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The Sea Priestess by Dion Fortune

The Sea Priestess

by Dion Fortune

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Fortune was a good writer, and I enjoyed this book, despite its getting bogged down periodically by overlong expositions of esoteric philosophy. When that happens, she loses her characters and their stories somewhat; when she gets back on track she is dead on.

This is not a complaint against the philosophy, just the tendency to try to make a book both a novel and a treatise. The good writing, and good story, however, outweigh this flaw, and when she gets going, Fortune is really something. ( )
  thesmellofbooks | Nov 22, 2012 |
Originally written (and self-published) in 1938, this novel is filled with wonder and wisdom. Wilfred Maxwell as a character is a superb representation of human nature at its most paradoxical. From his on-going battle with his narrow minded, domineering sister, to his passion for the mysterious Vivien Le Fay Morgan and his tenderness for the young Molly, Wilfred’s spiritual growth is as fascinating as his sly wit is hilarious.

The style of the novel is a free-flowing and deep as the sea itself. When one remembers that it was written in the early part of the 20th century, it’s all the more remarkable for the forward- thinking philosophies and topics it touches on. And yet the wisdom contained in those philosophies are as ancient as ocean from which all life emerged.

The first 70% of the story swept me along with vivid imagery, excellent characterisation and profound ideas which are often lacking in today’s stories.

There was a section near the end of the story – where the occult rites were described in a lecturing tone, rather than a story telling one – where my interest waned, but in the last 10% of the novel, dealing with the aftermath of Wilfred & Molly’s experience with the mysterious Priest of the Moon, the pace picked up again.

The strength of this novel lies in Fortune’s compassionate understanding and insight into human nature. Her esoteric knowledge adds depth and imagination to a most unusual and interesting read. ( )
  JudyCroome | Nov 2, 2011 |
An interesting read. Written by one of the foremost names in the occult tradition this reflects some of her own practices and activities. I had read Moon Magic years ago and liked Vivien Le Fay Morgan but I didn't like her quite as much in this book. I would have a sneaking suspicion that the rituals and what happens to Wilfred after Vivien disappears is the meat of the book and most of the rest is just padding.
Wilfred is a strange character and I'm not sure that Dion really gets a good grasp of a male character here. The treatment of his asthma in that period was interesting to see.

Not great as a fiction read but interesting as a look into the mind and mindset of one of the members of the Order of the Golden Dawn and turn of the 20th century magical working. ( )
  wyvernfriend | Sep 8, 2006 |
The Sea Priestess is the best known of Dion Fortune’s novels, said to combine a good story with magickal teachings. I came to it anticipating an interesting read, and on the whole wasn’t disappointed.

The main character, Wilfred Maxwell, is pretty much physically and emotionally disabled, having asthma and being somewhat under the domination of his mother and sister. The drugs he’s given to alleviate the asthma cause strange visions and lead him to experiment with achieving these in a waking state. When the strange and fascinating Morgan Le Fay arrives in the small town on the south west coast of England he recognises the sea priestess he saw in one of these visions. Morgan Le Fay draws him to her for purposes of her own and brings about a change in Wilfred that will have far-reaching consequences, both for himself and, (it is implied), for mankind in general.

The mores of the era in which the book was written were quite different from ours; this is very noticeable in Wilfred’s attitudes, and as the book progresses this makes him less than likeable. At times he’s downright crass if not petulant, yet when he’s waxing lyrical about his visions and the sea he seems like a different man. I found parts of the long sections dealing with ritual and esoteric theory somewhat preachy teachy, and irritating too. And it seemed odd that Morgan would have chosen Wilfred for her purpose (whatever that was), since he seemed lacking in sensitivity, but I guess that was all part of his emotional repression. Dion Fortune’s male main characters do tend to be odd – I noticed it with Ted Murchison in The Winged Bull as well. There’s a forward by the author in which she goes to great pains to explain this away as part of the restrictions of first person narrative, and leaving some of the work to the reader, as well as liking characters who are flawed, yet my own instinct is that, as a woman, she’s not quite under the skin of the opposite sex. Still, who the heck is? ( )
  bookwitch | Aug 4, 2006 |
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The keeping of a diary is usually reckoned a vice in one's contemporaries though a virtue in one's ancestors.
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The Sea Priestess is the highly acclaimed novel in which Dion Fortune introduces her most powerful fictional character, Vivien Le Fay Morgan- a practicing initiate of the Hermetic Path. Vivien has the ability to transform herself into magical images, and here she becomes Morgan Le Fay, sea priestess of Atlantis and foster daughter to Merlin! Desperately in love with Vivien, Wilfred Maxwell works by her side at an isolated seaside retreat, investigating these occult mysteries. They soon find themselves inextricably drawn to an ancient cult through which they learn the esoteric significance of the magnetic ebb and flow of the moontides.
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