“Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you.”
The Cosmic Doctrine is perhaps Dion Fortune’s most overlooked and undervalued work. Next to The Mystical Qabalah, it is also possibly her most important. The text presents a near complete cosmogony stuffed full with enough images and concepts to keep the adventurous seeker busy for a lifetime. As a comprehensive philosophical and magical system, it presents a detailed interpretation of the origin of life, the Universe, Deity and Humankind. Like any cosmogony, it has some imperfections, interspersed with occasional annoyances and contradictions. This article is offered in the hope that it will whet readers’ proverbial whistles to further explore the depths of The Cosmic Doctrine.
Before we go any further, it’s important for me to set out a key foundational premise – the honoured place of cosmogony in the occultist's toolbox. In any longer term esoteric endeavour, a basic knowledge of cosmogony is vital. Without a functional cosmogony as a cornerstone for the Work a superstitious disposition can be exacerbated due to the lack of a model to relate effects to their prime causes. Possessing an effective cosmogony enables the occultist to see the Western Mystery Tradition for essentially what it is – a means to an end, that end being the betterment of the individual, their community, nation and planet. Newer readers may wish to review an earlier blog In Order To Serve to get some wider background on this.
Many students who approach The Cosmic Doctrine dive for safe cover at the earliest convenience, settling for an arguably easier cosmogony such as that offered by the Qabalah or Astrology. This is understandable for it is not a book that you can read or understand in the normal sense. It is more like a mysterious treasure trove waiting to be mined over a lifetime for precious metals and rare gems. If you do try reading it like a Tony Parsons novel, you will probably suffer chronic indigestion and most likely never come back for a second helping. No-one has ever been able to extract the benefits of a deep mineral mine from the comfort of an armchair. Instead, The Cosmic Doctrine is a work to be approached with all of one’s efforts, intuition and imagination. It will only be through drawing diagrams of its concepts, contemplating, meditating and relaxed pondering that the text will open the inner doors of understanding. A generous smattering of perseverance helps too.
The material was originally communicated from the Inner Planes between July 1923 and January 1924, while Dion Fortune was based in Chalice Orchard at the foot of Glastonbury Tor. However, due to Alan Richardson’s sterling researches, we also know that some of the basic elements of the text display at least a surface façade of similarities with some of Theodore Moriarty’s Aphorisms of Creation and Cosmic Principles. There could be a number of reasons for this and plagiarism isn’t one of them. My personal view is that Dion Fortune had spent a great deal of time learning from Moriarty and was essentially working on the same contacts as he and his group. The Inner Plane Adepti tend to utilise the existing symbol system in the receiving medium’s mind – well stocked or otherwise!
In The Story of Dion Fortune, Charles Fielding tells us that the communications were accompanied by a mêlée of notable physical phenomenon, due to the need to use elemental forces as a backup to provide a stronger communication channel. On at least one occasion, the altar light’s flame “rose about five or six feet in height where normally the light only came up about an inch.” During one of the sessions the scribe, “almost fainted as there was also a great rush of wind when the flame increased.” Anyone who has been around the Tor, particularly at the liminal portals of dawn and dusk, when it is quiet and empty of New Age Travellers and sightseers, will appreciate the dynamism of the full spectrum of elemental activity in the area.
Very importantly, on the first page of The Cosmic Doctrine, the Communicator makes it abundantly clear that this is an altogether different type of work which should be approached in a particular manner:-
“In these occult teachings you will be given certain images, under which you are instructed to think of certain things. These images are not descriptive but symbolic, and are designed to train the mind, not to inform it.”
Casual readers would do well to heed this, particularly the section I have italicised, which is often misquoted, resulting in a subtle but importantly different meaning. The language within the text can be exceptionally difficult at times and some of the terminology can be easily misinterpreted if taken out of context or at face value.
The question at the forefront of many commentators’ minds has been, “Does The Cosmic Doctrine have any practical relevance for the 21st Century”? This is an important one to ask, for arguably the most important keynote of the Age of Aquarius is practicality. Gone or fast fading are the patriarchal days of the Piscean Age. “So long and thanks for all the fish....” Increasingly in this epoch, responsibility rests squarely with individuals to take the lead in their own life journey and developmental opportunities. Practical application is a crucial enabler with this. “Greetings and welcome to the Water Carrier!”
Now, practicality coupled with responsibility can be a tough old thing for the best of us. Many students appear to pursue the Western Mysteries for the opposite reason, for some respite from the burdens of life’s responsibilities and practicalities. They often do this quite unconsciously. Being unable to cope with mundane challenges and not finding it easy to get on with others, they seek an escape route. Indeed the avenues of escape from modern life are legion, from smart phones, computer games and social networking to complete submersion in the enticing opiates of the global entertainment industry.
However, occultism is no way to escape from the responsibilities of life. Even a short period invested in thoughtfully mulling over the images and concepts presented in The Cosmic Doctrine should encourage the seeker into a further immersion into the depths of the Game of Life with its attendant joys, pains, challenges and rewards. That can only happen if we get up and go to work, leaving the comfort of the coal fire and armchair behind, along with endless attendant theorising. While theory may well provide many happy hours in the armchair with accompanying warm and sweet feelings of excitement, practice, work and play will bring a far richer life journey.
Within the deep mine shafts of The Cosmic Doctrine there is much practical advice to be found. While some of the material can take years to percolate, much of it is immediately practicable. Perhaps the most rapidly accessible advice found within the communication is that relating to the text’s Seven Laws.
Some of the implications of these interdependent laws are so far-reaching that one can rapidly leave considerations of practical application behind if not careful. Other aspects have far more immediate application in mundane life. Ultimately the full value of these Seven Laws will be better appreciated once a wider understanding of the concepts from The Cosmic Doctrine is gained alongside further practical work.
A brief analysis and commentary on the Seven Laws is offered below. It assumes a basic appreciation of the esoteric concept of the Seven Planes. For those readers who do not already have an understanding of this, in order to more fully understand what follows, I would encourage you to check out Dion Fortune’s own comments throughout her published works on the Planes prior to reading the next section.
1. The Law of Action and Reaction
In one sense, this is not dissimilar to Newton's third law, the law of action-reaction, which explains the nature of the forces between two interacting objects. According to Newton’s law, the force exerted by one object upon a second object is equal in magnitude and opposite in direction to the force exerted by the second object upon the first one.
In The Cosmic Doctrine this Law goes beyond that and postulates that action and reaction are both equal and opposite on the Plane of their operation. But as an action on one Plane causes a reaction on another Plane, then the active and reactive forces are related by a definable ratio. This ratio can be determined by the number of Planes separating the levels of inception and reception of the forces in question.
The related potency can be seen as rising by the square law. So, as an illustrative example, if a person’s particular action on the physical or 1st Plane gives rise to a reaction on the next Plane, then the potency of the original action would be squared, and the equivalent amount of energy would be released on this 2nd Plane. Understanding this is essential for practical magical purposes, in particular, in relation to working with elemental forces which can readily be rendered available on the 2nd Plane.
Needless to say, the converse is also true. So, if an action on a Plane reacts on a lower Plane, the originating energy will also be reduced to its square root. If we extrapolate this thinking, it doesn’t take much to figure out that the effects of raising a force in the human being from, for example, the instinctive level of the 2nd Plane to the abstract mental level of the 5th Plane, have a significant and far reaching consequence.
Using this line of thinking, and continuing with the mathematical analogy, it can be suggested that normal Involution, the journey into manifestation, takes place by repeated addition. From this we can also surmise that on the Evolutionary journey, progress is made by repeated multiplication. This is why you will sometimes hear it said that successful initiation leads to condensed personal evolution. Conversion of energy from one Plane directly to the next higher Plane is marked by the squaring of the original force. It is doubtful if the body of the lower level would carry this force. Hence what Dion Fortune says in The Mystical Qabalah, “.......and God (Jehovah) said to Moses, 'Thou canst not look upon My face and live.'”
In terms of practical use, if an Inner Plane communication takes place to a contacted physical Western Mysteries group, the communicator essentially brings force “down” the Planes. For this to happen successfully, the physical terminal must be thoroughly well prepared to raise a similar quantity of energy and consciousness to the same level if satisfactory contact is to be made. Aristotle was close to the mark when he said, “horror vacui” - nature abhors a vacuum - even a partial one.
2. The Law of Limitation
At its most basic level, this is perhaps the most easily deducible Law to see in use or indeed to personally use for simply getting things done in day-to-day work and play.
Limitation is essentially “a restricting rule or circumstance”, and, as such, the mastering of this Law is a key enabler of all matters to do with the workings of force and form. To some degree there is something of the magical symbol of the Cord in this.
Limitation can be seen as the primary law of manifestation and the first law of power. For example, in The Cosmic Doctrine, even the Logos circumscribed (or limited) Itself when manifesting.
This second Law implies a concentration of power by the rejection of all that is superfluous to that which is to hand. To invoke a force without directing it is to disperse it. In order to bring energy into manifestation it is necessary to provide it with a limited form to act as a vehicle.
Magic can be defined as the science and art of building forms for the reception, direction and utilisation of spiritual forces. If the operation furthers the ends of Evolution and serves the betterment of Humankind, its magic in the past would have been called "white"; if not, it was called "black". While life has mostly moved on from this two dimensional monochrome version of magic, these labels are very worthy of further pondering from time to time as the occultist struggles with the ethics of their art.
By the development and expansion of consciousness, the basis of limitation is achieved. Limitation implies discrimination and the careful selection of experience. But a limited, undeveloped consciousness implies only the exclusion of experience. That sort of limitation is an altogether different matter.
Essentially, this second Law governs the processes of Involution, the "descent into matter". This always reminds me of Dion Fortune's words, “Until the descent into matter is complete, the ascent into spirit cannot begin.” This leads us nicely into the third law.
3. The Law of Death
Death comes to all living things. For many people it is a thing to be feared. Ultimately some change how they live their lives out of this fear. The Cosmic Doctrine presents a detailed and compelling commentary on death which can ultimately help individuals to take the sting out of death.
After the death of a particularly close relative, I was profoundly affected by the words of John Spencer Muirhead shared by the relative’s church minister. Muirhead wrote:-
“I know no birth, I know no death that chills;
I fear no fate nor fashion, cause nor creed,
I shall outdream the slumber of the hills.
I am the bud, the flower, I the seed:
For I do know that in whate’er I see
I am the part and it the soul of me.”
For the first time in days since the death, I felt a wave of light flow through me; I felt invigorated and truly alive. My deep-seated fears of death departed like the morning fog. The Cosmic Doctrine does something similar. Anything which takes the sting or fear out of death has huge practical import. A huge amount of energy tied up with worrying about death of self or others around you can be realised for far more productive use.
The original text goes to great lengths describing the full spectrum of deaths, indeed, the chapter in the original edition is entitled “The Seven Deaths”. However, the essence of what it says is as follows:-
Action and reaction are equal and opposite upon the Plane of their inception. However, when transmuted from one Plane to another, they stop manifesting upon the first Plane and come into being in a different form on the next Plane.
If this transmutation is viewed from the Plane of the inception of these forces, it is called "death". If viewed from the Plane of reception, it is called "birth". Both are interdependent and it is impossible for one to happen without the other.
4. The Law of Impactation
In the original text this section has the uncatchy subtitle “The transmission of action from one Plane to another.”
The Oxford English Dictionary rather unhelpfully defines impactation as “the condition of being or process of becoming impacted.” We are perhaps more used to the term being used to describe the situation of one tooth growing underneath another. However, in the esoteric sense, impactation can be regarded as the act of bringing a force of a subtler Plane through to a denser plane during the process of Involution. Two tangential forces are locked into a functional unit on the lower level. This was the method of creation of the original Cosmic Atoms described in The Cosmic Doctrine.
Thus, impactation is the act of advancing the development of a force by developing it upon the "form" aspect. The next section on the Law of Polarity, will further help those readers who are not familiar with this concept.
This process must be most carefully distinguished from the same process performed during Evolution. This is called "degradation".
5. The Law of Polarity
In the text this section is fully entitled, “The Law of the aspects of force or polarity.” The interaction of positive and negative etheric bodies has a great revitalising force. Ultimately, all polarity is rooted in the Rings Cosmos and Chaos, both of which are well described in the text. These are the primal Pillars of the Temple of the Mysteries, and from them stem all true complementaries. Illustrative examples of these include:-
Negative - Positive
Action - Reaction
Male - Female
Attraction - Repulsion
Anabolism - Catabolism
Light - Darkness
Evolution – Involution
Spirit – Matter
Manifest – Unmanifest
Day - Night
It can be helpful to spend time making your own further complementaries and keeping a record of them, for they will be useful in your later esoteric endeavours. From two forces, one positive, the other negative, a form is built. This process is universal. Force is a unity and form is a duality. Magic is about form building. Indeed, it is the prime human activity!
6. The Law of the Attraction of Outer Space
This particular law can be particularly hard-going. My old teacher rightly called it “abstruse”, a term also used recently by Gareth Knight to describe The Cosmic Doctrine generally. Essentially its relevance is often not apparent until later, more advance stages of practical work. However, it may be useful to summarise its key elements now to seed later work.
It is the aim of "will" to function unconfined, just as it is the tendency of "form" to centre on conditioning and limitation. The text suggests that when a unit of consciousness is released from a manifested System by transcending Law, it becomes a Great Entity in its own right. However, when a unit of consciousness that has not mastered the Law escapes from the System, it functions as an unconditioned will. This is the mystery of evil, often personified as the devil.
This penultimate Law teaches that Godhood is not attained by running away from the limitations and conditions of form, but by adjusting the balance to a dynamic and dancing equilibrium. The image of a whirling dervish comes to mind. In some respects, this is the “Great Work” or “Summum Bonum”.
7. The Law of the Attraction of the Centre
This last Law contains the secret of Evolution within this System. It refers to the mystery of Cohesion, which can be seen as the mystery of Love.
In grappling with this it can be a useful starting point to consider that that which is a multiplicity in its manifestation, by the perfection of its development, arrives at Unity. The approach to what The Cosmic Doctrine calls “the Centre” is not simply a movement in space, but a unification.
The difference between unification and simplification should be carefully considered. Unification can be seen as the final synthesis; simplification as the ultimate analysis, or alternatively as a return to type. The former is an advancement to completion, whereas the latter can be seen as a failure in purpose or regression to the commencement.
The essence of Evolution as put forward in The Cosmic Doctrine and many other Western Mysteries frameworks is unification. The manifestation of the unificatory principle upon the planes of form is Love. Love, in all its aspects, is the symbol of the Logos as One. Whoever loves, no matter how dim may be their understanding of Love, is manifesting a unification. Deity is One; Love makes one; therefore it is truly said "God is Love".
We often confuse Love with sentiment, but this can be unhelpful at the best of times. Taking this last Law into consideration, it is possible to review Love and see it in an altogether new light, where it can be seen as being the functional cohesion of the Cosmos. This has practical applications for how we view and carry out relationships with both our fellow humans and the wider environment.
It is hoped that this initial introduction to the Seven Laws within The Cosmic Doctrine provides some inspiration for future explorations. To conclude the article, I thought it would be apposite in the current political environment to include a quote from the final page of the original text:-
“Whosoever expresses Love brings Spirit, which is One, into manifestation.
To be loving is to be good.
Whosoever expresses hate brings separateness into manifestation.
To be separate is to be dead.
Therefore, choose Love and live.”
The Cosmic Doctrine, Dion Fortune (1949, 1966 and 1995 editions)
The Story of Dion Fortune, as told to Charles Fielding and Carr Collins, Weiser, 1985
The Cosmic Doctrine – How it all began, Gareth Knight, 2013