Magic (not sleight of hand) is a nice subject for fantasy novels. Is it anything more than fantasy? Humans have believed in it for a very long time, and it might be argued that magic was the beginning of science: a way to look at the world and make use of its energies.
Magic and religion are closely related. One of my high school teachers said that magic was a way to compel spiritual powers to do what you wanted, rather than just asking. This was certainly true of the pagan religions of the Middle East, Greece, and Rome, all of which had started out as fertility religions. Ancient people were very concerned with fertility so their crops would grow and and they would have plenty of children.
Dion Fortune was a member of a magic organization, The Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, which was founded in England in the second half of the 19th century, and included a couple of well-known writers, Algernon Blackwood and W.B. Yeats. Fortune’s membership was later, but she was a pretty good writer herself. She wrote several novels about various situations in which the characters practice magic. Should we take her depiction of it literally? Anyone interested will have to decide for themselves, but I think that may just have been what she intended.
Fertility religion is magic on a fairly crude, though organized level. It includes sacrifice, often of humans to begin with, subsequently of animals, to please the gods, who were seen as being capricious and not caring about humans. Pleasing them was a survival technique. Natural disasters were nothing to laugh about.
Fertility religions also included sex, which was closely associated with crops growing well. In Greece (as well as other places) the Sacred King impregnated the Goddess (impersonated by her priestess) to ensure the land’s fertility. Sometimes all adults in the community joined in too.
The magic portrayed in Fortune’s novels is on a more sophisticated level. They too speak of sexuality, but more as one of the fundamental principles of life. In Moon Magic the narrator claims to be much older than she appears, and to have been the veteran of many lives. She is a priestess of Isis, and sees her mission as to bring new and positive things to human life, and she does so through ceremonial magic performed with a man who, though an outstanding doctor, has had a stunted emotional life. Their activities are healing for him, and leave him ready to seek a deeper marriage than he’d had with his dead wife.
Another novel has a character with great vitality and magical ability, but little conscience, who hires a “secretary” whom he actually uses as a medium so he can observe magical techniques which others in the magical organization refuse to teach him. Fortune characterizes this as black magic, as he’s using his abilities strictly for his own benefit.
But he begins to care for the girl he’s been using, and it seems that they have had many previous lives in which they’ve formed a bond. He has always been inclined to black magic. She has never. He has intellect but not heart. She has heart but little intellect. Each needs the other for balance.
Balance is always tricky. The ancient Greeks said, Nothing too much, as well as, Know thyself. Neither is easy.
Part of balance, I think, is to be aware there is a limit to what any of us know. This point seems obscure to ideologues. Materialists seem to believe there is nothing but what our sense perceive, which means no God and no magic. A wider and deeper perspective suggests there may be materials we’re not aware of, and forces too.
One tenet of organized Christianity (other religions too, but Christianity is the one I’m familiar with) is that there’s a correct way to believe. But there are many flavors of Christianity, often with conflicting beliefs. Bart D. Ehrman, a scholar who writes about Christianity and the Bible, points out that we now know there were many flavors of Christianity in ancient times too, with even more wildly different beliefs. So what the Fundamentalists are actually saying is that you and I are supposed to believe what they tell us to believe, and that they will impose their beliefs on the rest of us if they can.
For many of us this is an unsatisfactory sort of religion. One aspect of paganism in the Greek and Roman part of the ancient world was that it was tolerant, for the most part. Some didn’t like Jews. Greeks slaughtered Jewish citizens of Alexandria at one point, but usually accommodation was made. Since the early Christians, like the Jews, refused to worship the Greek or Roman gods, they were considered atheists, and sometimes persecuted. Not nearly as much as the pagans were later persecuted by Christians, though, once Christianity became the official religion of Rome.
Pagan religions in the region around the Mediterranean sea were pretty similar, which was noted by the Greeks and Romans, who saw correspondences between the gods and goddesses of various areas conquered. That made it easy for the conquered people to worship Greek and Roman gods because they were really the same as the locals, just with different names. Jews and Christians were stiff-necked about that, earning them the reputation of being unpatriotic.
But, as with any religion, popular beliefs were not the same as for those who really understood the religion. A religion with any validity must reflect the structure of reality, and the Greek and Roman pantheons embodied male and female, a very fundamental basis of this world.
Fortune’s fiction is based on the interaction between male and female, and she has different situations in the novels. As noted above, one has the male as intellectually dominant, but needing the emotions of the female to balance him and to keep him from being entirely self-serving.
Another novel features an ex-soldier down on his luck who is called on to help a young woman being preyed on by a black magician. The woman is more sophisticated than the man, but less stable. The two again balance each other.
Two other novels concern a woman who considers herself a priestess of Isis, having long ago been such a priestess in Egypt. Moon Magic, mentioned above, has her on a mission to bring more balance into human life in general, in terms of marriage and sexuality. For this, she needs a man to cooperate with her, and finds one in the doctor. They don’t actually have sex themselves; what they’re trying to accomplish is more subtle and difficult to understand than that, more to do with the difference but equality between the two genders, and the actual roles each can play, which are only superficially stereotypical. The Sea Priestess is very similar in aim and structure, the main difference being that it’s told from the male point of view, while Moon Magic has a female narrator.
Such books won’t be interesting to everyone. You would have to be open to the idea of real magic existing, and that the Christian view of things, while not untrue, doesn’t contain all truth. One can believe in a variety of spiritual powers as various manifestations of one god, rather than limiting God and considering any other spiritual power as being demonic. Fortune calls Isis Veiled the manifestation of nature. Isis Unveiled is thus the spiritual version of nature. Isis needs Osiris, just as he needs her. Reality depends on the cooperation of the two basic forces, rather than one trying to take power over the other.
But power is so important to us that men try to take women captive, and are intimidated by strong ones. Women also try to captivate men, so they will be physically protected. When there is nothing more to relationship than this, the two sexes live in poverty. Sexuality is a tremendously powerful force, and it’s hard to understand to what extent and in what way it is involved in love. Because it is so powerful we fear and try to control it. Discipline is certainly needed to protect men, women, and especially children, but suppression and over-indulgence are two sides of a very nasty coin. Sex must not be overemphasized, but at the same time given room to be free in.
Balance is Dion Fortune’s primary message, as is true of all wisdom.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s