“Learn now the secret of the web that is woven between the light and the darkness; whose warp is life evolving in time and space, and whose weft is spun of the lives of men . . . .“-Dion Fortune The Sea Priestess
I’ve spent a lot of time the last two years wrapped up in the blanket of Dion Fortune. I’ve been reading her books along with a few biographies about her due to various projects (and just sheer personal interest). She’s a fascinating figure, and one of my favorite “occult” practitioners ever.
What makes Fortune so fascinating to me is that she occupies a space between Modern Witchcraft and so many of the occult practices that preceded it. Fortune practiced magick in an off-shoot of the Golden Dawn, embraced a more mystical Christianity with her “Master Jesus,” founded her own magickal order, and certainly interacted with pagan deities (most notably Isis and Pan). If she had lived into the 1950’s I’m not sure she would have embraced Witchcraft, but might have.
Though Fortune never used the term “drawing down the moon” she’s one of the practice’s great architects. In her book The Sea Priestess she basically provides a blue-print for the rite, along with a pseudo-Charge of the Goddess that’s among the most powerful magickal passages I’ve ever read. Any book that attempts to detail the practice of “drawing down” has to spend time with Fortune’s work, because that’s where at least some of it came from.
The histories of magick, the occult, and Modern Witchcraft are things that are very important to me; and I enjoy sharing that history on this blog and in the books I’ve written. Occasionally I’m able to work that history into rituals, which I think makes them come alive in ways that blog posts can’t. I’ve mixed up Masonic rites with the Charles Leyland’s Aradia: Or the Gospel of the Witches and scoured Margaret Murray’s The Witch Cult in Western Europe for usable ritual bits. I’ve done it with Fortune now too, and that ritual might be my favorite of them all.
Dion Fortune inspired ritual shared with a large group is something that should NOT work. Fortune’s rituals (especially of the pagan variety) were not designed for Pagan festivals. Her Isis ritual in The Sea Priestess involves just two people for instance (along with a disembodied voice-I can’t recreate that!) and thousands upon thousands of words! It’s one of the most “talky” rituals I’ve ever read or participated in, yet Fortune’s words alone have a transformative power. Just hearing them takes me away from whatever hotel conference room I’m ritualizing in and places me squarely in the center of Glastonbury. We might not all agree on the theology, but the words are poetic:
“Above all, that one Goddess was our Lady Isis, in whom all goddesses are summed up; for Isis is both a corn goddess and queen of the dead—who are also those yet reborn, and the lunar crescent is her brow. Under another aspect she is the sea, for life first formed in the sea, and in her dynamic aspect she rose from the waves as Aphrodite, stepped upon the Earth as Persephone, and ruled the crossroads as Hecate. Isis is our Lady of the Heavens and our Mother the Earth. She is all goddesses men’s hearts have worshipped, for these are not many things, but one thing under many forms. All the Gods are one God, and all the Goddesses are one Goddess.”
One of the most over-used words in all of Pagandom these days is probably “liminal,” but it sums up Fortune so well. She occupies a position “at, or on both sides of, a boundary or threshold,” being there at the beginning of Modern Witchcraft, and to those of us who practice the mysteries, she’s there at the end. I’m not sure I could have figured Fortune out at age 21, but I can say that at least now I’m getting closer. She helped create the loop, and she exists at the end of the loop. Her words are the “web that is woven between the light and darkness” and she’s one of those transitional figures who helped get our community to NOW.
Pagan festivals are another of those things that exist in a “liminal” space. They are magickal gatherings and yet very much exist in the mundane world. At a festival I can hang out almost exclusively with Pagans and start to feel as if I exist entirely in sacred space, but then I notice the weird hotel carpet and the elevators. Nothing brings me back down to Earth faster than an uncomfortable elevator ride with people not from the festival asking me “what’s going on at the hotel?”Last weekend I was in Minneapolis Minnesota for Paganicon, where I was able to share my Dion Fortune Ritual and have strange elevator rides. As far as festivals go, it was my favorite indoor festival of 2017 thus far. It was relaxed, my wife was with me, I didn’t have any con-crud, and I got to work a lot (three workshops and a ritual). I like working and doing, and I had good crowds at my workshops, and a ton of people at my Dion Fortune Ritual (with the great Dodie Graham McKay as my High Priestess!).
Most of the rituals I do at festivals are designed for the night-time. Originally my Dion Fortune ritual was scheduled for 2:00 in the afternoon on a Sunday and I had to protest a little bit. Fortune’s ritual in The Sea Priestess occurred at night, and I’m not sure the ritual works unless the sun is down. There’s a certain energy the moon and the night sky provide, even when ritualizing in a windowless room. The organizers of the festivals were kind enough to accommodate my needs and we got everything moved up to Friday night at 10:30, beginning at the end of a Wendy Rule performance. (I certainly wasn’t going to compete with Wendy Rule).
I think they were a little surprised by the line of people waiting to get into the ritual, but Pan was a part of the ritual, so of course people were going to show up. No one’s ever there for me, they just visit because of the goat-footed one. And there was only really a line because I don’t let people into my ritual spaces until ritual is about ready to start.
That’s a free ritual tip for you by the way: keep people out of ritual space until you are ready to start the ritual. If everyone comes into a ritual space chatting, drinking wine, and generally acting like they aren’t in a ritual space, they’ll never completely inhabit the ritual. It’s best to have people show up after you’ve dimmed the lights, created the atmosphere, and clued everyone into the idea that “Yes, we are doing ritual in here.”
A few other notes from Paganicon:
-I met George Knowles who runs Controverscial, my favorite Witch-history spot on the web. George was even cooler than I imagined him to be, and was gracious and friendly to both my wife and I, and all the people we hung out with over the weekend. I probably didn’t talk to George as much as I should have, but I often get a little tongue-tied when I’m in fan-boy mode.
-I also met Stephen Posch for the first time ever. It’s always intimidating when I know there’s someone smarter than me sitting in the audience for one of my workshops, and that was the case with Stephen. He was cool though, and I regret the fact that we didn’t get a whole lot of time to talk.
-Basil-Hayden on the rocks is a superior bourbon.
-Since I was in Minnesota before I began Paganicon I got to visit the Llewellyn offices. How I’ve managed to con that company into publishing two small books with my name on them remains my second greatest feat of magick (after convincing Ari to marry me). In some ways it was like visiting any other company with a collection of cubicles, but Llewellyn is responsible for so much in my life. Without Llewellyn I may not be here today, that there’s this big publisher who publishes Pagan and magickal books and gets them into all sorts of book stores is still a rather revolutionary thing.
-Kelden who writes here at By Athame and Stang is just tremendous. He spent a lot of time with us last weekend and is just a lot of fun. We have different views on Witchcraft, but I find him easy to talk to, and that we agree more often than not. The spaces between “Traditional Witchcraft” and what we “Wiccan-Witches” are not all that big.
-I don’t mean to only take pictures of Dodie and Laura Tempest Zakroff at festivals, but I just end up hanging out with them a lot. Both are just awesome and my wife and I love them so much. Tempest keeps me sane, her husband Nathaniel Johnstone is a cool guy and immensely talented musician (and his band played a smokin’ set at Panganicon), and Dodie is the greatest travel companion in the known universe (she hung out with Ari and I on our UK trip last September).
I’ve got almost a month off from traveling before hitting the Florida Pagan Gathering in April . . . . . .