Wednesday, November 30, 2016

That Obscure Object of Desire

One of the side effects of studying the material of W. B. Yeats's A Vision is that you do notice echoes of its categories in some fairly unexpected places. These may have nothing to do with the Yeatses' system, yet they show how elements of it are natural distinctions.

Reading David Brooks's column "Does Decision-Making Matter?" in the New York Times last Saturday, I was struck at the end by how clearly he had described the role and importance of the Mask, and then looking back through the article saw elements that corresponded to Body of Fate, and then to Will and Creative Mind.

I'll summarise the article here, even though it's brief, but I'd recommend that you read it—maybe even read it first. The article starts as a preview of a forthcoming book by Michael Lewis The Undoing Project (2016), which examines the life and work of the Israeli psychologists Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky (Kahneman's book outlining some of their research Thinking, Fast and Slow (2011) has been a recent best seller, and Lewis has previously written such books as Moneyball, The Big Short, and Flash Boys). Brooks then moves on to some thoughts provoked by this double biography.

After describing Kahneman's background in France under Nazi occupation and then Israel, and Tversky's childhood in Israel, and their meeting, the article notes the intensity and closeness of their partnership and how their research "revolutionized how we think about ourselves". Kahneman and Tversky showed that, rather than being the rational creatures of traditional economics,  we are biased and in predictable ways.

Though their research has analysed decision-making, Brooks pauses to ask how much of these two men's lives depended upon decisions that they made:
The major trajectories of their lives were determined by historical events, random coincidences, their own psychological needs and irresistible impulsions.
....Their lives weren't so much shaped by decisions as by rapture.
....when it comes to the really major things we mostly follow our noses. What seems interesting, beautiful, curious and addicting?
Have you ever known anybody to turn away from anything they found compulsively engaging?
....Now that we know a bit more about decision-making, maybe the next frontier is desire. Maybe the next Kahneman and Tversky will help us understand what explains, fires and orders our loves. 
Brooks's subject here is the Mask, the goal and focus of desire, what beckons us onward. Yeats's approach is mythic and symbolic, not the scientific and psychological study that Brooks asks for, but it is the same drive and compulsion that they identify. This is how I summarised Yeats's descriptions of the Mask in an essay a few years ago:
The Mask is... the ‘object of desire or moral ideal’ and ‘idea of the good’ (AVB 83), ‘the image of what we wish to become, or of that to which we give our reverence’ (CW13 15, AVA 15), ‘the Ought (or that which should be)’ (AVB 73), and ‘in the antithetical phases beauty’ (AVB 192). It is chosen but involuntary, taking ‘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’ (CW13 24, AVA 27), so that it is the object of willed choice but comes before us without conscious selection. It is intrinsically at the limit of reach, ‘that object of desire or moral ideal which is of all possible things the most difficult’ (AVB 83), and vulnerable to chance and external reality.
("The Mask of A Vision", Yeats Annual 19) 
To follow through with a Yeatsian anatomy, the circumstances and historical events that Brooks notes might be seen as connected to the Body of Fate, while decision-making is the function of the Will—the natural bias (cf. AVB 171; CW13 85; AVA 105)—presumably with input from Creative Mind in more rational aspects.

One could even speculate on Phases for the researchers, but there is such a thing as taking the Yeatsian approach too far.

Friday, November 28, 2014

The Unicorn and the Lightning-Struck Tower, IV

Previous posts have considered the symbolism of the unicorn, the tower and the lightning flash within Yeats's work and in the system of A Vision, but the most immediate source in many respects is, of course, the Tarot card of the lightning-struck tower. This card is labelled "La Torre" in most Italian packs, such as the one that W. B. Yeats himself had, and "La Maison Dieu" in the older French packs, such as George's Marseilles pack. The majority of designs show a lightning flash, often coming from a cloud, striking the top of a crenelated tower, dislodging its crown, and with two or more people falling, along with a hail of particles.
In the Golden Dawn's specific iconography, the card is named the "Blasted Tower" and titled "Lord of the Hosts of the Mighty". In the Order's syncretic system, the Tarot trumps were identified with the paths connecting the sephiroth on the Tree of Life, and these in turn had correspondences with astrological principles. In their system, The Tower corresponds with the path on the Tree of Life joining Hod and Netzach, one of three horizontal paths on the Tree, identified by the Hebrew letter Peh (פ)  and the planet Mars. In many ways both these attributes have some appropriateness for George: Peh means "mouth" and her work as medium for the automatic script gave words to the communicators, and she was strongly marked as a Scorpio, both by her astrological rising sign and her cycle sign in the system, ruled by Mars (Pluto had not been discovered, and the Yeatses generally used the traditional rulers anyway). George was also said to have a Mars Daimon (YVP3 292) as did WBY.

The symbolism may well extend further. The Golden Dawn's Outer Order was not involved with magic—that came later in the Second Order—rather, it was designed to provide a grounding in the basics of occult knowledge and to help balance the temperament of the aspiring initiates by a series of elemental initiations, Earth, Air, Water and then Fire. In this structure, Water and Fire were associated with Hod and Netzach, respectively, so that the path joining them is the last one that is wholly within that elemental world. Beyond that came the Portal Ritual, after which the successful aspirant would pass to the Second Order. This ritual symbolically involves crossing the "Veil of the Paroketh", separating the lower sephiroth from the central ones.

The lower four sephiroth on the Tree of Life, with some of the Golden Dawn correspondences. For Mathers' diagram of the whole Tree in relation to the GD, see
W. B. Yeats joined the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn in March 1890 and, by the time he stood as a candidate for the Golden Dawn's Portal Ritual in January 1893, he had passed through the four initiations of the Outer Order. There was a minimum period of three months at each grade, so Yeats's progress was not unduly fast.

After induction into the Order as Neophyte (0=0), preparation for the grade of Zelator (1=10) focused on elemental Earth and the sephirah of Malkuth; next came Theoricus (2=9), elemental Air and the sephirah of Yesod; then Practicus (3=8), elemental Water and Hod, followed by Philosophus (4=7), elemental Fire and Netzach. These processes focused on exploring and balancing the 'lower' personality, represented by these four sephiroth, preparatory to advancing towards actual magical workings and raising of the consciousness towards the Higher Self in the Second Order, Rosae Rubeae et Aureae Crucis. The Portal Ritual does not have a specific grade related to it, representing a liminal level: the fifth element of Spirit or Akasa, the culmination of the Outer or First Order and an induction into the Second Order.

George followed the same steps, over twenty years later, inducted into the Stella Matutina in August 1914. Her advance through the grades seems to have been a little rapider, with initiations into the next grades in September and then November or December (as far as can be told from astrological charts she drew up that seem to indicate the times of initiations, see Becoming George 69-71). She probably advanced to Practicus (3=8) in May 1915.  At the end of that ritual, the Hierophant congratulates the newly made Practicus, and confers "the Mystic Title of 'MONOCRIS DE ASTRIS', which means 'Unicorn from the Stars' and I give you the symbol of MAIM which is the Hebrew Name for Water" (Regardie, The Golden Dawn, 2:118; see also the earlier version in Equinox 1:2, 274, where the title is "MONOKEROS DE ASTRIS").

Three or more months later, the aspirant might be ready to undergo the initiation to Philosophus. In this ritual he or she is addressed by the title of "Monocris de Astris", and symbolically approaches the sephirah of Netzach via the three paths that lead to it from the lower sephiroth already mastered:
· first from Malkuth by the path of Qoph, identified with the Tarot card of The Moon and the zodiac sign of Pisces;
· then from Yesod by the path of Tzadi, identified with The Star and the zodiac sign of Aquarius;
· and finally from Hod by the path of Peh, identified with The Tower and the planet Mars.

The ritual of the Philosophus, approaching Netzach via the horizontal path from Hod, shows the card as conceived by the Golden Dawn:
          And the Sixteenth Key of the Tarot:
It represents a Tower struck by a lightning-flash proceeding from a rayed circle and terminating in a triangle. It is the Tower of Babel. The flash exactly forms the Astronomical symbol of Mars. It is the Power of the Triad rushing down and destroying the Column of Darkness. The men falling from the tower represent the fall of the kings of Edom. "On the right-hand side of the Tower is Light, and the representation of the Tree of Life by Ten Circles. On the left-hand side is Darkness, and Eleven Circles symbolically representing the Qliphoth."

Aleister Crowley notes that this card "which we have seen in the 4°= 7° Ritual represents a tower struck by a flash of lightning, symbolising the Tower of Babel struck by the wrath of Heaven, and also the Power of the Triad rushing down and destroying the columns of darkness, the light of Adonai glimmering through the veils and consuming the elementary Rituals of the 1°=10°, 2°=9°, 3°=8°, and 4°=7° grades" (Equinox 1:2 293). This underlines that this stage is the true final stage of the elemental levels, associated with a breaking down of the Tower of selfhood that was built before, so that a new one can be constructed consciously to lead to the Higher Self.

A new Tarot pack, coming from the Golden Dawn tradition, actually includes a unicorn in the symbolism of the Tower card.
This Tarot is designed Harry and Nicola Wendrich, painted by Harry, in association with Nick Farrell and the Magical Order of the Aurora Aurea, a successor to the Golden Dawn. The tower seems to have been constructed out of letter blocks, with the base constructed from the twelve so-called simple letters of the Hebrew alphabet, the middle tier from the seven double letters, and the highest level from the three mother letters. (These categories come from the Sepher Yetzirah and correspond in turn with the twelve signs of the zodiac, the seven ancient planets, and the three elements—excluding earth.) The arrow that strikes and topples the crown of the tower issues from a circle in the form of the symbol for Mars, the card's astrological counterpart, and connected to the red colours that dominate this card. The circle is in fact a complex geodesic form of sphere, patterned on the "flower of life". This widespread form of sacred geometry can in turn be used as a matrix to generate the cabalistic Tree of Life: the patterns of the two sets of discs or globes that fall on either side of the tower, as noted by Mathers in the ritual description of the card.
The brightly coloured, positive tree is on the viewer's right and the muddy coloured negative tree on the left, with an extra eleventh sphere at its base, symbolizing imbalance. Over the stormy left side the rainbow arches, recalling the rainbow that came after the Flood that destroyed almost all human and animal life on earth. If the tower recalls the destruction of the Tower of Babel, it is testimony to the less fatal punishment that the promise of the rainbow symbolizes. The Hebrew letters letters for "bow", Q-Sh-Th, also correspond to the three lowest paths on the tree \|/ that meet in Malkuth, which Yeats linked to his vision of the Archer: the arrow is the path of Samekh, which crosses that of  Peh.

"On the right hand side of the Tower is Light and the Tree of Life. There is also the Unicorn of the Stars which is a reference to the 3=8 ritual and the Archangel Uriel. Uriel is the angel of the Mysteries, who overthrows the false perceptions" (Farrell and Wendrich). Traditionally also, Uriel is the angel who warned Noah about the coming flood, so the card brings together many aspects of emerging from an experience in which the old order is swept away to be replaced by a new one. "In fact if you cross the path from Hod to Netzach you are looking at the pulling apart of your existing universe, however if you travel the path from Netzach to Hod you are seeing your higher self creating a new Universe out of the letters it sees. The path of Peh is therefore a destruction and construction" (Farrell at the Wendriches' website).

It seems that the Yeatses must have been thinking about something very similar, and made the connection through study, or more likely through vision. In an e-mail, Nicola informed me that "The inspiration to include the unicorn in the Tower image came from a joint meditation wherein my husband and I met with the Tower archetype, who requested that Harry paint a unicorn in the image to represent the Archangel Uriel.  Uriel is the Angel of the Mysteries, who overthrows false perceptions".  Farrell also made the same connection, independently: "At the time I was inspired by the fact that the Unicorn was a symbol of the Archangel Uriel whose energy tends to unsettle and destroy in this way.  Unfortunately for the life of me I do not know where I got this association from. When I said to Harry I think we should should stick a unicorn in, he said 'oh good we have been getting that in our meditations too' " (e-mail). (See further considerations of the path and the card on Nick Farrell's blog for June 2011.)

With symbolism that is both different and strikingly congruent, the Wendrich card of the Tower bears out much of the passage that was quoted at the end of the "The Unicorn and the Lightning-Struck Tower, III":
In the same way that the external divine of the Thirteenth Cone sends the revelatory shock of the new era in a lightning flash, the Daimon's contact with its human counterpart marks turning points in an individual life. The crises are a form of constructive destruction.
He expresses through a system of images a harmony of related aims and we should discover in this harmony of aims, in this unity of being not the mere intervention of the thirteenth cone but the sphere itself. . . that which only contradiction can expressnot “the  lone tower of the absolute self” but its shattering*; that whi unknown reality painted or sung by the monks of Zen.
* When my Instructors talk of the shattering of the tower they seem to [depend on?] the old symbol. I am thinking of the Tarot trump [of the?] tower struck by lightning.
       (NLI MS 36,272/22, p. 29)
The shattering of "the lone tower of the absolute self" comes through the Daimon's lightning flash and frees the inner being. George's bookplate is thus a symbol of contradiction, a Daimonic moment of crisis, of freedom, connection with "the sphere itself", and Beatific Vision.
It may seem a strange emblem to choose as a bookplate, but it is a constant reminder that the initiate is remaking herself, shattering the tower of self that has been constructed largely unawares in youth, and that part of building a new structure of self and life comes from the words, letters, and speech of the books she reads.

Monday, November 24, 2014

W. B. Yeats tells Stephen Spender of the coming times

It seems slightly incredible that Stephen Spender should have decided to write an autobiography when he was just 40, but he had seen so much and met so many people that there was already plenty to fill it. Among his encounters he recalled a meeting with W. B. Yeats at Lady Ottoline Morrell's London house in 1934.
Yeats, at the age of seventy, had something of the appearance of an overgrown art student, with shaggy, hanging head and a dazed, grey, blind gaze. On the occasion of our first meeting he look at me fixedly and said: "What, young man, do you think of the Sayers?" This took me aback and I murmured that I had not read any. "The Sayers," he repeated, "the Sayers." Lady Ottoline then explained that he was speaking of a certain troupe of speakers who recited poetry in chorus. I knew even less of these than of detective fiction and had to admit so. Lady Ottoline, who had arranged for us to have tea with very few people present, saw that I was a failure. She left the room and telephoned Virginia Woolf to get into a taxi and come round from Tavistock Square at once. Virginia, highly amused, arrived a few minutes later. (World Within World, 179)
If you have to be rescued from WBY, being rescued by Virginia Woolf isn't too bad. (Knowing WBY's taste for detective fiction as distracting entertainment, my first thought was also that Yeats was referring rather archly to Dorothy L. Sayers novels or to her translation of Dante, and I have been unable to discover anything else about these choric reciters.)

Yeats apparently went on to explain to Woolf "that her novel, The Waves, expressed in fiction the idea of pulsations of energy throughout the universe which was common to the modern theories of physicists and to recent discoveries in psychic research." Though Spender himself was out of sympathy with Yeats, particularly his philosophical and esoteric interests, he was interested enough to try to record what Yeats had said. Later on:
he spoke about the political views in the writing of my friends and myself, contrasting it with his own interest in spiritualism. "We are entering," he said, "the political era, dominated by considerations of political necessity which belong to your people. That will be bad enough, but there will be worse to come. For after that there will be an age dominated by psychologists, which will be based on the complete understanding by everyone of all his own motives at every stage of his life. After that, there will be the worst age of all: the age of our people, the spiritualists. That will be a time when the separation of the living from the dead, and the dead from the living, will be completely broken down, and the world of the living will be in full communication with that of the dead.
          Yeats expressed these ideas in a half-prophetic, half-humorous vein, and I may have distorted them in recording them. But certainly he spoke of the three ages to come, of the political, the psychological, and the spiritual: and he affirmed that the last would be "the worst". It is difficult to understand how to take such a prophecy. What is clear though, is that he saw spiritualism as a revolutionary social force as important in its power to influence the world, as politics, psychology, or science. (World Within World, 180–81)
There probably is some distortion or at least confusion over spirituality and spiritualism, but it is clear that Yeats was telling Spender about the last gyres of the current age. In general he breaks a millennium down into twelve gyres, corresponding to the cardinal phases and eight triads of phases. He had speculated about those of the near future at the end of "Dove or Swan" in the 1925 version of A Vision, a section that was cut from the later version. The "political era" that he spoke of to Spender is the culmination of the eleventh gyre, the "moral" triad of phases (23, 24, 25), which he saw already starting in 1925, when he discovered "the first phase—Phase 23—of the last quarter in the certain friends of mine, and in writers, poets and sculptors admired by these friends" (AVA 210). The zeitgeist he discerned in the work and attitudes of Pound, Eliot, Joyce and Pirandello involved engagement with the present moment of actuality and being "absorbed in some technical research to the entire exclusion of the personal dream" (AVA 211), as primary fact comes to dominate the inner truth. It does not exclude imagination but  eliminates the element of inventive fantasy. He then foresaw Phase 24 as offering "peace—perhaps by some generally accepted political or religious action, perhaps by some more profound generalisation" (AVA 212), while Phase 25 might "give new motives for obedience" or "an enthusiastic acceptance of the general will conceived of as a present energy" (AVA 213), which seems to be what he perceived in the politically engaged attitude of Spender and his contemporaries.

The ages of psychology and spirit seem to fall under the twelfth gyre, the "spiritual" triad of phases (26, 27, 28). Except that Phase 26 is spiritual in a strange way, so that psychological might be an appropriate term for the phase described as the Hunchback. One of the dominant characteristics in the description of the phase is the analysis of action and motive, and the way that these are isolated from their contexts:
His own past actions also he must judge as isolated and each in relation to its source; and this source, experienced not as love but as knowledge, will be present in his mind as a terrible unflinching judgment. Hitherto he could say to primary man, “Am I as good as So-and-so?” and when still antithetical he could say, “After all I have not failed in my good intentions taken as a whole”; he could pardon himself; but how pardon where every action is judged alone and no good action can turn judgment from the evil action by its side? He stands in the presence of a terrible blinding light, and would, were that possible, be born as worm or mole. (AVA 112; AVB 179)
This phase of psychology is however related to the psycho-spiritual, as A Vision B clarifies in a paragraph added to the treatment of Phase 26: "From Phase 22 to Phase 25, man is in contact with what is called the physical primary, or physical objective; from Phase 26 and Phase 4, the primary is spiritual. . . . Spiritual, in this connection, may be understood as a reality known by analogy alone. How can we know what depends only on the self? In the first and in the last crescents lunar nature is but a thin veil; the eye is fixed upon the sun and dazzles" (AVB 179). This may be what lies behind the idea that the spiritual gyre will be the worst: lunar nature, the basis of civil life, is overwhelmed by the solar, spiritual side, which is in some ways inimical to life. The Faculties are what produces history, and in human lives these are the phases where "the Faculties 'wear thin' " and "the Principles . . . shine through" (AVB 89).

In Spender's account, Yeats seems to have imagined that the worldly counterpart would be a thinning of the boundaries between the world of the living and the world of those outside incarnate life (whom we commonly call "the dead"). Although this seepage between worlds sounds like the scenario of a new Hollywood film or the latest TV pilot, it is difficult to see why Yeats of all people would be so negative about communication with the dead, having pursued such communication in séances, automatic writing, and "sleeps". It is also hard to discern in what senses it would be the worst, except that it must soon pass into the final phase of the wheel, that of the Fool, where control is gone.
Then with the last gyre must come a desire to be ruled or rather, seeing that desire is all but dead, an adoration of force spiritual or physical, and society as mechanical force be complete at last.
Constrained, arraigned, baffled, bent and unbent
    By those wire-jointed jaws and limbs of wood
Themselves obedient,
    Knowing not evil or good.  (AVA 213)
This vision of the twelfth gyre was written ten years before the meeting with Spender and Yeats had put a lot of thought into the coming years, drafting a number of versions before deciding that he could not see clearly enough. The prophecy of mechanical society, with the lines from "The Double Vision of Michael Robartes" describing Phase 1, seems to foresee a totalitarian world. This in turn seems to be at odds with the age of either spiritualism or spirituality he spoke of in 1934, but may not be so opposed as it seems at first. Halfway between the two, in 1929, Yeats had written:
Europe is changing its philosophy. Some four years ago the Russian Government silenced the mechanists because social dialectic is made impossible if matters is trundled about by some limited force. Certain typical books—Ulysses, Mrs. Virginia Woolf's Waves, Mr. Ezra Pound's Draft of XXX Cantos—suggest a philosophy like that of the Samkara school of ancient India, mental and physical objects alike material, a deluge of experience breaking over us and within us, melting limits whether of line or tint, man no hard bright mirror dawdling by the dry sticks of a hedge, but a swimmer, or rather the waves themselves. In this new literature announced with much else by Balzac in Le Chef-d'oeuvre inconnu, as in that which it superseded, man in himself is nothing.
          ("Introduction to Fighting the Waves": Wheels and Butterflies 73; Explorations 373; Variorum Plays 568–69)

Perhaps the equality of mental and physical objects in experience, and humanity as both "the waves themselves" and "nothing" in itself, points to a loss of identity and individuality that truly would be the worst imaginable world for the antithetical lyric poet who values the sincerity of his personal truth and experience above the truth of fact and shared experience.

This might even offer a clue to the otherwise baffling and gnomic comments that Spender recorded:
Of all that Yeats said, I remembered most his words about Shakespeare. "In the end," he said, "Shakespeare's mind is terrible." When I asked him to expand this, he said, "The final reality of existence in Shakespeare's poetry is of a terrible kind." (World Within World, 181)

Thursday, November 14, 2013

The Unicorn and the Lightning-Struck Tower III

The Lightning Flash

 When Yeats first outlined his understanding of the Daemon in Per Amica Silentia Lunae (1917), he referred to three paths: "the winding path called the Path of the Serpent," which is natural; "straight paths," "from the fire," which are intellectual; and one which "is neither the winding nor the straight line but zigzag, illuminating the passive and active properties, the tree's two sorts of fruit: it is the sudden lightning," (CW5 28-29). The first is the path of common humanity, the second the path of "saint or sage," and the third the path of the Daemon, whose "acts of power are instantaneous" like the lightning. Yeats emphasizes three qualities of lightning: the zigzag, the suddenness and illumination, albeit very brief.

Lying behind this explanation, partly hidden by vows of secrecy and partly obscured by poetic elaboration, is the Golden Dawn's teaching on the Tree of Life. Most of these teachings were derived from traditional Cabalism so were public, albeit recondite, knowledge, and after Aleister Crowley published many of the Golden Dawn's rituals in his magazine Equinox in 1909,  they had not been so secret. Nowadays a simple search on the web will reveal all that and far more, so it is sometimes difficult to remember the oaths that Yeats felt bound by,  and the care with which he uses Cabalistic material.  When he does use Golden Dawn terms, they almost always have meanings and associations that different from those that emerge in the Order's own documents. (For this and much else here, see T. Jeremiah Healey III, "'That Which is Unique in Man': The Lightning Flash in Yeats's Later Thought", Yeats Annual 13, 253-262.)

The Lightning Flash, the Lightning Bolt or the Flaming Sword represents the primal process of creation and emanation, starting with the manifestation of the first sephirah, the Crown, Kether, and proceeding through the subsequent sephiroth in order, to ground itself in the Kingdom, Malkuth.
Equinox I:2 [Autumn 1909]
The sephiroth are arrayed in a symmetrical pattern with three vertical groups or pillars, on the left the Pillar of Severity and on the right the Pillar of Mercy, while down the centre the balanced Pillar of Mildness. The central pillar connects the Kingdom, at the base, to the Crown, at the top, and it is sometimes viewed as the direct path towards godhead or sanctity, but too direct in most cases. The path of Nature follows a more tortuous course, dependent on the paths between the sephiroth. Connecting the ten sephiroth are twenty-two paths, and the serpent's coils connect these twenty-two paths in reverse order, representing the laborious ascent of the human soul.

George Pollexfen's diagram of the Lightning Sword and Serpent. The Lightning has ten colours, representing the ten sephiroth (the names alongside). The Serpent has twenty-two colours, representing the twenty-two paths, identified by the astrological correspondences that the Golden Dawn used for the Tarot trumps.
The Lightning Flash is the act of divine creation: timeless, eternal or momentary, for "eternity is not a long time but a short time. . . . Eternity is in the glitter on the beetle’s wing. . . . it is something infinitely short" (cit. Hone, W. B. Yeats, 327).  It is the connection between the archetypal world of the Daimon and the actual world of the human counterpart. Indeed, the Daimon is in some respects like a personal aspect of the divine, the fragmented, multitudinous, antithetical vision of unified, single, primary godhead. In a draft of the passage from Per Amica Silentia Lunae  quoted at the beginning, Yeats had written:
The influx from the mirror life of the dead, who themselves receive it from the condition of fire falls upon the winding path, called the path of the serpent. . . . The influx of those who live but naturally is wandering, but that of those upon the straight path not wholly straight.  I remember another image of the Kabalists, & then we strike upon the Target of the sun, a challenging arrow & the God answers with his crooked lightening. (NLI 30,532, pages numbered 48, 50)
In the published version, God is not mentioned and the lightning is the Daimon’s path. Even in 1901 Yeats had been uncertain whether the lightning was reserved for God, writing that we “receive power from those who are above us by permitting the Lightning of the Supreme to descend through our souls and our bodies” [“Is the Order of R.R. & A.C. to Remain a Magical Order”, 1901; YGD 266], where the plural of “those who are above us” is not quite contradicted by the ambiguous substantive of “the Supreme”, which could be either singular or plural. 

The Daimon's connection with the human, particularly the antithetical human being, centres on the Moments of Crisis, which the Yeatses figured a series symbolised by the lightning flash. The flash was in fact the first element of this complicated, and ultimately unused, part of the system to appear in the automatic script.

Card L7: the Lightning Flashes, treated in the automatic script of January 5, 1918.
Each angle of an individual's lightning flash is attributed to a phase, representing "states of soul & people" (YVP1 205). Yeats’s are marked 17, 16, 14, 18, 12 (YVP1 205; YVP3 330), his own Phase, Maud Gonne’s, Iseult Gonne’s, George’s (YVP1 525n) with a final term still unrealised in 1919 (YVP2 222).  George's are 18, 8, 25 and 17, her own phase, her father's, an unnamed person's, then Yeats's, with a subsidiary link to "the 3 birds", a coded reference to Yeats's female influences, Maud, Iseult, and George herself, or possibly another (Augusta Gregory or Olivia Shakespear?).

These angles are connected in turn to the Moments of Crisis, though they do not necessarily correspond to them. They are too complex for any detailed treatment here, but the important thing about these moments is the sense of shock involved, as the Daimon brings us to crisis in order to force a re-evaluation.  The first of them, the Initiatory Moment is liable to pass unmarked until hindsight reveals the change of "sensuous image", and the course which has been set in train is brought to a head at the next, the Critical Moment, however Yeats summarises its traits cogently:
All IM’s reveal weakness in the self (in subjective man in its realization of the objective world[)].  They give a shock to the belief in self & bring the man under the influence of an image, they increase “lure” to cure inaction & abstract dreaming. . . . All IM’s change the mind.  This “lure” is caused by an external event (PF) & this is produced by the daimon & the IM forces up into conscious some emotion that compells realization of its contrary. . . . The daimon drives us from the self made prison.  ?The lure to a man is a woman. . . . They are caused by a deception – false information, or misunderstanding.  (YVP3 194)
The Moment is therefore salutary but possibly unpleasant in nature, inciting some form of action and driving a person to reality, but generally more pertinent in the case of an antithetical person.  Yeats queried the role of the opposite sex, but it is clear that women are implicated in most of his own Moments. In a long formulation of the nature and form of "The IMs" from 1922, Yeats opens with the statement that "The Daimons who produce the IMs of a man, are his own Daimon & the daimon of that woman with whom he will attain, if attain he do, the Beatific Vision (BV).  These Daimons, even though the man & woman have not met know each other & draw the man & woman together, through the agency of the Pylons" (YVP3 113),[note*] so that whoever or whatever was involved in a given Moment in the life of Yeats, for instance, the crisis is the expression of his and George’s Daimons. Furthermore, he also sees his children's spirits or Daimons overshadowing all of his loves, prior to bringing their parents together.  In this sense all roads eventually lead to the Beatific Vision, and all of Yeats's digressive amours are preparatory to his marriage with George.

This is in part possible because the lightning flash is an intersection of the timeless with time, "expressing not merely the nature of successive forms of emotional experience in external life, but as the nature of the emotional life it self at every moment of its existence they are that which is unique in man.  His entire emotional past as always present" (YVP3 114), and in this it reflects the Daimon itself, which perceives existence not in succession in time or space but simultaneously related through kinship, emotional or personal ties. 
The Lightening Flash is therefore the man in emotional relation to his past, made present; & in intellectual relation to his future conceived as present.  It is because of this that he is an individual & not merely a type of his phase.  at every moment he chooses his entire past & his entire future, though he is not conscious of his choice till on the threshold of the B[eatific] V[ision]. (YVP3 115)
Inasmuchas the Daimon is the archetype of the individual it is not placed at any phase and it links its human counterpart with other phases of the Wheel, both past and future incarnations, and those of other people.

The Daimon and its lightning are part of what lift the system of A Vision from cyclical determinism.  The Vision papers show continual attempts to align the Moments of Crisis with astrological influences, which Colin McDowell has examined in his essay "Shifting Sands: Dancing the Horoscope in the Vision Papers" (W. B. Yeats's "A Vision": Explications and Contexts, 194-216), but planetary cycles are almost certainly too regular to express the lightning flash, which by its nature is unpredictable: a symbol of revelation and itself revealed.  Yeats declares that, "The Lightening Flash because of its irregular & incalculable movement expresses that which is unique, that which cannot recur just as wheel & cone expres all that is seasonable" (YVP3 114).  The uniqueness of each person’s Daimonic trajectory makes it more elusive, falling outside the general schema.

The  source of the lightning is the Daimon's place, the Thirteenth Cone, so that, in one formulation, during the Critical Moments or in the Beatific Vision, the individual comes “under the sway of the thirteenth cone” and the Daimonic perspective substitutes "the sphere for the cone" (AVA 172).  Similarly in broader history, the sweep of the gyres and their seasons is inevitable, but the future remains unpredictable beyond a general outline, “for always at the critical moment the Thirteenth Cone, the sphere, the unique intervenes” (AVB 263). Indeed Yeats foresees the reversal of the gyres in terms of a lightning flash:
All visible history, the discoveries of science, the discussions of politics, are with it [the objective, primary energy]; but as I read the world, the sudden changes, or rather the sudden revelations of future changes, are not from visible history but from its antiself. . . . every new logical development of the objective energy intensifies in an exact correspondence a counter-energy, or rather adds to an always deepening unanalysable longing. That counter-longing, having no visible past, can only become a conscious energy suddenly, in those moments of revelation which are as a flash of lightning. Are we approaching a supreme moment of self-consciousness, the two halves of the soul separate and face to face? A certain friend of mine has written upon this subject a couple of intricate poems called The Phases of the Moon and The Double Vision respectively, which are my continual study, and I must refer the reader to these poems for the necessary mathematical calculations.
                         (The Dial 1920; CW8 134; Ex 258-59)
In the same way that the external divine of the Thirteenth Cone sends the revelatory shock of the new era in a lightning flash, the Daimon's contact with its human counterpart marks turning points in an individual life. The crises are a form of constructive destruction. In a cancelled draft, Yeats speculated that a Swedenborg (perhaps a Yeats too), who 
becomes conscious of the Wheel of the Principles and that of the Faculties in their mutual relations is at the same instant awake and asleep, alive and dead. He expresses through a system of images a harmony of related aims and we should discover in this harmony of aims, in this unity of being not the mere intervention of the thirteenth cone but the sphere itself, that something beyond system more discernable in Burmah [i.e. Boehme] than in Swedenborg, that which only contradiction can expressnot [sic] “the  lone tower of the absolute self” but its shattering*; that whi unknown reality painted or sung by the monks of Zen.
* When my Instructors talk of the shattering of the tower they seem to [depend on?] the old symbol. I am thinking of the Tarot trump [of the?] tower struck by lightning.
       (NLI MS 36,272/22, p. 29)
The shattering of "the lone tower of the absolute self" comes through the Daimon's lightning flash and frees the inner being. George's bookplate is thus a symbol of contradiction, a Daimonic moment of crisis, of freedom, connection with "the sphere itself", and Beatific Vision.

* Note: “The daimon of woman, or man acting through the Pylons chose the men or women who will excite the symbol into acting”, and the Pylon “acts out of the general nature of the influence” (YVP3 113).  The term "pylon", Greek for "gateway", recalls the titles that he uses in “Hodos Chameliontos” for what he there terms “personifying spirits” (i.e. Daimons): “Gates and Gate-keepers” (Au 272)

Monday, October 14, 2013

Jaff Seijas: Images for the Emblems of the 28 Phases

The artist Jaff Seijas recently contacted me, drawing my attention to a group of paintings he has created for the 28 phase emblems that the Yeatses drew up from the automatic script. There is plenty more to be said about these, and I hope to get round to it, but want to share the paintings on their own first. I've added some of the pictures to the webpage where I touch on the emblems—Phase Symbols—and am posting a different selection here, with Jaff Seijas's kind permission. Go to his website at to see the full set of images. I know from writing about the phases and preparing web materials that going through all twenty-eight of them can sometimes become a little tiring, and realize that some of the images are probably less inspiring than others, so I can only add thanks that he has taken pains to illustrate the full set. Most of the emblems have relatively brief summaries, but a few have fuller descriptions, either  in the card index (S66), or in a workbook that sadly does not seem to be published (a short section on Phase 1 is quoted in George Mills Harper's The Making of Yeats's "A Vision" and passages are supplied to fill in gaps in other manuscripts).

Phase 3: "Eagle over sea with one foot caught on back of sea lion one foot caught by Dolphin. Eagle drags both"

Phase 13: "Man hanging over pond head down just touching water. Reflection on surface of pool at which he looks but another image going down. Surface image primary that in depth anti. Stagnant water & weeds. A third image from back of head which is the subconscious"
Phase 17: "Crystal arrow going through golden crescent. arrow cut so as to reflect all colours. Colours in crystal show how much energy has passed into anti"

Phase 27: "more or less [? easter] figure. in left hand holds a mans soul in a simulacrum of man temptation to put it in. He stands on globe."

Phase 15: "Beautiful Man in pool holds stone of wrath & arrow of wisdom. arrow reaches crescent."

Phase 1: "naked man at North with outstretched hands tied to branch of tree swinging. Could not get rid of it--'an obsessing figure' not luminous like the tree images. Snake coiled once round feet & tail touching ground. Head looking to place of Initiate. a good deal to left at N a figure weeping into a cup & opposite on opposite side of figure a boar drinking from cup. feet on cup pulling it towards him. on other side towards E a figure whirling a leather thong with stone at end, in a fury. He stands on back of eagle. someway past boar. think on right hand side east but not sure."

For Phase 1 itself, this last image would probably be rather simpler, since, as Harper notes, "this confusing exposition combines imagery from several Phases". The paragraph is quoted without context in The Making of Yeats's "A Vision" and is not included in Yeats's "Vision" Papers, so it is difficult to be sure exactly what Yeats was doing, but it appears to be an attempt to evoke a vision of Phase 1 within the context of the Wheel.
• The figure of Phase 1 is that of the man hanging from the tree, probably with the snake included. Yeats notes that the evocation is not luminous as true visions tend to be, and not easy to move  or develop from but obsessive.
• Phase 1 is located at cardinal North, and the man looks towards "the Initiate": this term came into the script very early and is ambiguous, as it may refer to the last phases, (especially Saint and Fool), or go beyond cycles to the centre of the Wheel (linked to avatars and Christ).
• It is difficult to see how the "figure weeping into a cup" can be both at N and a good deal to left of a figure at North. It could well be a misreading of the rather N-like glyph for Capricorn (♑), which would make sense, since this is the marker for "Loins" placed in the fourth quarter, usually shown between Phases 25 and 26. (This ties in with the description of Phase 18 on card S66, where it is noted that the "Legs go to ♈" i.e. Aries, the zodiac sign marked on the Wheel between Phases 18 and 19.)
• The elements of the weeping woman with the cup and the boar with cup both seem to come from Phase 24, even though they are referred to as being opposite one another.
• Whether these are left or right seems moot, and it is probably best not to place too much emphasis on this aspect.
• East is identified in the normal arrangement with Phase 22 and the other figure with the whirling leather thong appears to be the emblem associated with Phase 22.
•The "back of an eagle" does not tie in exactly with any symbol, though eagles figure in the emblems for Phases 3 and 9, and a "bird of prey" in Phase 8. The figure of Phase 22 may therefore be standing on an "opposite" figure.

Without more context, it is difficult to tease out exactly what the vision communicates. As it stands, it seems like a rather cluttered hybrid of Odin sacrificing himself on the World-tree and Alice in Wonderland. Yet the imagery is clearly part of Yeats's phantasmagoria, with descriptions of these images recurring in the description of Speculum Angelorum et Hominum and the woman with the cup figuring in Yeats's own bookplate.
Finally, apologies for the long hiatus in posts--I aim to be a little more regular but won't tempt fate by promising anything!

Saturday, September 29, 2012

The Unicorn and the Lightning-Struck Tower

Part I

KALON KAGATHON, and Marengo,
                This aura will have, with red flash,
                the form of a diamond, or of crimson,
Apollonius, Porphery, Anselm,
                 Plotinus EN THEORIA 'ON NOUS EXEI
had one vision only, and if the stars be but unicorns. . .
or took the stars for those antilopes.
 Ezra Pound, Canto CI

George Yeats’s bookplate, designed by Thomas Sturge Moore in 1920, shows a unicorn bounding from a lightning-struck tower. The image is a complex symbol of the soul’s release, which draws on imagery from the Golden Dawn, Yeats’s writing and the symbols of the automatic script.

As has happened before, what I thought would be a relatively brief piece lightly touching on a few topics has grown rather unwieldy as I start to write and keep adding a detail here and there. So this will now be a series of posts, exploring a few  of the implications of this image in the areas mentioned, starting with Yeats's writing, then considering the automatic script, and finally the Golden Dawn's magical system. In most respects the Golden Dawn material comes first in terms of how the symbols evolved and entered Yeats's art, but it makes more sense to set out how Yeats used them before examining their roots.

Though “The Adoration of the Magi” (1897) features a unicorn, that element actually dates from a revision of the 1920s, and Yeats's first use of the unicorn is in Where There is Nothing (1902), where the Tolstoyan visionary Paul Ruttledge recounts a vision where he is beset by beasts symbolizing "the part that builds up the things that keep the soul from God":
Then suddenly there came a bright light, and all in a minute the beasts were gone, and I saw a great many angels riding upon unicorns, white angels on white unicorns. They stood all round me, and they cried out, 'Brother Paul, go and preach; get up and preach, Brother Paul.' And then they laughed aloud, and the unicorns trampled the ground as though the world were already falling in pieces. (Variorum Plays 1131-32)
Here the angels and unicorns come to break down what builds the barriers to God, and the unicorns are associated therefore with the angelic, but also with destruction. The play itself indicates this destruction of barriers and its title alludes to an earlier story, "Where there is Nothing, there is God". The axiom says both that God is even where there is nothing, but more deeply that, as for the Cabalists, God lies behind the veils of the Negative as the seeker finds "the nothing that is God" ("Where there is Nothing, there is God", Mythologies 190). In a similar way in the play, Paul Ruttledge claims to "have learned that one needs a religion so wholly supernatural, that is so opposed to the order of nature that the world can never capture it" (VPl 1133). This austere absolutism was never congenial to Yeats himself, but he recognized its validity, and in some ways it also lies behind the formulation of the Sphere and the Thirteenth Cone in A Vision: a God so alien that it cannot be conceived in normal terms.

Yeats rejected Where There is Nothing for a variety of reasons, mainly because it had been a collaboration with George Moore, whom he came to dislike and distrust. He rewrote the play's central theme with the far more congenial Augusta Gregory in 1908 as The Unicorn from the Stars. Rather than a gentleman becoming a monk, the new central character is a working man and militant, Martin Hearne. He too has a similar vision of unicorns:
Martin: There were horses—white horses rushing by, with white shining riders. . . . Then I saw the horses we were on had changed to unicorns, and they began tramping the grapes and breaking them. I tried to stop them, but I could not.
Father John: That is strange, that is strange. What is it that brings to mind? I heard it in some place, monoceros de astris , the unicorn from the stars.
Martin: They tore down the wheat and trampled it on stones, and then they tore down what were left of the grapes and crushed and bruised and trampled them. . . . it was terrible, wonderful! I saw the unicorns trampling, trampling, but not in the wine-troughs. O, I forget! Why did you waken me? 
Father John:....The unicorns--what did the French monk tell me?--strength they meant, virginal strength, a rushing, lasting, tireless strength. 
Martin: They were strong. O, they made a great noise with their trampling. 
Father John: And the grapes, what did they mean? It puts me in mind of the psalm, Et calix meus inebrians quam praeclarus est. It was a strange vision, a very strange vision, a very strange vision.
(VPl 659-661)

Here the association of the unicorns with destruction is even more pronounced, though  they also seem to echo Julia Ward Howe's "trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored" ("The Battle Hymn of the Republic"), words of course themselves echoing the Biblical Isaiah and Revelation. That echo of Revelation is also in the angelic figure with the vessels of wrath that Martin remembers later:
I saw a bright many-changing figure; it was holding up a shining vessel holds up arms ; then the vessel fell and was broken with a great crash; then I saw the unicorns trampling it. They were breaking the world to pieces—when I saw the cracks coming I shouted for joy! And I heard the command, 'Destroy, destroy, destruction is the life-giver! destroy!'  (VPl 669)
"Destruction is the life-giver!" is the recognition of Siva's place in the Hindu trimurti as destroyer and transformer, as well as the alchemical dictum that generation proceeds out of corruption. The Latin phrase recalled by the priest, "Monoceros de astris", is taken up in revolutionary fervour by Martin and directed against the English lion by others:
We will go out against the world and break it and unmake it. Rising. We are the army of the Unicorn from the Stars! We will trample it to pieces.—We will consume the world, we will burn it away.... (VPl 686)
Yeats was well aware of the interpretations place on the work of Joachim of Fiore, and there seems to be some of this millennial and prophetic strain in the burning of the world. This ecstatic conflagration is directed on a wider scale than that envisaged by Paul Ruttledge, but the theme of creative destruction is common to the two, and apparently linked in Yeats's mind with the heavenly unicorns.

Later on, after the automatic script had started, Yeats began to use the unicorn to symbolize the  new dispensation, still representing destruction and purity: the clearing away of the old and the instauration of the new order, alongside an uncompromised absoluteness. This is seen in The Player Queen (1922), where Septimus announces, 
the end of the Christian Era, the coming of a New Dispensation, that of the New Adam, that of the Unicorn; but alas, he is chaste, he hesitates, he hesitates.... I will rail upon the Unicorn for his chastity. I will bid him trample mankind to death and beget a new race. (VPl 745)
The unicorn is aloof through its chasteness, and if not inimical to humanity, at least pitiless towards it. It is another version of the "Rough Beast" that symbolizes the coming dispensation in "The Second Coming" with its "gaze blank and pitiless as the sun".

When Yeats revised “The Adoration of the Magi” (1897) in 1925, he included a series of allusions to the system of A Vision and substituted for the revelation of secret names of the gods a miraculous or spirit birth of a unicorn to a dying whore:
that which she bore has the likeness of a unicorn and is most unlike man of all living things, being cold, hard and virginal. It seemed to be born dancing; and was gone from the room wellnigh upon the instant, for it of the nature of the unicorn to understand the shortness of life... When the Immortals would overthrow the things that are to-day and bring the things that were yesterday, they have no one to help them, but one whom the things that are to-day have cast out. (Mythologies 312)
These three magi, simple peasants from the west of Ireland, are placed in counterpoint to the magi of the St Matthew's Gospel, who the god Hermes in a vision scorns for abandoning the Magian wisdom of the stars for "The uncontrollable mystery on the bestial floor" ("The Magi," 1914). In their befuddled adoration, they fail to see the new avatar (if it exists), and they seem closer to the shepherds than the magi, yet such is the reversal of the ages: virgin and whore, magi and shepherds, compassionate and pitiless, Christ mourning "over the length of time and the unworthiness of man's lot to man" while "his successor will mourn over the shortness of time and the unworthiness of man to his lot" (A Vision B, 136-37).

Only one poem by Yeats features unicorns, "I See Phantoms of Hatred and of the Heart's Fullness and of the Coming Emptiness", the seventh part of "Meditations in Time of Civil War", where they are rather more conventional in their iconography, "Their legs long, delicate and slender, aquamarine their eyes / Magical unicorns bear ladies on their backs" (Variorum Poems 426). The atmosphere is far more reminiscent of a painting by Gustave Moreau than the harder traits in the plays, yet even these "cloud-pale unicorns" nod to this aspect when they "give place / To brazen hawks", implacable and pitiless. These hawks also recall the "brazen winged beast which I associated with laughing, ecstatic destruction" that haunted Yeats's imagination in the early 1900s, and which he said was "Afterwards described in my poem 'The Second Coming'" (Explorations 393, VPl 932).

In contrast with the unicorn, the place of the tower in Yeats's personal symbolism is far larger and more complex but also far better known and better covered more generally. It stands, among other things, as a symbol of personal achievement, isolation, and historical continuity, deliberately given worldly presence as Thoor Ballylee and creative presence in such collection titles as The Tower and The Winding Stair.

Towers also figure recurrently in the automatic script, the subject of the next part, as do lightning flashes and a few unicorns.