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Esoteric and Occult Background


Vedanta and Theosophy

Lower Triangle

Of the two triangles which compose the "Seal of Solomon" the upper represents the unmanifest world of pure spirit, and the knowledge of it was reserved for initiates of a high grade, the elect, or illuminated, and is the subject of Mysticism; the lower, which represents the manifest universe, is the province of Occultism. The central part is a hexagon, which is bisected vertically and horizontally, by a cross, the beams of which are called respectively the Tree of Life and the Tree of Knowledge.
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To the lower triangle belong the lesser mysteries, those of natural evolution. These were set forth in the Eleusinian Mysteries, under the parable of the Rape of Proserpine, who represents the world-soul lapsing from the celestial abodes into materiality, and becoming subject to Karma or Fate, personified by Hecate. The abodes of the soul which are in this triangle are seven in number.

from The Credo of Christendom (104-06)

Anna Kingsford, the Hermetic Society and Esoteric Christianity

Although Yeats was generally uninterested in Christian orthodoxy, he probably found the tradition more sympathetic in the form expressed by Anna Kingsford and her collaborator Edward Maitland, which does not claim that Christianity is the only true religion, includes hymns to planetary deities, and where Christ is regarded as a principle of perfection within every person, rather than the necessary sacrifice to atone for the sins of humanity.

Together with Maitland, Anna Kingsford wrote The Perfect Way; or, the Finding of Christ as a series of lectures, first published anonymously in 1882. Its authorship was no secret in Theosophical circles, and did not pose any difficulty to her being made President of the Theosophical Society in 1883, even though she was not a Fellow. Her bias was towards a Western, Christian and Hermetic esotericism, rather than the Oriental one that was favoured by Blavatsky and A. P. Sinnett. As President she issued a pamphlet criticising Esoteric Buddhism, which initiated a pamphlet war involving, among others, Subba Row. Sinnett had returned to Britain shortly before Kingsford became President, effectively leading an opposition to her, and within a year the two tendencies had split peacefully in order to avoid schism, with Kingsford in charge of an offshoot Hermetic Society. When Maitland and she came to write the preface to the second edition of The Perfect Way in 1886, acknowledging authorship, they stressed its Occidental character, scientific and historical, claiming that it represented both an attempt ‘to ascertain at first hand the nature and method of existence’ and also a recovery of ‘that which constituted the basic and secret doctrine of all the great religions of antiquity, including Christianity,-the doctrine commonly called Gnosis, and variously entitled Hermetic and Kabbalistic’. Kingsford had received the revelations that were assembled into The Perfect Way in trance and sleep, and after her death in 1888, Maitland published them in a more fragmentary and personal form, closer to the original records, as ‘Clothed with the Sun’ being the Book of the Illuminations of Anna (Bonus) Kingsford (1889; another site’s on-line text of ‘Clothed with the Sun’ is available here). A collection of her essays and lectures, collected posthumously, The Credo of Christendom and other Addresses and Essays on Esoteric Christianity (1916), was in the Yeatses’ library.

Upper Triangle
The abodes of the Gods, which are in the upper [triangle], are nine. The lower represents the world of generation; the upper, the world of emanation. Each triangle has a macrocosmic and a microcosmic signification; for all that is in nature is equally in man. So that the ‘Seal of Solomon’ is the epitome and key alike of the universal and of the individual.
      It has twelve gates, or meanings, varying according to the plane on which it is examined. In its broadest signification the upper triangle represents spirit; the lower, matter. The upper is eternity; the lower, time. The upper is God; the lower, Nature. The upper is the unmanifest, the abstract, the uncreate, the absolute, the primary, the real. The lower is the manifest, the concrete, the create, the relative, the derivative, the reflect.
(The Credo of Christendom, 106)

In their teaching, which includes the doctrine of reincarnation, ‘man is possessed of a fourfold nature . . . . the material body, the fluidic perisoul or astral body, the soul or individual, and the spirit, or divine Father and life of his system’, and the personal goal of existence is ‘that divine marriage between soul and spirit, which occurring in the individual, constitutes his final perfection, or Nirvâna. There are clear affinities with the division adopted by Yeats of Husk, Passionate Body, Spirit and Celestial Body respectively and it is arguable that, in a more conventional interpretation of the System underlying A Vision, the marriage of Spirit and Celestial Body as in the Beatitude is the goal. Further, Kingsford and Maitland propose that, ‘This fourfold nature is itself included in a dual personality. Consisting of male and female, Reason and Intuition, Man is, in this sense, a twofold being. But the masculine moiety comprises the dualism of Sense and Intellect; and the feminine moiety, the dualism of Soul and Perception’, which could almost be viewed as one-word explanations of the Yeatses’ Principles: Husk (Sense), Spirit (Intellect), Celestial Body (Soul) and Passionate Body (Perception), albeit paired differently.

Another striking feature of Kingsford and Maitland’s scheme is that it posits that: ‘Every human spirit-soul has attached to him a genius or daimon, as with Socrates; a ministering spirit, as with the apostles; or an angel, as with Jesus’; she favours the term genius, though her own genius, who resembled Dante, preferred ‘minister’, but discounted ‘the term angel because it is misinterpreted’. She explains that, ‘The genius is linked to his client by a bond of soul-substance’ (CWTS 58) and ‘is the moon to the planet man, reflecting to him the sun, or God, within him’ (CWTS 61), thereby lighting up ‘the dark places of his planet’ (CWTS 60). His light is trustworthy, since it is reflected from God, but his actual knowledge is limited, since the ‘genius knows well only the things relating to the person to whom he ministers. About other things he has opinions only’ (CWTS 61). On a personal level, the ‘genius of each one knows about another person only so much as that other’s genius chooses to reveal’ which indicates that the genius’s knowledge is available either from its charge or from other genii, but not from the phenomenal world in general (CWTS 61). Such descriptions show clearly that, although angelic in certain senses, Kingsford’s genius is bound more to his human counterpart than any higher realm, and is in his own way as restricted as his human planet.

The goal of the human in this system is to unite the divine spirit with the soul, and to recover the soul’s memory, through ‘a three-fold operation,-that of the soul herself, of the moon, and of the sun’, and this is finally achieved in ‘what, mystically, is called the ‘marriage of the hierophant’’, at which stage ‘the office of the genius is ended’ (CWTS 62). Like Yeats’s Daimon the role of Kingsford’s genius lies in the part of the human mind that is in the dark, but involves illuminating and bringing light to it, rather than challenging and bringing it to crisis. Kingsford’s genius shares with Yeats’s Daimon the idea that it exists as a complement to its client, but differs insofar as it is not the antithesis of its charge. Eventually the human will no longer need the attentions of the genius, however, as long as there is darkness within the soul, it still has need of the Daimon and the reflected lunar light guides it onwards:

he Divine Spirit and the genius, therefore, are not to be regarded as diverse, nor yet as identical. The genius is flame, and is celestial; that is he is spirit, and one in nature with the Divine; for his light is the divine light. He is as a glass, as a cord, as a bond between the soul and her divine part. . . . In the celestial plane, all things are personal. And therefore the bond between the soul and spirit is a person. (CWTS 65)
The Seal of Solomon as Pattern of Christ's Life

Reproduction from a rough drawing by Anna Kingsford shewing the seven Stations, States, or Acts of the Human Soul comprising the Lower Triangle of the Sacred Hexagram or ‘Seal of Solomon,’ and representing the interior evolution of such Soul.
from The Credo of Christendom (frontispiece).

The genius is different from perfected humanity, since the ‘divine light, indeed, is white, being seven in one. But the genius is a flame of a single colour only. And this colour he takes from the soul’. Once the soul and spirit are united, the flame of the genius is united to the dyad, bringing the specific rainbow colour in the ‘tincture of this flame’ to their white light (CWTS 65). Important, however, is the paradoxical relationship between the genius and Godhead, so that, although the genius is not ‘diverse’ and participates in the perfection of the One, neither is it an ‘identical’ or complete reflection, being tinctured, pure but partial. Similarly significant, and foreshadowing Yeats’s conception of a living universe, is Kingsford’s assertion that at a celestial level ‘all things are personal’, so that everything that exists on this plane is a being or person, and in her conception the genius can be regarded as the personification of the bond between soul and spirit.

When Yeats writes that at the completion of incarnation, the Daimon is ‘Full Moon and [the human] Full Sun’ (AV A 221), the image recalls Anna Kingsford’s comparison of human and genius to planet and moon, and the supersession of their relationship once the human is perfected through the genius’s help, but he adds the antinomious twist that, viewed through our distorting perspective of the mundane the relationship appears to be that the human ‘is Moon and [the Daimon] the Sun’ (AV A 221).

Kingsford, in a way that Yeats might have been embarrassed to do, not least because of the rhapsodic prose, saw the poet as ‘the highest type of mankind on earth’, having ‘no self apart from his larger self’, so that ‘the personality of the poet is divine: and being divine, it hath no limits’; yet, Yeats’s own System ultimately values the antithetical above the primary, and the creativity of the poet above other antithetical activities. Harper speculates that Yeats’s reference to joining the ‘Hermetic Students’ in 1887 (Au 183) may indicate that he had been a member of a group ‘associated with or an outgrowth of the Hermetic Society’, but Kingsford’s Christianity, however Gnostic or unorthodox, was not attractive to him as a basis for belief, though he is constantly drawn to iconography and stories of the religion, so inextricably bound up in European culture and thought, even with echoes of ‘the simple-minded religion’ of his childhood (Au 115). In plays such as Calvary (1920) and The Resurrection (1931) he shows a deep engagement with Christian thought, and the Automatic Script contains many unused references to Jesus Christ’s life as a pattern for the Wheel of an individual life. In A Vision itself he refers to the Spirit in terms of the Christ-principle in his description of the Beatitude in the after-life and, though he balances the historical Jesus Christ with an antithetical opposite, he recognises his crucial role within the scheme of the epochs.

The consideration of the Golden Dawn follows on from this page:

The Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn

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The following short article by Kingsford gives a good idea of her thought and approach, not least in the rather confused objectives of the article itself. It is also interesting to the student of Yeats and A Vision for a variety of reasons: for her claim to inspired source, her idea of a fourfold division of the human being, and her ideas about the after-life. Many details are also thought-provoking, her references to masks, to the pantomime of Commedia dell’Arte, her interpretation of the symbolism of thirteen as the perfect number, and her uses of such words as ‘Tinctures’, and beatitude and Marriage with reference to the union of the two highest principles.
The Constitution of Man
(Article by Anna Kingsford from Light, 1882, republished in The Credo of Christendom, 184-90, with additional footnotes omitted.)

There is, generally, so much misapprehension as to the modus operandi of the soul’s progress, and consequently, so much warm contention between two sections of Spiritualists on the question, that I am moved, contrary to my custom, to write for public reading a brief recapitulation of the ancient and true doctrine on this important subject. This doctrine I first received, not from any extraneous or obsessing ‘spirit’ or ‘control,’ but from the divine and interior Spirit, concerning whom something will be said in this paper. Subsequently, I discovered that the revelation thus made to me was not new, but was contained and formulated in the Hebrew Kabalah, in Hindû philosophy, and not less clearly in the mysteries of Egypt and of Greece. Man is a twofold being, comprising in himself a celestial and terrestrial personality. The inner person—the celestial—is dual, and this duality is composed of Soul and Spirit. The outer personality is also dual, and is terrestrial and evanescent. Its component parts are Body and astral Shade. In the Kabalah the three first of these constituent elements of man are named, from within outwards—Jechidah (or Chokhmah), Neschamah, and Ruach—the anima bruta—of which last, the outer portion, or shade, is termed Nephesch.

        The four constituent elements of human nature reappear under many symbols throughout all sacred scriptures. In Genesis, they are first allegorised as Four Rivers, whose names, to an initiate, are sufficiently significative, and in Ezekiel and the Apocalypse they are figured as the Four Faces of the Living Creature; of which faces that of the eagle represents the Spirit (Jechidah); that of the angel or woman, the soul (Neschamah); that of the lion, the astral or mundane spirit (Ruach and Nephesch); and that of the ox, the body.

        In the Egyptian and Greek Mysteries, these four characters were the Personæ or Masks of the Sacred Drama represented in the cavern temples where the rites of initiation were performed. This sacred drama, it need hardly be said, formed the pattern and prototype of the mystery play of early Christian times, which, so late as the seventeenth century, was still continued in Catholic countries. These sacred plays, whether ‘pagan’ or Christian, were represented in pantomime, that is, by gesture only, and they took place at the festival of the Sun’s Birth, whether as Mithras, Bacchus, or Christ. They are still continued in our day, vulgarised as Christmas pantomime, but preserving, nevertheless with marvellous exactness, every detail and every accessory of their sacred original.

        The four characters are familiar to us as Harlequin (the Spirit); Columbine (the soul)—these two representing the celestial duality; Clown (the mundane spirit); and Pantaloon (the body)—these last two representing the outer or terrestrial dualism.

        Harlequin, like his ancient prototype, is always masked, and supposed therefore to be invisible and nameless. He wears a glittering dress of many hues, typical of the Heavenly Bow, or seven Divine Spirits and their several Tinctures. He carries a bâton or rod, the well-known Rod of sacred Mythos, the symbol of Divine will and power. With this rod he accomplishes any transformation he desires. By striking objects with it he converts their appearances, and removes or displaces them. The wills of persons with who he comes in contact are amenable to its control, and at the desire of its owner they acquire new perceptions or lose their senses. Harlequin’s spouse, Columba—the dove or human soul—is his inseparable companion. She is beautiful, aerial, and obedient to all his directions, but, unless with the rod of her spouse, she can herself work no wonders. He is the shining One, the all-pervading, the all-powerful; she is his faithful and lovely counterpart, Divine only in being his.

        The astral or mundane spirit is represented by the Clown, whose characteristics are, unlike those of the celestial pair, of a wholly material order. He is adroit, cunning, worldly-wise, and humorous. There is nothing spiritual or Divine about him; he has no power of transmutation, and all his machinations are adapted to low or gross objects. In short, he is the faithful presentation of the earthly mind. His proper colour is red, as is that of the lion, whose part he fills. This personage controls and directs his inseparable companion, the Pantaloon or body, who is always appropriately represented as as a decrepit, foolish, weak creature, with no power or foresight of any kind. The body is, in fact, a mere slave, the sport of the earthly mind, or intellect, and an object of contempt to the two celestial characters. The body, under the mask of Pantaloon, is shown to be but a feeble entity, supported by a stick, infirm, despicable, and continually buffeted. He is the fool of the play, as the Clown, or mundane spirit, is its jester or trickster.

        The pantomime, of which these four characters are the personæ, opens with some mystic prologue or allegory, of which Harlequin and Columbine, the Divine Spirit and soul, are hero and heroine. Ususally, they are presented as prince and princess, whose faithful and mutual love excites the rage and jealousy of the infernal deities, or ‘bad fairies.’ Their ordeals—which are none other than the Trials of the Mysteries—form the action of the drama, and their final union and eternal happiness, which are consummated in the ‘transformation scene,’ set forth the supreme object of all religious discipline and doctrine, the Marriage of the Spirit and the Bride, which contitutes the final act of the mystery-play known as the Apocalypse of the Diviner.

        Of course the whole action of the pantomime is, form beginning to end, astronomical, and depicts the course of the sun through the twelve zodiacal houses. Hence it was, and still is, represented only at Christmas-tide, when the solar course begins. Twelve is the solar or male number, as thirteen is that of the lunar or female cycle. In the ‘Tarot’ of Egyptian origin the sacred number was the latter, as being that of Isis, the goddess of the Egyptian Mysteries. This ‘Tarot’ survives among as in the familiar game of playing-cards, as M. Vaillant and Eliphas Levi have clearly demonstrated. ¹ The ‘Tarot’ is composed of four suits, two of which are red and two black. The red represents the Celestial dualism, the two black the Terrestrial. Of these the Diamond, or stone of the Apocalypse, is the Spirit, or Holy Ghost, of the human Microcosm, the essentially pure and shining One. The heart is the soul, the seat of aspiration, love, and desire, the feminine element of the human kingdom. The sword (or spade-head) is the earthly mind, incisive and relentless, like its Kabalistic symbol, the lion. Hard as iron and sharp as a blade, the human intellect analyses, delves, penetrates, and attacks. Lastly, the Club is the body, a figure which, like that of the ox, conveys an idea of physical attributes related to the earth only.

        Of these four suits there are three ‘Court’ cards, which, in their proper order, are Queen, King, and Knave. Modern usage has inverted the sequence of the first two. The Queen is Columba, the soul; the King is the Astral Lion, or mind; the Knave is the body. But of all these, the chief, at once Alpha and Omega of the whole series, is the Ace or Unit, the primordial Spirit. This Unit takes all ‘tricks,’ and controls alike Queen, King, and Knave. He is the First of all numbers and the Last, whose will is paramount and whose supremacy is absolute.

        The series of each suit is twelve, corresponding to the Twelve Zodiacal Signs and the Labours or Hercules, the solar hero. In mystic language these twelve numbers represent the Twelve Degrees of Regeneration, of which the crown and completion is the Thirteenth Act of the Soul, that is, the Marriage of the Son of God. Hence thirteen, represented by the Ace, is the perfect number, and the marriage supper is therefore celebrated by thirteen personages, viz. Christ and the Twelve Apostles.

        The Unit or Ace is, in Greek, spoken of as the Nous. This word, as Bryant demonstrates, is identical in meaning with the name Noe or Noah, the architect of the Ark or Microcosm. Noe’s three sons, Sem, Japheth, and Cham, are the representatives respectively of soul, mind, and body. Of these three the most blessed and worthiest is Sem, the soul, the lord of the East and the progentior of the chose race. Japheth, as the mind, is appropriately the father of the European nations, pre-eminent in intellectual civilisation and inventive art; while Cham, or the body, is assigned the parentage of the lowest races of humanity. ‘Cursed is Chanaan,’ says the oracle, ‘a servant of servants shall he be.’ Here we have a repetition of the anathema pronounced upon the old Adam, whom, in fact, Cham symbolises. The body, mere perishable dust and earth, is the servant alike of Spirit, soul, and mind. His father and his brothers dominate, control, and subjugate him. The story of the crime by which Cham, or the body, brought this curse upon himself is another rendering of the Edenic allegory, and refers to the materialisation of the holy mysteries, or, in other words, to the sin of idolatry. The secrets of the Divine Spirit, Noah or Nous, are profaned by a materialising and earthly-minded priesthood, and thereby rendered gross and ridiculous,—subjects of criticism and mockery. Spiritual truths are wrested to physical meanings, and that which belongs only to the celestial is idolatrously represented as pertaining to the body and to things phenomenal and terrestrial. To this Cham or Chanaan, the Club, or emblem of earthly generation, was in Egyptian symbolism appropriated.

        Now, of the two dualisms of the human kingdom, one is transmigratory, the other is not. The body and astral element of man are renewed at every successive birth, and at every death they pass away, the body into dust, the astral mind, according to its deserts, to the ‘Summer Land,’ or to the shades of gloomy Tartarus. The ‘Summer Land’ is known to mystics as the Lower Eden. There after death abides the Ruach, or mundane spirit of the good man, retaining all the memories and affections of his one life. Thence he comes to the circle of his still incarnate friends, gives evidence of his identity, embraces and caresses his dear ones, and relates to them the beauties and blessedness of the astral light in which his home is made, and out of which he has created gardens, palaces, flowing streams, and moving forms. This mundane spirit is a personal entity, and, in fact, is the external Ego of the man, the ‘I’ and ‘Me’ of the character whose family name he still bears.

        But the essential germ of the Microcosm, the Divine dual particle of soul and Spirit, very rarely returns to earth in such fashion. It is only on solemn occasions and for special purposes, so rare as to be events, that such return is permitted. This celestial pair constitue the transmigratory fire, whose light composes the Hindû ‘Karma.’ This celestial duad it is that represents the Spiritual personality of the man, a state or being as opposed to an entity, the sum-total of what the man is, as opposed to what he seems. This essence, immortal and progressive in its nature, because at once Divine and human, passes on and reanimates new forms. The name of this interior Ego is not that of the Ruach, who responds to the ‘Christian’ or family appellatives of earth; its name is known only to God. It passes on from form to form, and from avatar to avatar, until it attains Nirvâna. The circumstances and conditions of a re-birth represent, therefore, as the Bhagavad-Gita tells us, the Karma of the preceding existence.

        Nirvâna is the annihilation of the exterior personality, and the apotheosis of the interior personality. Thus it is true that existence is an evil, nay, it is the supreme evil to escape from which is the continual aim and aspiration of the saint, and the extinction of which is found only and finally in the bosom of God.

        When, therefore, a man says, as the non-Re-Incarnationists are fond of saying, ‘I do not like the idea of a succession of births,’ or ‘I do not wish to return,’ or ‘I will not return voluntarily,’ it is the external self that speaks, the Ego of the Ruach. Let him be content, he will not return. He will go to the ‘Summer Land,’ to the Elysian Fields—the Lower Eden.

        But his interior, his Divine particle, if ever it is to attain beatitude, will obey the Divine Will, and continue the course of its existences, whether few or many, until the final Marriage of Spirit and Soul. This act consummated, it becomes thereby purified from existence, and enters upon the condition of absolute being.

        In this brief exposition, I have purposely avoided all direct references to holy writings, whether Hebrew, Hindû, or other, in order not to encumber my statement with citations.


        P.S.— Since the above exposition was read by in my private circle, a friend has sent me a copy of the Theosophist for October 1881, which I had not previously seen. It contains, under the heading ‘Fragments of Occult Truth,’ the substance of the teaching of which I am myself the recipient from a wholly independent and interior source. In the spelling of the Biblical names, I follow the Catholic version of the Scriptures.     A.K.

¹ The original ‘Tarot,’ according to some authorities, was composed of fifty-six leaves or ‘cards,’ the additional four being the cavaliers or horsemen. These horsemen represent the Nephesch, intermediate between the ‘King’ and the ‘Knave,’ which element is usually included in the sign of the ‘King.’—A.K. [return to text]



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Text and original images copyright © Neil Mann.