Yeats and the Divine Genius

An essay I wrote in college inspired this blog entry. I originally wrote the essay for a class, and the prompt was to analyze and contrast Yeats’s early poetry with his later poetry, highlighting transformations or similarities. The essay uses an early poem, “The Two Trees,” and a later series of poems, A Woman Young an Old, to illustrate that Yeats’s poetry seems to have only changed superficially. I think that Yeats’s poetry always strives for the otherworldly and contains a longing for the spiritual, even if it’s veiled as a longing for something else. Yeats’s early poetry, which he wrote when he was exploring hermetic and mythological symbol, is explicitly mystical, but in his later poetry he clothes ideas borrowed from the Golden Dawn in his own symbolic system.

In Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn symbolism, prominent also in other Rosicrucian traditions, there exists the concept of the Lower Self, which is called Sophia or Shekhinah, being rescued by the divine Genius, or the Imagination. The story of A Woman Young and Old is the story of the initiate coming into contact with the Holy Guardian Angel.

The Oath

An initiate of Yeats’s Golden Dawn has to swear an oath that went:

I solemnly promise and swear that, with the Divine permission, I will from this day forward apply myself unto the Great Work, which is to purify and exalt my spiritual nature that with Divine aid I may at length attain to be more than human and thus gradually raise and unite myself to my higher and divine Genius, and that in this event, I will not abuse the great power entrusted to me.

Yeats reading “The Lake Isle of Innisfree”

Yeats joined the Golden Dawn in 1889. Yeats practiced ceremonial magic in the order, and he would go on to say he saw his poetry as a medium for magic. If you listen to his reading of his poetry it may remind you of ceremonial chanting, like he’s trying to summon or invoke a spirit.

Kathleen Raine, a William Blake and Yeats scholar, once said, in reference to Yeats’s poetry, that

merely academic study of magical symbolism may be likened to the analysis of musical scores by a student who does not know that the documents he meticulously annotates are merely indications for the evocation of music from instruments of whose very existence he is ignorant.

Kathleen Raine

This statement from Raine reminds us that much poetry – even lyrical poetry like Yeats wrote – is not about the words per se, but about the images the words evoke. Yeats, like many other magicians, believed that the mind’s borders are “ever shifting,” our memories are similarly shifting, and that symbols evoke the one “great mind and memory” that lies behind our many minds and memories. He wrote about this in his essay called “Magic” and touches on it in another essay called “The Body of the Father Christian Rosencrux.”

Raine goes on in her article to highlight the ways in which Yeats borrows archetypal images from the tarot in his poetry, explaining that the tarot images are like “keys” that “awaken their sleeping counterparts in the mind.”

Quarrels with Ourselves

Yeats once wrote, in a piece called Per Amica Silentia Lunae that “We make out of the quarrel with others, rhetoric, but of the quarrel with ourselves, poetry.” As a salient example of this principle by which he wrote his poetry, the poem “Dialogue of Self and Soul” is a dialogue between the speaker’s soul and self. Some other poems aren’t as easy to see as quarrels or dialogues with oneself, however. I’ll be using these two ideas – 1) words in poetry evoking images, causing an effect on the reader and 2) poetry being a quarrel with oneself – and applying them to a set of poems that has not been analyzed esoterically apart from by me in my essays, blogs, and podcast.

The series of poems A Woman Young and Old is a chronicle of the life of a woman, from a defiant young woman broached by her father in the first poem to an old woman alone in the last. We just decided that, to Yeats, words are images and images are symbols, and symbols bring forth archetypes from the great mind. But what qualifies as an image? Well… anything. And by anything, I mean truly anything. As long as it can be created by human imagination or stored in our memories, it’s an image, and therefore a symbol.

So logically, the image of the woman is a symbol.

I think that literary interpretation is most successful and most exciting when one takes one pattern, symbol, or idea and pulls on it until the whole work unravels like a ball of yarn. For this reason, I want to hone in on just a few particular images in this poem that struck me when reading them. There’s a poem in A Woman Young and Old that, when I read it, felt very symbolic to me. The poem is “Her Triumph” and it’s the fourth poem of the series. Here it is:

“Her Triumph” by William Butler Yeats

   I did the dragon’s will until you came
    Because I had fancied love a casual
    Improvisation, or a settled game
    That followed if I let the kerchief fall:
    Those deeds were best that gave the minute wings
    And heavenly music if they gave it wit;
    And then you stood among the dragon-rings.
    I mocked, being crazy, but you mastered it
    And broke the chain and set my ankles free,
    Saint George or else a pagan Perseus;
    And now we stare astonished at the sea,
    And a miraculous strange bird shrieks at us.

The Tarot

The reason that these images struck me is my familiarity with tarot and the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. Some of you listening may already be familiar with the Golden Dawn Tarot deck, but I’ll talk about it here briefly for those who are not.

As mentioned before, William Butler Yeats was a part of a ceremonial magical order called the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. Yeats had his own Golden Dawn Ritual Tarot deck.

The Golden Dawn Lovers Card

A card in this deck, Key VI – The Lovers, attributed to the Zodiacal sign Gemini (the zodiac is mentioned 3 times explicitly elsewhere in the series), depicts a naked, long-haired Andromeda fettered to a rock wall on a small rock platform that rises just above sea level, while a sea dragon threatens her nearby in the waters. From above, a man, a Perseus figure, descends from the clouds equipped with helmet, sword, and shield. His helmet is fitted with a pair of wings, and his shield bears a symbol of the Sun, from which twelve rays emanate.

As we said above, Raine says that Yeats based some of his imagery on tarot card images, which, again, are like “keys” that unlock or awaken “sleeping parts of our minds.”
MacGregor Mathers co-founder of the Golden Dawn and co-author of the Golden Dawn ritual tarot describes the symbolism in The Lovers:

The Lovers is usually described as representing Man between Vice and Virtue, while a winged genius threatens Vice with his dart…

And many of us would be happy with that description, but he goes on:

I am rather inclined to the opinion that it represents the Qabalistical Microprosopus between Binah and Malkuth, while the figure above shows the Influence descending from Kether. It is usually considered to mean Proof or Trial; but I suggest Wise Disposition as its signification.

Microprosopus is a term popularized by Christian Cabalists in the 17th century. It comes from Greek mikros (small) prosopon (face), and it refers to the eight Sephiroth between Binah and Malkuth on the Tree of Life. This is distinct from the Macroprosopus, which is the vast countenance (large face).

In Kabbalah Unveiled, Mathers describes the Arik Anpin as

Partly concealed (in the sense of His connection with the negative existence, or ain soph aur) and partly manifest (as a Sephira). Hence the symbolism of the vast countenance is that of a profile wherein one side only of the countenance is seen; or, as it is said in the Qabalah, “in Him all is right side.”

That is, part of the vast countenance, the influence descending from Kether is the first Sephira at the top of the Tree, and it – symbolizing Wisdom and Virtue – strikes at the fetters and threatens Vice with its sword.

In another description of the tarot card, Harriet Miller Felkin, whose name in the Golden Dawn was Soror Quaero Lucem (light seeker), says a bit more succinctly, that the card symbolizes

the impact of inspiration on intuition, resulting in illumination and liberation – the sword striking off the fetters of habit and materialism, Perseus rescuing Andromeda from the Dragon of fear and the waters of Stagnation.

If we synthesize the two descriptions, we come out with the idea that Perseus’s influence from Kether is inspiration that removes the limitations of the Dragon’s will, his habit and materialism. Going back to the poem once again, we can see the symbols a bit more clearly:

I did the dragon’s will until you came…
[…]
And then you stood among the dragon-rings.
I mocked, being crazy, but you mastered it
And broke the chain and set my ankles free,
Saint George or else a pagan Perseus;

So the woman of the poem seems to be, as both Yeats and Raine suggested symbols are, a part of the psyche: the main character of the poem, the Woman who tells us the story of her life, is the Microprosopus figure from this archetypal image of the tarot.

Before we move back to Yeats, I wanted to say a quick note about St. George, a recognizable but complex and therefore hardly understood figure. Though he has many faces, the most important one for us is he was often a symbol of light and power engaged in perpetual struggle with darkness and chaos, a symbol that fits well with the power of Kether descending to the Microprosopus from MacGregor Mathers’ description.

Image result for tree of life kabbalah
The Tree of Life

Qabalah

Kether, Binah, and Malkuth in MacGregor Mathers’ description refer to three Sephiroth on the Tree of Life of Qabalah (seen on the right). Kether (רכֶּתֶ) is the first Sephiroth in the system, seen at the top, and it means “crown.” The second is Chokmah (כְחָמָה) which means “wisdom,” and the third is Binah (בינה – “understanding”). From there, the next is Chesed (חֶסֶד – “mercy”), Gevurah (גבורה – “strength”), Tiphareth (תִּפְאֶרֶת – “beauty” or “adornment”), Netzach (נצח‎ – “victory” or “eternity”), Hod (הוד – “splendor”), Yesod (יסוד – “foundation”), and Malkuth (מלכות‎ – “kingdom”). Malkuth, or “kingdom,” is the bottom-most Sephirah and is said to be the residence of Shekinah. Each Sephira symbolizes a hypostatized potency or emanation from God, and the Tree of Life is the cosmic tree of the totality of His powers.

In the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn’s system, the initiate ascends the Tree of Life to rest in Binah, closer to the higher aspects of God’s potencies. This symbol for spiritual and psychic growth in their system is reflected in the name of the collection from which A Woman Young and Old comes – The Winding Stair. Additionally, some images of the ascension of the Tree of Life shows a winding serpent climbing through each pathway on the Tree of Life up to the top of the diagram.

In folio 28 of the manuscripts used in the founding of the Golden Dawn system, there’s an image which the Golden Dawn website labels “Eden” and “ceremony 3=8.” The paths associated with this ceremony are the tarot card The Sun (Key IXX) and the tarot card Judgment (Key XX). The grade’s element is water, while the tarot card’s element is Fire. The ritual clear states lucidly to the initiate what these keys represent:

To the uninitiated eye it apparently represents The Last Judgment with an angel blowing a trumpet and the Dead rising from their tombs, but its meaning is far more occult and recondite than this, for it is a glyph of the powers of Fire.

The Trumpet represents the influence of the spirit descending from Binah.

And later the Hierophant further elucidates the meaning of the Sun

The Sun has twelve rays which represent the Twelve Signs of the Zodiac. The seven Hebrew Yods on each side, falling through the air, refer to the Solar influence descending. The wall is the Circle of the Zodiac, and the stones are its various degrees and divisions. 

Romeo and Juliet, from a scene in Zeffirelli’s 1968 film production

The Hierophant of the ritual then goes on to equate the two children depicted in this key with the astrological sign Gemini and therefore back to The Lovers card (Key VI). This grade, to the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, was the introduction to the inspiring force of the spirit, which helped initiates to rise up the Tree of Life.

In another poem of this series, an aubade that’s reminiscent of the alchemical Shakespeare play Romeo and Juliet, the lovers are compared to the Sun and Moon.

A Woman Young and Old

With this in mind, let’s take a look again at the first poem, “Father and Child”:

“Father and Child” by William Butler Yeats

She hears me strike the board and say
That she is under ban
Of all good men and women,
Being mentioned with a man
That has the worst of all bad names;
And thereupon replies
That his hair is beautiful,
Cold as the March wind his eyes.

What may immediately hit you about this poem is that the woman – who speaks to us in every other poem – does not speak in this one. In fact, she is only referred to as “she” in the poem. The speaker of this poem – in contrast to the rest of the series – is her father. She’s left without a voice. The woman does speak in the poem, but it’s only through her father’s voice we hear her: she “replies” that his hair is beautiful and cold as the March wind his eyes .

This first poem is about a father keeping his daughter from associating with “being mentioned with” this man, whom we identified as an initiate’s Holy Guardian Angel. At the beginning of the initiate’s journey, the HGA is halfway up the Tree of Life, in Tiphareth. This tutelary spirit is meant to help an initiate differentiate herself from the multitudes of the world, according to Yeats, to help an initiate find her voice. March heralds the first days of spring, a season associated in the Golden Dawn with its first Zodiacal sign, Aries.

In the next poem, “Before the World was Made,” the woman looks not for her voice, but her face, a term that reminds us of the Greek prosopon mentioned above. Specifically, she’s looking for the face she had “before the world was made.” Notably, the World is attributed to the thirty-second path of the Tree of Life, and it is one of the first paths explicated in the GD initiation system. Additionally, she uses a mirror, which in magical practice is a common tool for scrying, where a magician sets her imagination loose on a blank matrix.

Interestingly, Moina Mathers, wife of S.L., says that the astral realm is made up of a series of mirrors – and the astral realm is precisely where the initiate is brought on the Tree of Life in the early grades. Mirrors are also used as blank matrices in the exercise of scrying, which Israel Regardie describes as

Not projecting the astral beyond the sphere of sensation into the Macrocosmos, but retaining it and perceiving some scene in the Universe reflected in the symbol which you hold, this latter being to you as a mirror which shall reflect to you some scene not within range of sight. And secondly, you can continue the operation by using the same symbol, and by passing through it project yourself to the scene in question, which before you had perceived only as a reflection. The latter process will probably appear more vivid to the perception than the prior one, just as in material vision, one is less likely to be deceived by going to a place and actually examining it, than by obtaining knowledge of it from a reflection in a mirror.

What Regardie says here is that we first project our imagination onto a reflective surface, a mirror, and then afterward we project ourselves into the imagined scene on the mirror.

The next poem has the first mention of the Zodiac.

A First Confession by W. B. Yeats

I admit the briar
Entangled in my hair
Did not injure me;
My blenching and trembling
Nothing but dissembling,
Nothing but coquetry.

I long for truth, and yet
I cannot stay from that
My better self disowns,
For a man’s attention
Brings such satisfaction
To the craving in my bones.

Brightness that I pull back
From the Zodiac,
Why those questioning eyes
That are fixed upon me?
What can they do but shun me
If empty night replies?

In Qabalah, the Zodiac is attributed to Chokmah, which is also the throne of the first letter of the Tetragrammaton, Yod. To me, to “pull back” something means that she is reaching for it and bringing it to herself. I think we can safely assume she’s not doing it literally – that this is a symbolic act. Earlier I quoted the “solar influence descending” from the Golden Dawn ritual, and this force is similar. I suggest this is a stellar influence (which is brightness) descending into the self, symbolically shown in various tarot cards as the Yods descending. I also think that this is the enlivening and invigoration of consciousness that Yeats talks about in many of his essays – as angels and feelings, and imagination – an enlivening that allows this higher self of the aspirant to save themselves from habitual, egoic materialism, as we spoke of earlier.

In “The Body of the Father Christian Rosencrux,” mentioned earlier, Yeats wrote at the end:

when the notion that we are ‘phantoms of the earth and water’ has gone down the wind we will trust our own being and all it desires to invent; and when the external world is no more the standard of reality, we will learn again that the great Passions are angels of God, and that to embody them ‘uncurbed in their eternal glory,’ even in their labour for the ending of man’s peace and prosperity,

– to enliven consciousness through symbol, even if for what appears harmful (if it’s frightening for example) –

is more than to comment, however wisely, upon the tendencies of our time, or to express the socialistic, or humanitarian, or other forces of our time, or even ‘to sum up’ our time, as the phrase is; for Art is a revelation, and not a criticism…

What he’s saying here is that art is meant to expand our minds not with knowledge, but with empathy and imagination. Critics of literature (especially Yeats’s literature, it would seem) should work with their imaginations perhaps to project themselves into the symbols, to participate in them, and to evoke angels – messengers – to grow.

As I said before, this last poem, “A First Confession” precedes “Her Triumph,” and we’ve talked about “Her Triumph” already. The next is “Consolation,” which seems to be about a death of some kind.

Consolation by William Butler Yeats

O but there is wisdom
In what the sages said;
But stretch that body for a while
And lay down that head
Till I have told the sages
Where man is comforted.

How could passion run so deep
Had I never thought
That the crime of being born
Blackens all our lot?
But where the crime’s committed
The crime can be forgot.

I want to focus on these last few lines, where the crime of being born blackens our lot, but the crime of being born can be forgotten where the crime’s committed.

In Yeats’s system which he created around this period, a person moves through a series of stages that are marked by a move toward individualization – the antithetical stages – and a return to the collective psychology – the primary. He symbolized these stages, as he symbolizes this woman, as the cycle through the phases of the Moon. The primary stages are symbolized by the waxing and waning crescent, while the antithetical stages are symbolized by the waxing and waning gibbous (brighter, fuller than the crescents). Absolute primary is at the new moon, while absolute antithetical is at the full moon, when the light from the Sun reflects the side of the Moon we can see in all its beauty. This is the entering into Tiphareth, which on the Tree of Life is attributed to a little death, connoting the crime of birth being forgot, but also sexual release, which we will see in the next poem.

The consummation comes in this poem. The antimonies of Malkuth and Tiphereth (or the primary and the antithetical, in Yeats) console one another. Similarly, in Yeats’s A Vision, when the Will reaches the fifteenth phase, the personality’s Mask is then in Phase 0, its complete opposite, which is “where the crime’s committed” and where “[t]he crime can be forgot.” When the will of the Microprosopus in the Golden Dawn mythology reaches Tiphereth, there is similarly a “little death” at that point: the Golden Dawn places the tarot card “Death” on one side of Tiphereth, signifying transformation, and the card “Justice” on the other. On the Justice card, there are scales, which to Yeats would symbolize a balance of chance and choice.

“Chosen” by William Butler Yeats

The lot of love is chosen. I learnt that much
Struggling for an image on the track
Of the whirling 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.

I struggled with the horror of daybreak,
I chose it for my lot! 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
And both adrift on the miraculous stream
Where – wrote a learned astrologer –
The Zodiac is changed into a sphere.

After consummating, after the “little death” of sexual release, a balance comes, portrayed in “Chosen” (named such, perhaps, because of Yeats’s concept of unity of chance and choice). The balance is a realization that the Lower Self – marked by circumstance – and the Higher Self – marked by choice – are one. The woman appears to have been divining, or scrying, on the Zodiac for her love, so that she could imagine and move toward her Higher Self (the male in the stories): “The lot of love is chosen. I learnt that much / Struggling for an image on the track / Of the whirling Zodiac.”

After lying with the male, the woman desires to stay with him in “Parting,” an aubade that echoes Act 3, Scene 5 of Romeo and Juliet, the scene after the wedding, the morning after their last night together.

“Parting” by William Butler Yeats

[He.]
Dear, I must be gone
While night shuts the eyes
Of the household spies;
That song announces dawn.

[She.]
No, night’s bird and love’s
Bids all true lovers rest,
While his loud song reproves
The murderous stealth of day.

[He.]
Daylight already flies
From mountain crest to crest

[She.]
That light is from the moon.

[He.]
That bird…

[She.]
Let him sing on,
I offer to love’s play
My dark declivities.

Compare this to the scene from Romeo and Juliet, where Juliet worries for the life of her lover, Romeo, and makes him leave. Instead, in a reversal, the titular woman of A Woman Young and Old lets her lover stay with her, offering her dark declivities, or slopes and curves.

“Her Vision in the Wood” by William Butler Yeats

Dry timber under that rich foliage,
At wine-dark midnight in the sacred wood,
Too old for a man’s love I stood in rage
Imagining men. Imagining that I could
A greater with a lesser pang assuage
Or but to find if withered vein ran blood,
I tore my body that its wine might cover
Whatever could recall the lip of lover.

And after that I held my fingers up,
Stared at the wine-dark nail, or dark that ran
Down every withered finger from the top;
But the dark changed to red, and torches shone,
And deafening music shook the leaves; a troop
Shouldered a litter with a wounded man,
Or smote upon the string and to the sound
Sang of the beast that gave the fatal wound.

All stately women moving to a song
With loosened hair or foreheads grief-distraught,
It seemed a Quattrocento painter’s throng,
A thoughtless image of Mantegna’s thought —
Why should they think that are for ever young?
Till suddenly in grief’s contagion caught,
I stared upon his blood-bedabbled breast
And sang my malediction with the rest.

That thing all blood and mire, that beast-torn wreck,
Half turned and fixed a glazing eye on mine,
And, though love’s bitter-sweet had all come back,
Those bodies from a picture or a coin
Nor saw my body fall nor heard it shriek,
Nor knew, drunken with singing as with wine,
That they had brought no fabulous symbol there
But my heart’s victim and its torturer.

In this poem, the woman achieves a state of self-sacrifice in attempt to “cover / Whatever could recall the lip of lover.” This covering is a covering of the written word with one’s spirit, in an attempt to bring others to union with their Higher Self. Yeats discusses this sacrifice in a pamphlet addressed to the Order of R. R. and A. C.:

The great Adept may indeed have to hide much of his deepest life, lest he tell it to the careless and the indifferent, but he will sorrow and not rejoice over this silence, for he will be always seeking ways of giving the purest substance of his soul to fill the emptiness of other souls. It will seem to him better that his soul be weakened, that he be kept wandering on the earth even, than that other souls should lack anything of strength and quiet….He will remember, while he is with them, the old magical image of the pelican feeding its young with its own blood; and when, his sacrifice over, he goes his way to supreme Adeptship, he will go absolutely alone, for men attain to the supreme wisdom in a loneliness that is like the loneliness of death.

qtd. in Raine

The “magical image of the pelican feeding its young” is an alchemical image which is closely linked to Christ’s sacrifice for mankind on the cross. Adepts act as Christ, in that they sacrifice their perfected human existence in order to fill the souls of others. The woman in “Her Vision in the Wood,” like the alchemical pelican, tears the flesh of her finger off and lets blood, the “wine” that makes us think of the spirit of Christ, drip down. The dark then “changed to red, and torches shone, / And deafening music shook the leaves,” signifying the creation of poetry. The Adept here (Yeats himself), struck with every imaginable pang, cuts his own figurative flesh to share with mankind through poetry, which music so often signifies in Yeats’s work. For the woman, the blood is a figurative wine, but for the Higher Self, it is real blood, as she cries out: “I stared upon his blood-bedabbled breast / And sang my malediction with the rest.” The sacrifice is one that attempts to bring others up the mythological Tree of Life through the use of symbol and song. Although the woman wants to lead others to the unfolding of their consciousness and towards living more fully, the last poem expresses at the same time this same desire but a failure, as Antigone falls into the dust.

The last poem of the series cries out finally for a spiritual and imaginative re-invigoration in the consciousness of humankind. The poem is a call to the path which Yeats outlines in the previous ten poems of the series. The apocalypse to which Yeats always points is a call to this path: a discovery of Hermes and his gift of the hermetic imaginative faculty; a journey through symbol and scrying upon mirrors, literature, and scripture; of feeling the highest influence from Kether and slaying finally the propensity toward materialist thoughts. In his “Antigone,” Yeats’s speaker celebrates Love, or Eros, and invokes it to unleash its power to ‘overcome’ all things. This Love is a Love for the spiritual or Higher Self whose genitals the author of the Cipher Manuscript placed at the sphere of Beauty, Tiphereth, which Yeats calls phase 15 in his A Vision. Yeats calls in the last poem of A Woman Young and Old for this love to

Overcome…

The rich man and his affairs,
The fat flocks and the fields’ fatness…

Overcome Gods upon Parnassus. (1-6)

This is indeed an apocalyptic call for spiritual reinvigoration and the discovery and reorganization of the unconscious influences in one’s mind, and to discover the Higher Self upon one’s climb through these influences. The rich man and his affairs is associated with the materialism and desire for power so prevalent in the west. Though Yeats desired for Ireland a cultural renaissance, and desired for humankind to achieve again the romantic heroic age, Yeats faces in this poem the irreversibility of history, and so he chooses to conclude The Winding Stair and Other Poems with the finality of Antigone’s death:

Pray I will and sing I must,
And yet I weep – Oedipus’ child
Descends into the loveless dust

Though he calls for a spiritualization of humanity, he realizes that in his old age he has not succeeded; Antigone descends into the dust, without frenzy, without the ability to overcome and consummate with the Higher Self, as Yeats appears to have done through the cabbalistic Golden Dawn mythology.

As can be seen, Yeats calls throughout his poetry for his readers to ascend the Winding Stair which symbolizes spiritual growth. This growth is marked by a reinvigoration of the imaginative faculty, through which we can overthrow the gods and achieve an excellence and perfection of selfhood, free of unconscious influences (which are the gods). The cabbalists’ climb up the Tree of Life in their consciousness allows them to experience life more consciously and more fully as they “Overcome Gods upon Parnassus; Overcome the Empyrean.” The Golden Dawn embodied this hermetic, cabbalistic mythology, and Yeats borrows from it extensively in his poetic symbolism. Despite what critics may say about Yeats’s early involvement with magic, spirits, the Golden Dawn, and other occult practices and strange beliefs, these beliefs are and were essential to his poetry. It is often remarked that had Yeats produced nothing beyond the 1890s he would today be unknown, but without these beliefs from Golden Dawn’s mythology of expansion of consciousness, the tarot, alchemy, and all else, many of the great twentieth-century poems might not have existed at all. In order for him to build up his own mythological and symbolic system, he had to borrow and conjoin various systems from traditions of Greek mythology, poetry, and drama, Pythagorean and Paracelsian alchemy, astrology, Hermetic Qabalah, Christian Cabbala, Egyptian mythology, and Blake’s poetry to create a syncretic, Yeatsian whole.

The map presented to us in Yeats’s poetry for psychological expansion is difficult to grasp, even ethereal and insubstantial. Yeats’s work does point to something though, which can be contemplated and uncovered for individuals in their own individual imaginations. The growth in spirit to which he calls is an interplay and synthesis of many symbolic narratives, like faeries dancing around in our imaginations. If this mythology does affect consciousness, whatever synapses these faeries fire may be powerful indeed. Yeats’s maps and models, taken from the syncretic mythology of the Golden Dawn and other traditions, guide the student of hermeticism in this transformative process, sometimes called the Path of the Serpent of the system of the Qabalah.

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