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W.B. Yeats Twentieth Century Magus: An In-Depth Study of Yeat's Esoteric Practices and Beliefs, Including Excerpts from His Magical Diaries Paperback – June 1, 2000

4.7 out of 5 stars 6 customer reviews

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From the Back Cover

W.B. Yeats -- Twentieth-Century Magus is a comprehensive study of his magical practices and beliefs. Yeats moved through many different phases of spiritual development, believing that his life was an intellectual, spiritual, and artistic quest -- a quest greatly influenced by Celtic lore, Theosophy, Golden Dawn ceremonial magic, Swedenborg's metaphysics, the works of Jacob Boehme, and Neo-Platonism. For Yeats, writing poetry was an act of divine possession, and he believed that a perfected soul was the source of his inspiration, visiting him during times of superconscious awareness. Susan Johnston Graf meticulously documents and provides evidence that Yeats's poetry is a brilliant, lyric narrative of reality captured through the mind of a practicing magician working in the Western Tradition.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Red Wheel / Weiser (June 1, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1578631386
  • ISBN-13: 978-1578631384
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.6 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #895,750 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Format: Paperback
Susan Johnston Graf has done something quite rare in Yeats criticism. She has examined the poets occult beliefs without prejudice, accepted them for what they were, and examined exactly what they might mean to his writing, without any snide disclaimers or protestations of disbelief which usually accompanies such studies.
In the first fourth of the book Ms Graf gives a clear summary of W. B. Yeats's occult background in Theosophy, his long association with the Order of the Golden Dawn and its successors, his formation of several Celtic magical orders, and his later interests in spiritualism. The real core of the work is the detailed examination of Per Amica Silentia Luna (1916) perhaps Yeats's most understudied and most underrated book. Squeezing meaning from this work is rather like deciphering a coded document, because it is written in Yeats's most carefully crafted, measured, and completely deceptive prose. Many turns of phrases heretofore interpreted as poetic figures of speech by literary academics are revealed by Graf to be Yeats's own private esoteric terms with specific, concrete meanings. Most Yeats scholars have considered Per Amica to be an obscure prelude to A Vision (1925 and 1934), but Graf reveals it to be a unique and revealing work, in many ways expressing ideas much different and different from its better known cousin.
The final chapters deals with the series of mediumistic experienced by Yeats bride Georgie (known as George) Hyde-Lees which began to occur four days after their wedding in October 1917. These mediumistic experiences, became the basics of Yeats's new "philosophy" published the two versions of A Vision, and became the underpinning of almost everything he wrote during the later period of his life.
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Format: Paperback
William Butler Yeats is widely considered to have been one of the foremost literary figures of the 20th century. In 1923, he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature. The scholarly cottage industry around this man must be immense! However, are we to believe Susan Johnston Graf, for a long period scholars tended to hush up the Irish poet's most important trait.

Yeats was, gulp, an occultist...

Nor was his occultism a peripheral part of his life. Johnston Graf argues persuasively that Yeats' belief in a spiritual world and the possibility of communicating with it through ritual magic or mediumship formed the real centre stage of his many activities and interests. Indeed, Yeats believed that poetic inspiration is daimonic and comes from attracting supernatural entities. Even his marriage arrangements were connected to a magical worldview, with Yeats' young bride George Hyde Lees being his partner in sex magic. Johnston Graf believes that Yeats and George attempted to sire a new avatar for the coming aeon!

It's no secret that Yeats had been involved in the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, a British society for the study and practice of occultism. Indeed, he was the Imperator of the order's Isis-Urania Temple in London! He was also involved in Stella Matutina, one of several splits from the Golden Dawn. However, after the scandals surrounding Aleister Crowley, Yeats began to play down his esoteric interests - at least in public. Another factor was the hostility of the emerging "modernists" to occult notions, one of the hostiles being American poet Ezra Pound, who served as Yeats' personal secretary.
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A knowledgeable exploration of an often ignored, but fundamental, part of Irish poet WB Yeats's work: his spiritual beliefs, his participation in occult practices and how these influenced his poetry.

Graf begins by examining Yeats' connection to the Golden Dawn society, then proceeds to how his work has been perceived in literary circles and then seamlessly marries Yeats' poetry to his spiritualism and mystical practices. For a reader with knowledge of the esoteric practices that Yeats took part in, there may appear to be some repetition of the explanations of the traditions and symbols of Yeats' occult society. But, for those readers who have no exposure to these practices, this may help them grasp the complexity of thought and spiritual beliefs that drove Yeats to create the visionary poetry that he did.

Graf's calm acceptance of Yeats' occult beliefs, coupled with an intelligent and well-informed breakdown of how these motivate his poetry, is what makes this text a vital contribution to understanding Yeats as both poet and man.

The detailed exploration of Per Amica Silentia Luna (1916), as well as Yeats other works, makes for an absorbing read. Graf does not gloss over areas of intellectual doubt; rather she challenges them and seeks answers to Yeats' more obscure texts in his spirituality. The result is an inspiring and fascinating look into the soul of a great literary figure and a deeper understanding of his poetry.
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