The history of civilization is a river on whose waters soldiers and politicians are fighting and shedding ballots and blood; but on the banks of the river, people are raising children, building homes, making scientific inventions, puzzling about the universe, writing music and literature.–Will Durant
One of the charms of W. B. Yeats’s first effort to publish A Vision is its framing narrative, a work of fiction equal to the magical realists who would follow after him. The origin of that frame, though, derives from an injunction imparted by the spirits that the work as a whole was to remain secret. While George herself was opposed to the publication in general, the spirits made some allowances.
The opposition between George and William on this point are telling. George saw the work as theirs, as the product of their intimacy as a couple, at the foundation of their becoming a family, for it was their children that the work predicted as much as anything else. William relates to us, his readers, that he was still engaged in the debates of his youth, still answering challenges from the heady early days of the Golden Dawn.
Notice the difference between those attitudes. George took the work to be intimate while William took it to be secret. What the spirits negotiate between them is a compromise between the intimate and the secret, allowing Yeats to share his secrets while leaving the intimacy George feared exposed.
Intimacy and secrecy are related to each other, but they aren’t by any means identical. They are premised upon different forms of trust and one of the problems with a lot of occultism is that it values the secret over the intimate, concealment over discretion. If disclosed, a secret becomes public while an intimacy is destroyed.
The secret lost is almost always another’s gain while the intimacy exposed is lost to all. The secret is the wizard’s grimoire, operations that if understood can be undertaken by anyone, while the intimate is the discretion of the faerie’s lover.
William’s secrets are rallied to fight a war and disclosed to gain prestige, though they gain him neither bullets nor ballots (William understand bullets and ballot well enough, to be sure). He needs to show all those Golden Dawners in his head that he really has achieved and understood something. George is trying to build a home and her spiritualist work provides one of its walls.
This sort of distinction is one of the things that tends to differentiate ‘magick’ in the Crowley-Golden Dawn sense from ‘spiritualism’ as it is usually described. The spiritualist work is comparably less dependent on technique and tech while being significantly more dependent on commitment and work.
It also gets some way toward distinguishing different sorts of traditions. There are ‘traditions’ that are simply vehicles for secrets but there are many more that are best understood as forms of intimacy. Many take part in both and an unreflective conflation of secrecy and intimacy generates a good deal of confusion and hurt feelings as members of different traditions try to communicate with each other.
It is also atop these notions of secrecy and intimacy that we can articulate a clearer sense of the sorts of disclosure proper to these sorts of occult experiences. We can talk about the issue of oath with its associations to public disclosure and pact with its association of intimate disclosure. We can talk, too, about the hybrid forms of discourse, like the semi-public oath to secrecy and those pacts in which intimacy is traded for secrets.