I have spent several evenings moving between Yeats’ A Vision and a few volume of Yeats’s Vision Papers containing the automatic writing sessions, the dreaming sessions, as well as the card file of material Yeats used while putting the published book together. It has been too long since I sat at a table with more than two books open at once, let me tell you.
There is a lot going on in the unpublished material. I am startled at just how prominent a role George Yeats plays in the formation of the system only to go virtually unmentioned in the final text. While she didn’t participate in the composition of A Vision (in fact, didn’t seem happy with the public nature of the publication), the structure of the system is inseparable from the Yeatses as a couple. That is one of the key points of the system–that human coupling forms one of the primary engines of spiritual development, even and especially when that coupling is fraught and difficult.
There is relatively little mention of the Golden Dawn, though the spirits do encourage them to practice some of the basic rites in order to keep themselves in good shape for the channeled material. Occasionally, W. B. asks after some bit of Golden Dawn drama, but the spirits themselves take little interest in it, answering perfunctorily and are generally eager to proceed to the talk of the system. Of interest in this regard is W. B. explicitly addressing the book to the early Golden Dawn coterie. As he says:
…even if we survive all our friends we continue to prolong or to amend conversations that took place before our five-and-twentieth year. (A Vision, ix)
The material spends much time discussing the role spirits play in our initiatory moments, but all of these initiatory moments occur within the context of the individual’s life, not in a ritual context. W. B. asks after some trouble George had with taking the 5=6 grade, but neither consider that trouble to be initiatory in the context understood by their system. Those are reserved for things like W. B. finally moving on from Maud Gonne.
The Yeatses do seem to suffer a bit from the spiritualist habit of looking for a new messiah or avatar or incarnation of the age. They come to be convinced that it will be their son, Michael. That seems to be part of a broader trend in the spiritualist circles (we can see traces of it in PKD’s Valis), which makes me wonder if it might be either a common deceit used by spirits or a common way that spiritualists misunderstand certain kinds of spirit messages.
The unpublished material contains a good bit of forgotten spiritualist know-how. The channeled entities describe how the medium can understand the nature of the visiting spirit based on the way in which it manifests, whether it comes wearing the face of a relative, of a local in the region where the work takes place, or as an animal. The sort of name the spirit gives, too, carries some information. I’ll probably try and collate some of that for ease of access.
There is so much, sooo much, emphasis on the relationship between spirits that develops over lifetimes. The spirits talk not only of connections made by blood but also of passion. There are coteries (charmingly called covens at W. B.’s request) of spirits united by shared ideals and often in creative disagreement with souls united by rival ideas. Ferment, catastrophe, struggle, and suffering are all key elements that stitch together the spiritual world. The whole process is dynamic.
Let me end with a lengthy but evocative quote from A Vision:
Berkeley thought if his study table remained when he closed his eyes it could only be because it was the thought of a more powerful spirit which he named God, but the mathematician Poincare considers time and space the work of our ancestors. With the system in my bones I must declare that those ancestors still live and that time and space would vanish if they closed their eyes. (158)