Pomegranates and Crescent Honey-Cakes: Divine Femininity and Everyday Womanhood in the Work of Dion Fortune

Georgia van Raalte


   Dion Fortune (1890-1946) is one of the most influential figures of 20th century British occultism, although her work remains largely unstudied. Born Violet Mary Firth, Fortune founded an offshoot of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn in the 1920s, before an argument with Moina Mathers led her start her own magical group, the Society of the Inner Light, which continues to be active today. Fortune published a huge body of work within her lifetime, including books and articles on a number of magical, psychological and social topics, and a series of occult novels (which Fortune believed were her most important magical works). This paper will explore the construction of the Divine Feminine within Fortune’s work, examining how Fortune believed that the worship and embodiment of such a figure could be incorporated into the everyday lives of the British middle classes.

The heroine of Fortune's most famous novel, The Sea Priestess, is Vivien la Fey, a powerful occult adept and an autobiographical image of Fortune herself. La Fey embodies the divinity and danger of the Divine Feminine; but the novel also includes a number of passages in which La Fey prepares food for her sacrificial priest. In the most memorable of these she cooks him a feast of white foods, including pale sickle-shaped cakes, in order to invoke the power of the moon. Across all of Fortune’s novels the female protagonist is the most powerful character, but she is also responsible for the every-day chores of physicality. In fact it is the unexpected and comical touches of normality associated with this role – a character commenting that the priest must be chilly in his ceremonial robes, or expressing horror that a supplicant might have missed his tea – that are the most striking moments in Fortune’s novels. Fortune uses this bathos to remind her readers that occultism should not be separated from everyday life, but must become a part of it.

   This paper will explore how Fortune understood the role of the woman occultist, and how she created an occultism that could be practiced by a normal woman, before preparing her husband’s supper. It will consider how she addressed the disjunction between a powerful divine femininity and the everyday chores of a normal woman by focusing on the absurdity of these interstices. It will examine how Fortune’s fearless drive to make occultism egalitarian led to a complex theology of practice that has implications far beyond the boundaries of its context.

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