Dion Fortune and the Soul
A talk presented to the Dion Fortune Seminar, Glastonbury, September 2019, by Wendy Berg
I’m going to speak today about Dion Fortune and the Soul. This is perhaps one of the more esoteric topics we have discussed in these Seminars, but I think it’s time we had a look at it, because the Soul - what it is, what it does, why we have one (if we have one!) and our relationship with it - is an important element in Dion Fortune’s work.
The Soul is variously referred to by a number of names such as the Holy Guardian Angel, the Solar Angel and the Evolutionary Personality, but I prefer the more commonly used alternative ‘Higher Self.' The advantage of this term is that it distinguishes it from our Lower Self or Personality. Our Lower Self is a combination of our physical and etheric bodies, our feelings or emotional body, and that part of our mind generally called our lower mind or concrete mind which is responsible for acquiring and retaining information, making judgements and decisions and generally getting us in organised fashion through the day. Our Higher Self or Soul is therefore not any of these, but something else.
If you think now about your Soul, where would you locate it? Take a moment to locate where your Soul might have its correspondence in your body or subtle bodies…..
If you try to visualise your Soul, what does it look like? Does it have an appearance? And more important, where is your sense of who you are, your real identity, your true Self, located? When you think of yourself, of your sense of ‘I’, do you mean your everyday character and personality, or something else? And if we have a Lower Self and a Higher Self or Soul, does this mean there two of us? How do we bring them together?
Scientific opinion is that there is no such thing as the Soul because its existence can’t be proved or tested. And who knows but that may be true! But I think most folk here today would acknowledge that there is at least some truth in the concept of the Soul.
A good place to start in our quest for the Soul is to look at how we use the word, and in fact the word ‘Soul’ is a familiar part of our language - we use the word almost without thinking about it. I believe the way we use it reveals that we do know what the Soul is, even if we don’t always know that we know. For example, we use the term ‘Soul Mates’ when we are aware of a relationship between two people that seems to have a special or deeper meaning to it, something more than physical attraction or good companionship and which suggests the presence of a higher purpose being worked out, perhaps an important task to be achieved together or maybe even the resumption of a partnership that began in a previous lifetime.
And we say, particularly of children, ‘they are an old Soul,’ meaning that they appear to possess a wisdom which is over and above what we would expect for their years. Old Souls seem to know more than they could have learnt in this lifetime. And when someone is really involved in a task or project we say ‘they are putting their heart and Soul into it.’ That’s an interesting phrase - heart and Soul - because it recognises that the heart and the Soul work naturally together and that they are both called into action when we want to achieve something that holds especial meaning for us.
So it seems from our language that we often refer to the Soul almost without thinking about it, and that we quite naturally acknowledge it as a source of wisdom, as loving, linked with our present purpose and destiny but also immortal, and somehow linked to our heart while also being more than the heart.
Dion Fortune frequently uses the word Soul, often quite loosely in the phrase ‘a questing soul,’ meaning someone who is following a particular spiritual or magical path that leads them from the everyday world into the spiritual worlds. It suggests that our search for wisdom and for a greater understanding of our Self and the Inner worlds is inspired and encouraged by our Soul or Higher Self.
Here is a quotation from Dion Fortune’s The Mystical Qabalah which describes in more detail her understanding of the Soul. “It is this which endures and builds up throughout an evolution; (by this she means an entire cosmic Age, from the dawn of time to the end of time as we know it) “it is from this that the successive personalities, the units of incarnation, are emanated; it is into this that the active essence of experience is absorbed at the end of each incarnation when the incarnating unit dissolves into dust and ether.” (The Mystical Qabalah: Chapter XX: 29)
So, in other words, the Soul or Higher Self is the essence of all that we have learnt and experienced in each incarnation, over billions of years, from our first experiences as a blip in the primeval slime onwards. (Not all theories regarding the stages of evolution of the Soul agree with this.) It is also a significant factor in bringing about the characteristics or tendencies of our present personality. Therefore, the better contact we can make with our Soul, the better we will be able to do what we need to do, and learn what we need to learn in the greater scheme of things, because our Soul or Higher Self knows better than our Lower Self what those things are. This philosophy of course falls into line with many other interpretations of the soul, mostly deriving from Eastern religions and philosophies.
Dion Fortune makes a number other interesting comments on the nature of the Soul. Here’s one regarding the question of past lives and as to whether we should believe anyone who claims they were once a High Priest of Atlantis or the Queen of Sheba. “This lower self is not immortal. No one who is adequately instructed in esoteric philosophy believes in the reincarnation of any historic personality from the past. It is the Higher Self alone which is immortal and which survives bodily death …”. (Aspects of Occultism, Chapter III) And another interesting comment - which is obvious when you think about it - “….how many people realise that their own souls are literally bi-sexual within themselves….”. (The Mystical Qabalah, Chapter XV11: 37)
That was something of the theory, and now let us have a look at how Dion Fortune taught, through her magical training and magical ritual, the ways in which we can gain knowledge of and contact with our Soul. In The Training and Work of an Initiate (Chapter III) she makes an explicit link between the very purpose of magical training and our contact with our Higher Self. She writes: “The word Initiate…means one in whom the Higher Self….has coalesced with the personality and actually entered into incarnation in the physical body.” In other words, in a magical Initiate the Higher Self has become entirely integrated with the Lower Self. When this integration has occurred, we no longer experience any separation between our sense of ‘I’ as our everyday personality and ‘I’ as our Soul because the two are now restored as one. The light of the Soul has irradiated the personality so that the Initiate, in effect, is the Soul even while in physical incarnation.
This is quite challenging, because Dion Fortune is stating that this complete integration of the Higher and Lower Self applies, or should apply, to all of us who think of ourselves as Initiates or who claim that we have received initiation into the Mysteries. I’m not sure that many people can really make this claim apart from Jesus (for whom the integration seems to have occurred during the episode described in the Bible as the Transfiguration) and one or two others of equal spiritual stature such as the Buddha. A more realistic approach is to realise that this process of integration between the Higher and Lower Self is gradual, and that we can bring down a great deal of Soul Light into our personality even though we may not yet be a fully enlightened or Transfigured being.
Let us bring to mind some of the qualities of the Soul. A description I particularly like comes from the texts of Raja Yoga, where the Soul is described as having seven qualities: peace, joy, love, bliss, purity, power and wisdom. That’s what the Soul is. Our Soul, all Souls, exist entirely in this state; the Soul is all these qualities; this is its natural state of being. This is our essential Self. So the Soul’s work is to demonstrate and make available these qualities to us during incarnation, and its purpose is to achieve what is wholly good, wholly healthy, wholly loving and wholly beneficial for us. It guides us towards discovering why we don’t experience all these qualities all the time, and what we are doing that might be preventing it. It’s these qualities of being that the Soul is concerned with, not with providing specific advice as to what we should be doing or not doing at any point in our lives.
So, what magical techniques did Dion Fortune suggest would help us to make better contact with our Soul? Our main tool is regular meditation. This is essential, because it helps us to recognise and move away from the demands of our Lower Self. She also focusses on study of the Qabalah and the Tree of Life. She calls the Tree of Life “A glyph of the soul of man and the universe.” The Tree represents both of these: our Soul, and the universe, at one and the same time. She writes: “The aspirant who uses the Tree as his meditation symbol establishes point by point the union between his soul and the world-soul.” (The Mystical Qabalah Chapter III: 16)
What DF is saying is that if we use the Tree of Life to learn about the created universe which appears to be ‘out there’ we are also, at the same time, learning about our own, whole Self, which is ‘in here.’ This isn’t achieved by learning rules and symbols and correspondences or comparing esoteric systems but by raising our level of consciousness from one sphere on the Tree to the next, so that rather than, for example, standing in the lowest sphere of Malkuth and learning about the symbols associated with the sphere of Tiphareth, we raise our level of consciousness so that it is functioning objectively at the level of Tiphareth; we have become Tiphareth. When we can do this, we realise that the created universe which appears to be ‘out there’ and our own Soul ‘in here’ in effect are one and the same. And this, of course, is what Dion Fortune is referring to when she describes what happens, or should happen, in magical Initiates.
She describes how we will know when we have ‘become Tiphareth’ or ‘become’ our Higher Self: “The prime characteristic of this higher mode of being is that it consists neither in voices nor visions, but is pure consciousness; it is an intensification of awareness, and from this quickening of the mind comes a peculiar power of insight and penetration which is of the nature of hyper-developed intuition. The higher consciousness is never psychic, but always intuitive, containing no sensory imagery. It is this absence of sensory imagery which tells the experienced initiate that he is on the level of the higher consciousness. (The Mystical Qabalah, Chapter XX: 33)
However, if the Qabalah and the Tree of Life aren’t your cup of tea, there are many other ways of reaching the qualities of your Soul and bringing them through into your personality. For example, as Dion Fortune suggests in the phrase I mentioned earlier, we can become the ‘questing soul.’ If we set out on our quest for mystery, for awe and wonder, for radiance, for holiness in unexpected places, we will find the Soul. In the Western Mystery tradition we have a perfect example of this in the stories of the Quest of the Holy Grail. You can quite easily see how this works if instead of the word ‘Grail’ you simply substitute the word ‘Soul.’ The Quest for the Soul.
By way of example I’m going to quote a passage from the poetry of Alfred Lord Tennyson who is not at all fashionable nowadays but who wrote some beautiful descriptions of the Grail. This excerpt is taken from his long poem The Idylls of the King and describes how one of the knights of the Round Table experienced contact with the Grail - aka the Soul - while he was in what we might call a raised state of consciousness or meditation. Instead of ‘Grail’, substitute the word ‘Soul.’
I have seen the Holy Grail:
For, waked at dead of night, I heard a sound
As of a silver horn from o'er the hills
Blown, and I thought, "It is not Arthur's use
To hunt by moonlight;" and the slender sound
As from a distance beyond distance grew
Coming upon me – O never harp nor horn,
Nor aught we blow with breath, or touch with hand,
Was like that music as it came; and then
Streamed through my cell a cold and silver beam,
And down the long beam stole the Holy Grail,
Rose-red with beatings in it, as if alive,
Till all the white walls of my cell were dyed
With rosy colours leaping on the wall;
And then the music faded, and the Grail
Past, and the beam decayed, and from the walls
The rosy quiverings died into the night.
I don’t mean to suggest that this is the only way to interpret the Grail legends or that this is the only symbolic meaning of the Grail, but it certainly does work, and in a very inspiring and practical sort of way. It also, as it happens, sidesteps the pitfall of regarding the Grail as something inherently ‘holy,’ which is a kind of superstition.
Here’s another description of the Grail, and again it’s one which I think serves well as a description of the Soul as it might appear to our imagination. It’s taken from The Secret Glory, a book written in 1922 by Arthur Machen who was a friend of A.E. Waite and a member of the Golden Dawn. He writes of the Grail: “All the hues of the world were mingled on it, all the jewels of the regions seemed to shine from it…. strange and magical colours that shone and dimmed with alternating radiance, that glowed with red fires and pale glories, with the blue of the far sky, the green of the faery seas, and the argent gleam of the evening star.” For me, that really works as an image of the Soul!
Finally, here is a short extract from Dion Fortune’s most developed account of the Soul and of how we can contact it. It is taken from the letters of instruction in group meditation that she wrote and distributed during the war, now published by Skylight Press: The Magical Battle of Britain: The War Letters of Dion Fortune (pages 90 - 91) These letters contain some of her most explicit magical instruction. She also mentions the concept of the Divine Spark, the unique spark of Life within us which is beyond and above the light of the Soul.
“First, then, realise that your being is divided into two parts - the Higher Self and the Lower Self; the Higher Self building around the nucleus of the Divine Spark evolving throughout evolution….. When, upon the Path, you are striving after that state which shall enable you to give expression to your Higher Self through your Personality, by means of a certain technique you can aid the process. Firstly, realise this, that while in incarnation your consciousness is focused in the Personality by means of sensation and emotion. Consequently, if you desire to alter the focus of consciousness, you must acquire control of sensation and emotion, and learn at will to reduce them to a minimum……
To achieve control of these you imagine yourself to be your Individuality. You raise consciousness to that level by meditating upon the evolution of your Divine Spark which is the nucleus of your being. You realise it as emerging from the dark light of the unmanifest into manifestation, where it is a light in darkness. You conceive of your experiences as that Spark through the earlier phases of evolution, circling with the Rings and the Rays in limitless space. You imagine the formulation of Form and the great Tides moving in the Cosmos.
You picture to yourself the dim soul asleep in unconsciousness, overshadowing its shadowy vehicle…. And so you conceive of the rise of consciousness from the primordial slime, up through the bestiality of the primaeval human into the slow dawn of culture: the rise of the ancient civilisations - the great Pagan cults close to nature, that train your soul with human sacrifice and orgy: the steady progression of humanity from culture to culture: the refining away of the brute; the manifesting of the human; the overshadowing of the angelic. So does man rise; coming from God, and returning to God as a god.”
Wendy Berg, September 2019