Sunday, January 6, 2019


Today is the Feast of Epiphany, commemorating the arrival of the "wise men from the east" in Bethlehem, bearing gifts of "gold, and frankincense, and myrrh" (Matthew 2:1–11). This story is given in the Gospel of Matthew, while most of the other elements—no room at the inn, the manger, and of the adoration of the shepherds—are drawn from Luke (the ox and the ass are later additions to the legend). Though many of us have become used to the fusion of the two—mainly through the hymns or readings associated with Christmas and the tradition of the nativity scene or crèche—in art, most of the old masters represent the adoration of the shepherds and the adoration of the Magi (kings or wise men) separately.

Sandro Boticelli, The Adoration of the Magi, ca. 1480, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D. C.
Yeats takes these two adorations as archetypes. In the notes to The Wind Among the Reeds (1899), he characterizes three speakers of the collection's poems:* "'Michael Robartes' is fire reflected in water", "Hanrahan is fire blown by the wind", "Aedh ... fire burning by itself". Yeats then goes on:
To put it a different way, Hanrahan is the the simplicity of an imagination too changeable to gather permanent possessions, or the adoration of the shepherds; and Michael Robartes is the pride of the imagination brooding upon the greatness of its possessions, or the adoration of the Magi; while Aedh is the myrrh and frankincense that the imagination offers continually before all that it loves. (Variorum Poems, 803)
The Wind Among the Reeds (London: Elkin Matthews, 1899)

Yeats says that "It is probable that only students of the magical tradition will understand" the elemental attributions, and it is clear that he is drawing upon symbolism that includes the astrological fire, associated with intuition and imagination, while water is associated with emotion and air with intellect. He links Hanrahan and Robartes further to the idea of possession—a more earthy association, but imaginatively as much the possession of learning—and to the idea of two different revelations: the unexpected angel appearing to the shepherds in their fields, opposed to the studied revelation of the star that leads the wise men to Judea, where it is then related to written prophecy. Neither revelation is better, and though the unburdened spontaneity of the airy imagination might seem superior, the dedicated mission of the Magi is an important part of the mystery too. What the shepherds may have gained by simplicity of heart, the Magi have gained through great learning, but both have arrived at the same truth.

Bartolomé Esteban Murillo, The Adoration of the Shepherds, 1668, Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg, Russia.

Yeats wrote his own story "The Adoration of the Magi" at much the same time (1897), and his three old brothers from the western islands of Ireland have qualities of both the shepherds and the Magi. Simple countrymen, they are inspired by a voice to visit Paris, in search of a place where they finally find a dying prostitute. The god Hermes speaks through one of them and tells them to bow down and hear “the secret names of the immortals” that “the immortals may come again into the world” (Variorum Secret Rose 168var; see Mythologies 2005 424n13), and the dying woman appears to give the secrets of religious mysteries, such as those Yeats was attempting to create at Lough Key: “she told them the secret names of the immortals of many lands, and of the colours, and odours, and weapons, and instruments of music and instruments of handicraft they held dearest; but most about the immortals of Ireland and of their love for the cauldron, and the whetstone, and the sword, and the spear, and the hills of the Shee, and the horns of the moon, and the Grey Wind, and the Yellow Wind, and the Black Wind, and the Red Wind” (VSR 170var). When Yeats revised the story in the 1920s, while he was writing the first version of A Vision, instead of these revelations of these ancient secrets, the dying whore gives birth to a unicorn, though the birth is unseen and supernatural and recounted by Hermes.
Georges Lallemand, The Adoration of the Magi, c. 1624, Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg, Russia.

The revelation comes differently, but the import is ultimately the same—the advent of a new religious dispensation, which is first glimpsed by those who have the gift of grace or the result of preparation.

When Yeats looked back on his days in the Golden Dawn of the 1890s, he recalled:
We all, so far as I can remember, differed from ordinary students of philosophy or religion through our belief that the truth cannot be discovered but may be revealed, and that if a man do not lose faith, and if he go through certain preparations, revelation will find him at the fitting moment. I remember a learned brassfounder in the North of England who visited us occasionally, and was convince that there was a certain moment in every year which, once known, brought with it "The Summum Bonum, the Stone of the Wise." But others, for it was clear that there must be a vehicle or symbol of communication, were of the opinion that some messenger would make himself known, in a railway train let us say, or might be found after search in some distant land. (AVA x–xi, CW13 liv)

*Four names actually feature in the poems' original titles—Mongan is the fourth—alongside "the Poet"; these were later changed to a generic "He..." or "The Lover...".

Sunday, December 2, 2018

The Process of Incarnation

Though the human experience is at the heart of Yeats’s system, he is unsure and unclear about its origins or first impetus. Why do some spirits enter space and time and become incarnated as human beings? Despite hints in the treatment of the afterlife, A Vision does not address the topic at all, but a draft intermediate between the two versions,[1] gives a slightly fuller account, which fits with the developed scheme in most details.

Yeats starts with the solar pair of Principles, Spirit and Celestial Body, which form the central core of the individual existence:
The Spirit is the Conscious Self which is always one, but this Self holds within it, when we consider it as perfect, all of our conscious selves, and it is those other selves that are the Celestial Body.[2]
Here Spirit is seen as Self, but as a partial expression of a fuller whole, the Celestial Body, which contains all that the self can be. Together and in union, they are a form of perfection:
But Spirit and Celestial Body so united are timeless, the selves are limited and changeless, possessing as in a single moment what the natural self unrolls in its endless pulsations,* each at once unique and universal, Daimon not man.[3]
The timeless archetype is here identified with the Daimon, which ties the elements together neatly—perhaps too neatly. Yeats was always tempted to codify and find correspondences, then forced to change position because of evidence or instruction. The contrast of the eternal moment of self-possession[4] with the natural self as the unwound skein of life beating to the time-keeping rhythm of the heart is reinforced by a footnote to “endless pulsations”: “ ‘I give you the end of a golden string, only winded into a ball, – it will lead you in at Heaven’s gate, built in Jerusalem’s wall.’ Blake.”[5] In Yeats’s misquotation of Blake, the archetypal self is the long threads of many lives wound into a single ball. Parts may be unspooled in time and space as individual incarnations, or wound up again into the eternal instant.[6]
But seeing that this motionless world according to Parmenides and the most recent† speculation is alone completely real, what brought the natural man into existence? Nobody has ever answered that question, and my instructors, like all that have gone before, accept evil as part of the structure of things.[7]
This is the key question—why does the Spirit leave the perfection of its union the Celestial Body and start the natural process? The use of “evil” here is disconcerting, but Yeats generally appears to use “evil” in a profoundly amoral sense, both in the system and elsewhere, and the implication is that the emergence of “natural man” is a kind of imbalance or fall from the perfection, a move from unity to duality and multiplicity.[8]
All that they can do is to say the something which they call the Passionate Body lures the Spirit from its bride, the Celestial Body, and saves the Celestial Body itself, from solitude.
This luring is effectively the Spirit’s attraction to experience, to contact with what is not itself, other spirits and Daimons, hence the saving of the Celestial Body, which remains separate, from solitude.
After comparing all the descriptions of it [Passionate Body] scattered through the automatic script or spoken in sleep, I can but define it as abstract multitude, though there is but one technical term of my instructors that describes it – Destiny. Destiny is that which forces from within, his peculiar bias, that which makes him different from all other men.
The Spirit is thus lured by Destiny, which Yeats proceeds to link with the term as used in the Hermetic Fragments and which he consistently identifies as lunar/antithetical and individual in opposition to objective Fate. He then goes on to identify the Passionate Body with matter in the Hermetic sense.
The Passionate Body is no doubt called passionate because the source of emotion and volition. It cannot differ greatly from what Hermes calls matter – “matter having no quality nor form of its own to make it visible, is in itself wholly invisible”. The Spirit which alone contains within itself time and space and all other categories “ripened” it – a word used by my instructors doubtless because of their association of sun with the Spirit – into the objects of sense, each a symbol or correspondence of some articulation of the Celestial Body.
The Spirit thus lured to the Passionate Body, fructifies and ripens it into the objects of sense, partially reflecting attributes of Celestial Body. (This incidentally provides a clear rationale for the Yeatses symbolic method, as the relation of the sense objects to the timeless truths of Celestial Body is by “symbol or correspondence.”) The Passionate Body is the particular and phenomenal manifestation of Celestial Body’s archetypal articulations.
The objects of sense are called the Husk, because when perceived they are already dead or separate, something cast off by the growing seed.[9] The Passionate Body itself is the present, a moment of time as distinct from the eternal present of the Celestial Body, and is contrasted with the Husk or past. The Spirit offers the timeless Celestial Body as our aim or as the future…. The Husk is, I think also the past, and within the Husk and the Passionate Body the Four Faculties originate and complete their circles.
Husk is the final aspect of the Principles and elsewhere more properly refers to the senses themselves, though without the limits of bodily sensation, but bound intimately to Passionate Body. The Passionate Body, the thread unwound in time and space, gives the ever-shifting present in contrast to the Celestial Body’s wound ball concentrated in eternity, which yet appears as a future set against the present and past of the sensuously directed Passionate Body and Husk.[10] The Faculties are introduced as originating “within” the Husk and Passionate Body and completing the whole circuit of their action there too, but even here we are not given any idea of the process involved and Yeats may have felt unable to supply what was not in the script.[11] A card-file entry summarizes that the tinctures “ ‘Anti and Primary come at birth’ ” (YVP3 248)[12] and by implication the Faculties arise when the spiritual being of the Principles becomes incarnate, that is, enters “the exclusive association with one body” (AVA 221, CW13 183).[13] In a draft he notes as part of “certain interactions of Faculties and Principles” that “the Faculties are drawn out of the Husk by Spirit and share the Husk’s abstraction,”[14] implying thus the interaction of spiritual consciousness or mind (Spirit) with sense or “light” and incarnate consciousness (Husk). The Faculties are the tools for dealing with incarnate life and take over almost entirely, so that, although “the Principles are the innate ground of Faculties” (AVB 187, CW14 137) or their “Roots,” during incarnate life they are largely in abeyance, operating only at an unconscious level.

[1]       “Book III: The Completed Symbol,” NLI MS 36,272/24, typescript corrected in ink and pencil. Dating from ca. 1928, to judge from the description of the Thirteenth Cone: “The 13th cone or sphere is divided into three concentric spheres of which the innermost is, I conclude, the One…”
[2]       NLI MS 36,272/24, paged numbered 12.
[3]       NLI MS 36,272/24, paged numbered 13. Footnote text given in following paragraph.
Yeats first met Thomas Aquinas’s “Eternity is the possession of one’s self, as in a single moment” in Villiers de l’Isle-Adam’s Axël (Act 1, sc. 6), and repeated it with pleasure; see CW14 368n119, and Warwick Gould, Notes and Queries, October 1981, 458–60, and “The Mask before The Mask,” YA19 (2013) 15–16.
[5]       NLI MS 36,272/24, paged numbered 13 note. Yeats misremembers and misquotes a line from Blake’s  Jerusalem, “To the Christians,” as describing a wound ball rather than the imperative “Only wind it into a ball,” pl. 77 (WWB3 [321]).
[6]       This echoes the imagery of the “loose thread” “wound upon a spool” of “The Fool by the Roadside” and the mummy wound in its cloths of “All Souls’ Night” and the instants of time that are no more than “what Blake called ‘the pulsation of an artery’” (AVB 24, CW14 19)
[7]       NLI MS 36,272/24, page numbered 13; Yeats gives a footnote: “† See McTaggart in ‘Studies of Hegelian Cosmology,” Section 33 and in ‘The Nature of Existence,’ ” referencing the work of the philosopher J. McT. E. McTaggart.
[8]       This may derive from the sleep of 9 March 1928; Dionertes questioned “where did evil come from, why was it necessary for man to exist, until he got me to say that evil must be in the celestial body. He then said – the celestial body is evil. I had looked upon it as the reflection of the One. I then said – you mean the Celestial body is the Many? – He said –yes, if you want to think like that man – who the man was he didnt say. He said that the spirit is not only that which perceives the One but is itself the One. Its aim is to see itself as One in the celestial body, until at last there is only spirit or only celestial body. I said, can it perceive the celestial body or itself in that body without the intervention of the perceptions? He said, it seeks to identify itself with the celestial body, or with himself in that body, or some such words. He then said what seems to me important – the mind never identifies itself with a perception, and added ‘If you see your face in the mirror you do not identify yourself with what you see there though you cannot know your face in any other way. But with the face that is looking into the mirror.’” NLI MS 36,262/22.
[9]       Later, Yeats would refine this to say that Husk is sense, while Passionate Body is the objects of sense, though the distinction can be very nice.
[10]       In a similar way, the Thirteenth Cone appears as the future at the end of the series of twelve cycles or cones, despite being timeless. The attributions of time in this draft are the same for the Principles but different from those given to the Faculties in A Vision (AVB 191–92, CW14 140–41). The AS and notes give significant space to wrestling with these correspondences, although they do not illuminate much.
[11]       There are some further possibilities presented in the macrocosmic perspective offered in A Vision B (AVB 193–95, CW14 ???), where the tinctures are seen to originate in the Spirit/Nous and the Passionate Body/Soul of the World.
give rise to the two tinctures: the first part of does not really fit—Passionate Body as the origin of the antithetical would make more sense, but the reference is definitely to Celestial Body (cf. YVP1 500, 12 June 1918).
[13]        “These attributes [i.e., the Principles], I am told, reflect themselves in the Four Faculties” NLI MS 36,272/24.
[14]       NLI MS 36,272/12, corrected typescript “Book Four,” page numbered 14, section 7. Draft of “The Completed Symbol,” section V (cf. AVB 195, CW14 143).

Saturday, December 1, 2018

Astrology of A Vision III

Marilyn Busteed, Richard Tiffany, and Dorothy Wergin were the pioneers of taking A Vision astrologically (in print, at least) and there is an exploratory, tentative tone to the work, characterized by the suggestion of three different methods to allot the phases. They offer equal "lunar" phases, unequal "solar" phases, and symmetrical, centred "lunar" phases.
 "There are 28 phases to equal the average number of days in the lunar month. 360 degrees divided by 28 yields 12.86 degrees per phase, a number roughly equal to the daily average motion of the moon. There are two methods of division.... This equal-phase method is the lunar method.
     "Since Yeats never designated [un]ambiguously how to divide the cycle into 28 portions, we have developed a method of division based on close correspondences between the phases and the signs of the zodiac.... This is the solar method of division." (p. 36)
This solar method allots a 30° sign to Phases 1, 8, 15, and 22, while the other phases receive 10° each, which is actually Yeats's standard alignment with respect to months and zodiac—in one place, he claims that it "is classification not symbolism", but it is used to map the phases to the gyres of history and the cycles of time in general (see this earlier post on the topic). Note that the alignment of the phases to the zodiac used by Busteed, Tiffany, and Wergin (BTW) is totally different from any of those used by the Yeatses (more on this in a later post) and that it does not with the physical zodiac, being anchored on the position of the New Moon.

The authors actually mainly use the "solar" method of division, establishing correspondence between signs of the zodiac and, where relevant, the threefold divisions of the zodiac signs, the decans (using triplicity rulerships).
(The third possible form of division, a variation of their lunar, equal division, is kept to an appendix: Phase 1 is centred on the conjunction of sun and moon [new moon], rather than starting with it, so Phase 2 starts at 6° 26' [6.43°] after the new moon's position.)

The next treatment chronologically is that of Ann Rogers in the journal Metapsychology, but I'll leave it till the end as it is not book length and divides differently from the other methods.

 Martin Goldsmith acknowledges and follows on from BTW:
"Since Yeats' system has twenty-eight phases, with no indication that any one phase is more important than any other, the most obvious method of division would be twenty-eight equal phases of 12.86 degrees each. The authors of Phases of the Moon [BTW], however, also developed a more complex system, which they termed the 'solar' system of division. It contains twenty-four small phases of 10 degrees each, and four large phases of 30 degrees each....
     "Approximating the angle between the Sun and Moon, I arranged these examples into 'solar' and 'lunar' phases, looking in particular to those areas around the expanded solar phases, since these are the areas of greatest discrepancy. The results of my study strongly supported the 'solar' system of division....
     "Perhaps the most exciting discovery presented in Phases of the Moon is the correlation between the Moon phases and the signs of the zodiac. The relationship is so solid that it would be no exaggeration to compare it to the age-old correspondence between the zodiacal signs and astrological houses." (pp. 19–20)
Goldsmith therefore follows BTW in making the phases correspond to signs and decans, but prefers to establish his own planetary associations and "rulerships"—
"Since the decanate rulers have proven unreliable, I haven't tried to tailor my phase descriptions to the traditional decanate system. The planetary 'rulers' that I have given each phase are meant to describe the kinds of energy one finds in that phase; they are not meant to establish some new system of rulership. In fact, I have often listed two or more planetary influences for one phase" (p. 22).

Dave Wilkinson also mentions BTW's Phases of the Moon and appears to refer to Goldsmith's work in rather mangled fashion as "Michael Golman's 1988 Moon Phases". He, however, follows BTW's lunar method. He gives no description of the division methods or the mathematics, just a table with rounded values based on 360 ÷ 28.
"From your natal horoscope, determine the number of degrees the moon lies ahead of the sun. Each Phase is approximately 13 degrees. Phases 1, 8, 15 and 22 are at the quadrants.

10 15 180
21316 193
32617 206
43918 219
55119 231
664 20 244
777 21 257
890 22 270
910323 283
1011624 296
1112925 309
1214126 321
1315427 334
Wilkinson uses the Four Faculties far more than the earlier writers, and in that sense is significantly closer to Yeats, although he simplifies to some extent and invents meanings for the Faculties of Phases 1 and 15. He does not give any zodiacal connections or interpretations.

Bob Makransky follows the same route. He also divides the Wheel into twenty-eight equal sectors (BTW's "lunar" scheme), starting with the New Moon, and he does not align them with the zodiac. Instead he places the seven phases in each quarter under the rulership of one of the ancient planets, the sun, or the moon, following what is known as the Chaldean order, based on speed of apparent motion. Thus in each quarter, the cardinal phases are assigned to the sun, followed by Venus, Mercury, and the moon for the first triad, then Saturn, Jupiter, and Mars for the second triad. Makransky focuses on the Daimon and pays attention to the Faculties, using some manuscript and draft material.

Shirley J. Self also uses what BTW term the lunar division, giving the exact degrees, minutes, and seconds that are rounded by Wilkinson (12° 51' 26"; 25° 42' 51"; 38° 34' 17"; and so on). Like Makransky she pays attention to Daimonic dimensions as well as the Faculties in her analyses and even sketches thePrinciples, giving greater attention to the automatic script and drafts of Yeats's "Vision" Papers than any of the others.

Ann Rogers is the exception in this group in that my knowledge of her work is confined to a pair of magazine articles and, far more importantly, she does not envisage souls being born at either the New or the Full Moon:
"Presumably we do the system no violence by attempting that transformation in as straightforward a manner as possible: simply eliminating Phases 1 and 15 and making the wheel begin at Phase 2 and end at Phase 28. The 360 degrees that comprise a full circle will be divided by 26, allotting each phase 13°50.76'—a figure that this degree-division of Yeats' wheel some empirical justification, since the moon's daily motion through the Zodiac varies from 12° to 14°. The angular distance in degrees between the sun and moon in people's horoscopes can then be compared to the degree division of Yeats' circle, letting us give our own real-life examples with each phase.
     "Yeats dealt with the system's ambiguity through no such angular measure. He assigned examples to each phase mainly by guesswork. Only when he knew a person's horoscope could he try to place the person in the empirically correct phase. In fact, Yeats assigned to many of his examples phases that were nowhere near the actual astrological moon phases under which they were born.
     "Obviously, precise calculations had no place whatsoever in Yeats' work. Because he never divided his phases into degrees, he had to estimate even when assigning phases to people whose horoscopes he knew." (pp. 4–5)
Like some others, she assumes that Yeats was probably aiming for astrological accuracy but was too unfocused to calculate a chart even roughly—willing to put years of effort into redrafting explanations of the system, but unwilling to spend a few hours to assign the phases adequately.

The three systems proposed are put together in a diagram below. Though the differences are fairly clear, and depending on the size of your screen, it may be difficult to see any detail, so there is a larger version available to download.

Bringing the systems together underlines how the "obvious" way of applying A Vision's phases of the moon still requires judgment calls as to how exactly it might work. Certain angles allocate significantly different phases in the three division systems (for instance, at various points shortly after the new and full moons), others are very similar in all (just before the new and full moon), and most are just a little different. Yeats's moon, at 237 degrees away from his sun, is at Phase 19 in the lunar scheme, Phase 18 in the solar, and Phase 19 in the 26-phase scheme—it's just about feasible to think he was being careless in assigning 17 to himself. However, George Yeats's moon, at 312 degrees from the sun, is assigned Phase 25 in the lunar and 26-phase schemes, and 24 in the solar, all a long way from the Phase 18 that the Yeatses themselves used.

Monday, November 26, 2018

Gary Snyder, "What You Should Know to be a Poet"

What You Should Know to be a Poet

all you can know about animals as persons.
the names of trees and flowers and weeds.
the names of stars and the movements of planets
and the moon.

your own six senses, with a watchful elegant mind.
at least one kind of traditional magic:

divination, astrology, the book of changes, the tarot;

the illusory demons and the illusory shining gods.
kiss the ass of the devil and eat shit;
fuck his horny barbed cock,
fuck the hag,
and all the celestial angels
and maidens perfum’d and golden—

& then love the human: wives husbands and friends

children’s games, comic books, bubble-gum,
the weirdness of television and advertising.

work long, dry hours of dull work swallowed and accepted
and lived with and finally lovd. exhaustion,
hunger, rest.

the wild freedom of the dance, extasy
silent solitary illumination, entasy
real danger. gambles and the edge of death.

Friday, November 16, 2018

Astrology of A Vision II

In the half-century after its first publication, A Vision gathered little literary and no esoteric commentary. Literary studies have certainly picked up, and so has the esoteric approach, starting with an astrological book in 1975, and the greater ease of self-publishing in recent years seems to have given further momentum. So far I have come across five books that have applied the descriptions and system of A Vision to the the phases of the moon at birth. These are:
Marilyn Busteed, Richard Tiffany, and Dorothy Wergin, The Phases of the Moon: A Guide to Evolving Human Nature (Berkeley & London: Shambala, 1975);

Martin Goldsmith, Moon Phases: A Symbolic Key (West Chester, PA: Whitford Press, 1988);

David T. Wilkinson, Your Inner Phase (, 1997); 

Bob Makransky The Great Wheel: A Commentary on W. B. Yeats' "A Vision" (Dear Brutus Press, 2013) (e-book);

Shirley Self, The Vision of W. B. Yeats The 28 Phases Of The Moon And The Relationships Among Them (Rakuten Kobo, 2017). 
There may be a sixth—a pair of articles by Ann Rogers in the winter and spring of 1987, "The Moon-Phase Wheel: Yeats' A Vision Reconsidered" (Metapsychology 2:4 [Winter 1986/1987] – 3:1 [Spring 1987]) promised "a book on the prognostic circles of W. B. Yeats", but I haven't traced one. Wilkinson's work appears to be no longer available—he has had a website, as has Makransky, though both seem to be inaccessible at the time of writing (bearing witness to the precariousness of web presence and the inadequacy of archives). Self has a series of videos on YouTube.

None of these books presents anything truly resembling the system proposed by W. B. Yeats, since they ignore a basic principle that is repeated and elaborated in A Vision: no living person is born at the symbolic new moon or full moon (Phases 1 and 15).
Twenty-and-eight the phases of the moon,
The full and the moon’s dark and all the crescents,
Twenty-and-eight, and yet but six-and-twenty
The cradles that a man must needs be rocked in:
For there’s no human life at the full or the dark.  
Plenty of babies are, of course, born at the actual full and dark moons. However, rather than making A Vision's Phases 1 and 15 into notional points or finding a way to put them outside the cycle of time, all the astrological interpretations make them normal phases, in several versions making them two of the biggest spans, along with Phases 8 and 22. This involves a radical reinterpretation of the descriptions of these two phases, changing the subservient plasticity of the spirits at Phase 1 spirits and the trance-like dream of those at Phase 15 into far more mundane versions of objectivity and subjectivity. [Edit: This is true for the books; the exception is Ann Rogers in the articles in Metapsychology, who does exclude the full moon and the dark. See Astrology of A Vision III.]

Maud Gonne was born at the full moon and figures frequently in the Yeatses' automatic script, but even though she is as close to Phase 15 as possible (Phase 16), she was very much a flesh-and-blood human being and, as such, cannot be placed at the full moon. Queen Victoria was born at the new moon, as was Leo Tolstoy, but they are placed very differently and very clearly at Phase 24 and Phase 6 respectively. To imagine that the Yeatses were unaware of these horoscopes or were simply careless about the "true nature" of Phases 1 and 15 is not feasible. 

Effectively, the astrological interpretations (tacitly) assume that the whole topic of supernatural incarnations is not worth considering and create descriptions for real live people that may take some of Yeats’s text as a starting point but not the actual concepts involved. If A Vision existed in isolation, it might just be permissible to take this approach, dismissing the failure to make the connection to astrology as the type of blind or deliberate misdirection that has a long tradition in occult writing. But in the context of all the preparatory materials and drafts (mentioned in Astrology I), and what we know about the Yeatses as people, that position is not credible. 

The phasal astrologers may object that:
1. applying Yeats’s descriptions to the phases at birth works


2. the Yeatses’ system is an imperfect starting point for further venture, rather the be-all and end-all of this symbolism.
1. The first objection is subjective, and I have yet to be convinced by any of the groupings of people by phase that I’ve seen—although the same would probably be true of groups of those born under Aries or in the year of the Dragon. The same is certainly also true of Yeats’s groups under the phases, but he is trying to discern a bias of soul that makes a Napoleon like a Shakespeare like a Balzac, rather than trying to find a full character (which, ironically, he leaves to the traditional horoscope). I have to acknowledge that when I am reading Yeats’s account of the phases, I tend to suspend disbelief and am looking for what insights his descriptions can provide, rather than looking critically, as I tend to with the other writers.

2. The second objection is perfectly valid, and I think tenable. Yeats wanted others to complete this work and would have been relieved that after many years of relative neglect, the system was at least drawing some attention in some form. But he expected people to work out complex relations rather than simply latching on to the most obvious mechanism and then fitting the system to it. It's as if they decided that the jokers were part of the normal pack of playing cards, forcibly wedging them into the suits, or that ultraviolet and infrared light were to be included in the visible spectrum.

I understand the urge to push the supernatural phases to one side, and I certainly mentally minimized this aspect of the Great Wheel for many years—it just seems to add a further level of unreality to the system. As I've studied the system more, I see that these aspects are fundamental to large areas of A Vision, particularly those to do with the nature of consciousness. The question needs to be addressed directly and failure to deal adequately with the supernatural quality of A Vision's Phase 1 and 15 undermines any further "alignments" or methods that may be proposed, whether on the level of the symbol system or as a way of assigning people to phases.

Having said that, however, in the next post in this series I'll try to give an overview of how the different writers fit the circuits of the actual sun and moon in the sky to Yeats's Great Wheel.

Saturday, November 3, 2018

An Astrology of A Vision I

A Vision is grounded in the esoteric and occult traditions. For many literary scholars and readers of Yeats, it is their only acquaintance with this complex area of thought and publishing. For quite a few occultists it is their only brush with the work and life of W. B. Yeats, though most read a little further into his work and interests.
The problem for both groups is that A Vision is a highly atypical work — atypical of occult writing and atypical of Yeats — but quite characteristic enough of whatever is "the other side" to be weird and off-putting. Literary students who are out of sympathy with this aspect of Yeats's interests can generally get by with a limited understanding of the gyres and the cycles of history, drawn from digested summaries and extracts. Those with occult interests are quite likely to meet the material in digested form too, as a diluted form of lunar astrology and, if they broach the original work, to find that it does not really present the system they expected, at least not in a way that they are familiar with. It makes few connections with other occult traditions, and anyone who pays attention to what Yeats says will realize fairly early on that, for all its talk of sun and moon, there is no actual link with the movements of sun and moon in the heavens.

If we are looking at A Vision's affinities with other more traditional areas of occultism and possible applications of its system in other fields (astrology, tarot, Cabala, oracles, I Ching, etc.), the book itself offers few leads. The automatic script gives a few brief possibilities—an exchange about the Cabalistic Tree of Life on the wheel, mention of the Mansions of the Moon, a question about numerology, a possible reference to the tarot—but these do not lead much further.

This should be surprising. The Yeatses had both been involved in the huge syncretic enterprise of the Golden Dawn / Stella Matutina with its emphasis on bringing all aspects of magical knowledge into a single system with elaborate schemes of correspondence, linking all fields particularly through the central symbol of the Tree of Life. Yet the Yeatses do not seem to have spent much time seeking associations between the system that was emerging from their collaboration and the traditions they had studied. It is not as if such links didn't matter to them: Yeats went so far as to invent two elaborate contexts that his system derived from, one in Renaissance Europe and another in the Caliphate of Baghdad. And the revised edition of A Vision opens the book proper ("Book I: The Great Wheel") with appeals to more than twenty different names within the space of three pages.

Some of those who study A Vision become convinced that there must be lost or destroyed material, and it is certainly possible that some schemes have disappeared. What the automatic script also makes very evident is that the Yeatses talked about many aspects of their system between themselves, and it is possible that some things were so evident to them that they did not bother setting them down. There are enough tantalizing comments and references to indicate that they had a far broader range of applications than appears in the published book, or in their papers — planetary, talismanic, and ritual references, comments on scents, tarot, horary charts of the heavens. It is also clear that they treated astrology in particular as a parallel system—there were numerous points of intersection but this did not mean that they sought to make their system into a form of astrology.

Yet Yeats himself notes that his instructors:
insist that a man of, let us say, the seventh cycle married to a woman of, let us say, the sixth cycle will have a certain type of child, that this type is further modified by the phases and by the child's position in time and place at birth, a position which is itself but an expression of the interaction of cycles and phases. Will some mathematician some day question and understand, as I  cannot, and confirm all, or have I also dealt in myth? (AVB 213)
This "position in time and place at birth" is of course expressed in the birth chart, implying that Yeats (or his instructors) foresaw a more complete system where everything was integrated. The mathematician, then, might be the one who would discover the patterns underlying the apparent whimsy in the Yeatses assigning people to their phases. So Yeats himself definitely foresaw that there should be some way of creating a more complete picture, but he could not do it.
 Image result for bob makransky great wheel
Indeed, the Yeatses saw the position of the planets and heavens at birth—the horoscope—as providing the character or temperament of the person, while the symbolic "phase of the moon" was a more fundamental bias of purpose or what the soul was seeking in a particular lifetime. They even drew distinctions between the horoscope of conception and of birth, devised a way of aligning an individual birthchart with the phase of the moon, and set up a more permanent alignment for examining mundane astrology. They went to significant lengths to try to find astrological patterns behind the Moments of Crisis, part of the system that they decided was too personal and too imperfectly understood to include in A Vision. (Colin McDowell examined some aspects of these in his essay "Shifting Sands" in Yeats's "A Vision": Explications and Contexts and I shall be looking at them further later on.) But the fact that they don't seem to have expended much energy on finding an astrological way of assigning the phases probably indicates that they saw it as a non-starter.

However, there are at least five books that have applied the descriptions to the moon phase at birth and based an exploration on these correspondences. The debate between the various books has been on how exactly to calculate the divisions between the phases, but none has seriously questioned the premise of using the moon's phase at birth. I'll examine these in the next posts on astrology, but I want to deal here with the implicit attitude of dismissal towards, or decision to ignore, the Yeatses' astrological abilities in order to explain why they ignored such an obvious application of the system. To suggest that this couple would not have twigged fairly quickly if a person's Phase in the system could be ascertained by a glance at their birth chart shows ignorance of the Yeatses or unwillingness to drop a pet idea.

Up until twenty, even ten years ago, the mathematics involved in drawing up a birth chart was astrology's first hurdle. The arithmetic was rather convoluted, usually involving logarithms, sexagesimal calculations, and benefited from having sense of which operations were appropriate. From what we can see in his papers, Yeats seems to have had problems with all of these. Yet he did do them, and in the end the astrology is often quite forgiving of minor inaccuracies.

George meanwhile went far further, assembling a broad collection of astrological material and charts, and drawing up spreadsheets of data on planetary positions for various professions and skills, relying no doubt on Alan Leo's 1001 Notable Nativities, which included a large selection of data for precisely this kind of study. GY's plotting of the planets by zodiac sign may seem rather simplistic to more modern researchers, but she was persevering and skilled in her approach, and it is the type of research seen in Charles Carter's Encyclopaedia of Psychological Astrology.

Yeats may not have been a great mathematician, but his comments do indicate that, if there is a way of connecting the system of A Vision with traditional astrology, it is not going to be an obvious one. And even if neither of the Yeatses had had the wherewithal to do some basic checking or analysis, they had a friend, Frank Pearce Sturm, who searched through some three hundred charts to see how they related to the Yeatses' phases (again no doubt resorting to 1001 Notable Nativities). Sturm wrote to Yeats in disappointment and confusion because the phases he calculated didn't match the ones that he'd seen Yeats use, and he was told that the "phases of the Moon in the symbolism I told you of have nothing to do with the horoscope, but with the incarnations only" (April 1921; FPS 80). Sturm obviously would not let the matter drop entirely, since Yeats was still writing five years later: "You will get all mixed up if you think of my symbolism as astrological or even astronomical in any literal way. . . . [Sun] is a symbol of one state of being, [Moon] of another, that is all" (January 1926; FPS 88).

These books all speak to a desire to find a way to allot phases to people not included in the Yeatses' select group—A Vision gives no mechanism beyond intuition. Those with a psychological bias might prefer a form of questionnaire or analysis, such as those used to type people in various pseudo-scientific systems such as Myers-Briggs or Enneagram, or the slightly more respectable Big Five or Hexaco. People with a bent for astrology are liable to choose something related to the heavens and take the "lunar metaphor" as an actual fact.

However, these books are the introduction to A Vision for a significant number of readers, and the authors have invested more time and effort in understanding the system than almost any other readers, so I aim to look at them seriously, as a group and individually, in a series of posts over the next months.

Friday, October 5, 2018


I was reading a review of a new book on Pamela Colman SmithPamela Colman Smith: The Untold Story, by Kaplan, Greer, O'Connor, and Parsons (2018)—which comments that: “W. B. Yeats, for instance, wrote that she looked 'exactly like a Japanese. Nannie says this Japanese appearance comes from constantly drinking iced water.' ” Maybe because I remembered reading it before or because the name Nannie struck me as strange, I went to check. Checking online only repeats the same attribution in the majority of cases, but the odd online source does give the correct source of a letter to W. B. Yeats from his father, J. B. Yeats, as do most of the book sources. But it reminded me of how easily attributions can drift or be misremembered either by proximity or just the jumbling of memory. And how these jumblings are all too easily propagated across the web.

For many years witty quotations have been attributed to Mark Twain and Oscar Wilde to give them some parentage when we are unsure, but careless attribution is becoming more and more common as attributions are simply copied and pasted. Quite a few of the quotations attributed to W. B. Yeats are not really his—sadly, perhaps, because they are among the most widely quoted of his supposed formulations. For instance, out of a supposed Top Ten Quotes published this year for Yeats's birthday, I think only four are authentic:

1. X “Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.” (see below)
2. X “Do not wait to strike till the iron is hot; but make it hot by striking.” (see below)
3. X “There are no strangers here; Only friends you haven't yet met.” (see below)
4. √ “Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.” (“He Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven”)
5. √ “How far away the stars seem, and how far is our first kiss, and ah, how old my heart.” ("Ephemera")
6. √ “Think where man’s glory most begins and ends, and say my glory was I had such friends.” (“The Municipal Gallery Revisited”)
7. ? “Being Irish, he had an abiding sense of tragedy, which sustained him through temporary periods of joy.” (source uncertain)
8. √ “Come away, O human child: To the waters and the wild with a fairy, hand in hand, For the world's more full of weeping than you can understand.” (“The Stolen Child”)
9. X “People who lean on logic and philosophy and rational exposition end by starving the best part of the mind.” (John Butler Yeats to his son, W. B. Yeats, in 1906)
10. X “Happiness is neither virtue nor pleasure nor this thing nor that but simply growth, We are happy when we are growing.” (John Butler Yeats, again; this time writing to Miss Grierson in 1909, slightly adapted: “And happiness . . . what is it? I say it is neither virtue...” etc.).

The first example—“Education is not the filling of a pail but the lighting of a fire” or sometimes “Education is not filling a bucket, but lighting a fire”—seems to derive from someone reading a passage which gave two quotations together—one by Yeats and one by Plutarch—and somehow eliding the name associated with the second one:
In other words, the key to a lively and a vital appreciation of the arts in the fields of collecting and criticism is the willingness to keep doors open, an eagerness to venture into new fields for the sake of the enjoyment which a work of art can bring.
William Butler Yeats has expressed the heart of this viewpoint in his statement, “Culture does not consist in acquiring opinions but in getting rid of them” and Plutarch in “Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.” (Vision and Image: A Way of Seeing, James Johnson Sweeney, 1968)
Sweeney was in fact reformulating the traditional translation of Plutarch's Greek, making it a little more pithy: “The mind is not a vessel to be filled, but wood that needs igniting” or in the translation of Philemon Holland, which Yeats read: “For that the minde and understanding of man is not of the nature of a vessell that requireth to be filled up: but it hath neede onely of some match (if I may so say) to kindle and set it on fire” (Plutarch, “Of Hearing”, Moralia). The full story is set out in The Quote Investigator and is also examined in an article from the Irish Times.

The Quote Investigator also tackles a few more Yeats attributions:–

“Do not wait to strike till the iron is hot; but make it hot by striking” is slippery in terms of precise wording, but a similar phrase seems to come first from the pen of Benjamin Franklin in 1782. 

“There are no strangers here, only friends you haven't met” appears to have its origin in the words of the popular American poet Edgar A. Guest, who published a poem titled “Faith" in 1915, which includes the lines: “I believe in the purpose of everything living, / That taking is but the forerunner of giving; / That strangers are friends that we some day may meet..."

Changing the author can change the meaning, and the fuller context often sheds a slightly different light on the words. Looking at the Yeats quotations investigated, there is one that I remember first seeing as part of an informational film at a National Park: “The world is full of magical things, patiently waiting for our senses to grow sharper”. Attributed to Yeats, it hints at “nature's finer forces” and devas or nature spirits, which we may perhaps discern if we subtilize our natures and refine our perceptions through spiritual practice. Yet the quotation (or its original version) comes from the playwright and essayist Eden Phillpotts and actually refers to the use of scientific instruments such as telescope and microscope:
The fimbriated flowers [of the buckbean] are a miracle of workmanship and every blossom exhibits an exquisite disorder of ragged petals finer than lace. But one needs a lens to judge of their beauty: it lies hidden from the power of our eyes, and menyanthes must have bloomed and passed a million times before there came any to perceive and salute her loveliness. The universe is full of magical things patiently waiting for our wits to grow sharper.  (A Shadow Passes, 1919).
It becomes therefore a paean to scientific observation and the senses' need for technology to sharpen them.

Of course, given the frequency with which one or other line of “The Second Coming” is quoted nowadays, two or three of the authentic Top Ten list would probably come from that poem: perhaps “The centre cannot hold,” “The best lack all conviction, while the worst / Are full of passionate intensity,” “And what rough beast, its hour come round at last, / Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?”.

What else should make that genuine Top Ten?