Yeats, Working Magic

 I find it a great pity that so much experimentation and discovery by men and women who become famous in other fields is disregarded and ignored as though by a conspiracy to silence testimony of the existence and interaction of the non-physical world. You see it in people’s non-quotation of Lindbergh’s out-of-body experiences over the north Atlantic in 1927 (though he himself described it fully in The Spirit of St. Louis) and, especially, in people writing of W.B. Yeats as if he were a poet and nationalist who had only an incidental and fanciful relationship to the other side.

As testimony I could offer many, many pages of Yeats’ Autobiographies, not to mention the entire book A Vision and many associated poems, but let this stand as an introduction to the magical world inhabited by one great man. From “Hodos Chameliontos,” part of Yeats’ Autobiographies, pages 258 to 262, speaking of his experiments as a young man with his uncle George Pollexfen:

“Probably through long association with Mary Battle, the second-sighted servant, he had come to believe much in the supernatural world, and would tell how several times, arriving home with an unexpected guest, he had found the table set for three, and that he himself had dreamed of his brother’s illness in Liverpool before he had other news of it. He saw me using images learned from Mathers to start reverie, and, though I held out for a long time, thinking him too old and habit-bound, he persuaded me to tell him their use, and from that on we experimented continually, and after a time I began to keep careful record. In the summer he always had the same little house at Rosses Point, and it was at Rosses Point that he first became sensitive to the cabbalistic symbols. There are some high sandhills and low cliffs, and I adopted the practice of walking by the seashore while he walked on cliff or sandhill; I, without speaking, would imagine the symbol, and he would notice what passed before his mind’s eye, and in a short time he would practically never fail of the appropriate vision. In the symbols which are used certain colors are classified as `actives’, while certain others are `passives’, and I soon discovered that if I used `actives’ George Pollexfen would see nothing. I therefore gave him exercises to make him sensitive to those colours, and gradually we found ourselves well fitted for this work, and he began to take as lively an interest as was possible to a nature given over to habit in my plans for the Castle on the Rock.


“I worked with others, sworn to the scheme for the most part, and I made many curious observations. It was the symbol itself, or, at any rate, not my conscious intention that produced the effect, for if I made an error and told someone to gaze at the wrong symbol — they were painted upon cards — the vision would be suggested by the symbol, not by my thought, or two visions would appear side by side, one from the symbol and one from my thought. When two people, between whose minds there was even a casual sympathy, worked together under the same symbolic influence, the dream or reverie would divide itself between them, each half being the complement of the other; and now and again these complementary dreams, or reveries, would arise spontaneously….


“We never began our work until George’s old servant was in her bed; and yet, when we went upstairs to our beds, we constantly heard her crying out with nightmare, and in the morning we would find that her dream echoed our vision. One night, started by what symbol I forget, we had seen an allegorical marriage of Heaven and Earth. When Mary Battle brought in the breakfast next morning, I said, `Well, Mary, did you dream anything last night?’ And she replied (I am quoting from an old notebook) `indeed she had’, and that it was `a dream she would not have liked to have had twice in one night’. She had dreamed that her bishop, the Catholic Bishop of Sligo, had gone away `without telling anybody’, and had married `a very high up lady, and she not too young, either’. She had thought in her dream, `now all the clergy will get married, and it will be no use going to confession’. There were `layers upon layers of flowers, many roses, all round the church’.”


[He then provides more than a page of other examples of images received.]


“Whence came that fine thought of music- making swords, that image of the garden, and many like images and thoughts? I had as yet no clear answer, but knew myself face to face with the Anima Mundi described by Platonic philosophers, and more especially in modern times by Henry More, which has a memory independent of embodied individual memories, though they constantly enrich it with their images and their thoughts.”




2 thoughts on “Yeats, Working Magic

  1. I thought it was common knowledge that Yeats was given to mysticism. Does your experience indicate otherwise? If you research Yeats his interest in mysticism is nearly always mentioned. But you know, many a scientist also had a strong mystic inclination, such as Newton. In fact, in the more educated circles it seems to have been more the norm. But it wouldn’t at all surprise me if any of them are interpreted through a modern materialist lens. That is always a shame.

    1. Yes, that’s exactly what happens. Just as aviation books don’t talk about Lindbergh’s out-of-body experience over the North Atlantic in 1927, though he described it in his Pulitzer Prize-winning book The Spirit of St. Louis, and just as bios of Hemingway usually slur over his mystical and religious bent as hypocritical or ephemeral, so that physicalist bent prevents “respectable” scholars from acknowledging that Yeats not only was mystical — they more or less HAVE TO concede that — but that he worked magic and studied it. It’s all there in his Autobiographies, but they don’t know what to do with it, so they turn their heads away and work on hot having seen it.

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