~This skin I wear is luminous imagination…
Light slants in thru the clerestory windows of my eyes,
& curls like incense thru my words…
‘…in purest love
outpours the god-hood of my soul…’
28 January 2021 – “Speaking with the Stars”: Full Wolf Moon (exactly so at 1:16 pm CST). It shines this evening in dim Cancer, below Castor & Pollux, far above late-rising Regulus
ON THIS DAY IN HISTORY
814 – The Deathday of Charlemagne, the first Holy Roman Emperor
1521 – The Diet of Worms conducted from 28 January to 25 May 1521 – a formal deliberative assembly of the Holy Roman Empire called by Emperor Charles V & conducted in the Imperial City of Worms. Martin Luther was summoned to the Diet in order to renounce or reaffirm his views in response to a Papal bull of Pope Leo X. In answer to questioning, he defended these views & refused to recant them. The Emperor issued the decree which condemned Luther as “a notorious heretic” & banned citizens of the Empire from propagating his ideas.
1591 – Execution of Agnes Sampson, accused of witchcraft in Edinburgh
1813 – Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice is first published in the United Kingdom
1853 – Birthday of Vladimir Solovyov, Russian philosopher, poet
O mistress earth! Before thee have I knelt,
And through the fragrances that thee begird,
The glowing of a kindred heart I felt,
The throbbing of a living world I heard.
In noon-tide beams with such enraptured blaze
The bounty of the radiant skies was sent,
With whose still lustre the responsive lays
Of rippling streams and rustling woods were bleat.
To me the sacrament reveals again
Earth’s soul with the unearthly sheen unite,
And from the fire of love all earthly pain
Is borne away like passing smoke in flight.
1855 – A locomotive on the Panama Canal Railway runs from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean for the first time.
1897 – Birthday of Norbert Glas, doctor & Author of ‘Reminiscence’s of Rudolf Steiner’ “HOW TO LOOK AT ILLNESS: It will be clear that in order to understand illness we have to consider the whole of man’s life. We must look more deeply into the subject of illness than is possible if we consider only chance, heredity, or the germ theory; or take the superficial view associated with euthanasia.
The diseases which attack us in our childhood — those occurring as a result of the crises of puberty are particularly significant — may be regarded not as a misfortune but as a blessing, since they provide opportunities for our development.
The deeper reasons for our illnesses at various ages, reviewed in the light of the threefold being of man, show that the forces of Thinking, Feeling and Willing must work harmoniously if we are to enjoy better health.
An understanding of our destiny will be of the greatest help, for as Rudolf Steiner points out, “The conception of karma does not paralyse our activities in regard to healing. On the contrary, it will bring us into harmony with regard to the hardest fate, with regard to the incurability of a certain disease …
“The understanding of karma alone makes it possible for us to comprehend the course of an illness in the right way, and to understand that in our present life we see the karmic effects of our previous life.” (Rudolf Steiner)
Of the greatest importance is our attitude to the suffering which arises from illness, and our understanding of what steps we have to take when disease comes, when we may be disabled through some accident or when we face old age. If we can be rid of the strange idea that death ends everything and can understand and live with the idea of reincarnation, which gives such a broader view of life, we shall be inwardly fortified to meet blows of fate which may befall us.”
1939 – Deathday of W. B. Yeats, Irish poet playwright, Nobel Prize laureate. The young William Butler Yeats was introduced to the study & practice of the occult while in art college in Dublin – when he met the poet, dramatist, & painter George Russell who inspired his interest in mysticism, giving him a copy of A.P. Sinnett’s Esoteric Buddhism. This instant fascination with metaphysics & paranormal activities was to remain with him throughout his life. His passion for mysticism &the occult sciences was displayed through his poetry & writings.
He spent a lifetime seeking contact with the spirit world through occult researches & practices that informed much of what he did & wrote. His involvement in the occult was intimately bound up in his complex relationships with a series of women who shared these beliefs & almost all the women who inspired his poems were involved in the occult.
His occultism fits into an Irish Protestant literary tradition that includes Sheridan Le Fanu, Charles Maturin, Bram Stoker & Elizabeth Bowen.
Reincarnation, communication with the dead, mediums, supernatural systems & Oriental mysticism fascinated Yeats through his life. In 1885, he became a founding member of the Dublin Lodge of the Hermetic Society with Russell.
When the Yeats family moved back to London in 1887, the young poet paid a visit to Madame Helena Blavatsky, the famous occultist & founder of the Theosophical Society which he joined & was later expelled from.
In March 1890, still seeking deeper answers, he joined the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn in London, a secret & rather shady society that practiced ritual magic. Other members included his great love Maud Gonne, the actress Florence Farr, Welsh author Arthur Machen & English authors Evelyn Underhill & Aleister Crowley.
At one point, Yeats & Gonne conducted a ‘spiritual marriage’ thru the Golden Dawn, to channel his frustrations at the lack of a physical one. His future wife, Georgie Hyde-Lees joined the order in 1914.
At one point Yeats sought occult guidance for a crisis in his private life. He had been seeing the actress Mabel Dickinson who wrote to tell him she was pregnant. He asked for the advice of the spirit world through a medium and a message came through to say he had been deceived and “should not take the action I had all but decided on“.
Dickinson, as it turned out, was not pregnant & his faith in the supernatural had, in his eyes, been vindicated. Yeats remained an active member of the Golden Dawn for over 30 years becoming involved in the order’s power struggles, both with Farr & McGregor Mathers.
After the organization ceased & splintered into various offshoots, Yeats remained with the Stella Matutina until 1921. Influence of the occult on Yeats’s poetry is infused with a sense of the otherworldly, the spiritual & the unknown.
Mysticism figures prominently in his discussion of the reincarnation of the soul, as well as in his philosophical model of the conical gyres used to explain the journey of the soul, the passage of time, & the guiding hand of fate.
Mysticism & the occult occur again & again in his poetry, most explicitly in ‘The Second Coming’ but also in poems such as ‘Sailing to Byzantium’.
Yeats came to the marriage with Georgie Hyde-Lees partly as a way of escaping the emotional turmoil of his relationship with Maud Gonne, but he feared that domesticity would cost him his poetic inspiration. However four days into their honeymoon, his new bride astonished him by suddenly assuming the voice of a messenger from the other world, with secrets to impart.
This was the beginning of what would be a lengthy experiment with the psychic phenomenon called ‘automatic writing’, in which Georgie’s hand & pen served as instruments for the spirit world to send information.
Yeats & his wife held more than four hundred sessions of automatic writing, producing nearly 4,000 pages that he avidly & patiently studied & organized. From these sessions, Yeats formulated theories about life & history.
He created a complex system of spirituality, using the image of interlocking gyres (similar to spiral cones) to map out the development & reincarnation of the soul. Yeats believed that history was determined by fate & that fate revealed its plan in moments when the human & divine interact.
He published his intricate theories of personality & history in ‘A Vision’ in 1925 (which he substantially revised in 1937), & some of the symbolic patterns (gyres, moon phases) with which he organized these theories provide important background to many of the poems & plays he wrote during the second half of his career.
The Rosicrucian societies that formed in Germany in the early 17th century were based upon this principle of the unbroken transmission of the prisca theologia—the one true faith of which all organized religions are but pale, debased reflections.
The hermetic tradition enjoyed a burst of vitality in the second half of the nineteenth century, beginning in France. Eliphas Lévi, the pen name of Abbé Alphonse Louis Constant, described the basic pitch in melodramatic terms, setting the tone for the esoteric groups that soon found a wide following. His first book, translated by Arthur Edward Waite as ‘Transcendental Magic, its Doctrine and Ritual’, hooked readers throughout Europe with its phantasmagoric opening sentence, emphasizing images over ideas:
“Behind the veil of all the hieratic and mystical allegories of ancient doctrines, behind the darkness and strange ordeals of all initiations, under the seal of all sacred writings, in the ruins of Nineveh or Thebes, on the crumbling stones of old temples and on the blackened visage of the Assyrian or Egyptian sphinx, in the monstrous or marvelous paintings which interpret to the faithful of India the inspired pages of the Vedas, in the cryptic emblems of our old books on alchemy, in the ceremonies practiced at reception by all secret societies, there are found indications of a doctrine which is everywhere the same and everywhere carefully concealed”.
The occult movements in the fin de siècle & the early decades of the twentieth century were furiously debated & attracted many public figures. Yeats’ involvement in the occult movement had begun two years before his move to London—the same year he published his first poems—when, at the age of twenty, he chaired the first meeting of the Dublin Hermetic Society; the agenda that day was “the wonders of Eastern philosophy.” Soon after his arrival in the capital, he joined the Theosophical Society, a group led by a Russian journalist & world traveler named Helena Petrovna Blavatsky that sought to unite the esoteric tradition of the West with Eastern mysticism. Madame Blavatsky, as she is usually known, claimed to have visited Tibet, where she met a brotherhood of supremely enlightened lamas who preserved the prisca theologia in their mountain fastnesses. Communicating with Madame Blavatsky by telepathy, these sages divulged their arcane knowledge to her & entrusted her with the task of disseminating the Secret Doctrine, as she called it, to the world.
When Yeats met her in London in 1887, she was then living in a house in south London, rebuilding her movement with just three faithful followers. “I was admitted,” Yeats wrote in his memoir, “and found an old woman in a plain loose dark dress: a sort of old Irish peasant woman with an air of humor and audacious power.”
Madame Blavatsky invited Yeats to join the inner circle of the Theosophical Society, the Esoteric Section, & groomed him for a high position in the hierarchy. Yeats’ main interest, however, was conducting magical experiments. He replicated one he had found in the works of an eighteenth-century astrologer; it involved burning a flower to ashes, then placing them under a bell jar in the moonlight for a certain number of nights. If the experiment was successful, “the ghost of the flower would appear hovering over its ashes.”
When he finally parted ways with the Theosophists it wasn’t because of doubts about Madame Blavatsky’s sincerity—in his journal, he rejected the “fraud theory” because it was “wholly unable to cover the facts”—but because the society disapproved of his experiments.
The Theosophists expelled him in 1890, but Yeats had already joined the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, an even more exotic cult, which claimed direct descent from the hermetic tradition of the Renaissance & into remote antiquity. When Yeats first met the order’s leader, MacGregor Mathers, in the British Museum reading room, Mathers, “in a brown velveteen coat, with a gaunt resolute face and an athletic body,” struck him as “a figure of romance”; later Yeats described the seer’s house in Forest Hill, London, as “a romantic place to a little group,” which included at various times Algernon Blackwood, Aleister Crowley, Bram Stoker, Arthur Edward Waite, & William Westcott, Coroner of the Crown.
Yeats joined the Golden Dawn after witnessing impressive displays of Mathers’ magic powers, particularly his ability to stimulate visions. On one occasion he gave Yeats a cardboard symbol & told him to close his eyes. “There rose before me mental images that I could not control: a desert and black Titan raising himself up by his two hands from the middle of a heap of ancient ruins.” Mathers told him that he had seen “a being of the order of Salamanders.” Members took Latin mottoes as cult names; Yeats styled himself Demon Est Deus Inversus, the Devil Is God Inverted.
The Order experienced a crisis early in the new century after it was revealed that the Golden Dawn Cipher Manuscripts (said to have been found in a cupboard), the basis of its rituals & dogma, had been forged by William Westcott. The cult was disgraced, Mathers was expelled, & Westcott resigned to save his position with the Crown. In 1902 the order changed its name to Stella Matutina, “Morning Star.” Yeats was undeterred by the controversy & remained active in the cult as Imperator, a high grade of wizard, until it dissolved in 1922.
It makes more sense to see Yeats’ participation in the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn as one origin of his career in the theater. The order performed rites using props such as wands, cauldrons, & daggers, straight out of the Pre-Raphaelite school of painting. In W.B. Yeats, ‘Twentieth-Century Magus’, a study of the poet’s magical activities based upon his diaries, Susan Johnston Graf describes the rituals of the Golden Dawn: “Members wore traditional robes and symbolic regalia while they intoned elaborately staged dramatic liturgies that they had practiced and memorized. The rituals invoked deities like Isis and Osiris and sometimes involved staged hangings or entombments.”
By the time the Golden Dawn was in its final decline, Yeats had made a major breakthrough in his quest for communication with the spirit world, which took precedence over ritual magic & experimentation. He described this turning point in his life and art:
“On the afternoon of October 24th, 1917, four days after my marriage, my wife surprised me by attempting automatic writing. What came in disjointed sentences, in almost illegible writing, was so exciting, sometimes so profound, that I persuaded her to give an hour or two day after day to the unknown writer, and after some half dozen such hours offered to spend what remained of life explaining and piecing together those scattered sentences.”
On an American tour in 1919, in a sleeping compartment on a train in Southern California, the spirits manifested themselves to Georgie in a new way, when she began to talk in her sleep. From that point on, Yeats wrote, “almost all communications came in that way. My teachers did not seem to speak out of her sleep but as if from above it, as though it were a tide upon which they floated.” Sweet perfumes sometimes filled the room when the instructors spoke, “now that of incense, now that of violets or roses or some other flower.”
Yeats & his bride, Georgie Hyde-Lees, made a strange match; he was fifty-two, she was twenty-five, & both presumably were virgins. Yeats had been obsessed throughout much of his adult life by a romantic infatuation with Maud Gonne, a charismatic beauty who zealously advocated the cause of Irish nationalism. She joined the Order of the Golden Dawn briefly, but resigned because she feared it would distract her from the Irish cause. Yeats proposed to her four times without success, though she did consent to a “spiritual marriage”; after she definitively rejected his suit in 1916, he redirected his passion toward her daughter, Iseult. It was only after Iseult refused him that Yeats proposed to Georgie.
Her revelations filled more than fifty notebooks, by Yeats’ count, & served as the basis of ‘A Vision’, the summa of his metaphysical thinking, which set forth what he called his “public philosophy.” It propounds an extraordinarily convoluted system that aims to integrate the human personality with the cosmos, a poetical astrology supplemented by charts & diagrams that look like figures in a geometry text. Yeats elaborates a scheme of the lunar phases to classify & categorize the human personality, out pictured in his poem: “The Second Coming.”
Yeats’ magical avocation presents a paradox to contemporary readers: a disciplined poet, a Nobel laureate, the founder & first director of the Abbey Theatre, a senator of the Irish Free State. Yeats believed that his occult knowledge gave him the power to write verses that would partake of the eternal. The proof is in his poetry.