Occult. Ritual magic

Dion Fortune - In the Golden Dawn Tradition

Dion Fortune - In the Golden Dawn TraditionRitual magician 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. 

A 'Psychic Attack'

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.

Studley Castle - formerley Studley Horticultural CollegeAfter 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 telepathy at 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 matters.

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 deeper knowledge.

Studley Castle Horticultural College for Women. Grapehouse, interior view, Students tending grapevines. 1910s. Photo - Warwickshire County CouncilThis 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 Matutina - 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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