Saturday, January 28, 2012

The West Coast Tarot Reading

Train                                                  7.15pm                                       Mar 24 [1920]
on way to San Francisco [from Portland, Oregon]
(past Ashland)

Shuffle & deal out 28 packs
look for medium as Queen of Cups – WB as King of Wands
Then write again
28th pack
now 16th
17 & 18
now gather all up & by short method using medium ask [how]
[upside down writing] successful was Saturday night
Dont read till after judgment
  Yes  Yes
No swords
a predominant receptivity
martial activity
swords indicate Eastern influence – that is lacking here
It looks like a failure
Use Kg of Wands in same way
Yes Yes  that is allright – much better  Sword is yourself and the symbolism is complete – We wanted eastern symbolically incarnation – it looks like it – The sword is the daimon
No influence from medium
I am speaking of nature – not actual conception
That which came from west to east returned to west
Now it must be the reverse
in the multitudinous avatar all symbolism of all people must go from East to west & back to East
                                                                                  (YVP2 536)

En Route
As far as I can tell, the Yeatses were taking Southern Pacific's West Coast train from Portland, Oregon, to San Francisco. George noted "past Ashland", one of the last towns in Oregon, so they were probably just crossing into California when they made this reading.

Before they had left Portland, on the night of Saturday 20 March, "A rather wonderful thing happened" (WBY to Edmund Dulac, 22 March 1920). A young Japanese man, Junzo Sato, had given Yeats a 550-year-old samurai sword "wrapped up in a piece of beautifully embroidered cloth, from some ancient lady-in-waiting's dress" (Junzo Sato's description; see Life2 167). This would feature in several of Yeats's later poems, most strikingly "A Dialogue of Self and Soul".

Tarot card back, featuring Golden Dawn's Rose-Cross Lamen
Creating a Spread

The Yeatses were here using a form of tarot reading based on the 28 phases of the moon. Normally in any of the practices associated with the system, we struggle to gather what could have been going on from a few scraps; here what is remarkable is that so much is spelled out on paper, though it is still very fragmentary. In part this would seem to indicate that they had not done this before, or at least not in this form, so that the script is giving fairly full instructions.

They would have known very well that the "significator" for George, the medium, as a mature woman with moderately fair complexion, would be the Queen of Cups, and that W. B. Yeats's darker looks marked him as King of Swords. This is entirely consistent with standard Golden Dawn practice which specified Kings and Knights for men, older and younger, Queens and Pages for women, older and younger, and then divided the suits by complexion with Wands at the fairest end, then Cups, Swords, and Coins as the darkest. It is quite probable that the Yeatses also considered rising signs, with GY's ascendant in the watery sign of Scorpio corresponding to Cups/Water and WBY's Aquarius ascendant corresponding to Swords/Air, (Wands or Staves would show Fire signs and Coins or Pentacles Earth ones). So it seems slightly strange to see this being stipulated by the spirits.

King of Swords, modern Marseilles Tarot
What they were being told to do was to deal the tarot pack or deck into 28 piles, and then look to see in which pile the two significators were found. Each pile would have contained only two or three cards, since there are only 78 cards in the tarot pack (Phases 1 to 22 would have three cards each, the rest only two). This is like a part of the main Golden Dawn tarot reading method called "Opening the Key," particularly the second or third part, where the cards are dealt out into twelve piles based on the houses or the zodiac.

At this point in the script it's difficult to be certain what happens, but it seems that, having looked at the different piles, George, as herself, then wrote down the piles where she found the two significators. One of the significators was found in the 28th pack of the Fool (2 cards) and the other in the 16th pack of "The Positive Man" (3 cards). The next line, "17 & 18", would refer to their own phases — WBY's Phase 17 and George's Phase 18—to broaden the picture (3 cards each). But in neither case can we tell what was done with these packs or groups of cards. Normally the reader would look at the surrounding cards to form an idea of the influences surrounding the person in question, balancing the elements according to the Golden Dawn's rules  to see which supported and which weakened the main cards, and the cards would give views of wife and husband from two separate angles—first significator in context and then the influences on their respective personal phases.  The problem is that without knowing the cards surrounding these or the cards in the other two piles, it is impossible to see exactly how the method might have worked.
Queen of Cups, Marseilles Tarot 1710s
Second Spread

 The next question is whether these 11 cards were kept aside or included when they were told to "gather all up", but it seems probable that they were included.

Furthermore, it soon becomes clear that the reading has to do with whether or not they had conceived a child the previous Saturday. Their daughter Anne had been born in February 1919 and they were evidently considering another baby.

The next instruction to use "the short method using the medium" indicates that they will use the Queen of Cups (medium/George) again, and one the shorter Golden Dawn methods that they preferred. This is hardly surprising since "Opening the Key" involves five separate operations that divide the pack in spread according to the 4 letters of God's name, then 12 houses, then 12 signs, then 36 decanates, then the 10 sephiroth of the Tree of Life. A shorter method would tend to fix on the most pertinent of these stages, or other possible spreads.

Three of Swords, Sola Busca Tarot 1490s
This time we learn that the Queen is found in a group of cards containing no swords. This means either the group of cards itself or that by counting cards and not including all of them (the rules for counting through cards in the GD method are simple enough in their own way, but mean that only certain cards are included in the main reading). The script notes that this indicates an energy that is not outgoing but receptive (probably either Cups/Water or Pentacles/Earth or a combination of both). You might have thought that this was positive for conceiving and nurturing a child, and Swords in tarot are generally the negative suit and one that most readers would be glad to see lacking. However, that does not seem to be the case here.

Martial activity seems to contradict this receptivity—though it might be a misreading here for marital activity—the script is seldom clear. However, it could indicate cards that involve Mars either by sign or decanate (the GD's system included extensive correlations between signs , planets, decanates and cards, and the Yeatses had marked such correspondences on their own cards). And there was a special reason for wanting Martial activity, as we shall see.
The Two of Coins or Pentacles, Italian Tarot
WBY has noted that this corresponds to the Jupiter decanate of Capricorn by the GD system.
At the top, he has noted "Difficulties" and, at the bottom, "pleasant change, visit to friends etc."
(see the National Library of Ireland's Exhibition on W. B. Yeats)
Similar cues are included on the cards that Frieda Harris designed for Aleister Crowley's Thoth Tarot (below) 
It then becomes clear that the spirits want swords, however,— "swords indicate Eastern activity". Now in the Golden Dawn system Air (and therefore swords) is identified with the East (Fire-South; Water-West; Earth-North), so there is some logic in the search for swords within the spread if Eastern influence is important.

The script notes that the venture looks like a failure—and indeed with respect to conceiving a child, it was to prove a disappointment, as their second child Michael was not born until late August 1921.

Yet the reading then proceeds to search for other possibilities, this time using the King of Wands (not Yeats's significator normally).  And the reading continues with positive acclamations for the presence of swords=East. Here we are also told that the Sword=Daimon (and that is another can of worms), and it is worth noting that Yeats's Daimon was said to be "Martial" (YVP3 292), which is probably what lies behind the comment "Sword is yourself and the symbolism is complete" (though George's Daimon was also a Mars influence). There is also a very complex sense in which the Eastern influence was important to the Yeatses themselves: their second child was to be an avatar of the new age.
Ace of Swords, Rider-Waite-Smith Tarot, 1910
Okay, so this is getting very involved and grandiose. Those of you who expected a simple tarot spread are getting a picture of parents who were more than ordinarily delusional, and those who find this stuff way too weird gave up at least three paragraphs ago.¡

It has to be said that this is where even the people who can easily cope with the weird in Yeats find that they are a little embarrassed. Basically, the Yeatses thought that they might/would be giving birth to one of the next age's avatars. These avatars of the coming age would be multiple or "multitudinous" and to some extent national, but they would be incarnations of the divine force. It also leads us back to the whole theme of the Conjunctions... (skip to the end if you just want to see how the tarot works).

Conjunctions: East and West

The script seems to imply that the child to be born will not be influenced by the mother's character or "nature", so that the child will be be more like its father, and A Vision includes a rather obscure passage about symbolical East and West as father and mother, though here it seems to work the other way round:
All these symbols can be thought of as the symbols of the relations of men and women and of the birth of children. We can think of the antithetical and primary cones, or wheels, as the domination, now by the man, now by the woman, and of a child born at Phase 15 or East as acquiring a primary character from its father who is at Phase 1, or West, and of a child born at Phase 1, or West, as acquiring an antithetical character from its father at Phase 15, or East, and so on, man and woman being alternately Western and Eastern. Such symbolical children, sealed as it were by Saturn and Jupiter or Mars and Venus, cast off the mother and display their true characters as their cycle enters its last quarter. (AVB 211)

If Yeats, King of Swords, is seen as the Eastern influence, then he is fathering a child who will also be Eastern. Obviously here neither child is  a Phase 1 or 15, since these are not human incarnations, but they embody that principle, though as usual Yeats does not make it clear quite how the two concepts relate to each other precisely.

Seven of Wands and Two of Disks, Thoth Tarot, 1938–43
The Seven of Wands is one of six minor cards that correlates with a Martial decanate.
Indeed the Yeats children were said to have been sealed by the planetary conjunctions in their birth-charts: Anne, a Phase 16, by Mars and Venus, and later Michael, a Phase 14, by Jupiter and Saturn. Yeats reflected on this some fourteen years later:
I was told...that my two children would be Mars conjunctive Venus, Saturn conjunctive Jupiter respectively: and so they were—Anne the Mars-Venus personality.... George said it is very strange but whereas Michael is always thinking about life Anne always thinks of death. (L 827–28; 25 August 1934)
They also embody the Christian dispensation, Mars-Venus, and the coming antithetical dispensation, Jupiter-Saturn, not perhaps as avatars (that seems to have died down), but as symbolic children (still a fairly strange role for them to be playing, however unwittingly). For the primary dispensation at the birth of Jesus: "That which came from west to east returned to west | Now it must be the reverse | in the multitudinous avatar all symbolism of all people must go from East to west & back to East". I'll return to this subject again, I'm sure, but leave it for the moment, in order to conclude about the tarot reading.

Back to the Tarot Spread

So, finally we have a reading that is based on two aspects—a wheel of 28 Phases, where the querents' significators are used as well as their own phasal positions—and secondly, a shorter spread that involves some way in which the significators—in one case apparently a different one—are associated with distinct groups of cards such that GY's card is not located with any Swords, but WBY's is (here I show my ignorance, and would welcome any help or comments).

It's nothing radical—we can only assume that the phasal positions had the same basic meaning as they did in the Great Wheel. But without comment from the Yeatses, all we can tell is that they found a way of working their system into a new spread as they traveled southwards into California.

And it all seems to have an even greater weight, given that their luggage included a samurai sword from the East, given to them by a young man from Japan on the West coast of America.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Yeats and European Unions

I'm not sure how much it matters or should matter to what extent the symbolism of A Vision describes a recognizable reality. If it were totally alien to what we experience, could it still have any validity? Does its claim to be "An Explanation of Life" require testing?

Much of the fascination of A Vision as with any symbolic system lies in the internal coherence, but without some reference to externals it would quickly lose our interest. A Vision's system does of course itself refer outwards to the lives of the men and women who people the incarnations represented by the phases of the moon, and to the great gyres that it claims to discern in the sweep of history.

In doing so Yeats does not make matters too difficult for himself, since he is free to assign people as he wishes to the phases (there is no external mechanism allocating them to a particular phase, as in astrology), and his interpretation of history is sketchy enough and broad enough to select only those few strands that actually fit the desired lineaments. Though his treatment of the historical gyres largely confines itself to Western European history, it is, as G. R. S. Mead noted, remarkable in omitting such major elements as the Reformation, the voyages of discovery and their consequences. Even so, the ideas raised and suggested are often provocative and can make the reader see certain matters anew.

The same is true of the forecasts that Yeats made (see, though he pruned the more detailed view of the future after the first publication, giving only the most general view of the coming years in A Vision B. One of those vague lines does, however, haunt me in a nagging way:
What discords will drive Europe to that artificial unity—only dry or drying sticks can be tied into a bundle—which is the decadence of every civilisation? (AVB 301–2)
To what extent was he looking forward to the European Union? and does it constitute as he saw it some "vast plaster Herculean image, final primary thought" (AVA 214) that he referred to in his more detailed view of the future in A Vision A? Surely in terms of his own theory, the civilization is far from decadent if we take the 2000-year measures that are the basis of his views. Yet, if the primary civilization that was enabled by Christianity and monotheistic religion in general started in 1000 C.E. and we find ourselves at the peak of the political primary, then has democracy reached its limits?

In some ways the image he uses is a false one—green sticks can be bound quite well into a bundle as long as they are straight enough and dry twigs resist being woven into a basket or any other unitary shape. However, at its heart probably lies the image of the bundle of sticks of the Roman fasces, a symbol of authority from ancient Rome that has had a wide range of uses in modern civic symbolism.

Most of us probably think first of Mussolini's adoption of the symbol and use of the term "fascism", and it is certain that Yeats would have had this image in mind. But the emblem appears in many places worldwide, including in many American insignia.  The chair where Abraham Lincoln sits in the National Mall's Lincoln Memorial has fasces at its front, as a symbol of the Union.

The final section of A Vision B is dated "1934–36", so when Yeats envisaged Europe in artificial unity in the Thirties, did he see some possibility of fascist union? of enforced union? of something like the Union of the United States? Whatever he imagined, he would no doubt recognize the European Union that does exist as a fulfilment of his thought.

Within A Vision "discords" are both the technical relationship between certain Faculties and the more general opposite to concord, the antithetical strain of the Tinctures. The word also carries its usual meaning of conflict and strife and, though it would be crass understatement to call the Second World War discord,  it is perhaps that paradox that is the greatest foresight in Yeats's formulation. The original core of the European Union, the six-member Coal and Steel Community of France, West Germany, Italy, Belgium, Netherlands and Luxembourg arose in part from a desire to make war and conflict impossible, hence the post-war discords give birth to unity.

Artificial? That may be the real crux. Yeats all too often seems to glorify war and conflict in his writing, viewing them as vital and vivifying:

Much of what I say is Heraclitus.  "Homer was wrong in saying 'Would that strife might perish from among gods and men'. He did not see that he was praying for the destruction of the universe; for if his prayer was heard all things would pass away". And again "War is the father of all; some he has made gods ans some men; some bound and some free".
In his antithetical fervour, it sometimes seems that he would view the bloody break-up of Yugoslavia with more satisfaction than the peaceful union of European countries. But to call such union artificial simply because it represents the primary trend seems unnecessarily partisan. Doomed in the long term, perhaps, but not artificial.

In the broader cycle, the current civilization with span of some two thousand years is only reaching its midpoint. But this is analogous to "classical civilization" from 1000 B.C.E. to 1000 C.E., within which many empires rose and fell and many movements flourished and withered from the rise of Mycenean culture to the fading of Byzantium — few living through it would  have seen it as a continuous whole. The historical cycles dealt with in "Dove or Swan" are rather shorter, lasting only a thousand years or so, and in this context therefore the civilization that arose around 1000 C.E. has already reached a maximum scope — the widening gyre of "The Second Coming" that has reached its point of collapse.

The Ten of any suit has reached its limit and the only way onward is to return the way it came, dwindling towards the Nine, or the start of a new suit, the Ace. In Yeats's system, both things happen: The Ace of the new gyre arises, while the gyre of the old retreats back towards its source.

It is perhaps easy at the moment to say that European civilization is in decadence or is on the point of collapse — certainly quite a few people are doing it. Yeats was right to point out that there is no infinite progress, and our current world is more primary than in his day, more democratic, more interconnected, and often putting quantity of information before depth of thought. In many ways, Yeats's vague vision of the future has already been realized. Yeats himself evades the question of what follows next.
Something of what I have said it must be, the myth declares... what else it must be no man can say, for always at the critical moment the Thirteenth Cone, the sphere, the unique intervenes.
                              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 the indignant desert birds.
                                                            (AVB 263)
It may not be connected to reality, but it sure as hell feels as if it is. The symbols remain uncertain perhaps, but they speak to us and we discern the outlines of our world.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Spot the Difference: Answers

In the spot the difference post, I put up three different versions of the Great Wheel designed by Dulac. From the top downwards they come from A Vision A (1925), Stories of Michael Robartes and his Friends (1931) and A Vision B (1937). They're all essentially the same, apart from a few significant details.

At first glance, the most obvious difference is probably the least important: they are printed on different types of paper, A Vision A and Stories of Michael Robartes and his Friends on lighter, half-glossy paper, tipped into the book, brown and grey respectively, and A Vision B printed on the book's standard white paper.

A Vision A

If you look a little more carefully you might then note that the lines in Stories of Michael Robartes and his Friends are thicker and firmer, with fewer breaks than the original and that A Vision B returns to the slightly broken lines of the first version.

Stories of Michael Robartes and his Friends
These heavier lines apply particularly to the symbols placed in the top left and bottom right, which are also interchanged in Stories of Michael Robartes and his Friends — the symbols for Fire and Water. However, A Vision B again reverts the earlier version.

A Vision B
The big change is the interchanging of the zodiac signs: Cancer and Capricorn are changed in Stories of Michael Robartes and his Friends and stay changed in A Vision B.

What does this mean? Effectively it reverses the zodiac from being one that runs in parallel with the phases of the moon and in an anti-clockwise direction into one that runs counter to the phases and in a clockwise direction, a truly solar zodiac.

In their own copies of A Vision A the Yeatses had noted some or all of these these changes. They  kept four copies out of the 600 numbered copies printed, numbers 83, 366, 385 and 498. The first had no markings and is no longer in the Yeatses' library as now held by the National Library of Ireland, but the other three are all marked to a greater or lesser extent. The most fully marked was the last, which was the one sent to the printers to show what they were to retain and adapt for A Vision B (WBGYL 2466b  and YL 2433c). In it Cancer and Capricorn were interchanged on the wheel both on Dulac's illustration (strips glued on) and on the diagram on page 13 of AVA (in ink; see CW13 343). Copy 366 shows the changes that were implemented in Stories of Michael Robartes and his Friends: both Cancer and Capricorn and Fire and Water interchanged (CW13 341; WBGYL 2466a  and YL 2433b), while the diagram on page 13 repeats the change of signs, since the elements aren't shown there.

It might have been Yeats's intention for the changes of #366 to be incorporated since, as Connie K. Hood notes, the printers asked him to send them a copy to clarify difficulties that they were having with "The Great Wheel" diagram ("The Search for Authority: Prolegomena to a Definitive Critical Edition of W. B. Yeats's A Vision [1937]", 127–28):
However, in copy #366 of AV-A, which was sent to the printers on 26 July 1937 for "diagram corrections," both the astrological signs and the two triangles are marked for correction. It is not clear whether the diagram correction involved the "Great Wheel" (66) or the placement of Dulac's unicorn plate (64). The triangles were not changed by the printers. It cannot be ascertained whether Yeats intended to make the diagram in AV-B identical to that in SMR (in that case, he could have simply sent to the printers a copy of SMR) or whether, as he so frequently did, he changed his mind again on the galleys. ("The Search for Authority", 220)
The important thing though is the zodiacal signs, and the reversal of direction that this interchange represents. It becomes a (more) solar zodiac.

The Rapallo Notebooks, the earliest of which date from 1928, show Yeats expending considerable effort in clarifying his understanding and exposition of the different zodiacs involved in his system:
when the Husk or symbolic moon by whose movements alone we measure out the month upon the wheel has reached the middle of the second month, the Spirit, the sun in the annual symbol, is passing from [Aries] to [Taurus] & so on. The signs being so innumerated that the [solar] Spirit which moves from left to right [i.e. clockwise] & the [lunar] Husk that moves from Right to left [i.e. anti-clockwise] may both pass through their zodiac in the natural order of signs.

As this passage makes clear, it is important that each element, going round the wheel in its own direction, passes through the stages marking its progress in natural order forwards, whether it is the solar Spirit or its counterpart of Creative Mind, or lunar Husk or its counterpart of Will.

In part the change may be linked to Yeats's greater understanding of how his diagrams related to the precession of the solar equinoxes (AVB 254) and the four cardinal signs of the zodiac (Aires, Cancer, Libra and Capricorn) that had been included in some of the very earliest diagrams in the automatic script. These signs are also linked to the concepts of Head, Heart, Loins and Fall, that lie in cross-form across the wheel. Head, Heart, Loins and Fall deserve their own post or page later, but for the moment it is worth noting that Aries coincides with Head (and the sign is traditionally identified with the head of the body and is the sign of the sun's astrological "exaltation") while Libra coincides with Fall (the sign is traditionally identified with the lumbar region and is the sign of the sun's astrological "fall"). These two don't change. The other two do and towards a more logical form: Cancer is traditionally associated with the stomach region of the body and Capricorn with the knees—neither Heart (Leo) nor Loins (Scorpio)—but the sequence follows better with Aries, the zodiac's first sign, at the Head, followed by Heart aligned with Cancer, the fourth sign, rather than Capricorn, the tenth sign. Putting Libra, seventh sign, at the ambiguous term Fall, and then Capricorn at Loins does seem to give a line down the body.

The mid-points that these terms mark have other significances too including the position of the equinoxes and solstices at the centre of the coming antithetical civilization in ca. 3000 C.E. (AVB 254); the points of equidistance for all the Faculties (cf. CW13 53; AVA 62; AVB 127); points associated with the opening and closing of the Tinctures (e.g. CW13 51; AVA59); and positions linked to the four types of wisdom. Concerning this last, Yeats also had doubts: “I have more than once transposed Heart and Intellect, suspecting a mistake” (AVB 100n), but he kept the automatic script’s original attributions. Part of the complication derives from the fact it is not always clear whether the conditions affecting, for instance, the Mask, which is always opposite Will, should be placed with the Mask's position or the phase it affects.

However, this illustration and its corresponding diagram are crucial so these variations are key. As Yeats noted to Frank Pearce Sturm: "If you master the diagram on page 13 & the movements of the Four Faculties therein you will understand most of the book" (20 January 1926; FPS 90), so the same should in fact be said of the revised version in A Vision B on page 81.

A Vision A, 13
A Vision B, 81

But it must be remembered that the wheel is not a fixed circle and it is the cross currents of "the movements of the Four Faculties therein" that lie at the heart of the wheel and its variations.