Dion Fortune, Atlantis and eugenics

 

by MIKE HARRIS

 

 

When the Athenian statesman Solon visited the ancient Egyptian Temple of Neith at Sais, two Egyptian priests, Psenophis of Heliopolis and Sonchis of Sais, told him the story of what he later called Atlantis, this being the island of the Titan Atlas as he interpreted it in terms of the mythology of his native Greece. Solon eventually took his version of this back to Athens, in about 590 B.C. Some two hundred years later, Plato picked up the story and crafted it into the dialogues of Timaeus and Critias in which he used Solon’s version of Atlantis to satirise the long previous (c 415 B.C.) Athenian failure to conquer Sicily. He introduced Atlantis in Timaeus thus:

 

“For it is related in our records how once upon a time your State stayed the course of a mighty host, which, starting from a distant point in the Atlantic ocean, was insolently advancing to attack the whole of Europe, and Asia to boot. For the ocean there was at that time navigable; for in front of the mouth which you Greeks call, as you say, 'the pillars of Heracles,' there lay an island which was larger than Libya and Asia together; and it was possible for the travellers of that time to cross from it to the other islands, and from the islands to the whole of the continent over against them which encompasses that veritable ocean. For all that we have here, lying within the mouth of which we speak, is evidently a haven having a narrow entrance; but that yonder is a real ocean, and the land surrounding it may most rightly be called, in the fullest and truest sense, a continent. Now in this island of Atlantis there existed a confederation of kings, of great and marvellous power, which held sway over all the island, and over many other islands also and parts of the continent. 

 

Plato’s use of satire, together with parts of his Republic, recounted from a half understood Egyptian myth, translated into approximate Greek myth and then allowed to brew through constant recitation and revision down two centuries to fuel that satire, hardly makes for an accurate retelling of the original Egyptian story let alone the retrieval of archaeological fragments from an ‘Atlantean legend.’ And there is more……In his Republic, Plato advocated the breeding of superior human stock by having the nobility and intelligentsia at it like rabbits, whilst discouraging the lower classes from any hanky panky. In addition, these high class matings would be regulated by the ruler of the Republic. Incest was fine, as long as it was restricted to brother and sister, but not parents and children. Thus Plato introduced a sort of proto eugenics into his perfect, superhuman state. Some 2,300 years later, Marie Stopes and her assistant Maiya Tranchell Hayes, one of Dion Fortune’s teachers, advocated much the same thing.

 

Some of Dion Fortune’s first ‘Atlantean’ encounters probably came with her girlhood friend, Mary Bligh Bond. Both of them appear, hardly disguised, albeit at a later date and in a girlie crush way, in Mary’s Avernus of 1924. In this novel the vampirism of an Atlantean entity is made clear, as is the physical decline that it subjects its host to. Indeed, such was speculated to have been the case later with DF’s own early and sudden death from leukaemia whilst she was still writing Moon Magic. Another of DF’s misplaced enthusiasms, described in Avalon of the Heart, was the work of Lewis Spence who wrote some seven books on Atlantis between 1924 and 1937. Further, I would suspect that an early fascination with Atlantis, encouraged by the books of Lewis Spence, persuaded Violet Firth and Mary Bond to go ‘digging’ in the Nile delta, with Mary’s Avernus supplying reasonable evidence that they dug up more than they could handle. Both girls were certainly more naturally psychic than was then ‘helpful.’

 

It is the obstinacy of resisting the rules of natural existence which generates what we may collectively term ‘Atlantean-ism.’ Atlantis was submerged in the great deluge… not so much by a divine ordinance but rather by divinity (in love) giving humankind its free will, which results in human nature trying to outwit all nature and throwing a spanner in the elemental works.  In this sense, as the icecaps melt, we are all now Atlanteans.’ Fairbourne, a Victorian holiday village established on the floodplain where the Mawddach estuary meets the Irish sea, will be the first village in Britain to be placed under a flood evacuation order, within the next fifteen years if not sooner.

 

So every Fairbourne, every Somerset levels, becomes a Nile Delta, a reed sea, a cemetery of human folly littered with the discarded, half dead thought forms of what would be: in this case Victorian, superior humanity, that planned like Canute’s goaders, to overthrow natural science and push back the sea. These are the ambitions of leftover lives, which inhabit so many islands in life’s stream, named Atlantis after the superhuman Titan Atlas who hoisted the world on his shoulders. …his father was of course Poseidon, god of the sea.  It should be remembered that Titanic fathers had the habit of consuming their offspring! 

 

As to ‘Avalon as Glastonbury’ where the story of the Fraternity of the Inner Light and also of The Sea Priestess began, the topography of Glastonbury as Avalon becomes multi-functional. First, it doubles as a once-upon-a-time Atlantean outpost. Secondly, the Somerset levels of half flooded prehistoric times take on (although not stated as such) the island marshes / reed fields of the Nile Delta of ancient Sais and the kingdom of Neith in ancient Egypt. Thirdly, the landscape ‘becomes Atlantis’ with the river Brue fictionalised as the River Dick, enabling it to double as the river Nile and to be mythologised as the River Naradek in Atlantis. Other pieces of the topography then fall into place: Brent Knoll becomes mythologised as the sacred mountain Ruta at the centre of Atlantis, although in terms of comparative topographic scale this would have made the Atlanteans leprechauns rather than the giant superhumans they were reputed to be!  

 

At about the same time that Dion Fortune’s well-to-do ‘New Age’ (for their time) parents moved from North Wales to Letchworth, the first of the Garden Cities, Maiya Tranchell Hayes, Dion Fortune’s later occult mentor, became personal assistant to the eugenics enthusiast Marie Stopes. (“Eugenics: the science of improving a population by controlled breeding to increase the occurrence of desirable inheritable characteristics.”) A Wiki history remembers Stopes thus: 

 

According to June Rose, Stopes was "an elitist, an idealist, interested in creating a society in which only the best and the beautiful should survive”. Eugenics was central to her birth control vision. Stopes' enthusiasm for eugenics was in line with many of the intellectuals and public figures of the time, for example Havelock Ellis, John Maynard Keynes, Cyril Burt and George Bernard Shaw. As a child she met the founder of the Eugenics movement, Francis Galton, both through the British Association for the Advancement of Science and socially through her father.

 

When Stopes was disseminating her ‘New Gospels to all peoples’ her assistant Maiya Tranchell Hayes (or Gertrude Curtiss Webb as she then was) was helping her student Dion Fortune set up the Fraternity of the Inner Light, initially based at Glastonbury.  As Marie Stopes’s assistant, Maiya was naturally a member of the British Eugenics Society.

 

Letchworth and the Garden City Movement was the brainchild of Ebenezer Howard. The idea of selective human breeding, propagated by Galton, Ploetz and others, appeared in one of Ebenezer Howard's diagrams of 1898, then more explicitly in the German garden cities organisation, where around 1910 the leading German eugenists were members of the board. In the 1920s, the myth of the superhuman ‘New Man’ was riddled with eugenic thought in the ideological foundation of the whole reform architecture movement. The original plan for Letchworth sets out the ‘asylums for blind and deaf,’ the ‘farm for epileptics’ and the ‘children’s cottage homes,’ all set well away from the magnificent garden city itself where they wouldn’t be in the way of the ‘proper’ people. In the Third Reich there was a siedlung in Bremen, which was a garden city, a halfopen prison and an eugenics selection centre all in one.

 

Back in pre-war Blighty, for the underclass who couldn’t be institutionalised and sterilised, Marie Stopes promoted contraception, mostly for all the wrong reasons. And yet Stopes, like Dion Fortune’s Sea Priestess, is seen as a feminist heroine. Her aim, however, is that the weak, meek and unusual shall NOT inherit the Earth. The Sea Priestess makes this clear. Here is Malcolm describing the drowning of the builder’s idiot son, the Mooncalf, on the end of Brean Down.

 

“ I tore off my coat and started after him. It was an idiotic thing to do, for there wasn’t the remotest chance of getting him. Luckily for me, the foreman, who had sprinted up when he saw what was happening, threw his arms round me and stopped me. 

“No good throwing your life away for the likes o’ he” he said……..

………………….

The poor mooncalf had vanished and no trace left. 

 

Old Bindling (the builder/boy’s father) slowly raised his hat, not in reverence, but to scratch his head……

…….

“Maybe it’s just as well” said the old foreman….

 

I was shaking all over, but Miss Morgan was utterly unmoved. She was very sweet to poor old Bindling, but it was a cold blooded kind of sweetness which gave me a queer feeling”.

 

As for any attempt by any magical group or society to perpetuate these unwholesome practices, what can be said?  It may well be that such attitudes will bring their own destruction, if only by virtue (wrong word!) of their misguided, elitist, separatist approach to magic, born from some perverted idea of ‘exclusivity’ and ‘purity of roots.’ Will all spiritual colossi please ascend the Sacred Mountain! Cannibalistic savages to the bottom tier, Sun Priests to the top!

 

Mike Harris