May 2003 A Conscious Evolution Newsletter
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Metamorphosis
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Volume 2, Number 5

Opinions presented in Metamorphosis are those of their respective authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of others associated with the newsletter.


Spiraling with Yeats
on a Borderline in Time

by Maria Barron


We live in interesting times, teetering on the Aquarian-Leo axis that stretches across as the horizon line on the great wheel of the ages, still in the pre-dawn darkness of the emerging Aquarian age. Spiritual thinkers who pay attention to astrology point out that major shifts in the development of spiritual beliefs occur when the ages shift. In our time, we see the sprouting of an individually based spirituality - for each his own. It is common for many to say and sincerely mean that they are spiritual, but not religious. Their spirituality is their own blend or even their own invention, and it fits for them.

At the same time, the death of the God of traditional monotheistic religions has been greatly exaggerated. In addition, pantheons of godheads are also still alive and well in faiths around the world. Even in America, where pollster George Gallup Jr. reports an appalling lack of understanding of the basic doctrines of any religion, membership in organized religions has held steady for 50 years, according to his millennial survey of faith. Those who prefer to gather together to worship would say that the new-age types of individually invented belief systems lack the depth of traditional faith practiced communally. Pisces still has power.

But the fact remains, as the wheel of the ages groans slowly across the last degrees of Pisces into the beginning of Aquarius, we have to deal with the changing of the overall tone of the times from the mystical, soulful, emotional, transcendent, All-in-one, one-for-All Pisces into the more abstract, airy, intellectual and inventive tone of Aquarius. As tough or welcome a shift as that may be, we also seem, at this point in time, to be teetering on the dividing line between Pisces and Aquarius - which puts us on a seesaw between the dawning age of Aquarius on the eastern horizon and, over on the western horizon, the power of Aquarius’ opposite sign, the regal Leo.

Remember, the wheel of the ages goes through the zodiac backwards. The farther we get into the age of Aquarius - the farther down the sign of the water bearer comes over the Earth’s ascendant line as set by the vernal equinox - the more Leo rises over the descendant line. Right now, one might say, we’re on the borderline. Many of the tugs and conflicts of the era seem as much a standoff between Aquarius and Leo as they do transitions from Pisces to Aquarius.

Here on the borderline, the dispersal of power promised by the Aquarian age indicates on the one hand a hope for egalitarianism in community. But it also comes with a distinctly mechanized air, provoking somewhat threatening thoughts of being just a number, a cog in a machine, an assimilated being among the Borg of Star Trek, each with his own 15 minutes of fame (or scandalous notoriety) as the very Aquarian-age egg-head “pop” artist Andy Warhol predicted.

Yet at the same time, paradoxically rising over the sunset end of the horizon, comes the domain of Leo the lion king, an animal we tend to think of as more showy than Aquarius but not as brainy. Leo is associated with monarchy, a form of government fast becoming outdated in today’s world, but it is also a sign of supreme individuality. No one is as unique, as special, as much a recognized individual “self,” after all, as the one who rules all.

Each of those signs has its comforting points and its disturbing points. And both will play an important role in setting the tone and issues of the just over two-millennium-long age we’re entering, in much the same way as Piscean transcendence and the opposite end of that axis, Virgo service, came into play in the age that is now ending. Perhaps the 2,000-year-long Christian debate over “Faith vs. Works” ought simply to be answered, “Yes, both.” Pisces and Virgo. Every age highlights its axis. And we’re see-sawing now between them, dipping down to Pisces and up to Virgo, down to Leo and up to Aquarius.

Either that, or the world is just plain spiraling out of control. And there again, perhaps it is both. Perhaps we’re on a see-saw balanced on a carousel that is threatening to buck its riders off into infinity. Or bring us back to center. Or both.

William Butler Yeats, who died in 1939, was a Dublin-born poet of a soulful, mystic type, an active seeker of visions and the acknowledged leader of a renaissance in Irish literature at the turn of the 20th century. The Irish renaissance opened a rich era in western literature that would also be shaped by the highly intellectual verse of American-born poets Ezra Pound and T. S. Eliot and by the works of Yeats’ fellow Irishman, James Joyce.

In the last century of the millennium, in a time marked first by one world war and then by the even deeper horrors of another, the literary works of those four writers in particular revealed significant digging through the sacred and symbolic works of many diverse cultures and religions, as the writers sought to make some kind of deeper sense of human history and the ideas we take from it.

Yeats studied the history, mythology, symbolism and rituals of the Celtic and Egyptian civilizations as well as the teachings of Christianity, Buddhism, Hinduism and astrology. He also delved into the new “spiritualist” movements of the time. For awhile, he held the top post at the Isis-Urania Temple of the Esoteric Order of the Golden Dawn, which described itself as a “theoretical” group that was formed in 1888 by Kaballists, Freemasons and Rosicrucians. The order’s aim was to discover, preserve and initiate people into the western Hermetic tradition of esoteric teachings. It was formed to fill a void after Madame Blavatsky’s Theosophical Society shifted to focus on eastern esoterism. The Order of the Golden Dawn was beset by challenges, and Yeats joined forces with some other members to expel Satanist Aleister Crowley from the assembly in 1900. But Yeats himself left the temple the following year, disappointed with the contentiousness of the group. Later he married a woman who did “automatic writing,” or channeling, as we call it today.

In his efforts to understand different world-views and synthesize for himself a symbolic language with universal roots, Yeats came to believe in a cyclic, spiraling shape of history, and his astrological knowledge also worked its way through his poetic images. Looking ahead from 1921, he wrote of the birth of this Aquarian age as the awakening and coming to life of the Egyptian sphinx from the necropolis of Giza.

A shape with lion body and the head of a man
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun

In Yeats’ view, we are facing an inscrutable sphinx of an age - a beast with a Leo back-end and the face of the emotionally detached Aquarius - staring eastward into the rising sun (Leo’s ruler) as the Uranian age of Aquarius dawns. When last Yeats saw the sphinx, it was slouching across the burning desert while indignant birds reeled above, emphasizing the fire-air combination of this axis. Meanwhile, in the times he lived in, in the real world, when he wasn’t in his spiraling visions, Yeats saw the Piscean tides of the last century of the millennium stained by the blood of war. Likewise, Virgoan rituals and courtesy, the “ceremony” with which civilized humans treated each other in order to preserve some sense of virgin innocence, were overtaken in the violent flood.

The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned

This change of age we are facing will be, at least in poetic metaphor, an apocalypse, Yeats warned. In fact, the poem is heavily cloaked in the language of the Book of Revelation that ends the Christian New Testament. The apocalyptic terminology extends from the title of Yeats’ poem, which is “The Second Coming,” to the poet’s final characterization of the man-lion Aquarian-Leo sphinx as a “rough beast” slouching toward Bethlehem to be born. The apocalyptic phrasing led some to take the poem literally as referring to the birth of the anti-Christ beast of Revelation.

But Yeats was a spiraler long before Linda Goodman coined the term to describe how her thoughts circled and climbed from mundane to loftier perspectives. In Yeats’ poem, one spiral provokes another, and the poet’s thoughts of the Second Coming, arising as they did from his native culture as an Irish Protestant in a land torn by Christian sectarian warfare, are - in the spiral of this poem - quickly eclipsed by a vision that arises not from the poet’s individual self and circumstances, but from what he calls Spiritus Mundi.

The Spiritus Mundi, according to Yeats, is the spirit or soul of the world, with which all individual souls are connected through the “Great Memory” - the universal subconscious in which the human race preserves its past memories. Spiritus Mundi is thus a source of richly symbolic images for poets and visionaries. And it is this great memory, vastly older and broader than the specific Christian revelation, from which the sphinx arises.

The sphinx has awakened because it is his time, after “twenty centuries of stony sleep” throughout the Piscean age. Yeats, who was careful to explain his idea of Spiritus Mundi to his fellow literati, also made clear that “The Second Coming,” the poem, was about the changing of an age in human history and not about the end of the world.

It’s all in the spirals, which Yeats called the “gyres,” and it’s all about spiritual evolution. Yeats described the mind’s evolution as a process of grasping an ideal and spiraling with it, from the central point outward until “the center cannot hold.” At that point a revelation occurs, and the mind shifts to a new center, the narrow end of a cone of opposing idealism, where it again begins its outward spiral. Likewise in human history, Yeats said, the world’s gyre is shifted by a spiritual revelation every 2,000 years. In his book A Vision, Yeats explained that each gyre is a new age and each age begins and ends with some apocalyptic event in which the divine (in a Christian or some other form) inserts itself into human history - creating a cataclysm in history and a new mythology.

And so the poem does predict a supernatural event - one that will jar humanity’s perspective and start us on a new spiral. What that spiritual revelation may be, as they say, only God knows. Perhaps Yeats’ symbolic references to the Second Coming of Christ will turn out to be more literally true than he even meant them to be. The great sphinx at Giza, one of whose titles in Egyptology is “Guardian of the Horizon,” is in fact closely associated with ancient Egyptian beliefs in resurrection. The pharaohs entombed at the Giza necropolis were seen by the people of their time as humans who had actualized the potential of their inner divine spark and had become gods when they assumed their rulership. They were mummified and entombed with riches because they were expected to rise again. Similarly, part of the Christian expectation of the Second Coming is the resurrection of the dead. Moreover, the most obvious astrological reference in the Christian Book of Revelation suggests a time when the cross made by the axis of Aquarius and Leo, crossed by that of Scorpio and Taurus, would be highlighted. Now is such a time.

It would make poetic sense if the revelation that Yeats suggests is at hand ended up being one related to resurrection. Even so, I doubt there are many people in the world today, if even there are any, who have it all figured out, or who have grasped a complete vision of what this new age will reveal. I personally greet all claims of such knowing with a mixture of interest, for the genuine clues such theories may provide, and skepticism, because even the best clues left to us in sacred literature and sacred visions are highly subjective and symbolic. God does indeed work in mysterious ways, and one of the best-known facets of the sign of Aquarius is its quality of surprise.

Although our searching for answers is a highly valuable tool of growth, I think it is also true that we as a human race never truly know until we know. That’s why it’s called “revelation.”

            The Second Coming
            by William Butler Yeats

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again; but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches toward Bethlehem to be born?