Crom Your Enthusiasm (7)

By: Adrienne Crew
August 9, 2015

sea priestess

One of 25 installments in a series of posts analyzing and celebrating a few of our favorite fantasy novels from the Thirties (1934–43). Enjoy!

THE SEA PRIESTESS | DION FORTUNE | 1938

Having apprenticed with The Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn and the Theosophical Society, in 1930 the Welsh mystic Violet Mary Firth took the pen name Dion Fortune and began publishing original ideas about metaphysics, mystical cosmology, paganism, psychology, and psychoanalysis. Her treatises, including Glastonbury: Avalon of the Heart and The Mystical Qabalah, are now classics in the canon of Western Mystery Tradition. But Fortune was best known, in her lifetime, for such novels as The Winged Bull and The Goat-Foot God — which revealed Hermetic secrets and occult rituals in plain, vivid language.

Fortune’s best novel, The Sea Priestess, was privately published in 1938. Wilfred, our narrator, is persuaded by a mysterious, glamorous woman, Vivian Le Fay Morgan, to help her restore a cottage on the coast of Somerset. Soon, Wilfred is joining Vivian in magical ceremonies, awakening his memories of a past life in ancient Britain as the sacrificial victim of an immortal Sea Priestess, the sole survivor of the lost continent of Atlantis. Tantric rites dedicated to Isis, Goddess of the Moon, transform Wilfred from an asthmatic mama’s boy into a man who defies his family — in order to marry a woman from a humbler background.

The Sea Priestess animates Fortune’s theory that the unity of male and female energies through sex is a vital form of magical expression. Don’t get too excited, though. The raciest passage in the novel goes: “And in those hours while the tide rose there were delivered to me things whereof but few have dreamed and fewer still have known, and I learnt why Troy was burnt for a woman. For this woman was not one woman, but all women; and I who mated with her, was not one man, but all men; but these things were part of the lore of the priesthood, and it is not lawful to speak of them.” Although Fortune wasn’t sexually frank, she was explicit in describing the practice of real magic — which scandalized readers, and her mystical peers.

In all of her writings, Fortune inserted the divine feminine into the depiction of magic — and, in doing so, influenced the rituals of ceremonial magic and neo-paganism as we know them today. Her ideas about spiritual feminism revived Goddess worship and led to the popularity of Wicca and other earth-based religions. So the next time a sexy witch-priestess pops up in a fantasy paperback you’re reading, thank Dion Fortune.

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CROM YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2015): Erik Davis on Jack Williamson’s DARKER THAN YOU THINK | Sara Ryan on T.H. White’s THE SWORD IN THE STONE | Mark Kingwell on C.S. Lewis’s OUT OF THE SILENT PLANET | David Smay on Fritz Leiber’s THIEVES’ HOUSE | Natalie Zutter on Robert E. Howard’s QUEEN OF THE BLACK COAST | James Parker on J.R.R. Tolkien’s THE HOBBIT | Adrienne Crew on Dion Fortune’s THE SEA PRIESTESS | Gabriel Boyer on Clark Ashton Smith’s ZOTHIQUE stories | John Hilgart on H.P. Lovecraft’s THE CASE OF CHARLES DEXTER WARD | Barbara Bogaev on William Sloane’s TO WALK THE NIGHT | Rob Wringham on Flann O’Brien’s THE THIRD POLICEMAN | Dan Fox on Hergé’s THE SEVEN CRYSTAL BALLS | Flourish Klink on C.S. Lewis’s PERELANDRA | Tor Aarestad on L. Sprague de Camp and Fletcher Pratt’s THE ROARING TRUMPET | Anthony Miller on H.P. Lovecraft’s THE SHADOW OVER INNSMOUTH | Suzanne Fischer on E.R. Eddison’s MISTRESS OF MISTRESSES | Molly Sauter on Herbert Read’s THE GREEN CHILD | Diana Leto on Edgar Rice Burroughs’s TARZAN AND THE LION MAN | Joshua Glenn on Robert E. Howard’s THE HOUR OF THE DRAGON | Andrew Hultkrans on H.P. Lovecraft’s AT THE MOUNTAINS OF MADNESS | Lynn Peril on Fritz Leiber’s CONJURE WIFE | Gordon Dahlquist on H.P. Lovecraft’s THE SHADOW OUT OF TIME | Adam McGovern on C.L. Moore’s JIREL OF JOIRY stories | Tom Nealon on Fritz Leiber’s TWO SOUGHT ADVENTURE | John Holbo on Robert E. Howard’s CONAN MYTHOS.

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KERN YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2014): ALDINE ITALIC | DATA 70 | TORONTO SUBWAY | JOHNSTON’S “HAMLET” | TODD KLONE | GILL SANS | AKZIDENZ-GROTESK | CALIFORNIA BRAILLE | SHE’S NOT THERE | FAUX DEVANAGARI | FUTURA | JENSON’S ROMAN | SAVANNAH SIGN | TRADE GOTHIC BOLD CONDENSED NO. 20 | KUMON WORKSHEET | ELECTRONIC DISPLAY | DIPLOMA REGULAR | SCREAM QUEEN | CHICAGO | CHINESE SHIPPING BOX | SHATTER | COMIC SANS | WILKINS’S REAL CHARACTER | HERMÈS vs. HOTDOG | GOTHAM.

HERC YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2013): “Spoonin’ Rap” | “Rapper’s Delight” | “Rappin’ Blow” | “The Incredible Fulk” | “The Adventures of Super Rhyme” | “That’s the Joint” | “Freedom” | “Rapture” | “The New Rap Language” | “Jazzy Sensation (Bronx Version)” | “Can I Get a Soul Clap” | “The Adventures of Grandmaster Flash on the Wheels of Steel” | “Making Cash Money” | “The Message” | “Pak Jam” | “Buffalo Gals” | “Ya Mama” | “No Sell Out” | “Death Mix Live, Pt. 2” | “White Lines (Don’t Do It)” | “Here We Go (Live at the Funhouse)” | “Rockit” | “The Coldest Rap” | “The Dream Team is in the House” | The Lockers.

KIRK YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2012): Justice or vengeance? | Kirk teaches his drill thrall to kiss | “KHAAAAAN!” | “No kill I” | Kirk browbeats NOMAD | Kirk’s eulogy for Spock| The joke is on Kirk | Kirk vs. Decker | Good Kirk vs. Evil Kirk | Captain Camelot | Koon-ut-kal-if-fee | Federation exceptionalism | Wizard fight | A million things you can’t have | Debating in a vacuum | Klingon diplomacy | “We… the PEOPLE” | Brinksmanship on the brink | Captain Smirk | Sisko meets Kirk | Noninterference policy | Kirk’s countdown | Kirk’s ghost | Watching Kirk vs. Gorn | How Spock wins

KIRB YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2011): THE ETERNALS | BLACK MAGIC | DEMON | OMAC | CAPTAIN AMERICA | KAMANDI | MACHINE MAN | SANDMAN | THE X-MEN | THE FANTASTIC FOUR | TALES TO ASTONISH | YOUNG LOVE | STRANGE TALES | MISTER MIRACLE | BLACK PANTHER | THOR | JIMMY OLSEN | DEVIL DINOSAUR | THE AVENGERS | TALES OF SUSPENSE | THE NEW GODS | REAL CLUE | THE FOREVER PEOPLE | JOURNEY INTO MYSTERY | 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY

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What do you think?

  1. This is such an excellent installment of the series — I’m really grateful to Adrienne for bringing my attention to this obscure fantasy novel, and even more so for writing about it.

  2. Wow, this Eternal Feminine discourse was definitely in the water in these Crom books. Wonderful to see it explored by someone for whom so much was at stake.

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