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]|
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 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)
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.|
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:
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.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)
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.
Inasmuch as 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 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)
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:
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), whoAll 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)
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
whiunknown reality painted or sung by the monks of Zen.
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.* 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)
* 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)