A Surprise Encounter with David Carstairs: Dion Fortune, Spiritualism, Occultism and the SOL School


A Surprise Encounter with David Carstairs: Dion Fortune, Spiritualism, Occultism and the SOL School


Dion Fortune wrote the following sentences in an important article called: “The Secret Tradition, Occultism and Spiritualism” that she wrote for the Spiritualist periodical “Light” in 1942:

“Yoga, spiritualism and the psychology of the unconscious are the three keys that open the gates of the Ancient Mysteries to modern thought.” 

“Personally, I think that occultists could profit by an acquaintance with the method of developing mediums used in well-conducted “home circles,” which would enable them to cut away a great deal of the traditional ritualistic paraphernalia.”

Dion Fortune was a formidable trance medium, although she had a complex relationship with the Spiritualist movement. At times she was highly critical of it, whereas in her later years she revealed the debts she, and the teachings of the Society of the Inner Light that she founded owed to her work with Spiritualist teachings and techniques of working with awareness of the aura and subtle ‘etheric’ body in altered states of consciousness.

I read the article reprinted in the book “Spiritualism and Occultism” by Dion Fortune and Gareth Knight (Thoth Publications, Loughborough, 1999, pp 41-49) after I had begun to practically explore Spiritualism myself in the autumn of 2017.

The medium who led the development circle that I had begun to attend, Peter Wilson CSNU, started to speak to us one day about his guide while he was teaching us in one of his classes. He said: “he took the appearance of a WWI soldier and used to work with a medium called Violet Mary Firth, who was also known as Dion Fortune.”

 I was taken aback and quite shocked as Peter knew nothing of my esoteric interests, that I was at that time the Assistant Director of Studies of the Servants of the Light School working closely with Dolores Ashcroft Nowicki who had been trained by one of Dion Fortune’s personal students who was also an initiated member of her Fraternity of the Inner Light: Walter Ernest Butler.

We magicians do not take such “coincidences” lightly, but on the other hand, we are astutely aware that fraudsters and manipulators often weave glamour in our path to ensnare or mislead for their own egotistical and exploitative purposes. Was Peter tricking me, I initially thought or was I led to Longton Spiritualist Church to have a live encounter with David Carstairs while brushing up on my psychic skills and beginning to develop as a Spiritual Medium?

I discussed the matter with Peter and told him that Dion Fortune’s work was very significant in my life and work. He told me that he knew nothing of Dion Fortune until David Carstairs presented himself as his new teacher and guide one day while he was sitting (meditating) in the Silence.

Carstairs had appeared in Peter’s subjective clairvoyant vision as a soldier and Peter said he was very concerned with the souls of those who are impacted by the calamity of war and how peace and healing might come to those who suffer in or through war. Carstairs was very interested in working with all aspects of “remembering the dead” in healing ways, Peter said. He also told Peter that he had worked with others as a “guide” and one medium, in particular, had been in his care and she was called “Violet Mary Firth who wrote some books.”

Peter then researched Violet Mary Firth and discovered “Dion Fortune” but told me he had not read any of her books because they were all about “magic and stuff” and he was not really into that.

I still thought that Peter might be manipulating me and that he could have searched my name on the internet and discovered my links with the SOL school, that has historical links with Dion Fortune the trance medium, magician and occultist.

David Carstairs has been in my awareness for decades through my studies of Dion Fortune’s life and work and Gareth Knight and Rebecca Wilby’s work on the “Abbey Papers” that I had worked with too. 

 I felt guilty in some ways for doubting him and was aware my ego could be surfacing too. Why would Peter want to “google me” when I was just “Steve Critchley” to him who had turned up in his development circle for beginners in October 2017.  

 Then I found out that in 2010, several years before we met in 2017, Peter had published a small book about how he developed as a medium following the death of his beloved wife, Pauline. The book is called “Pauline’s Gift: Know that Life is Eternal.” In the book, Peter discusses how “David Carstairs” came into his life and changed it as his teacher of mediumship.

So, “by chance” and following my intuition, I had begun to attend a Spiritualist church near where I live, found out it was one of the best known in the country with a grand history, and then when I attended a beginners class in the development of psychic and mediumistic awareness I was taught, initially, by a medium who said his primary teaching guide was “David Carstairs” who used to work with Dion Fortune!

When I told Dolores about my surprise encounter with “David Carstairs” on the phone, she nearly had kittens laughing about at first. But then she also recognised that this was an essential aspect of my work because: “Ernest also worked on the platform, of Spiritualist churches as a clairvoyant and medium and Robert King first teacher was also a medium of some renown.” Robert King was one of the mediums on staff at Julia’s Bureau in London that was founded and managed by the Spiritualist pioneer W.T. Stead. 

My Development as a Spiritual Medium

During the last year of my working as the Assistant Director of Studies of the SOL, I started having curious dreams. When falling to sleep at night, or when waking in the morning, I would see faces floating past my mind’s eye. The people I saw were from a host of different backgrounds. Some images were still and could be in either black and white or in colour, like detailed photographs. Sometimes I saw them in little movie-like clips: an old lady sat knitting; a mother bouncing a baby on her knee; a man stood in a bus stop; a carpenter working etc.…  

I also began to feel an insistent tug on my heart: “find a Spiritualist church nearby and visit it.”

One day I asked my partner, Ed: “when you are drifting off to sleep or waking up do you see pictures of people’s faces floating through your mind, or see them doing everyday actions for a second or two, like little movie clips?”

 “No,” he said, emphatically, smiling and rolling of his eyes.

Following my intuition to check out a local Spiritualist church, I explored the website of the SNU (Spiritualist National Union), and they had a postcode checker to help find the nearest church. We live in quite a remote spot in the hills of the English Peak District, but I found that Longton National Spiritualist Church in nearby Stoke-on-Trent was the nearest to me, as the crow flies.

I decided to give it a visit one Sunday evening for the Divine Service. I had no idea that Longton is one of the most renowned Spiritualist Churches in the world with a rich history. The church was led for many years by Gordon Higginson who had an international reputation as a great medium and teacher. Before Gordon’s time, the church had been built up by his mother, Fanny Higginson who was also a profoundly respected medium. Gordon was president of the Spiritualist National Union for many years and also the Principal of the Arthur Findlay College for decades. The Arthur Findlay College was also to be a place where I would go on to practically study mediumship at a future date. 

I enjoyed the service at Longton and decided to try their Thursday afternoon development class for beginners. I already had a wealth of esoteric experience and was familiar with psychic work and inner experiences with “Contacts.” But I had never thought of myself as a medium.

I never thought that I might work on the platform publicly in Spiritualist churches as an evidential Spiritual Medium; I certainly had no ambition for that work. I was keen to learn how psychism and mediumship worked though from a Spiritualist perspective.

Mindful that one is “always a neophyte,” and there is always something new to learn I was happy to attend the beginners class.

First, Peter put me through my paces testing psychic abilities: reading fellow students, psychometry, reading pictures he brought in to class and asking me to tell him things about the people in the photographs who were strangers to me etc…

Following the psychic work, Peter said that he would now help me to make a link with Spirit and see how different it was to work as a medium rather than on a purely psychic level. A saying he used that I have heard repeated many times now is: “all mediums are psychic, but not all psychics are mediums.”

What does that mean? A psychic reads the aura of living people, objects or atmospheres they encounter, a medium makes a link with a discarnate person, living in the ‘spirit-world’ also sometimes called the etheric world and relays information from them.

Genuine mediumship is Divine work that always has healing potential within it, and it is best expressed as an act of service.

I made my first contact as a medium under Peter’s tutelage in the library at Longton Spiritualist Church. Later I would train with Kath and Mitch Shirley in the church and with other mediums in the wider Spiritualist community, including training at the Arthur Findlay College.

At the time of writing, I have begun working publicly as a medium in Spiritualist Church services. In private, I have also been working with aspects of trance mediumship.

The SOL school practically teaches the Mystical Qabalah in the context of the western esoteric tradition. We do not teach from the perspective of any one religious or philosophical belief system.

There are no plans to promote Spiritualism, as a religion, in the SOL. Students from a variety of faith backgrounds continue to work in the school and in our lodges. My personal esoteric, occult, and mystical experience has led me through several systems of belief as part of my ongoing personal quest. My continued work as a Spiritual Medium and what I have learned practically through my development and the methods employed in it will undoubtedly impact my ability to teach about the etheric body and awareness within the aura. 

In her article “The Secret Tradition,” Dion Fortune wrote:

“For many years I have inveighed against occult secrecy as not only outworn but dishonest; more and more clearly has widening knowledge taught me the value of rapprochement between occultism and spiritualism, and I am convinced that the time is now ripe for such a development.” (P. 46)

My personal work and teaching will certainly continue in light of what I have learned, and the experiences I have had, since my surprise encounter with David Carstairs. In many ways, it does not even matter if the “David Carstairs” Peter worked with is indeed the same person who worked with Dion Fortune, Margaret Lumley Brown (the trance medium who served in the Society of the Inner light after DF’s death), Rebecca Wilby and others. Though it was inspiring thinking that the medium who led me through the process of making my first mediumistic link with the world of spirit was being guided by David Carstairs and this association had been made spontaneously and without predetermination at least on mine and Peter Wilson’s part.

Peter Wilson passed into the world of Spirit himself earlier this year, and I was very touched to receive a text message from him a few days before his physical death. He knew I had demonstrated mediumship in a Divine Service at Longton Spiritualist Church on Sunday 7th April and shortly after (on the 9th April 2019) he wrote: 

“Well done on the service, I am proud of you. Very best wishes, Peter.” 

It is also interesting to note that the pioneer Spiritualist medium Emma Hardinge Britten (1832-1899) was one of the founding members of the Theosophical Society in New York on the 7th September 1875, but that is another story!

© 2019, Steven Critchley & Servants of the Light

Posted in Messages From Steven, News

Please Remember Dolores in Prayers

Would SOL students and friends please remember Dolores in your prayers, if you feel so inclined?

Dolores is going through a very tough time at the moment and is appreciative of upliftment.

She has been ill recently, with bad bronchitis and some other issues, and is still going through a painful divorce process.

Dolores has many friends who help her as much as they can in their own ways and she appreciates the love and friendship she receives.

Dolores will always have an honoured place in the heart of our school and be remembered for her work as Director of Studies over many years.

Thank you for remembering Dolores in your prayers in whatever way you extend your blessing to others, it is appreciated.


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Seven Roses Blooming at the Door

Seven white roses are blooming today, August 28th, at the external door here at the Sanctuary.

They inspired this prayer in my heart this morning:

“May the perfect involution of the presence and force of the Cosmic Artist, bless the forms we build and offer in our school as we seek to serve the Light.”

“In his will is our peace” – “I want to know in order to serve.”

Blessings on all who serve,



The external door to the temple at SOL HQ.

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SOL Supervisors and Magi Welcome to SOL HQ

Light within and Light without.

This is an image of the altar light and the north window of the temple at SOL HQ in the Peak District, England.

The temple is used for SOL rituals as well as for personal work.

All SOL Magi and Supervisors are welcome to visit the temple and retreats can be arranged for longer stays for those who wish to spend time with Steve or consult the SOL archive and Brian O’Neill Memorial Library.

Our intention is that the temple space and resources at SOL HQ are available to workers in the school community offering support and a space for inner work, healing, contemplation, and reflection.

All are welcome.




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Happy 90th Birthday Dolores!

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House of the Net – SOL Theurgic Prayer

The House of the Net monthly linking meditation has been used in the SOL school for many years and we want to introduce a renewed and restructured way of working with the House of the Net for current SOL students and past graduates of the school that wish to participate.

Prayer is a powerful magical practice

Steven Critchley has taught about the principles and dynamics of prayer for decades drawing on ancient Egyptian, Neoplatonic, Qabalistic, Esoteric Christian, Craft, Wiccan and Spiritualist teachings on the subject.

In our monthly House of the Net linking meditations, we will be initially be focusing on ancient Egyptian ways of entering into prayer as communicated through the pagan Neoplatonic philosophers, Plotinus (who taught in Alexandria), Iamblichus and Proclus.

Working with genuine ancient inner practices and disciplines we will be working with prayer using key symbols and God-forms in the light of evolved teachings from the Dion Fortune tradition of the Mystical Qabalah.

Current SOL students and long-time members of the school, that have graduated our courses in the past, are invited to get in touch with SOL admin if they would like to be included in our House of the Net meditations where we will be working with Theurgic Prayer guided on a monthly basis by the Director of Studies.

Send an email headed: House of the Net Subscribe to sollessons@gmail.com. Past students who wish to be included please provide a short introduction including which course you studied with us and who your supervisor was, please.

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Dolores’ New Book Published Today!

We wish Dolores’ every success with the publication of her latest book: My First Book of Magic which is published today. The book is illustrated by Carl Ashcroft, Dolores’ son.

See the link below for more information.


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Please Light Passing Candles in Memory of Charles Burns

It is with great sadness that we announce the death of Charles Burns who passed away in the early hours of March 30th 2019, surrounded by his family.

Charles has been part of the SOL community for many years and was dedicated to his work in the school as an initiate and Magus of SOL Lodge Taigh na Mor Riggu (House of the Great Queen) [ pronounced ‘teesch na more riggoo’ ] in the west of Scotland.

I have many good memories of times spent with Charles that were full of laughter and candour.

Rest in peace brother and we know that you will journey brightly into the Light.

Members and friends of the SOL please join with me lighting a passing candle for Charles and in prayers for his loved ones at this time.


Director of Studies, SOL.

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SOL Light-Wise Series of Workshops Announced in Central London Beginning July 2019

SOL Light-Wise workshops are taking place in central London, beginning in July this year.
They are open to SOL students and members of the school.
Each workshop will be a stand-alone event, but there will also be continued themes repeated throughout the series.
Please email SOL admin if you are a SOL student or member who wishes to apply to attend.
It would help if you head the email: SOL London Workshops, please.
The dates are:
Saturday 6 July
Saturday 17 August
Saturday 5 October
Saturday 16 November
Saturday 7 December
Cost £15 per workshop.
11am-5pm with a 45 min lunch/refreshment break.
Posted in Messages From Steven, News

Pantaenus “The Sicilian Bee” and Themes of our New Introductory Course



Dear Friends,

The new SOL introductory course that will be made available this summer, “The Way of the Apprenticed Mage” is being prepared in alignment with the principal teachings that were communicated in the Practical Course on the Mystical Qabalah by W.E. Butler.

“The Way of the Apprenticed Mage” is not a revision or re-presentation of the Butler course, but it will be re-presenting all of the critical elements of that course.

In Lesson 44 of his course Butler wrote the following concerning the teachings of his course and our school:

“…we have instructed you along the lines of the great Arthurian Myth – The Table Round, and the Holy Grail. For the place of meeting of those who belong to the Inner Plane Group – which is the teaching and directing agency behind this Course – is the Temple of the Grail, which exists in the Inner Worlds today even as it did over two thousand years ago, when it began to develop its outer aspect in the great city of Alexandria.

The Spirit who now works through that modern personality we know as the Master of Magic, the Opener of the Ways, worked at that time through another personality who taught and mediated in those Graeco-Egyptian Mysteries. It is also of interest to note that this same city of Alexandria became the place where the first Christian Catechetical School – which attempted to expound the deeper intellectual concepts of Christianity – became established. It is also interesting to note that this city was associated with the Apostolic See of St Mark, whose Symbol is the Lion. Some of the greatest of the early Christian Fathers were linked with this School, Origen and Clement of Alexandria being two of them.

So here you have the Centre through which all that was best in the Egyptian and Grecian Mysteries was brought together and so passed into the Christian Church, and it was from the Inner Temple of the Grail that in due time there was begun that myth which, nurtured in Britain in far earlier times under other forms, and going back through the ages to a Land now lost, became the “Matter of Britain,”

I would like students and members of the school to keep the above words in mind because they represent a core aspect of what we will be teaching in the school along with the Mystical Qabalah in a Hermetic context and with reference to the wider esoteric traditions of the west.

The Inner Order from which our school is contacted is the “Alexandrian Fraternity” that Butler mentions above. Our new introductory course, “The Way of the Apprentice Mage” will be drawing on the imagery of ancient Alexandria and the mystery school that was active around the Serapeum and Great library complex.

The familiar bee sigil, that is copyright to the SOL, will be the symbol of the new course.

Butler wrote, above, concerning the first Christian Catechetical school that arose in ancient Alexandria. In my research and contemplations, I came upon the following words of Clement of Alexandria concerning one Pantaenus – the Sicilian Bee:

“When I came upon the last (teacher), he was the first in power, having pursued him out concealed in Egypt, I found rest. He, the true, the Sicilian bee gathering the spoil of the flowers of the prophetic and apostolic meadow, engendered in the souls of hearers a deathless element of knowledge.”

Pantaenus was the first head of the Didascalia in Alexandria, he was a stoic pagan philosopher who converted to Christianity but was famed for his understanding of the more profound, universal, teachings.

I would like to emphasise that the SOL is not a religious organisation and we do not teach any one particular faith. We honour all beliefs that serve humanity positively and increase awareness of human potential and responsibility. Our way is the way represented by the symbol of the ancient Alexandrian school where all sacred learning was celebrated and shared to the benefit of all.

I feel that the story of Pantaenus lends new meaning to the SOL sigil with the bee at its centre. The bee is, of course, a symbol in many mystery traditions and we will be using the logo for our introductory training as a ‘gatherer of knowledge that is offered in service’.

I am doing my best to work in harmony with the direction of the Opener of the Ways and wish to see our school prosper as we move forward in the work.

With Blessings in Light,


Director of Studies, SOL.


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