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!