Sunday, December 2, 2018

The Process of Incarnation

Though the human experience is at the heart of Yeats’s system, he is unsure and unclear about its origins or first impetus. Why do some spirits enter space and time and become incarnated as human beings? Despite hints in the treatment of the afterlife, A Vision does not address the topic at all, but a draft intermediate between the two versions,[1] gives a slightly fuller account, which fits with the developed scheme in most details.

Yeats starts with the solar pair of Principles, Spirit and Celestial Body, which form the central core of the individual existence:
The Spirit is the Conscious Self which is always one, but this Self holds within it, when we consider it as perfect, all of our conscious selves, and it is those other selves that are the Celestial Body.[2]
Here Spirit is seen as Self, but as a partial expression of a fuller whole, the Celestial Body, which contains all that the self can be. Together and in union, they are a form of perfection:
But Spirit and Celestial Body so united are timeless, the selves are limited and changeless, possessing as in a single moment what the natural self unrolls in its endless pulsations,* each at once unique and universal, Daimon not man.[3]
The timeless archetype is here identified with the Daimon, which ties the elements together neatly—perhaps too neatly. Yeats was always tempted to codify and find correspondences, then forced to change position because of evidence or instruction. The contrast of the eternal moment of self-possession[4] with the natural self as the unwound skein of life beating to the time-keeping rhythm of the heart is reinforced by a footnote to “endless pulsations”: “ ‘I give you the end of a golden string, only winded into a ball, – it will lead you in at Heaven’s gate, built in Jerusalem’s wall.’ Blake.”[5] In Yeats’s misquotation of Blake, the archetypal self is the long threads of many lives wound into a single ball. Parts may be unspooled in time and space as individual incarnations, or wound up again into the eternal instant.[6]
But seeing that this motionless world according to Parmenides and the most recent† speculation is alone completely real, what brought the natural man into existence? Nobody has ever answered that question, and my instructors, like all that have gone before, accept evil as part of the structure of things.[7]
This is the key question—why does the Spirit leave the perfection of its union the Celestial Body and start the natural process? The use of “evil” here is disconcerting, but Yeats generally appears to use “evil” in a profoundly amoral sense, both in the system and elsewhere, and the implication is that the emergence of “natural man” is a kind of imbalance or fall from the perfection, a move from unity to duality and multiplicity.[8]
All that they can do is to say the something which they call the Passionate Body lures the Spirit from its bride, the Celestial Body, and saves the Celestial Body itself, from solitude.
This luring is effectively the Spirit’s attraction to experience, to contact with what is not itself, other spirits and Daimons, hence the saving of the Celestial Body, which remains separate, from solitude.
After comparing all the descriptions of it [Passionate Body] scattered through the automatic script or spoken in sleep, I can but define it as abstract multitude, though there is but one technical term of my instructors that describes it – Destiny. Destiny is that which forces from within, his peculiar bias, that which makes him different from all other men.
The Spirit is thus lured by Destiny, which Yeats proceeds to link with the term as used in the Hermetic Fragments and which he consistently identifies as lunar/antithetical and individual in opposition to objective Fate. He then goes on to identify the Passionate Body with matter in the Hermetic sense.
The Passionate Body is no doubt called passionate because the source of emotion and volition. It cannot differ greatly from what Hermes calls matter – “matter having no quality nor form of its own to make it visible, is in itself wholly invisible”. The Spirit which alone contains within itself time and space and all other categories “ripened” it – a word used by my instructors doubtless because of their association of sun with the Spirit – into the objects of sense, each a symbol or correspondence of some articulation of the Celestial Body.
The Spirit thus lured to the Passionate Body, fructifies and ripens it into the objects of sense, partially reflecting attributes of Celestial Body. (This incidentally provides a clear rationale for the Yeats’s symbolic method, as the relation of the sense objects to the timeless truths of Celestial Body is by “symbol or correspondence.”) The Passionate Body is the particular and phenomenal manifestation of Celestial Body’s archetypal articulations.
The objects of sense are called the Husk, because when perceived they are already dead or separate, something cast off by the growing seed.[9] The Passionate Body itself is the present, a moment of time as distinct from the eternal present of the Celestial Body, and is contrasted with the Husk or past. The Spirit offers the timeless Celestial Body as our aim or as the future…. The Husk is, I think also the past, and within the Husk and the Passionate Body the Four Faculties originate and complete their circles.
Husk is the final aspect of the Principles and elsewhere more properly refers to the senses themselves, though without the limits of bodily sensation, but bound intimately to Passionate Body. The Passionate Body, the thread unwound in time and space, gives the ever-shifting present in contrast to the Celestial Body’s wound ball concentrated in eternity, which yet appears as a future set against the present and past of the sensuously directed Passionate Body and Husk.[10] The Faculties are introduced as originating “within” the Husk and Passionate Body and completing the whole circuit of their action there too, but even here we are not given any idea of the process involved and Yeats may have felt unable to supply what was not in the script.[11] A card-file entry summarizes that the tinctures “ ‘Anti and Primary come at birth’ ” (YVP3 248)[12] and by implication the Faculties arise when the spiritual being of the Principles becomes incarnate, that is, enters “the exclusive association with one body” (AVA 221, CW13 183).[13] In a draft he notes as part of “certain interactions of Faculties and Principles” that “the Faculties are drawn out of the Husk by Spirit and share the Husk’s abstraction,”[14] implying thus the interaction of spiritual consciousness or mind (Spirit) with sense or “light” and incarnate consciousness (Husk). The Faculties are the tools for dealing with incarnate life and take over almost entirely, so that, although “the Principles are the innate ground of Faculties” (AVB 187, CW14 137) or their “Roots,” during incarnate life they are largely in abeyance, operating only at an unconscious level.



[1]       “Book III: The Completed Symbol,” NLI MS 36,272/24, typescript corrected in ink and pencil. Dating from ca. 1928, to judge from the description of the Thirteenth Cone: “The 13th cone or sphere is divided into three concentric spheres of which the innermost is, I conclude, the One…”
[2]       NLI MS 36,272/24, paged numbered 12.
[3]       NLI MS 36,272/24, paged numbered 13. Footnote text given in following paragraph.
Yeats first met Thomas Aquinas’s “Eternity is the possession of one’s self, as in a single moment” in Villiers de l’Isle-Adam’s Axël (Act 1, sc. 6), and repeated it with pleasure; see CW14 368n119, and Warwick Gould, Notes and Queries, October 1981, 458–60, and “The Mask before The Mask,” YA19 (2013) 15–16.
[5]       NLI MS 36,272/24, paged numbered 13 note. Yeats misremembers and misquotes a line from Blake’s  Jerusalem, “To the Christians,” as describing a wound ball rather than the imperative “Only wind it into a ball,” pl. 77 (WWB3 [321]).
[6]       This echoes the imagery of the “loose thread” “wound upon a spool” of “The Fool by the Roadside” and the mummy wound in its cloths of “All Souls’ Night” and the instants of time that are no more than “what Blake called ‘the pulsation of an artery’” (AVB 24, CW14 19)
[7]       NLI MS 36,272/24, page numbered 13; Yeats gives a footnote: “† See McTaggart in ‘Studies of Hegelian Cosmology,” Section 33 and in ‘The Nature of Existence,’ ” referencing the work of the philosopher J. McT. E. McTaggart.
[8]       This may derive from the sleep of 9 March 1928; Dionertes questioned “where did evil come from, why was it necessary for man to exist, until he got me to say that evil must be in the celestial body. He then said – the celestial body is evil. I had looked upon it as the reflection of the One. I then said – you mean the Celestial body is the Many? – He said –yes, if you want to think like that man – who the man was he didnt say. He said that the spirit is not only that which perceives the One but is itself the One. Its aim is to see itself as One in the celestial body, until at last there is only spirit or only celestial body. I said, can it perceive the celestial body or itself in that body without the intervention of the perceptions? He said, it seeks to identify itself with the celestial body, or with himself in that body, or some such words. He then said what seems to me important – the mind never identifies itself with a perception, and added ‘If you see your face in the mirror you do not identify yourself with what you see there though you cannot know your face in any other way. But with the face that is looking into the mirror.’” NLI MS 36,262/22.
[9]       Later, Yeats would refine this to say that Husk is sense, while Passionate Body is the objects of sense, though the distinction can be very nice.
[10]       In a similar way, the Thirteenth Cone appears as the future at the end of the series of twelve cycles or cones, despite being timeless. The attributions of time in this draft are the same for the Principles but different from those given to the Faculties in A Vision (AVB 191–92, CW14 140–41). The AS and notes give significant space to wrestling with these correspondences, although they do not illuminate much.
[11]       There are some further possibilities presented in the macrocosmic perspective offered in A Vision B (AVB 193–95, CW14 ???), where the tinctures are seen to originate in the Spirit/Nous and the Passionate Body/Soul of the World.
Principles give rise to the two tinctures: the first part of does not really fit—Passionate Body as the origin of the antithetical would make more sense, but the reference is definitely to Celestial Body (cf. YVP1 500, 12 June 1918).
[13]        “These attributes [i.e., the Principles], I am told, reflect themselves in the Four Faculties” NLI MS 36,272/24.
[14]       NLI MS 36,272/12, corrected typescript “Book Four,” page numbered 14, section 7. Draft of “The Completed Symbol,” section V (cf. AVB 195, CW14 143).

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