"Aleister Crowley and Dion Fortune - The Logos of the Aeon and the Shakti of the Age"
A comparative biography by Alan Richardson
"In essence, all magic is sex magic." So Christine Hartley, once DF's heir-apparent, informed Alan Richardson. This is just one of his throw-away lines. Here's another: Dr Lilias Hamilton, the formidable woman who caused DF to have a nervous breakdown in her twenties, was the personal physician to the Emir of Afghanistan and wrote an unpublished novel called "The Power That Walks in Darkness". (Really? How do I get hold of it?) Alan Richardson's book is studded with gems like this that halt one in one's tracks. In fact, this is not so much a book as an extraordinary literary work of art. And at the heart of this work of art is a metaphor of sheer brilliance. What is more, the book is written backwards. But let this reviewer begin at the beginning.
Why has no one tackled this before? It is astonishing that the two foremost figures on the occult scene in the past 100 years have not been explored properly in relation to each other. It seems such an obvious exercise to have done. It is as though no one has dared to speak of these two in the same breath. Richardson now has. In explicitly doing so, he has attempted to reconcile the seemingly unreconcilable, for these two characters, Dion Fortune and Aleister Crowley, appear on the surface to have been polar opposites. Richardson has with great elegance and a true literary artistry, woven together these two antithetical characters in a dance, using the symbol of the Serpents on the Caduceus to illustrate where they touch and where they move apart as reflected in their own lives and beliefs. And only latterly in their lives, as though coy participants eyeing each other from afar at a dance upon the cosmic stage, do they eventually, tentatively, pluck up the courage to speak to each other just as the music is ending. Richardson proves that they do find their common ground, having been ineluctably drawn towards each other, inextricably entwined like the ribbons on a Maypole. Perhaps it was necessary that they did not meet until the end: perhaps it was necessary that each forged their own path in their own way and showed thereby that all approaches to God are valid, for Richardson's astonishing conclusion is that they were both ultimately pursuing an identical goal - and that there was, in fact, a secret understanding, even pact, between them.
This is a most curiously written book: it is back to front. Richardson's aim here, despite his protestations as to his own purely secular stance, is to facilitate the reader's capacity for that ancient magical practice of reviewing one's own day in reverse every evening. This is a practice that does indeed stem from authenticated ancient tradition and facilitates the immediate after-death phase, or bardo, in Tibetan terms, where one comes to terms with one's immediate past life and prepares for the next stage of existence. Does it work? As a literary device, the story is so skilfully told that this reviewer barely noticed the reverse flow of time. As a means of initiating the reader into this magical practice? That is up to the individual to discover... the impact may be profound.
Richardson's lightness of touch and humour leavens a subject which can become cloying in its earnestness or too opaque with its vertiginous metaphysics. This allows his deep affection and respect for both characters and the appreciation of his subject to shine through. This engages his readers immediately. Dion Fortune comes across as somewhat fey and touched by grace, whilst Aleister Crowley comes across as the dark soul defying the need for redemption. Again, as Richardson with wonderful insight points out, as though they could be the hero and heroine of one of DF's novels, or Crowley cast in his own role as the Beast of Revelation in search of his Scarlet Woman. Both characters, the light and the dark, flirt together as the Serpents on the Caduceus in Richardson's inspired metaphor and it becomes clear that the theme of sexuality raised to a cosmic degree drives the quest of both before it is sublimated in the search for the True Will, with many a strange byway explored en route.
Do not be fooled by Richardson's apparently relaxed attitude towards his subject matter. This slim volume is densely larded with historical allusions, fascinating connections, vivid character sketches, manifold research references, footnotes, web addresses to follow up and above all his own profound insights into the nature of magic which can give serious pause for thought and open up real space for further exploration. For example, as mentioned above, Hartley's provocative statement, "In essence, all magic is sex magic": anyone drawn to magic or the mysteries, or who has read the accounts of Hartley's and Colonel Seymour's magical workings, such authorities on the subject, will certainly be intrigued by this. Richardson's own experiences with the inner planes also carry authority. His understanding of the `Masters' and his own experience of being overshadowed by DF bring a touch of contemporary psychological common sense to these elusive concepts.
Richardson's facility with his subject enables the reader to relate to both these towering figures and their respective struggles with the culture and mores of their time with sympathy and respect rather than being blinded by an ideological awe. It is true, though, and easy to overlook in our liberal, modern times, that pioneering such work as they did in an age of rational, scientific, orthodoxy was against an enormous headwind. And in much the same way as Jung disguised his essentially mystical and magical interests behind the professionally acceptable mask of the psychoanalyst, so Dion Fortune and Aleister Crowley attempted to reinvent their ancient calling behind acceptable professional labels such as "scientific illuminism" and other euphemistic phrases. Richardson does not let them off so lightly, referring to them as the Logos of the Aeon and the Shakti of the Age. Portentous jargon aside - always slightly tongue in cheek - Richardson is right: these two characters, unacknowledged or not, have played a huge part in opening up and liberalising the restricted mindsets of centuries of prejudice and persecution which culminated in the reductionist orthodoxy of the Victorian middle classes. They, having conquered the physical world and built an empire, looked for new worlds to conquer within and re-discovered magic, the phenomenon of initiation and possibly, the key to the mysteries. This remains wrapped in the central metaphor Richardson uses and although he defines what he means by the Logos of the Aeon and the Shakti of the Age, he is slightly disingenuous with regard to the latter, which he explains as `Time'. A deliberate and classic `blind'? Even cursory research into `Shakti' defines this Hindu Goddess, famously depicted in sexual union with her male counterpart, as a symbol of the source of primordial, cosmic power, the eternal, creative orgasm of the Universe.
Richardson's conspectus of their times and the global events and the characters that populated this epoch recognises their place in it and their heroic endeavours. There is barely space to mention DF's seminal research on the soya bean, Crowley's mountaineering achievements or their work during the two World Wars. What they achieved was both for individuals, society, culture and humanity as a whole. They suffered their personality flaws and struggled to understand their paths as we all do, from time to time confused, full of self-doubt, assailed by the resistance of popular prejudice. Richardson paints them with humour and compassion as `human, all too human' - very reassuring for the rest of us. Yet their single-mindedness, passion and ultimately unshakeable belief in what they were doing, vindicated by the results - to cause wholesale changes in consciousness in accordance with will (to paraphrase their definitions of magic) - invest them with a mythical status, only marginally enhanced by Richardson's poetic fantasy.
Richardson's desideratum, that the OTO and the SIL, the respective legacy organisations of these two immensely important figures, in continuing their work, namely to encourage initiates in their quest for the self-knowledge and ultimate truths, will come together in one overarching organisation. This reviewer suspects, however, Richardson's fancy will probably remain in the realms of the dream that he has woven so beautifully here.