The Castle of Heroes

By John Michael Greer at Ecosophia

Abridged by me to appear on Twitter.

“Marie Corelli has been all but deleted from the history of Victorian literature. Her unforgivable sin was that her bestselling novels view the world through the perspective of standard late nineteenth century occultism, and Christian occultism at that.”

“The Nobel Prize winner in literature in 1939, William Butler Yeats was one of the dozen or so greatest poets the English language has produced. He was also an occultist— a serious lifelong practitioner, widely respected as such by other occultists.”

“He found Theosophy unsatisfying, even when he advanced to the Inner Section of the Society and studied directly with Madame Blavatsky herself. He proceeded to join the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, the most famous and influential occult order of the time.”

“In 1895 he discovered the perfect setting for the project. In Lough Key, a lake in Ireland, is a small island named Castle Rock; unsurprisingly, it has a castle on it. The thought of that castle as a center for an Irish occult order seized Yeats’s imagination.”

“The Castle of Heroes papers include a series of initiation ceremonies for members, an extensive sequence of exercises in meditation and the training of the imagination, and a great deal of material for study, dealing with old Irish myth, legend, and symbolism.”

“Yeats had his own distinctive understanding of occultism, which was powerfully shaped by his friendship with William Morris—the colossus of the Victorian art world, a man whose creative talents covered so broad a range that it’s easier to list the things he wasn’t good at.”

“He meant the Castle of Heroes project to awaken the Irish people to a different future and transform the oldest and most thoroughly plundered province of the British Empire into a modern nation.”

“To succeed, such a project had to reach down to deep places where the collective consciousness of humanity merges into the secret inner life of the land itself. Do that, he hoped, and the Irish cultural renaissance of which he was a part might become an enduring presence.”

“The traditional mythology and folklore of Ireland provided the symbolic keys he meant to use for his project. He had already explored Irish myth and lore for poetic purposes, and his close friend Lady Gregory was compiling her famous collections of Irish legend and folktales.”

“His connections in the Golden Dawn and the Celtic literary world made it easy to assemble a team of gifted visionaries and occult practitioners, Maude Gonne among them, who could waken the old mythic imagery to life using the standard toolkit of the occult societies of his day.”

“It probably would have happened, too, except that the Golden Dawn was heading toward a major crisis. Like many another occult society, it was better at teaching philosophy and practice than it was at managing its own internal politics.”

“The Golden Dawn had split into three competing fragments, many of its members had left in disgust, and the team Yeats had assembled around the Castle of Heroes project was shattered beyond repair.”

“Yeats became one of the leading figures in the Stella Matutina, the largest of the three fragments of the original Golden Dawn, and he had his hands full for years with that order, so there was another reason for the Castle of Heroes to go onto the shelf.”

“Georgie Yeats has rarely been given the respect she deserves as an occultist. Like her husband, she had risen through the Golden Dawn system to the rank of Adeptus Exemptus, the highest grade of initiation the order offered.”

“Four days after the wedding, Georgie began work with automatic writing—a practice that involves taking pen in hand, releasing the control of the conscious mind, and letting the hand and pen write whatever comes through. Yeats described his reaction vividly:”

“What came in disjointed sentences, in nearly illegible writing, was so exciting, so profound, that I persuaded her to give an hour or more a day to the unknown writer, and offered to spend what remained of life explaining and piecing together those scattered sentences.”

“The resulting texts provided the imagery and metaphors for most of Yeats’s most famous poems, but they also became the raw material for A Vision, the longest and strangest of Yeats’s prose writings and his one published foray in the field of occult nonfiction.”

“Every completed sequence of events in human life, A Vision argues, goes through the complete cycle of the phases, of every creative project; of every individual life; and of lives through which every soul passes in the process of reincarnation.”

“Had the Castle of Heroes project succeeded in founding an Irish occult order, offering initiations to members in the halls of the old castle on Lough Key, it seems likely that the material that went into A Vision would have become the core teachings of its inner circle.”

“The act of reaching down into the deep levels of mythic consciousness to give strength to a nation was how occultists headed by Guido von List and Jörg Lanz von Liebenfels set out to transform the collective consciousness of the Germanic peoples beginning just after 1900.”

It was also “how British occultists headed by Dion Fortune set out to strengthen the collective consciousness of Britain in the dark days of 1940, when the metastatic horror launched by the heirs of von List and Lanz von Leibenfels stood on the brink of the English Channel.”

“The Ariosophists who set out to waken the Germanic folk-soul never understood that a working of this kind succeeds when it focuses exclusively on building up what it wants to support, not on tearing down what it thinks it opposes.”

“Yeats and Dion Fortune knew better than to go down that path. His work with the myths and powers of ancient Ireland was aimed solely on strengthening the Irish folk consciousness until British rule over Ireland disintegrated of its own weight.”

“The Castle of Heroes material has never been published. Practically everything else Yeats ever wrote has already seen print, but the only place where his Castle of Heroes writings have appeared is in a doctoral dissertation, which is how I know the details of the work.”

“Yeats scholars still edge nervously around his lifelong commitment to occult study and practice, and ignore as much of the occult dimension of his work as they possibly can.”

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