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Occult Influence on Yeats’s View of History in A Vision

Shin Hyun Ho

Abstract

Yeats's poetry and writings were a display of his passion for mysticism and theoccult. This view on Yeats has been largely expressed in various publications. Manyof Yeats's critics, including Ellmann, agree that the roots of Yeats's system are inTheosophy. The roots of Yeats's philosophy are in Theosophy, being acomprehensive, unifying systems of all occult tradition, and the first metaphysicalsystem that Yeats encountered. Being faced with the dilemma between faith anddisbelief, Yeats contacted numerous texts on the subject occultism and metBlavatsky, the founder of Theosophy society, claimed to have the ability to offer a"synthesis" of religion, science, and philosophy. After many metaphysicalconversations with her and many hours of long thought on the issue, Yeats tookone of his first steps on his path of occult wisdom. Yeats's fascination withoccultism and mysticism was so profound, and his need to create a unifyingmythology so great, that he decided to develop an esoteric system of his own.Thus, between 1917 and 1925, Yeats had written A Vision, an elaborate,complicated system that is of importance in understanding Yeats's works. The firstversion, published in 1925, was later revised, and final version was published in1937.
In Book IV and V of A Vision Yeats had expounded the notion that historymoves in great two-thousand-year cycles. This circle represents the moon and thetwenty-eight phases of the moon which are closely related to the progression oftime and world history. Yeats suggested all things are subject to a cycle of changes,which can be regarded as bi-polar, passing from a state of objectivity to one ofsubjectivity before returning to objectivity again. In this view he was stronglyinfluenced by the Theosophists, especially Blavatsky and the Kabbalists, who saw the law of periodicity as one of the fundamental and absolute laws of the universe.
Yeats believed that history was cyclic and that every 2,000 years a new cyclebegins, which is the opposite of the cycle that has preceded it. In his poem "TheSecond Coming," the birth of Christ begins one cycle, which ends, as the poemends, with a "rough beast," mysterious and menacing, who "slouches towardsBethlehem to be born."
Yeats's theory of the historical cycle is directly related to his belief in auniversal duality -- the existence of opposite but equal forces that dominate a cyclealternately. This view is in accordance with the occult traditions which teach thatthe First Cause exhibits periodically different aspects of itself.
Yeats believed that kingdoms rise movement of history is an hour within theday of a large movement, and that all these cycles are caught within oneall-inclusive "Great Year" which has a cosmic purpose. The Kabbalah says thealternation between judgement and mercy must be on equal terms. The germ finallygoes back to its root principle, the Unity out of which everything proceeds.

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