That quotation from Yeats hasn’t ceased to needle at me;, it mirrors ideas that I keep revisiting in my notebooks. I followed the link back to the original source and tore through the text over a quiet evening (downloadable versions here). It’s…well, intriguing but also a bit infuriating. Yeats struggles mightily in the text to come to theoretical terms with his personal spiritual experiences: he’s thoughtful and sincere but the text lingers in the murky and indeterminate.
There seem to be two things going on there. Some of it seems incidental, a side-effect of his old theosophical-Golden Dawn model not quite being suited to the phenomena he details. While not entirely inadequate, this paradigm definitely has to strain to accommodate what Yeats is trying to understand.
There is also what looks to be fairly deliberate obscurantism, the sort that comes from using ideas in shorthand. This gives the material a notebook-ish quality, as if he is mostly talking to himself and a narrow set of folks who know the in-terms. There are also a lot of allusions to Golden Dawn (GD) material. He speaks, twice I believe, of ‘barbarous words’ which form a sort of code for goetic operations, one of the signature bits of the GD’s occult revival. Some of the obscurantism seems deliberate, the sort meant “for those who know.”
While I am sympathetic to Yeats trying to hold to his GD oath of secrecy, the combination of these two kinds of obscurity makes things all the murkier. The book ends with a clear articulation of how he sees the division:
As I go up and down my stair and pass the gilded Moorish wedding-chest where I keep my “barbarous words,” I wonder will I take to them once more, for I am baffled by those voices that still speak as to Odysseus but as the bats; or now that I shall in a little be growing old, to some kind of simple piety like that of an old woman.
I have to wonder if ‘simple piety’ might have been better understood as going back to basics and trying to rethink the spiritual phenomena he cares about in a different light. I, for one, think you can articulate quite a meaningful cosmology atop the ‘simple piety’ of mediumship.
Of course, it isn’t all the GD. That material shares much with the theosophical material, which Yeats speaks of directly, too. The talk of the paths of initiation, of the straight path and the wandering serpent path could have come straight out of the contemporary material of the Rosicrucians…
The appearance of the daemon and the dead stand out sharply from that murky background. Along that line of thought, I find Yeats moving toward the sort of throughtful spiritualist directions I find more fitting: fitting in the sense that I find it more comfortable personally, but also in the sense that it better captures what Yeats himself describes.
I suspect I will be spending more time with the late Yeatses’ channeling work to see if this strain becomes clearer there. Per Amica Silentia Lunae looks to have been prepared before they start receiving those messages and I find myself hoping that Yeats keeps his chest of ‘barborous words’ closed…
Whew, okay, this is all very noodly. Quick, look, a video with some vague connection to all this: