The most influential British occult secret society of the twentieth century, the Society (originally Fraternity) of the Inner Light was founded in London in 1924 by English occultist Dion Fortune (Violet Firth, 1890–1946) as a successor group to the Co-Masonic lodge founded by her occult teacher, Theodore Moriarty. Fortune had had a complicated career in the British occult community up to that point, belonging to two different Golden Dawn lodges and the Theosophical Society, and she had also participated in séances with maverick archeologist Frederick Bligh Bond, who believed he had made contact with the medieval monks of Glastonbury Abbey. All these sources flowed into Fortune’s own distinctive system of magical training and initiation.
From the time of its foundation until the end of the Second World War the Fraternity was a major presence in the British occult scene. Fortune’s books and magazine articles were widely read, and several of the most influential occultists of the next generation studied with her and modelled large parts of their own occult teachings on hers. When the Second World War broke out, the Fraternity took the lead in organizing a network of British occultists who set out to use magic to strengthen Britain against the German onslaught. The network remained active through the war; its importance to the war effort is by the nature of things hard to measure, but it certainly played a key role in boosting morale in the British occult community, by no means a negligible fraction of the population at that time.
Fortune died of leukemia just after the war, and her role as head of the Fraternity was taken by Arthur Chichester, who changed the organization’s name to Society of the Inner Light and proceeded along the lines Fortune had established. In 1961, however, another change of leadership led to a complete reformulation of the work, in which most of the Society’s occult teachings were sidelined and it focused instead on Christian mysticism. Many members left during this period, and several launched new magical secret societies of their own; the Servants of the Light, founded in 1965, is the best known of these successor orders.
In 1990 the Society returned to its roots and began working with Fortune’s original set of rituals and teachings once again. Like most of today’s magical secret societies, it remains relatively small, but its release of previously unpublished writings by Fortune and others has once again had a significant impact on the British occult scene.
The Element Encyclopedia of Secret Societies : the ultimate a-z of ancient mysteries, lost civilizations and forgotten wisdom written by John Michael Greer – © John Michael Greer 2006