gardner's works from the
1950s and is absolutely central to the Craft as it developed in that
decade. She did not, however, appear in Margaret Murray's works on the
alleged underground Paganism of the Middle Ages, which Murray wrote in
the 1920s. There may, however, be echoes of a Goddess religion in It-
aly, based on Leland's research there in the mid-1800s. Leland pr-
ovided another literary source for the Drawing Down the Moon ceremony.
The person who re-wrote that ceremony and gave Gardnerian- tradition
ritual much of its form is now known to be Doreen Valiente, who wrote
four books on the Craft as well. Her contributions to the texts are
discussed at length in The Witches' Way. Although not the only one of
Gardner's original coveners still living (i.e., after he moved away
from the coven that initiated him, most of whose members were elderly
in the 1930s), she has been the only one publicly involved in a
critical re-evaluation of the tradition's beginnings.
Although Gardner and Fortune were contemporaries, she does not know if
they ever met, she told me in a 1985 letter. She did, however, say
that she is "very fond of Dion Fortune's books, especially her novels
The Sea Priestess, The Goat-Foot God, and Moon Magic. It is notable
that her [Fortune's] outlook became more pagan as she grew older."
Whether this is a tacit admission that she drew upon Fortune's works,
I cannot say. Witches are known for oblique statements, and Valiente
walked a fine line between secrecy and disclosure.
Given England's size, its relatively interwoven cliques of occultists,
and the small number of novelists dealing with Pagan themes, it is
unlikely that Valiente and Gardner were not aware of Fortune's novels
at the time they were giving their religion its present form. As we h-
ave seen, Gardner was himself engaged in a conscious search for ma-
gical learning in the 1920s and 1930s, and it was in the 1930s that F-
ortune's novels began appearing, while the chapters of SaneOccultism
were published serially in The Occult Review , and influential British
journal it is unlikely he would have overlooked.
Valiente, meanwhile, was initiated by Gardner as a priestess in 1953
and left his coven to form her own in 1957, the year after Moon Magic
came out. With such a coincidence of subject matter, place and dates,
it is difficult not to see Dion Fortune as a previously unadmitted but
significant influence on the development of Gardnerian Witchcraft.
Today the Goddess revival seems to have its "applied" and "theor-
etical" wings, with the Neo-Pagans in the first category and various
Jungians, writers on feminist spirituality and historians of religion
in the second. With her combined psychological and magical training,
Dion Fortune could be considered a foremother to each.
1. Alan Richardson, Priestess: The Life and Magic of Dion Fortune.
(Wellingborough, Northants: The Aquarian Press, 1987), p.37.
2. G. Rachel Levy, The Gate of Horn: A Study of Religions Concep-
tions of the Stone Age and Their Influence upon European Thought.
(London: Faber and Faber, 1948).
3. Robert Graves, The White Goddess: A historical grammar of poetic
myth. (New York: Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, 1966), p.12.
4. Raymond Buckland, Witchcraft from the Inside. (St Paul, MN:
Llewellyn Publications, 1971), p.55. The law was a successor to
the Witchcraft Act of King James I, passed in 1604 and repealed
5. J.L. Bracelin, Gerald Gardner: Witch. (London: Octagon Press
6. Gerald B. Gardner, Witchcraft Today. (London: Rider & Co., 1954),
7. Margaret Murray, My First Hundred Years. (London: William Kimber,
1963), p.104. The title was no exaggeration; she was born in 18-
8. Mircea Eliade, Occultism, Witchcraft and Cultural Fashions: Essa-
ys in Comparative Religions. (Chicago: University of Chicago Pre-
ss, 1976), p.56
9. J. Gordon Melton, Magic, Witchcraft and Paganism in America: A
Bibliography. (New York: Garland Publishing Co., 1982), p.105
10. Alan Richardson, Dancers to the Gods. (Wellingborough, Northants:
The Aquarian Press, 1985).
11. ------, Priestess: The Life and Magic of Dion Fortune. (-
Wellingborough, Northants: The Aquarian Press, 1987).
12. Charles Fielding and Carr Collins, The Story of Dion Fortune. (-
Dallas, Texas: Star and Cross Publication, 1985).
13. Dion Fortune, The Goat-Foot God. (London: The Aquarian Press,
14. James Hillman, "Psychology: Monotheistic or Polytheistic."
Appendix to David L. Miller, The New Polytheism. (Dallas, Texas:
Spring Publications Inc., 1981), p.125
15. C.G. Jung, "Yoga and the West". In The Collected Works of C.G.
Jung. (London: Pantheon, 1958), Vol XI, p.534.
16. Dion Fortune, Sane Occultism. (Wellingborough, Northants: The
Aquarian Press, 1967), pp.161-2.
17. Ibid. pp. 25-6.
18. Janet and Stewart Farrar, The Witches' Way. (London: Robert Hale,
1984), pp. 95-6.
19. Goat-Foot God, p. 89.
20. Robert Galbreath, "The History of Modern Occultism: A Biblio-
graphic Survey." Journal of Popular Culture, V:3 (Winter 1971),
21. Goat-Foot God, pp. 352-3
22. Dion Fortune, The Winged Bull: A Romance of Modern Magic. (Lo-
ndon: Williams and Norgate Ltd., 1935), p. 169. It is no coin-
cidence that the leading female character was named Ursula Bra-
ngwyn,a name used by D.H. Lawrence for a character in Women in
Love; Fortune was trying to re-state "the sex problem" on a "h-
igher plane" than Lawrence had.
23. Ibid. pp. 154-6.
24. Goat-Foot God, p. 349.
25. A term that deliberately or otherwise echoes Plato's description
in the Georgias of "the Thessalian witches who drawn down the
moon from heaven."
26. Dion Fortune, The Sea Priestess. (London: Wynham Publications Lt-
27. Janet and Stewart Farrar, Eight Sabbats for Witches: and Rites
for Birth, Marriage and Death. (London: Robert Hale, 1981), p.
28. The exact terminology may vary from coven to coven; the Farrar's
give Gardner's favourite.
29. Charles Godfrey Leland, Aradia: or the Gospel of the Witches. (L-
ondon: David Nutt, 1899). Leland may indeed have found some
fragments of a goddess religion. Gardner and Valiente expurgated
parts of it, such as the invocation of the Goddess as a poisoner
of great lords in their castles, and other homely arts.
30. The Witches' Way, p.68.
31. The Sea Priestess, pp. 160-1.
32. Eight Sabbats for Witches, p.49.
Next: Temples, Covens, & Groves - Oh My! (Khaled Q.)