Sunday, 31 January 2016

The Vision of Mr. and Mrs. Yeats

Mr. and Mrs. W. B. Yeats

One evening in the declining years of the XIXth century, at the London lodge of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, a famous duel took place. Tensions and mutual animosity between two key members of the Order had finally exploded into armed combat and an actual sword fight – with real swords – broke out on the staircase. One of the members, clad in a kilt and full highland regalia, was Aleister Crowley – a dangerously unstable individual – and the other was the neatly dressed, bespectacled and generally mild-mannered Anglo-Irish poet William Butler Yeats. The two men loathed each other with a passion and clashed whenever they met. On this occasion they actually took to each other seeking blood until other members interrupted and persuaded them to drop their weapons. There was no love lost. Crowley went on to slander Yeats at every opportunity for the rest of his life, and Yeats responded in kind.

As it happens, history has been much kinder to Mr. Yeats. He has a well-deserved reputation as one of the finest poets of the English language in the modern era. His poetic powers grew in strength as he grew older. His later poems are sublime. In contrast, Mr. Crowley is more infamous than famous and – quite contrary to his own estimation of his poetic skills – is regarded by all but a few drug-addled cultists in West Coast USA as a tiresome writer of stale doggerel and some really loathsome pornographic verse. Yeats was once kind enough to admit that Crowley had written perhaps three good lines of poetry in his lifetime but when prompted he declined to say what they were.

Several posts ago, the present writer made mention of an expose of Mr. Crowley’s so-called “holy book”, Liber Al vel Legis. See here. It has been shown that Crowley’s account of the reception of this supposed sacred tome from a supernatural agent named ‘Aiwaz’ is almost entirely a baseless fiction and that, in fact, this ‘Book of the Law’ began its life as an experiment in the art of automatic writing. That is, Crowley composed the work himself, albeit in a mild trance state which is the modus operandi of automatic writing. To wit, the writer surrenders conscious involvement. They write without thinking. Whether from their own unconscious mind or, as they might suppose, from some hither ‘spirit world’ or other, words overflow onto the paper in a type of low-level mediumship similar to what happens in a spiritualist séance. Crowley elevated an item of his automatic writing into an Aeon-making revelation and backfitted a suitable ‘reception myth’ to it in order to pass it off as holy writ. We now know that this was largely a case of fraud.

But Mr. Yeats also experimented with automatic writing, and he too drew upon it in order to construct his own mythos – but without any attempt to turn it into a new religion with himself as the Prophet of Horus. In his case, he took a large body of automatic writing compiled over years and worked it into what he called his System (with an upper case S), a complex corpus of esoteric lore that he subsequently used as inspiration for his poetry. He published this ‘System’ – which occupied him for over two decades - in two editions of a book called ‘A Vision’. It is a key to his poetry, even though his poems stand on their own and need not be explicated through their occult background.

Just as his poetry is some of the best written in the XXth century, ‘A Vision’ is a brilliant synthesis of occult themes in the Western Tradition and one of the most important works of occult philosophy in modern times. It came about through the mediumship of Mr. Yeats’ young wife, Georgie. As she later admitted, she faked the automatic writing at first in order to sooth the heart of her new husband, but she sincerely claimed that, after a while, some manner of ‘communication’ took place through her and with her husband prompting her with questions a vast system (or System) of esoterica flowed from her whilst subdued in a trance. Mr. Yeats collected the hundreds of pages of automatic writing that this random process yielded and painstakingly extracted from it a coherent, organized, profound philosophy of symbols. He used Georgie’s mutterings and scribbles to construct his own poetic mythology, much as William Blake had done before him. Both he and Mrs. Yeats believed that the writings had come from some nameless otherworldly ‘Instructor’ although both admitted that they might just as well have surfaced from the depths of the unconscious mind. Either way, it was inspired.

The present writer, it must be admitted here, is a lifelong enthusiast for Yeats’ ‘System’ and returns to it on a regular basis. Framed against the great schema of the Platonic Year and replete with the symbolism of alchemy, at its centre is a symbolic arrangement of the twenty-eight phases of the moon. Each phase represents a human type, or an earthly incarnation. In Yeats’ ‘System’ a soul progresses through the twenty-eight phases in a complicated marriage of solar and lunar ‘tinctures’ amidst the turning ‘gyres’ of the cosmos. It is, in fact, to this arrangement that the very title of this web log ‘Out of Phase’ alludes, if readers have not already gathered. The purpose of this post is to alert readers to the same, and to celebrate the ‘System’ of Mr. and Mrs. Yeats as the work of symbolic genius that it is, regardless of whatever process, psychological or otherworldly, brought it to birth. 

These days one hears much about Mr. Gurdjieff’s ‘Enneagram’ types, and of course much more about the traditional astrological types in their modern form – the Lunar Phases of the Yeats’ System deserve greater study still. Literary critics and fans of Mr. Yeats’ poetry are very often perplexed by the occultism of ‘A Vision’ and hardly know what to make of it. The present writer would like to see it more widely known and acknowledged in ‘occult’ and related ‘fringe’ circles – a key work in occidental esoterica. Certainly, it is a far more important and fruitful work than anything that came from the toxic and demented ego-driven pen of the ithyphallic Aleister Crowley.

In the first edition of ‘A Vision’ Yeats explained the origins of the ‘System’ through the device of several short stories. They relate how a certain character named Michael Robartes journeyed eastwards and encountered a group of Arabic Soofis who taught him the secrets of the Mansions of the Moon. Thus, Mr. Yeats confessed the orientalist themes of his lunar ‘System’. Despite being an Irish nationalist immersed in indigenous Celtic mythology, he was an orientalist by nature, adapting Celtic myths to the conventions of Japanese No theatre, for instance, and producing renderings of the Hindoo scriptures, amongst other oriental projects. Like all Western occultism – this being the thesis of the present writer and a constant theme of this blog – the Vision of Mr. and Mrs. Yeats’ making has its roots in the alchemy and astrology of the Saracens, and in the cosmology of Plato (itself considered as ‘oriental’ in this case.) Mr. Yeats concocted the tale of the adventures of Michael Robartes at the insistence of Mrs. Yeats who wanted her role in the project kept out of public purview. In the second edition of ‘A Vision’ however, the truth was told, although Georgie Yeats remained reticent and shy about the whole business throughout her life and wanted to take no credit for it. But in fact, she was the muse of the poet, and it should be said without equivocation that it was to her mediumship – if not to her more conscious participation – that we owe not only the ‘System’ but also Yeats’ finest poems.

In the diagram below we see a summary of the phases of the moon according to Yeats’ very complex system of cosmological and spiritual mechanisms. A key point to grasp is that the types ascribed to the phases do not correspond to the phases of the moon indicated in the astrological horoscope of a given person. This is a common error. Even many of Yeats’ occultish friends laboured long and hard to link the phases to horoscopes. But the otherworldly ‘Instructor’ in the automatic writing sessions was emphatic on this point. When Mr. Yeats asked again how these lunar types correspond to horoscopes, he was told (via Georgie) that they do not. When he asked one more time, the ‘Instructor’ was uncompromising. There is no correspondence, the Instructor said, and don’t ask again! The phases describe sequences of incarnations through a ‘Great Year’ of time, not moon types in common astrology. Just because the moon was at a certain phase at your birth has no direct relation to this scheme.


Harper McAlpine Black

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