The Entangled Imagination: W.B. Yeats’ “Moods” and the Psychologization of Magic
Keywords:William Butler Yeats, Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, psychologization of magic, psychological associationism, folklore, tradition, literary theory, symbolism
Among modern practitioners of magic, the “psychologization of magic” has become a common strategy to adapt practices such as rituals of invocation to naturalistic thought. In this article, I discuss what was probably the most elaborate attempt to bridge the gap between the magic of the past and magic suited for the present that took place within the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn (1888–1903). Approaching the Order’s teachings through the lens of contemporaneous literary discourse, the Irish poet and magician William Butler Yeats (1865–1939) attempted to consolidate supernaturalist and naturalist understandings of magic throughout the 1890s. In 1892, he made the concept of the “immortal moods” a key to both his poetry and his magical practice. Evoked through symbols in a ritual or a poem, these moods would descend “like a faint sigh into people’s minds” and move them to action, causing “all great changes in the world.” Yeats explored this concept in theoretical writings, poetic experiments, and his ritual practice, finding his own imagination entangled with past imaginations. Serving a brief term as the Golden Dawn’s Imperator and Instructor in Mystical Philosophy in 1901, he condensed the insights gained from this work in the doctrines of the “great mind and great memory.” Presenting a study of Yeats’ psychology of the universal mind, this article shows how his amalgamation of literary and folkloristic theorizing paved the way to connect magical and poetic practice to the emerging psychological discourse.
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