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Jung's Pagans, pt. 1: Dion Fortune and Israel Regardie

Carl Jung articulated a psychology in which myth emerges from biology, part of a natural process of individuation.  This 3-part guest post series by John Halstead explores the influence of Jung on major figures in Contemporary Paganism.

Carl Jung, from

by John Halstead

One source of theory for naturalistic Pagans is the writings of Carl Jung.  Jung and several of his followers, like Erich Neumann and Joseph Campbell, were a major influence on the development of contemporary Paganism. 

The Influence of Jung on Neo-Paganism

Jung’s influence can be found in the work of proto-Pagan esotericists like Dion Fortune and Israel Regardie; “goddess feminists” like Esther Harding and Jean Shinoda Bolen; and early Neo-Pagans like Doreen Valiente and Frederick Adams (the founder of Feraferia).  All of these individuals had an important influence on the development of the contemporary Pagan movement, and through them the ideas of Jung permeated Neo-Pagan thought.  


In the 1960s and 1970s, Jungian psychology was popularized and embraced by the countercultural and New Age movements.  At the same time, according to David Waldron, in The Sign of the Witch (2008), the Jungian theoretical model and Jungian language were adopted by Neo-Pagans to legitimize their beliefs and ritual practices. 

Jungian interpretations of Paganism were popularized by writers like Starhawk, Margot Adler, and Janet and Stewart Farrar.  By 1991, David Burnett could fairly claim, in his book Dawning of the Pagan Moon,"It is only by understanding Jungian psychology that the outsider will gain any appreciation of the rationale of the neopagan movement.  Without it, the movement will appear a collection of exotic ideas and practices."

Dion Fortune

Dion Fortune, from

Dion Fortune (Violet Firth) was a well-known occultist of the early 20th century.  She belonged to the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn and founded her own occult order, the Society of Inner Light.

The influence of Fortune on Paganism has been documented by Ronald Hutton in Triumph of the Moon.  Hutton describes her greatest single legacy to modern Pagan witchcraft to be her idea of magical polarity, the notion that erotic attraction between the sexes could be channeled into magical operations. 

Fortune coined the phrase, “A religion without a goddess is halfway to atheism”, and it was through Fortune’s influence that Doreen Valiente introduced a larger role for the Goddess (and hence the High Priestess) into Gardnerian witchcraft.  Without Fortune’s influence, it is possible that the women’s spirituality movement of the 1970s would never have embraced Neo-Pagan witchcraft and witchcraft would have remained an obscure esoteric tradition.


Fortune studied psychology and actually practiced as a psychoanalyst for a time.  In the course of her studies, she was influenced most strongly by the writings of Freud and Jung, both of whom she writes about in her first publication in 1922, Machinery of the Mind.  Fortune frequently uses the term “archetype” in her esoteric writings, and Jung is cited in both her nonfiction and her fiction.  She is credited by Chas Clifton with being the first occult author to approach magic from a Jungian perspective.

Fortune believed that a “sound knowledge of the psychology of the subconscious mind” was necessary for the safe practice of occultism.  She saw esotericism as an extension of psychology:

“We can define occultism as an extension of psychology, for it studies certain little-known aspects of the human mind and the mind side of Nature. Its findings, rightly formulated and understood, fit in with what is already established in psychology and natural science.”  (Sane Occultism, 1929) 

She even believed that “in the possibilities of ritual magic we shall find an invaluable therapeutic agent for use in certain forms of mental disease.”

The nature of esoteric practice

Fortune’s first major esoteric work, The Mystical Qabalah, was published in 1935.  In it, she interpreted the esoteric practices as techniques of auto-suggestion for creating altered states of consciousness.  She writes, “Viewed as a means of invoking the spirit of God, ceremonial is pure superstitution; but viewed as a means of evoking the spirit of man, it is pure psychology, and that is how I view it.”

The subject of the book is a psychological interpretation of the Qabalistic Tree of Life.  Like Jung, Fortune believed that the human soul was “many-sided”, and for Fortune, the goal of esoteric work was to balance the forces of the subconscious under the dominion of the “Higher Self”.  This is accomplished by taking advantage of the “symbolizing power of the subconscious mind”, which draws associations spontaneously between symbols. 

According to Fortune, the Tree of Life is a microcosmic map of the human mind.  In The Mystical Qabalah, She relates the gods and goddesses of the various pantheons to the various positions on the Tree.  Like Jung, Fortune taught that the gods are personifications of the forces at work in the subconscious of the individual. 

Meditation on the Tree is then used “to evoke images from the subconscious mind into conscious content” producing an “artificially produced waking dream”, similar to Jung’s practice of “active imagination”.  The result is an integration of the subconscious forces into conscious control:

“The ceremony of initiation, and the teachings that should be given in the various grades, are simply designed to make conscious what was previously subconscious, and to bring under the control of the will, directed by the higher intelligence, those developed reaction-capacities which have hitherto only responded blindly to their appropriate stimuli.”

Fortune’s writing shows the influence of both Freud and Jung.  In some places, she seems more Freudian, but like Jung, Fortune’s conception of the “subconscious” is not exclusively negative.  Thus, the goal of ceremonial magic was not only to integrate destructive complexes, but also to awaken “latent capacities of our own higher selves.”

The nature of the gods

In answer to the question whether the gods are real, Fortune wrote that they are neither “real persons as we understand personality” nor illusions; they are rather “emanations of the group-minds of races” which are powerful because of their influence over the imaginations of their worshipers (this construction based on race, though deplorable today, was endemic to the historical period).

Fortune frequently used terms like the “racial mind”, “racial imagination”, and “racial subconscious”, by which she seemed to mean something like Jung’s “collective unconscious”.  Fortune related esoteric work to dream association, except, “in the case of the Qabalah the dreamer is the racial subconscious.”


Jungian concepts are also found in Fortune’s occult fiction, the theme of which is often the erotico-magical polarity of the male and female characters, a concept which became foundational for Wicca. Fortune’s novels The Sea Priestess (1938) and The Goat Foot God (1936) are clearly the inspiration behind the Neo-Pagan Goddess and Horned God. 

Fortune’s most famous quotation for Pagans is “all the gods are one god, and all the goddesses are one goddess...”, which has become (rightly or wrongly) a kind of proof text for Jungian Paganism (Pagans often leave off the rest of the quotation: “[...] and there is one initiator”). 

The quote comes from Fortune’s novel, The Sea Priestess (1938).  There, she has one of her characters say: “... the old gods are coming back, and man is finding Aphrodite and Ares and great Zeus in his own heart, for that is the revelation of the aeon."  Similarly, in her book, The Winged Bull (1935), Fortune’s character says: “God was many-sided, you couldn’t see every side at once; and the gods were the facets of the One. [...] God was as many-sided as the soul of man.” 

Statements like these were to inspire several generations of Neo-Pagans to come.

Israel Regardie

Israel Regardie, from

Israel Regardie is probably best known for publishing the secret ceremonies of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn in his book The Golden Dawn (1937). 

Ronald Hutton explains in his book, Drawing Down the Moon, how Gerald Gardner built his Neo-Pagan witchcraft cult on the framework of the Golden Dawn system. 

If Dion Fortune deserves the credit for being the first author to explain esoteric practice in Jungian terms, Israel Regardie deserves the credit for making the connection much more explicit and for doing so in terms that are comprehensible to the non-occultist.  While both Fortune and Regardie were influenced by both Freud and Jung, the influence of Jung on Regardie is stronger.

Magic and psychotherapy

Just three years after Fortune published her The Mystical Qabalah, Regardie published his The Middle Pillar (1938), which was subtitled, “a co-relation of the principles of analytical psychology and the elementary techniques of magic.”  The book is now in its third edition, to which its editors have added a chapter on “Psychology and Magic” which further elaborates on Jung’s “spiritual psychology”.

In the introduction to the second edition of the book, Regardie wrote that

“The real virtue of the book lies in its correlation of the practice of magic to modern psychotherapy.  For magic places the achievement of self-awareness second only in importance to the achievement of unity with God.  And Jung’s definition of psychotherapy was that which enabled one to become conscious of what hitherto was unconscious.”

Regardie explained that the purpose of his book was to help others recognize that in the

“deep unconscious levels lies a great storehouse of power, awareness and vitality which must not only be awakened but recognized and equilibriated for the human being to function at maximum  capacity.”

Regardie saw analytical psychology and magic as two halves of “a single system whose goal is the integration of the human personality,” the aim of which was “to unify the different departments and functions of [humankind’s] being, to bring into operation those which for various reasons were latent.” 

Regardie even suggested that all magical aspirants should undergo psychoanalysis, something which Regardie himself did as he was writing The Middle Pillar.  But where traditional analysis left off, Regardie saw magic picking up.

God and the collective unconscious

Regardie cites Jung and discusses his concepts of an individual and collective unconscious.  For Regardie, God and the collective unconscious are interchangeable terms, depending only on the religious or metaphysical system one chooses.

As Regardie explains, the collective unconscious includes archetypes, which are psychic forms that have been molded by repeated ancestral experiences.  These take the form of gods and angels in magical practice.  Archetypal images then are “nodal points which act as termini or power stations through which, as it were, the root life stream [of the collective unconscious] flows.”

The Qabalah and the psyche

Like Fortune, Regardie’s work is an elaboration on the Quabalistic Tree of Life.  Regardie superimposes’ Jung’s map of the psyche onto the Tree.  In Regardie’s schema, the first three and “highest” sephirot correspond to Jung’s unconscious, with the second and third representing the animus and anima.  The fourth through the eighth represent consciousness, with the “center” sephirot representing the ego.  The last two and “lowest” sephirot represent the “animal soul” and the physical brain respectively.

Regardie then proceeds to describe in detail various esoteric techniques for psychospiritual development, including the meditation upon the “Qabalistic Cross” and the “Middle Pillar Exercise”. 

The most basic practice involves cultivation of imaginary images with the goal of lowering the “threshold” of the conscious mind and allowing the “ascent of the archetypes” through which the powers of the unconscious can flow.  This is similar to Jung’s practice of “active imagination.” 

The goal, according to Regardie, is not only to “awaken” these unconscious powers, but also to “equilibriate” or balance them, similar to Jung’s concept of “integration”.  Specifically, in this regard, Regardie’s notion of “the conscious reconciliation of opposing forces” draws on Jung’s commentary on the Chinese Secret of the Golden Flower.

Regardie’s Middle Pillar Exercise is a fundamental meditation practice employed by many contemporary Pagans.  Starhawk (who is discussed below) included a simplified version of the practice called the “Tree of Life” exercise, in her book The Spiral Dance.  Many Pagans today who know the practice simply as “grounding and centering”. 

Regardie went on to publish The Philosopher’s Stone in 1938, subtitled “a modern comparative approach to alchemy from the psychological and magical points of view”, which discussed alchemy from a Jungian perspective.


b2ap3_thumbnail_John-Halstead.jpgJohn H. Halstead: Lawyer, father, and former Mormon, John crafts Pagan rituals for his family, explores his path through Jungian archetypes, and blogs at The Allergic Pagan.

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B. T. Newberg is the editor of Humanistic Paganism, a community blog for naturalistic spirituality.  For eleven years and counting, he has been practicing meditation and ritual from a naturalistic perspective.  He is a member of ADF, and frequent contributor to Patheos, Witchvox, and GoodReads.  Professionally, he teaches English as a Second Language.  After living in Minnesota, England, Malaysia, and Japan, B. T. Newberg currently resides in South Korea with his wife and cat.


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