by Ame Otoko
Question by Steve A: Can anyone tell me what was William Butler Yeats obsession with the occult was?
And how it influence his poetry?
Answer by vicky
William Butler Yeats is one of the many famous names to come from the original Golden Dawn. His poetry and writings were a display of his passion for mysticism and the Occult Sciences. These were largely expressed in various publications (e.g. Your Pathway), earning him the Nobel Prize in 1924 for literature. But more important was his desire and striving for knowledge of that which is beyond what we know and that of the unknown.
William Butler Yeats was third-generation Irish, born in Dublin on June 13, 1865. From day one he was up against a wall regarding his religious beliefs, for his grandfather was a deeply Orthodox Rector in the Church of England, while his father was a complete religious skeptic. With this conflict already in place, young William walked the very fine line of between faith and disbelief.
Being faced with this dilema, Yeats was destined to find the balance by whatever means necessary. This first step occurred after reading numerous text on the subjects of Occultism, the Tibetan Mysteries, Buddhism, and other beliefs. All of these subjects ignited his desire to learn and to know. Aside from his readings, what further expanded his desire was his discovery of a society purporting to be Ancient and non-European. This new movement simply called The Theosophical Society, claimed to have the ability to offer a “synthesis” of religion, science, and philosophy. For at that particular time in human development, none of these three disciplines were ready to integrate with the other, but this is what fascinated Yeats. This is what he longed for.
Upon hearing of the Society, Yeats soon met the founder, Madame Helene Blavatsky, and was very intrigued by her. After many metaphysical conversations with her and many hours of long thought on the issue, Yeats took one of his first steps on his path of occult wisdom, and joined the famed Theosophical Society of London. The Society provided Yeats with a kind of outlet that he needed to express his thoughts and feelings that the Victorian society of the time might have considered risque or improper. After attending various Theosophical meetings, Yeats felt at home.
William felt this way at least on an outside level. But deep on the inside, his heart had another desire that the Society could never touch. Being around others who shared similar lines of thinking was a step in the right direction for Yeats, but he realized that there was more to all this learned knowledge than just plain talk. With the thoughts in his mind forming very strongly, Yeats was once again yearning for more than what his universe had revealed.
But soon after this discovery was made, Yeats also discovered that fellow members of the Theosophical society felt the same. It was at this point that Madame Blavatsky was approached by such people, asking for more. She obliged, and formed an additional branch to the Society called, “The Esoteric Section.” This branch of the Society dared to venture into the area of magic and hoped to prove to others that Occult phenomena is possible. This was the answer to Yeats prayers, (to an extent). In addition, the E.S. assured everyone that they would not actually be practicing magic but would be undergoing the necessary magical training before magical power was entrusted to the student.
Such magical training consisted of the learning of magical and esoteric symbols, correspondences, creating interrelationships between the seasons, various parts of the body, the five elements, colors, numbers, etc.
As fulfilling as all of this new knowledge and experience was, Yeats soon lost hope in this new branch, due to the fact that all experiments performed by the E.S. were quite unsuccessful. Several took place; raising the ghost of a flower, evoking a dream by use of a symbol under the dreamer’s pillow, all of which failed. Once again, Yeats felt that something was missing. After witnessing many failures and only minimal success, Yeats lost hope in this new branch, and felt it was time to continue on, rather than stay stagnant. This led to his discovery of another society, which many of his friends in the T.S. were joining. This new organization was beautifully titled,
“The Esoteric Order of the Golden Dawn.”
The Golden Dawn satisfied Yeat’s need to dig into his very core, and unleash what has been buried for so long. As Yeats soon discovered, the Golden Dawn Incorporated traditional European Cabalistic Magic and astrology, as opposed to the wisdom of the East. In addition, the Golden Dawn encouraged exploration and wielding of power (over the material universe, unlike Blavatsky who constantly warned students against the practice of phenomena and oftentimes discouraged it altogether.) This highly pleased Yeats, and allowed him to open his magical aspirations to as high as he would go.
Aside from knowing various friends in the Golden Dawn that were previously attending the T.S., Yeats’ decision to join the Golden Dawn can be credited to one of the Order’s founders: S. L. MacGregor Mathers. His magical powers left a strong and lasting impression upon Yeats, and assured him of the validity of the Golden Dawn’s Work.
Instead of handing him theories on how and why things work, the Golden Dawn showed him the answers, gave him the desired results, and the freedom and the opportunity for constant experimentation and expression. This expression was further reflected in his writings. For example, his poem, Images, makes many references to various Occult meanings.
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