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Yeats' Stolen Theory of Masks: The Golden Dawn and Tarot Ritual
by JUNE LEAVITT
In order to canonize William Butler Yeats as the exemplary intellectual poet of Irish
nationalism, mainstream critics play down Yeats's total engagement with magic and mystical symbols of the Tarot. This canonization of Yeats requires an excellent pair of blinders for Yeats filled his diaries and autobiographies with anecdotes about exactly what happened when he used magical symbols and mystical symbols of the Tarot. Moreover, the fact that Yeats was a member of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn (and when it broke up a member of a splinter mystical society) for over thirty years, and that Tarot cards were essential to Golden Dawn ritual, is not usually taken into consideration when sources are sought for Yeats's literary theory known as the theory of masks. Nor is it generally understood that the Golden Dawn theory of masks was not only put to use by Yeats in his poetry,
Yeats constructed an image. he could make “the visible world completely vanish and another world summoned by the symbol would take its place” (The Autobiography 162-163). he was in the esoteric section of Madame Blavatsky's Theosophical lodge. Through the Golden Dawn theory of masks.construct which blocks his biographers from understanding his true personality. Yeats himself decided to invoke the magical power of a symbol himself: I decided to repeat the names associated with the moon in the cabbalistic tree of life. Yeats brags that soon after becoming a member of the Golden Dawn and mastering its symbolic system.” (Autobiographies 372-373). the divine name. In his Autobiographies.June Leavitt “Yeats' Stolen Theory of Masks: The Golden Dawn and Tarot Ritual” stories and diaries. the name of the angelic order. Yeats was fond of writing about himself. the name of the planetary sphere…(Autobiographies 372) "Then. Yeats tells how by the use of symbols he gave to a friend. standing upon a pedestal and shooting a star. After encouraging fellow members to burn a flower to ashes. and a moment later a naked woman of incredible beauty. Before Yeats became a life long member of the Golden Dawn. an opaque self. and to put the ashes in a bell glass in moonlight in order to allow the phantom of 2 . he wrote several autobiographies and memoirs. Some time later. for eight or nine nights consecutively. after invocations night after night. suddenly the symbol bestowed its power on me! I saw a galloping centaur. this friend would pass into a trance and a celestial being named Megarithma would appear to give oracles to Yeats (Autobiographies 371). In his autobiography called Autobiographies.
to attain supernatural powers. one of the founders of the new secret society of Christian cabalists. in County Sligo Ireland. a landscape dominated by a powerful grandfather who Yeats confused with God (The 3 . including the Tarot. and there he died a symbolic birth (Ellmann 99). he was evicted from the lodge for trying too hard to be a magician. a basement decorated with mystic signs. It was in the Golden Dawn that he mastered the techniques of using symbols. Demon Est Deu Inversus. When he got up he was reborn and received a new name. The need to project a superior self began. After three years of using Tarot symbols to ascend paths in the Tree of Life. Whatever the ramifications of his mystical name (I believe the name alludes to the Tarot symbol of The Hanged Man who is made to see the world inverted so that he can break the confines of normal consciousness. but for most of his life in a splinter group which continued after the original society had broken up. and to put indigo under their pillows and to record the images that the color vibrations caused. not for just a few years as critics write.June Leavitt “Yeats' Stolen Theory of Masks: The Golden Dawn and Tarot Ritual” the flower to rise. and was to remain a member. which Golden Dawn members called the Isis-Urania temple. Sometime between 1888 and 1890. Yeats lay down in a tomb in a dingy London basement. Yeats was initiated into the Golden Dawn. asked Yeats to join (Memoirs 26). She thought it was a dangerous insult to devil-hating Christianity) the rituals in the Golden Dawn gave Yeats an idealized opportunity to erase the plain and human aspects of his personality through an elaborate mystical system of path working which used the Tarot symbols. (Memoirs 23) But then. Madame Blavatsky was appalled. the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. according to Yeats. he couldn't have cared less for he had met cabalist Macgregor Matthews in the British Museum reading room. the devil is an inverted god. Mathers.
Yeats 58). who was living with Yeats. a magician or poet. to excite a cat by transmitting the image of a mouse to its nose (The Autobiography of W. Another day he saw himself as “Manfred on his glacier. he had been working for ten years with symbols and magic. ostensibly going to catch butterflies. In his mind. He taught friends and acquaintances how to see the future in a crystal ball according to the methods learnt in the Golden Dawn. which the provincial Irish believe they share with fairies. His grandson was his opposite. Alternately.B.B Yeats 162). Yeats began to imagine that he was a superman.June Leavitt “Yeats' Stolen Theory of Masks: The Golden Dawn and Tarot Ritual” Autobiography of W. During these extended periods of solitude in Sligo. Yeats 9). Yeats also played at being a sage. according to his testimony. One day he saw himself dying a hero's death with the Fenians after battling the British Empire for Irish independence. Yeats 34). the boy Willy was known as a poor fighter who lived in fear of other boys and dreamed of being like his grandfather who “thought so little of danger he jumped overboard in the Bay of Biscay after an old hat" (The Autobiography of W. a magician. one tap the boy could transform the physical world into anything he pleased. He was now able. Willy Yeats became the enlightened one who would guide his fellow Irishmen towards something. and now Prince Athanase with his solitary lamp[…]” (The Autobiography of W. gnomes and elves. the butterfly net became the magician’s wand. Yeats wrote his early stories The Stories of Red Hanrahan in 1897. But wandering County Sligo alone.B. William Pollexfen was known for his violent temper and his physical prowess.B. an enlightened one. By the time. became so entranced when Yeats gazed into the crystal that the doctor visualized a High Priestess leading him through a white room past an 4 . The Golden Dawn satisfied Yeats's need for a system of worship which might further his goals to become a super person. Armed with a horsewhip by day and a hatchet by night. A young doctor. Weak and timid.
A few years later when Queen Victoria died.B Yeats 222-224). “I see a most august immense being glowing with a ruddy opalescent color. The doctor understood this to mean that “a reigning sovereign would die (Memoirs 70). Soon after mastering Golden Dawn techniques.It would seem that this time he was using… can you guess? Yes.June Leavitt “Yeats' Stolen Theory of Masks: The Golden Dawn and Tarot Ritual” empty throne to an empty tomb. Yeats boasts that his reputation of being magician had indeed spread far and wide. the doctor and his friends believed that through Yeats’s wizardry. Yeats writes that he could exert psychic influence over other people’s minds as well. Yeats brags about using a Tarot symbol to send a friend to the Garden of Eden (The Autobiography of W. and meditating on it. he asked his friend what image he thought Yeats was hiding behind his back. Even the rural people of County Sligo used to gossip about how “he could be carried for five miles in the inking of an eye” (Memoirs 76). 5 .” Yes. sitting on a throne. Holding one Tarot card behind his back. a prophetic vision had been conveyed. the Tarot card The Lovers: for a naked man and woman stand before the Tree of Knowledge and the Tree of life in the Garden of Eden. The friend replied. Yeats transmitted the image of the Tarot card The Emperor who wears red robes and sits on a throne! Another time.
B Yeats 230). On another occasion. Uncle George promptly fell peacefully asleep. Yeats declared that he was able to heal his Uncle George who became feverish and delirious following a smallpox vaccination. Though Yeats does not tell us in his autobiography what Tarot symbol he actually imagined. "You are making me see the marriage of Heaven and Hell!" Yeats most likely had the Tarot card The Devil in mind. even his servant absorbed the imagery of the Tarot card The Devil because Yeats visualized it in his mind so powerfully. In other words. Yeats imagined a Tarot symbol associated with water. and instead a river is running through the room!" (The Autobiography of W. Yeats imagined yet another Tarot symbol and then watched the signs on his uncle's face. as well as he knew that the Cup suit of the Minor Arcana is associated with water. Yeats wrote in his autobiography that the bishop represented Heaven. and the lady. "The red dancing figures have gone away. Yeats’s faculty of imagination was so potent that even the servant of his Uncle George that very same night dreamt that a bishop had run away with a “High-up lady” (The Autobiography 223). beneath the figure of the devil a man and woman stand naked. Sitting by his uncle’s bedside. 6 . and when he woke he was a firm believer in his nephew’s powers. His Uncle George then mumbled. Suddenly his uncle blurted out.June Leavitt “Yeats' Stolen Theory of Masks: The Golden Dawn and Tarot Ritual” After just a few years in the Golden Dawn. we know. bound to one another. Hell.
Gonne and Yeats understood this to mean they were indeed spiritually compatible. and to create visions together. Shortly thereafter. From then on their courtship entailed using Golden Dawn Tarot symbols to see each other’s etheric doubles. one of the first things he did to her was to imagine a Tarot symbol. was also shaped by the Golden Dawn. If Yeats's romantic behavior was shaped by the Golden Dawn it should come as no surprise that his famous theory of masks. In the evocation ceremonies. to bring up their past incarnations. a love which was to last most of his life but never to bring him peace. Immediately Maud cried out. he brought Gonne to the Golden Dawn Temple where she was also initiated as a neophyte. Yeats allegedly asked the spirit of the symbol not to alarm Maud but to take the form of a dog’s skull. which developed into his renowned theory of self and anti-self. “I see a figure holding out its hand with a skull in it” (Memoirs 124). Can you guess which Tarot symbol? Yeats used the Tarot card Death in order to see if he and Maud were spiritually compatible. Golden Dawn neophytes stood in a circle around a member 7 .June Leavitt “Yeats' Stolen Theory of Masks: The Golden Dawn and Tarot Ritual” When Yeats first fell in love with Maud Gonne.
this theory of masks influenced his behavior. and in this let him be careful not to identify himself [sic]with the spirit. “Last night there was a debate on the political question. “astral masking” (Regardie 381) was a way of assuming a higher personality through the faculty of imagination. was instructed by higher adepts in the Golden Dawn to mentally imagine his or herself as a higher spirit. which would be dangerous. This masking. called by the Golden Dawn.like that of a child where one loses the infinite pain and hides from the 8 . In another entry.In pursuit of the mask. each divines the high secret self of the other. Now let the Magician imagine himself as clothed outwardly [sic] with the semblance of the form of the Spirit to be evoked. “I think all happiness depends on having the energy to assume the mask of some other self. “In wise love. The Magician. The outward form of a spirit could be imagined or envisioned and then the inner form of the higher spirit would enter the neophytes. “Women should find in the mask enough joy to forget the doll without regret. worn for the time being (Regardie 381). Even when Yeats became drawn to politics and the emerging Irish nationalist movement.June Leavitt “Yeats' Stolen Theory of Masks: The Golden Dawn and Tarot Ritual” dressed as The Magician. When he fell madly in love with Maud Gonne. There is always a living force behind the mask” (Memoirs 192).... but only to formulate a species of mask. wearing a scarlet robe and holding a talisman. Love also creates the mask (Memoirs 145). I resolved to say only fanciful and personal things. he remarks. At another time he writes. and to escape out of mere combat" (Memoirs 139). He confides in his journal.. he inscribed in his journal.
or a Salamander which was believed to be able to endure fire. one could attain swiftness. Be flexible and attentive to images.) Here the moral and ethical implications of masks are clear: By imagining oneself as a Sylph or spirit of the air. short stories and 9 . or a Gnome which was thought to live underground and guard the earth’s treasures. and fit thyself to command the Spirits of the Elements (Regardie 160. patience and all other qualities needed in order to evolve into a higher level of being who would be able to command the spirits of the elements.. This higher being was opposed to the lower spirit in each human being constituted of emotions which retarded development and growth. be laborious and patient like the Gnomes. So shalt thou gradually develop the powers of thy soul. Before discussing Yeats’s surprising reference to the infinite pain which he says the masks are meant to hide. but avoid irritability and ferocity. The lower self in each human being was conceived of being constituted of emotions which retarded spiritual development and growth. but avoid grossness and avarice. Be energetic and strong as the Salamanders. stamina. symbols which run through his diaries. it is important to point out that the Golden Dawn theory of masks entailed an ethic.June Leavitt “Yeats' Stolen Theory of Masks: The Golden Dawn and Tarot Ritual” terrors of judgment (Memoirs 191).. The astral masking used in Golden Dawn ritual can now facilitate an understanding of Yeats's symbols of magician and fool. In another Golden Dawn ritual.but avoid idleness and changeability. but avoid frivolity and caprice. this ethic is articulated: Be thou therefore prompt and active as the Sylphs.
when Red Hanrahan returns to the barn after the abortive attempt at his spiritualization. by surreptitiously using Tarot symbols as they were used in the Golden Dawn. Rabbits appear out of nowhere and begin to run and the dogs chase them. He could escape from lowly human emotions to become that extraordinary spiritual teacher for whom Blavatsky and her disciples were awaiting. Yeats hoped to take literature out of the prosaic world into the higher worlds. dramatist and poet. The text becomes a locus of failure. He will become a second rate poet instead. In my book Esoteric Symbols: The Tarot in Yeats. Putting this together with Yeats's personal documentation. does not become enlightened. Red Hanrahan. I showed at length how the Golden Dawn theory if masks operates in his early short stories and in his later poem. The astral masking used in the Golden Dawn can also facilitate an understanding of how and why Yeats blocked biographers from understanding his true personality.June Leavitt “Yeats' Stolen Theory of Masks: The Golden Dawn and Tarot Ritual” poetry. a spiritual journey full of Tarot symbols which come to life. we begin to perceive that his Magician is the astral mask for Yeats. He could write fiction which was a real vehicle to enlighten multitudes. A school teacher. The Stories of Red Hanrahan is set up as a spiritual journey. Hanrahan will not become a neophyte. "Blood and the Moon. 10 . He is The Magician. Hanrahan goes after the dogs and the terrain becomes supernatural. In this way. who was also wise. Dogs begin to bark. Yet. that teacher whom Ireland was about to produce. named Red Hanrahan happens to see this old man and suddenly the spiritual dimension opens up before him. In fact. the magician has disappeared altogether. Yeats’s main character. and all this is made possible by the character of an old man who is playing with cards. In other words the old man is not only a character in a story." Stated briefly. Eliot and Kafka. Yeats could become more than just one other prose writer. By donning the mask of the magician.
lacks the determining. In his journal of 1909. gives way to the more powerful image of how Yeats really sees himself. all signs of everyday reality. it is a symbol central to Yeats’s psychic life" (Raine 124). Crazy Jane. ruling. most signs of despair and confusion) there are several entries in Yeats’s journal which escaped his censorship. In other words. The Fool in the Tarot. associated with nothingness and the number zero. most signs of personal weakness. he explains how he threw the Tarot in order to know whether he should pursue a relationship with one of the Gore-Booth sisters who were known as the most beautiful females in Sligo County. names of people. from a kind of spiritual fright at someone who is here and now more powerful" (Memoirs 138). and Tom the Lunatic.He even wonders if he has a congenital nervous weakness inherited from his mother.“the Fool by the Roadside. and Red Hanrahan is the Tarot Fool. I turned my mind away” (Memoirs 78-79). was caused by a feeling of emptiness and weakness: “For years I have had some kind of fright. and directive aspect of consciousness which is characterized by The Magician.” He thinks it may come from fear of losing his inspiration. These entries infer that the pain. the condensed symbol of who Yeats wants to be. Yeats himself offers insight into the meaning of the Tarot card The Fool. This lower self for Yeats is The Fool. Though Yeats did as much erasing as he did writing in his journals ( he erases dates. “When The Fool came up." he writes. “I had a curious breakdown of some sort. the mask of Magician hides Yeats's lower inferior self which contains qualities that prevent spiritual growth. He is Red Hanrahan.June Leavitt “Yeats' Stolen Theory of Masks: The Golden Dawn and Tarot Ritual” The astral mask of Magician. It always comes from impatience. "I knew nothing at all would happen. which the masks are meant to cover. a sense of spiritual loss (Memoirs 171). This was to be one of 11 . Yeats remarks in another entry. As this Tarot symbol is often present in Yeats’s poems and mythologies-.
Now let the Magician imagine himself as clothed outwardly [sic] with the 12 . that we will ultimately be able to write a more personal portrait of Yeats. Yeats’s early conception of the mask. Yeats seems to have taken the Golden Dawn astral masking to the wrong place. By 1917. also called Yeats's theory of masks. and it took place in the deep of his mind. Yeats’s anti-self of Magician and self of The Fool had a violent relationship. we can begin to comprehend Yeats’s statement that masks are a way of hiding from infinite pain. But it was not only at night the two engaged in a duel. By 1917. Yeats wrote that when he puts his head on the pillow at night he saw someone fencing him and on the foil was the image of Yeats’s face (Mythologies 337). Ideally. Yeats will frequently refer to the mask as the “anti-self” or “antithetical self.June Leavitt “Yeats' Stolen Theory of Masks: The Golden Dawn and Tarot Ritual” many breakdowns he would have. However. In other words. the self and anti-self should knit together. it is in his stolen theory of self and anti-self. shaped by the Golden Dawn. “the more violent and definite the antipathy (Mythologies 336). Apparently. On the other hand. but this only happens “when the man finds a mask whose lineaments permit the expression of all the man most lacks "(Mythologies 335). While the philosophy of the self and the anti-self. Yeats admitted that the duel was perpetual. biographers of Yeats complain about the biased documentation in which Yeats skillfully crafted his own image (Aldritt xiii).” opposed to the “self’ constituted of inferior qualities. Yeats states that the sharper the opposition of self and anti-self. Through the Golden Dawn ritual of astral masking. developed into a more sophisticated and intellectually elaborate theory of opposite selves. and expressed in the personae of The Magician and The Fool. according to Yeats. has provided fodder for literary critics.
and he did not wear this mask for the time being. But the price Yeats paid for adopting the Golden Dawn theory until it became the impetus for almost everything he did and wrote was very high. worn for the time being (Regardie 381). The agony this caused him and which he tried to excise from his personal documentation can be understood if we reconstitute Yeats's life as magician in the Golden Dawn. so that higher faculties of the soul can be activated. an assumption of anti-self. A systematic sublimation of passions is required. which would be dangerous. he wore it perpetually. Yeats lamented at the end of his life. And then and only a man or woman can control the elemental world. "Is not one’s art made out of the struggle of one’s soul? Is not beauty a victory over oneself (Memoirs 157)? 13 . and in this let him be careful not to identify himself [sic]with the spirit. Yeats's totally identified with his mask. but only to formulate a species of mask. a masking.June Leavitt “Yeats' Stolen Theory of Masks: The Golden Dawn and Tarot Ritual” semblance of the form of the Spirit to be evoked.
Yeats. Llewellyn Publications. © 2007 June Leavitt. W. London: Macmillan. Regardie. Paul. 2000 Yeats. New York: Macmillan. Yeats. 1962. ed. Yeats: The Man and the Milieu. Israel. Kathleen.Autobiographies. 1997. Keith. the Tarot and the Golden Dawn. Richard. Raine. MN. ---. New York: Clarkson Potter. 1961. 1961.B.” Sewanee Review 77 (1969). New York: Macmillan. St. Yeats: The Man and the Masks. 14 .B.June Leavitt “Yeats' Stolen Theory of Masks: The Golden Dawn and Tarot Ritual” Notes Alldritt. Essays and Introductions. All Rights Reserved. London: Faber.B. The Autobiography of W. The Golden Dawn: Four Volumes in One. ---. W. ---.Memoirs: Autobiography-First Draft Journal. Denis Donoghue.. 1961. 1938. The unauthorized reproduction or distribution of this copyrighted work is illegal. London: Macmillan. ---. London: Macmillan 1972. Ellmann. This Amazon Short has been permanently saved in your Media Library. Mythologies. 112-148.
15 . Currently working on her doctorate. University Press of America.com JUNE LEAVITT June Leavitt is an internationally renowned diarist and teacher who has published many books. June is dedicated to transmitting spirituality information and awareness about spiritual consciousness. In her book Storm of Terror: a Hebron Mother's Diary. she is the creator of a college course on spirituality in literature which she has taught at the Overseas Students program at Ben Gurion University of the Negev. In addition to her scholarly work and writing. Ms. Leavitt teaches Yoga. meditation and techniques for inducing consciousness and a happy state of mind. 2002. Ivan Dee. April 2007 brings the reader on a journey where the occult Tarot and literature meet. Esoteric Symbols: the Tarot in Yeats. The affirmation of life which comes from pain and the awareness that happiness can be found side by side with sorrow is part of her message. and articles which have appeared in major American newspapers and magazines. A native of Long Island. June Leavitt's new book. Ms. A distinguished mystic and esoteric scholar.Back to Amazon. Leavitt received her bachelor's degree from the University of Wisconsin. Eliot and Kafka. and her master's degree in literature from Ben Gurion University in Israel. This Amazon Short has been permanently saved in your Media Library. Leavitt chronicles her spiritual struggles awakenings in the midst of a wave of terrorism.
16 . and Kafka Storm of Terror: A Hebron Mother’s Diary Vivre à Hébron Im Labyrinth des Terror Flight to Seven Swan Bay This Amazon Short has been permanently saved in your Media Library.Back to Amazon.com Also by JUNE LEAVITT Esoteric Symbols: The Tarot in Yeats. Eliot.
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