Sunday, 28 September 2014

The Flight of the Phoenix

For the egg was now red-hot, and inside it something was moving. Next moment there was a soft cracking sound; the egg burst in two, and out of it came a flame-coloured bird. It rested a moment among the flames, and as it rested there the four children could see it growing bigger and bigger under their eyes.
Every mouth was a-gape, every eye a-goggle.
The bird rose in its nest of fire, stretched its wings, and flew out into the room. It flew round and round, and round again, and where it passed the air was warm.”

The Phoenix and the Carpet by Edith Nesbit

In the biography Dion Fortune and the Inner Light, Gareth Knight writes an illuminating chapter entitled “The Flight of the Phoenix.” Appearing towards the end of the book, the chapter summarises an important transformational point in the story of Dion Fortune and the Society of the Inner Light. Somewhat like a pressure cooker, the weight of circumstances—which had been building in the background since the group’s formal ritual Inauguration of the Lesser Mysteries on the 21st December 1928—seemed to have reached a critical state. Something needed to shift, and the winds of change were demanding it!

In 1961, the then Warden, Arthur Chichester, had dismantled the Society’s grade structure and stripped everything right down to the bare bones of the First Degree. At the time it was felt that this was needed as a safety valve. However, as Knight himself comments, “If the enclosed part of the Society of the Inner Light retrenched to preserve the spiritual principles of Dion Fortune in a condition of pristine purity, so, after another manner, did the spirit of Dion Fortune or rays from the Inner Light move out into the world.”

The reality was that this kind of restrictive modus operandi couldn’t remain unchanged indefinitely. The Inner Plane Adepti needed a range of alternative routes to express and teach the Mysteries. Key members of the time also felt that the wider magical and ceremonial methods previously taught in the Society—but which had now been ceased—had a particular relevance for the emerging Aquarian epoch. The Phoenix needed to rise and fly out into the world to allow the regeneration of these methods into new forms appropriate for a New Age. 

The Phoenix seems a most apt symbol for this part of the Inner Light’s story. It is often seen as a symbol of the Risen Christ because of its regenerative abilities. Similarly, in Ancient Egypt, the Bennu bird had also been the symbol of the resurrected god Osiris. Within the Qabalistic Tradition, the Phoenix is also seen as the symbol of Enoch, who “walked with God, and was not, for God took him,” eventually becoming the eternal Archangel Metatron. Transfigured and transformed by the Divine fire, Enoch became the deathless “Prince of the Countenance”.

In Egyptian mythical tradition, each 500 years the Phoenix would fly across the skies of the world until it came to the temple city of Heliopolis. There the priests and priestesses had prepared a large mound of sweet smelling frankincense wood for the bird’s arrival. This would serve as both a cremation pyre as well as its fiery nest and womb for the immortal bird’s subsequent rebirth. Once the Phoenix alighted, the light of the Sun would be directed to further ignite the wood and the bird would be consumed by the flames. Later on the same day, the Phoenix would arise anew as the “Bird of Splendid Flame,” exemplifying the Mystery of Regeneration.

Gareth Knight’s “The Flight of the Phoenix” tells a little bit about some of the key personalities and groups which, for want of a better word, flew out from the ashes of the old forsaken methods and teachings of the Inner Light; going out into the world to teach afresh and further develop the Western Mystery Tradition along the lines promulgated by Dion Fortune. Like the Inner Light itself, many of these groups or indeed their own offspring are still around today, some quite public and others remaining hidden from the well tread roads.

One of the senior members Gareth Knight mentions as having departed the Society in the 1960s on the flight of the phoenix was Charles Fielding. With two other ex-members of the Society he would go on to first form the Society of Western Mythologists and then, in 1975, the London Group, based for over three decades in the capital city before moving to the heart of England. Two photographs of the London Group's publicity leaflet are shown below. On the other side of the pond, Fielding would also form the Star and Cross group on Euclid Avenue, in the Highland Park district of Dallas, Texas, with the help of talented Jungian Analyst and writer, Dr James Hall MD, and wealthy philanthropist, Carr P Collins Junior.

Fielding would also leave a legacy of two important books. The first of these was The Story of Dion Fortune published by Red Wheel/Weiser in 1985 and again in 1998 by Thoth Publications. Despite its incompleteness, flaws and occasional misassumptions, for many years, this was arguably the most definitive book on the subject matter by insiders who were living and breathing the Western Mysteries.

Following this, Fielding wrote The Practical Qabalah which was first published by Red Wheel / Weiser in 1989 and then again in 2008. In many respects it remains one of the simplest, clearest and most profound expositions available on a magical and psychological approach to the Qabalah. The postscript to this book nicely captures the encouraging, pragmatic and occasionally provocative approach he and his groups applied to seekers and initiates alike:-

Why did you read this book? What is the point of it all? Where are you going now?

The point of it all is the regeneration of yourself, your community, nation and planet: the fulfilment of the plan. And what is the Great Plan after all but the sum-total of the fulfilment of each individual’s own plan? So your efforts and struggles and triumphs are all parts of the whole and supremely worthwhile.” 

 With the exception of a very small number of lectures and public meetings in London, Fielding remained a relatively private man who was keen to avoid the pitfalls, glamour and distractions which often plague those who choose a public life in magic. He was also keen not to waste time on those who had endless questions and a solely intellectual curiousity about the Mysteries but who were unable to take any practical steps along the path. I can understand that.

Living during the 1950’s in the Society’s enclosed community of 3 Queensborough Terrace, Bayswater, London, Fielding embarked on a career with the Royal Air Force, eventually working as a University lecturer in the East of England, as well as getting married and raising two children. Born in Elstead, Surrey, on the 21st of October 1929, he passed over to the other side on the 16th of March 1998 in Shropshire. Not much else about his life is currently in the public domain.

As one of the people described by Knight in “The Flight of the Phoenix,” who figuratively flew forth from the Inner Light, Fielding’s wider esoteric legacy—apart from his limited published works—is likely to remain hidden to the majority of people, at least for the foreseeable future. Whether this will change over time remains to be seen. However, I suspect that is exactly as he would want it.

Readers may be interested in the following extract from an erudite article written by Fielding, and published in Quest during 1972. Much of what he says remains fresh and relevant some 42 years later, although I’ve made a very small number of edits for clarity’s sake.  I hope you enjoy it.

Occultism – the White, the Black and the Fatuous

About fifty years ago Dion Fortune wrote a series of articles about her local occult scene. Later, in summing up her findings, she said that three sorts of occult activity existed; the white, the black and the fatuous.

That was half a century ago, yet the situation today is curiously similar. Once again there is a marked increase of interest in occultism, magic and ritual and a proliferation of groups, Societies and covens of all shapes, sizes and shades of whiteness. In the writer's opinion, black occultism is very rare as it calls for a one-pointed dedication to evil as complete as the white adept's devotion to good. And true adepts (of either hue) are few and far between - very few and far between. The dividing line between fatuous and serious activities is fairly simply defined. The fatuous operation is performed for personal amusement or self-aggrandisement, while the serious one is carried out either for personal regeneration or the good of humankind. The first is self orientated and seeks to draw something towards the operator; the second is universally orientated and intended to give out something to all humanity. The former attracts, the latter radiates.

Obviously all generalisations such as this are over simplification and must be unfair in some cases. Most serious occultists start their career with a nebulous philosophy, ill-formulated aims and enormous enthusiasm. But after a series of flirtations with Abramelin, Crowley and the Golden Dawn, the serious seeker starts to analyse their own motives and to define their goals. The answers they get determines their subsequent involvement. Either they decide to get themselves trained in the theory and practice of their art or remain a dabbler. The difference is the same as that between a knight and a collector of weapons and armour. The latter shows off their toys and has fun dressing up and waving their sword about; but the knight uses lance and blade in the quest for the Holy Grail. To the one it is a hobby; to the other a way of life.

The word “occultism” is often used as if it were synonymous with the Western Mystery Tradition. It is not. Occultism is simply a set of techniques. A plough is not to be confused with the cultivated land which its proper use produces. Neither should the occult powers be confused with the goal of the initiate, yet they are the means whereby that goal may be attained. Humankind is by nature a form-builder and the occultist simply extends their operations to other levels. By their knowledge and the proper use of their tools they build a structure which towers into the other worlds. But the object of the form is simply to enable them to observe the higher planes and work therein. Once they have established themselves, the scaffolding can be removed.

Magic” is another subject of great interest these days. Rightly for it is simply applied occultism. One definition of magic describes as “the science and art of building forms for the focussing, direction and application of subtle forces”. This is a very illuminating interpretation, if properly considered. Again there is the idea of a structure, purpose built to perform a stated task. Neither do ethical considerations apply to a structure; only to the way it is used.

Four things really determine the difference between the fatuous and the serious in the occult world: aptitude, dedication, training and context. The serious worker, whether a solitary or a member of a group will display natural aptitude for occult work. They will not merely be a sensation-monger or a dabbler trying out a few techniques to see if they work. They will be a committed person. They will also be a person either already trained (and the training may have gone on for many lives) or in the process of being trained by competent people. And finally, and possibly most important of all, they will see the work they are doing in context, as a part a great structure, a structure which is universal and not merely personal.

Which brings up the subject of the Structure itself. Occultists do not like creeds. No serious occult group will ask a prospective member to prove their suitability for entry by reciting a list of "I believes". And a very good thing too, because no one really knows. A neophyte's experience in working on the material enriches the group experience. But if they disagree constructively and offers an explanation better than the traditional one, then so much the better. Nevertheless, despite the need for a liberal attitude and a questing mind, serious work can only be performed against an agreed background or frame of reference. Certainly facts must be assumed as axiomatic or at least agreed upon as a working hypothesis if results are to be achieved in occultism as in any other field. A first solo is not the best time for a pilot to question the law of gravity. A minimum of fundamentals must surely be agreed upon between occultists working together, the question is which?

On a matter of this sort no one person can make the laws for another, but the writer would hesitate to do any serious work with anyone who could not accept as working hypothesis the following:

  • that there is an invisible reality which lies behind physical phenomena and that material forms and forces are the outer manifestation of inner causes 
  •  that humanity is an evolving spiritual being of the same nature as the Deity, although vastly junior to It in development, and possessed of free-will in the limits of the system which it is currently working
  •  that everything is in a state of evolution and that there exists a plan or purpose which guides evolution 
  • that Humankind has its own individual part to play in the great evolutionary scheme
  •  that the evolutionary scheme in which Humankind is currently working is hindered by its errors and by the action of intelligent forces deliberately working against the evolutionary plan 
  • that Humankind assumes many bodies in its long evolutionary journey and that, as action generates reaction, so is a human's present state environment the result of attitudes and actions set in motion by them in the past
  •  that when a person has learned the lessons of matter,  they need no longer incarnate but continue to evolve on non-physical levels 
  • that the concepts of the evolutionary scheme are passed down an inner hierarchy of beings of whom physical Humankind is the terminal in dense matter responsible for embodying these ideas in the material world

Possibly all occultists take these things for granted, yet the amount of ineffectual dabbling makes one doubt it. If we train others, let us do it properly. If we are looking for someone to train us, let us accept nothing but the best and be prepared to search until we find what we want.

If all the fatuous were properly trained, the devil would have a hard time of it!

Further sources readers of View from the Big Hills may wish to explore include:

The Story of Dion Fortune, Fielding and Collins, Thoth Publications
The Practical Qabalah, Charles Fielding, Thoth Publications
Dion Fortune and the Inner Light, Gareth Knight, Thoth Publications
Yours Very Truly, Gareth Knight, Skylight Press
I Called It Magic, Gareth Knight, Skylight Press
Priestess, Alan Richardson, Aquarian Press
The Quest for Dion Fortune, Janine Chapman, Weiser
Persuasion's of the Witches' Craft: Ritual Magic in Contemporary England, Tanya M. Luhrmann, Harvard University Press
Fifty Years of Wicca, Fred Lamond, Green Magic
Sects, Cults and Alternative Religions: A World Survey and Source Book, David Barrett, Blandford Press