Dr. Taverner is an occult master, the Senior of the Seven, a key figure in the world's psychic fraternities. His practice combined psychiatry with his very specialized knowledge. Since every occult detective needs a Watson, the narrator of these episodes is Dr. Rhodes, who has recently returned from World War I with emotional wounds. Rhodes, who knows nothing of mysticism, soon wholeheartedly accepts the occult as he assists Taverner in fighting the supernatural. For his part, Taverner is a sometimes laid-back hero, often biding his time to allow his patients to find their own way to overcome evil psychic influences. He often relies on horoscopes and on the Akashic Records -- reachable only through trance and where every human thought and movment is recorded.
Every age seems to have its popular movement involving secret masters of the universe sharing their divine knowledge with a select few. In the last quarter of the 19th century, Theosophy was born, a belief that had been cobbled together by H. P. Blavatsky, but supposedly given her by the Seven Brothers who knew the secret history or the world -- or something like that. Shortly after Blavatsky founded Theosophy, three Englishmen founded the Golden Dawn, another occult organization that drew together ancient Jewish mysticism, alchemy, and Rosicrucianism. (There are times in human history when you couldn't throw a cat without hitting one mystic order or another.) Members of the Golden Dawn (at various times) included Alistair Crowley, the poet Yeats, Algernon Blackwood, Arthur Machen, Constance Lloyd (Oscar Wilde's wife), and Violet Firth. (Not members, but connected to Golden Dawn, were the writers Arthur Conan Doyle, Bram Stoker, Sax Rohmer, and E. Nesbit.)
Firth shifted from Golden Dawn to Theosophy and became a major figure in that order until she split off and formed her own occult group, the Fraternity of the Inner Light. Under her own name, Firth produced a number of works combining psychology and the occult, and wrote occult fiction as "Dion Fortune". It was as Fortune that she created Dr. Taverner.
The Taverner stories are surprisingly readable today. Many are fairly simplistic and involve commonplace themes; although some go much deeper. "A Daughter of Pan" reads at times like an amalgram of Blackwood and Machen. "Recalled" is laced with feminine fury as it relates the story of an English officer who impregnates and casts out a fifteen year old native girl in India. Of course, some of the stories press modern day buttons: Rhodes freely admits that he abhors "defectives", the White race is supreme and English attitudes of xenophobia seem to be commendable.
In the end, however, the purpose of this book is to express the author's beliefs. Dr. Taverner (under a different name) is a real person, his clinic actually exists, and the stories are based on actual experiences, albeit toned down so as not to offend the reader -- or so Fortune writes in her forward to the book.
From the blurb on the back cover:
"Perhaps no occultist in the 20th Century has so fully combined a practical knowledge of Magick with a deep understanding as Dion Fortune, unless it be Israel Regardie.
"Dion Fortune used fiction as the vehicle for presenting this synthesis of Magick and Psychology in terms relevant to everyday living and the problems that serious students will inevitably meet.
"Here, in this one book, she presents eleven case studies of actual super-normal happenings in the form of exciting stories. Written as fiction, yet these tales are a serious study in the psychology of ultra-consciousness.
"'Dr. Taverner' was a real person and his mysterious nursing home an actual fact. The happenings chronicled here are not as uncommon as you might imagine; they are real cases, and far from being written up to make exciting fiction, they had to be toned down to make them fit for print."
(No, I have no idea who Israel Regardie [surely an inspired name!] is, and I had no interest in finding out.)
THE SECRETS OF DR. TAVERNER was originally published in 1926. The copy I read was the 1962 Llewellyn paperback, which added a long introduction by Gareth Knight, "The Work of a Modern Occult Fraternity". Again, from the back blurb:
"Here you will learn the reality behind such Occult Experiences as 'facing the Dweller on the threshold,' the building of a Group Mind, after-death contacts, the Planetary Spirit, etc."
The Llewellyn edition also has a neat cover painting by Hannes Bok, who also dabbled in mysticism..
Taken with a grain (or several grains) of salt, this is a interesting book.
A hat tip to Clute and Grant's The Encyclopedia of Fantasy for some of the background material.
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