Friday, November 28, 2014

The Unicorn and the Lightning-Struck Tower, IV

Previous posts have considered the symbolism of the unicorn, the tower and the lightning flash within Yeats's work and in the system of A Vision, but the most immediate source in many respects is, of course, the Tarot card of the lightning-struck tower. This card is labelled "La Torre" in most Italian packs, such as the one that W. B. Yeats himself had, and "La Maison Dieu" in the older French packs, such as George's Marseilles pack. The majority of designs show a lightning flash, often coming from a cloud, striking the top of a crenelated tower, dislodging its crown, and with two or more people falling, along with a hail of particles.
In the Golden Dawn's specific iconography, the card is named the "Blasted Tower" and titled "Lord of the Hosts of the Mighty". In the Order's syncretic system, the Tarot trumps were identified with the paths connecting the sephiroth on the Tree of Life, and these in turn had correspondences with astrological principles. In their system, The Tower corresponds with the path on the Tree of Life joining Hod and Netzach, one of three horizontal paths on the Tree, identified by the Hebrew letter Peh (פ)  and the planet Mars. In many ways both these attributes have some appropriateness for George: Peh means "mouth" and her work as medium for the automatic script gave words to the communicators, and she was strongly marked as a Scorpio, both by her astrological rising sign and her cycle sign in the system, ruled by Mars (Pluto had not been discovered, and the Yeatses generally used the traditional rulers anyway). George was also said to have a Mars Daimon (YVP3 292) as did WBY.

The symbolism may well extend further. The Golden Dawn's Outer Order was not involved with magic—that came later in the Second Order—rather, it was designed to provide a grounding in the basics of occult knowledge and to help balance the temperament of the aspiring initiates by a series of elemental initiations, Earth, Air, Water and then Fire. In this structure, Water and Fire were associated with Hod and Netzach, respectively, so that the path joining them is the last one that is wholly within that elemental world. Beyond that came the Portal Ritual, after which the successful aspirant would pass to the Second Order. This ritual symbolically involves crossing the "Veil of the Paroketh", separating the lower sephiroth from the central ones.

The lower four sephiroth on the Tree of Life, with some of the Golden Dawn correspondences. For Mathers' diagram of the whole Tree in relation to the GD, see
W. B. Yeats joined the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn in March 1890 and, by the time he stood as a candidate for the Golden Dawn's Portal Ritual in January 1893, he had passed through the four initiations of the Outer Order. There was a minimum period of three months at each grade, so Yeats's progress was not unduly fast.

After induction into the Order as Neophyte (0=0), preparation for the grade of Zelator (1=10) focused on elemental Earth and the sephirah of Malkuth; next came Theoricus (2=9), elemental Air and the sephirah of Yesod; then Practicus (3=8), elemental Water and Hod, followed by Philosophus (4=7), elemental Fire and Netzach. These processes focused on exploring and balancing the 'lower' personality, represented by these four sephiroth, preparatory to advancing towards actual magical workings and raising of the consciousness towards the Higher Self in the Second Order, Rosae Rubeae et Aureae Crucis. The Portal Ritual does not have a specific grade related to it, representing a liminal level: the fifth element of Spirit or Akasa, the culmination of the Outer or First Order and an induction into the Second Order.

George followed the same steps, over twenty years later, inducted into the Stella Matutina in August 1914. Her advance through the grades seems to have been a little rapider, with initiations into the next grades in September and then November or December (as far as can be told from astrological charts she drew up that seem to indicate the times of initiations, see Becoming George 69-71). She probably advanced to Practicus (3=8) in May 1915.  At the end of that ritual, the Hierophant congratulates the newly made Practicus, and confers "the Mystic Title of 'MONOCRIS DE ASTRIS', which means 'Unicorn from the Stars' and I give you the symbol of MAIM which is the Hebrew Name for Water" (Regardie, The Golden Dawn, 2:118; see also the earlier version in Equinox 1:2, 274, where the title is "MONOKEROS DE ASTRIS").

Three or more months later, the aspirant might be ready to undergo the initiation to Philosophus. In this ritual he or she is addressed by the title of "Monocris de Astris", and symbolically approaches the sephirah of Netzach via the three paths that lead to it from the lower sephiroth already mastered:
· first from Malkuth by the path of Qoph, identified with the Tarot card of The Moon and the zodiac sign of Pisces;
· then from Yesod by the path of Tzadi, identified with The Star and the zodiac sign of Aquarius;
· and finally from Hod by the path of Peh, identified with The Tower and the planet Mars.

The ritual of the Philosophus, approaching Netzach via the horizontal path from Hod, shows the card as conceived by the Golden Dawn:
          And the Sixteenth Key of the Tarot:
It represents a Tower struck by a lightning-flash proceeding from a rayed circle and terminating in a triangle. It is the Tower of Babel. The flash exactly forms the Astronomical symbol of Mars. It is the Power of the Triad rushing down and destroying the Column of Darkness. The men falling from the tower represent the fall of the kings of Edom. "On the right-hand side of the Tower is Light, and the representation of the Tree of Life by Ten Circles. On the left-hand side is Darkness, and Eleven Circles symbolically representing the Qliphoth."

Aleister Crowley notes that this card "which we have seen in the 4°= 7° Ritual represents a tower struck by a flash of lightning, symbolising the Tower of Babel struck by the wrath of Heaven, and also the Power of the Triad rushing down and destroying the columns of darkness, the light of Adonai glimmering through the veils and consuming the elementary Rituals of the 1°=10°, 2°=9°, 3°=8°, and 4°=7° grades" (Equinox 1:2 293). This underlines that this stage is the true final stage of the elemental levels, associated with a breaking down of the Tower of selfhood that was built before, so that a new one can be constructed consciously to lead to the Higher Self.

A new Tarot pack, coming from the Golden Dawn tradition, actually includes a unicorn in the symbolism of the Tower card.
This Tarot is designed Harry and Nicola Wendrich, painted by Harry, in association with Nick Farrell and the Magical Order of the Aurora Aurea, a successor to the Golden Dawn. The tower seems to have been constructed out of letter blocks, with the base constructed from the twelve so-called simple letters of the Hebrew alphabet, the middle tier from the seven double letters, and the highest level from the three mother letters. (These categories come from the Sepher Yetzirah and correspond in turn with the twelve signs of the zodiac, the seven ancient planets, and the three elements—excluding earth.) The arrow that strikes and topples the crown of the tower issues from a circle in the form of the symbol for Mars, the card's astrological counterpart, and connected to the red colours that dominate this card. The circle is in fact a complex geodesic form of sphere, patterned on the "flower of life". This widespread form of sacred geometry can in turn be used as a matrix to generate the cabalistic Tree of Life: the patterns of the two sets of discs or globes that fall on either side of the tower, as noted by Mathers in the ritual description of the card.
The brightly coloured, positive tree is on the viewer's right and the muddy coloured negative tree on the left, with an extra eleventh sphere at its base, symbolizing imbalance. Over the stormy left side the rainbow arches, recalling the rainbow that came after the Flood that destroyed almost all human and animal life on earth. If the tower recalls the destruction of the Tower of Babel, it is testimony to the less fatal punishment that the promise of the rainbow symbolizes. The Hebrew letters letters for "bow", Q-Sh-Th, also correspond to the three lowest paths on the tree \|/ that meet in Malkuth, which Yeats linked to his vision of the Archer: the arrow is the path of Samekh, which crosses that of  Peh.

"On the right hand side of the Tower is Light and the Tree of Life. There is also the Unicorn of the Stars which is a reference to the 3=8 ritual and the Archangel Uriel. Uriel is the angel of the Mysteries, who overthrows the false perceptions" (Farrell and Wendrich). Traditionally also, Uriel is the angel who warned Noah about the coming flood, so the card brings together many aspects of emerging from an experience in which the old order is swept away to be replaced by a new one. "In fact if you cross the path from Hod to Netzach you are looking at the pulling apart of your existing universe, however if you travel the path from Netzach to Hod you are seeing your higher self creating a new Universe out of the letters it sees. The path of Peh is therefore a destruction and construction" (Farrell at the Wendriches' website).

It seems that the Yeatses must have been thinking about something very similar, and made the connection through study, or more likely through vision. In an e-mail, Nicola informed me that "The inspiration to include the unicorn in the Tower image came from a joint meditation wherein my husband and I met with the Tower archetype, who requested that Harry paint a unicorn in the image to represent the Archangel Uriel.  Uriel is the Angel of the Mysteries, who overthrows false perceptions".  Farrell also made the same connection, independently: "At the time I was inspired by the fact that the Unicorn was a symbol of the Archangel Uriel whose energy tends to unsettle and destroy in this way.  Unfortunately for the life of me I do not know where I got this association from. When I said to Harry I think we should should stick a unicorn in, he said 'oh good we have been getting that in our meditations too' " (e-mail). (See further considerations of the path and the card on Nick Farrell's blog for June 2011.)

With symbolism that is both different and strikingly congruent, the Wendrich card of the Tower bears out much of the passage that was quoted at the end of the "The Unicorn and the Lightning-Struck Tower, III":
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.
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 which only contradiction can expressnot “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.
It may seem a strange emblem to choose as a bookplate, but it is a constant reminder that the initiate is remaking herself, shattering the tower of self that has been constructed largely unawares in youth, and that part of building a new structure of self and life comes from the words, letters, and speech of the books she reads.

Monday, November 24, 2014

W. B. Yeats tells Stephen Spender of the coming times

It seems slightly incredible that Stephen Spender should have decided to write an autobiography when he was just 40, but he had seen so much and met so many people that there was already plenty to fill it. Among his encounters he recalled a meeting with W. B. Yeats at Lady Ottoline Morrell's London house in 1934.
Yeats, at the age of seventy, had something of the appearance of an overgrown art student, with shaggy, hanging head and a dazed, grey, blind gaze. On the occasion of our first meeting he look at me fixedly and said: "What, young man, do you think of the Sayers?" This took me aback and I murmured that I had not read any. "The Sayers," he repeated, "the Sayers." Lady Ottoline then explained that he was speaking of a certain troupe of speakers who recited poetry in chorus. I knew even less of these than of detective fiction and had to admit so. Lady Ottoline, who had arranged for us to have tea with very few people present, saw that I was a failure. She left the room and telephoned Virginia Woolf to get into a taxi and come round from Tavistock Square at once. Virginia, highly amused, arrived a few minutes later. (World Within World, 179)
If you have to be rescued from WBY, being rescued by Virginia Woolf isn't too bad. (Knowing WBY's taste for detective fiction as distracting entertainment, my first thought was also that Yeats was referring rather archly to Dorothy L. Sayers novels or to her translation of Dante, and I have been unable to discover anything else about these choric reciters.)

Yeats apparently went on to explain to Woolf "that her novel, The Waves, expressed in fiction the idea of pulsations of energy throughout the universe which was common to the modern theories of physicists and to recent discoveries in psychic research." Though Spender himself was out of sympathy with Yeats, particularly his philosophical and esoteric interests, he was interested enough to try to record what Yeats had said. Later on:
he spoke about the political views in the writing of my friends and myself, contrasting it with his own interest in spiritualism. "We are entering," he said, "the political era, dominated by considerations of political necessity which belong to your people. That will be bad enough, but there will be worse to come. For after that there will be an age dominated by psychologists, which will be based on the complete understanding by everyone of all his own motives at every stage of his life. After that, there will be the worst age of all: the age of our people, the spiritualists. That will be a time when the separation of the living from the dead, and the dead from the living, will be completely broken down, and the world of the living will be in full communication with that of the dead.
          Yeats expressed these ideas in a half-prophetic, half-humorous vein, and I may have distorted them in recording them. But certainly he spoke of the three ages to come, of the political, the psychological, and the spiritual: and he affirmed that the last would be "the worst". It is difficult to understand how to take such a prophecy. What is clear though, is that he saw spiritualism as a revolutionary social force as important in its power to influence the world, as politics, psychology, or science. (World Within World, 180–81)
There probably is some distortion or at least confusion over spirituality and spiritualism, but it is clear that Yeats was telling Spender about the last gyres of the current age. In general he breaks a millennium down into twelve gyres, corresponding to the cardinal phases and eight triads of phases. He had speculated about those of the near future at the end of "Dove or Swan" in the 1925 version of A Vision, a section that was cut from the later version. The "political era" that he spoke of to Spender is the culmination of the eleventh gyre, the "moral" triad of phases (23, 24, 25), which he saw already starting in 1925, when he discovered "the first phase—Phase 23—of the last quarter in the certain friends of mine, and in writers, poets and sculptors admired by these friends" (AVA 210). The zeitgeist he discerned in the work and attitudes of Pound, Eliot, Joyce and Pirandello involved engagement with the present moment of actuality and being "absorbed in some technical research to the entire exclusion of the personal dream" (AVA 211), as primary fact comes to dominate the inner truth. It does not exclude imagination but  eliminates the element of inventive fantasy. He then foresaw Phase 24 as offering "peace—perhaps by some generally accepted political or religious action, perhaps by some more profound generalisation" (AVA 212), while Phase 25 might "give new motives for obedience" or "an enthusiastic acceptance of the general will conceived of as a present energy" (AVA 213), which seems to be what he perceived in the politically engaged attitude of Spender and his contemporaries.

The ages of psychology and spirit seem to fall under the twelfth gyre, the "spiritual" triad of phases (26, 27, 28). Except that Phase 26 is spiritual in a strange way, so that psychological might be an appropriate term for the phase described as the Hunchback. One of the dominant characteristics in the description of the phase is the analysis of action and motive, and the way that these are isolated from their contexts:
His own past actions also he must judge as isolated and each in relation to its source; and this source, experienced not as love but as knowledge, will be present in his mind as a terrible unflinching judgment. Hitherto he could say to primary man, “Am I as good as So-and-so?” and when still antithetical he could say, “After all I have not failed in my good intentions taken as a whole”; he could pardon himself; but how pardon where every action is judged alone and no good action can turn judgment from the evil action by its side? He stands in the presence of a terrible blinding light, and would, were that possible, be born as worm or mole. (AVA 112; AVB 179)
This phase of psychology is however related to the psycho-spiritual, as A Vision B clarifies in a paragraph added to the treatment of Phase 26: "From Phase 22 to Phase 25, man is in contact with what is called the physical primary, or physical objective; from Phase 26 and Phase 4, the primary is spiritual. . . . Spiritual, in this connection, may be understood as a reality known by analogy alone. How can we know what depends only on the self? In the first and in the last crescents lunar nature is but a thin veil; the eye is fixed upon the sun and dazzles" (AVB 179). This may be what lies behind the idea that the spiritual gyre will be the worst: lunar nature, the basis of civil life, is overwhelmed by the solar, spiritual side, which is in some ways inimical to life. The Faculties are what produces history, and in human lives these are the phases where "the Faculties 'wear thin' " and "the Principles . . . shine through" (AVB 89).

In Spender's account, Yeats seems to have imagined that the worldly counterpart would be a thinning of the boundaries between the world of the living and the world of those outside incarnate life (whom we commonly call "the dead"). Although this seepage between worlds sounds like the scenario of a new Hollywood film or the latest TV pilot, it is difficult to see why Yeats of all people would be so negative about communication with the dead, having pursued such communication in séances, automatic writing, and "sleeps". It is also hard to discern in what senses it would be the worst, except that it must soon pass into the final phase of the wheel, that of the Fool, where control is gone.
Then with the last gyre must come a desire to be ruled or rather, seeing that desire is all but dead, an adoration of force spiritual or physical, and society as mechanical force be complete at last.
Constrained, arraigned, baffled, bent and unbent
    By those wire-jointed jaws and limbs of wood
Themselves obedient,
    Knowing not evil or good.  (AVA 213)
This vision of the twelfth gyre was written ten years before the meeting with Spender and Yeats had put a lot of thought into the coming years, drafting a number of versions before deciding that he could not see clearly enough. The prophecy of mechanical society, with the lines from "The Double Vision of Michael Robartes" describing Phase 1, seems to foresee a totalitarian world. This in turn seems to be at odds with the age of either spiritualism or spirituality he spoke of in 1934, but may not be so opposed as it seems at first. Halfway between the two, in 1929, Yeats had written:
Europe is changing its philosophy. Some four years ago the Russian Government silenced the mechanists because social dialectic is made impossible if matters is trundled about by some limited force. Certain typical books—Ulysses, Mrs. Virginia Woolf's Waves, Mr. Ezra Pound's Draft of XXX Cantos—suggest a philosophy like that of the Samkara school of ancient India, mental and physical objects alike material, a deluge of experience breaking over us and within us, melting limits whether of line or tint, man no hard bright mirror dawdling by the dry sticks of a hedge, but a swimmer, or rather the waves themselves. In this new literature announced with much else by Balzac in Le Chef-d'oeuvre inconnu, as in that which it superseded, man in himself is nothing.
          ("Introduction to Fighting the Waves": Wheels and Butterflies 73; Explorations 373; Variorum Plays 568–69)

Perhaps the equality of mental and physical objects in experience, and humanity as both "the waves themselves" and "nothing" in itself, points to a loss of identity and individuality that truly would be the worst imaginable world for the antithetical lyric poet who values the sincerity of his personal truth and experience above the truth of fact and shared experience.

This might even offer a clue to the otherwise baffling and gnomic comments that Spender recorded:
Of all that Yeats said, I remembered most his words about Shakespeare. "In the end," he said, "Shakespeare's mind is terrible." When I asked him to expand this, he said, "The final reality of existence in Shakespeare's poetry is of a terrible kind." (World Within World, 181)