Tuesday, 15 May 2018

Dion Fortune, the Star in the East, and the Sermon on the Mount - Part 2

91 years ago to the day, Dion Fortune gave a talk to a Theosophical Lodge in the Southeast of England.  This second part in a series of three blogs is based on notes taken of that talk by someone who attended the lecture. Providing some insight into what was happening at the time in her battle with the Star in the East, mentioned in Part 1, this is probably best approached by using your imagination and entering into the experience in the same manner as a guided visualisation. You may also wish to spend some time afterwards reflecting on its content and how you reacted to it. 

Similarly, some prior background reading of the 20th chapter in Gareth Knight’s biography, Dion Fortune and the Inner Light, may also provide supplementary pointers on the "warfare" against the Star of the East, one of the key themes in the talk. 

The third post, to follow shortly, will elucidate in more detail some of the esoteric teaching alluded to within the Sermon on the Mount.  

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To start off with,  imagine yourself sitting comfortably in the audience attending a lecture being given this evening by Dion Fortune at a Theosophical Lodge in the Southeast of England. The subject is The Attitude of the Theosophical Society towards Christianity.   

Dion Fortune stands upright and begins her talk. The first point she makes is a viewpoint that in the days when Madame Blavatsky founded the Theosophical Society there was a very general reaction against religion in completeness, and that the earlier Theosophists shared in the bias of the times. She postulates that spiritual life was then and is now at a low ebb in European countries, and many people, estranged from Christianity by an un-Christian presentation of its teachings, as a reaction, seek spiritual illumination in others of the great world religions. Therefore, it is that Theosophy has gained itself a reputation for being anti-Christian.

She denies emphatically, however, that it is anti-Christian, and maintains that the liberal policy pursued by the Society recognises that all religions are paths to God, and, although the study of Western religious thought has been carried on in the Society to the same extent as the study of Eastern religious thought, there is nothing in the Constitution or policy of the Society which debars this from being done.  In fact, she says, it is not the fault of the Theosophical Society or the Christians in it if the Christian religion has not received its just due.  Theosophy teaches that all religions are restatements of fundamental truths made by divine Messengers sent periodically to this earth to remind humans of God's law and give out further spiritual teaching as the world became ready to receive it.  Therefore, all religions agree as to the basic truths they teach, and are only different in the methods of presentation of these truths; such methods being adapted to the race and time which the teaching came. This liberal doctrine, she tells the audience, is what she considers to be one of the best gifts of Theosophy to the world.

She pauses before continuing by saying that in its birth, Theosophy reminded the Western world of forgotten truths, truths which had been well-known in our hemisphere from when the great Mystery Schools of Greece and of Egypt were in their prime, and in which the East had always retained as part of its traditional faith.  It declares that the whole of religious life and thought does not lie upon the surface, but that, in addition to the simple teaching which meet the needs of simple souls, there are depths in every religion which profound thought and experience of the spiritual life can plumb.

In essence, she continues, three types of teaching can be distinguished in the Christian Gospels; the simple ethical teaching of the parables which our Lord gave to those who gathered about him in the villages and marketplaces; a profound teaching which He gave to those who followed Him out of the towns into the wilderness, and which culminated in the Sermon on the Mount, universally recognised as “the loftiest spiritual teaching known to the world”; and finally, teaching which was never written down or recorded, the teaching which He gave to His disciples in the “Upper Chamber” saying, “To you it is given to know the Mysteries of the Kingdom of God.”  She emphasises that He taught them for 40 days after His resurrection, but that that teaching was not recorded in the Orthodox Canon of Scripture. There existed, nevertheless, a curious Gnostic Gospel called the, “Pistis Sophia,” which was said to contain the teaching thus given, and her view is that this teaching had a very great deal in common with esoteric side of the religions of the East, and also of the Qabalah, which constituted the Secret Doctrine of Israel.

Dion Fortune next suggests that we do not need to look to the East for teaching on the deeper issues of spiritual life; there is a great Mystical tradition in Christianity itself, both Catholic and Protestant.  She continues by citing as “initiates of the Inner Light of the Western Tradition: St Theresa of Ávila and St Francis of Assisi, among Catholics, and George Fox, Wesley, Swedenborg, and Jacob Boehme among those outside the orthodox pale.”  As evidence of the fact that the real power behind religion has never been lost, she refers to St Therese of Lisieux, the young French girl, whose short life during the latter half of the 19th century showed forth in all its fullness the traditional powers of the Spirit.

She continues by telling the audience that for those whose early associations with the Christian presentation of the One Truth had turned them against religion, it might be helpful to seek God by an Eastern pathway. However, she then postulates that the great majority of those who seek in Theosophy a deeper interpretation of life than the Churches afford do not wish so much to change their faith as to understand it better, and although absolute freedom of thought has always characterised Theosophical Society and always must if it is to retain its position as an inter-racial spiritual movement, it is the Christian presentation of its philosophy which must be developed amongst Christian people if it is to fulfil its mission successfully.  The reason Theosophy has been so successful in India, she believes, is because it has shown Buddhists and Hindus the deeper significance of their own faiths. She states that it is her view that it will never be equally successful in Europe until it takes the same line with regard to both aspects of the Christian faith and the Jewish religion, offering opportunities by means of its libraries and study groups for the followers of those faiths to enter into the deeper mystical aspects of their own communions, rather than seeking the philosophical and mystical aspects of religion in Eastern faiths. 

The lecture concludes with a short discussion.  One speaker disagrees with Dion Fortune as to the attention given to Christianity in Theosophical lodges, declaring that during her own 25-year experience of the Theosophical Society she has always found that great attention has been paid to it.  Dion Fortune cautiously responds that “each must speak of the Society as he or she finds it.”

Other members of the audience express warm appreciation of the viewpoint put forward by Dion Fortune and openly agree with the need for the development of the Christian aspect in the Theosophical Society.

In reply to another question after the address, Dion Fortune answers that she has no connection whatsoever with the Liberal Catholic Church.

When asked how the line of study she has outlined in a section of her lecture might be followed up by those not able to attend her lectures in London, she responds that the Christian Mystic Lodge of the Theosophical Society, of which she is the President, issues its transactions as a monthly magazine, edited by herself, and that this can be obtained from the Secretary of the Lodge, 3, Queensborough Terrace, Bayswater, London W2 at 3d. a copy, or 3s. a year post free.

Intrigued by what you have heard tonight, you walk off into the evening pondering whether or not you agreed with what you have just heard, and whether you might take some further steps...

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On August the 3rd 1929, the Order of the Star of the East was dissolved. Jiddu Krishnamurti, mentioned in Part 1 of this series, had rejected the role that had been projected upon him. No doubt Dion Fortune felt vindicated, but she had a new phase of work and different direction to be getting on with.....

I hope you’ve enjoyed reading this blog. I will aim to post the third in the series within the next month or so. 

"Belief has no place where truth is concerned." 
~ J. Krishnamurti

Sunday, 13 May 2018

Dion Fortune, the Star in the East, and the Sermon on the Mount - Part 1

“I ask those who are in sympathy with what I am doing to remember that thought power is potent for protection and support, just as it is for attack, and to lend me their help on the Inner Planes. My task is not a light one. But as long as I am responsible for the conduct of this magazine I will follow the example of the Master Who, while He had compassion for those who fainted by the way, had a scourge for the backs of those who made His Father’s house a den of thieves.”

Dion Fortune ~ Transactions of the Christian Mystic Lodge, July 1927

Some nine decades ago, Dion Fortune and her Lodge were engaged in a form of both direct and indirect warfare with the Order of the Star in the East, a movement within the Theosophical Society, which promulgated the "Coming of the World Teacher". Some people thought that the World Teacher in waiting was none other than Jiddu Krishnamurti, pictured below. At the time, some felt that Western Civilisation, as they pictured it, was at risk of desecration and destruction if the Order continued with its plans.

Many people have said over the years just how difficult it is to really understand or empathize with some of the more pugnacious activities of Dion Fortune and the Christian Mystic Lodge during the 1920s. Broader religious beliefs, Neo-paganism, Druidry and New Age practices have been so ubiquitous for the last half to a whole century that it can be difficult to read about the Lodge's skirmishes without some querulous amusement.  Surely there were more important things to be getting on with?

Nowadays there is arguably a broader acceptance of wider spiritual beliefs and practices in families, work and wider society, making it difficult to see what all the fuss was about back then. Thankfully, that sense of West versus East (and never the twain shall meet) has lessened its strangle hold, giving way to an emerging trend for World Citizenship and the Global Village.

Sadly, many have opted to turn a blind eye to this period of Dion Fortune’s life, also ignoring the Christian Science and wider Christian aspects and influences on her life, world view and teachings.   Likewise many biographers and commentators on Dion Fortune maintain a binary view of Dion Fortune as Christian DF v. Pagan DF. Importantly, this monochrome view misses the breadth, depth and strange hues that the influences of Theosophy, Psychology, Hermeticism, Co-Masonry and Tantra had on her thinking and practice. Very few seem to acknowledge that she became passionately interested in Tantra in her later years, informed by both her friendship with the academic Bernard Bromage and her correspondence with Aleister Crowley. 

That line of thought is perhaps for another blog at a later time. Now - back to the Christian influence! I can certainly relate to this turning a blind eye. Growing up in Ireland during the Troubles, I was exposed to some of the worst excesses of human stupidity, hatred, damage and misery imaginable packaged and peddled as Christianity. It was enough to put any sane person off it for life. Now, in 2018, things don’t seem much better with its often exclusively patriarchal view of the world, the proliferation of tsunami after tsunami of child abuse cases and other scandals in almost all its branches.

As someone with a pagan heart, I often have to work hard to find the beauty, wisdom and compassion within Christianity…to find the clear water beneath the human excretions. However, it seems clear that if we are to more fully understand Dion Fortune, her life and teachings, then we really need to open ourselves up to all of her activities and influences. On the Christian side of it I don’t believe we should throw the baby out with the bath water, otherwise we will miss a deeper understanding and experience. Neo-pantheist, pagan, agnostic or other, with perseverance, anyone can find a rich vein to be mined in the depths of Christianity. 

There are many places to seek these treasures, although one of the most illuminating teachings is arguably the Sermon on the Mount. That was one of Dion Fortune's favourites too. The Collects are another.

Reflecting on this, I thought I'd dedicate my next three blogs to this theme. 

My next post, later this week, will cover some initial thoughts on the matter, alongside a summary of notes taken from a talk that Dion Fortune gave on Sunday the 15th of May 1927. Until then...

Sunday, 6 May 2018

Some thoughts on the mother of months - May

 Song for Bealteinne

Who comes maying, comes maying with me? -
Lad and maiden, sweetheart and friend –
Softly slip from your house-doors free:
Sweet May-night in the woods we'll spend!

We'll pass by where the hawthorns white
Breathe their bridal odour of love:
Not a twig shall we pluck till light -
Sweet May-night in the woods we'll rove!

Bring ye plenty of bread and ale,
Meat and sweet as it pleases ye, bring:
Lanterns vying with moonlight pale,
In the woods we shall sup and sing!

Praise the Goddess-Queen for whose feast
Love's the hymnal and kisses the creed:
Two and two 'mid the leaves embraced,
Sweet May-night in joy let us speed!

Bathed in dew when the daybreak is come,
Boughs of hawthorn bear we away -
Crowned and decked with its sacred bloom,
In the morning we'll bring home the May!

~ Vivian Godfrey

When I reached my early twenties, I often found myself “awakened” in a powerful and strange way each year at the end of April and beginning of May. Unable to sleep in after the long winters, with the light returning and each morning’s resonant dawn chorus, my mind and body would be bursting with energy. There was a heightened sex drive, yes, but also sheer physical energy and motivation to move and to do. It seemed like I was running my own internal micro climate of an English spring. Like the gambolling lambs, flowers bursting forth and budding trees, I was buzzing and erupting with energy and the creative urge.

The people of these Ancient Isles felt it too, celebrating it as one of the key nature festivals of the year. The festival was originally known by its Celtic name Beltane, occasionally spelled “Bealteinne” in Ireland or "Bealltainn" in Scotland. 

In some of the more rural parts of Ireland, in An Ghaeltacht areas, this time of year is indeed still referred to as Beltane. Bel or Belenus was one of the names of the Sun god, and Beltane celebrated the start of the Summer, when the Sun was at his height of power. It was a festival of fire and fertility.

Traditionally, the Sun god and the May Queen come together at this time (she who was the maiden at Imbolc or Candlemas).

May Eve was the time when young people went out into the woods and along the hedgerows to gather branches of May (the white blossoming hawthorn tree) to decorate their homes. Many young folk gained their wives or husbands at this time and there was much jollity and lovemaking. 

At this time of the year there was often also dancing around the maypole - which at one level can be seen as a phallic symbol. It is not surprising that, in Puritan times, great efforts were made to stamp out this festival with its sexual licence. However, like many primally driven things, the customs of the maypole still persist into the 21st Century. A good example of the maypole and its traditions surviving into this century can be found close to where I grew up in the village of Holywood in Ireland, a place long associated with the Irish Druid culture.

Nevertheless, the first day of May continued to be a holiday for working people and remains so in Britain and Ireland to this day -- often known now as "Labour Day". Beltane is another example of an old pagan festival which has managed to survive.

In the past week we were again honoured to be invited by two friends and the Cornovii Grove, of the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids, to participate in a wonderful Beltane rite in a magical apple orchard on the edge of the Wyre Forest in the West Midlands. Last time we were there was to celebrate Lughnasadh in 2017. 

What a treat and what a change to the orchard all these months later. This week, with not a fruit in sight, the trees were only just beginning to bring on their flowering. Personally, the greatest bit of the ceremony for me was the wonderful sense of kinship, good humour and peace. Declaring, “May there be Peace...”, we established peace in ourselves and in each of the elemental quarters. If any of it rubs off more widely, then we will have succeeded. It seems that now, more than ever, we need peace both within ourselves and between ourselves.

All hail the apple tree – the tree of peace and love!

The Old Ways go ever onwards, or so it seems.

The Springtime of Dion Fortune

There she is staring out at you...or maybe that should be "in to you"! Whether writing as Violet Firth, Violet M Steele...