Two partly parallel lives

There seems to have been a strange asymmetrical symmetry between Wellesley Tudor Pole and Dion Fortune, a tendency to mirror each other inexactly. For instance, on April 23rd 1884 Wellesley Tudor Pole was born in Weston super Mare. Six years later, 6th December 1890, Violet Firth (her original name) was born in Llandudno but within a few years had moved to – perhaps inevitably – Weston super Mare.

By 1906 Tudor Pole felt he was in contact with a being he would call 'The Sage' and derived from this source a perspective on Glastonbury. It was, he understood, one of three crucial sites, along with Iona and a Western Isle (later – 1930 – identified as Devenish in Lough Erne). These three locations were the heart centres of England, Scotland and Ireland, and each was linked to head centres (London, Edinburgh and Dublin). In 1922 Dion Fortune arrived at comparable information concerning Glastonbury and London, her source being one 'Arnolfus', apparently a member of the legendary 'Company of Avalon'.

Did the two compare notes? In October 1923 Tudor Pole wrote to his friend David Russell in Scotland, saying ‘If I sent on Violet Firth’s MSS on Sex Psychology, if you thought it worthwhile, could you have them copied for our private use? The MSS consists of a short preface and four short ‘communicated’ lectures, some of the idea are worth consideration.’ (David Russell did not consider the MSS worthwhile; having been born deeper in the Victorian age than TP, 1872, he objected to the word ‘sex’ in the original title.) The MSS subsequently emerged as Esoteric Philosophy of Love and Marriage but the main point, of course, is that TP and DF were in contact, at least some of the time.

Perhaps we ought to pause, though, to consider who these two people were. At the time, Tudor Pole was 39 years old, married, with three children, a former war hero (rank of Major, wounded, O.B.E., mentioned in despatches) and was at present a London businessman: not a very likely mystic, in fact, but Tudor Pole habitually took the less likely route.

Dion Fortune was more or less his contemporary, nearly 33 years old, unmarried (a situation that would change within four years), a land girl during the war (where her battles were with grasping employers) and at present involved with esoteric groups in London (soon to be battling with them too). Perhaps their personalities were too strong to allow consistent friendship, but how might they have met in the first place?

To answer this we could look at the addresses of their parents. In 1908, Tudor Pole's parents, Thomas and Kate, moved to 'Tudor Cottage', 33 Field Lane, Letchworth (the garden city close to St Albans). In 1922, Arthur and Sarah Jane (Jennie) Firth moved just round the corner to number 4 Homesgarth, Letchworth. If they ever stopped for a chat they must have found quite a bit to talk about.

For instance, the Tudor Poles would occasionally hold what they called 'Family Group' meetings in which Mary, one of Wellesley's sisters, would get into conscious communication with 'A.B.' a departed friend and 'F.G.', the 'Family Guide'. These meetings started back in 1916 and continued into the 1920's. The Firths seemed to have got up to very similar things, Violet doing trance work to help with her parents' projects (‘world welfare work' on Christian Science lines).

However, note the word 'trance'. Here we have another piece of asymmetrical symmetry. Tudor Pole never used trance, nor did his sister Mary. However, he did feel he had definite contacts in the Beyond, as did Dion Fortune. Her main contacts could be classified as (a) a high source, known to her as 'the Greek' (allegedly Socrates), (b) an eminent Englishman, 'Lord Thomas Erskine', and (c) a chatty go-between, David Carstairs. Tudor Pole's chatty go-between was Jack Cheape, a former ward of his killed in World War One; a candidate for eminent Englishman could have been the scientist William Crookes; and his high source was 'the Sage'.

It seems to have been an ideal situation for information swopping, and Tudor Pole was certainly happy to work with various people, from his sister Mary, to a trio of exiled Russians, to Geraldine Cummins (whose 'Scripts of Cleophas' he helped publish). However, the only overt record found (so far) of his working with Dion Fortune is this round-robin appeal of August 1930:

‘You are asked to remember in your prayers during St Michael's Day 1930 the sacred shrines of Avalon, Iona and the Holy Western Isle, that the life of these centres may be rekindled and their spiritual powers released once more.’

There were twenty-two names on Tudor Pole's mailing list for this appeal, and the fifth which occurred to him was as follows: Dion Fortune (3 copies), 3 Queensborough Terrace, London W1. And that's all that has come to light so far of their interactions. However, if we go a little further down that mailing list we come to: Mrs Firth, Homesgarth, Letchworth, Herts.

That’s right, Dion Fortune's mum. There was plenty of friendly co-operation between Tudor Pole and Jennie Firth, from 1922 up to her death in 1936. (Indeed he often seemed to prefer older women. Safer, perhaps?) However, the main question is, what sort of co-operation did he have with Jennie Firth's daughter (who, you may remember, was more his age). And the answer is not at all clear. Perhaps their symmetry became a little too asymmetrical. Here is what he wrote in 1934 about another occultist (not Dion Fortune but someone vaguely comparable, Gertrude Mellor by name): ‘Her methods are not ours... My approach... is a mystical and not an occult approach... my thought turns to prayer and meditation... and not to any ceremonial ritual or invocation.’

Nonetheless, we can look in on some apparent co-operation a few years later. Let us go to the very centre of Armageddon, 1940, when it seemed that Western civilisation was about to be sucked into a thousand years of Nazi regression. Exaggeration? Tudor Pole didn't think so. In June 1940 he wrote a secret memorandum, saying amongst other things:

‘This is no ordinary War, to be judged and fought on the principles of the historic conflicts of the past. This war is Armageddon, or to use a common phrase, a totalitarian struggle waged not only by the force of Arms on earth, but carried on in full intensity within the spirits, minds and hearts of people everywhere, soldiers and civilians alike. It is a stupendous and almost universal wrestling match to the death between the forces of darkness and the Power of Light – between the demons and God, both sides working through human channels. Our adversaries are possessed by the full potency of the spiritual powers of darkness and are using and being used by them. On our side we have not yet put on the full armour of God.’

The title of this dramatic memorandum was 'The Fifth and Sixth Columns', the idea being that physical fifth columns of spies might actually be augmented by 'sixth columns' of spiritual infiltrators: hence, for instance, the astonishing collapse of morale in France and the defeatist moves amongst some British leaders. The next month Dion Fortune wrote Letter Number 34 to members of her 'Fraternity of the Inner Light', including the following information:

‘The weapons of our adversary's warfare are not wholly carnal... This is due to a form of Fifth Column activity... In fact, so specialised and unrecognised is it that we might justly talk of Sixth Column activities... We are, in my opinion, dealing with definite occult forces being used telepathically on the group souls of nations... If we as a nation make ourselves a channel of cosmic law... we become the channel for the manifestation of the power of God.’

Observe the similarities: ‘not only by force of Arms on earth’ (TP) – ‘not wholly carnal’ (DF); ‘forces of darkness’ (TP) – ‘occult forces’ (DF); ‘Fifth and Sixth column’ (TP) – ‘Fifth Column... Sixth Column’ (DF); ‘armour of God’ (TP) – ‘power of God’ (DF). There seems little doubt that the two were co-operating (even if, so far as research can discover, they didn't mention the fact to anyone else).

Tudor Pole's antidote to the war situation was 'The Silent Minute', a practice supported by Churchill, the King, the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Catholic Primate, the Chief Rabbi and various other leaders, sacred and secular. Eventually an estimated eight million, at home and overseas, were participating. Inevitably the practice had to be simple and unspecific, so that all could feel involved (including agnostics). What could be more suitable, therefore, than dedicated silence?

However, Dion Fortune's tactic shows, once again, their asymmetrical symmetry, for her 'Fraternity of the Inner Light' was a comparatively small, well-trained group, working on specific visual symbols. It is interesting to note that amongst those symbols was something like a three-storey version of Glastonbury Tor. She described it in Letter Number 30 for June 9th 1940:

‘We are now to build up the vision of the Mount of Illumination, beneath whose roots in earth the Cavern is set.... The Cavern is entered symbolically by a secret underground way through which alone can access be obtained to its higher aspects, symbolised by the Hall of Learning, conceived of as a great mediaeval library, and the Chapel of the Graal with its Watchtower. These are pictured as one situated above the other, a spiral stair set in the thickness of the rocky walls leading upwards.’

The Cavern, of course, can be imagined as the cave system under Glastonbury Tor.

And here we come to a lasting piece of asymmetrical symmetry, for Dion Fortune actually lived on Glastonbury Tor – in a prefabricated hut that for a while became a guest and retreat house for members of her Society of the Inner Light. Within hailing distance across the road, on the side of Chalice Hill, is Little St Michael, the guest and retreat house set up by Wellesley Tudor Pole in 1959.

The White Spring emerges on DF’s side of the road; the Red Spring emerges on TP’s side. The Tor is on DF’s side; Chalice Hill is on TP’s side. The White Spring flows through a cavernous building that is in the process of becoming a “water temple”; the Red Spring flows through Chalice Well gardens, an outdoor “temple” of nature. Again the symmetry, again the asymmetry.