Dion Fortune and Tarot

July 28, 2009


Violet Mary Firth (1890-1946), better known as Dion Fortune, was a British occultist and author. She was born at Bryn-y-Bia in Llandudno, Wales, and grew up in a household where Christian Science was rigorously practiced. She reported visions of Atlantis at age four and the developing of psychic abilities during her twentieth year at which time she suffered a nervous breakdown; after her recovery she found herself drawn to the occult. She joined the Theosophical Society and attended courses in psychology and psychoanalysis at the University of London, and became a lay psychotherapist at the Medico-Psychological Clinic in Brunswick Square.

Her first magical mentor was the Irish occultist and Freemason Theodore Moriarty. In 1919 Dion Fortune joined Rosicrucian Order of Alpha et Omega, and was initiated into its outer order, the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, by J. W. Brodie-Innes. He instructed her in various magic practices. Firth’s pseudonym, “Dion Fortune,” was derived from her period as a member of the Alpha et Omega. She took the motto Deo Non Fortuna (By God, not luck), and this was condensed to “Dion Fortune” when she began to write.

We will never know the extent of Dion Fortune’s interest in the Tarot, but we know she took a keen interest in the progress of Crowley’s Thoth Tarot, visiting him in Hastings with Frieda Harris to examine the artwork. Crowley dedicated a copy of the Book of Thoth to her. Dion Fortune was a true fighter, working magically to defeat Hitler.

Dion Fortune participated in the “Magical Battle of Britain“, which was an attempt by British occultists to magically aid the war effort and which aimed to forestall the impending German invasion during the darkest days of World War II. Her efforts in regard to this are recorded in a series of letters she wrote at the time. The effort involved in this endeavour is said to have contributed to her death shortly after the war ended. Her Society of the Inner Light continues to function, and has also given rise to other orders.

From 1919 she began writing a number of novels and short stories that explored various aspects of magic and mysticism. Two of her novels, The Sea Priestess and Moon Magic, became influential within the religion of Witchcraft, especially upon Doreen Valiente.

Dion Fortune meets Aleister Crowley on the Tarot

Dion Fortune met Aleister Crowley to discuss Tarot among other things. There is some evidence Crowley showed Frieda Harris’ artwork for the Book of Thoth too. Here is Dion’s advice to the Tarot Student:

To use the Tarot properly, however, requires a very great deal of preparation, and the preparation does not consist merely in a knowledge of the significance of the cards, but in getting in touch with the forces behind the cards. An adequate rule-of-thumb use of it, however, can be made by any sincere person for himself, though it is doubtful if he could use it satisfactorily for anyone else.

Obtain a new pack of Tarot cards, for a used one will be too full of other people’s magnetism to be reliable, and carry them on the person, and sleep with them under the pillow, and handle them and ponder upon the meaning of the pictures in the light of what the book of instructions has to say about them until the significance of each picture is realized. It does not matter greatly which pack is used, whether the quaint, hideous, archaic ones, or the very beautiful ones redrawn in recent times for Mr. A.E. Waite; it is not the details of the cards that matter, but that they should serve as reminders, as it were, of the ideas underlying them. As soon as one perceives some sort of significance in the picture on a card, one has made a link with that card, and its appearance in the divination will mean something.

Having got in touch with one’s chosen pack, the next thing is to lay out a divination according to whatever system is chosen, work it out according to the book, and note down the results obtained and the position in which the cards fell. Repeat the process a second time, and a third time, upon each occasion keeping accurate notes of the fall of the cards, and, of course, thoroughly shuffling the cards between each lay-out. If certain cards keep on coming up, and especially if they come up in approximately the same positions, or even if cards of the same type predominate through the three divinations, it may safely be concluded that the system is working satisfactorily, and a divination may be made on the basis of the recurring cards. But if the three divinations bear no resemblance to each other; if even the balance of the four suits does not remain constant for at least two out of the three, and if none of the Greater Trumps turn up more than once, then it must be concluded that the Tarot is not working for the diviner, and the divination should be abandoned. The same principles apply if divinations are done with ordinary playing-cards, though this method is not nearly so sensitive and comprehensive as Tarot divinations.

Divination is a thing that cannot be learnt out of books, but builds up gradually as a system of associated ideas in the mind of the operator. Moreover, one varies very much in one’s capacity for divination; upon one occasion one may be absolutely inspired, the cards recur and recur, and one reads with the most extraordinary insight, one thing leading to another in an endless train; at another time, one may have to spell out the meaning of the lay-out with reference to the book for almost every card. It will always be found that it is useless to force a divination; if the interpretation does not leap spontaneously to the mind it is unlikely to contain much insight.

Practical Occultism in Daily Life, Dion Fortune, Aquarian, 1976

Dion Fortune is not known for her writings on Tarot, but the quotations below make it clear not only that she had initiated knowledge on the Tarot, but also how it integrates so many systems.

Neither is the Qabalah, as I have learnt it, a purely Hebraic system, for it has been supplemented during mediaeval times by much alchemical lore and by the intimate association with it of that most marvellous system of symbolism, the Tarot.

Fortune comments on A.E. Waite’s Tarot system, which is significant in the context of the time. The Rider-Waite tarot was one of the few tarot decks readily available when she was writing.

Concerning the Tarot cards there are three modern authorities of note: Dr Gérard Encausse, or “Papus,” the French writer; Mr A. E. Waite; and the MSS. of MacGregor Mathers‘ Order of the Golden Dawn, which Crowley published upon his own authority. All three are different.

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