Terminology


Terms used here

Yeats's Terms: An Alphabetical List


Some notes on terms used on this site

The title A Vision is used to refer to the two separate editions of the work in as much as they constitute a single, connected whole or set of concepts, otherwise they are referred to as A Vision A (or AV A) and A Vision B (or AV B); see The Two Editions. The System, with a capital letter, refers to the wider complex of ideas and themes, not all of which are included in the published versions of A Vision, and effectively stands for ‘the complete system represented partially in A Vision’; where the word appears entirely in lower case, as ‘system’, it does not carry this specialised use. Similarly Phase, where it refers to the specific label applied to the twenty-eight combinations of the Great Wheel, is capitalised, and where it refers more broadly to the lunar cycle is kept in lower case. Sun and Moon are capitalised, in consistency with the other heavenly bodies, as are the adjectives Solar and Lunar, where they refer specifically to the symbolism of Yeats’s System. The Automatic Script is capitalised and refers to the Yeatses’ material transcribed in Yeats’s ‘Vision’ Papers, and sometimes also abbreviated to “AS”.


The Terminology of A Vision

Brief Definitions

Yeats chose to italicise many, though not all, of the specialised terms that he coined. There are also some variations between the two versions of A Vision, but the terms are given here in the list in their later or otherwise most usual form. Most of the definitions below give links to the fuller considerations elsewhere.

Antithetical
One of the two Tinctures, the impulse to individuation and subjectivity, corresponding to the Lunar (which operates on a larger and more general scale), and predominating during the brighter Phases of the Moon, between Phases 8 and 22. It is established in opposition to the primary Tincture and defines itself by continual conflict with the primary.
Automatic Script
A technique of mediumship, involving the clearing or distraction of the mind, though not usually trance, so that the hand writes without the intervention of the conscious mind, see the Automatic Script. The Yeatses’ Automatic Script is an incredibly complex series of questions and answers, evolving over several years, mostly between 1917 and 1920. After this a technique of Sleeps was used, with decreasing frequency until 1924, though these are often loosely included under the general heading of ‘Automatic Script’. Only a proportion of the material that was collected (now published in Yeats’s ‘Vision’ Papers) was finally refined and elaborated into A Vision. In part this was because Yeats did not fully understand all of the material, and also because of the natural limits imposed by the book; the parts of the System as a whole that are expounded in A Vision may be considered already quite complex enough, but the Automatic Script does elucidate certain areas considerably.
Beatific Vision
The culminating Moment of Crisis, following the Initiatory and Critical Moments.
Beatitude
The fourth stage of the after-life, also called the Marriage, corresponding symbolically to the passage of Spirit's gyre through the Zodiacal sign of Cancer, the sign of the summer solstice.
Being
‘By being is understood that which divides into Four Faculties’ (AV B 86); in a sense, as a special term, it is comparable to Heidegger's Seiende, the process of being or what is extant, as opposed to his Sein, the essence of being, which may be closer to the Principles, though as Heidegger goes on to say, ‘Alle Seiende ist im Sein; das Sein ist das Seiende’—‘all being is in Being; Being is being’. See the Human Being.
Body of Fate
One of the Four Faculties the internal representation of the external world, beyond the control of the individual.
Cardinal
Related to the Phases, those which represent the compass-points: North-Phase 1, East-Phase 22, South-Phase 15 and West-Phase 8. These four Phases exhibit special configurations of the Faculties, where the Oppositions and Discords come together, and represent crucial points in the cycle. In terms of incarnation, Phases 1 and 15 are non-corporeal incarnations, while Phases 8 and 22 are crises for the soul. See The Cardinal Phases and the Triads.
Celestial Body
One of the Four Principles, highest of the hierarchy, which becomes the Clarified Body once all earthly incarnations are finished. It corresponds with the Faculty of Body of Fate.
Civilisation
Usually used as the secular counterpart of a Religion, a 2,200-year civilisation runs from the mid-point of the preceding Religious era to the mid-point of the next. It does not necessarily correspond to any conventionally recognised cultural label, such as Minoan civilisation or even classical civilisation. Yeats’s Classical Civilisation runs from around 1000BCE to around 1000CE, with the Monotheistic Religious Period, focused on the Christian Dispensation, starting at its mid-point, giving way to the Civilisation which this enabled around the year 1000CE (see AV B 203-04). These two historical cycles, therefore, have the same length but are ‘syncopated’, the Civilisation corresponding to a Lunar month and the Religion to a Solar month. Yeats also sometimes uses it for periods of one-thousand-odd years, referring for instance to a period corresponding to 1000CE-2100CE as ‘our Gothic civilisation’ (AV B 255).
Cone
A diagrammatic convenience to represent the gyre that becomes a virtual synonym for gyre.
Creative Mind
One of the Four Faculties originally termed ‘Creative Genius’ in the Automatic Script. It represents the mind in its consciously constructive aspect, and in more subjective, antithetical people can be seen as imagination (AV B 142).
Critical Moment
The second of the Moments of Crisis, following the Initiatory Moment and preceding the Beatific Vision.
Cycle
1. A general term referring to the modified repetition of the gyre, and any of the cyclical phenomena which inform the paradigm, such as the natural cycles of the day, the month and the year.
2. A specific term (often capitalised as "Cycle") referring to a complete round of 28 incarnations. The paradigm of the soul’s progress involves 12 such Cycles, after which it may then enter the Thirteenth Cycle. These Cycles received considerable attention in the Automatic Script, where they are labelled by the signs of the Zodiac, starting with Taurus, Yeats considered himself to be in his Sixth Cycle of incarnation (the Libra Cycle), while George was in her Seventh Cycle of incarnation (the Scorpio Cycle).
Daimon
A complex concept, which evolved with time, and which Yeats was probably never entirely sure about. The Daimon is the supernatural opposite of the human being, but part of a single continuous consciousness with the human, and can even be viewed as the same elements in a different dimension. To a certain extent it controls human destiny, but needs its human counterpart to complete its knowledge of the whole. See the Human Being and the Daimon.
Discord
A relationship between Faculties, see AV B 93-94. The two Oppositions are Discords to each other: Will and Mask, the two fundamentally antithetical Faculties are the Discords to Creative Mind and Body of Fate, the two fundamentally primary Faculties. One can go further and call Creative Mind the major Discord of Will, since both are active Faculties, while Body of Fate is the minor Discord, since it is a target-Faculty, so has even less in common. In incarnation, the major Discords fall in Phases where the admixture of the two Tinctures is the same, but where growth of one against the other is in the opposite direction. When shown on the double cone, the two major Discords Will: Creative Mind and Mask: Body of Fate therefore appear to move together along the cones and, when shown on the Wheel, they are reflected across the axis of the New Moon-Full Moon. On the Wheel, the minor Discords are reflected in the axis of Phases 8-22. Phases 1, 8, 15 and 22 represent special cases, where Opposition and Discord come together, the major Discords coincide at Phases 1 and 15, the minor Discords coincide at Phases 8 and 22.
Double Cone
The ‘normal double cone’ or gyre, shows the two Tinctures as intersecting cones or gyres (see cone). In this form, the Faculties appear to move as in pairs of the major Discords, Will and Creative Mind joined by a line across one cone, and Mask and Body of Fate joined by a line across the other. See the single gyre.
Dreaming Back
A subsidiary state in the second stage of the after-life, the Return, in which the events of the preceding life are relived according to their intensity.
Faculties
The four fundamental constituents of the human psyche during incarnate life. The Faculties are: the active, Lunar force of Will and its focus or target, the Mask, and the active, Solar force of Creative Mind and its focus, the Body of Fate. The Faculties are all, however, Lunar in relation to the Principles, and, unlike the Principles, they are creative but incapable of attaining understanding: ‘Man can embody truth, but he cannot know it’. The Faculties are not intrinsically hierarchical, and are arranged around the circle of Wheel in rough equality, although during any particular incarnation, one or more Faculties may be stronger.
Foreknowledge
The sixth and final stage of the after-life state, corresponding symbolically to the passage of Spirit's gyre through the Zodiacal sign of Virgo.
Ghostly Self
Probably one of the most elusive concepts in the System, not least to Yeats himself. At some points the Ghostly Self seems to be a view of the Daimon as the archetype from which the individual human life is drawn and to which the soul will return. At other points the Ghostly Self appears to be closer to the Theosophists’ Atman, beyond Celestial Body but mirrored in Spirit, existing as the inviolate first spark of divinity which stays separated from all incarnation. Its name derives from the Holy Ghost of Christianity, and the Self of Theosophic Buddhism.
Gyre
The fundamental paradigm of growth and life in the Yeatses’ System. It represents the cyclical nature of reality, and the recurrent pattern of growth and decay, waxing and waning.
Husk
One of the Four Principles, the lowest in the hierarchy. It is the least permananent, but the one which is most closely associated with incarnate life, corresponding with the Faculty of Will.
Image
A projected form of the Mask: "The Image is a myth, a woman, a landscape, or anything whatsoever that is an external expression of the Mask" (AV B 107).
Initiatory Moment
The first of the triad of Moments of Crisis, which never fully entered into A Vision.
Lunar
The more inclusive term for the subjective, individual, multitudinous and creative pole of Yeats's overarching duality, represented in incarnate life by the antithetical Tincture: ‘the Tinctures belong to a man’s life while in the body, and Solar and Lunar may transcend that body’ (AV A 139). See Solar and Lunar in relation to the Tinctures.
Marriage
An alternative name for the Beatitude, the fourth stage of the after-life, conceived of as the symbolic marriage of the Spirit and the Celestial Body.
Mask
One of the Four Faculties, the image of what we desire, wish to become, revere, or regard as good.
Meditation
Part of the first stage of the after-life, following the preliminary Vision of the Blood Kindred, marking the transition of the consciousness from the Faculty Will to the Principle Spirit, and corresponding to the Spirit’s passage through the sign of Aries.
Moments of Crisis
An important element of the Automatic Script, which received brief treatment in AV A (172-73) and none in AV B, linked particularly with sexual love. They are associated with the Daimon, the least predictable element of the System, and are symbolised by the lightning flash. The Initiatory Moment represents a shift in the nature of the Mask and Body of Fate, the ‘sensuous image’, effectively in our aims, values and goals, which sets in motion a series of events which reach a climax at the Critical Moment. The Critical Moment represents a moment of the greatest freedom within an individual life, where the intellect is able to analyse the aims and actions initiated, probably with the help of the Daimonic mind, and the individual is able to act with as much free will as he or she is capable of. The Critical Moment is not always reached, and even if it is, this process may be repeated without the individual reaching the third stage of Beatific Vision, where the individual moves into a form of greater wholeness, and possibly Unity of Being.
Opening of the Tinctures
One of the more problematic technical ideas in A Vision, partly because Yeats's understanding changed significantly between the two versions. In AV B he states that the antithetical Tincture opens at Phase 11 and the primary at Phase 12, and that this means ‘the reflection inward of the Four Faculties: all are as it were mirrored in the personality, Unity of Being becomes possible’ (AV B 88). See the Tinctures.
Opposition
A relationship between Faculties, see AV B 93-94. The two Oppositions are ‘the emotional Opposition of Will and Mask’, the two fundamentally antithetical Faculties, and ‘the intellectual Opposition of Creative Mind and Body of Fate’, the two fundamentally primary Faculties. In each pair one is the active, appetent Faculty (Creative Mind and Will), while the other is the goal of its action, the target-Faculty (Body of Fate and Mask). Within the fundamental gyre, the active Faculty is the apex or origin of the gyre, while the target-Faculty is the base or widest expansion of the gyre; on the Wheel, the Oppositions are diametrically opposed to each other. The two Oppositions form Discords to each other.
Passionate Body
One of the Four Principles, the third in the hierarchy. It corresponds to the Mask in the Faculties and is associated with passion and desire, sharing much in common with the ‘Desire Body’ of the Theosophists. It persists after death and is involved during the first two stages of the after-life, after which it should be shed, but this is not always possible, which entails a repetition in the same Phase of incarnation.
Perfection
There are four types of perfection attainable, and these only in certain Phases of incarnation: Self-Sacrifice (in Phases 2, 3 and 4), Self-Knowledge (in Phase 13), Unity of Being (in Phases 16, 17 and 18), and Sanctity (in Phase 27) (see AV B 95 & 100). Generally Unity of Being is used by Yeats to cover some or all of these, since it was the form that interested him most and which was personally possible to him.
Phantasmagoria
A minor subsidiary stage of the Return, the second stage of the after-life, during which life and imagination are completed in order to exhaust emotion.
Primary
One of the two Tinctures, the impulse to the collective and objectivity, corresponding to the Solar, which operates on a larger and more general scale, and predominating during the darker Phases of the Moon, between Phases 22 and 8. It is, theoretically, the first of the two Tinctures, since ‘in the primary we are one, & because all are one before they become many’, whereas the antithetical defines itself by opposition to the primary (see AV B 71-72).
Principles
The Principles represent pure knowledge and spiritual reality, but are uncreative and incapable of making new material, only of understanding what life offers. They remain in the unconscious mind during waking life, and are partially responsible for our dream life, coming to the fore after death, where the individual needs to understand and absorb the fruits of the preceding life before carrying on to the next life. The Principles are Solar in relation to the Faculties and are intrinsically hierarchical, unlike the Lunar Faculties. Between themselves, the two Solar Principles, Spirit and Celestial Body are permanent and represent the continuity between lives, while the two Lunar Principles, Husk and Passionate Body are impermanent, acquired afresh before each new life.
Purification
The fifth stage of the after-life, corresponding symbolically to the passage of Spirit's gyre through the sign of Leo.
Record
In the Sphere, ‘All things are present as an eternal instant to our Daimon’ (AV B 193). However, this state is incomprehensible to us, because ‘all things fall into a series of antinomies in human experience’, so that Yeats’s ‘instructors have therefore followed tradition by substituting for it a Record where the images of all past events remain for ever "thinking the thought and doing the deed". They are in popular mysticism called "the pictures in the astral light", a term that became current in the middle of the nineteenth century, and what Blake called "the bright sculptures of Los’s Hall"’ (AV B 193). This definition seems to lay stress upon the past elements, rather than the future ones, of the eternal instant and, as Yeats hints, may owe more than a little to the Theosophists’ idea of the ‘akashic record’, images in the spiritual susbtance, as well as to the tradition of anima mundi.
Religion
Sometimes used as the Solar counterpart to the Lunar civilisation. Like civilisation, it does not necessarily refer to any conventionally recognised single religion; since Yeats’s focus is almost exclusively European, Christianity is the dominant representative of the Monotheism which dominates the 2000-plus years of our current cycle, however, it also includes Islam, philosophical Platonism, and, to a lesser extent, Buddhism. Yeats’s Monotheistic Religious Period, focused on the Christian Dispensation, starts at the mid-point of the Classical Civilisation in 1AD (1CE), and the Civilisation which this enabled starts around the year 1000CE (see AV B 203-04). These two historical cycles, therefore, have the same length but are ‘syncopated’, the Civilisation corresponding to a Lunar month, starting on the Ides of a Religion’s Solar month.
Return
The second stage of the after-life, corresponding symbolically to the passage of Spirit's gyre through the sign of Taurus. It comprises several states in each of which the Spirit attempts to understand its preceding life in different manners, and it passes from one to the other not in sequence but in rhythmic alternation. The first of these subsidiary states is also named the Return, where events are relived in sequence, and the other main stage is the Dreaming Back, where they are relived according to intensity. Further stages include the Phantasmagoria and other variations which Yeats does not label clearly.
Shiftings
The third stage of the after-life, corresponding symbolically to the passage of Spirit's gyre through the sign of Gemini.
Single Gyre
The simplest form of the paradigm, a gyre moving from its origin to its widest expansion and then diminishing again, either returning to the same origin, denoting cyclical time, or continuing in a new minimum, denoting linear time. See the double cone.
Sleeps
After 1920, since George Yeats found the sessions of Automatic Script increasingly draining, the Yeatses started the practice of ‘Sleeps’, where George would enter a trance and speak, while W. B. Yeats noted what she said. These too decreased in frequency and ceased, apart from very occasional later instances, in 1924. George Mills Harper gives a clear summary in A Critical Edition of Yeats’s A Vision (1925), xvii-xxiii.
Solar
The more inclusive term for the objective, collective and unifying pole of Yeats's overarching duality, which represents wisdom, knowledge and ultimate reality. In incarnate life the primary Tincture represents the Solar aspect: ‘the Tinctures belong to a man’s life while in the body, and Solar and Lunar may transcend that body’ (AV A 139). See Solar and Lunar in relation to the Tinctures.
Sphere
The absolute and unitary form of being, beyond the gyres. The human mind, fixed in the antinomies, can only perceive it as opposition to the mundane gyre, and therefore sees it as a gyre or cone: the Thirteenth Cone.
Spirit
One of the Four Principles, Spirit, the active, Solar Principle, is the origin of movement and the individual being within the archetype of the Celestial Body. Although it comes second in the hierarchy, it is probably the most important of all, since it represents the impetus to life and experience.
System
The term is used here, when capitalised as ‘System’, to refer to the whole complex of ideas derived from the Automatic Script, part of which was published as A Vision in its two versions.
Thirteenth Cone
The form of the Sphere, when seen through the antinomies. If you look at bright red for a while and then look at white, it will appear green, the complementary colour (a phenomenon harnessed by the Golden Dawn with Tattwic Symbols, see RGD Vol 4 p.15-16). Similarly, the human being, trapped in the antinomies (red), sees the totality of the Sphere (white) as a form of opposition, an opposing cone (green).
Thirteenth Cycle
Generally synonymous with Thirteenth Cone, since every cycle can be represented by its own cone. However, the preceding twelve Cycles are those of incarnation, which also correspond roughly with the twelve months of the Great Year, so the Thirteenth Cycle is sometimes seen as the beginning of a new, supernatural Cycle of ‘incarnations’, and AV A complicates matters further by mentioning Fourteenth and Fifteenth Cycles.
Tincture
The two Tinctures are the source of the fundamental conflict and tension that drives human life, the ‘two eternities’ of ‘Under Ben Bulben’: the primary representing the One, the macrocosm, the race, the collective, the objective, truth, and knowledge, which strives with and against the antithetical representing the Many, the microcosm, the soul, the individual, the subjective, beauty and creativity. On a grander scale, the poles are referred to as Solar and Lunar, the Tinctures being reserved for incarnate life. The term, which does not originate in the Automatic Script, was borrowed from Jacob Boehme to give a joint name to the primary—antithetical polarity in the preparatory card-index.
Triads
Groups of three Phases, which together form a single gyre, in which form they tend to be used in Yeats's treatment of history. Except for the four Cardinal Phases, each Phase falls within a triad. The first Phase of triad is the Manifestion of an energy, often violent or anarchic; the second Phase is the Organisation of that energy, which codifies and arranges the powers involved; the third Phase is the Preparation for arrival of the next energy, showing a belief in, appreciation of or submission to that quality (see AV B 93). See The Cardinal Phases and the Triads.
Unity of Being
Yeats had used the term before A Vision but developed it significantly with relation to the System. He derives the term from his memory of Dante’s Convito, claiming that Dante compares it to ‘a perfectly proportioned human body’ (AV B 82), although Dante does not use it and the closest equivalent is a reference to harmony within a language. It is defined in a draft as ‘Complete Harmony between phisical [sic] body intellect & spiritual desire all may be imperfect but if harmony is perfect it is unity’; in some ways it is a version of a Renaissance ideal, akin to the idea of ‘Vitruvian man’, famously sketched by Leonardo. It is declared to be the unity attainable through the Mask (AV B 82), but reserved particularly for the antithetical Phases, when the Mask is free, and only really attainable after the ‘Vision of Evil’ which happens for some souls at the Full Moon. In effect, therefore it is only really possible at Phases 16, 17 and 18 - coincidentally the Phases of Maud Gonne, W. B. Yeats and George Yeats respectively.
Victimage
A complex group of relationships through which one person may help to work off another's karmic debt.
Vision of the Blood Kindred
The start of the first stage after death, when all the impulses and images of the Husk or senses appear in a form of synthesis, a version of the tradition of a person’s life flashing before their eyes. The Meditation is also part of this stage and seems to be the more significant element, but Yeats’s account is not entirely clear (AV B 223-24; 235).
Vision of Evil
The perception of the world as continual and necessary strife, only properly achieved at or shortly after the Full-Moon incarnation. It is more the acknowledgement of a dualistic, possibly even Manichean, universe rather than any diabolic sense: ". . . no man believes willingly in evil or in suffering. How much of the strength and weight of Dante and of Balzac comes from unwilling belief, from the lack of it how much of the rhetoric and vagueness of all Shelley that does not arise from personal feeling? ("If I were Four and Twenty" VII, Explorations 277, cf. CW5 43-44).
Wheel
The Wheel portrays the cyclical nature of the gyre, and is usually divided into twenty-eight stages, identified by the phases of the Moon. Yeats perceives time as cyclical rather than linear and, as in the Hindu symbol, the Wheel also represents the cycle of the soul’s rebirth. Yeats, in an antithetical incarnation himself, does not see this as something that it is necessarily desirable to escape.
Will
One of the Four Faculties, originally termed ‘Ego’ in the Automatic Script (a borrowing from Madame Blavatsky rather than from the English translators of Freud). It represents the life-force in a relatively basic form, the will to continue. Without Mask it has no aim, but with the appropriate focus becomes the creative force. The Will is not always the dominant Faculty but is the one which determines the Phase in which a person is located, so that a those of Phase 17 have their Will at Phase 17, although the other Faculties are located elsewhere.
Zodiac
The Zodiac is a band of space on either side of the ecliptic, the apparent path of the Sun through the year, within which the planets and the Moon always appear (Pluto can be an exception). It is divided in a number of ways, most commonly: into 360 degrees, into 12 irregular constellations, into 12 regular Signs, and into 27 or 28 Mansions of the Moon. Yeats specifically uses the Signs of the Zodiac to record the movement of Solar elements within the System. The Signs are usually reckoned from Aries, the start of which is the Spring Equinox, and are in order: Aries, Taurus, Gemini, Cancer, Leo, Virgo, Libra, Scorpio, Sagittarius, Capricorn, Aquarius, Pisces. See Astrology and Astronomy.


An adapted version of this list is given as the Glossary in W. B. Yeats's "A Vision": Explications and Contexts (2012). This title is available for free download here or here from Clemson University Press (click here if seems the link may have changed). It is also accessible online via Liverpool Scholarhip Online and University Press Scholarship Online (simplest to search on "Yeats" and "Vision"; direct link functional April 2016), though this is by subscription or through a library.



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Text and original images copyright © Neil Mann.