by David Nicol
In early October of 1939, one month after Germany invaded Poland, British esotericist Dion Fortune sent a letter to her network announcing the start of a magical project to support the war effort by opening a channel to allow spiritual influences to uplift the “group mind” of the nation. The project came to be known as the “Magical Battle of Britain.” The letter contained instructions for a specific meditation practice that all members were asked to perform each Sunday from 12:15-12:30 p.m. and then again daily at any regular time of their choosing. A small group of experienced practitioners under Fortune’s guidance formed the focusing point for the meditation work, sitting in circle together each Sunday at Fortune’s home in London.
The meditations involved visualizing certain symbols believed to attract and focus spiritual forces that acted through them. Although the symbols were first created through the imagination, Fortune describes them “coming alive” early on in the group’s work, as though taking on independent forms that maintained themselves of their own accord and that developed organically over time. A set of symbols eventually emerged that were associated with key figures from the Arthurian tradition (King Arthur and Merlin) and from Christianity (Christ and Mary). It was understood that, through meditating on these symbols, the network helped to transmit to the collective British consciousness the archetypal ideals of chivalry and bravery associated with both Christianity and the myth of King Arthur, crucially strengthening the nation’s resolve during its hour of need. Because the myth created by the network was in deep harmony with the British national tradition, it was thought to have been especially accessible to the national mind. The theory was that individuals would pick up the ideas unconsciously and bring them to consciousness by thinking about them. Experts in various positions of influence would then give concrete expression to the ideals through action in the world. Indeed, Fortune claimed that the editorial pages of The Times—widely regarded at the time as the mirror of the national mind—came to give expression to the ideals of the work in a way that was “not only adequate but verbatim.”
The Magical Battle of Britain is a striking example of what I call “subtle activism”— the use of spiritual or consciousness-based practices for collective (rather than individual) transformation. Subtle activism is a bridge between the inner world of spirituality and the outer world of activism (as normally conceived) that emphasizes the potential of spiritual practice to exert a subtle but crucial form of social influence. It arises from the recognition that there are many creative ways to support social change and that shifting collective consciousness lies at the heart of any successful campaign. History is replete with examples of victories by armies or social movements that were badly outmatched by their opponents in technology and size, yet which prevailed because they possessed the superior will. Subtle activism feeds the will of a social movement by making it more conscious of, and permeable to, profound evolutionary and spiritual currents that underlie it, adding deeper dimensions of meaning to the movement and inspiring greater levels of motivation and commitment among its participants. It works on the assumption that, beneath the appearance of separation, we are profoundly connected to each other at deeper levels of consciousness, and that the focused spiritual attention of even a relatively small group can subtly and positively affect the collective consciousness of an entire community, nation, or even species.(1) It is not a substitute for direct physical action, but it can play a vital role as part of a more integrative approach to social or planetary change.
While the “Magical Battle” example illustrates a western esoteric approach to subtle activism, it can be practiced in a variety of spiritual forms and traditions. A notable form that has emerged since Fortune’s time—facilitated by the development of the Internet, the growing global interfaith movement, and the increasing hybridization of spiritual traditions—is a global meditation event involving many thousands of people engaged in synchronized spiritual practice in different parts of the planet. In whatever way it is practiced, subtle activism can be seen as one of a growing number of creative spiritual responses to the challenges of our times that recognize the need to integrate the paths of inner and outer transformation.
Looking at our present moment, how might we engage in the practice of subtle activism to support the Occupy Movement and the broader movement for global transformation it represents?