Dion Fortune was born Violet Mary Firth in Llandudno, North Wales on 6th December 1890, the daughter of parents with an active interest in the Christian Science and Garden City movements and the running of hydro-therapeutic establishments. Her interest in occultism was sparked in 1916 when, as a psychotherapist, she came across the startling work of Dr. Theodore Moriarty, who became her first esoteric teacher and inspired her series of short stories The Secrets of Dr Taverner.
Once having embarked upon the occult path she cast her net wide and became a member both of the Theosophical Society and of the Alpha et Omega Temple of the former Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, but becoming discontented with the performance of existing organisations she set about founding her own esoteric group. This was based in an old officer’s mess hut erected at the foot of Glastonbury Tor, that they named Chalice Orchard, and which was the first headquarters of the Community (later Fraternity and then Society) of the Inner Light. Soon afterwards they also acquired a house in the Bayswater district of London which was big enough to accommodate some members in as well as to contain office facilities and a magical lodge.
The Fraternity soon became an initiatory school of high calibre. Members attracted during the 1930s included such later well known figures as W.E.Butler, Colonel C.R.F. Seymour and Christine Hartley, whilst even the 14 year old W.G. Gray knocked upon its doors, but was turned away on account of his youth. Working in trance mediumship Dion Fortune made contacts with certain inner plane adepts, or Masters, whose influence on the Western Esoteric Tradition is still vital to this day.
During this period Dion Fortune wrote several esoteric novels to illustrate the possible practical application of the content of her textbooks and articles in her house journal, the Inner Light Magazine. She pioneered the popular exposition of the Qabalah as a key to the Western Mystery Tradition with her book The Mystical Qabalah, which is still one of the best texts available on the subject. Her other important work, The Cosmic Doctrine, which was mediumistically received early on in her career was at first reserved for senior initiates; its text is abstract and difficult to follow and is intended for meditation rather than as a straight textbook.
During the 2nd World War she organised her own contribution to the war effort on a magical level, with an extended meditation group, and continued to operate in the midst of the Blitz despite a bomb bringing down the roof of her headquarters in 1940. This period was well covered by a series of weekly and then monthly letters to students, later published as Dion Fortune’s Magical Battle of Britain. Any book publishing, and even issue of her magazine, was curtailed by wartime shortage of paper, so that much of what she wrote at this time had to wait until comparatively recently for book publication.
In early January 1946 Dion Fortune returned from Glastonbury feeling tired and unwell, was admitted to Middlesex Hospital in London and died a few days later from leukaemia, at the comparatively young age of 55. She is buried in the municipal cemetery at Glastonbury, with the remains of her close friend and colleague Charles Thomas Loveday close by. Her last novel, Moon Magic, unfinished at her death, was allegedly channelled by her through one of the society’s mediums.
The Society of the Inner Light (the name was changed for legal reasons) continued to operate in much the same way for some years after Dion Fortune’s death, largely under the inspiration of the remarkable mediumship of Margaret Lumley Brown. During this time a new generation of well known writers and teachers such as Gareth Knight, Charles Fielding, Dolores Ashcroft Nowicki, Kathleen Raine and Peter Valentine Timlett passed through its doors. It continues today as an initiatory school with much the same principles as those upon which it was originally founded.