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A Vision: Key to Yeats as Poet and Magician     

  By Sarah Fuhro  © 2002 - All Rights Reserved


 The Moon as Model

  Astrologer and Student of Magic
  Intellectual Pursuit for a Poet
  The Theme of Opposites
  Yeats' Natal Astrology
  Astrology of Yeats' Marriage
  Astrology of Yeats' Love for Maud Gonne
 Astrology of the Arrival of A Vision  
  Spirit Communication

  What the Book Contains
  Rudhyar's Lunar Cycle
  Impact Upon the Poet
Chart Data and Sources

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    In 1925 the Anglo-Irish poet W.B. Yeats (1865-1939) published the book which he called A Vision. In A Vision we have the opportunity to experience first hand the blend of poetry and magic which had inspired Yeats as a writer. The images and metaphors from this book can be found throughout his later poetry, which many feel is his strongest work. I am hoping to share my delight with these important well springs of the poet's inspiration with you as astrologers, for in stumbling across A Vision long ago when I was a student of Yeats' poetry, I became interested in these same magical subjects.

For Yeats, A Vision was a crucial expression of his integration as poet and magician. The importance of magic in Yeats' life and poetry is often ignored in literature class, but from an early age, he was deeply involved in occult studies, including Astrology and Tarot. He studied and taught mystical philosophy and was an important figure in organizations that sought the revival of the Western Magical tradition.

Much of Yeats' early work as poet and playwright has to do with rediscovering the Celtic tradition of his native Ireland, but there is very little acknowledgement or understanding of his connection to the magical practice which was a part of that culture. We know Yeats was instrumental in reviving Irish theater, but there is little mention of his dedicated participation in the occult revival which took place during this same period.

William Butler Yeats was fifty-two years old, a well established poet and playwright, when he married twenty five year old Georgie Hyde-Lees in 1917.

"...four days after my marriage, my wife surprised me by attempting automatic writing. What came in disjointed sentences in almost illegible writing, was so exciting, sometimes so profound, that I...offered to spend what remained of [my] life explaining and piecing together those scattered sentences.

'No,' was the answer from the spirits, 'we have come to give you metaphors for poetry. ' "  1  (my italics).

A Vision was my introduction to occult astrology and to Yeats' connection with Western Magic. I read it eagerly for the first time in 1964 and have revisited many times since. Often frustrated in my attempts to 'understand' it, A Vision opened Yeats' poetry to me as if a key had turned in a locked door.

A Vision must be read in a kind of twilight state of understanding. I read it for the first time almost in a stupor. Yeats, in his prologue to this multi-layered description of the moon's cycle wrote: "Some of those readers I most value... will be repelled by what must seem an arbitrary, harsh, difficult symbolism. Yet such has almost always accompanied expression that unites the sleeping and waking mind. " 2

The Moon as Model

Structured around twenty-eight phases of the Moon's cycle, A Vision uses astrology for the model of the soul's evolution, and a lunar rather than linear explanation of historical periods. All phases of the cycle must be experienced and reconciled through the acceptance of wholeness. The spirits insisted that Yeats verify the proof of their assertions in history and biography. Yeats' gives this description: "It was part of their purpose to affirm that all of the gains of man come from conflict with the opposite of his true being." 3 

Twenty-and-eight the phases of the moon.
The full and the moon's dark and all the crescents
Twenty-and-eight, and yet but six-and-twenty
The cradles that a man must needs be rocked in;
For there's no human life at the full or the dark. 

Astrologer and Student of Magic

Throughout his lifetime, Yeats kept notebooks full of astrological charts. Many of the charts were horaries for Tarot readings. He may have begun his astrological studies as a student of theosophy when he was eighteen. Yeats left the Theosophical Society in 1890, soon after he became a member of the Hermetic Society 0' the Golden Dawn at age twenty-five. Yeats moved quickly through the ranks of initiations of the Golden Dawn, and two years after he joined he became 'Instructor in Mystical Philosophy' for the Order.

The Golden Dawn was a magical organization founded in London in 1888 with the specific intention to train people in the Western Magical tradition. The Golden Dawn is particularly significant to students of the occult when we consider that, perhaps for the first time since Christianity had separated them, men and women came together as equals in magical ceremonies. Rituals were modeled on the sacred rites of Egypt and Greece, and attempted to connect the participants to specific spiritual entities. Astrology was part of the Golden Dawn training as were Kabalah and Tarot. The Rider-Waite Tarot deck developed from this group.

Yeats dedicated the first edition of A Vision to Moina Mathers, a mystical artist, and a founding member of the Golden Dawn. He wrote in his dedication: "Perhaps this book has been written because a number of young men and women, you and I among the number met nearly forty years ago in London and in Paris to discuss mystical philosophy."  5

The Golden Dawn attracted artistic, literary and political revolutionaries of the time. As well as Yeats, members included Maud Gonne, the 'Joan of Arc' of Irish independence, the avant garde actress Florence Farr and the magician Aleister Crowley, later ousted from the group. Many members, like Yeats, were involved in creation of new theatrical forms, and the magical work they pursued in The Golden Dawn was both enriched by their talent and provided inspiration to their artistry.

Intellectual Pursuit for a Poet

The channeled material which Yeats published in 1926 as A Vision opened the door of intellectual pursuit for the poet which he had avoided in the past, despite having many indications in his natal chart that he would be attracted to mental activity. Yeats' early education was largely directed by his rationalist father. In reaction, Yeats turned to the Irish countryside and people for the imaginative and spiritual sustenance he lacked. When he was twelve he attended The Godolphin School in England, and for several years was a student at Harcourt Street High School in Dublin. He enrolled in the School of Art, Dublin when he was eighteen, and during that same period became involved in his occult studies.

The spirit messages drove Yeats to delve into history and biography for evidence of parallels to the cycles as they were revealed. "My initiation into the 'Hermetic Students' had filled my head with Cabbalistic images, but there was nothing in Blake, Swedenborg, Boehme or the Cabbala to help me now..." Turning to history and biography Yeats "read with an excitement I had not known since I was a boy...and made continual discoveries... if my mind returned too soon to their unmixed abstraction they would say, 'we are starved. ' 6

For the same reason the spirits asked Yeats "not to read philosophy until their exposition was complete, and this increased my difficulties. Apart from two or three of the principal Platonic Dialogues I knew no philosophy. Arguments with my father, had destroyed my confidence and driven me from speculation to the direct experience of the Mystics."  7

 Yeats had attracted the notice of the spirit informants when he published Per Arnica Silentia Lunae. "I had made a distinction between the perfection that is from a man's combat with himself and that which is from a combat with circumstance."  8 Upon this distinction the spirits built "an elaborate classification of men according to their more or less complete expression of one type or the other."  

The Theme of Opposites

In identifying his own natural appetite for opposition Yeats says, " ...my mind had been full of Blake from boyhood up and I saw the world as a conflict...and could distinguish between a contrary and negation. 'Contraries are positive,' wrote Blake, 'a negation is not a contrary... there is a place at the bottom of the grave where contraries are equally true.' " 10

A Vision describes the cycle of the moon as a double gyre, in which spheres of opposites spiral in on one another creating a diamond pattern in the center where they commingle. Yeats mentions "Alcemon, a pupil of Pythagoras, who thought that men die because they cannot join their beginning and their end. Their serpent has not its tail in its mouth." 11   This theme of working with opposites is a necessary step for the initiate in the Western Magical tradition.

Yeats with Sun, Mercury and Uranus in Gemini, opposed by Jupiter in Sagittarius, might have found the concept of polarity particularly powerful. As a member of the occult society of The Golden Dawn he would have had to grasp the unity of opposition over and over. Yeats' magical name, Demon Est Deus Inversus (the Devil is God inverted) underlines that passion for opposition.

Yeats' Natal Astrology

The theme of the necessity to reconcile oppositions is clearly delineated in Yeats's natal chart. In the transits and progressions in Yeats' chart for the wedding day and what followed, we have an astounding symbolic description of the arrival of the book.

Yeats' natal Sun is in Gemini conjunct Uranus as is his Mercury. However his Mercury stands at the IC, just outside the door to the Moon's house, the residence for his Sun and Uranus conjunction. Considering its place in the chart, it seems fitting that Yeats' strong Gemini Mercury would come into its own in scholarship based upon the Moon's cycle. His Aquarian Moon, located in the first house aspects every planet in the chart except Mercury and Neptune.

Yet looked at overall, the book, the way it was received and the basic principles and themes, are Mercury and Neptune territory. Here again we find the basic dichotomy of A Vision : Objective-Subjective. Neptune is about vision (subjective), yet this experience sent Yeats into an intellectual foray (objective) that would seem Mercurial. Contemplating the Moon in this Mercurial way, Yeats reclaimed his delight in scholarship and philosophy.

It's also interesting that Yeats' Neptune in Aries makes only one aspect in the chart and that to his Mars in Leo in the seventh house. At the time of his marriage, transiting Neptune and Saturn were conjunct natal Mars in the seventh house, a vision that takes form in a marriage.

Astrology of Yeats' Marriage

Yeats as astrologer expected to marry while his progressed Sun in Leo was conjunct his natal Mars in the seventh house. At the same time, transiting Saturn had also entered the seventh house and passed over his Mars. And if that were not enough cosmic prompting, Yeats' most recent progressed new Moon had taken place at 29° Cancer, 1 ° from his 00° Leo Descendant. The Moon was now entering the seventh house in the sign opposite the natal sign. Four days later, as the spirit messages first arrived, the transiting Moon was in Aquarius conjunct transiting Uranus and the natal Moon.

The chart for the wedding day does not suggest a cozy domestic partnership, rather a relationship with sudden and electrifying communications from mysterious sources.  As he saw marriage in his chart, Yeats once again proposed to his beloved Maud Gonne, and when that proposal was rejected, proposed to her daughter, Iseult. With that also denied him he proposed to twenty five year old Georgie Hyde-Lees. They were married two weeks later.

Georgie had been in love with Yeats from her childhood. Yeats discovered that his young wife could provide him excitement he had never expected. A new life as husband and father began for him. Combined with the information he was receiving from his 'sources,' Georgie's channeling may have provided the intensity (Pluto is conjunct Venus in Yeats' natal chart) he needed to make his marriage romantically exciting for him.

Uranus was in exact conjunction by transit with Yeats' Aquarian Moon in the first house at the time of the wedding. Here was a sign of deep change of feeling, even identity. And with his Moon in aspect to so many planets in his natal chart, this would reverberate throughout.

Two years after his wedding, September 1919, Yeats' progressed full Moon was at 14° Aquarius, conjunct his natal Moon. During the period between his new Moon at the cusp of the seventh house and the full Moon approaching a meeting with his 19° Aquarius natal Moon, Yeats had married a woman who provided him with a body of work about the Moon's cycle that was mystical and visionary and yet opened the doors of scholarship to him.


Astrology of Yeats' Love for Maud Gonne

Yeats' earlier life and poetry was fixed upon the unobtainable Maud Gonne. Venus conjunct Pluto was central to his image of love and poetry. But with progressed Venus in mutable Gemini, approaching conjunction with the airy realms of Uranus, his outlook was changing.

On the day Yeats met Maud Gonne in 1889, Mars and Venus were loosely conjunct in Pisces in his second (Taurus) house. On his wedding day in 1917, and in 1889, the first meeting with Gonne, Saturn was conjunct Yeats' natal Mars in Leo in the seventh house!! He had suffered through an entire Saturn cycle under the spell of his obsession for Maud Gonne and was now ready to begin anew.  He had proposed to the highly political and very beautiful Maud Gonne innumerable times, including shortly before his marriage to Georgie. Her dogmatism and utter dedication to the cause of Irish freedom kept Maud in firm opposition to all of Yeats' attempts to marry her. Yet as members of the Golden Dawn they would visit each other in spirit form, and claim a 'spiritual marriage.'

All dreams of the soul
End in a beautiful man's or woman's body.
Have you not always known it? The song will have it
That those that we have loved got their long fingers
From death, and wounds, or on Sinai's top,
Or from some bloody whip in their own hands.
They ran from cradle to cradle till at last
Their beauty dropped out of the loneliness
Of body and soul.
The lover's heart knows that. 12

Astrology of the Arrival of A Vision

Four days after their marriage (seventh house) Georgie Yeats, who was also a member of the Golden Dawn and an astrologer, began to channel (Neptune) the messages which became A Vision. Progressed Mercury had just entered Yeats' eighth house, which contains psychic and occult matters, and was in trine to Yeats' natal Taurus Venus-Pluto conjunction which then makes a loose grand trine with his progressed Moon in Capricorn. His natal chart has a grand trine in air signs with Moon, Sun and Saturn. With progressed Mercury and Mars in the eighth house, trining progressed Moon in Capricorn and Pluto in Taurus--a grand trine earth signs, Yeats was ready to provide the practical service required by his natal grand trine in air (Sun/ Saturn/ Moon). He was grounding through the earth trine, information which he had visited all his life.


Spirit Communication

During the ten years of spirit communication, methods and signals of the messengers changed often. Georgie very soon tired of the automatic writing and Yeats took over as scribe, while she spoke the words in trance or sleep. It should be noted that in the first edition no mention is made of the participation of Georgie Yeats. She had not wanted her part as channeler to be revealed.

The spirits announced their presence in a variety of ways, and Yeats and his wife were treated to a variety of spirit phenomena. There was whistling as a warning to Yeats that the communication through his sleeping wife would begin. When servants complained of a 'whistling ghost' the technique was abandoned, but sudden smells were a continuing signal. Floral odors, roses and violets and the smell of incense were the most common, but sometimes a foul smell like cat's excrement would arise. The Yeats were also treated to flashing lights, cracking sounds and breaths of warm air.

The spirit sources were highly fallible, and often mistook conversational comments between Yeats and his wife. For example, they were in a restaurant on one occasion, talking about a garden. The spirits misunderstood and decided that they were alone in a garden and began to communicate with Georgie, much to her distress.

There were also interruptions in the presentation of the material by hostile spirits who were called the 'Frustrators.' They would occasionally take over the dictation and throw the whole system into confusion before their plot was discovered.

Yeats was forbidden to speak "of any part of the system, except of the incarnations ... because if I did the people I talked to would talk to other people, and the communicators would mistake that misunderstanding for their own thought." 13

What the Book Contains

A Vision begins with a long poem called The Phases of the Moon, which I have quoted in fragments throughout this article. The introduction to the book tells the story of the reception of A Vision, and how deeply it affected the poet's intellectual and artistic life. It then goes into a description, based on the symbol of a double cone or vortex, explaining the cycles of history and art, as well as the soul's journey.

Finding the cone symbol difficult, Yeats turned to the Great Wheel and the Moon's cycle as he continued to revise the book. "I described the Great Wheel as danced on the desert sands by mysterious dancers who left the traces of their feet to puzzle the Caliph of Bagdad. This wheel is every completed moment of thought or life, twenty-eight incarnations, a single incarnation, a single judgment or act of thought. Man seeks his opposite or the opposite of his condition, attains his object so far as it attainable, at Phase 15 (Full Moon) and returns to Phase 1 (New Moon) again …Phase 15 is called Sun in Moon because the solar or primary tincture is consumed by the lunar … all is beauty." 14 The book gives an overall description of the cycle and then focuses on each of the twenty-eight steps of the lunar cycle.

The twenty-eight phase lunar system becomes a structure on which Yeats categorizes the men and women he knew around him and those of the past he had chosen to study. Like Dante before him he seizes the opportunity to place his friends and enemies where they belong in a great system.

Here is an example of his descriptions taken from Phase 6. "Had Walt Whitman lived out of phase, desire to prove that all his emotions were healthy and intelligible, to set his practical sanity above all not made in his fashion, to cry "Thirty years old and in perfect health!" would have turned him into some kind of jibing demagogue; and to think of him would be to remember that Thoreau, picking up the jaw-bone of a pig with no tooth missing, recorded that there also was perfect health. [Whitman] used his Body of Fate (his interest in crowds, casual loves and affections, and all summary human experience) to clear intellect of antithetical emotion... Abstraction had been born, but it remained the abstraction of community…"  15

The next sections of A Vision (Books II, III and IV) take the Great Wheel analogy beyond the description of personality. Yeats explains the cycle can also be divided between the influence of Mars and Venus in the signs Aries and Taurus to the influence of Saturn and Jupiter in the signs of Aquarius and Pisces. "These two conjunctions which express so many things are certainly, upon occasion, the outward-looking mind, love and its lure, contrasted with introspective knowledge of the mind's self-begotten unity, an intellectual excitement." 16  Here we have the description of Yeats' two inspirational forces in his poetry: his passion for Maud Gonne (Mars/Venus) which ruled the first half of his adult life, and the material he received through Georgie for A Vision which began with his marriage in middle age (Jupiter / Saturn).

Next Yeats uses the lunar cycle to explain the soul's journey between lives. Here is a sample of the poets explanation of this delicate subject in which the soul struggles to remember what it learns from one incarnation to the next: "I remember a beautiful young girl singing at the edge of the sea in Normandy words and music of her own composition sang with lifted head of the civilisations that there had come and gone, ending every verse with the cry: 'O Lord, let something remain. ' " 17

Book IV is called The Great Year of the Ancients and is based upon the complete cycle of two thousand year periods for each sign of the zodiac. The Great Year begins and ends with the precession of the equinox from the sign of Aries as the Vernal Equinox.  Yeats called his last segment Dove or Swan, and attempts to trace civilization through the cycle of the last four thousand years, the Christian era and the two thousand year cycle that went before. He introduces this section of A Vision with his poem, Leda and the Swan. Many of Yeats' poems of this period contain his contrast between Pagan and Christian thought and imagery. Here we find the occult source for his distinction.


Rudhyar's Lunar Cycle

Comparing Rudhyar's The Lunation Cycle to A Vision is intriguing. The Lunation Cycle uses the number of degrees in relationship between the Sun and the Moon as a way of tracing the pattern of the lunar cycle, while Yeats uses the twenty eight day model. But the description of a cycle which builds, maintains, and then falls apart, of a journey into, through and out of consciousness, is very similar. I am curious to know whether Rudhyar found a source for his ideas in A Vision.

Impact Upon the Poet

Yeats received A Vision as he entered the waning phase of his life. He chose to integrate his life as poet, magician and public servant of the newly independent Ireland.

And after that the crumbling of the moon:
The soul remembering its loneliness
Shudders in many cradles; all is changed.
It would be the world's servant, and as it serves,
Choosing whatever task's most difficult
Among the tasks not impossible, it takes
Upon the body and upon the soul
The coarseness of the drudge
Before the full
It sought itself and afterwards the world. 18

 A decade after the messages began, Lady Gregory said to Yeats: " 'You are a much better educated man than you were ten years ago and much more powerful in argument.' And I put The Tower and The Winding Stair into evidence to show that my poetry has gained in self-possession and power. I owe this change to an incredible experience." 19 This 'incredible experience' was the reception and creation of A Vision.

Despite bouts with serious illness, this was a time of tremendous vitality and productive fervor for Yeats. He won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1923, continued his relationship with the disintegrating Golden Dawn, became a senator of the Irish Free State, and traveled widely. He published four books of poetry while receiving the spirit material: The Wild Swans at Coole, Michael Robartes and the Dancer, The Tower and The Winding Stair. The poet revised A Vision throughout his lifetime. Each edition contains changes in his beliefs about the material.

I hope someday it will no longer be an obscure fact that the Nobel Prize winning poet, Yeats, who many believe to the greatest poet in the English language of the twentieth century, was a well trained astrologer and occultist, and that he gave his magical training full credit as source and inspiration for his poetry. Yeats never made any secret of this interest in the occult. In 1925 he wrote: "If I had not made magic my constant study I could not have written a single line …The mystical life is the centre of all that I do and all that I think and all that I write." 20

Sing me the changes of the moon once more:
True song, though speech: 'mine author sung it me.' 21
Sing out the song: sing to the end, and sing
The strange reward of all that discipline.  22



1  W. B. Yeats, A Vision, The MacMillan Co., 1961, p. 8
2  W. B. Yeats, A Vision, 1961, p. 23
3  W. B. Yeats, A Vision, p. 13
4  W. B. Yeats, A Vision, p. 60
5  W. B. Yeats, A Vision, 1925 dedication
6  W. B. Yeats, A Vision, p. 12
7  W. B. Yeats, A Vision, p. 12
8  W. B. Yeats, A Vision, p. 8
9  W. B. Yeats, A Vision, p. 8
10 W. B. Yeats, A Vision, p. 72
11 W. B. Yeats, A Vision, pp 68-69
12 W. B. Yeats, A Vision, p. 61
13 W. B. Yeats, A Vision, p. 12
14 W. B. Yeats, A Vision, pp 80-83
15 W. B. Yeats, A Vision, pp 113-114
16 W. B. Yeats, A Vision, p. 207
17 W. B. Yeats, A Vision, p. 220.
18 W. B. Yeats, A Vision, p. 8
19 W. B. Yeats, A Vision, p. 8.
20 Yeats, Letter to Sturge-Moore, 1925.
21 W. B. Yeats, A Vision, p. 60
22 W. B. Yeats, A Vision, p. 61

Chart Data and Sources
William Butler Yeats, June 13, 1865; 10:40 PM LMT; 23:05 GMT Dublin 53 N 20 6W15, from family Bible.

Wedding day chart, October 20, 1917, London. I chose 1:00 pm for the time.

Source for the date: several biographical chronologies and Yeats' introduction to A Vision in which says, "On the afternoon of October 24th 1917, four days after my marriage…..W.B. Yeats, A Vision, 1961 Macmillan p. 8. I include the data from Mary K. Greer, Women of the Golden Dawn, Park Street Press, 1995, p xx.
First meeting with Maud Gonne, January 30, 1889, London. I chose noon for time. Date quoted in several biographical sources. W.B. Yeats, The Celtic Twilight, Signet Classic, 1962, introduction by Walter Starkie, p. xv. and Mary K. Greer, Women of the Golden Dawn, Park Street Press, 1995, p. xvi.

Click below for charts to view or print

NOTE: printed charts should be clearer than the on-line version


#1 - W.B. Yeats - Natal Chart

#2 - Maud Gonne - Natal Chart

#3 - First Meeting with Maud Gonne - January 30, 1889

#4 - Wedding - October 20, 1917


NOTE:  At the present time, A Vision is no longer in print. However, it can easily be found in libraries and second hand book stores.

Sarah Fuhro combines her training as an  Astrologer and Flower Essence Practitioner in a healing art which she calls Star-Flower Alchemy.  You can reach her at 508-652-9881 or through her web site at http://members.aol.com/sarahbeagl

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