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The Scarlet Letter
Volume VI, Number 2 | September 2001
Book Review

W.B. Yeats: Twentieth Century Magus
by Dr. Susan Johnston Graf
Red Wheel/Weiser; June 2000
[Find it at Amazon.com]

Reviewed by Fr. Mutatio est Stabilitas

When I stumbled across this title in the bookstore, I was thoroughly excited. Finally, a book that explores Yeats’ poetry from the perspective of his magickal career! I was not to be disappointed. Dr. Graf is herself a student of the Western Mystery Tradition. While she is careful to point out that she belongs to no organization or occult Order, she does state that she “came to Yeats because [she] wanted to study occultism.” I was pleased to note that the author’s bio stated that, “Susan Graf holds a Ph.D. in English and has been trained as a literary scholar.” As such, she does a thorough job of exploring Yeats’ magickal and poetic career.

This book focuses primarily upon two of Yeats’ least understood works, A Vision and Per Amica Silentia Lunae. Dr. Graf explores Yeats’ usage of symbol in order to receive the inspiration of his Daimon. This Daimonic inspiration seems to be the equivalent of Abramelin’s Knowledge and Conversation of the Holy Guardian Angel. Through the course of his lifetime, Yeats used the symbols of the Rose, the Mask, and the Tower to annihilate his ego in order to communicate with his Daimon. This was done by uniting the “self” with the “anti-self” or the exact opposite of his ego construct. The symbol of the Rose is that of the Rosicrucians. The Mask is a symbol that could be meditated upon to sublimate the ego through identification with the “anti-self”. The Tower is that of the tarot, symbolizing ego-annihilation and the resulting divine inspiration. According to Yeats, “to a man who takes up pen or chisel…passion is his only business.” Indeed, as Dr. Graf points out, he believed that, “the poet had to live on the cusp between an ascetic, mystical ecstasy and an ecstasy of the senses, of women and wine, of passionate experience.”

Yeats is a fascinating character. Not only was he a Nobel Prize winner, he was also an Irish Senator, a theater owner, and a principal figure in the Golden Dawn and Stella Matutina. Though listed amongst Crowley’s lifetime enemies, it seems that the two men had more in common than either would have been comfortable admitting. This book does an excellent job of exploring the Yeats that the public doesn’t get to see: that of the ceremonial magician. If this alone isn’t enough to interest you, read it to find out about the mysterious operation that Yeats had done to his genitals. Were his testicles really replaced with those of some kind of primate? Read the book to find out.

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