“Magick is the art of causing changes in consciousness in conformity with the Will“ – Dion Fortune
Dion Fortune (1890–1946) was a Christian Qabalist and British occultist who left a decent sized body of work for those interested in the studies of the esoteric. I’ve personally found her Mystical Qabalah to be one of the main books that most solidified my relationship with Qabalah, and I had enjoyed her fiction novel The Winged Bull which led me to purchasing several of her other fiction novels such as The Sea Priestess, The Goat Foot God, The Demon Lover, and The Secrets of Doctor Taverner.
While it took me a while to get around to reading them, I’ve finally finished The Secrets of Doctor Taverner (first published in 1926), and wished I had cracked it open sooner given the relevancy to what I’ve been writing about here, namely the subject of hypnosis and its tie-in to psychology and occultism. The book is about an army medic named Dr. Rhodes, who takes up work with Dr. Taverner, a mysterious man with ties to an occult order and a man who has seen (and maybe secretly resides) beyond the veil.
There is speculation that the Doctor Taverner character was based upon Fortune’s spiritual teacher Dr. Moriarty, and the main character Rhodes to have been based upon Dion herself. Dion’s introduction to the novel reads: “These stories may be looked at from two standpoints (and no doubt the standpoint the reader chooses will be dictated by personal taste and previous knowledge of the subject under discussion). They may be regarded as fiction, designed, like the conversation of the Fat Boy recorded in The Pickwick Papers, ‘to make your flesh creep’, or they may be considered to be what they actually are, studies in little-known aspects of psychology put in the form of fiction because, if published as a serious contribution to science they would have no chance of a hearing.”
There are 12 cases within the book, these were initially published in magazines but the collection is contained in the book as a whole. The stories are: Blood Lust, The Return of the Ritual, The Man Who Sought, The Soul That Would Not Be Born, The Scented Poppies, The Death Hound, A Daughter of Pan, The Subletting Of The Mansion, Recalled, The Sea Lure, The Power House, and A Son Of The Night. Each of these stories is charming and makes for a fascinating read-through if interested in the occult.
“It was Taverner’s custom, at certain times and seasons, to do what I shall call hypnotize himself; he, however, called it ‘going subconscious,’ and declared that, by means of concentration, he shifted the focus of his attention from the external world to the world of thought. Of the different states of consciousness to which he has thus obtained access, and of the work that could be performed in each one, he would talk by the hour, and I soon learnt to recognize the phases he passed through during this extraordinary process.
Night after night I have watched beside the unconscious body of my colleague as it lay twitching on the sofa while thoughts that were not derived from his mind influenced the passive nerves. Many people can communicate with each other by means of thought, but I had never realized the extent to which this power was employed until I heard Taverner use his body as the receiving instrument of such messages.”
It’s the second story ‘The Return of the Ritual’ that first mentions Taverner’s ability to induce himself into a coma-like state to make communication with “the other side”, or to receive divine inspiration. Though he is not the only one to make use of this talent, as other characters throughout the book go into similar such states either by the power of their will or by circumstances outside their control, which they then require the assistance and skills of the Doctor to help them through as they’re plagued by spirits, astral projections, and other-worldly callings.
Dion Fortune (as in a few of her novels) seems to place HP Blavatsky of the Theosophical Society on a pedestal which makes me cringe a little whenever I see a reference to her books as if it’s shoehorned in (having read a bit of Fortune’s work, her admiration of Blavatsky becomes evident as she can’t seem to write about a bookshelf without highlighting that it holds one of Blavatsky’s books for example). Dion looks to have tried joining the Eastern and Western esoteric systems in the stories, adding concepts such as “past life influences” and reincarnation as themes for a few cases, it makes an interesting read and despite The Secrets of Doctor Taverner being her first novel, the writing is eloquent and the book was a pleasure to make my way through (except for the story ‘Recalled’, which is rather distasteful, but looking past this, the rest of the material is great).
The Golden Dawn appear to host a PDF of the novel should you wish to give it a read. (Click here to access the .PDF)
The book has been republished in 2011 by Weiser, and it can be picked up from their website.