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Q &A with Christian Gilson

Holythorn Press recently interviewed Christian Gilson, author of A Path to the Grail. We asked questions which we thought prospective readers would like to know about his background, and how the book came to be written. If there is something we haven't covered here, please get in touch with your queries and we will do our best to answer them.

Our questions are in bold, Christian's replies in ordinary text.

DF is Dion Fortune.

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How did you come to write A Path to the Grail?
Some years ago, I took on the role of editor for the Inner Light Journal, which has now ceased publication. I found it harder and harder to find quality contributions and often had to cajole and badger people to write for the magazine. During one conversation about this it was suggested that I might look at the series of articles on Guild written by DF in the old editions.
Having typed up the first article I realised that the theology was long out of date and really needed some work. Having a degree in theology and esoteric training it seemed right to write a commentary enhancing the original text. I shared this first piece with the Warden who encouraged me to continue and suggested that we publish them within the Journal. I was kindly given access to all the Guild material held by the Society of the Inner Light
This generated a lot of interest from the readers, and I soon found myself writing more. Then I was invited by Wendy Berg and Mike Harris to speak at the Dion Fortune seminar in Glastonbury. For this I felt there was a need to develop some context for the material. Which naturally led me to explore what had already been published. This was very sparse and much abridged or heavily edited. Heading home from that busy weekend I realised that I now had a substantial resource on the Guild and that it would readily lend itself to a book.
Tell us a bit about your spiritual path and connection with Dion Fortune's work.
My path like many others has been a complex one. I was always a very religious child in an informal way. I was sensitive to presences and had a strong sense of God in nature. This drew me in my teens to the work of Doreen Valiente and the pagan path, but I felt very much alone. At the time I was living in Jersey – if only I had known then what I know now about the presence of the SOL HQ on the island. (Note SOL refers to the Servants of the Light)
However, it was not to be, and through my school I became an active member of the vibrant youth group in the St Thomas’ Catholic Church in St Helier. My time there was very formative and laid a solid foundation for my spiritual life ahead. It was at this time that I came to embrace the view that to be a full and complete human being I needed to grow spiritually, and I dedicated myself to this process. The road ahead was bumpy to say the least. I hadn’t realised that I had set foot on the path, and condensed evolution is challenging!

 Eventually I went to university, not to study computer programming as I thought but rather to do theology. My faith took quite a battering as I met with a wide range of Christian views and explored countless expressions of church. Yet nothing felt like my spiritual home.

 I discovered Triratna Buddhism and entered my Buddhist phase, learning meditation and mindfulness. Yet I knew there was something important missing, God! So, my next step found me at the Theosophical Society and through them I was to meet a group of wonderful people at the Torbay Lodge: a Jewish kabbalist, a high-ranking Freemason, and a member of the Theosophical Society Inner Group. Each one guided and enriched my life, encouraging my reading and exploration. It was through all of this that I first encountered and fell in love with the writing of DF. The first major influence was The Sea Priestess, at that time membership of SIL was not open to me. But reading these works made me realise that I needed to return to the Green Ray of Paganism.
After training with a leading figure, I soon found myself in a small but growing group of pagans. Together we developed rituals, explored qabalah, dowsed the landscape, and grew into a thriving group. But once more the inner planes seemed to have more planned for me and I left Devon for the expanse of Essex. On arrival I soon seeded a new group which thrived for many years, but still I felt a need for something more, a personal spiritual nourishment, there was a need to return to DF, and to the source. Synchronicity opened the door for me in a most unexpected way and I found myself very happy within a group focused on and developing the work of DF, bringing together a whole range of spiritual paths, but giving me the discipline I so needed.
Tell us about the Guild of the Master Jesus. Does it still exist?
In the form that it was started, quite simply it no longer exists. The Guild had been an aspect of the Fraternity of the Inner Light, as such it no longer functions. However, over the years there have been many developments and alternative expressions. Whilst some purists might argue their validity, and many would say to me that DF never intended the Guild to be for a wider audience, I will be more gracious. DF sowed a seed that has taken root in many places, whether they be pure expressions or not is less important.
I hope that this book and the publication in it of the original unaltered source documents will give those who are interested in the Guild everything they need to enrich and find their own expression of this path. I believe that the time has come for the Guild to help to bring new life and expression to Christianity.
 What is the Christianity of the Guild? Is it a new Church, and does it want to convert people? Is it inclusive of people of other faiths and none? What is its goal?
The Guild is not and was not traditional Christianity. DF started it as an alternative to mainstream churches. She wanted a devotional rite that was attuned to the needs of the initiate, or at least those seeking a more esoteric faith, and this was its goal. I feel that it has grown beyond that, and even in her own writings it had already taken on a richer and fuller expression. However, it never really received the full attention that it I feel it deserved.
The Guild is not a proselytising movement, it does not seek to bring people in. Nor does it turn anyone away. DF had an interesting if somewhat heretical understanding of the person of Jesus as I explain in the book, and this I believe makes it a very pluralistic expression of Christianity.
At present it is an ethos, an idea, but it has the potential to be a new denomination, a new expression. I hope that from this book others may be inspired to develop and explore their own expressions, to engage with the ideas and create a new movement, one free from dogma, and rooted in spiritual experience.
Many say we live in a post-Christian culture. What is the easiest way for people in our multicultural and pluralist world to engage with Dion Fortune's brand of Christianity?
DF was not interested in dogma, exclusive attitudes like these create spiritual resistance and dim the light. She recognised the rejection of esoteric practice by traditional Christianity and so wanted to build a more welcoming and inclusive expression of the faith. Whether consciously or inadvertently she built her form on devotion rather than on teachings, theology, or tradition. The act of devotion came first. From this comes the religious experience, and from that wisdom and understanding. She had a radical view of the incarnation which I explore in the book. But she also recognised the importance of myth and its function in giving humanity a way to comprehend existence and encounter their own meaning and purpose. As already mentioned, she didn’t say her approach was for everyone, but it was available to those who wanted it. It is this position that I want to take. Here is something special and potentially life enriching, take it if you want it, it belongs to no one, and to everyone.
What surprised you most about Dion Fortune's writings on the Guild? Do you think they are still relevant - or maybe even more relevant than they were?
The most surprising thing is how much of a postmodern approach to faith that she takes. It is both liberating and inspiring. In a world where more people are searching for a spiritual meaning to life, she offers a new take on the old, and with it an opportunity for renewal and regeneration.
Many people are influenced by Dion Fortune's occult work, especially her Hermetic Qabalah and her pagan ideas. What relationship is there between the Guild of the Master Jesus and those other practices?
The Guild is about devotion first and foremost. Whilst it has a strong magical element its primary drive is to provide the initiate with a place for praise and worship, a place to exercise the devotion that was absent from her more magical work. I think it is important not to project modern magical practice onto DF’s work. Little remains of the inner work and much of what does is rightly held in private. We are encouraged by her to find the Path that is appropriate to us. Unlike Crowley she did not publish her rituals, nor did she proscribe ritual practice in the public domain. Anything we have has leaked or been garnered from her public writings. So, on this question I remain circumspect and guarded as I think it would be easy to say too much that is mere supposition.
If the Guild does re-emerge, do you see it as having a definite structure, or more as a kind of decentralised movement of the free spirit? How do you see the Guild impulse unfolding?
As I say in the book, I strongly believe that the Guild was intended to belong to everyone. In the 20s and 30s it was for a small audience of initiates as the public knew little of the practices taught in the Mystery Schools. Today in the 21st Century so much has entered the public domain. People freely use esoteric techniques without knowing their origins, and so perhaps the public are ready for this expression of Christianity.
Yet it is not an expression of traditional Christianity in any way. DF makes it clear that it has no ordained priesthood and no requirement for Bishops. To this end it is essentially a priesthood of all believers. It is decentralised and self-defining. I would be wary of any person who tries to give it a more traditional form and imposes a fixed governing body, or any form of ordained priesthood. I take this from her own writings which I think can be easily seen in the articles published in the book.
I noticed that in A Path to the Grail, you point out cases where Dion Fortune's ideas are perhaps out of date or need updating to reflect the times. Do you think there is room to update any other aspects of her work in 2024?
I am loath to change any of DF’s actual words, and in the book, I expressly avoid doing just that. It is easy to abridge and edit her but in so doing we risk losing the authentic voice, and we begin to put words into her mouth. This is not something that we should do. She must be allowed to speak for herself. However, this is a very different world and there is a need to enter dialogue with her and seek to interpret her ideas and ideals. To this end I believe it is the responsibility of the commentator to make it clear where DF ends, and their own interpretation begins. I hope I have managed to do this in this book. When writing I had to be careful not to read too much into the texts, and to recognise my own modern attitudes.
Yes, there is room to update her work, she was a great writer and practitioner, but she was not infallible. Nor would she have wanted her work to remain fixed and unchanging, she sowed a seed that she wanted to see grow and evolve and it is our responsibility to see it grow. It is good to look back at the foundations, but we cannot hold ourselves there, static and unchanging, as all that results is stagnancy, and ultimately the loss of the very light that we are trying to nurture.
Are you writing any more books? Is there anything else you'd like to tell us about?
I have begun work on another book, this more about magical technique and personal spiritual growth. DF’s magic was not grimoire magic, it was a magic rooted in personal growth, a magic that used Jung’s conception of individuation, and built on the spiritual practices of the saints. There is a need I think to further explore this for the modern age. Looking back at DF’s writings on place, divinity, and revisiting The Chant of the Elements.

©Christian Gilson 2024
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