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
Earths ascendant line as set by the vernal equinox - the more Leo rises
over the descendant line. Right now, one might say, were 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 todays 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 were 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 were 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 were 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 orders 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 Blavatskys 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
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 (Leos ruler) as the Uranian age of Aquarius dawns.
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
wasnt 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 poets 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 poets 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 poets 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.
Its all in the spirals,
which Yeats called the gyres, and its all about spiritual
evolution. Yeats described the minds 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 worlds 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 humanitys 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. Thats why its
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?