|Dr Taverner as seen in the Royal Magazine 1922|
The founder of her own esoteric school, which came to be known as the Society of the Inner Light, Dion Fortune (1890-1946) modeled the hero of the stories collected in The Secrets of Dr Taverner on one of her own early mentors, an extraordinary Anglo-Irish magus named Theodore Moriarty. Some of the stories were first published in the Royal Magazine in 1922, a year before Moriarty's death. Remarkably, the illustrator made the fictional Dr Taverner look very much like Moriarty, though the artist had never seen a picture of Moriarty or even heard a description.
Jelkes, the bookseller in Dion Fortune's novel The Goat-Foot God, says that "writers will put things into a novel that they daren't put in sober prose." Dion herself said that while books of hers like The Mystical Qabalah give the theory of high magic and spiritual reality, "the novels give the practice."
There are five of those novels, and some of them have left a profound mark on esoteric and neo-pagan practice. The Sea Priestess contains a ritual for Drawing Down the Moon that has been much-borrowed in ceremonial work, not always with attribution. But of all her fiction, it is the stories of Dr Taverner to which I return again and again. I have asked some of my advanced classes to read several of these stories as the basis for focused discussion and investigation of such phenomena as the nature of the energy bodies, past-life connections, psychic defense and astral repercussion.
Fortune is rather direct about what she is doing in The Secrets of Dr Taverner. She describes her tales as "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." She wants it understood that her stories are based on fact. Her characters are mostly composites, but they are based on actual people and situations. She states that the first of the stories she completed, the tale of a hungry ghost attached to a living person that she titled "Blood-Lust", is "literally true". Noting that she was one of the first British students of psychoanalysis, she expressed the hope that the Taverner stories would be received as "a serious study in the psychology of ultra-consciousness."
In my opinion, she succeeded beyond her ambition. The Taverner stories are both gripping and entertaining, and a valuable source of practical guidance on psychic protection and spiritual cleansing and many other facets of psychic well-being that are missed in our standard approach to healthcare and therapy. In its fictional wrapping, The Secrets of Dr Taverner is a practitioner's casebook, of the greatest value to subsequent practitioners. It is perhaps the most accessible of all Dion Fortune's works for the contemporary reader.
Her narrator is a medical doctor named Rhodes, a supposed ingénu in regard to psychic phenomena and esoteric techniques. This makes it easy for Fortune to draw the veil over certain procedures. But enough shows through to make the story collection a kind of manual, especially when read together with Fortune's well-known later (nonfiction) work Psychic Self-Defence.
In further articles, I'll discuss individual stories and the lessons to be drawn from them.