Thursday, July 10, 2008
William Butler Yeats
June 13, 1865 - January 28th, 1939
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.
On Abiegino's side a multitude.
Restored by drinking that miraculous wine
to human form: Day beats upon their eyes
Sounds of unfinished battle upon their ears
One sways his head and laughs, another weeps.
Then all laugh out, discovering in laughter
that the dark valley at the mountain forest
Where wold must war on walk, abounding
Grow out of that foul blood, is magical
That they imagined it and bound themselves.
Therein contented with that bitter sweet
But the wind changes and the valley howls
One howls his answer back and one by one
They drop upon all fours, creep valley -- wards
Question that instant for these forms O heart
These chuckling & howling forms begot
Yeats continued his search for knowledge of that which is not written for man to read. But like all things, life comes to an end. His accomplished life ended when the Sun entered Aquarius on January 28th, 1939. Roqueborne, South France was where he took his last breath. A last breath that would be long remembered by those in the world of literature, and the thousands who are thinking with a Western Mind.
S. L. MacGregor Mathers
1854 - 1918
Samual Liddel Mathers was born in 1854 at what is now 108 De Beauvoir Road, London, N.I.. His birthday is January the eighth, making him a Capricorn. Mathers claimed to be a descendant of the clan MacGregor and of Highland Scottish blood. Thus, this is why he added the name "MacGregor." Mathers, according to William Butler Yeats, had two ruling passions in his life: "magic and the theory of war." (It is interesting to note that although Mathers studied and wrote about military techniques, he was a strong vegetarian and avid anti-vivasectionist.)
It was Mathers who made the first English translation of Knorr Von Rosenroth's, "Kabbalah Denudata." This work was commissioned by Dr. Woodman and Dr. Westcott. It was about that time that the first discussions of the Golden Dawn were taking place. Mathers had an additional mentor who probably had the most impact on his life. This was Dr. Anna Kingsford (1846 - 1888), and it was to her that he dedicated the "Kabbalah Unveiled."
Dr. Anna Kingsford was one of the early fighters for women's rights. This characteristic was adopted by Mathers who demanded that women share equally in all ways in the Golden Dawn. She was also an anti-vivisectionist and a vegetarian. And, at a time when almost every male in English society smoked a pipe or cigar, Mathers was a non-smoker. Without a doubt that Dr. Kingsford, as a friend and as the leader of the Hermetic Society, was of great influence on the young and impressionable MacGregor Mathers.
Mathers used two mottos in the Golden Dawn. One was his Outer Order motto and was the motto of the entire MacGregor clan. The other comes from a mars talisman. They are respectfully:
S.R.M.D. which stands for S' Rioghail Mo Dhrem, meaning "Royal is my race."
D.D.C.F. which stands for Deo Duce Comite Ferro, meaning "God as my guide, my companion a sword."
Unlike many back then and even now, Mathers dedicated his entire life to the Western Mystery Tradition and to the magical way of life. He was not only the Chief of the Second Order of the Golden Dawn, he was the author of almost all of the important Golden Dawn teachings and documents. He masterfully took a dry system of angelic magic brought forth by the early British Astrologer Dr. John Dee and developed it into what may very well be one of the most powerful magical systems in the world.
Much of what we know of the Tarot comes from Mathers and his wife. Today, we take the Tarot for granted, but without the ground breaking work of Mathers and the Golden Dawn, our Tarot symbolism might be basic and trite. Also, the Z Documents of the Order were gigantic contributions in the area of magical methods and techniques. To this day, most reputable sources on invocation, skrying, divination etc. borrow from the Z Documents knowingly or unknowingly. (The Z Documents should not be confused with Z-5, a series of books by Patrick Zawelski.)
Mathers was an eccentric. He loved the drama of good ritual. He often dressed in his Highlander garb when working on or with the Celtic pantheon. Later, he would change his living decor to Egyptian as he produced the public invocation to Isis in Paris. These invocations were very successful, and it was Mathers who brought forth the Egyptian pantheon into the Golden Dawn.
Mathers was seemingly very good with language. He was able to read and translate English, Hebrew, Latin, French, Celtic, Coptic and Greek. This, in itself, is quite interesting in that there is no record of him being taught so many languages in school. He must have learned them through another source or in another way.
Here is a list of books and material Mathers authored:
Practical Instruction in Infantry Campaigning Exercise (1884) (French)
The Tarot: A Short Treatise on Reading Cards (French)
The Fall of Granada: A Poem in Six Duans (1885) (French)
The Qabbalah Unveiled (1888) [Originally in Chaldee, but he translated the seventeenth century version of the Kabbala Dunatta by Knorr Von Rosenroth from Latin.
Egyptian Symbolism (Published in Paris)
The Grimoire of Armadel (French)
The Tarot, Its Occult Significance and Methods of Play (1888) (French?)
The Key of Solomon the King: Clavicula Solomonis (1889) (Hebrew)
The Sacred Magic of Abramelin the Mage (1896) (French)
Astral Projection Ritual Magic and Alchemy -(Credit) Original Writings of the Golden Dawn Volume #1
Mathers has been much maligned by authors such as Crowley. Even many modern authors have portrayed a negative view of him. However, many of these authors had connections to organizations that broke away from Mathers and the Golden Dawn.
S.L. MacGregor Mathers, in many ways, remains somewhat of a private individual. No one really knows how he died. Violet Firth (Dion Fortune) claimed it was from the Spanish Influenza of 1918, but at best this is probably just a guess on her part. Moina Mathers claimed he was coherent right up unto the time of his death and that exhaustion from years of work with the secret Chiefs of the Third Order was responsible. It is very peculiar indeed that no body or grave site has ever been located of MacGregor Mathers, and there is no cause of death on his death certificate.
Whatever Mathers was or has become, in our minds, his work lives on in the life and Light of the Golden Dawn.
For more information about Mathers, please read the article The Truth about S.L. MacGregor Mathers.