However, one place where the subject of zodiacs and phases running counter to one another does surface, albeit rather cryptically, is in A Vision's discussion of the "heraldic supporters" of the Full Moon. These are the influences on either side of Phase 15, the point where new religious dispensations start, and Yeats is dealing here in with cycles of about 2,150 years. These are measured according to phases for Will and, for Creative Mind, backward through phases or forwards through the Zodiac.
If you know your traditional astrology, you will remember that Aries is ruled by Mars, so that the two are to some extent interchangeable, and that the same goes for Taurus and Venus, Pisces and Jupiter, and Aquarius and Saturn (Yeats sticks with the classical planets in this case). The animation below concentrates on the process of Will from Phase 12 to Phase 18, starting each time at Phase 12: first through phases and Zodiac, then focusing on just Will and Creative Mind, then substituting the planetary rulers for the signs, first with astrological glyphs and second in words, for clarity. It may help to view the animation a few times, concentrating each time on one aspect.
When Will is passing through Phases 16, 17 and 18 the Creative Mind is passing through the Phases 14, 13 and 12, or from the sign of Aries to the sign of Taurus, that is to say, it is under the conjunction of Mars and Venus. When Will on the other hand is passing through Phases 12, 13 and 14 the Creative Mind is passing through the Phases 18, 17 and 16, or from the sign of Pisces to the sign of Aquarius [actually Aquarius to Pisces], it is, as it were, under the conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn. (AVB 207)
|The passage of Will forwards through the phases 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17 and 18, |
and of Creative Mind through the zodiac Aquarius, Pisces, Aries, Taurus.
Since, therefore, a primary dispensation is said to start when Will is passing through 16–17–18 (i.e., a little after the mathematical point of Phase 15), its inception falls under the influence of Mars and Venus, taken from Creative Mind's passage through Aries and Taurus—religion is intrinsically more allied to the solar zodiac than the lunar phases. Similarly, an antithetical dispensation is said to start a little before the mathematical marker, while Will is passing through Phases 12–13–14, so its solar influence is Saturn and Jupiter from Creative Mind's passage through Aquarius and Pisces.
These two conjunctions which express so many things are certainly, upon occasion, the outward-looking mind, love and its lure, contrasted with introspective knowledge of the mind's self-begotten unity, an intellectual excitement. They stand, so to speak, like heraldic supporters guarding the mystery of the ﬁfteenth phase. In certain lines written years ago in the ﬁrst excitement of discovery I compared one to the Sphinx and one to Buddha. I should have put Christ instead of Buddha, for according to my instructors Buddha was a Jupiter-Saturn inﬂuence. (AVB 207–8)
The outward-looking mind (Mars-Venus) is fundamentally objective and primary, while the introspective mind (Jupiter-Saturn) is fundamentally subjective and antithetical. Yeats's main purpose in introducing these conjunctions is to characterize two dispensations, the primary dispensation typified by Christianity and the antithetical dispensation typified by the classical pantheons and due to return in the twenty-first century.
Strictly speaking Yeats thought that the primary dispensation had started maybe ten generations before Christ's birth—about two centuries. This would place the Phase 15 point at 200 B.C.E., so that at the time of Christ's birth the cosmic Creative Mind was passing through the Mars-Venus influence. (Buddha was the wrong choice not just from his character, but also from his dating.) And he gathered that all primary dispensations take a while to gain momentum in this way, so always fell under this influence.
In contrast, antithetical dispensations start before the preceding cycle is truly finished, i.e., while Creative Mind is still passing through Aquarius and Pisces, under Saturn and Jupiter. In other words, even if the antithetical era is not yet starting its cycle at Phase 15, it is fading in before the fact, maybe by a hundred years or more.
If Yeats took the length of a dispensation as 2,200 years, then the primary era beginning in 200 B.C.E. would be finishing in 2000 C.E., and the antithetical advent might be starting in 1900. This all means that primary dispensations are significantly shorter than antithetical ones, and also meant that Yeats himself might be living in the pre-dawn glow of the coming antithetical era. Even if the antithetical only starts a hundred years before Phase 15 is reached, the two hundred years off the beginning of the primary goes to the preceding antithetical, and the one hundred years of fade in of the new antithetical is taken off the preceding primary, so it could mean that an antithetical era is almost 600 years longer than a primary.
In the poem "Michael Robartes and the Dancer" Yeats chose to symbolize the Saturn-Jupiter conjunction that presides over the beginning of an antithetical era with the Sphinx. Given this association of the sphinx with the antithetical, it is no accident that the enigmatic "rough beast" that stirs in "The Second Coming" is appears like the sphinx at Giza—though a brilliant touch that it is described rather than named—as it ushers in the coming antithetical dispensation.
The beast is not necessarily the age's avatar, nor the anti-Christ, except inasmuch as it heralds the antithesis to Christ's era (see Notes on "The Second Coming" on my website). However, it has many characteristics that Yeats found a variety of ways to explore. It leaves us with questioning and foreboding..... somewhere in sands of the desert
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Reel shadows of indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again; but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?
I'll look further at the symbolism and the complicated resonances that Yeats creates — which include making his two children representatives of the two combinations — later on, in a second part "Conjunctions II".