I first read Dion Fortune during a strange weekend as a teenager after getting my hands on a Witch’s old book collection (as described in this post). One of the first things I noticed was that her novels Sea Priestess and Moon Magic described certain invocations and prose pieces as coming from ‘The Rite of Isis’. Similarly, a note in her The Goat Foot God made reference to ‘The Rite of Pan’.
I soon discovered that even though they were penned in the 1930s these Rites were not available to the general hoi polloi. Not even a polite, but overly-effusive (in the way young occult students are), letter to the Society of the Inner Light in London bought me any joy. So when I heard about the imminent publication of this work, via the good agency of Skylight Press and editorial stewardship of Gareth Knight, I described it as ‘the occult publishing event of the century’. Perhaps still a little too effusive? 🙂
However, despite a fair chunk of the Rites being able to extracted and worked out from Dion’s novels, the book really is unique. It portrays the principles of real magic and real occultism more deeply, more accurately and with more direct effect on the reader within its brief 140 pages than in tomes ten times the size. Much of this is to do with the editorial inputs and commentaries by Gareth Knight together with his choice of a selection of Dion’s articles to round the book out. Altogether the whole becomes more than the sum of its parts – not that any of its parts are without weight and worth alone!
The book is well put together, beautifully designed and covers a surprisingly broad range of topics. There are the Rites themselves, the full rubric and setting of which have never before been published. These alone would make the book. However, there are also appendices on Dion’s novels, the Circuit of Force and other germane matters. Much of the contribution of Gareth Knights comes in his analysis of Dion’s novels, which are well written and very illuminating.
Dion herself was crystal clear about the motives behind writing the novels which contain the Rites and their relationship to the Work:
…because I have a purpose in my life, which is the work of initiation organised as The Fraternity of the Inner Light, my novels have a purpose, which is the purpose of initiation.
For this reason Gareth Knight spends some time revealing the mysteries of Dion’s novels, as she herself does also in an appendix, ‘The Novels of Dion Fortune’, which was originally published in the Inner Light Magazine, 1936. Despite the sense of reality of Dion’s characters and the genuine nature of her stories and the way they obviously had (have) a life independent of their creator, Dion as novelist was clearly following a plan. In each novel she took
…a basic idea, attributed it to its appropriate Sephirah in the proper Qabalistic manner, and then proceeded to work it out on the basis, not of Qabalistic symbolism as I should have done if I were writing an occult treatise on the subject, but of the dream-symbolism of psychoanalysis. Consequently, anyone who knows psychoanalysis can take these novels to pieces as if they were dreams, and anyone who knows the Qabalah can ‘place them on the Tree’.
And really even today, no one has done this any better than Dion, who brought to her literary art all her skills of magic: “In writing my novels I used exactly the same method that is used in the composition of a ritual.”
The full Rites themselves are included in chapters three and four. A small section of previously unpublished material will show the breadth and depth of forces worked within these Rites:
By the power of Old Night, whence all sprang, we invoke Thee.
By the first mystic swirl in the stillness that told of Thy power, we invoke Thee.
By the net which Thou wovest to draw Ptah from his heaven, we invoke Thee.
By the kisses that smote him with death that the world might be born, we invoke Thee.
By thy merciful veil, by thy scourgings and pangs,
By thy sweet secret places, by midnight and moon,
By earth and by water – Isis, Light of the Heavens and Desire of the World –
I invoke, I invoke, I invoke!
Fully reading the Rites with sympathy and imagination it becomes clear why these were a semi-public affair, the audience becoming part of the drama of the cosmic initiatory forces being worked and invoked. This is an effect Dion strived for in her novels, and is why key passages of the Rites found themselves in the novels, destined for the public circulating libraries and people “who would not sit down to read a prose work on occultism”. There is a spiritual and magical link forged between the Rite, the ‘audience’ who first witnessed the rite and the novel wherein segments of it are included. All towards the enactment of initiation by and into the cosmic force the Rite works and worships.
Reading this book I realised this is one reason Dion’s novels are so potent; they are empowered on the inner levels not only by the magic of Dion, not only by her inner contacts and the cosmic forces they bring through, but also by the physical enactment of the rites by flesh and blood Londoners in the 1930s. If you are familiar with her novels and read these Rites slowly and imaginatively, you will see what I mean. In fact, I would be so bold as to say the full publication of these Rites will empower the novels and the work of Dion even further. Today as I type this review, I heard news that a Golden Dawn based group in South Australia will be working the Rites early next year. Dion lives!
Overall, as a publication, this book cannot be recommended enough. As a concrete work of magic, furthering the work of the greatest Priestess of the 20th century and the Gods she served, it is simply divine. Thank you to Dion, Gareth Knight and all at Skylight Press.
Dion Fortune’s Rites of Isis and of Pan Paperback by Gareth Knight and Dion Fortune. Skylight Press, 2013.