Avalon of the Heart: Dion Fortune & Glastonbury

Avalon of the Heart: Dion Fortune & Glastonbury December 8, 2016

“And there is a third way to Glastonbury, one of the secret Green Roads of the soul – the Mystic Way that leads through the Hidden Door into a land known only to the eye of vision.  This is Avalon of the Heart to those who love her.”  

Dion Fortune, in Avalon of the Heart.

Dion Fortune‘s work (fiction and non-fiction) is one of the keystones for western esoteric studies (including Pagan and Goddess traditions) in the 20th century. I believe that hers is a legacy which should be perpetuated for future generations to continue learning from. Earlier this week marked the anniversary of her birth as Violet Mary Firth on Saturday, 6th of December 1890.  She took the name Dion Fortune as an adaptation of her family motto, Deo, non Fortuna (“God, not Luck”) which she adopted as her magical motto during her involvement with Alpha et Omega Lodge of the Golden Dawn.

Here in Glastonbury, Dion Fortune’s legacy is undeniable, yet often unknown or overlooked.  On the slopes of the iconic Glastonbury Tor, Dion Fortune and others created a magical retreat which they used as a centre of study from where their teachings and ideas spread.  In this blog I touch on just a few of many connections a she had to Glastonbury.  According to Gareth Knight, author of books such as Dion Fortune and the Inner Light (Thoth, 2000): “If Joseph of Arimathea set his sights on Glastonbury Tor to identify the final goal of his long journey from Jerusalem, for Dion Fortune it was above all a focus of elemental power and inspiration.”*1

Glastonbury Tor, at night. Photo©Lokabandhu, 2016
Glastonbury Tor, at night. Photo©Lokabandhu, 2016 (With Kind Permission).

“The busy little market town at its foot is occupied with the daily life of men, but on the Tor:

The Old Gods guard their ground,
And in her secret heart,
The heathen kingdom Wilfred found,
Dreams, as she dwells apart.

In the centre of this, ‘the holiest erthe in Englande’ rises the most pagan of hills.  For the Tor keeps its spiritual freedom.  It has never cried: ‘Thou has conquered, O Galilean.'”

Dion Fortune, in Avalon of the Heart.

Fortune lived in this landscape, with its far reaching views towards the coast, including Brean Down, which featured in her influential novel  Sea Priestess as the setting for rites to the Great Goddess Isis.

Brean Down (in the mist), Somerset. Photo© Sorita d'Este, 2016
The Somerset Levels and Brean Down (in the mist), Somerset. Photo© Sorita d’Este, 2016

The rituals in Sea Priestess inspired many subsequent generations of occultists, including popular Pagan and Witchcraft authors Janet and Stewart Farrar.  Their A Seashore Ritual presented in their book The Witches Bible draws its ritual and inspiration and words from Fortune’s Sea Priestess.  They acknowledge Fortune’s influence writing that “… Dion Fortune’s novel The Sea Priestess is a goldmine of material for devised rituals.” .

“O thou that was before the earth was formed –
Rhea, Binah, Ge.
O tideless, soundless, boundless, bitter sea,
I am thy priest; O answer unto me….”


“Astarte, Aphrodite, Ashtoreth –
Giver of life and bringer-in of death;
Hera in Heaven, on earth, Persephone;
Levanah of the tides and Hecate -All these am I, and they are seen in me…”

~ Janet and Stewart Farrar, The Witches Bible.

Readers interested in Dion Fortune’s influence on Wicca,  might also find it interesting to explore some of her other works.   In The Winged Bull (1935) there is an excellent example of a seasonal ritual, in which the primary male and female characters perform a ritual which bears some striking similarities to the concepts found in a Wiccan Sabbat, years before the writings of Gerald Gardner and others:

“Ursula represents the earth in spring.  You are the sun-god gradually gathering strength as the days lengthen …. He knew they danced together to slow rhythms.  He knew they came up to the altar and drank together from the cup of dark, resinous-tasting wine, and ate together of the broken bread dipped in the coarse salt.”

~ Dion Fortune, The Winged Bull

Her connection with Glastonbury was multi-layered, not only did she stir an interest in this town and its unique spiritual heritage, she contributed significantly to the re-awakening of the study of a variety of esoteric subjects, and encouraged others with similar interests to come here.  Arguably her influence here laid some of the cornerstones for the lively and diverse interest in Celtic, Esoteric Christian, Pagan and Goddess communities currently present here. When she came to Glastonbury in 1920 she experienced psychic visions, channeling the spirits of monks claiming to be from ‘The Company of Avalon‘ who told her that Glastonbury was the heart centre of England, with London being its head centre.

In her book Avalon of the Heart she explores some of the key landmarks in and around Glastonbury.  This is a town with may layers, and many stories, something Fortune was very aware of, and actively explored.

“Glastonbury is a gateway to the Unseen.  It has been a holy place and pilgrim-way from time immerolia, and to this day it sends its ancient call into the heart of the race it guards, and still we answer to the inner voice.  She is all beauty, our English Jerusalem.  The paths that lead to her are ways of loveliness and pilgrimages of the soul.”

Dion Fortune, in Avalon of the Heart.

Wearyall Hill, in the Mist - Glastonbury
Wearyall Hill (as seen from my office window) with Glastonbury and its Abbey Ruins in the foreground. It is on Wearyall Hill, that Joseph of Arimathea, according to legend, planted his staff which grew into the unique “Holy Thorn” tree. Photo © Sorita d’Este, 2016

“It was here, at the head of Wearyall, that King Arthur received the crystal cross at the hands of Our Lady – the cross he emblazoned on his shield and banner and under which he fought and conquered the heathen, the cross which was later cut by the abbots of Glastonbury on their great seal.”

Dion Fortune, in Avalon of the Heart.

What strikes me is that even now, more than 70 years after her death, we can still read her words and visit the same places in the landscape here, and look at them afresh through her descriptions and insights.

Glastonbury Holy Thorn, Glastonbury Abbey Grounds. Photo © Sorita d'Este, 2013
Glastonbury Holy Thorn, Glastonbury Abbey Grounds. Photo © Sorita d’Este, 2013

“Just within the Abbey precincts, close to an old grey wall, stands a gnarled hawthorn, scantily leaved and thin of branch, old and feeble.  To this shabby and time-worn tree pilgrims from all over the world do reverence, for it is the scion of St. Joseph’s staff. …
There is a brother tree from the same stock, more prosperous looking, and presumably younger, standing in the churchyard of the lovely Church of St.John…” ”

Dion Fortune, in Avalon of the Heart.

The Glastonbury Holy Thorn, St. John's Church, Glastonbury. Photo © Sorita d'Este, 2013
The Glastonbury Holy Thorn, St. John’s Church, Glastonbury. Photo © Sorita d’Este, 2013

Of course her work was not confined to Glastonbury, she also continued to work in London – but it is Glastonbury where Dion’s body was finally laid to rest when she died on the 6th of January 1946.  She was 55. Many pilgrims to Glastonbury still visit her grave today, which thought nondescript and ordinary – identified only by the headstone, and occasional interesting objects left on it –  has a distinctly magical aura about it.  Dion Fortune was no ordinary woman.  She was an occultist, author, mystic, teacher, revolutionary and a great deal more.

Dion Fortune's Grave, Glastonbury. Photo © Sorita d'Este, 2013
Dion Fortune’s Grave, Glastonbury. Photo © Sorita d’Este, 2013

If you have not yet sampled her writings, then begin by reading her fictional work Sea Priestess – it captures a particular kind of magic, which is very difficult to convey, beautifully.

“Do you not know the Mystery saying that all the gods are one god, and all the goddesses are one goddess, and there is one initiator?  Do you not know that at the dawn of manifestation the gods wove the web of creation between the poles of the pairs of opposites, active and passive, positive and negative, and that all things are these two things in different ways and upon different levels, even priests and priestesses”

Dion Fortune, in The Sea Priestess


*1 http://garethknight.blogspot.co.uk/2014/06/dion-fortune-and-glastonbury-tor.html

A selection of Dion Fortune books. Photo © Sorita d'Este, 2016
A selection of Dion Fortune books. Photo © Sorita d’Este, 2016


Further reading:

Society of the Inner Light – http://www.innerlight.org.uk/dionfortune.html

Servants of the Light: http://www.servantsofthelight.org/about-sol/biographies/dion-fortune/

Remember Dion Fortune: (On Facebook) https://www.facebook.com/groups/DionFortune/

About Brean Down and Dion Fortune (Gareth Knight): http://garethknight.blogspot.co.uk/2015/09/the-sea-priestess-at-brean-down.html

Naomi Ozaniec, The House of Life (Mystery School): http://thehouseoflife.co.uk/what-is-a-mystery-school/


Did you know?  Dion Fortune wrote a book in 1925 on Soya Beans and Soya Milk! > The Soya Bean


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