- "Certain things had happened to me when alone in
my room which convinced me that there are spiritual intelligences which
can warn us and advise us," William Butler Yeats.
- The man who testified to the unseen world around us was
not a New Age channeler or medium. He was a highly respected poet of international
reputation who he won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1923, wrote thirty-five
books of poetry, plays, essays and criticism. organized the Irish Literary
Society of London and Dublin, founded the Irish Literary Theater, and was
a Senator from the Irish Free State.
- William Butler Yeats has often been unfairly criticized
as being "dream-headed and absentminded," but the list of things
which he accomplished during his productive life shows the lack of truth
in such criticism. Yeats's desire to be a whole man led him down the mysterious
path of the mystic and brought him into contact with the most noted spiritualists,
psychic investigators, and mediums of his day. This interest in the paranormal
brought him great criticism from the more dogmatically traditional people
of his day.
- Born in 1865, it was noted that even from earliest childhood
Yeats had a great interest in the imaginative world of the occult. His
mother, Susan Mary Pollexfen, who came from a wealthy Anglo-Irish family
in County Sligo, Ireland told him fairy tales and folk tales. His father,
John, a pre-Raphaelite painter, abandoned his law studies to study art,
and in 1876, he moved the family to London where he polished his technique
at Heatherly's Art School. In their early years, all of the Yeats children
were home-schooled, and they were all highly artistic. William's brother
Jack became a highly respected painted and their sisters, Elizabeth and
Susan, were greatly active in the Arts and Crafts movement.
- Yeats' first known works, written when he was seventeen,
were quite heavily influenced by Percy Bysshe Shelley and were filled with
images of magic. An early play, written about the same time, deals with
the conflict between paganism and Christianity and is peopled with Bishops,
monks, German knights, and shepherds.
- As he matured, his influences became more and more inspired
by Irish myth and folklore and the works of William Blake. Yeats continued
to study mysticism, spiritualism, astrology, and in the 1880s he also discovered
the mystic Swedenborg, Theosophy, and Hinduism. He answered his critics
who found such influences lacking in intellectual credibility that the
mystical life was the center of all that he did, thought, and wrote.
- His stimulated imagination led him to study the occult
under a man named George Russell in Dublin. In 1885, Yeats and some friends
formed the Dublin Hermetic Society, and Russell's house became a meeting
place for many young imaginative thinkers, philosophers, and visionaries,
all sharing Yeats's interest in the power of the symbol in human life.
- In that same year, the Dublin Theosophical lodge was
opened, and Yeats, as well as serving as the chairman of the Hermetic Society,
became heavily involved in the Theosophical Society, Rosicrucianism, and
the Golden Dawn.
- Yeats had a favorite uncle, George Pollexfen, who was
a strong believer in the supernatural. Together they would share visions
when Yeatscame to visit. Once. the uncle was taken sick with a fever, and
Yeats was able to soothe him by simply thinking of the symbol of water.
The doctor, who looked in on the uncle, was surprised to find him
resting easily. When Yeats explained what he had done, the doctor passed
it off as simply a form of hypnotism.
- In 1886, Yeats attended his first séance. Although
he became a frequent visitor at the seances of some of the more famous
mediums in Britain and Ireland, Yeats felt that the sessions of spirit
contact were simply devices to be used by those who could not induce visions
with their own power.
- According to some accounts, at the age of twenty-one,
Yeats became so emotionally disturbed at a séance that he banged
his head into the table and cried out as if he were in great anguish. After this
incident he refused to attend another seance for many years and did not
resume his visits until after he had met the astounding American medium,
Margery Crandon. Yeats met the remarkable lady while on a lecture tour
in America in 1910; and after sitting around her table for several sessions,
he once again became convinced of the value of spiritualism in his campaign
to become a whole man.
- When he was admitted into the Golden Dawn in 1890, he
adopted the magical motto, Daemon est Deus inversus (A demon
is a god reflected). He became an active proselytizer for the sect's Isis-Urania
temple and brought in his uncle George Pollexfen and a twenty-three-year-old
heiress named Maud Gonne, whom he had first met in 1889. Yeats fell madly
in love with Maud and was crushed when she married another.
- The psychic side of Yeats's life had a great influence
on the work which eventually won him the Nobel Prize for literature. On
one occasion he made an invocation to the moon for seven nights in succession.
He was finally rewarded with a vision of a centaur and a woman shooting
at a star.
- This could, perhaps, have been passed off as the construction
of a wearied mind after so long a vigil, but people all over the area,
some of them friends of Yeats's, reported seeing the vision at the same
time. This particular incident appeared in Yeats's poetry many times and
in the poetry of such friends as Arthur Symons.
- Yeats was convinced that great truths could be learned
from the spiritual side of man--truths which, in fact, could not be comprehended
in any other manner. To this end he investigated the spirit world of the
magician and the seer, hoping to understand more clearly the value and
power of the symbol over men.
- In 1917, the 51-year-old Yeats married Georgie Hyde-Lees,
24, whom he had met while visiting various occult circles. Shortly after
their marriage, Yeats and his wife began experimenting with automatic writing.
To their surprise, Georgie was extremely successful with this form of spirit
communication, and Yeats filled many notebooks with the messages which
had come to his wife.
- While on a lecture tour in California, Yeats found that
the spirit guide that was giving his wife advice through automatic writing
would also answer questions through the voice of Georgie while she lay
asleep. This proved a great asset in Yeats's investigation of the spirit
world, as the automatic writing was physically exhausting for his wife.
Yeats identified his spirit guide as Leo Africanus. who was actually a
sixteenth century traveler, poet. and geographer.
- This spirit dictation came accompanied with strange sounds
and peculiar, unexplainable odors. Sometimes the odor would be of snuffed
candles and, other times, the thick smell of flowers.
- Although Yeats laid great stress on the value of the
spiritualistic side of man he trusted no medium completely except for his
wife. He remained constantly skeptical of the words of the professional
mediums. realizing the hit-and-miss nature of their insights. Yeats sought
truth above all else.
- Yeats's verse could not help but be affected by his study
of the occult, and the imagery of his poetry is strongly influenced by
the experiences he shared with the uncharted world of the paranormal.
- Perhaps because his era had largely shed the garments
and the trappings of religious symbolism, Yeats had to find another source
of symbology for his strongly metaphysical poetry. His search for a new
way to express his ideas naturally brought him into contact with mediums
and mystics-- a contact that became integral to the body of work which
was judged worthy of the Nobel Prize for Literature.