Friday, June 12, 2020

Plotinus and "A Vision", Part III

An Image of Eternity

Plotinus gives a geometrical image of the Three Hypostases based on the circle, which is central to Yeats's exploration of the Principles in terms of Neoplatonism:
The total scheme may be summarized in the illustration of The Good as a centre, the Intellectual-Principle as an unmoving circle, the Soul as a circle in motion, its moving being its aspiration. (IV. 4. 16)
In A Vision B:
When I try to imagine the Four Principles in the sphere, with some hesitation I identify the Celestial Body with the First Authentic Existant of Plotinus, Spirit with his Second Authentic Existant, which holds the First in its moveless circle; the discarnate Daimons, or Ghostly Selves, with his Third Authentic Existant or soul of the world (the Holy Ghost of Christianity), which holds the Second in its moving circle. (AVB 193–94, CW14 142)
This concentric vision is picked up again when Yeats maintains that "a system symbolising the phenomenal world as irrational because a series of unresolved antinomies" such as the one presented of A Vision] "must find its representation in a perpetual return to the starting-point. The resolved antinomy appears not in a lofty source but in the whirlpool's motionless centre, or beyond its edge" (AVB 194–95, CW14 143).

A spiral galaxy, NGC 1232
The "resolved antinomy" is an ideal of equilibrium or annihilation of the antinomies, which is unattainable because the opposites' conflict is needed for consciousness and life—"Could those two impulses, one as much a part of truth as the other, be reconciled, or if one or the other could prevail, all life would cease" (1930 Diary, Ex 305).

Trinity and Hierarchy

To complement the circles with the motionless centre, Yeats also envisages a more hierarchical view of "the Four Principles in the sphere," also based on Plotinus. There are two presentations of the material, first in words and then in a diagram, which differ enough to cause problems. First he describes a trinity corresponding to the First, Second, and Third Authentic Existants or Hypostases (Yeats conflates the Hypostasis and Authentic Existant, see Plotinus and A Vision, Part II), as quoted above. After the Celestial Body and Spirit, the Third Authentic Existant is related not to a Principle as such but "the discarnate Daimons, or Ghostly Selves", though it is then associated with the lunar Principles "sensation and its object (our Husk and Passionate Body)," with the "Husk as part of the sphere [merging] in The Ghostly Self" (AVB 194, CW14 142). The diagram that illustrates this description, however, omits the Daimons and Ghostly Selves, and it seems to place the pair of Passionate Body—Husk as higher and lower aspects of the World Soul, in turn generating the Wheel of the tinctures. These then draw their character from the Second and Third Authentic Existants respectively.
AVB 194, CW14 143
In the diagram it is slightly unclear whether the Third Authentic Existant is considered to correspond with the Passionate Body or Passionate Body and Husk together, but the corresponding text would indicate that it is both. Even so, how Daimon/Ghostly Self can become Husk (and Passionate Body) is never explained in A Vision and resists any easy explanation.

An Earlier Formulation

Some elucidation can be found in the development of these ideas, elaborated in drafts that came after the publication of A Vision A. They can, however, be  a little convoluted and the following exploration is really only "intended for students of Plotinus, the Hermetic fragments & unpopular literature of that kind. The chances are a hundred to one against your liking it", as Yeats told Ignatius McHugh (26 May [1926]).

The first draft of the formulation that became "the Four Principles in the sphere," speaks rather of the "resolved antinomy" or at least an approach to this final ideal state. Yeats’s initial idea was to see The One as the Sphere, and to see the two other Hypostases as the ideal states based on the two forms of union of Spirit and Celestial Body: the monistic Celestial Body in Spirit (the Intellectual-Principle) and of diverse Spirit in Celestial Body (the World Soul). The distinction between Celestial Body in Spirit and Spirit in Celestial Body is not used in either version of A Vision, though it is appears in drafts and manuscripts of the late 1920s, and they can be taken simply as another version of the antinomy, with Celestial Body in Spirit being a manifestation of the One/unifying/solar/primary pole and the Spirit in Celestial Body being a manifestation of  the Many/individuation/lunar/antithetical pole (they are explored in my essay on 'The Thirteenth Cone,' YVEC 159ff.; the manifestations of the antinomy are tabulated in A Reader's Guide to Yeats's 'A Vision', Table 4.1 pp. 66–68). 

An early manuscript draft can be a little confusing on first reading and adding punctuation can become very intrusive, so I use the layout here to make the reading slightly more fluent and only include cancelled text that is significant:
I identify
the moment where the antinomy is resolved with Plotinus['s] first Authentic Existant or the One,
the Celestial Body in Spirit with the Second Authentic Existant &
the Spirit in Celestial Body with the third Authentic Existant or Soul of the World.
A Spirit in Celestial Body is sometimes called the ghostly self because its condition can like the third Authentic Existant be identified with the Third Person in the ^Christian^ Trinity [i.e., the Holy Ghost].
Plotinus has a fourth condition Boehme’s mirror which is the Third Authentic Existant reflected into sensation & discursive reason,
& this condition I compare to the ghostly self reflected as the daimon into Husk & Passionate body or the daimon.
& ghostly self are however one & only seem to us different.
If I would arrange Principles & Faculties into such a diagram as comes naturally to the students of Plotinus I arrange them thus
Draft and diagram mapping Principles and Plotinian Hypostases (NLI MS 36,272/15)

The upper triangle

Before moving on to the question of the Daimon, Ghostly Self, Passionate Body, and Husk, it is worth noting that here they are all excluded from the upper trinity. Rather than collapsing the Four Principles into the Three Hypostases, this arrangement makes the two permanent Principles, Celestial Body and Spirit, into three manifestations, though the highest one may even be above the Principles. Perhaps because of the association of unity with the solar primary, Yeats seems to search for a term for this Ultimate Reality that avoids associations of singularity, rejecting terms such as 'Monad', 'One', or 'Unity', before settling on 'The Resolved Antinomy' as the equivalent of the First Authentic Existant.

If the reader bears in mind that Celestial Body in Spirit indicates the solar, unifying force—and hence, in the diagram, reflecting inot the primary tincture—and Spirit in Celestial Body represents the lunar, individuating force—and hence reflected as the antithetical tincture—the typescript based on this draft takes the ideas further:
When Spirit and Celestial Body are in union, union may be either Celestial Body in Spirit or Spirit in Celestial Body. Spirit in Celestial Body is that reality which supports and precedes phenomena; a community of timeless and spaceless autonomous beings, each being unique [?or a species in its self], a complete multiplicity. Celestial Body in Spirit is that reality we discover in thought: a single spaceless and timeless being all others its creation and endowed with reflected limited life. These two conceptions imposed upon us by the whirling gyres are the antinomy that underlies all life and the supreme religious experience cannot be other than its solution in a condition beyond intellect. If as my instructors insist consciousness is conflict the supreme act must rend the intellect in two. By such an act the whirling ends and the soul passes into the sphere, or into the divine life, but in human life these conceptions alternate; from the first descends the antithetical tincture, from the second the primary, from the first incarnation, from the second discarnate existance. Every moment, emotion or act of the imagination separating itself from all else, seeks its own turns towards some unique being, its goal [i.e., the individuality of the soul], every logical process, every moral act proclaims a single being [i.e., oneness in the whole]; from this conflict all suffering arises.                           (NLI MS 36,272/17, annotated typescript).
This passage intimates a kind of realization to the resolved antinomy, through “the supreme act” that rends “the intellect in two” or, by rending it , negates the antinomies and becomes non-dual, yet asserts that “all life” partakes of one or other element of the duality. This recalls the meditation attributed to the fictional Judwalis and explained in the note to "The Second Coming" (1922):
A supreme religious act of their faith is to fix attention on the mathematical form of this movement until the whole past and future of humanity, or of an individual man, shall be present to the intellect as if it were accomplished in a single moment. The intensity of the Beatific Vision when it comes depends upon the intensity of this realisation. (VP 824)
The final duality expressed in the draft is also put into the mouth of Michael Robartes in the fictions that preface A Vision B:
Every action of man declares the soul's ultimate, particular freedom, and the soul's disappearance in God; declares that reality is a congeries of beings and a single being; nor is this antinomy an appearance imposed upon us by the form of thought but life itself which turns, now here, now there, a whirling and a bitterness. (AVB 52, CW14 37)

The lower triangle

To return to the question of the Daimon, Ghostly Self, Passionate Body, and Husk, the draft arrangement  indicates that, though it may do some violence to Plotinus's actual thought, Yeats's reading of the Enneads is influenced by the Boehmist thinking that he had used in the Works of William Blake.
The Works of William Blake, vol. 1, p. 246
There he had written that "Like Boehmen and the occultists generally, [Blake] postulates besides the Trinity a fourth principle..." (WWB 1:246), a mirror that reflects the ideal world into multiplicity and manifestation (see 1:247, 1:265). Reflection in the mirror is both a metaphysical reality and a metaphor for incarnation (see the Seven Propositions).

Whether because Yeats again needed somehow to create four out of three or because his thought fell into inveterate patterns, he applies the same construction here (which I repeat for clarity):
Plotinus has a fourth condition Boehme’s mirror which is the Third Authentic Existant reflected into sensation & discursive reason, & this condition I compare to the ghostly self reflected as the daimon into Husk & Passionate body or the daimon. Daimon & ghostly self are however one & only seem to us different.
In this formulation, the multitudinous union of Celestial Body in Spirit appears to be equated with the Ghostly Self, which reflects as sensation (Husk) and discursive reason (Passionate Body), which singly or together are equivalent to the Daimon, and all are really aspects of each other, viewed from different perspectives.

A Vision B

Seeing how the idea was originally conceived gives some clues as to how Yeats reconceived the ideas by the time he came to the published version in A Vision B. He has gone a step further, in ascribing individual Principles in the Sphere to the Three Hypostases, identifying in the diagram Celestial Body at the apex point (1), with Spirit (2), and Passionate Body (3), though without the Hypostases' names (I repeat the diagram):
AVB 194, CW14 143
The text repeats the identification of “the Celestial Body with the First Authentic Existant of Plotinus, Spirit with his Second Authentic Existant, which holds the First in its moveless circle,” indicating clearly that these two are the One and the Intellectual-Principle, unmoving eternity. However, the diagram’s Passionate Body is replaced in the text with “the discarnate Daimons, or Ghostly Selves,” identified with Plotinus’s “Third Authentic Existant or soul of the world (the Holy Ghost of Christianity)” (AVB 194, CW14 142). Thus, as in the drafts, the Ghostly Self is seen as a discarnate form of the Daimon, but the term Daimon is usually applied to the incarnate Daimon.

As the drafts show, Yeats had no problems moving between Principles and Daimon/Ghostly Self (which "are however one & only seem to us different"), and it seems that he sees Daimon and Passionate Body–Husk as different manifestations of the same aspect of being. Indeed, a few pages earlier he notes that "the Husk (or sense)” expresses “the Daimon’s hunger to make itself apparent to certain Daimons,” so is part of our own Daimon, whereas the object of sense, the “Passionate Body is the sum of those Daimons” (AVB 189, CW14 139), the community of spirits.


Though this all makes sense and fits together, it does not quite square with the treatment of the Daimon elsewhere. Thus, it is not clear how Spirit (as "the Daimon's knowledge") and Celestial Body ("all other Daimons as the Divine Ideas their unity") remain separated from the discarnate Daimon or Ghostly Self. And Yeats seems to have shifted position on the Daimon's relationship to the Principles, making several different identifications, such as that "The Daimon is Spirit fully expressed in matter (PB)" (NLI 13,580, Rapallo C) or that "there is one gyre in the 'daimon', the 'daimon' being itself the 'celestial body'" (NLI 36,272/24), or including them all: “Man is expressed in the Four Faculties the daimon in the Four Principles” (NLI 13,582, Rapallo E).  Amidst all this confusion of attributions, he also seems to have forgotten or ignored the scolding from one of the instructors in 1928, who is reported to have "insisted. I must not say the Principles & Faculties expressed the daimon all man did was approach the daimon. He insisted that the outward movement of the daimon & the inward movement were the same thing in the perfection of the daimon" (NLI 30,359).

I doubt that Yeats ever reached a conclusion in this respect—the Daimon never quite fits into the scheme as neatly as the more schematic elements of Faculties and Principles. There may however be some form of resolution in Plotinus's distinctions, in particular the suggestion that humanity operates on the level of Soul and discursive reason, as opposed to the ideal realm of Intellect. Yeats comments that the Daimon is out of time and "does not perceive, as does the linear mind of man, object following object in a narrow stream, but all at once" (NLI 30,359), recalling the difference between Soul and Intellect in Plotinus's formulations:
Soul deals with thing after thing—now Socrates; now a horse: always some one entity form among beings—but the Intellectual-Principle is all and therefore its entire content is simultaneously present in that identity: this is pure being in eternal actuality; nowhere is there any future, for every then is a now; nor is there any past, for nothing there has ever ceased to be; everything has taken its stand for ever, an identity well pleased, we might say, to be as it is; and everything, in that entire content, is Intellectual-Principle and Authentic Existence; and the total of all is Intellectual-Principle entire and Being entire.
(Ennead V.1.4, MacKenna vol. 4, p. 5; a different translation is given vol. 1, 136, as part of the conspectus summarizing the Plotinian system)

In A Vision A the Daimon is the dark of the mind, controlling the Faculties that are out of our control—her Will is our Mask and her Creative Mind is our Body of Fate (see AVA 27, CW13 25)—but later the distinction is that the human mind "deals with thing after thing" in contrast to the Daimon's viewing all as "simultaneously present". Part of the shift in Yeats's thinking from viewing the Daimon as the opposite of the human being to seeing it as a greater archetype is probably informed by this description of a state of "pure being in eternal actuality", which Yeats takes as the Daimon's state, and specifically when in the Sphere or Thirteenth Cone.


The relationship between the Daimon and the Principles remained uncertain, but Plotinus's thought clearly helped Yeats to formulate his understanding of the Principles in the years following the publication of A Vision A, especially through his ideas about the Hypostases and their levels of reality. The more that I study the system, the more I see that the Principles are one of the pillars on which the construct is founded, and that the Faculties are relatively secondary to them. This fundamental point is why Yeats felt embarrassed by AVA, where he had failed to appreciate the Principles' role or to give them the prominence that their place in the automatic script would have warranted. Yeats's reading in philosophy was important in giving them the weight they deserved. In particular, the distinctions and hierarchies of Plotinus's Enneads helped Yeats to understand the relations between them and to clarify his metaphysical construct, offering him another vision of what he saw as the reality behind the phenomenal world and expressed in a way that Yeats found particularly engaging.

Whether or not he manages to convey that understanding and show the importance of the Principles to his readers is doubtful. As I have commented earlier, readers as perceptive as Helen Vendler, Graham Hough, and Donald Torchiana found the Principles a redundant doubling, and the ordinary reader cannot to go rummaging through drafts to appreciate their significance for Yeats and his system. Certainly in this respect, Yeats failed.

In conveying his understanding of Plotinus, A Vision probably gives too little evidence to go on. Despite the efforts of Rosemary Puglia Ritvo, and those who have followed her, to save Yeats from the charge of having misinterpreted the concept of Authentic Existence and the Hypostases, Yeats does seem to have misread Plotinus in this respect. The spelling of "Authentic Existant" probably shows that Yeats is working from memory and not really checking his source, and it is seems likely that Yeats just thought that the term was more attractive and more immediately comprehensible than "Hypostasis", forgetting that it was a different concept or blurring the distinction. Yet as Harold Bloom has shown, art may rely on levels of misreading and Yeats's is a respectful but strong misreading. The fact that he was using Plotinus to illuminate his own ideas probably makes Yeats a bad reader of the Enneads, but as he wrote in a different context, he was "a symbolist & no philosopher” (NLI 13,579, Rapallo B).

Saturday, April 25, 2020

The Return of the Old Gods

The Cumæan Sibyl, The Sistine Chapel, Michelangelo
Now comes the final age of the Cumæan Sibyl's song;
The great order of the centuries is born anew.
returns the Virgin and Saturn's reign returns;
Now a new lineage is sent down from high heaven.
"Eclogue IV" (42 BCE), Publius Vergilius Maro*

They shall return, those gods you always mourn!
Time will bring back the order of old days;
The land has shivered with prophetic breath . . .

"Delfica" (1845–54), Gérard de Nerval† 

The Delphic Sibyl, The Sistine Chapel, Michelangelo

Bow down before her from whose lips the secret names of the immortals, and of the things near their hearts, are about to come that the immortals may come again into the world. Bow down, and understand that when the immortals are about to overthrow the things that are to-day and bring the things that were yesterday, they have no one to help them, but one whom the things that are to-day have cast out. . . . After you have bowed down the old things shall be again, and another Argo shall carry heroes over the deep, and another Achilles beleaguer another Troy.

 "The Adoration of the Magi" (1897), W. B. Yeats

See, they return, one and by one,
With fear, as half-awakened;
As if the snow should hesitate
And murmur in the wind,

            and half turn back;     

These were the "Wing'd-with-Awe",         

Gods of the wingèd shoe!

With them the silver hounds, 

            sniffing the trace of air!  

"The Return" (1913), Ezra Pound

The Argo, William Russell Flint

Another Troy must rise and set,
Another lineage feed the crow,
Another Argo's painted prow
Drive to a flashier bauble yet.
The Roman Empire stood appalled:
It dropped the reins of peace and war
When that fierce virgin and her Star
Out of the fabulous darkness called.

Song from The Resurrection (1926–31), W. B. Yeats


       . . . Those that Rocky Face holds dear,
Lovers of horses and of women, shall,
From marble of a broken sepulchre,
             [. . .] disinter
The workman, noble and saint, and all things run
On that unfashionable gyre again.

"The Gyres" (1936–37), W. B. Yeats



* Ultima Cumæi venit iam carminis ætas;   
Magnus ab integro sæclorum nascitur ordo.   
iam redit et Virgo, redeunt Saturnia regna,   
iam nova progenies cælo demittitur alto.


† Ils reviendront, ces Dieux que tu pleures toujours !
Le temps va ramener l'ordre des anciens jours ;
La terre a tressailli d'un souffle prophétique . . .
The first version of "Delfica", titled "Vers Dorés"
(1845), had the epigraph Ultima Cumeai uenit iam carminis ætas; a later version, titled "Dafne" (1853), had iam redit et Virgo.

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Pamela Colman Smith, The Green Sheaf, and "Dream of the World's End"

Pamela Colman Smith (1878–1951) was the creator, editor, and publisher of The Green Sheaf. A magazine of poetry and art, it came out for a year between 1903 and 1904. There were to be thirteen issues in a year, and each issue cost 13 pence, while a subscription cost 13 shillings, and the thirteenth number declared that it was the last. It included contributions from Cecil French, John Todhunter, Lady Gregory, J. M. Synge, A.E., John Masefield, W. T. Horton, J. B. Yeats, W. B. Yeats, and herself. It was printed on hand-made paper, with hand-coloured illustrations, and has something in common with the hand-printed books of the Susan Mary and Elizabeth Yeats's Cuala Press (they are better known to readers of Yeats as Lily and Lolly).
Cecil French, "The Fountain of Faithful Lovers", The Green Sheaf, no. 4
Dreams featured heavily in all numbers of the magazine, but never more so than in the second issue, with "A Prayer to the Lords of Dream" by French, an untitled dream by Colman Smith, "Dream of the World's End" by Yeats,  "A Dream on Inishmaan" by Synge, and "Jan A Dreams" by Masefield.

For some reason, Yeats's "Dream of the World's End" is not collected in any of the volumes of "Uncollected" prose, so tends to be little known. Fortunately the availability of the whole series of The Green Sheaf at means that it is now readily accessible, though you have to know to go and look.

W. B. Yeats, "Dream of the World's End", The Green Sheaf, no. 2.

I have a way of giving myself long meaning dreams, by meditating on a symbol when I go to sleep. Sometimes I use traditional symbols, and sometimes I meditate upon some image which is only a symbol to myself. A while ago I came to think of apple-blossom as an image of the East and breaking day, and one night it brought me, not as I expected a charming dream full of the mythology of sun-rise, but this grotesque dream about the breaking of an eternal day.
     I was going through a great city, it had some likeness to Paris about Auteuil. It was night, but I saw a wild windy light in the sky, and knew that dawn was coming in the middle of the night, and that it was the Last Day. People were passing in a hurry, and going away from the light. I was in a brake with other people, and presently the horses ran away. They ran towards the light. We passed a workman who was making a wall in his best clothes, and I knew that he was doing this because he thought the Judge would look at him with more favourable eyes if he were found busy. Then we saw two or three workmen with white faces watching the sky by their unfinished work. Everybody now was a workman, for it seemed to be a workman’s quarter, and there were not many people running past us. Then I saw young workmen eating their breakfast at a long table in a yard. They were eating raw bacon. I understood somehow that they had thought “we may as well eat our breakfast even though this is the Last Day”; but, that when they began to cook it, they had thought, “it is not worth while to trouble about cooking it.” All they needed was food, that they might live through the Last Day calmly.
     After that, and now we seemed to have left the brake, though I did not remember our leaving it, we came to a bridge over a wide river, and the sky was very wild and bright, though I could not see any sun. All in a moment I saw a number of parachutes descending, and a man in a seedy black frock-coat came out of one of them, and began distributing circulars. At the head of them was the name of a seller of patent medicines, and we all understood the moment we saw the name, that he was one of the most wicked of men, for he had put up great posters that had spoiled many beautiful views. Each circular had printed upon it a curse against this man, and a statement that a curse given at the end of the world must of necessity weigh heavily with the Eternal Judge. These curses called for the damnation of the patent medicine seller, and you were asked to sign them at the bottom, undertaking at the same time to pay the sum of one pound to the medicine seller if the end of the world had not really come. I remember that the circular spoke of this “solemn occasion,” but I do not recollect any other of the exact words. I awoke, and was for some time in great terror, for it seemed to me that an armed thief was hidden somewhere in the darkness of my room. Was this some echo of what the Bible has said about “one who shall come as a thief in the night?”
W. B. Yeats
W. B. Yeats, "The Lake at Coole", The Green Sheaf, no. 4.
This is evidently based on a real dream, and Yeats notes his use of plants to evoke dreams in Per Amica Silentia Lunae:
I had found that after evocation my sleep became at moments full of light and form, all that I had failed to find while awake; and I elaborated a symbolism of natural objects that I might give myself dreams during sleep, or rather visions, for they had none of the confusion of dreams, by laying upon my pillow or beside my bed certain flowers or leaves. Even to-day, after twenty years, the exaltations and the messages that came to me from bits of hawthorn or some other plant seem of all moments of my life the happiest and the wisest. (CW5 17–18; Myth 345)
His plant symbolism was probably related to elements of the Celtic Mysteries that he was working on at this time—in 1898 Maud Gonne had a vision "to get the trees of the cardinal points", of which the only one Yeats remembered certainly was "an apple bough in the East" ("Visions of Old Irish mythology" [NLI 36,261/1], see Yeats, Philosophy, and the Occult 121 and 160n29). Other trees mentioned are oak, hazel, quicken (rowan), and hawthorn, foreshadowing Robert Graves's use of the tree alphabet in The White Goddess. Yeats, however, also associated apple-blossom and its scent with Maud Gonne, so it is perhaps understandable that the symbol had unpredictable results and evoked a city where Yeats had visited her often.
A.E. (George Russell), "A Million Years Hence", The Green Sheaf, no. 2.
A.E. (George Russell) had an engraving in the same issue that was enigmatic and apocalyptic in a rather different way, perhaps more reminiscent of H. G. Wells's The Time Machine (or even Planet of the Apes). Human(oid?) figures surround a huge skull, with one perched on top of it, entitled "A Million Years Hence". Is the skull human and the figures minuscule? or are the figures the descendants of humans with a giant's skull?
Pamela Colman Smith, "Once, in a dream...", The Green Sheaf, no. 2.

Saturday, April 4, 2020


 Ecstasy or vision begins when thought ceases, to our consciousness, to proceed from ourselves. It differs from dreaming, because the subject is awake. It differs from hallucination, because there is no organic disturbance: it is, or claims to be, a temporary enhancement, not a partial disintegration, of the mental faculties. Lastly, it differs from poetical inspiration, because the imagination is passive.

William Ralph Inge, by Arthur Norris, c. 1934.
The National Portrait Gallery, London.

Friday, March 20, 2020

Invoking the Daimon

Following on the from the previous post about how the spiritual being of two sexes manifests as a human of one sex and a Daimon of the opposite sex, one of the key things that this entails is that contact with the Daimon means contact with the opposite. For a psychologist this would entail interior self-examination and possibly some form of therapy or analysis; however, for a magician, the interior examination would be dramatized as visualizations and the therapy as ritual invocation. Within the Golden Dawn, the visualizations would be structured through symbols drawn from the complex series of correspondences attached to the Tree of Life, with the "meditations", "skrying", or "astral travel" using imagery from astrology, alchemy, and Tarot, gods from Egypt and Greece, and angels and the names of God from the Judaeo-Christian traditions. The rituals, whether fully fledged ones at the Order's temple, or personal and private ones, would involve the same attributions, present both in physical form (through cards, colours, costume) and through the active imagination of the participants. One of the ways of invoking a force was to imitate the associated divine forms through ritual and sacred acting, with robes and masks, but more important was the assumption of the god-form, with the "symbolic God-form held firmly in the imagination" (Israel Regardie, The Golden Dawn, vol. 3, 156)

One of the aims of the initiates of the Golden Dawn was an ascent on the central pillar of the Tree of Life, raising the "Human Consciousness and Lower Will [which should be located in Tiphareth] from falling into... the place of the Automatic Consciousness [Yesod]", as is the case in much of humanity. This also meant gaining greater contact with the higher spheres and a more direct flow from the higher levels, most immediately "the Higher Human Self and the Lower Genius, the God of the Man" but then the Higher Genius and beyond that the Angelic and Divine levels (see The Golden Dawn, 'Fifth Knowledge Lecture', especially 'The Microcosm—Man', vol. 1, 203–20, at 217 and 214; see on the Golden Dawn). Complementing the process of invocation of external powers, the Golden Dawn also taught evocation of forces from within the microcosm of the self.

WBY to Ezra Pound, July 15 [1918]. (ALS Yale)
Yeats frequently mentions the meditations that he associates with the symbols A Vision. The automatic script contains repeated though often unclear instructions to meditate, for example: "you will get all by meditation that you need"  (YVP1 440) and, for instance, Yeats writes of trying "to see Phase 26 in meditation & saw that stag with the crucifix between horns" (YVP3 94). When he sent the first drafts to Ezra Pound, he told him to "Read my symbol with patience ­allowing your mind to go beyond the words to the symbol itself — for this symbol seems to me strange and beautiful" (15 July [1918]). In his note on "The Second Coming", he fictionalizes the Judwalis as having "A supreme religious act of their faith is to fix their attention on the mathematical form of this movement" to achieve a moment of timeless contemplation (VP 824).

Michael Robartes and the Dancer (Cuala, 1922), note on "The Second Coming"

The Yeatses meditated on symbols associated with the Daimons of their children (YVP3 50-51), and it is likely that they also meditated on the subject of the Daimon and on their own personal Daimons (see also their Tarot readings involving the Daimons).

The hieros gamos or alchemical wedding, Rosarium Philosophorum (1550)

"The marriage bed is the symbol of the solved antinomy..."

Yeats's own female Daimon was reflected in part in the women in his life, not least George, and 'Solomon and the Witch' is one of his clearest tributes to his wife. The poem is a dialogue rather than the assumption of female voice and the witch is the Queen of Sheba,* who has cried out as a medium. Solomon interprets it as the crow of the cockerel that "crowed out eternity" ("Three hundred years before the Fall") and has crowed again now because, "Chance being one with Choice at last", he "Thought to have crowed it in again" (VP 388). This implies that the union of Solomon and Sheba has achieved the perfect fusion of the two lovers: "The marriage bed is the symbol of the solved antinomy, and were more than symbol could a man there lose and keep his identity, but he falls asleep" (AVB 52). The solved antinomy is the unity that transcends the duality of the antinomies which are intrinsic to our perception of reality. They have attained a state like that before "the ultimate reality, symbolised as the Sphere, falls in human consciousness... into a series of antinomies" (AVB 187)—or maybe "Three hundred years before the Fall"?
I see the Lunar and Solar cones first, before they start their whirling movement, as two worlds lying one within another--nothing exterior, nothing interior, Sun in Moon and Moon in Sun—a single being like man and woman in Plato's Myth, and then a separation and a whirling for countless ages... (AVA 121)
Even if Solomon does not fall asleep, however, there is not the perfect match of "imagined image" and "real image" —which is perhaps for the best as that is when "the world ends" (VP 388). Even so, the witch asks "let us try again" (VP 389).

The alchemical androgyne, Conceptio, Rosarium Philosophorum (1550)

The lot of love

A similar image of the perfected love dominates "Chosen", a poem fully in a female voice, speaking in terms at once Platonic, astrological, and astronomical.
The lot of love is chosen. I learnt that much
Struggling for an image on the track
Of the whirling Zodiac.
The pairing of lots and choice goes back to Plato's 'Myth of Er' in the Republic, which Plotinus refers to in his consideration of whether the stars cause destiny or merely record it (Ennead II.3). In the  astrological practice of his period there was an array of derived points called 'lots', often now referred to as the 'Arabic parts', though actually Hellenistic in origin (in Latin pars/'part' means degree as in the 360 degrees of a circle). These include the 'lot of Fortune', the 'Lot of Spirit', and the 'lot of Eros' or of love, which can be calculated for each individual chart and as such are fixed with the horoscope. Within Yeats's cosmology the birthchart is both fated and chosen—we can only be born at a moment that expresses our character but our character chooses our moment of birth (see on the 'The Seven Propositions' and 'Astrology and the Nature of Reality'). The 'whirling Zodiac' represents this descent into incarnation.

The horoscopes of WBY and GY with their Lot of Fortune (circle with saltire cross), Lot of Spirit (circle with vertical line), and Lot of Eros (circle with a heart). WBY is  night birth, so according to traditional rules his Lots are calculated differently from those of GY, a daytime birth. (For further consideration, see

The voice then speaks of a man, who whirls on the turning circuit of the zodiac:
Scarce did he my body touch,
Scarce sank he from the west
Or found a subterranean rest
On the maternal midnight of my breast
Before I had marked him on his northern way
And seemed to stand although in bed I lay.
This traces the constant motion of the zodiac to the western horizon where the sun, a planet, or a lot sets and its apparent passage 'under the earth' to the nadir or midnight, its northern point (as noon or the meridian is the southern point for those in the northern hemisphere). Noon and midnight form the vertical axis of horoscope ('seemed to stand'), but the zodiac keeps turning until the particular degree comes to the point where it rises in the east:
I struggled with the horror of daybreak,
I chose it for my lot!
The word 'struggle', used in the poem's second line, is repeated with the concept of chosen fate: Lot as Chance or Fate and Choice or Destiny become one, as in the love of 'Solomon and the Witch'.
If questioned on
My utmost pleasure with a man
By some new-married bride, I take
That stillness for a theme
Where his heart my heart did seem
There is a form of union, female and male, human and Daimon, both centred in the heart of the Tree of Life or the still point at the centre of the horoscope (just as the Daimon is positioned at the centre of the Wheel of the Faculties and Principles).
And both adrift on the miraculous stream
Where—wrote a learned astrologer—
The Zodiac is changed into a sphere.
With the union of Lot or Chance and Choice, fate and free will, the zodiac of time becomes the sphere of eternity, the realm of Daimon, and the cockerel of "Solomon and the Witch" can crow eternity in again.

Venus setting (lower right) in a shaft of zodiacal light (solar system dust illuminated by the sun, along the line of the zodiac), with the Milky Way arching over the upper part of the photograph.

If Yeats seeks to contact his own Daimon, he is seeking the female element of his own individuality. The internal is projected outwards, here as the relations of sexual love, whether Sheba and Solomon or the voice of "Chosen" with her man, yet in many ways this is a symbol of what is taking place on the inner planes.
Pope Pius XI said in an Encyclical that the natural union of man and woman has a kind of sacredness. He thought doubtless of the marriage of Christ and the Church, whereas I see in it a symbol of that eternal instant where the antinomy is resolved. It is not the resolution itself. (AVB 214)
The resolution would be the impossible fusion in the androgyne which symbolises the unity and wholeness that would be both consummation and extinction.

* Although "the Witch" is not identified explicitly as the Queen of Sheba, the poem opens "And thus declared that Arab lady..." which seems to make it a continuation of "Solomon to Sheba", first published in 1918. The earlier poem ends:
Sang Solomon to Sheba 
And kissed her Arab eyes,
"There's not a man or woman
Born under the skies
Dare match in learning with us two,
And all day long we have found
There's not a thing but love can make
The world a narrow pound." (VP 333)
The epithet of "Witch" may be Yeats's allusion to P. B. Shelley's "The Witch of Atlas", dedicated to his own wife, Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley. It is interesting to note that the Witch of Atlas creates her own androgynous companion, "by strange art she kneaded fire and snow / Together" to form "A sexless thing" that "seemed to have developed no defect / Of either sex, yet all the grace of both".

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

The Daimon, the Sexes, and Androgyne Unity of Being

The androgyne Rebis from Splendor Solis, Solomon Trismosin,
painted copy from the British Library, London.
The history of the Golden Dawn at the turn of the twentieth century was a colourful helter-skelter of crisis, both internal and external, which led to various schisms and, eventually, multiple successors, including MacGregor Mathers's Alpha et Omega, A. E. Waite's Fellowship of the Rosy Cross, and the Stella Matutina under R. W. Felkin.

Georgie Hyde Lees joined the Stella Matutina, sponsored by W. B Yeats, and taking the magical name of 'Nemo Sciat' ('Let no-one know'). A few years later, in 1919, Violet Firth joined  Alpha and Omega taking her family's motto—'Deo Non Fortuna' ('By God, not by Fortune')—as her magical name and she went on to write under a streamlined version of it, 'Dion Fortune'. In due course, she also went on to found her own magical order, The Fraternity of Inner Light, and had a significant influence through her prolific writings, both fiction and books esoteric topics, including The Mystical Qabalah (1935).

   One of her earliest works is entitled The Esoteric Philosophy of Love and Marriage. It was written in 1924, and if readers can get past some of the imperialist, Anglocentric, and homophobic elements of the presentation, it is a valuable insight into ideas of sex and gender at the period in the groups related to the Golden Dawn. Indeed Moina Mathers accused Fortune of 'betraying the inner teaching of the Order'—a charge she was able to rebut (the relevant teachings belonged to a level that she had not yet reached; see Nevill Drury, Stealing Fire from Heaven: The Rise of Modern Western Magic, 129).

Ideas of Gender 

The Esoteric Philosophy of Love and Marriage is a short book and much of it focuses on occult polarity, gender, and sex. Fortune writes of the spiritual human as having two aspects: a timeless self or "individuality", which progresses through incarnations (cf. Yeats's Principles), and part of this is manifested in a particular incarnation as a temporary self or "personality" (cf. Yeats's Faculties).
Esoteric science... conceives [the spiritual human] not to be sexless, but on the contrary, bi-sexual, and therefore complete in himself. The individuality is two-sided positive and negative, has a kinetic aspect and a static aspect, and is therefore male-female or female-male, according to the relation of "force" to "form" in its make-up. The personality, however, is one-sided, and therefore has a defined sex. The individuality may be thought of as a magnet, having a positive and a negative pole, one of which is at a time is inserted in dense matter, and the nature of the pole inserted determines the sex of the body that is built up around it. (The Esoteric Philosophy of Love and Marriage, 31)
The timeless self therefore embraces both male and female in a form of alchemical union, where the two elements remain distinct though joined.

   The bisexual or androgyne as envisaged in alchemy is almost never a sexless fusion of female and male, but a union of female and male as the androgyne (Greek: andros-man and guné-woman), or less commonly hermaphrodite (Greek gods, Hermes and Aphrodite). It is often referred to as the 'rebis', re (thing), bis (twice), indicating its explicitly double nature, and the alchemists usually show their rebis with two heads (female and male) and often with both female and male genitals.

Michael Maier, Atalanta Fugiens, Emblem XXXIII,
engraving by Matthäus Merian, the Elder.

   Fortune envisages the complete spiritual human as being like a bar magnet, one end of which is plunged in matter, manifesting as male or female, while the rest of the magnet remains free and the opposite sex, complementing and balancing the incarnate half.

Hermetic Principles 

What Fortune calls 'esoteric science', taking on the language of the modern age, is more traditionally referred to as 'Hermetic wisdom' and traced back to the Corpus Hermeticum and the teachings attributed to Hermes Trismegistos.
   Anna Kingsford, founder of the Hermetic Society in the 1880s, had similarly seen a fundamental sexual balance, as expressed in the Hermetic principles underlying the universe: 'The Hermetic system [is superior to pseudo-mystical systems] in its equal recognition of the sexes'. This included both duality and gender as fundamental forces. Her introduction to the Hermetic dialogue The Virgin of the World, entitled 'The Hermetic System and the Significance of its Present Revival', offers a summary of some of the fundamental principles of Hermetic thought. She notes the fundamental unity of all things in Spirit, but that this is not incompatible with 'an original Dualism, consisting of principles inherently antagonistic'. Hermes Trismegistos tells Asclepios in The Virgin of the World that 'this law of generation is contained in Nature, in intellect, in the universe, and preserves all that is brought forth. The two sexes are full of procreation, and their union, or rather their incomprehensible at-one-ment, may be known as Eros, or as Aphrodite, or by both names at once', seems to lie behind Yeats's 'Supernatural Songs', such as 'Ribh Denounces Patrick' and 'Ribh in Ecstasy'.
   Mary Greer has drawn attention to how Kingsford's formulations foreshadow the later and now better-known axioms of the Kybalion (1912). There is no evidence that Yeats knew The Kybalion, but he certainly knew both the Hermetic Corpus and the contemporary interpretations of it, such as Kingsford's. And, despite the importance of Cabala and Rosicrucianism to the teachings of the Golden Dawn, it was called a Hermetic Order and at least one of its cover names was the 'Hermetic Students', as recorded in Yeats's autobiographies and on the invitation to his initiation.

Human and Daimon 

Anna Kingsford posited that 'Every human spirit-soul has attached to him a genius, variously called, by Socrates, a dæmon; by Jesus, an angel; by the apostles, a ministering spirit'. She explains that, ‘The genius is linked to his client by a bond of soul-substance’ and ‘is the moon to the planet man, reflecting to him the sun, or God, within him.... the complement of the man; and his "sex" is always the converse of the planet's' (The Perfect Way, or the Finding of Christ [1882], 89–90).
   The Yeatses' Daimon, as outlined in the automatic script and in A Vision A, similarly complements its human counterpart, "(the Daimon being of the opposite sex to that of man)" (AVA 27, CW13 25). The Daimon is not just a companion moon to the human planet, but closer in fact to the bar magnet imagined by Dion Fortune.
   Within physical life and normal contexts, the Daimon manifests through the people and habits of life—sexual relations, love for the other, all the complex knot of relationships and desires. Yeats imagines the Daimon or Guardian Angel conspiring with sweetheart and also jealous of her (AVB 240, CW14 175), referring to the western horizon or 'the seventh house of the horoscope where one finds friend and enemy' (AVB 213, CW14 157). Yet the Daimon also represents both the individual's destiny and the highest possibility of free will.
   In many respects, Yeats increasingly came to see the Daimon as the complete archetype from which the localized human is a fragment immersed into space and time to become manifest and experience phenomenal reality. Trying to formulate the relationship between human and Daimon in one draft, Yeats wrote:
Though it enters into memory & reflects in the human mind, it is not contained within that mind nor can that mind see the whole object as it is present before the daimon. though sometimes, it knows of it, through its own increasing excitement. & sometimes it shows some perception of the daimon in such a way, that the perception seems miraculous by seeing it separated from the general framework of its thought, as in prevision, & clairvoyance & those affinities of personality which are so swift that different personalities seem to coexist within our mind. Though for the purposes of exposition we shall separate daimon & man & give to man a different symbol, they are one continuous <consciousness> perception, seeing we perceive all that the daimon does & only remember & therefore only know what is in part a recurrance of our past.
(NLI MS 30,359, probably written in Cannes, December 1927/January 1928)

As Plotinus says of his 'guiding spirit', it appears that Yeats's Daimon 'is not entirely outside of ourselves; is not bound up with our nature; is not the agent in our action; it belongs to us as belonging to our Soul....' (Enneads III.4.5). We can be aware of it through excitement or a sense of miraculous perception, or in the case of Socrates, a sneeze. We are a continuous perception with the Daimon, and perception became increasingly important to Yeats as fundamental to identity (probably through the influence of Berkeley and through his attempts to understand the Principles), as is seen clearly in the formulations of the Seven Propositions which are posited on perception. 

    Much of the early automatic script is concerned with the nature and sources of different kinds of genius, a term that can refer to creative abilities as much as to a separate spirit, but often hovers between both in Yeats's thinking. Giving Yeats forms of contact with the genius was possibly the main reason for George Yeats's continued involvement with the automatic script, in terms of poetic material and of confident access to springs of creative energy. She probably saw the system as something of a personal support for her husband's creativity rather than something to be proclaimed to the world, and this was turned into the instructors' comment 'we have come to give you metaphors for poetry" (AVB 8, CW14 7). (This is not to say that she ventriloquized the whole automatic script, but in occult matters she evidently kept to the dictum she had taken as her motto—'Let no-one know'.)

   Certainly connection to the Daimonic aspect of perception or inspiration was something to be sought, particularly by those assigned to Phase 17, Yeats's own phase, the Daimonic person. One of the ways that he could do this was through seeking a female voice, approaching towards the opposite half of the bar-magnet-self.

 'a great mind must be androgynous'

In one of the earliest drafts of the system Michael Robartes expounds some of the system, and Owen Aherne makes a comment about remembering a 'passage in the Table talk [of Coleridge], he said that all great minds were androgynous' (‘The Discoveries of Michael Robartes’, typescript, YVP4 43). Aherne goes on to make a conjecture about the system of A Vision that is incorrect, but Virginia Woolf also seized upon this comment of Coleridge's, and explored it perhaps more richly and aptly:
Coleridge perhaps meant this when he said that a great mind is androgynous. It is when this fusion takes place that the mind is fully fertilized and uses all its faculties. Perhaps a mind that is purely masculine cannot create, any more than a mind that is purely feminine, I thought.... Coleridge certainly did not mean... that it is a mind that has any special sympathy with women; a mind that takes up their cause or devotes itself to their interpretation.... He meant, perhaps, that the androgynous mind is resonant and porous; that it transmits emotion without impediment; that it is naturally creative, incandescent and undivided. In fact one goes back to Shakespeare’s mind as the type of the androgynous, of the man-womanly mind.... (A Room of One's Own, Ch. VI)
Key elements that echo Yeats's own ideas are those of fusion and a mind that uses all its faculties—one of the elements of Unity of Being, where on one Faculty brings the others into play automatically. When writing of Unity of Being Yeats uses the image of sympathetic vibration, Woolf here of resonance, but the porousness that allows the undivided mind to express itself and more of itself than is normal is part of the symbolic androgyne. Within A Vision and elsewhere in Yeats's writings, the term Unity of Being changes meaning and application as Yeats's ideas developed, but it was always something that the person should aim for, an ideal of the mind.

   The conjecture that Aherne makes is that 'If we understand the Primary nature as masculine the saying would apply very well to those phases as you have described them' (YVP4 43), which is wrong because in the Yeatses' system the primary is feminine and the antithetical masculine, but the vital thing is that all minds are an equal mixture of both tinctures. Whichever side of the Wheel Will and Creative Mind are on, Mask and Body of Fate balance them equally in the opposite tincture. Only perhaps those who achieve Unity of Being are able to fully realize this equal oppostion in a form of dynamic equilibrium, Coleridge's androgynous great minds, but the fundamental elements are there in all humanity.
Two sample dispositions of the Faculties. (a) a person with Will at Phase 4, and (b) a person with Will at Phase 17.
(See A Reader's Guide to Yeats's 'A Vision', p. 116, Fig.7.4.)

Every person is a balance of the primary and antithetical halves, and potentially of the male and female. In the first version of A Vision, Yeats goes one stage further, identifying Will and Creative Mind with the 'light' of the human mind (regardless of whether they are light or dark according to the coding for antithetical and primary) and Mask and Body of Fate with the Daimon's mind, which is dark to us.
The Will and the Creative Mind are in the light, but the Body of Fate working through accident, in dark, while Mask, or Image, is a form selected instinctively for those emotional associations which come out of the dark, and this form is itself set before us by accident, or swims up from the dark portion of the mind. But there is another mind, or another part of our mind in this darkness, that is yet to its own perceptions in the light; and we in our turn are dark to that mind. These two minds (one always light and one always dark, when considered by one mind alone), make up man and Daimon, the Will of the man being the Mask of the Daimon, the Creative Mind of the man being the Body of Fate of the Daimon and so on. The Wheel is in this way reversed, as St. Peter at his crucifixion reversed by the position of his body the position of the crucified Christ : “Demon est Deus Inversus”. Man’s Daimon has therefore her energy and bias, in man’s Mask, and her constructive power in man’s fate, and man and Daimon face each other in a perpetual conflict or embrace. This relation (the Daimon being of the opposite sex to that of man) may create a passion like that of sexual love. The relation of man and woman, in so far as it is passionate, reproduces the relation of man and Daimon, and becomes an element where man and Daimon sport, pursue one another, and do one another good or evil. (AVA 26–27, CW13 24–25)
Too many critics, perhaps, take this comment as license to identify the Daimon with any and all of the women in W. B. Yeats's life (and little else), but there is definitely an element of truth in the idea that the Daimon and its influence are discerned in these women, not least George Yeats.

   In A Vision, the system's myth of itself is that it is the product of the Daimons of W. B. and George Yeats—that is WBY's female Daimon and GY's male Daimon (— with possible contributions from the Daimons of the children, Anne and Michael). Indeed, though the supposed instructors worked through a hierarchy of communicating spirits, one of the voices, Ameritus, was said to be George's Daimon (YVP2 300).
   There is thus a complex interchange of man and woman sitting and writing questions and answers, or the man questioning the sleeping woman, yet it is the Daimons of the two who supposedly originate, and they influence their own charge directly but also work through the spouse. Male and female are fused and yet distinct, androgynous.

Michael Maier, Atalanta Fugiens, Emblem XXXVIII, engraving by Matthäus Merian, the Elder.

The following post will look at Yeats's use of female voices in poetry to express a potentially Daimonic view of reality, and subsequent ones will consider the Daimon with Plotinus and the Golden Dawn, and concepts of Unity of Being.