Dion Fortune - In the Golden Dawn
and occult author
Dion Fortune was born Violet Mary Firth, on 6th
December 1890, in Bryn-y-Bia, Llandudno, North Wales. The family moved to Somerset when Violet was twelve and by
the time she was fourteen they had converted to Christian Science. Subsequently they lived
in various parts of London (where Violet's mother Sarah Jane practiced as a
Christian Science healer), then moved to Letchworth, Hertfordshire.
Violet was highly imaginative as a child and had some literary talent, as is
shown by the publication of one of her poems, along with her portrait, in a
national magazine called 'The Girl's Realm' in 1906.
In the summer of 1911, when Violet was twenty, her parents decided to enrol
her at a residential college. Although Studley Horticultural College in Warwickshire offered places to young ladies with slight emotional problems, its
primary purpose was practical vocational training in commercial horticulture.
The Warden of the college was the formidable Dr. Lillias Hamilton, who had qualified as a doctor in 1890
(in itself an achievement for a
woman at that time) and subsequently travelled to India where she set up a
successful private practice in Calcutta. In 1894, in a rare moment of peace
between Britain and Afghanistan, she was appointed court physician to the Amir
of Afghanistan. This was a job fraught with dangers and complicated plotting at
court meant that her food had to be tested for poison. Three years later Afghan tribes began to rebel and
Dr. Hamilton was forced to leave the country. She returned to England and had a successful consultancy
practice in London, then journeyed to South Africa where she started a farm in the
Transvaal, later continued by her brother.
Violet's two years at Studley College were on the whole
happy, she learnt the craft of horticulture and also had a chance to develop her
literary talents, contributing to plays celebrating the Warden's birthday.
However, one traumatic incident involving the redoubtable Warden was to shape
the rest of her life. Soon after her promotion to the staff of the college, she clashed with the Warden over
plans to ease the financial
problems of the college by drawing on the wealth of some of the students.
Violet decided to leave the establishment and went to the
Warden's office one morning to announce her departure. Though the Warden was
obviously angry, she
decided to let Violet leave, saying: 'Very well, leave if you must, but first you
must admit that you are incompetent.' She stared hard at the girl, telling her repeatedly that she lacked self-confidence and was incompetent. This continued for hours,
always with the same phrase: 'You are incompetent and
you know it. You have no self-confidence, and you have got to admit it.' Dr.
Hamilton gradually wore Violet down until the she grew so distraught that she
finally admitted defeat. Writing years later as Dion
Fortune in Psychic Self-Defence, she maintained that Dr. Hamilton had conveyed
a 'psychic attack' on her using yoga techniques (possibly learned in India) and hypnotism, which
left her a 'mental and physical wreck' for three years. How real this psychic
attack was (we only have Dion Fortune's version of events) and how
much was imagined by the young Violet Firth will never be known, but if true it was
certainly bizarre and particularly vindictive behaviour for a woman in charge of
a college for young girls.
After the incident Violet's parents took her away from
Studley College. It would take her a long time to recover from having her will
broken in such a merciless and draining way. She searched for ways to regain
control of her mind, studying psychology and eventually enrolling as a student at
the Medico-Psychological Clinic in London. Rather than use the student kitchen
there, she chose to spend lunch time at the canteen at a centre run by the
Theosophical Society, close to her college.
One day out of sheer curiosity and
loaded with scientific scepticism she attended a lecture on mental
the centre. To Violet's amazement, by means of a series of simple experiments involving projected thought-forms,
she was able to read the images the lecturer
was mentally sending out.
Violet's interest now aroused, things were to get even
stranger. One of her student's patients was apparently being plagued by unusual physical phenomena.
These were akin to
poltergeist disturbances - doors would fly open of their own accord whilst the
neighbouring dogs barked. Violet was unable to help and instead called in the
assistance of a charismatic and mysterious Irishman named Moriarty, recently
back from South Africa. He was reputed to have a deep knowledge of occult
All together in the young man's flat they witnessed the
same phenomena - barking dogs and the doors opening. Moriarty detected that an
invisible presence was in the room. As the lights were lowered they noticed a
faint glow in a corner, which produced a 'tingling sensation' when anyone put
their hand near. Moriarty pursued the 'entity' and forced in
into the bathroom, where he trapped it inside a magic circle and destroyed it by
absorption into his own aura, the result of which knocked him unconscious. The phenomena, however, had
apparently been dealt with and the young
man's health improved immediately.
A Natural 'Psychic'?
The mystical knowledge and practices of Moriarty had
awakened something inside the young Violet Firth. Working in the boredom and isolation of her laboratory
she gradually developed her
own natural psychic facilities, and began having astral visions. This experience led her back to the Theosophical Society library where she
discovered the writings of Annie Besant, formerly Madame Blavatsky's assistant
and by then the Theosophical Society's President.
It was in The Ancient Wisdom
that Violet found reference to the 'Brotherhood of the Great White Lodge' and to a
hierarchy of adepts who keep watch over the evolution of humanity. The work
stated that these Masters could still be contacted 'by all who seek them.' This
idea struck a vital cord in Violet. She became obsessed with the need to contact the Masters,
even her dreams were affected by the same desire. In one particularly memorable
and vivid dream (or perhaps vision) she found herself in the Himalayas in the
presence of two of the Masters; the message she got from this experience was
that she had been accepted as a pupil and must begin her quest for
This she did and in 1919 joined an occult order run by Theodore
Moriarty. He became her first esoteric teacher and a man whose occult methods and ideas were to have a profound influence
on her, as she acknowledged when she based the character of Dr. Taverner in a
series of short stories called The
Secrets of Dr. Taverner, on Moriarty. Later that
year she was initiated into the Alpha et Omega Temple of the Stella
formerly the pioneering English magical order The Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn.
The head of the Temple was the
novelist J.W. Brodie-Innes, author of
several extremely knowledgeable novels on witchcraft and magic, and from whom
Violet learned how to utilize her natural psychic abilities.
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Copyright 2004 by Brian
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on Mysterious People