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.

No comments: