Saturday, April 4, 2020


 Ecstasy or vision begins when thought ceases, to our consciousness, to proceed from ourselves. It differs from dreaming, because the subject is awake. It differs from hallucination, because there is no organic disturbance: it is, or claims to be, a temporary enhancement, not a partial disintegration, of the mental faculties. Lastly, it differs from poetical inspiration, because the imagination is passive.

William Ralph Inge, by Arthur Norris, c. 1934.
The National Portrait Gallery, London.

Friday, March 20, 2020

Invoking the Daimon

Following on the from the previous post about how the spiritual being of two sexes manifests as a human of one sex and a Daimon of the opposite sex, one of the key things that this entails is that contact with the Daimon means contact with the opposite. For a psychologist this would entail interior self-examination and possibly some form of therapy or analysis; however, for a magician, the interior examination would be dramatized as visualizations and the therapy as ritual invocation. Within the Golden Dawn, the visualizations would be structured through symbols drawn from the complex series of correspondences attached to the Tree of Life, with the "meditations", "skrying", or "astral travel" using imagery from astrology, alchemy, and Tarot, gods from Egypt and Greece, and angels and the names of God from the Judaeo-Christian traditions. The rituals, whether fully fledged ones at the Order's temple, or personal and private ones, would involve the same attributions, present both in physical form (through cards, colours, costume) and through the active imagination of the participants. One of the ways of invoking a force was to imitate the associated divine forms through ritual and sacred acting, with robes and masks, but more important was the assumption of the god-form, with the "symbolic God-form held firmly in the imagination" (Israel Regardie, The Golden Dawn, vol. 3, 156)

One of the aims of the initiates of the Golden Dawn was an ascent on the central pillar of the Tree of Life, raising the "Human Consciousness and Lower Will [which should be located in Tiphareth] from falling into... the place of the Automatic Consciousness [Yesod]", as is the case in much of humanity. This also meant gaining greater contact with the higher spheres and a more direct flow from the higher levels, most immediately "the Higher Human Self and the Lower Genius, the God of the Man" but then the Higher Genius and beyond that the Angelic and Divine levels (see The Golden Dawn, 'Fifth Knowledge Lecture', especially 'The Microcosm—Man', vol. 1, 203–20, at 217 and 214; see on the Golden Dawn). Complementing the process of invocation of external powers, the Golden Dawn also taught evocation of forces from within the microcosm of the self.

WBY to Ezra Pound, July 15 [1918]. (ALS Yale)
Yeats frequently mentions the meditations that he associates with the symbols A Vision. The automatic script contains repeated though often unclear instructions to meditate, for example: "you will get all by meditation that you need"  (YVP1 440) and, for instance, Yeats writes of trying "to see Phase 26 in meditation & saw that stag with the crucifix between horns" (YVP3 94). When he sent the first drafts to Ezra Pound, he told him to "Read my symbol with patience ­allowing your mind to go beyond the words to the symbol itself — for this symbol seems to me strange and beautiful" (15 July [1918]). In his note on "The Second Coming", he fictionalizes the Judwalis as having "A supreme religious act of their faith is to fix their attention on the mathematical form of this movement" to achieve a moment of timeless contemplation (VP 824).

Michael Robartes and the Dancer (Cuala, 1922), note on "The Second Coming"

The Yeatses meditated on symbols associated with the Daimons of their children (YVP3 50-51), and it is likely that they also meditated on the subject of the Daimon and on their own personal Daimons (see also their Tarot readings involving the Daimons).

The hieros gamos or alchemical wedding, Rosarium Philosophorum (1550)

"The marriage bed is the symbol of the solved antinomy..."

Yeats's own female Daimon was reflected in part in the women in his life, not least George, and 'Solomon and the Witch' is one of his clearest tributes to his wife. The poem is a dialogue rather than the assumption of female voice and the witch is the Queen of Sheba,* who has cried out as a medium. Solomon interprets it as the crow of the cockerel that "crowed out eternity" ("Three hundred years before the Fall") and has crowed again now because, "Chance being one with Choice at last", he "Thought to have crowed it in again" (VP 388). This implies that the union of Solomon and Sheba has achieved the perfect fusion of the two lovers: "The marriage bed is the symbol of the solved antinomy, and were more than symbol could a man there lose and keep his identity, but he falls asleep" (AVB 52). The solved antinomy is the unity that transcends the duality of the antinomies which are intrinsic to our perception of reality. They have attained a state like that before "the ultimate reality, symbolised as the Sphere, falls in human consciousness... into a series of antinomies" (AVB 187)—or maybe "Three hundred years before the Fall"?
I see the Lunar and Solar cones first, before they start their whirling movement, as two worlds lying one within another--nothing exterior, nothing interior, Sun in Moon and Moon in Sun—a single being like man and woman in Plato's Myth, and then a separation and a whirling for countless ages... (AVA 121)
Even if Solomon does not fall asleep, however, there is not the perfect match of "imagined image" and "real image" —which is perhaps for the best as that is when "the world ends" (VP 388). Even so, the witch asks "let us try again" (VP 389).

The alchemical androgyne, Conceptio, Rosarium Philosophorum (1550)

The lot of love

A similar image of the perfected love dominates "Chosen", a poem fully in a female voice, speaking in terms at once Platonic, astrological, and astronomical.
The lot of love is chosen. I learnt that much
Struggling for an image on the track
Of the whirling Zodiac.
The pairing of lots and choice goes back to Plato's 'Myth of Er' in the Republic, which Plotinus refers to in his consideration of whether the stars cause destiny or merely record it (Ennead II.3). In the  astrological practice of his period there was an array of derived points called 'lots', often now referred to as the 'Arabic parts', though actually Hellenistic in origin (in Latin pars/'part' means degree as in the 360 degrees of a circle). These include the 'lot of Fortune', the 'Lot of Spirit', and the 'lot of Eros' or of love, which can be calculated for each individual chart and as such are fixed with the horoscope. Within Yeats's cosmology the birthchart is both fated and chosen—we can only be born at a moment that expresses our character but our character chooses our moment of birth (see on the 'The Seven Propositions' and 'Astrology and the Nature of Reality'). The 'whirling Zodiac' represents this descent into incarnation.

The horoscopes of WBY and GY with their Lot of Fortune (circle with saltire cross), Lot of Spirit (circle with vertical line), and Lot of Eros (circle with a heart). WBY is  night birth, so according to traditional rules his Lots are calculated differently from those of GY, a daytime birth. (For further consideration, see

The voice then speaks of a man, who whirls on the turning circuit of the zodiac:
Scarce did he my body touch,
Scarce sank he from the west
Or found a subterranean rest
On the maternal midnight of my breast
Before I had marked him on his northern way
And seemed to stand although in bed I lay.
This traces the constant motion of the zodiac to the western horizon where the sun, a planet, or a lot sets and its apparent passage 'under the earth' to the nadir or midnight, its northern point (as noon or the meridian is the southern point for those in the northern hemisphere). Noon and midnight form the vertical axis of horoscope ('seemed to stand'), but the zodiac keeps turning until the particular degree comes to the point where it rises in the east:
I struggled with the horror of daybreak,
I chose it for my lot!
The word 'struggle', used in the poem's second line, is repeated with the concept of chosen fate: Lot as Chance or Fate and Choice or Destiny become one, as in the love of 'Solomon and the Witch'.
If questioned on
My utmost pleasure with a man
By some new-married bride, I take
That stillness for a theme
Where his heart my heart did seem
There is a form of union, female and male, human and Daimon, both centred in the heart of the Tree of Life or the still point at the centre of the horoscope (just as the Daimon is positioned at the centre of the Wheel of the Faculties and Principles).
And both adrift on the miraculous stream
Where—wrote a learned astrologer—
The Zodiac is changed into a sphere.
With the union of Lot or Chance and Choice, fate and free will, the zodiac of time becomes the sphere of eternity, the realm of Daimon, and the cockerel of "Solomon and the Witch" can crow eternity in again.

Venus setting (lower right) in a shaft of zodiacal light (solar system dust illuminated by the sun, along the line of the zodiac), with the Milky Way arching over the upper part of the photograph.

If Yeats seeks to contact his own Daimon, he is seeking the female element of his own individuality. The internal is projected outwards, here as the relations of sexual love, whether Sheba and Solomon or the voice of "Chosen" with her man, yet in many ways this is a symbol of what is taking place on the inner planes.
Pope Pius XI said in an Encyclical that the natural union of man and woman has a kind of sacredness. He thought doubtless of the marriage of Christ and the Church, whereas I see in it a symbol of that eternal instant where the antinomy is resolved. It is not the resolution itself. (AVB 214)
The resolution would be the impossible fusion in the androgyne which symbolises the unity and wholeness that would be both consummation and extinction.

* Although "the Witch" is not identified explicitly as the Queen of Sheba, the poem opens "And thus declared that Arab lady..." which seems to make it a continuation of "Solomon to Sheba", first published in 1918. The earlier poem ends:
Sang Solomon to Sheba 
And kissed her Arab eyes,
"There's not a man or woman
Born under the skies
Dare match in learning with us two,
And all day long we have found
There's not a thing but love can make
The world a narrow pound." (VP 333)
The epithet of "Witch" may be Yeats's allusion to P. B. Shelley's "The Witch of Atlas", dedicated to his own wife, Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley. It is interesting to note that the Witch of Atlas creates her own androgynous companion, "by strange art she kneaded fire and snow / Together" to form "A sexless thing" that "seemed to have developed no defect / Of either sex, yet all the grace of both".

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

The Daimon, the Sexes, and Androgyne Unity of Being

The androgyne Rebis from Splendor Solis, Solomon Trismosin,
painted copy from the British Library, London.
The history of the Golden Dawn at the turn of the twentieth century was a colourful helter-skelter of crisis, both internal and external, which led to various schisms and, eventually, multiple successors, including MacGregor Mathers's Alpha et Omega, A. E. Waite's Fellowship of the Rosy Cross, and the Stella Matutina under R. W. Felkin.

Georgie Hyde Lees joined the Stella Matutina, sponsored by W. B Yeats, and taking the magical name of 'Nemo Sciat' ('Let no-one know'). A few years later, in 1919, Violet Firth joined  Alpha and Omega taking her family's motto—'Deo Non Fortuna' ('By God, not by Fortune')—as her magical name and she went on to write under a streamlined version of it, 'Dion Fortune'. In due course, she also went on to found her own magical order, The Fraternity of Inner Light, and had a significant influence through her prolific writings, both fiction and books esoteric topics, including The Mystical Qabalah (1935).

   One of her earliest works is entitled The Esoteric Philosophy of Love and Marriage. It was written in 1924, and if readers can get past some of the imperialist, Anglocentric, and homophobic elements of the presentation, it is a valuable insight into ideas of sex and gender at the period in the groups related to the Golden Dawn. Indeed Moina Mathers accused Fortune of 'betraying the inner teaching of the Order'—a charge she was able to rebut (the relevant teachings belonged to a level that she had not yet reached; see Nevill Drury, Stealing Fire from Heaven: The Rise of Modern Western Magic, 129).

Ideas of Gender 

The Esoteric Philosophy of Love and Marriage is a short book and much of it focuses on occult polarity, gender, and sex. Fortune writes of the spiritual human as having two aspects: a timeless self or "individuality", which progresses through incarnations (cf. Yeats's Principles), and part of this is manifested in a particular incarnation as a temporary self or "personality" (cf. Yeats's Faculties).
Esoteric science... conceives [the spiritual human] not to be sexless, but on the contrary, bi-sexual, and therefore complete in himself. The individuality is two-sided positive and negative, has a kinetic aspect and a static aspect, and is therefore male-female or female-male, according to the relation of "force" to "form" in its make-up. The personality, however, is one-sided, and therefore has a defined sex. The individuality may be thought of as a magnet, having a positive and a negative pole, one of which is at a time is inserted in dense matter, and the nature of the pole inserted determines the sex of the body that is built up around it. (The Esoteric Philosophy of Love and Marriage, 31)
The timeless self therefore embraces both male and female in a form of alchemical union, where the two elements remain distinct though joined.

   The bisexual or androgyne as envisaged in alchemy is almost never a sexless fusion of female and male, but a union of female and male as the androgyne (Greek: andros-man and guné-woman), or less commonly hermaphrodite (Greek gods, Hermes and Aphrodite). It is often referred to as the 'rebis', re (thing), bis (twice), indicating its explicitly double nature, and the alchemists usually show their rebis with two heads (female and male) and often with both female and male genitals.

Michael Maier, Atalanta Fugiens, Emblem XXXIII,
engraving by Matthäus Merian, the Elder.

   Fortune envisages the complete spiritual human as being like a bar magnet, one end of which is plunged in matter, manifesting as male or female, while the rest of the magnet remains free and the opposite sex, complementing and balancing the incarnate half.

Hermetic Principles 

What Fortune calls 'esoteric science', taking on the language of the modern age, is more traditionally referred to as 'Hermetic wisdom' and traced back to the Corpus Hermeticum and the teachings attributed to Hermes Trismegistos.
   Anna Kingsford, founder of the Hermetic Society in the 1880s, had similarly seen a fundamental sexual balance, as expressed in the Hermetic principles underlying the universe: 'The Hermetic system [is superior to pseudo-mystical systems] in its equal recognition of the sexes'. This included both duality and gender as fundamental forces. Her introduction to the Hermetic dialogue The Virgin of the World, entitled 'The Hermetic System and the Significance of its Present Revival', offers a summary of some of the fundamental principles of Hermetic thought. She notes the fundamental unity of all things in Spirit, but that this is not incompatible with 'an original Dualism, consisting of principles inherently antagonistic'. Hermes Trismegistos tells Asclepios in The Virgin of the World that 'this law of generation is contained in Nature, in intellect, in the universe, and preserves all that is brought forth. The two sexes are full of procreation, and their union, or rather their incomprehensible at-one-ment, may be known as Eros, or as Aphrodite, or by both names at once', seems to lie behind Yeats's 'Supernatural Songs', such as 'Ribh Denounces Patrick' and 'Ribh in Ecstasy'.
   Mary Greer has drawn attention to how Kingsford's formulations foreshadow the later and now better-known axioms of the Kybalion (1912). There is no evidence that Yeats knew The Kybalion, but he certainly knew both the Hermetic Corpus and the contemporary interpretations of it, such as Kingsford's. And, despite the importance of Cabala and Rosicrucianism to the teachings of the Golden Dawn, it was called a Hermetic Order and at least one of its cover names was the 'Hermetic Students', as recorded in Yeats's autobiographies and on the invitation to his initiation.

Human and Daimon 

Anna Kingsford posited that 'Every human spirit-soul has attached to him a genius, variously called, by Socrates, a dæmon; by Jesus, an angel; by the apostles, a ministering spirit'. She explains that, ‘The genius is linked to his client by a bond of soul-substance’ and ‘is the moon to the planet man, reflecting to him the sun, or God, within him.... the complement of the man; and his "sex" is always the converse of the planet's' (The Perfect Way, or the Finding of Christ [1882], 89–90).
   The Yeatses' Daimon, as outlined in the automatic script and in A Vision A, similarly complements its human counterpart, "(the Daimon being of the opposite sex to that of man)" (AVA 27, CW13 25). The Daimon is not just a companion moon to the human planet, but closer in fact to the bar magnet imagined by Dion Fortune.
   Within physical life and normal contexts, the Daimon manifests through the people and habits of life—sexual relations, love for the other, all the complex knot of relationships and desires. Yeats imagines the Daimon or Guardian Angel conspiring with sweetheart and also jealous of her (AVB 240, CW14 175), referring to the western horizon or 'the seventh house of the horoscope where one finds friend and enemy' (AVB 213, CW14 157). Yet the Daimon also represents both the individual's destiny and the highest possibility of free will.
   In many respects, Yeats increasingly came to see the Daimon as the complete archetype from which the localized human is a fragment immersed into space and time to become manifest and experience phenomenal reality. Trying to formulate the relationship between human and Daimon in one draft, Yeats wrote:
Though it enters into memory & reflects in the human mind, it is not contained within that mind nor can that mind see the whole object as it is present before the daimon. though sometimes, it knows of it, through its own increasing excitement. & sometimes it shows some perception of the daimon in such a way, that the perception seems miraculous by seeing it separated from the general framework of its thought, as in prevision, & clairvoyance & those affinities of personality which are so swift that different personalities seem to coexist within our mind. Though for the purposes of exposition we shall separate daimon & man & give to man a different symbol, they are one continuous <consciousness> perception, seeing we perceive all that the daimon does & only remember & therefore only know what is in part a recurrance of our past.
(NLI MS 30,359, probably written in Cannes, December 1927/January 1928)

As Plotinus says of his 'guiding spirit', it appears that Yeats's Daimon 'is not entirely outside of ourselves; is not bound up with our nature; is not the agent in our action; it belongs to us as belonging to our Soul....' (Enneads III.4.5). We can be aware of it through excitement or a sense of miraculous perception, or in the case of Socrates, a sneeze. We are a continuous perception with the Daimon, and perception became increasingly important to Yeats as fundamental to identity (probably through the influence of Berkeley and through his attempts to understand the Principles), as is seen clearly in the formulations of the Seven Propositions which are posited on perception. 

    Much of the early automatic script is concerned with the nature and sources of different kinds of genius, a term that can refer to creative abilities as much as to a separate spirit, but often hovers between both in Yeats's thinking. Giving Yeats forms of contact with the genius was possibly the main reason for George Yeats's continued involvement with the automatic script, in terms of poetic material and of confident access to springs of creative energy. She probably saw the system as something of a personal support for her husband's creativity rather than something to be proclaimed to the world, and this was turned into the instructors' comment 'we have come to give you metaphors for poetry" (AVB 8, CW14 7). (This is not to say that she ventriloquized the whole automatic script, but in occult matters she evidently kept to the dictum she had taken as her motto—'Let no-one know'.)

   Certainly connection to the Daimonic aspect of perception or inspiration was something to be sought, particularly by those assigned to Phase 17, Yeats's own phase, the Daimonic person. One of the ways that he could do this was through seeking a female voice, approaching towards the opposite half of the bar-magnet-self.

 'a great mind must be androgynous'

In one of the earliest drafts of the system Michael Robartes expounds some of the system, and Owen Aherne makes a comment about remembering a 'passage in the Table talk [of Coleridge], he said that all great minds were androgynous' (‘The Discoveries of Michael Robartes’, typescript, YVP4 43). Aherne goes on to make a conjecture about the system of A Vision that is incorrect, but Virginia Woolf also seized upon this comment of Coleridge's, and explored it perhaps more richly and aptly:
Coleridge perhaps meant this when he said that a great mind is androgynous. It is when this fusion takes place that the mind is fully fertilized and uses all its faculties. Perhaps a mind that is purely masculine cannot create, any more than a mind that is purely feminine, I thought.... Coleridge certainly did not mean... that it is a mind that has any special sympathy with women; a mind that takes up their cause or devotes itself to their interpretation.... He meant, perhaps, that the androgynous mind is resonant and porous; that it transmits emotion without impediment; that it is naturally creative, incandescent and undivided. In fact one goes back to Shakespeare’s mind as the type of the androgynous, of the man-womanly mind.... (A Room of One's Own, Ch. VI)
Key elements that echo Yeats's own ideas are those of fusion and a mind that uses all its faculties—one of the elements of Unity of Being, where on one Faculty brings the others into play automatically. When writing of Unity of Being Yeats uses the image of sympathetic vibration, Woolf here of resonance, but the porousness that allows the undivided mind to express itself and more of itself than is normal is part of the symbolic androgyne. Within A Vision and elsewhere in Yeats's writings, the term Unity of Being changes meaning and application as Yeats's ideas developed, but it was always something that the person should aim for, an ideal of the mind.

   The conjecture that Aherne makes is that 'If we understand the Primary nature as masculine the saying would apply very well to those phases as you have described them' (YVP4 43), which is wrong because in the Yeatses' system the primary is feminine and the antithetical masculine, but the vital thing is that all minds are an equal mixture of both tinctures. Whichever side of the Wheel Will and Creative Mind are on, Mask and Body of Fate balance them equally in the opposite tincture. Only perhaps those who achieve Unity of Being are able to fully realize this equal oppostion in a form of dynamic equilibrium, Coleridge's androgynous great minds, but the fundamental elements are there in all humanity.
Two sample dispositions of the Faculties. (a) a person with Will at Phase 4, and (b) a person with Will at Phase 17.
(See A Reader's Guide to Yeats's 'A Vision', p. 116, Fig.7.4.)

Every person is a balance of the primary and antithetical halves, and potentially of the male and female. In the first version of A Vision, Yeats goes one stage further, identifying Will and Creative Mind with the 'light' of the human mind (regardless of whether they are light or dark according to the coding for antithetical and primary) and Mask and Body of Fate with the Daimon's mind, which is dark to us.
The Will and the Creative Mind are in the light, but the Body of Fate working through accident, in dark, while Mask, or Image, is a form selected instinctively for those emotional associations which come out of the dark, and this form is itself set before us by accident, or swims up from the dark portion of the mind. But there is another mind, or another part of our mind in this darkness, that is yet to its own perceptions in the light; and we in our turn are dark to that mind. These two minds (one always light and one always dark, when considered by one mind alone), make up man and Daimon, the Will of the man being the Mask of the Daimon, the Creative Mind of the man being the Body of Fate of the Daimon and so on. The Wheel is in this way reversed, as St. Peter at his crucifixion reversed by the position of his body the position of the crucified Christ : “Demon est Deus Inversus”. Man’s Daimon has therefore her energy and bias, in man’s Mask, and her constructive power in man’s fate, and man and Daimon face each other in a perpetual conflict or embrace. This relation (the Daimon being of the opposite sex to that of man) may create a passion like that of sexual love. The relation of man and woman, in so far as it is passionate, reproduces the relation of man and Daimon, and becomes an element where man and Daimon sport, pursue one another, and do one another good or evil. (AVA 26–27, CW13 24–25)
Too many critics, perhaps, take this comment as license to identify the Daimon with any and all of the women in W. B. Yeats's life (and little else), but there is definitely an element of truth in the idea that the Daimon and its influence are discerned in these women, not least George Yeats.

   In A Vision, the system's myth of itself is that it is the product of the Daimons of W. B. and George Yeats—that is WBY's female Daimon and GY's male Daimon (— with possible contributions from the Daimons of the children, Anne and Michael). Indeed, though the supposed instructors worked through a hierarchy of communicating spirits, one of the voices, Ameritus, was said to be George's Daimon (YVP2 300).
   There is thus a complex interchange of man and woman sitting and writing questions and answers, or the man questioning the sleeping woman, yet it is the Daimons of the two who supposedly originate, and they influence their own charge directly but also work through the spouse. Male and female are fused and yet distinct, androgynous.

Michael Maier, Atalanta Fugiens, Emblem XXXVIII, engraving by Matthäus Merian, the Elder.

The following post will look at Yeats's use of female voices in poetry to express a potentially Daimonic view of reality, and subsequent ones will consider the Daimon with Plotinus and the Golden Dawn, and concepts of Unity of Being.

Sunday, March 1, 2020

Plotinus and "A Vision", Part II

'Plotinus for a friend'

Writing in 1926 Yeats counted Plotinus as part of the philosophical background in A Vision A, noting that 'it is mainly Plotinus & the pre­Socratics that separate me from Spengler & so far as I am separate' (30 July 1926, CL InteLex 4904). Yet, he also told Thomas Sturge Moore that he had only really started reading philosophy after A Vision was completed: 'When it was written (though the proofs had yet to come) I started to read. I read for months every day Plato & Plotinus' (14 March [1926], CL InteLex 4850). He repeated this claim in A Packet for Ezra Pound in 1929 (PEP 26–27; AVB 19–20, CW14 15–16). Searching to see if George Yeats's automatic script might have been inspired by her reading, he first set out to explore these writers:
I read all MacKenna's incomparable translation of Plotinus, some of it several times, and went from Plotinus to his predecessors and successor whether upon her list or not. And for four years now have read nothing else except every now and then some story of theft and murder to clear my head at night. Although the more I read the better did I understand what I had been taught, I found neither the geometrical symbolism nor anything that could have inspired it except the vortex of Empedocles. (PEP 26–27; AVB 20, CW14 15–16)
Plotinus, the isolated figure in ruddy brown, in Raphael's The School of Athens
Recognizing Plotinus as writing in the primary tradition of Platonism—'Plotinus' ecstasy' is after all the 'ecstasy of the Saint' (AVA 215, CW13 177)—Yeats does not always find him a congenial influence. In his poem 'The Tower' (written 1925–26), he complains about 'this caricature /Decrepit age that has been tied to me / As to a dog's tail":
It seems that I must bid the Muse go pack,
Choose Plato and Plotinus for a friend
Until imagination, ear and eye,
Can be content with argument and deal
In abstract things....                               (VP 409)
Apparently further study of Plotinus made him realize that the philosophy was not so abstract. Some two years later, Yeats wrote a note on this poetic complaint:
When I wrote the lines about Plato and Plotinus I forgot that it is something in our own eyes that makes us see them as all transcendence. Has not Plotinus written: 'Let every soul recall, then, at the outset the truth that soul is the author of all living things, that it has breathed the life into them all, whatever is nourished by earth and sea, all the creatures of the air, the divine stars in the sky; it is the maker of the sun; itself formed and ordered this vast heaven and conducts all that rhythmic motion—and it is a principle distinct from all these to which it gives law and movement and life, and it must of necessity be  more honourable than they, for they gather or dissolve as soul brings them life or abandons them, but soul, since it never can abandon itself, is of eternal being'?—1928. (VP 826, citing Ennead V.1.2, MacKenna, vol. 4, p. 2)
This passage comes from the opening tractate of the Fifth Ennead, which Yeats had probably not read when he wrote 'The Tower'. As MacKenna himself reported, Yeats had announced that he intended to spend the winter of 1926–27 studying Plotinus seriously (see Part I) and the volume that had just come out was devoted to the Fifth Ennead, dealing particularly with the Divine Mind or Intellectual-Principle.

The first tractate that Yeats quotes emphasizes the human starting point of enquiry: 'the seeker is soul and it must start from a true notion of the nature and quality by which soul may undertake the search'. However, it is dedicated to the 'The Three Initial Hypostases', the loftiest elements of Plotinus's system. From the human soul, Plotinus proceeds to Soul, but 'Soul, for all the worth we have shown to belong to it, is yet a secondary, and image of the Intellectual-Principle' and then in turn 'The Intellectual-Principle stands as the image of The One' (V.1.1, 3, & 7).

Plotinus's Three Hypostases were indeed one of the elements in his ready that helped Yeats better 'understand what [he] had been taught', and he used them to reframe how he saw the Principles and their relation to the Daimon and the Thirteenth Cone.
Stephen MacKenna's translation of Plotinus's Fifth Ennead (London & Boston: The Medici Society, 1926).

The Three Hypostases

A 'hypostasis' is an 'underlying substance' or 'ultimate reality', and MacKenna gives summaries of Plotinus's conception of the Three Hypostases in volume 1. The One 'transcends even the quality of Being' but is the cause of existence, for 'without its Supra-Existence nothing could be' (vol. 1, 118-19). Existence is manifested in the Nous, Intellectual-Principle, or Divine Mind, which
contains, or rather is, ta Noeta—the Intellectual-Universe or Intelligible Universe.... the Totality of the Divine-Thoughts, generally known, in the phrase familiar in Platonism, as The Ideas' or Forms. (vol. 1, p. 119
Within this Second Hypostasis, Plotinus differentiates a contemplative state of Being and a state of Act: Nous looks upwards in contemplation of the One, its act generates the All-Soul towards which it looks downwards at the moving image in time of its own unmoving eternity. The Third Hypostasis, the All-Soul, 'is the eternal cause of the existence, eternal existence, of the Kosmos, or "World," or material, or sense-grasped Universe, which is the Soul's Act and emanation, image and "shadow"' (vol. 1, p. 120).

MacKenna translates 'what is usually conveyed by the English philosophical term Real-Being' (vol. 1, 124) as 'Authentic-Existent', 'Authentic-Existents' or 'Authentic-Existence', applicable to the Intellectual-Principle itself and to the Divine Thoughts or Ideas. In a misreading of MacKenna, Yeats appears to take this term 'Authentic Existent', which properly applies to the Nous and its Divine Ideas, and use it to mean 'Hypostasis', applying it to all three hypostases (while also spelling it 'Existant', a mis-spelling that has persisted through all editions).

In so far as the 'Three Initial Hypostases' are the true origins of all that exists, this misprision of a term that is largely confined to MacKenna's translation is not particularly problematic. And in using the word 'misprision', I am thinking in terms of Harold Bloom's seminal idea of the 'anxiety of influence' and his concept of a 'strong misreading': there is a sense in which Yeats is asserting his reading Plotinus through his own system and his own thought. He evidently prefers the more immediate impact of 'authentic existent'—evoking both authenticity and being—over the more remote and technical term 'hypostasis', while 'emanation' might evoke a complementary status to a mind steeped in Blake, who uses the term for  female counterparts of his living beings. If this is the case, however, Yeats's choice of usage still raises some questions about how he understood statements such as those that the Intellectual-Principle 'is the seat of authentic Existents' (V.5.3, vol. 5, p. 50), or that 'the Intellectual-Principle is the authentic existences and contains them all—not as a place bus as possessing itself and being one thing with this its content' (V.9.6., vol. 4, p. 95).

Rescuing Yeats

A number of writers have tried to explain that Yeats's use of 'Authentic Existant' is more subtle than simply misapplying the term to the Three Hypostases.

The first major treatment of Yeats's use of Plotinus was Rosemary Puglia Ritvo's 1975 examination 'A Vision B: The Plotinian Metaphysical Basis'. A key part of the argument relates to analysis that will come in Part III of this blog-essay, but Ritvo argues that Yeats's usage of 'Authentic Existant' is confined to the realms of the Intellectual-Principle and the All-Soul, because 'MacKenna's term "authentic existence"... is predicated of the Second and Third Hypostases but not of the First, he clearly excludes the Absolute', i.e., The One (38).
The difficulty here lies in understanding Yeats's distinctions into First, Second, and Third Authentic Existants, which are his own invention. He tells us that we should identify his Third Authentic Existant with Plotinus' Third Hypostasis, the All-Soul. How are we to understand the relationship between Yeats's first two Authentic Existants and Plotinus' metaphysics? Since Plotinus' First Hypostasis is excluded from Yeats's discussion, Yeats's First and Second Authentic Existants clearly are not to be identified with Plotinus' First and Second Hypostases.
This leads to a ingenious and completely plausible explanation, though it is one that has no foundation in anything that Yeats writes:
I propose that Yeats's first two Authentic Existants correlate to the two aspects of Plotinus' Second Hypostasis: the First Authentic Existant, Celestial Body, is Plotinus' Second Hypostasis considered as Being; the Second Authentic Existant, Spirit, is the Second Hypostasis considered as act, or using MacKenna's term, the Intellectual-Principle. (38)
This dual understanding of the Nous is entirely consistent with Plotinus's conception of the Second and Third Hypostases looking upward and downward.

Ritvo's reading has been persuasive, and Brian Arkins follows Ritvo in Builders of My Soul (1990), and a similar scheme is proposed by Matthew Gibson in 'Classical Philosophy' (W. B. Yeats in Context, 2010). Gibson's outline of 'the Intellectual Realm or nous' notes that 'Here reside the Authentic Existents: what Plato had called the Ideal Forms' (281). He then states that:
Yeats appears to have matched the two parts of the Second Hypostasis—Being and Act—with the Celestial Body and Spirit respectively, calling them erroneously the First and Second 'Authentic Existants': effectively dividing the dyadic Intellectual Realm into two hypostases with the contemplation of the Spirit (mind) constituting that 'which holds the First in it s moveless circle' (AV 194), and confusing the term 'Authentic Existant' with Hypostasis itself. (281)
After considering other aspects as well, Gibson goes on to comment that 'Not only does Yeats appear to read erroneously, but he also appears to collapse macrocosm into microcosm', though adding that 'Yeats's misreading stems from very intelligent observations' about Plotinus's system (282).

To someone as versed as Yeats in Cabala and Hermetism, collapsing microcosm and macrocosm is all but inevitable, as they are seen as reflections of each other, and desirable too. The Emerald or Smaragdine Tablet attributed to Hermes Trismegistus contains the dictum 'as above, so below; as below, so above', or as Yeats phrases it: 'For things below are copies, the Great Smaragdine Tablet said' ('Ribh Denounces Patrick', VP 556, CW1 290). As such the human microcosm will be a miniature of the macrocosm. In many respects this coincides with the concept that the physical world is a copy of the Ideal Forms within Nous.

Yeats's intentions and reading are made a little clearer in the drafts for A Vision B (though elements of discarded thinking add a layer of complexity too)*:
I identify the moment where the antinomy is resolved with Plotinus first Authentic Existant or the One, the Celestial Body in Spirit with the Second Authentic Existant & the Spirit in Celestial Body with the third Authentic Existant or Soul of the World. (NLI 36,272/15)
In other words, by the term 'First Authentic Existant' Yeats did mean the One, by 'Second Authentic Existant', the Intellectual-Principle, and by 'third Authentic Existant', the All-Soul. This is not to say that Yeats misunderstood Plotinus to any significant degree, even if he was mixed up over one of MacKenna's terms, but it does mean that he was not really distinguishing between the Intellectual-Principle's Being and Act.

NLI 36,272/15, transcribed above.
 In Part III, I'll look at the way that Yeats used Plotinus's framework to structure his understanding of the Principles and the Thirteenth Cone and to try to resolve his uncertainties about the Daimon and the Ghostly Self.

*The categories of Celestial Body in Spirit and Spirit in Celestial Body are connected with the Beatitude and the Beatific Vision, and are examined at some length in 'The Thirteenth Cone' in W. B. Yeats's A Vision: Explications and Contexts, available here, especially pages 175–79.

Friday, September 13, 2019

Pronouncing Michael Robartes and the gyre

I am asked with some regularity about two pronunciation questions that seem to nag at readers of later Yeats, neither of them to do with Irish names or recondite terms such as 'congeries', all of which can be checked relatively easily. (Apparently it's 'con-jérry-ez', by the way, with elements of variation.)

The questions are: How do you pronounce the name Robartes? And is the 'g' of  'gyre' hard or soft?

Though it has been a while since I learnt that the surname Robartes is generally pronounced as two syllables with the stress on the first, being a variant spelling of Roberts or Robards, I still find it hard to shake a preference for the pronunciation that I first adopted of three syllables with the stress on the second (a little like Pilates as opposed to Pontius Pilate). I don't think that there are any recordings of Yeats reading a poem that names him (U Penn has, I think, as full an archive as is possible from the few extant recordings), nor have I come across any record of what he said, but I accept that robarts is probably the best pronunciation.

The problem is a little different with 'gyre'. Here, the standard accepted pronunciation for the word is with a soft 'g', and it is given by the dictionary as jīr (I'm using Chambers). Many Irish accents, like most Scottish and US accents, would normally pronounce a retroflex 'r' at the end — /dʒaɪɹ/ or /dʒɻ /— while most English and some New England accents would have an open ending— /dʒaɪə/ .

However, Richard Ellmann states that the whirling symbol 'was a spiral, which Yeats preferred to call a gyre (and pronounced with a hard "g")' (Yeats: The Man and the Masks, p. 231). Although he gives no reason for this statement, he had probably heard it from George Yeats's own lips. (Apparently Lewis Carroll also expected a hard 'g' for 'gyre' in 'The Jabberwocky', as the basis for this word, 'gyroscope', was pronounced with a hard 'g' in his day.)

Further confirmation comes from a typescript that Yeats dictated, where the word is misspelt as 'guyers', which indicates that the typist heard a hard 'g'. The word has been corrected in later occurrences.
NLI MS 36,272/24, p. 7
 (A similar instance elsewhere has the seventeenth-century theosophist Jakob Boehme typed up as 'Burmah'.)

Listening to Yeats's own readings of poetry, for instance 'The Lake Isle of Inisfree', the final 'r' sounds of 'there' and 'core' are strong, so that if one wants to follow what Yeats himself said, it would probably be /gaɪɻ / .

But do we adopt Yeats's pronunciation? Even if it goes against our own accent or region?  

How should the falcon and falconer of 'The Second Coming' be pronounced—long or short 'a'? with or without an 'l' sound? (fawk'n is a traditional pronunciation, as is fol-kon, but făl-kon has become general nowadays).
Does the philosopher George Berkeley echo London's Berkeley Square (barkly) or California's Berkeley University (birkly)? 
How close did Yeats intend a rhyme such as 'work' and 'clerk' to be in 'At Galway Races'? ('clerk' rhymes with bark in most British accents, but the rhyme implies clurk).

Do we keep an early-twentieth-century pronunciation in the twenty-first century? We know that Wordsworth and Byron rhymed water and matter, while Pope rhymed line and join. Do we keep the rhyme in order to preserve the internal sound patterns and music—and risk sounding ridiculous—or do we accept that time and place may erode some of these sound elements?  

As neither 'Robartes' nor 'gyre' is in any danger of being misunderstood if we pronounce it either way, we may prefer accepted standard usage or to heed what Yeats himself said, but there is nothing to stop our Robartes being trisyllabic if we choose and our gyres from being soft.


Thursday, September 5, 2019

Plotinus and "A Vision", Part I

An important element of Yeats's understanding of the spiritual elements of the system, including the Principles and the Thirteenth Cone, came through his reading of Plotinus. Yeats read The Enneads as they came out in the translations of Stephen MacKenna, an Irish nationalist and great friend of John Millington Synge. Yeats had a copy of the first translation, Plotinus on the Beautiful (YL 1594, WBGYL 1606), which appeared from A. H. Bullen's Shakespeare Head Press in 1908, the same year as his own Collected Works. The Medici Society started to publish translations of the Enneads in order in 1917 (see YL 1589-93, WBGYL 1601-5)—the copy of Vol. 1 in the Yeats's library has George Yeats's bookplate (she already had copies of Thomas Taylor's early nineteenth-century selected translations.) The Yeatses also bought Dean Inge's Gifford Lectures on Plotinus in 1919 (YL 954, WBGYL 964).

By the time that A Vision A appeared, the first three volumes of MacKenna's translations, containing the first four Enneads, had been published. Yeats refers specifically to Plotinus's hypostases in "The Four Principles and Neo-Platonic Philosophy":
I have not considered the ultimate origin of things, nor have my documents thrown a direct light upon it. The word Anima Mundi frequently occurs and is used very much as in the philosophy of Plotinus. I am inclined to discover in the Celestial Body, the Spirit, the Passionate Body, and the Husk, emanations from or reflections from his One, his Intellectual Principle, his Soul of the World, and his Nature respectively. The Passionate Body is described as that which links one being to another, and that which rescues the Celestial Body from solitude, and this is part of the office of the Soul of the World in Plotinus. As actually used in the documents Anima Mundi is the receptacle of emotional images when purified from whatever unites them to one man rather than to another. The 13th, 14th and 15th cycles are described as Spheres, and are certainly emanations from the Soul of the World, the Intellectual Principle and the One respectively, but there is a fundamental difference, though perhaps only of expression, between the system and that of Plotinus. In Plotinus the One is the Good, whereas in the system Good and Evil are eliminated before the Soul can be united to Reality, being that stream of phenomena that drowns us. (AVA 176, CW13 143-44)
Yeats's schema is therefore relatively clear:  the three supernatural cycles or Spheres are seen as expressions of Plotinus's three hypostases, The One, The Intellectual Principle, and The Soul of the World. There is a more tenuous relationship to the Four Principles, and this also presents the perennial problem of adapting a trinity to a quaternity or vice versa (one that he had encountered when writing on The Works of William Blake), but Yeats introduces a fourth term that probably owes as much to his work on Blake as reading of Plotinus: Nature. (In the WWB, Yeats had treated Nature as the mirror of the Holy Ghost, see

It is difficult from this simple set of correspondences to say how clear an idea Yeats actually had of Plotinus's hypostases or how far he saw the parallels as going.  Part of the attraction of Neoplatonism in this context appears to be that it enabled Yeats to include elements of the automatic script that dealt with the Christian Trinity but within a form of pagan language. Plotinus's philosophy is eminently primary in most respects—"Plotinus' ecstasy" is after all the "ecstasy of the Saint" (AVA 215, CW13 177)—but his vision retains enough of antithetical Greek paganism to make it palatable to Yeats. The Trinity of Christian faith is given as the One (the Father), the Nous, Logos, or Intellectual Principle (the Son), and the Soul of the World (the Holy Ghost). While Yeats, writing as himself, identifies his Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Cycles beyond physical incarnation with Plotinus’s hypostases (AVA 176, CW13 142–43), he has the  character of Owen Aherne identify them with the Christian Trinity (AVA 236, CW13 194).

Importantly, though, Yeats continued his study of Plotinus as he rewrote A Vision. Stephen MacKenna wrote to his patron Ernest Debenham in October 1926 reporting his pleasure at an article by AE and added:
Another little encouragement: Yeats, a friend tells me, came to London, glided into a bookshop and dreamily asked for the new Plotinus, began to read there and then, and read on and on till he'd finished (he really has a colossal brain, you know), and now is preaching Plotinus to all his train of attendant Duchesses. He told my friend that he intended to give the winter in Dublin to Plotinus. (Journals and Letters of Stephen MacKenna, 235)
What appears in the drafts of the late 1920s certainly shows increased attention given to Plotinus and his thought. (Continued in Part II.)

Thursday, August 29, 2019

Confessions of an English Literature student

I was lucky to have many great teachers at school and university, but one of the most important for me was Stephen Gill at Lincoln College, Oxford. His academic interests were communicated with passion and they included George Eliot, Elizabeth Gaskell, and D. H. Lawrence, novelists of realism and social commitment. But foremost, at least in my impression, was his expertise in and love of William Wordsworth. He could quote with facility from throughout Wordsworth's work, but did so most frequently from The Prelude. It no doubt helped that he had been one of the joint editors of the Norton parallel text of the two full versions of that epic, along with its earlier proto-type.

     I'm aware that certain passages have half-consciously informed my reading of some themes in Yeats's A Vision. Such associations are probably inevitable for the Eng. Lit. student, sometimes because they reflect perennial concerns and sometimes they are just capriciously personal connections. I hope that these examples will resonate for others as well as for me and that they have illuminated my reading of Yeats, not sidetracked it.

     Two in particular stick in my mind. The first is the account of crossing of the Alps in Book VI of The Prelude, where Wordsworth addresses the power of Imagination which is compared to "an unfather'd vapour", showing the "invisible world" in flashes, intimating that:
Our destiny, our nature, and our home
Is with infinitude, and only there;
With hope it is, hope that can never die,
Effort, and expectation, and desire,
And something evermore about to be. (The Prelude [1805], VI: 538–42)*
This final line in particular seems to me to intimate something of the divine nature that Yeats imagines in the Thirteenth Cone, or rather in the Sphere—that all being and becoming tends to "infinitude",and that if the goal were ever reached it would be a stasis. Certainly this passage also seems to echo Yeats's conception of the nature of life—that, as spirits reflected into time and space, the goal is the timeless and spaceless, but that effort and desire driving us on is more important than the goal (in contrast to Buddha's Four Noble Truths, which aim to eliminate striving and desire).
[And this recalls, in turn, T. S. Eliot's Burnt Norton, with its vision of "the still point of the turning world" and the statement that "the world moves / In appetency, on its metalled ways / Of time past and time future"—that word "appetency" being a slightly more pedantic but precise and concise version of hope/effort/expectation/desire/becoming. Such chains of association are probably also inevitable for the Eng. Lit. student.]

    The second passage is connected and, as I copy it here, even more connected than I had probably realized. In Book II, Wordsworth writes of "the visionary power" imparted by his solitary communion with nature and the "fleeting moods / Of shadowy exultation", because:
                … the soul,
Remembering how she felt, but what she felt
Remembering not, retains an obscure sense
Of possible sublimity, whereto
With growing faculties she doth aspire,
With faculties still growing, feeling still
That whatsoever point they gain, they yet
Have something to pursue. (The Prelude [1805], II: 334–51)**
I cannot but recall this passage when I read Yeats's description of the basis of the Faculties in terms of incarnations, "the four memories of the Daimon or ultimate self", such that:
His Body of Fate, the series of events forced upon him from without, is shaped out of the Daimon's memory of the events of his past incarnations; his Mask or object of desire or idea of the good, out of its memory of the moments of exaltation in his past lives; his Will or normal ego out of its memory of all the events of his present life, whether consciously remembered or not; his Creative Mind from its memory of ideas—or universals—displayed by actual men in past lives, or their spirits between lives. (AVB 83, CW14 61–62)
Yeats places the memories of exaltation (or sublimity) within the framework of reincarnations, so that the sublime moments of former lives are distilled into the Mask of this life, the goal and focus of our being or Will, but always with the sense that the goal is more important for the direction that it gives than for the possibility of actual attainment. Will is the appetent Faculty, moving always towards Mask, seeking and desiring it. Importantly, the actual memories of past lives are unimportant as the essence is contained within the current Faculties, and it is not "what [the soul] felt" but "how she felt" that matters.
[And this recalls, in turn, the close of Alfred Tennyson's poem "Ulysses", where an ageing Odysseus, chafing at life on Ithaca after his return, proposes a final voyage to his companions:
              ... my purpose holds
To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths
Of all the western stars, until I die.
Tho' much is taken, much abides; and tho'
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are:
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.]

All these are connected by the importance of striving and thus with the physical world of the tinctures and Faculties, which only "mirror reality but are in themselves pursuit and illusion" (AVB 73, CW14 53). In a draft, Yeats writes that "the Principles are value and attainment, the Faculties process and search" (cited ARGYV 96) but the Faculties are the tools or interfaces by which the Principles interact with the world and may attain the value that they represent.

In the section on crossing the Alps, Wordsworth is close to Yeats's beloved Shelley in seeing the Alps as  symbols of "The everlasting universe of things..." ("Mont Blanc"). The scene of the mountains, waterfalls, winds, and sublime nature are seen as "Characters of the great Apocalypse, / The types and symbols of Eternity, / Of first and last, and midst, and without end" (The Prelude [1805], VI, 570–72). These intimate the world of the Principles, in the final objective spiritual reality of Thirteenth Cone:
But the 13th Cone, enters in some measure into all Spirits we must then expect some image of it in all things. Primar[il]y it is in those things which Blake called in Heaven & Hell too great for the eye of man. It is there where the painters & poets find it, storm, the starlit sky, spring abundance...

The 13 Cone is reflected in those parts of external nature uncontrolable by us—sea, sky, growth & so on. As an internal experience the 13th Cone is the spiritual reality [that] transcends experience, but is touched by all at the highest moment.… We enter in the Beatitude an experience that can only enter our embodied experience when symbolized by all that is most tremendous in nature… 
(Yeats, 1930 Diary)
Maybe Yeats and Wordsworth have more in common than may appear at first glance.

There do not seem to be any good recordings of The Prelude readily available. The following links should take you to the relevant passages in a reading of the complete poem. They are less than ideal as they give the 1850 version of the poem and are read by amateurs of varying strength.

*Book VI: "Imagination... like an unfathered vapour..." 

**Book II: "I deem not profitless those fleeting moods of shadowy exultation..."