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The Sea Priestess by Dion Fortune
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The Sea Priestess

by Dion Fortune

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This is a hard one to rate. There were times where I thought it was one of the most beautiful, amazing books I’d ever read. But there were other times where it dragged, notably the overlong denouement that was less enjoyable - and the rather dense writing is not helped by the formatting of this particular edition (published by Weiser) that has justified borders and tight single-spacing. The main character, Wilfred Maxwell, is stuck in the time period it was written (1930s) so some of his actions/attitudes prove problematic to a modern reader - weirdly, it is as the novel progresses that he gets harder to take.

Dion Fortune was a British occultist who’s writing and philosophies were influential in shaping modern Wicca. Her work has inspired Doreen Vailente and novelist Marion Zimmer Bradley. I had also heard, prior to reading this, that she used her novels as a way of giving examples for the occult practices/philosophies found in her other writing. So I found it interesting, first of all just for those aspects. But her writing is quite lovely on its own. Even if you don’t know the history, I believe there is a lot to be enjoyed in this novel.

First, the good: I found The Sea Priestess enchanting, with its gentle leisurely pace, depictions of the English coast and the stormy sea, the old fort being transformed into a temple and Wilfred and the enigmatic Morgran Le Fay’s curious relationship. Wilfred was a character I found very believable and easily relatable when we first meet him. Morgan Le Fay was distant and strange, but then she is supposed to be and that is all part of the fun.

Wilfred is a quiet man, trapped in a decent but boring job in a tiny English town where he supports his bitter and unpleasant sister and mother and has never really had the chance to have a life of his own. After developing asthma and having an out-of-body experience as a result of the attacks and medication he begins to cautiously explore some esoteric writings. He also gains a little space from his domineering family by relocating to an old set of stables and turning them into a cozy home for himself.

These small steps set him on the path to be ready for his meeting with Vivien Le Fay Morgan (later called Morgan Le Fay) a woman who should be ancient but appears beautiful and intensely mysterious. She enlists Wilfred to help her transform an old abandoned fort by the sea into a temple to the gods of the sea. Wilfred begins to experience visions, wherein a past life she was a priestess from Atlantis who journeyed to England to perform human scarifies to the sea to save Wilfred’s people and he was one of the sacrifices. She was also the Morgan Le Fay from Arthurian legend.

Unfortunately, Wilfred by the end of the novel is strangely unsympathetic. Although we modern readers can cheer him for standing up to his domineering relatives, it is much less comfortable for us when he, say, smacks his sister in the face. And although I liked that he used Morgan’s teachings to then in turn help Molly grow, there was something condescending and just . . . odd? in his feelings towards her. I really could have done without the long Wilfred/Molly denouement.

Some quotes:

”And I saw that man’s life is spun like a thread between irresistible forces that with a breath could destroy him, but that nevertheless, from them he draws his strength.

For there is in the earth a reservoir of elemental force, just as there is a fountain of life beyond the far stars, and from the violence of the sea the violence of man’s own nature draws its energy even as he draws breath from the air, for all things are but one thing at the last analysis and there is no part of us that is not of the gods.”
(p.120)

”Then I saw why there must be priestesses as well as priests; for there is a dynamism in a woman that fecundates the emotional nature of a man as surely as he fecundates her physical body; this was a thing forgotten by modern civilization which stereotypes and conventionalizes all things and forgets the Moon, Our Lady of Flux and Reflux.” (p. 136)

”It is women like Morgan Le Fay, who will not give themselves to any man completely, who are best-loved, not the women who give their all. Love is one of those things in which to travel hopefully is better than to arrive. (p.136)

”There is a curious power in silence when you think alike without word spoken and each knows the other’s thoughts. As long as nothing is said, the thing you are thinking remains in another dimension and is magical, but as soon as you speak it, you lose it. It is the old story of the jewels bought in the goblin market, which you must only look at by moonlight or you find them to be a handful of dead leaves.” (p.153) ( )
1 vote catfantastic | Aug 17, 2015 |
See the full review here-- http://diamondlovestoread.blogspot.com/2013/04/rihanna-music-video-review-of-sea...

Review: I loved this book. After thinking of my feelings of this beautiful novel I kept having trouble in a way I hadn't before. This novel causes a lot of introspection and it's very spiritual and New Age. I had to continually remind myself it was written in the 1930s. So if I were to write a review about how this book made me feel and what it did to me-- I'd be revealing the most intimate aspects of my soul. And well, I love you all but I'm just not comfortable with that. Suffice it to say that I found the ideas presented as nothing short of amazing. I am in love with Dion's hero, Wilfred Maxwell. She mentions in her introduction that she wrote him with flaws because her characters are more real that way. I loved him with his flaws, his temper and funny way of dealing with things endeared me to him quite a bit. He was magnetic. His love for the sea priestess, Morgan Le Fay was so heartbreaking and enchanting. She reminded me of myself a bit. Their dynamic and relationship can be summed up in a song that has been playing in my mind ever since I finished the book. It perfectly matches what their relationship is and I just find it actually jives really well with the book in general. Now I have never simply played a song and the lyrics for a review before, but it seems like a cool idea and it's my blog so I can do these fun things. I'm so glad I picked this book up at the library bookstore. Ill forever cherish it and read it again. If you want a book that is provides insight about spirituality and the duality dynamic between male and female, and speaks of goddesses-- while all the while establishing the origins of what we call New Age now..read this book. 5/5 stars. A new favorite.

Music video-- Rihanna's Stay feat. Mikky Ekko
Here's the link it's not letting me embed the video--- http://m.youtube.com/watch?feature=plpp&v=JF8BRvqGCNs




Oh, and you know what's super crazy? This song Stay, resonated so much with me and the meaning of this book. Then I looked at the cover image on iTunes for her album, and see a magnificent photo of Rihanna showing the Goddess Isis under her breast. I was like HOLY CRAP no way! Coincidence? I don't know. Then again who has a tat of Isis, and sings a song that corresponds with a book based on the Goddess Isis and her embodiment in all women? One major point the book made was that as a woman if we channel the connection we have to ALL women, well...that's where the magic happens. Seems like this could be more than a coincidence. I swear I didn't know she had the tattoo when I linked the book to this song. I'm not too into rihanna before this. I like her, now I love her. Here are some pics of the amazing tattoo. 












( )
1 vote Diamond.Dee. | Jul 3, 2015 |
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. ( )
1 vote 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. ( )
1 vote 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. ( )
1 vote wyvernfriend | Sep 8, 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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