Paganistan: Notes from the Secret Commonwealth

In Which One Midwest Man-in-Black Confers, Converses & Otherwise Hob-Nobs with his Fellow Hob-Men (& -Women) Concerning the Sundry Ways of the Famed but Ill-Starred Tribe of Witches.

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Dion Fortune's 'Sea Priestess' Howler



Howler, n. a glaring blunder, clumsy mistake, or embarrassing misjudgment, typically one which evokes laughter


Ah, The Sea Priestess: arguably Dion Fortune's most influential novel, in pagan circles at least.

So, DF: what's with the River Dick, already?

While imbibing the antediluvian wisdom that Morgan, the eponymous Sea Priestess, imparts to Wilfred, clueless West Country Mama's boy, concerning relations between the Eternal Feminine and the Eternal Masculine, generations of serious students of the occult have had to choke back the guffaws when it comes to some of her fictional place-names.

Hey, SP readers: remember the River Dick? Of course you do. Technically, of course, it's the “Narrow Dick.” “Where the Broad Dick is, I have never been able to discover,” says Wilfred. “There is no Broad Dick,” Morgan helpfully explains. “The original name of this river was the River Naradek. 'Narrow Dick' is only a corruption of it”.

(Naradek is named after a river back in ye olde Atlantis, but of course, you already knew that.)

And of course you remember the town in the novel named Dickmouth, don't you? Come on, don't pretend that you don't.

The Sea Priestess was first published in 1938. “Dick” has meant “penis” in English since the 19th century at least, if not longer. It's hard to believe that Fortune could have been so utterly clueless as to be unaware of this.

Or was she?

So what's with the River Dick?

Given the novel's central metaphor of the Sea as Primal Mother, I suppose that Fortune could conceivably be setting up some sort of equivalency here along the lines of Sea : Feminine :: River : Masculine. If so—even considering the fact that Fortune's writing is by no means lacking in vulgarity (gods know, the lower classes are always good for a laugh), and that, as a writer, she is not always in full control of her medium—somehow, giving a slang name for “penis” to the Great Masculine seems, well, uncharacteristically crude, even for her.

Me, I'm guessing that Fortune's “maiden aunt” howler is just that. Masculine and Feminine Principles, the Inner Planes, and Supernal Mothers and Fathers, are all very well.

But no one settles for Transmuting Sex Drive to Power if they're actually getting any. With all due respect, I can't escape the feeling that, when it comes to matters sexual, Fortune is basically an Armchair Adept.








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Poet, scholar and storyteller Steven Posch was raised in the hardwood forests of western Pennsylvania by white-tailed deer. (That's the story, anyway.) He emigrated to Paganistan in 1979 and by sheer dint of personality has become one of Lake Country's foremost men-in-black. He is current keeper of the Minnesota Ooser.


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