Dion Fortune, Crowley & World War II

Dion Fortune took a keen interest in the progress of Crowley's Thoth Tarot, visiting him in Hastings with Frieda Harris to examine the artwork. Crowley dedicated a copy of the Book of Thoth to her. Dion Fortune was a true fighter, working magically to defeat Hitler. Did she know some of the secrets encoded in Crowley's tarot deck?

I have done the 10 of Swords & promptly Russia takes up arms.

Letter from Lady Frieda Harris to Aleister Crowley

For the most part, Tarot is equated with fortune telling, but for those who know, for those who have the knowledge, the power, and the insight; for those Masters, Tarot can be the springboard for creating and managing change in the world.

In the chaos, destruction and misery of war, extraordinary magical feats are performed by individuals and groups as old structures are torn down to be replaced by the new. The Book of Thoth was designed by Aleister Crowley and Lady Frieda Harris during the Second World War in England, despite paper and artist material shortages, restrictions on travel, and all the other problems of living in war conditions. The Book of Thoth can be seen as a Thelemic expression of the Book of the Law, or Liber AL, which is liberally quoted in the Book of Thoth. Crowley pointed out on many occasions that publication of Liber AL preceded war. Liber AL contains a vision of the New Age that would come out of war.

At the same time in London, Dion Fortune was doing her bit for the war effort, fighting Nazi Occultists on the astral planes, and introducing raw recruits to advanced occult visualization techniques. We know Dion Fortune visited Crowley in Hastings, and discussed his Tarot designs, but how much did he assist in her own work?

Dion Fortune, initiate of the Golden Dawn, founder of the Community of the Inner Light, had, amongst other things, an extraordinary attraction to Glastonbury and the Arthurian legends that hold the destiny of England. From the beginning of World War II, Dion Fortune determined to do her own work for the war effort, and recruited members of the public to practice what were essentially Golden Dawn visualization techniques to magically strengthen morale and defence of England and her Allies. Every Sunday lunchtime they were required to meditate on a particular theme relating to national and racial archetypes contained in the weekly letters. As well as the instructions that developed in complexity over the weeks, Dion included inspirational insights, such as the excerpt below.

From the "Magical Battle of Britain"

Letter No. 50, November 24th, 1940

The initiate works by what he is rather than by what he does, and the higher the grade, the more passive he appears to be on the physical plane. Should he take action thereon, he abrogates his power to operate on the Inner Planes, for one cannot be positive on both planes simultaneously.

The initiate is what he is by virtue of the possession of certain basic qualities which are perfected by training. Firstly, he must not be self-centred, but in sympathetic relationship with all manifested life. Those who seek occult knowledge in order that it may help them in their troubles are a step nearer the Path than those who seek it to satisfy a desire for knowledge, and these are not yet on the Path. They may, it is true, receive help if there is a prospect that, being helped they will make spiritual growth, but the work of those who train for initiation is not to help people, but to equip them to be helpers. Who would enroll as air raid wardens as casualties lying on stretchers? So those who seek occult knowledge in order to find help in their troubles are apt to find the dose too strong. Just as the ancient Hebrew law required the priests of the Temple to be without maim or defect, so those who represent themselves for higher initiations must have worked out their personal troubles and find equilibrium and freedom before they dare to come to the altar. They are helped to do this work in the Outer Court and the Lesser Mysteries, but they may not enter upon the Greater Mysteries until it is done.

The initiate of the Greater Mysteries is known by his serenity and impersonal attitude in all the relations of life. He knows how to be still and let the powers he has set in motion carry out the work. He knows how to await the ripening of souls and not force a premature development by personal pressure. The initiate never goes about doing good; he never trespasses uninvited upon the spiritual privacy of another. He acts by what he is, not by what he does. He works on himself, makes something of himself, and then the forces that radiate from him without effort on his part bless and illuminate. If he is calm, he calms his environment. If he has wisdom, those who are in his company unconsciously take on his attitude and he has no need to proffer unsolicited advice. Because he knows the reality of eternity, he is content to let time do its work. He is characterized by two things, the power to be still and wait, and the power to stand absolutely alone. Until we know how to be still, mentally as well as physically, we cannot handle power; and until we know how to stand absolutely alone in perfect equilibrium and contentment, we cannot accomplish the works are done in polarity. Finally, the initiate is prepared to work without seeing result, playing his part on the Great Plan that unfolds through the ages of planetary time.

As far as I know, nobody has studied the links between the works of Aleister Crowley, Lady Frieda Harris and Fortune during World War II, except perhaps Kenneth Grant, who mentions things in his own oblique manner. He was there when Dion Fortune visited Crowley in Hastings. Were Crowley and Fortune two sides of the same coin, simultaneously destroying and creating new structures? Was Fortune's role to maintain and strengthen the racial memory of England while Crowley worked upon creating the New Age through his Tarot deck?

Dion Fortune meets Aleister Crowley on the tarot

Dion Fortune met Aleister Crowley to discuss Tarot among other things. There is some evidence Crowley showed Frieda Harris' artwork for the Book of Thoth too. Here is Dion's advice to the Tarot Student:

Dion Fortune: her methods of reading the tarotTo use the Tarot properly, however, requires a very great deal of preparation, and the preparation does not consist merely in a knowledge of the significance of the cards, but in getting in touch with the forces behind the cards. An adequate rule-of-thumb use of it, however, can be made by any sincere person for himself, though it is doubtful if he could use it satisfactorily for anyone else.

Obtain a new pack of Tarot cards, for a used one will be too full of other people's magnetism to be reliable, and carry them on the person, and sleep with them under the pillow, and handle them and ponder upon the meaning of the pictures in the light of what the book of instructions has to say about them until the significance of each picture is realized. It does not matter greatly which pack is used, whether the quaint, hideous, archaic ones, or the very beautiful ones redrawn in recent times for Mr. A.E. Waite; it is not the details of the cards that matter, but that they should serve as reminders, as it were, of the ideas underlying them. As soon as one perceives some sort of significance in the picture on a card, one has made a link with that card, and its appearance in the divination will mean something.

Having got in touch with one's chosen pack, the next thing is to lay out a divination according to whatever system is chosen, work it out according to the book, and note down the results obtained and the position in which the cards fell. Repeat the process a second time, and a third time, upon each occasion keeping accurate notes of the fall of the cards, and, of course, thoroughly shuffling the cards between each lay-out. If certain cards keep on coming up, and especially if they come up in approximately the same positions, or even if cards of the same type predominate through the three divinations, it may safely be concluded that the system is working satisfactorily, and a divination may be made on the basis of the recurring cards. But if the three divinations bear no resemblance to each other; if even the balance of the four suits does not remain constant for at least two out of the three, and if none of the Greater Trumps turn up more than once, then it must be concluded that the Tarot is not working for the diviner, and the divination should be abandoned. The same principles apply if divinations are done with ordinary playing-cards, though this method is not nearly so sensitive and comprehensive as Tarot divinations.

Divination is a thing that cannot be learnt out of books, but builds up gradually as a system of associated ideas in the mind of the operator. Moreover, one varies very much in one's capacity for divination; upon one occasion one may be absolutely inspired, the cards recur and recur, and one reads with the most extraordinary insight, one thing leading to another in an endless train; at another time, one may have to spell out the meaning of the lay-out with reference to the book for almost every card. It will always be found that it is useless to force a divination; if the interpretation does not leap spontaneously to the mind it is unlikely to contain much insight.

Practical Occultism in Daily Life, Dion Fortune, Aquarian, 1976

Tarot and "The Mystical Qabalah"

In her seminal book, The Mystical Qabalah, Dion Fortune denies having met Aleister Crowley, but several authors have produced evidence that this was not so. To be fair, this book was published in 1935, and she seems to have met Crowley much later in Hastings during World War II. Dion Fortune writes as head of the Society of Inner Light, but she makes clear that two of her main authorities were MacGregor Mathers and Aleister Crowley, both prominent in the Golden Dawn.

Dion Fortune is not known for her writings on Tarot, but the quotations below make it crystal clear not only that she had initiated knowledge on the Tarot and how it integrates so many systems.

Neither is the Qabalah, as I have learnt it, a purely Hebraic system, for it has been supplemented during mediaeval times by much alchemical lore and by the intimate association with it of that most marvellous system of symbolism, the Tarot.

Fortune is dismissive of A.E. Waite's Tarot system, which is significant in the context of the time. The Rider-Waite tarot was one of the few tarot decks readily available when she was writing.

Concerning the Tarot cards there are three modern authorities of note: Dr Gérard Encausse, or "Papus," the French writer; Mr A. E. Waite; and the MSS. of MacGregor Mathers' Order of the Golden Dawn, which Crowley published upon his own authority. All three are different. Concerning the system Mr. Waite gives, he himself says, "There is another method known to initiates." There is reason to suppose that this is the method used by Mathers.

Dion then gives an anachronistic criticism of Papus, who published before Mathers and Crowley:

Papus disagrees with both these writers in his method, but as his system does violence to many of the correspondences when placed upon the Tree, the final test of all systems, and as the Mathers-Crowley systems fits admirably, I think we may justly conclude that the latter is the correct traditional order, and I propose to adhere to it in these pages.

Divination Systems

As an Initiate, Dion well understood the linkages between various divination systems:

As already noted, the various divinatory systems have their relations with the Tree and find their subtlest clues therein. The associations of astrology are readily traced through the symbolism of the planets and elements and their triplicities, houses, and rulership; geomancy links with the Tree via astrology; and the Tarot, the most satisfactory of all the systems of divination, rises from and finds its explanation in the Tree and nowhere else. That may seem a dogmatic statement to the scholarly historian searching for traces of the origin of those mysterious cards, and, may we add, most lamentably failing to find it; but when it is realised that the initiate works the Tarot and the Tree together, and that they dovetail into each other at every imaginable angle, it will be seen that such an array of correspondences could be neither arbitrary nor fortuitous.

The ritual purposes of this system of correspondences is made clear in the next paragraph.

A most interesting and important aspect of the practical work of the Tree concerns the manner in which ceremonial and talismanic magic are used to compensate the findings of the divinatory sciences. Each prick-symbol of geomancy, each card of the Tarot, and each horoscopic factor have their places assigned to them on the Paths of the Tree, and the occultist with the necessary knowledge can put together a ritual or design a talisman to compensate or reinforce each and any of these.

Towards the end of the book, Fortune gives excellent advice on divination and Tarot.

70. In the Sphere of Malkuth are worked all divinations. Now the object of any method of divination is to find a set of things on the physical plane which correspond accurately and comprehensively to the invisible forces in the same way that the movements of the hands of a clock correspond to the passage of time.

This quotation echoes the Golden Dawn advice on Tarot Divination.

71. For revealing general trends and conditions it is agreed by universal experience of those who have studied such matters that astrology is the best system of correspondences. But for obtaining an answer to a single question it is not sufficiently specific, for too many factors may come in to modify the result. The initiated diviner, therefore, makes use of the more specific systems, such as divination by the Tarot or geomancy, when he wants to obtain an answer to a specific question.

72. But it is of little use to go into a shop and buy a pack of Tarot cards unless there is the knowledge necessary to build up the astral correspondences to each card. This takes time, as there are seventy-two (sic) cards to work with. Once it is done, however, the operator can take the cards into his hands with a considerable degree of confidence that his subconscious mind, whatever that may be, will all unwittingly deal the cards that refer to the matter in question. Exactly how the shuffle and deal is affected we do not know, but one thing is certain, when the Great Angel of the Tarot has been contacted, the cards are remarkably revealing.

The Great Angel of the Tarot is HRU, as revealed by the Golden Dawn teachings. Quite how Dion Fortune got the number of the Tarot cards wrong is not clear.