Men like him cannot be happy as we understand happiness, for to be happy one must delight like nature in mere profusion, in mere abundance, in making and doing things, and if one sets an image of the perfect before one it must be the image that draws her perpetually, the image of a perfect fulness of natural life, of an Earthly Paradise.
This slender monograph was developed from a paper presented in scholarly sessions on Yeats in 1968, published in 1972, and revised in 1976. In its closing passage, it refers to itself as “this most superficial study of Yeats’s use of the symbolism of magic acquired through the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn” (74). Author Kathleen Raine appears to have been in the vanguard of academic research on the esoteric interests and activities of Yeats. She is the dedicatee (“to whom else …?”) of George Mills Harper’s much lengthier 1975 Yeats’s Golden Dawn.
Raine’s preliminary remarks on the historical sources and general applications of Tarot symbolism are sensible and well-informed. She follows these with a history of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, citing reliable sources from among those available in the 1960s and 70s, but here she makes a few odd blunders. For example, she takes the “Roseae Rubeae” and “Aureae Crucis” to have been the “two higher degrees” of the Inner Order (5), when the Inner Order in fact had three grades and “The Ruby Rose and Cross of Gold” was the name of the Order itself.
The 1976 second edition is very amply illustrated in black and white with images of Tarot cards and drawings from Golden Dawn ritual manuscripts. These are all fascinating and well chosen to support the text. I was especially intrigued by the inclusion of cards from the Tarot packs actually owned and used by Yeats and his wife, even though his was a quite conventional Italian deck and hers was the familiar Marseilles design.
At the outset of the second of the text’s two sections, Raine demonstrates that the Stella Matutina ritual for the Zelator grade includes conscious paraphrasing from William Blake (42-3). Her suggestion that pioneering Blake editor Yeats was then necessarily involved in the original composition of the ritual depends crucially on the rather dubious “if the passage belongs to the original text and is not a later addition.” As a general matter, her analyses are weakened by taking the Regardie exposures of the later Stella Matutina rituals as authentic texts of the Golden Dawn order in which Yeats had been initiated. She would have been better served, in fact, to work from Aleister Crowley’s exposures published in The Equinox as Book II of “The Temple of Solomon the King.”
Although Raine consistently disparages Yeats’s esoteric antagonist Crowley as an author of “bad verse” (46), she did find it worthwhile to include reproductions of many Frieda Harris Tarot cards with long captions quoting Crowley on the cards’ symbolism. She even surprised me by suggesting that Yeats’s The Resurrection (1931) may have had a debt to Crowley (47-8). However, I think she erred in pointing to Liber Legis III:34 as the influential text, when Yeats was quite evidently riffing on the Hellas chorus by Shelley (“The world’s great age begins anew”)–a text familiar and dear to Crowley, who used it for the solar benediction at the end of his theatrical ceremony “The Rite of Mars.” (A corollary question: Was Liber Legis influenced by Shelley?)
The most important element of Raine’s study, and one with which I take no exception, is her explanation of the relationship of Yeats’s magical training to his literary production. I am now perhaps sufficiently motivated to read Yeats’s A Vision, which has been on my shelf for decades.
So when man’s desire to rest from spiritual labour, and his thirst to fill his art with mere sensation and memory, seem upon the point of triumph, some miracle transforms them to a new inspiration; and here and there among the pictures born of sensation and memory is the murmuring of a new ritual, the glimmering of new talismans and symbols.
William Butler Yeats, William Blake and his Illustrations to The Divine Comedy
Saint, hero, and poet are all inspired; the difference is that saint and hero work in their “… own flesh and blood and not in paper or parchment…” (PASL, 333). Their very lives are works of art, because they have permanently found the anti-self, and so, live in an inspired ecstasy. The poet lives in the tension between inspiration and the workaday world. According to this theory, the ecstatic state of mind, immersion in the anti-self, allows the daimon to inspire the artist.
“The other self, the anti-self or the antithetical self, as one may choose to name it, comes but to those who are no longer deceived, whose passion is reality”
“Yeats explains what he meant by ‘passion is reality’: ‘… for the awakening, for the vision, for the revelation of reality, tradition offers us a different word-ecstasy’ … Immersion in the anti-self brought about a ‘revelation of reality,’ an ecstatic state that enabled the artist to create works of genius. … Only when he became the anti-self could he become a totally subjective individual, overcome the illusion of duality, and find a ‘revelation of reality.'”
the Daimon comes not as like to like but seeking its own opposite, for man and Daimon feed the hunger in one another’s hearts. Because the ghost is simple, the man heterogeneous and confused, they are but knit together when the man has found a mask whose lineaments permit the expression of all the man most lacks, and it may be dreads, and of that only.
By the time he wrote “Long-legged Fly,” he had decided that civilization’s state was hopeless. It was time for revolution. He called for “the topless towers” to be burned (VP, 617). The towers, dead at the top, lacked the guidance of enlightened, purified souls, souls from the upper two realms of the Cabbalistic cosmos. “Topless towers” were inhabited only by souls driven through the instinct and passion of the lower two realms.
Greater Feast of William Butler Yeats, died January 28, 1939 at Menton, France
“The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity”
Greater Feast of William Butler Yeats, died January 28, 1939 at Merton, France