Thursday 26 January 2017

The Magical Battle of Britain

Dion Fortune (see my previous post) was not just a theoretical magician. She practiced magic too and during the Second World War she put her knowledge of it to good use. That is, she employed her understanding of the way magic operates to aid in the defence of England. This might sound odd but what it amounts to is the power of thought, concentrated, focused and strengthened by ritual, directed towards a certain end. In a way the Catholic Mass works on a similar principle though the Mass would work on a spiritual rather than magical level. I would say the minute's silence in wide use today is (potentially anyway) something along the same lines, though in matters of this kind the effect is determined by the motives and intensity of purpose of the participants. Naturally success cannot be measured by any method at our disposal today but nor are we able to dismiss this out of hand from our present limited understanding of how the world works either.

Dion Fortune was a patriotic woman. She was probably what used to be called a High Tory in her political views, and one of her biographers describes her as aligned to the ideas of Winston Churchill (see Wikipedia for references). When the war came she, like most people, wanted to 'do her bit'. Her field of expertise was magic so that is where she thought she could best serve her country. What she did was to organise group meditations which were to take place every Sunday. These started in October 1939, just after the war began, and continued for three years until shortly after America entered the war when it must have seemed that the tide was turning. People on her mailing list, the members of her Fraternity of the Inner Light, were sent letters every week inviting them to participate in a meditation at exactly the same time. Thus although it was a group meditation the group was not present in the same place. The letters elaborated the form the meditation should take, the instructions stating that "the work consists of certain well-defined stages, each of which must be carefully performed before passing on to the next. These stages are the steps of a stair on which the mind rises to a higher level of consciousness, performs certain work there, and then returns to normal.” She stressed that “ethical principles are involved" and that the meditator should "invoking the Name of God, open your mind as a channel for the work of the Masters of Wisdom" The idea was to build up psychic force which could be used for the defence of the realm against the Nazi attack. As she makes clear, "success can only be achieved by single-pointed concentration". They must have thought they were on the right track when, shortly after they started their work, the Minister of War made a broadcast stating the same ideas and then a week later the Pope spoke in a similar vein. They did not claim to have influenced this trend but took it as evidence that all were responding to the same inspiration from the higher planes. In effect, it was a validation of their work and approach to it.

In February 1940 the group was told to visualise angelic forces guarding the coasts of Britain. The idea was that these forces were there but their power could only come through to the physical plane if it was assisted and called forth by meditators in this world who could, as it were, help to crystallise and solidify that power by their concentrated thought. A link between above and below could be constructed, almost like a funnel through which the power could manifest. The members of her Fraternity were also asked to repeat invocations when the Luftwaffe bombed Britain which would, it was hoped, summon those in the inner worlds who might help their earthly brethren in distress. This is magical thinking which might seem absurd to the materialist but is the basis of most religious ritual and practice.

The occult writer Gareth Knight has written an excellent biography of Dion Fortune in which some of this work is described. He relates how the group members were told to visualise a particular symbol which was a triangle linking three coloured spheres. In these spheres the imagination should place three figures who were King Arthur wielding a sword, Merlin holding a sceptre and Christ with the Holy Grail. This was later transformed into a pyramid with the Virgin Mary replacing Christ in his sphere as he rose to the apex of the pyramid, making it clear that the whole work was being carried out under his protection.

In her letter of September 8th 1940 (quoted by Gareth Knight) Dion Fortune makes the following observation which I think shows her fundamental quality. "There is only one way to keep quiet and serene under bombardment - to be prepared to lay down your life for your country if necessary. Once that eventuality is accepted, one abrogates one's civilian mentality and the passivity and helplessness that go with it. Regard the warning wail of the siren as an 'alert' not as a 'retreat'...Try and make contact with (the Invisible Helpers), not in order that they may protect you, but that you may co-operate with them in helping those around you." Surely we see someone here in whom the spirit of sacrifice and service was strong and sincere.

On one occasion her headquarters at Queensborough Terrace in London was bombed and the residents had to leave. In Gareth Knight's words "They drew consolation from the fact that although everything was thrown off the altar in the sanctuary, the statue of the Risen Christ remained standing on its pedestal, though shifted to the very edge". Who is to say that this is just a coincidence? Further on he writes "As Dion Fortune remarked, she had often been alleged to be a Black Occultist but on this occasion the allegation could not be denied as she and the librarian looked like a couple of sweeps through the difference of opinion with the roof, which fell on them but tactfully refrained from hitting them."

Some people will accept that Dion Fortune's intentions may have been good but she was still an occultist which is a path forbidden to the Christian, certainly one fraught with risk, even danger. This is undoubtedly true. Anyone who opens himself up to the psychic realm needs to have an abundance of inner purity and common sense if he is to emerge unscathed. It is far easier to come into contact with demons, mischievous spirits or, at best, spirits that over-estimate their spiritual attainment than angels or true Masters if one follows the occult path. Moreover occultism tends to distract from real spirituality because it is concerned more with the inner side of creation than the Creator. Even when occultists are sincere they can easily get lured down the byways of the spiritual path and that's where many of them do end up.  

 However in my opinion Dion Fortune is someone who did possess both common sense and true dedication to the upward path, and I believe she performed a valuable service both for her country during the war and for the development of a certain branch of spiritual understanding in the 20th century. Whether the benefits outweigh the risks in occultism is another matter. Spiritually speaking, in my view, it is unnecessary and can easily be a diversion at best and something much riskier at worst. But if the occultist works always under the protection of Christ, submitting himself or herself to that rule at all times, then I think that he or she does have something to offer. How many do though? The temptation to pride and the love of power is always strong but I see Dion Fortune as someone who was definitely on the side of the angels and who worked with them, most of the time anyway.

The question now arises, does any of this have any relevance for us today? We may not currently be engaged in anything so obvious as the fight against the Nazis but there is still a spiritual war going on and it seems to be intensifiyng. It is no less powerful for not taking place in a physical form. In some ways it is more powerful because its effects are not directly observed and therefore more insidiously pervasive. Perhaps we can take a leaf from Dion Fortune's book and dedicate ourselves to prayer and spiritual devotion because that is what all this amounts to. It may not be in so organised a form but every voice that is raised to God for his aid in this time of, let's be frank, spiritual tribulation adds to the power and effectiveness of the good. We need to make sure that our own hearts are pure though as the prayers of one saint are more effective than those of a thousand sinners.


Bruce Charlton said...

Fascinating stuff!

Nathan Wright said...

It was a revelation to understand the close similarity between Christian things like prayer and the Eucharist on the one hand, and magic on the other (I first read this a week or two ago on Dr. Charlton's blog). It's self-evident once pointed out.

I've long had trouble with prayer - what's the point, how to do it - and I think this connection with magic will help bring me to a deeper understanding. The purification of the intention seems like a central point.

Thank you for this.

William Wildblood said...

Yes you're right. It's all to do with purity of motive, what's in the heart you might say.

John Fitzgerald said...

I read The Magical Battle of Britain a few years ago and thought it was excellent. I remember the meditations and visualisations you mention, especially the one about the angels guarding the coasts. I can't recall, however, the one featuring Arthur, Merlin and Our Lord. This is extraordinarily forgetful on my part given how exceptionally sharp and potent this visualisation seems, particularly, perhaps, in its simpler, triangular form. If even a small number of people practiced this meditation regularly, surely the benefits - visible and invisible - would be incalculable.