Reflections on “Applied Magic and the Occult Path,” Dion Fortune

appliedmagicI found this among my Dad’s book collection while staying over Christmas. It really isn’t the sort of thing he’d usually read – I imagine he got it because of his interest in Grail legends, which Dion Fortune has also written about. Having heard her name in other works on witchcraft cited as one of the most influential people in shaping modern witchcraft, I thought I’d give this book a go.

The edition I read (Aquarius 1984) opens with a publisher’s disclaimer, saying that the original was written “a very long time ago” (1940s?) and that many ideas in the book are no longer held today. You know when something like that’s included in the introduction, something’s up.

Another warning sign is the Rule of Capital Letters. In that, the number of Terms Made Up By The Author, and therefore Capitalised To Denote Proper Nouns is inversely proportional to quality of the content. The opening sentence of Applied Magic and the Occult Path has five such Proper Nouns. The rest of the book follows suit.

I really don’t like doing wholly negative reviews, especially when reflecting on works written by highly respected authors, but I have to be quite damning with this one. I thought Applied Magic and the Occult Path was one of the least useful books I’ve read to date on occultism. It’s deliberately vague yet relentlessly dogmatic, talking in earnest about its own mythos of angels, Jungian archetypes, and various Ways of Something and Paths of Something else without actually saying anything. This is far less a book of instruction (which one would expect it to be from its title) than it is a book of disjointed streams of thoughts and ideas. Perhaps those following an ecstatic, shamanistic path are more in tune to this style of writing, but I have to say it did nothing for me.

What’s worst about this book is that one aspect is downright harmful, and that is its racist overtones. It’s rather old-fashioned and patronising views of “the Eastern verses Western mind” or the sweeping Jewish stereotypes could possibly be written off as a sign of the time in which it was written, but its ideas of “Racial Angels,” in which the “Aryan” angels are considered the top of the hierarchy over the top of “less civilised” societies, are unacceptable in my opinion. I found it all very abhorrent, and it’s at that point I think I stopped reading in-depth and skimmed the rest.

I feel sad to say this, but I got nothing of value our of this book. In my opinion, it’s a work best avoided, especially when there are so many other great works on magic and witchcraft out there.

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4 Comments

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4 responses to “Reflections on “Applied Magic and the Occult Path,” Dion Fortune

  1. I understand where you are coming from in many ways. Dion Fortune is part of my lineage tree, as are many of the early occultists. As far the writing style goes with the multiple proper nouns, I think this was a style of ALL occultists prior to 1950. Nearly all of the written works of my tradition from people in that era are written this way, and honestly the English isn’t very good. However, the primary author was also raised Romany gypsy and had limited formal education, and for people who are not taught how to write, the overuse of capitalization is symptomatic of a desire to convey in writing what they can only do in speech–inflection.

    Most of what the occultists wrote for publication was purposefully vague. They weren’t in the business of disseminating their secrets, especially since what they were doing was still largely illegal, but they yearned, as too many occultists do, for notoriety. Now the Golden Dawn is the best known secret brotherhood of magicians ever conceived. I first heard of it in my high school English class, lol.

    With the egotism came the bigotry. Make no mistake that our forebears were socially enlightened. Gardner himself wrote that homosexuality was the Curse of the Goddess, and stated that older, less attractive high priestesses should step down and make way for beautiful young women to take their place (though it was seen as a slap to the face to Valiente who was in her mid-30’s and was starting to question Gardner as an authority on Witchcraft). It was the Civil Rights movement in America in the 60’s and early 70’s, arising around the same time Wicca came to this country, that impregnated the philosophy with concepts of equal rights, acceptance of all sexual orientations, and egalitarian covens. This is part of what’s beautiful about Wicca though–because it is a living and breathing religion, we CAN change the unenlightened bigotry of our forebears into something more beautiful, and it neither cheapens our history nor nullifies our future.

    Texts from that time are best read an an exercise in history, read out of a desire to understand a little more where we came from so that we don’t repeat the worst parts of our past. I would never advise a neophyte to read such a text, however–these are best read by adepts and elders, as they are neither instructional nor foundational texts for a current modern practice.

    • I’d probably forgive pre-1950 works on the subject for being poorly written and terribly racist…if it weren’t for the fact that there are books written pre-1950s on the subject that are in fact pretty decent! Although it is a little dated, my favourite book on Paganism and witchcraft is still Frazer’s Golden Bough, which was published in 1890. If I hadn’t read that book, I honestly don’t think I’d be a Pagan now.

      • What’s so funny about that is that it’s just those very works that the prominent occultists of the early 20th century were working with! It’s like a pattern of awesomeness-bigotry-awesomeness..and today the bigotry seems to be in Wiccan circles that ONLY accept lineages tracing to Gardner as valid, everyone else is a sham.

  2. Pingback: Reflections on “Shinto: A Celebration of Life,” Aidan Rankin | Trellia's Mirror Book

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