In his nursing home, Dr. Taverner reaches the parts that physicians and psychiatrists cannot reach. A shaman in country tweeds and a psychic Sherlock Holmes, Taverner deals with complaints that result from psychic attack, soul theft, energy vampires and diseases of the group mind. His creator, Dion Fortune (born Violet Firth) knew her stuff.
The founder of her own esoteric school, which came to be known as the Society of the Inner Light, Dion Fortune (1890-1946) modeled the hero of the stories collected in The Secrets of Dr Taverner on one of her own early mentors, an extraordinary Anglo-Irish magus named Theodore Moriarty. Some of the stories were first published in the Royal Magazine in 1922, a year before Moriarty's death. Remarkably, the illustrator made the fictional Dr Taverner look very much like Moriarty, though the artist had never seen a picture of Moriarty or even heard a description.
Jelkes, the bookseller in Dion Fortune's novel The Goat-Foot God, says that "writers will put things into a novel that they daren't put in sober prose." Dion herself said that while books of hers like The Mystical Qabalah give the theory of high magic and spiritual reality, "the novels give the practice."
There are five of those novels, and some of them have left a profound mark on esoteric and neo-pagan practice. The Sea Priestess contains a ritual for Drawing Down the Moon that has been much-borrowed in ceremonial work, not always with attribution. But of all her fiction, it is the stories of Dr Taverner to which I return again and again. I have asked some of my advanced classes to read several of these stories as the basis for focused discussion and investigation of such phenomena as the nature of the energy bodies, past-life connections, psychic defense and astral repercussion.
Fortune is rather direct about what she is doing in The Secrets of Dr Taverner. She describes her tales as "studies in little-known aspects of psychology put in the form of fiction because, if published as a serious contribution to science, they would have no chance of a hearing." She wants it understood that her stories are based on fact. Her characters are mostly composites, but they are based on actual people and situations. She states that the first of the stories she completed, the tale of a hungry ghost attached to a living person that she titled "Blood-Lust", is "literally true". Noting that she was one of the first British students of psychoanalysis, she expressed the hope that the Taverner stories would be received as "a serious study in the psychology of ultra-consciousness."
In my opinion, she succeeded beyond her ambition. The Taverner stories are both gripping and entertaining, and a valuable source of practical guidance on psychic protection and spiritual cleansing and many other facets of psychic well-being that are missed in our standard approach to healthcare and therapy. In its fictional wrapping, The Secrets of Dr Taverner is a practitioner's casebook, of the greatest value to subsequent practitioners. It is perhaps the most accessible of all Dion Fortune's works for the contemporary reader.
Her narrator is a medical doctor named Rhodes, a supposed ingénu in regard to psychic phenomena and esoteric techniques. This makes it easy for Fortune to draw the veil over certain procedures. But enough shows through to make the story collection a kind of manual, especially when read together with Fortune's well-known later (nonfiction) work Psychic Self-Defence.
She dramatizes key principles of her work, including these, as expressed in Psychic Self-Defence:
- "The driving forces of the universe, the framework upon which it is built up in all its parts, belong to another phase of manifestation than our physical plane, having other dimensions than the three to which we are habituated, and perceived by other modes of consciousness than those to which we are accustomed."
- "We live in the midst of invisible forces whose effects alone we perceive. We move among invisible forms whose actions we very often do not perceive at all, though we may be profoundly affected by them."
One of the scariest Taverner stories is titled "Blood-Lust". The author claims that this is nonfiction fiction: that it is based on true events, exactly described, and that only the names have been changed.Captain Craigie, back from war, starts killing for blood. He starts by raiding chicken coops and works his way up to sheep. Along the way, he can't help trying to sink his teeth into his fiancee's neck. He tells Dr Taverner that he suffered "shell-shock" in the trenches. This was a familiar term in the World War I era; today we are more likely to speak of PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder). But in this case, "shell-shock" seems an exact description. Captain Craigie was blown out of a trench.
The source of the problem becomes literally visible when people start seeing the apparition of a German soldier in a flat cap and field-gray uniform. This, we learn, is the etheric or dense energy body of a dead enemy soldier who has attached himself to the unfortunate Craigie, seeking to feed his "vitality hunger" (as Taverner diagnoses his condition) through his living host.
Dr Taverner's solution involves baiting a trap, by nicking the neck of the captain's girlfriend. While Craigie is physically restrained, the hungry ghost of the German soldier leaves his body to seek the fresh blood. Taverner stands between the ghost and its host and forces it into "a psychic killing-pen" in the form of a triangle.
Dion Fortune is discreet about what happens next. Taverner makes "a Sign and a Sound". The gray etheric form spins into a whirling spiral and disintegrates. Captain Craigie is released from the hungry ghost that was riding him,
Dr Taverner pronounces that the source of the problem was "a corpse who was insufficiently dead."
While some parts of the plot summary may sound like the script for one of those creaky old Hammer horror flicks, the story touches on themes of perennial importance, including the plight of veterans of foreign wars yesterday, today and tomorrow, who may be carrying unwanted energies of the dead.
One of Dr Taverner's lessons, in this story, is that we have more than one physical body. To be specific:
We have two physical bodies...the dense material one...and the subtle etheric one, which inhabits it, and acts as the medium of the life forces, whose functioning would explain a great deal if science would only condescend to investigate it.
By my observation, this is exactly correct. Failure to understand the nature of the etheric body and its survival of physical death confuses our relations with the dead and delays or prevents recognition of the need for spiritual cleansing and releasing in healing cases of PTSD, addiction and other disorders.
Dr Taverner instructs that "it is possible to keep the etheric body together almost indefinitely if a supply of vitality is available". In "Blood-Lust", the supply of vital energy comes through "a human feeding bottle" that feeds on others in an effort to replenish itself.
How common is the problem? Well, literal vampirism and blood-drinking may be rare (despite the contemporary vampire fad) but energy vampirism has never been uncommon, alas. Dr Taverner, the magician, alludes to dark side magical practices by those who seek to avoid the second death (of the etheric body) by forming "a connection with the subconscious mind of some other soul that still has a body." He cautions that "the lower type of medium" is especially vulnerable to this type of parasitism. But "higher" types can be vulnerable if in a weakened or absent condition, as when Captain Craigie was blown out of his trench, and (for a period) out of his body.
Who ya gonna call, if you don't have a Dr Taverner down the street? Well, I give rather specific guidance on spiritual release, including staging a "second burial" for an etheric body that does not belong with the living, in The Dreamer's Book of the Dead. And we have Dion Fortune's classic Psychic Self-Defence.