Glastonbury hosts Dion Fortune seminar

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GLASTONBURY, England — The annual Dion Fortune Seminar was held September 23 in Glastonbury and was attended by approximately 80 people. The popular seminar has been held in the town for nearly ten years, partly in memorial to Dion Fortune herself.

Dion Fortune’s grave [Credit: By Robert B. Osten, Aurinia Verlag]

Violet Firth, as Fortune was called at birth, first came to Glastonbury in 1919, living in both Somerset and in London from then onward. As one of the 20th century’s most renowned occultists, Fortune is regarded as being partly responsible for the emergence of Glastonbury as a focus for contemporary neo-Paganism, and visitors still seek out her grave in the town’s cemetery.

To this day, Fortune’s work is analyzed by researchers attending the seminar and finds an audience among younger members of the neo-Pagan and occult communities. Her 1934 book Avalon of the Heart remains in print and is largely regarded as an important depiction of Glastonbury as it was in the mid-part of the 20th century.

Although Fortune’s work is often seen as being of its time, as many speakers at the seminar do contend, the material which she developed is still in use today. In fact, the seminar’s founder and current co-coordinator Mike Harris was himself trained by Gareth Knight and, therefore, Harris’ own work flows directly from the writings of Fortune.

This year’s Dion Fortune Seminar speakers included Christian Gilson, who gave a talk onFortune’s role and work as an esoteric Christian. Gilson focused on several little-known articles about ritual, in which Fortune talks of the need to return to the principles of the Celtic Christian church.  She believed that this would forget a renewed connection between Paganism and Christianity.

This theme was subsequently picked up by local historian Paul Ashdown, who spoke the emergence of a ‘Pagan Glastonbury.’ Ashdown suggests that Fortune originally came to the town to work as a medium for esoteric archaeologist Frederick Bligh Bond and, in time, to participate in what Ashdown refers to as an ‘Anglo-Celtic’ revival in the town.

The seeds of the 1960s in Glastonbury were established in those early days. Fortune inspired writers such as esotercist John Michell, whose enthusiasm for connecting early British and Egyptian mysteries led to the placing of the Pyramid Stage at the Glastonbury Festival in 1971. The famous stage is still in use today.

Taken at the Glastonbury Festival, June 2009 [Credit: James Smith]

The seminar’s co-coordinate Mike Harris gave his own talk was on Fortune’s most famous novel: The Sea Priestess. Based in Somerset, the book tells of events that take place in Weston-super-Mare, Axbridge, and the headland of Brean Down.

Harris’ talk discussed the use of the character of the Sea Priestess in esoteric work. He said that working with this dominant of an archetype can lead to problems.

Psychologist J. R. Petrie delivered a talk on the connection between Fortune’s work and that of J. R. R .Tolkien. Petrie said that  Fortune was striving to reactivate the Arthurian legends in order to enhance national morale. This, Petrie claims, draws upon what Tolkien referred to as ‘the universal cauldron of story’ and the use of a personal connection with myth.

The contemporary relevance of Fortune’s work was evidenced most particularly in the final talk, which was given by writer Gary Lachman. He spoke on the ‘war against reality,’ looking at Fortune’s spiritual techniques in the modern context of the alt-right and ‘fake news.’

During the Second World War, Fortune was known for mustering a spiritual community to undertake magical work against the Nazis. This was shown in her collection of letters  titled: The Magical Battle of Britain.

Lachman suggests that the alt-right has been using techniques more commonly associated with esoteric paths in their political maneuvering, inheriting the spiritual practices of Fortune’s original foes. Lachman cited the work of white supremacist Richard Spencer, who coined the term ‘alt-right.’

It appears that contemporary occultists are now contemplating Fortune’s ‘magical Battle of Britain’ material within the context of modern politics. This demonstrates that many people feel that her ideas are still very current.

The Dion Fortune Seminar is sponsored by the Company of Avalon, a “contracted order of the western mystery tradition.” The day long seminar, is one of the many events that the group hosts, and it will be back in September 2018.

Glastonbury from the Tor [Credit: Adrian Pingstone]