Thursday, August 11, 2011

The Square Wheel and Chessboards

It shouldn’t be surprising that the Great Wheel of A Vision has some characteristics that seem to fit rather well with a square format rather than the more familiar circular one. 

When W. B. Yeats drew up a quick chart of the heavens, either for a person’s horoscope or to cast a horary chart, he usually used the traditional square horoscope, which he’d probably learnt from his astrological uncle, George Pollexfen. (I remember reading some years ago that Cyril Fagan, a distinguished Irish astrologer, had commented that Yeats was one of the last to use this old-fashioned format, and I was very dubious. I later saw the evidence of it for myself throughout his notebooks but now have no idea where that reference was, despite some desultory searching.)

Certainly his wife, George, from a younger generation—and probably more accustomed to using printed blanks—always used a circular layout. And that is the layout that dominates throughout the automatic script. Even when the spirits were taking control, their scrawls are almost always based on circular forms.

Yet certain features of the system lend themselves readily to a square format. For now I’ll limit myself to the two most fundamental and practical.

The first and most obvious one is that a standard chessboard, with eight squares on each side, has a perimeter of twenty-eight squares. Yeats actually states that "the individual phases are alternately primary and antithetical" (AVB 88), and here we have the alternating squares of black and white (and, as with Yeats’s comment, this does lead to the slightly odd situation of Phases 1 and 15 being the same).

It’s probably best to put the square on point, so that it can be seen in the same orientation as normal presentation of the Wheel in A Vision.

The second feature, that is probably the most interesting in some respects, although one which the Yeatses themselves don’t seem to have used, is the way that the square format helps the mapping of the twenty-eight phases onto the twelve months or signs of the Zodiac.

When a circle is mapped onto a larger circle, the divisions scale up naturally, but when a square is mapped onto a larger square the sides transfer automatically but new squares appear at the corners, as the corner squares map on to each side and the new corner square. It makes more sense when you see it.

While 28 does not map easily onto to 12, if you place another row of squares along each side of the chessboard so that it is ten squares on each side, it has a perimeter of 36 squares, easily mapped onto a twelvefold scheme, with three squares for each twelfth. The division of the months into three periods of roughly ten days each may seem a little arbitrary, though it has good calendrical precedent as far back as ancient Egypt.

The diagram here takes the correspondences sketched out in "The Completed Symbol", Section VI, with March aligned with the Full Moon and September aligned with the New Moon and both phases and calendar proceeding anti-clockwise. Whereas Yeats comments "There is no reason why March, June, etc., should have one Phase, all others three; it is classification not symbolism" (AVB 196), here it is simply logical that the corner or cardinal phases should have a month or sign apiece.

It is also worth remembering that the Zodiac has long been divided into 36 decanates, divisions of 10˚ each, so that each sign has three sectors.

The correspondences here are those sketched out applied to the Zodiac rather than the months, so with Aries aligned with the Full Moon and Libra aligned with the New Moon, though Yeats actually places "the Ides of March, at the full moon in March" with "the Vernal Equinox, symbolical of the first degree of Aries, the first day of our symbolical or ideal year", so we'll need to look at the fine tuning beyond the broad principle shortly.

While we are about it, it is also worth considering that the central space is made up of four squares, surrounded by twelve squares, then twenty and then twenty-eight. The four and the twelve have relatively obvious applications (the inner Zodiac here is the one that corresponds with the phases during the afterlife, see AVB 223).

click on any of the images for a larger, more legible version

We'll come back to these boards again soon, since there are dimensions that touch on chess, both regular and Enochian, tarot and the I Ching, all of which are worth exploring in greater depth.

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