A Vision: An Explanation of Life Founded upon the Writings of Giraldus and upon Certain Doctrines Attributed to Kusta Ben Luka, privately published in 1925, was a book-length study of various philosophical, historical, astrological, and poetic topics by the Irish poet William Butler Yeats. Yeats wrote this work while experimenting with automatic writing with his wife George. It serves as a meditation on the relationships between imagination, history, and the occult. A Vision has been compared to Eureka: A Prose Poem, the final major work of Edgar Allan Poe.
Yeats published a second edition with alterations in 1937.
Subject Matter of A Vision
One of the most remarkable channeled documents of the past century is Nobel Prize-winning poet William Butler Yeats' A Vision. Yeats explains how he obtained A Vision as follows: "On the afternoon of October 24th, 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 persuaded her to give an hour or two day after day to the unknown writer, and after some half dozen such hours offered to spend what remained of life explaining and piecing together those scattered sentences." Yeats spent the next twenty years on this project, and in the end produced a masterpiece which contains an all-encompassing system of symbolism which has geometrical, astrological, psychological, metaphysical, and historical components - a model of the entire universe: "all thought, all history and the difference between man and man."
The problem with trying to read A Vision is that it is incomprehensible to the intellect. The reason for this is that it is a message from the spirit world, and as such it is couched in "spirit language", which is far less linear than human language. A Vision is more like a Bach fugue or a Van Gogh painting - or a poem, if you will - than it is a linear discourse. It means multidimensional things because it expresses feelings rather than concepts.
Yeats' theory of reincarnation as described in A Vision represents a novel view of the subject: that reincarnation does not take place within a matrix of linear time. It's not as if e.g. you had a life in ancient Greece and then you died; then you had a life in ancient Rome and then you died; then you had a life in the Middle Ages and then you died; etc. Rather, all of your past and future lives are going on at once, in an eternal Now moment. The linearity of time is an illusion, a falsehood, which Yeats termed Deception (and which Eastern philosophers term maya or samsara). It is this Deception, the false appearance that there is such a thing as an objective reality out there which is unfolding in linear time, which animates the striving of all sentient beings and keeps the wheel of reincarnation, of life and death and rebirth, turning.
The basic geometrical symbol in A Vision represents the unraveling of time as two interpenetrating, rotating, heliacal cones (which Yeats terms gyres): "Incarnations and judgment alike implied cones or gyres, one within the other, turning in opposite directions." In Yeats' symbolism one of the rotating gyres represents Concord, or unity; the other gyre represents Discord, or desire. "Without this continual Discord through Deception there would be no conscience, no activity; Deception is a technical term of my teachers and may be substituted for `desire'". What is being symbolized by the two gyres is the driving force behind reincarnation - the descent into matter (Discord) and the return to spirit (Concord). By "Deception" Yeats means striving. Striving is not striving after something; desire is not desire for something. Rather striving and desire are movements, motions, for their own sake. It isn't really the objects of their desire which sentient beings seek but rather the hunger, the state of desire itself. The objects of desire - thought forms, the phenomenal world - don't have any objective existence. This is what is meant by the statement that "reality is but a symbol"; and this is the Deception. Another way of saying this is that waking consciousness is but a more highly evolved form of dreaming, but it is no more real than dreaming. The belief that what we do when we are awake is somehow "real" - more real than what we do when we are dreaming - is what motivates all our striving and traps us in the revolving wheel of birth and death.
In Yeats' symbolism the cone or gyre of Discord (which he also terms the "Antithetical tincture") is our imaginative, striving side, which separates man from man. The cone of Concord (also termed the "Primary tincture") is our detached, intellectual side, which brings us back to the mass where we began. That is to say, we need sobriety and detachment to truly perceive the nature of the universe. "The antithetical tincture is emotional and aesthetic whereas the primary tincture is reasonable and moral. Within these cones move what are called the Four Faculties: Will and Mask, Creative Mind and Body of Fate."
The Four Faculties are actually four levels of human memory. It has been pointed out that all of our past and future lives are occurring at once in an eternal Now moment. By "all of our past and future lives" is meant the memories which go all the way back to the very first cell from which all life on earth is descended. All life on earth evolved from one single, primordial cell; and one way of looking at it is that all life on earth is therefore one single organism, which merely has different ramifications. Each of us individual sentient beings on this earth are like different fingers on the same hand. And each of us individuals has a body of memory that goes all the way back to the beginning: one-celled memory, multi-celled memory, animal memory, vertebrate memory, mammalian memory, and human memory. All of this memory presses upon and shapes the present moment. Memory is the weight of the universe on the shoulders of each individual sentient being - the record of every decision that's ever been made. Of course, some lines of memory are more important to a given individual than others; some have a more direct bearing upon a given moment or a given lifetime than others. But it must be borne in mind that the entirety is weighing upon each individual human, animal, plant, cell all the time. And each individual organism selects a piece of the whole to emphasize, and that piece is everything the organism considers this lifetime. This is what Yeats termed the Faculty of Will - the memories of this present lifetime.
"The stage-manager, or Daimon, offers his actor an inherited scenario, the Body of Fate, and a Mask or role as unlike as possible to his natural ego or Will, and leaves him to improvise through his Creative Mind the dialogue and details of the plot." Daimon is Yeats' term for the person in his or her totality, "the ultimate self of man", or the Oversoul which is the sum of all of the person's lives in different realities. The human part of this totality, or memory inventory, can be arbitrarily divided into four categories, and these are the Four Faculties (excluded from this analysis is the part of memory which is above the human level - i.e. primate memory and mammal memory and vertebrate memory etc. all the way back).
Will is the socially conditioned person, the robot which is wholly governed by routines and knee-jerk responses; which has given up personal feelings and choices to do what is expected by others and to submit to the daily grind. Will is the Daimon's level of approval and approbation, of reflection in the eyes of other people. The 28 lunar phase types refer specifically to Will: the socialized person, the one who has asked no questions but has bought into society's ready-made solutions willy-nilly. Will manifests through a conviction of rectitude; hence it is completely self-centered and self-important. Decisions made on the level of Will usually do not take into account other people's viewpoints, or much sense of responsibility for ultimate consequences.
Body of Fate is the sum total of this present lifetime together with all of its probable realities. Probable realities are parallel lifetimes which branch off from this one at each point where a decision, large or small, is made. We believe that all we are is Will - a linear personal history, a series of events which began at birth and led up to where we are right now; and from here we will have a linear future. And there is one "me" who has had this personal history and who is going to have this personal future. In fact, there are infinite number of "me's" who had an infinite number of probable pasts, and there are an infinite number of "me's" who will have an infinite number of possible futures. The probable reality level of memory is Body of Fate. In everyday life Body of Fate is the person's wistful longings, ideals, and romance; his or her daydreams and fantasies. Body of Fate refers to openness to new experience, willingness to take into consideration hunches and intuitive guidance - echoes from other probable realities - and also other people's points of view. When Body of Fate predominates over Will people are willing to take risks and to fly with their impulses.
Mask is the sum total of all of a person's past and future life memories in all realities, which includes all the probable realities in all of those lifetimes. Note that each Faculty subsumes the previous ones: Body of Fate includes Will (the sum total of one's probable realities includes this present life history), and Mask includes Body of Fate (the sum total of one's past and future lives includes all the probable reality branches in those lives). The memories of the Mask are what we access in past life regressions. In quotidian life Mask is the Daimon's sense of personal significance: whatever dreams, hopes, ambitions the person holds in his or her heart of hearts Where Body of Fate operates on a level of mind, Mask operates more on a level of feeling; where Body of Fate connects the person to other people in individual relationships, Mask connects the person to other people in group relationships. Mask is what you discover when you run a lot of past life regressions and come to know the feel of who "you" are in your totality; of what you keep coming back in human form to accomplish; the overall mood which informs the totality of your past and future lives.
Creative Mind is what some philosophers have termed Gestalt or Collective Unconscious - all the racial memories which we share as humans, our collective knowledge, upon which we can each draw by virtue of our being human (in Yeats' system we are not interested in superhuman memories - e.g. anima and animus, our female and male sides, which all animals share; nor e.g. mammal, vertebrae, animal, multi-cellular, uni-cellular memory - but rather only the thought forms proper to human beings). Creative Mind is the same thing as the voices of our ancestors, which many human cultures (but not ours - which is why our society is presently destroying our planet) have revered from time immemorial. In societies which "worship" ancestors what is really going on is that shamans, or even individuals, actively channel the voices of their ancestors in making major decisions. These societies use the voices of their ancestors like we use television or the internet. But the people in these societies are attuned to a deeper current of collective wisdom than we Americans are.
The point is that a person's moment-to-moment decisions in any lifetime are made on one or the other of these four levels. For most people, 99.99% of decisions are made on the basis of Will, or socially-conditioned actions and reactions. But every now and then everyone has poignant moments, moments of conscientiousness or conscience or consciousness, when they sense that probable realities are branching off this way or that; or they feel echoes from other lifetimes and realities; or they hear voices from deep inside them. At these poignant moments people feel connected to something deeper than their usual everyday routines and habits; and that something is their true purpose in this life.
When a person is acting in accord with his or her true purpose in this life - their reason for incarnating, then they are said to be in-phase; and when they are just acting on a level of Will in mindless, knee-jerk reactivity, they are said to be out-of-phase. Yeats' life is a good example of what it means to be out-of-phase and in-phase. For most of his adult life Yeats dabbled in occultism, always seeking something of profound significance, but never finding it. And for most of this same period he was hopelessly in love with selfish, deceptive woman who completely trashed him emotionally. After thirty years of this frustrated romanticism something deep inside Yeats decided to stop chasing the fantasy woman and marry someone truly worthy. And four days later his new wife began channeling A Vision. In other words, it was Yeats' decision to act on a deeper level than his illusions and daydreams that turned him from out-of-phase to in-phase - from only wishing and hoping to actually accomplishing his true purpose in incarnating in this life.
Everything that has been described thus far occupies only the first thirty pages of A Vision. The bulk of the book is concerned with a very complex system of astrological and historical symbolism based upon the phases of the moon; this system will only be summarized here. There are twenty-eight lunar phases, which represent the monthly cycle of the moon, viz: Phase 1 begins with the new moon; Phase 8 begins with the first quarter moon; Phase 15 begins with the full moon; and Phase 22 begins with the last quarter moon. The four lunar quarters consist of seven phases each, and each quarter is under the dominion of one of the Four Faculties. The 28 phases tell a little story of the Daimon's descent from unity (the cone of Concord, or primary tincture) at Phase 1 into material manifestation (the cone of Discord, or antithetical tincture) at Phase 15; and its return journey back again to Phase 1. Indeed, the circular nature of the cycle is emphasized by repeating Phase 1 (birth and rebirth) again after Phase 28 (death). Everyone is ruled by one of these 28 phases, depending upon the angle between the moon and the sun in the person's natal horoscope. In a sense it can be said that a person's natal phase symbolizes their purpose for incarnating in this present life.
The final part of A Vision describes a system of world history which divides historical periods of two thousand years into 28 phases. "The Christian Era, like the two thousand years, let us say, that went before it, is an entire wheel, and each half of it an entire wheel, that each half when it comes to its 28th Phase reaches the 15th Phase or the 1st Phase of the entire era." In this system the art, philosophy, and spirit of historical periods are shown to follow the rhythmic cycle of 28 phases from primary to antithetical and back again. Here's an example: "The period from 1005 to 1180 is attributed in the diagram to the first two gyres of our millennium, and what interests me in this period, which corresponds to the Homeric period some two thousand years before, is the creation of the Arthurian Tales and Romanesque architecture. ... I do not see in Gothic architecture, which is a character of the next gyre, that of Phases 5, 6 and 7, as did the nineteenth-century historians, ever looking for the image of their own age, the creation of a new communal freedom, but a creation of authority, a suppression of that freedom though with its consent ..."
- Meyers, Jeffrey. Edgar Allan Poe: His Life and Legacy. New York: Cooper Square Press, 1992. p. 214. ISBN 0-8154-1038-7 and Hoffman, Daniel. Poe, Poe, Poe, Poe, Poe, Poe, Poe. New York: Avon Books, 1972. p. 292. ISBN 0-380-41459-7
- Croft, Barbara L., "Stylistic Arrangements": A Study of William Butler Yeats's A Vision, Bucknell University Press, 1987. ISBN 0-8387-5087-7
- Raine, Kathleen, From Blake to "A vision". Dublin : Dolmen Press, 1979. ISBN 0-85105-339-4
- Raine, Kathleen, Yeats the initiate : essays on certain themes in the work of W.B. Yeats, Mountrath, Ireland : Dolmen Press ; London : G. Allen & Unwin, 1986. ISBN 0-85105-398-X. Cf. Chapter VI, From Blake to A Vision", pp. 106–176.
- Makransky, Bob, “The Great Wheel – a commentary on "A Vision". ebook: Smashwords 2013 http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/306020
- Neil Mann, The System of W. B. Yeats’s A Vision