Dion Fortune and the Other Arthuriad: Dion Fortune Seminar September 2017.
This piece is about Tolkien’s Mythology, and I propose that for Tolkien, as for Dion Fortune, a key role was to help the National mind of England during the transition to the Age of Aquarius, and to set the tone for the new Age. This followed by a pathworking to Rivendell, to meet Arwen Undómiel. I am not alone in having worked with this Mythology for a long time, but I clearly recall my first steps in the Mysteries when I attended a work shop where we were taken on an inner journey to the top of a tower to contact one’s spirit guide. As I entered the room there was a figure with his back to me. He turned around, laughing: It was Gandalf the Grey. I thought to myself- ‘why on Earth am I meeting a fictional character, better get back to the day job.’ I’ve learned a lot since then, but I know that the (supposedly) fictional and recent nature of the mythology is an obstacle for some and I want to give those of you who haven’t yet worked with the material an opportunity to do so. As Dion Fortune said: an ounce of practice is worth a pound of theory!
Tolkien and Dion Fortune came into this world around the same time: she was born in 1890, he in 1892. She left it earlier than he did in 1946 whereas he died in 1973. But they worked contemporaneously: he completed Lord of the Rings in 1948 and was bringing Frodo and Sam to Mount Doom as the Second World War was coming to its end. This is the same period during which Dion Fortune was writing her War Letters. The significant work underpinning both endeavours had been undertaken in the previous decades, but arguably the War Letters and Lord of the Rings are the most practical and accessible culmination of what had gone before. Both Dion Fortune and Tolkien were influenced by the three strands of the Arthurian Legends, Christian Mysticism, and the Elemental significance of the Earth. Both were perfectly conscious of a spiritual task: Tolkien said that he wanted to be a great instrument in God’s hands: “to be granted a spark of fire to rekindle an old light in the world.”
In her War letters Dion Fortune’s purpose was to strengthen the National Mind to withstand the assault of Hitler’s Germany, but also to re-stimulate the archetypes that were to shape post-war social change and reconstruction, what she called: “…a new spirit in the heart of the race.” A phrase very close to Tolkien’s. She describes the link between the deeper, stable Group Soul and the more superficial Group Mind which is more easily influenced by outer circumstance, and set out to open the channel between the spiritual influences governing our land and the Group Mind of the race. She explicitly linked this with the turbulence associated with the change from the Age of Pisces to the Age of Aquarius. Now, these transitions do not complete in a short few years, and we can safely say that this turbulence is still with us. And that is one of the reasons I think, that Dion Fortune is still so active from the inner. The War Letters are packed with gems that help us address the challenges of our time. One such gem leapt out at me when I was preparing this piece: “The Aquarian Age develops in the element of Air. It is in the air that the keys are to be sought...The war will be fought and won in the realms of the air and of the mind – that meaning in the sphere of morale.”
Morale. Where would we say our morale is right now? I would suggest that the current battleground, if I might use such a phrase, does seem to be largely in the sphere of the mind and of morale. Consider the weapons of terrorism: fear. Consider the influence of marketing, the internet and social media. Consider the influence of all these things on truth, and on morale. Dion Fortune advises us to study the characteristics of Aquarius to help us find a way forward. Aquarius is a sign of truth, idealism, individuality, and vision. It is a sign of optimism and hope. Aquarius acts for the collective, but does so in its own individual way. Any turbulence opposing these values would impact on the sphere of the mind, of truth, hope and morale. One might also expect tensions between authenticity, and the kind of malignant conformity which requires the sacrifice of truth.
Dion Fortune asks: “How then can we prevent our morale from being undermined, our will from being deflected from its purpose, our inertia encouraged, our selfishness stimulated?” She suggests that we should reactivate the Arthurian legends to stimulate the best morale, idealism and hope of the Nation. She likens the National Mind to our bloodstream. This bloodstream is extremely effective at fending off ‘infection’ in the form of negativity, but can become overwhelmed in the face of a massive attack, or if its own internal strength is compromised. Her recommended remedy is to strengthen the best qualities of the National Mind as opposed to the psychic equivalent to a large dose of antibiotics. The National Mind strengthens itself through the stimulation of archetypes in accord with its deeper spiritual ideals.
There is a natural relationship between stories and myths and the cycles of the ages. Just as the Individuality is the meeting point between spirit and body, so is Mythology the meeting point between the cosmos and both individual and group consciousness. Or as Dion Fortune puts it, the link between the soul of man, which she likens to a land-locked lagoon, and the cosmic sea. Tolkien too knew that certain archetypes come to the surface at just the right time, just as the Ring was meant to be found; at an apparently random moment, by Bilbo. He said that things ‘bubble up’ in the universal Cauldron of Story in due course. In the Cauldron, things cook until they emerge anew. It is a matter of some importance, as to what makes any particular figure or version of a story appear at any one time. One might usefully reflect on the stories of any given time and what they tell us about a civilisation. He goes on to say that the cooks too, matter, as they do not dip the ladle into the cauldron blindly, and this sort of cooking is the task both of Storytellers and Occultists.
Anne Petty, who was a scholar both of Tolkien and Mythology, in accord with Joseph Campbell believed that: “…the critical mythogenetic zone for our times is the individual human heart and psyche, that interior world of the individual where he confronts his own spirit…” In other words, it is time to closely link the stories of the Cosmos with the small stories of individuals. It is, perhaps, time for us to carefully consider, and work with, the link between the personal and the transpersonal; that is, the nature of individuality and its relationship to the Cosmos. This will be enabled by mythological material that rings true to readers of our time. Tolkien’s mythology is particularly accessible because it was written recently, and so speaks to the modern mind. It has accessible personal resonance, largely because of how he uses the Hobbits. Through his use of the Hobbits we learn about universal principles and how they impact on individuals. Their experiences illuminate ideas, most particularly around consciousness, and in understanding the nature of the Self. We can identify with the Hobbits; they are funny, they are afraid, at times inept, and they possess good old-fashioned grit. They have no real idea what they are getting into, they ‘do not know the way,’ and yet they go along anyway, mainly for the sake of each other, until they gradually become aware of the bigger picture.
Tolkien has had an impact on enormous numbers of people. One might go so far as to say he is a source of inspiration for our Western World. He is the father of the modern fantasy genre. A quite startling number of disciplines study his work; which has also captured the popular imagination through the films of Peter Jackson. This effect is comparable to the impact of the Arthurian stories told by storytellers in the Age of Pisces. One could say that he has struck the same chord, but in the new key of the Aquarian Age. Now, it is said that there are no new stories. Tolkien says that this is both true and untrue. Tolkien’s Gods and Goddesses, or Angelic Beings are easily interpreted as being based on those of other pantheons. However, Tolkien makes the point that this misses the point. He says: “It is precisely the colouring, the atmosphere, the unclassifiable individual details of a story, and above all the general purport…that really count.” Therefore, though Arwen might be like Gwenevere, and in some respects the Lady of the Lake, she is not Gwenevere. Though Aragorn might be akin to Arthur, he is not Arthur. Arwen is Arwen and Aragorn is Aragorn. The ingredients in the Universal Cauldron may be the same, but their expression is varied, as anyone who can tell the difference between chocolate cake and chocolate biscuits will know.
Tolkien consciously re-wrote the Arthurian legends and said: “I was from an early age grieved by the poverty of my own beloved country: It had no stories of its own…the Arthurian world…is imperfectly naturalized, associated with the soil of Britain but not with the English…” Imperfectly naturalized, and not associated with the English. Tolkien thought that the Arthurian Myths need to be more realised and internalised, more owned and expressed by people: that a more personal connection should made with Myth. To achieve this, it needs to be of its time, and to appeal to large numbers of people. This is not, of course, to say that the Arthurian legends have no personal resonance, and I do not wish to imply this in any way: this is about evolution, and nuances of expression. It is really that in Tolkien’s work, the macrocosm is individualised, personalised, and explicitly realised. Small stories; inextricably linked to large stories.
Let’s briefly consider the concept of the Round Table. At the end of the Arthurian cycle, from one perspective, things end in disaster. The Kingdom is in tatters, Arthur and Gwenevere have no heir, and the Round Table and the Grail are dispersed. But as Dion Fortune says, this gives us critical information about what can go wrong, and why. In a Fallen and imperfect world, it is absolutely essential that we understand this. The Arthurian tales warn us against identifying with our shadow self, or conversely, projecting it onto others. Seen from this perspective, Arthur did not fail. Tolkien’s tales, however, tell us how to succeed, perfectly following on from the foundations laid by Arthur. The other reason Arthur and Gwenevere did not fail, is that the Grail and the Round Table must be dispersed if they are to be realised by individuals. You might be forgiven at this point for wondering why I am making this comparison, as surely there is no Round Table in Tolkien’s stories.
Well, I think there is. It is not a literal table, but the pattern is there. For me, the Round Table is the Fellowship of the Ring, which serves the function of realising the dispersed Table. We already know that the Round Table functions as a symbol of the Self, and of groups, and their cycle of development and growth. The Fellowship of the Ring is true to the ideals of the Table Round, of equality, harmony, unity and wholeness. Ordinary hobbits, even the immature Merry and Pippin take their place. There is nothing apparently special about the Hobbits: this Round Table is open to all. You do not have to be a Knight. You do not actually take a seat: each individual and their place in the group is the table pattern. It is a personification of pattern realisation and allows it to manifest in a new way. It tells us that in the Aquarian Age the key is the realisation of the pattern in people and the collective.
It is also a process of becoming. One does not have to be a Knight at the beginning, but through committing to the Fellowship, one journeys towards a shift in consciousness and functioning. Each member chose to join out of friendship or love, but also with a shared goal: to put the Ring into the fire to save Middle Earth. Of course, I do not mean to imply that the Arthurian Round Table is a mere physical table: that would be quite wrong. I am saying that the subtle differences of expression in the stories tells us something significant.
Another key message is that one does not actually have to be Human to be part of this Table. In the Arthurian stories Gwenevere is a faery who takes on human form to wed Arthur, and thus build bridges between the human and faery worlds. In Tolkien, Arwen is Elvish, but already part-human, and through her fore-mother Melian, she is part Angelic too. The consciousness of each member of the Fellowship, who are Angelic, Elvish, and Human (given that Hobbits and Dwarves are aspects of humanity) are reflections of Arwen’s consciousness. She has already harmonised these forces within herself and stimulates the Fellowship to evolve their own consciousness. Arwen’s dowry, and her promise to us, is an inner harmonisation of forces and consciousness. The pathworking which follows offers the opportunity to connect with Arwen. Arwen and Aragorn model the successful faery/human partnership in which both already carry faery and human consciousness. Her Father, Elrond, renews Aragorn’s sword so he can achieve his inheritance. Arwen is Queen, but she is also a Priestess.
There is a certain fluidity to consciousness in Tolkien’s stories. Beings can be Part-Elven, and Part-Angelic. Others can choose whether to be Elvish or Mortal. Others still shift consciousness through the achievement of a state of Grace. In the Arthurian tales, Joseph of Arimathea is locked into a dungeon for 40 years and survives purely by the spiritual sustenance provided by the Grail. As a consequence, he becomes a shining being of light, and Wendy Berg’s suggestion is that he is thus comparable to a faery. Tolkien is in accord with this: In his tales Sam and Frodo, on their journey up Mount Doom survive solely on Faery food: the bread called Lembas, which has Eucharistic significance. At the end of the story they both board ship to Valinor, which is something of a puzzle, because Mortals are banned from the Lost Road. There is some debate as to whether they are granted a special ‘pass’ because of their deeds, but for me, this theory does not hold water. This is because it is actually impossible for mortals to travel along the Lost Road because Valinor has been removed from the physical world.
My Tolkien Society friends say that Frodo and Sam did not actually travel to Valinor, but instead were dropped off en route at Tol Eressëa, whilst Gandalf, Galadriel and the others went on to Valinor. I find it absolutely incredible that anyone could think this. I suggest that the consumption of Elvish food, alongside their dedication and their faith has transformed them so that they become as Elves, just like Joseph of Arimathea. This perfectly attunes to folklore regarding faery food. Sam even comes back to the Shire and plants the Mallorn on the Hill. It is said that his daughter Elanor, conceived at the end of the Quest, was frequently mistaken for an Elf. Her name literally means Sun-Star, which in Tolkien’s stories, symbolises both faery and human consciousness. There is no evidence of faery in this blood line so the implication is that her Father was transformed, and that this has been passed down through the bloodline. The other name for the Hobbits is Halfling, and I would suggest this transformation enables them to achieve wholeness: to be both human and faery. As Gandalf says: “You are not the Hobbit you were.”
CS Lewis called Mythology ‘lies breathed through silver.’ Tolkien’s reply was that anyone can say ‘the green sun.’ But to make it believable is another matter entirely. He believed that he was writing the truth, and whether that truth is literal or metaphorical is to be discovered. He said that we should not confuse the Flight of the Deserter with the Escape of the Prisoner. The former is essentially denial of a difficult reality; the latter is the use of imagination to go beyond the confines of matter to reveal the truth, or what he called the ‘underlying gleam of the cosmos’. He wanted to write a story of hope, consolation and recovery. But it can only be consoling if it rings true. He even invented a new word for this: the ‘eucatastrophe’ by which he meant the unexpected, redemptive and joyous ‘turn’ of the story. To paraphrase Sam: ‘everything sad becomes untrue’. And he does this without denying darkness and shadow, as anyone who has ever met an Orc, or walked up the slopes of Mount Doom will know. Dion Fortune said that the war would be won in the sphere of the mind and morale. Tolkien brought through beings, I believe, from the cauldron of story, that connect our National Mind with our Soul and who convey much needed hope that we will successfully navigate the turbulent seas of our time.
Now, in the following pathworking we will travel into Rivendell to meet Arwen Evenstar, we will connect with the stellar patterns and bring them to Earth; in effect initiating, or continuing, our own steps to realise the Round Table.
A Journey into Rivendell.
We are come to the very edge of the Wild. Somewhere ahead is the fair valley of Rivendell where Elrond Halfelven lives; but it is not so easy as it sounds to find Rivendell. For Rivendell is the First Homely House West of the Misty Mountains and the Last Homely House East of the Sea: it lies between the worlds. We are tired, and the day, slips towards twilight. A pale sliver of silver moon shines through the veil of clouds, and in the far West, the sky is pure, clear violet, and high above us blazes Helluin (1), the Ice Blue. We have left our home in the Shire, and doubt that we will find what we seek, or accomplish what we must, or that we will ever return. The tidings of the world are mostly sad and ominous: of gathering darkness, of the wars of Men, and of the flight of the Elves.
We are not alone, for a Guide accompanies us on the road. His name is Aragorn, and he is known by the Elves as Dunadan, Man of the West, for he will redeem the errors of Númenor. He comes of a long line of Kings and Rangers, wandering in the wild, and for many years Rivendell was his home, for he is foster-son of Elrond. His presence inspires confidence, and our errand now takes us on, though we cannot say where our path will lead at its end. After a moment we step out, into the Blue…
Ahead now, a grey river gleams pale silver in the fading light. This is the River Hoarwell, that the Elves call Mitheithel. The only way to cross is by the Last Bridge towards which our road runs. As we approach the Bridge we notice, in the road, a single pale-green jewel. It is a beryl, an elf-stone. We do not know whether it was set there, or let fall by chance, but we take it as a sign that we may pass the narrow Bridge.
We are swept off our feet at last and the way is now clear. We pass swiftly under the shadow of tall pine trees, then plunge into a deep cutting within steep moist walls of red stone. All at once, as if through a gate of light, the road runs out again from the end of the tunnel into the open. There, at the bottom of a sharp incline is a long flat mile, and beyond that the Ford of Rivendell. An Eagle circles high above us. Behind it, shady mountains climb, shoulder above shoulder, and peak beyond peak, into the deepening sky. There is a roaring and a rushing: a noise of loud waters from the Misty Mountains. We reach the Ford and step into the River Bruinen: a wholesome peace lies on the land. The last green has faded from the grass, and we walk past Beech and Oak. Ahead is the house of Elrond: the last light flits across its white walls and we walk eagerly towards it, all weariness forgotten. We have entered Imladris: the deep valley of the cleft.
Of the three Rings that the Elves had preserved unsullied no open word was ever spoken among the wise, and few even of the Eldar knew where they were bestowed. Yet their power was ever at work and where they abode all things were unstained by the griefs of time. Vilya, the Ring of Sapphire was with Elrond, in the fair valley of Rivendell, upon whose house the stars of Elbereth most brightly shone. Master Elrond founded this place in the Second Age as a refuge from Sauron. He gathered in Rivendell many Elves, and other folk of wisdom and power from among all the Kindreds of Middle Earth; and the house of Elrond was a haven, and a treasury of good counsel and wise lore. His house is perfect: merely to be here is a cure for weariness, fear and sadness. We enter the front door into his wide, welcoming Hall and note that it is filled with folk of many sorts: do not be surprised, for Rivendell is between the worlds. Until this moment we had not thought beyond reaching the shelter of Rivendell. But now ask yourself: why are you here? (pause).
After a moment, we pass into a further Hall where a warm fire glows in a great hearth between carven pillars. This is the Hall of Fire: there is always a fire lit here and you can hear many songs and tales, if you can keep awake. For it is difficult to stay awake here, until you get used to it: but nonetheless, this is a place of awakening. Aragorn walks towards the fire and stands next to its bright glow: for a moment, it seems to our eyes that he is bathed in brilliant sunlight, and then we blink, and he is just standing by the fire again. Elvish minstrels play sweet music and the golden firelight plays upon them and shimmers in their hair. Your mind is filled with the light upon the Elf faces; so beautiful that you feel in a waking dream. The beauty of the melodies and of the interwoven words holds you in a spell. The words of the songs take shape, and visions of far lands and bright things open out before you. Then the enchantment becomes more and more dreamlike, until an eternal river of swelling gold and silver flows over you. You sink into a deep realm of sleep where you wander in a dream of music. Finally, the last note is struck: both deep and high, and with a shiver, you are fully awake.
Up a short flight of steps, a further doorway opens to the outer terrace. Indigo shades of misty Twilight steal through the door, and beyond, a quick flash of Fëanor’s fire: the mingled light of Sun and Moon and Stars. Aragorn leads the way through the doorway and we follow him if we will. We step out onto a high garden above the steep bank of the River Bruinen. There is a faint scent of trees and flowers in the evening air. From the far West sounds the faint note of a trumpet. The shadow of a large bird flits across our path, and behind we hear a soft splash as of a fish jumping. But when we look, there is only river spray, swiftly dispersed. By some shift of airs all mist is drawn aside like a veil; twilight has turned to deepest indigo. Away high in the sky swings Remmirath (2) the Netted stars, and their subtle song stirs the air. Then leans up, as he climbs over the rim of the world, the Swordsman of the Sky, Menelmacar (3) with his shining belt. As we gaze about us silver cobwebs thread bright beads along the grass. Then they seem to coalesce, as though to form a pool, smooth as glass, which mirrors the bright black sky.
As our eyes adjust to the darkness we notice a figure standing beside Aragorn, in the centre of the pool. She is young and yet not so. Her white arms and clear face are flawless and smooth, and the light of stars is in her bright eyes, grey as a cloudless night; yet Queenly she looks. Above her brow her head is covered with a cap of silver lace netted with small gems, glittering white. She wears a soft raiment that deepens into Indigo, then blooms into Violet. She bears no ornament save a girdle of leaves wrought in silver. Her dark hair strays in the breeze and flows down, sinking into the deep pool on which she stands.
She is daughter of Elrond Halfelven, Arwen Undómiel, the Evenstar of her people. She is of the line of Melian and Thingol; of Luthien Tinúviel and Beren one-hand, and of Elwing and Eärendil. Aragorn stands tall beside her, and a star now shines on his breast. He holds a Sword, reforged in Rivendell: this sword is ever renewed in the cycle of the ages. For just as the Table Round was Gwenevere’s dowry, so is the formation and the realisation of the Fellowship of the Ring Arwen’s dowry. She is Mortal, and she is Immortal: she is Human, she is Faery and she is Maiar. Aquarius is the breaker of barriers, the bringer of new influences and impulses and Arwen is the promise of consciousness to come. Arwen Undómiel is revealed as Priestess of Rivendell and of this Age of Aquarius, and she is Queen of the Reunited Kingdom.
As we gaze at Arwen, we become aware that each one of us forms part of a greater whole, seen here as the star-spray of Elbereth captured in her hair. We find ourselves standing around her, in a circle around the edge of the pool, and many more bright souls join us. We recognise that each one can capture and respond to the message of the stars. So be aware of the silver net in her hair. See it in its bright and silver gossamer beauty and attune your inner perceptions to the eternal possibilities beyond. The air settles, and stills, and we seem to stand outside our own time, outside of Time itself maybe. All at once it seems, Arwen Undómiel tilts her sultry head towards you. She will speak no words, but nonetheless she conveys her message to you. The light of her eyes falls upon you as though from afar and pierces your heart. You stand still enchanted. (Pause).
And now we find ourselves standing in the Vale of Avalon of today. Notice for the first time a bright star in the west: it is Gil-Estel, star of high hope. Then above us we see once more the Eagle, which wheels about and veers off towards the West, taking news of our journey to Manwe and Varda.
Berg, Wendy: Red Tree, White Tree. Cheltenham, Skylight Press 2010.
Carter, Humphrey (Editor): The Letters of JRR Tolkien. London, Allen & Unwin 1981.
Fortune, Dion: The Cosmic Doctrine.
Fortune, Dion: The Magical Battle of Britain. Cheltenham, Skylight Press 2012.
Petty, Anne: One Ring to Bind them All. Tolkien’s Mythology. Tuscaloosa & London, The University of Alabama Press 2002.
Tolkien, JRR: On Fairy Stories.
Tolkien, JRR: The Lord of the Rings.
2 The Pleiades.