Women & The Occult – Dion Fortune on Western Esoteric Systems

In honor of  Women’s  History Month, Ankhie offers you an excerpt from Dion Fortune’s The Training and Work of an Initiate. Fortune’s influence on modern occultism cannot be overstated, and as you will see from the chapter below, her insights and interpretations of esoteric tradition are as valid and valued today as they were when they were first committed to print over 80 years ago.

The Western Esoteric Systems

The Western Esoteric Systems spring from three main roots, the Qabalistic, the Egyptian and the Greek, and all medieval and modern derivatives can be traced to one or another of these.


Each of these three great systems was developed in response to the needs of a special phase of human evolution, and each one has brought certain aspects of occult science to a high pitch of perfection while correspondingly and inevitable neglecting others.

The Greek system is characterizes by a pantheon which incarnates natural forces; it is primarily a philosophical system. The Egyptian is characterized by animal-headed gods which represent these forces brought through into human consciousness, and is primarily an initiatory system. The Qabalistic is characterized by having no gods at all, being strictly monotheistic, and it is essentially a magical system wherein the magus takes the place of the god.

In the intercommunications of peoples these systems have mutually influenced each other and had innumerable special developments in different places. The modern stream of Western esotericism not only contains a blend of all of them, but also much that has been derived from Eastern sources through the meditation of the Theosophical Society. Some of the Eastern terms, such as Karma, the Chakras, Manus, etc., have practically replaced the Western terms. No body of knowledge can be kept in a watertight compartment; there must inevitably be an interchange of ideas wherever there is an association of peoples. Analytical Psychology and New Thought have also been laid under contribution, and the result is a kaleidoscopic philosophy which requires much sorting before it reveals any coherent pattern.

In practical occultism it is always necessary to go back to the original root-stocks, because here alone can we strike the trails that lead to the Unseen – the pilgrim ways that have been trodden by innumerable feet. By the meditation and ritual of centuries an organized aura of thought-forms has been built ups around these ancient systems, and it is this prepared mental atmosphere that is of such value to the occultist. I do not say that it is impossible to pass on to the Inner Planes save by one or another of these traditional corridors, but the difficulties of such an undertaking are very great.

An occult school is not built in a day, any more than a great public school is built in a day. Tradition and a highly organized group-mind play a vital part in both. Moreover there are certain planes of manifestation which were worked by the Mystery Schools of previous epochs which are not readily accessible to-day. Evolution has moved on, and we contact the Unseen at a different level. It is very necessary , in any work of practical occultism, that we have access to the full range of the planes, because every operation is composite and has its relations to the planes above and below that upon which it takes place. The occultist finds it essential, therefore, to avail himself of the corridors constructed by his predecessors, to whom the Elemental planes were open. He will therefore always make use of one or another of the ancient systems according to the task he has in hand. Some are best suited for one contact and some for another. It is not advisable to mix the symbols in an operation, because the same forces function differently on different contacts, but it is very necessary for the initiate to have access to the different stages of development and different levels of contact.

There are many methods of consciousness which are entirely modern in their origin and method, and which do not claim to be anything else. These are seen most conspicuously in the many different schools of thought which form the composite New Thought movement. Like all else that deals with the manipulation of the mind, these make use of the principles that have always governed the process of raising consciousness, whether practiced in the Mysteries of Eleusis, the Egyptian temples, the consulting room of the hypnotist, the office of the Christian Science practitioner, or the lodge of initiation of some fraternity.

Where the system employed has no contact with the root traditions, it will be found that the results obtained are purely subjective; it is only when one of the ancient systems is used that contacts are made with the Nature forces, the Elemental and angelic kingdoms, and the earth-soul, because, as has been already noted, these contacts are inaccessible to the operations of the conscious mind… They belong to an earlier epoch.


These archaic levels of manifestation are exceedingly important to the occultist, because it is here that he finds the reservoir of Elemental forces whence he derives his power. As the psycho-analysts have clearly demonstrated, here are the springs of man’s life; here is the fountain-head of genius and all forms of vital energy, mental and spiritual as well as instinctive. The psycho-analyst seeks to tap these reservoirs in order to free his patient from inhibitions. The occultist seeks to tap them in order to increase his psychic power. In one case the abnormal is being made normal; in the other, the normal is being made super-normal.

There is unquestionably an unbroken tradition of initiation in Europe, which has been handed down from adept to neophyte right from the ancient Mysteries. To give demonstrable proof of this fact to outsiders is not easy. Documentary evidence, by the nature of the work, its carefully guarded secrets and the severe persecution to which it has been subjected, being very scanty, and even what little we have is much mutilated and often of doubtful authenticity; but whoever has seen an initiated adept art work cannot doubt that he is in touch with something very potent, and something, moreover, which can be transmitted to another. It is this subjective experience, although it cannot be offered as proof, which forms the most valid evidence of the reality of that which is sought in the Mysteries.

To pick up the contacts of one of these great initiatory systems of the past is like touching an electric battery. They are charged full of psychic force and, like Leyden jars, give out sparks when touched. Any school of occultism which is not connected up with the power-house – however much switches are turned and levers are pulled, nothing happens.

Many folk, because they have never been present when power is actually in manifestation, are content to take the alteration in the position of the switches as being the Great Work, but if they had ever seen the sudden flashing on of the light as the current comes through the wires, they would know what is to be expected of occultism and satisfied with nothing less. The state of the personality, charged full of power and an exceedingly potent form of vitality, is the evidence of the reality of initiation. To what ends this power is turned is a matter which rests entirely in the hands of its possessor, but unless it be rightly handled and kept in the cosmic circuit, it is a thing which will turn to the destruction of the vehicle of its manifestation. Received from the cosmic power-house, it must travel in the appointed circuit, otherwise there is a “short.” If we elect deliberately to put ourselves in the track of these cosmic currents and invoke them to use us as their channels, we must be prepared to become ourselves links in this circuit from spirit to matter and back again. Herein lies the critical point in the work of the adept. Is he in circuit or earthing? This is the distinction between the Right- and Left-hand Paths.

from The Training and Work of an Initiate by Dion Fortune

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