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W.B. Yeats and His Hand-Crafted Pentacle

See William Butler Yeats’s Magical Golden Dawn Tools and Private Journals

Irish poet William Butler Yeats is perhaps the most well-known member of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, the influential secret magical society which originated in the late 19th century (and still exists in a number of forms today). Yeats was initiated into the order in 1890, taking on the magical name Demon est Deus Inversus—”the Devil is God Inverted.” As the order fell into chaos in the early 20th century, Yeats struggled to keep it intact, but he eventually left the offshoot Stella Matutina temple in 1921.

In 2009, noted Tarot author and scholar Mary K. Greer blogged about an exhibit at the National Library of Ireland showcasing a number of Yeats’s Golden Dawn tools and writings, including pages from his private magical journal. The exhibition is still online and I encourage you to view it here (although it is built in Flash and employs a clunky navigation system). Navigate to “Interactive” then click on “The Celtic Mystic” to see the showcase.

I also recently acquired a copy of the out-of-print and rare book, Yeats, the Tarot, and the Golden Dawn by scholar Kathleen Raine (The Dolmen Press, 1972), and was astonished to find it contained several black-and-white photos of Yeats’s hand-crafted elemental weapons (magical tools).

Yeats' Magical Golden Dawn Tools

In the above image, clockwise from top left, are: the chalice (representing the element of Water); dagger (representing the element of Air) and lotus wand (a general “all-purpose” wand); magical sword and sheath; and the Fire Wand.

Another photo, this one from the National Library of Irelands exhibit, shows Yeats’s hand-constructed and painted Pentacle, which represents the element of Earth. You can see his magical motto, Demon est Deus Inversus, painted on the pentacle. All of the magical tools are inscribed with Hebrew names of angels, and some (noticeably the cup) feature the sigils constructed from their names (the odd geometrical figures). This image comes from the collection at the National Library of Ireland:

Yeats's Golden Dawn Earth Pentacle

It is still quite thrilling to see Yeats’s drawings in the notebook illustrating his progression through the grades of the order. Here, he has sketched and painted the angel Michael Auriel. [An earlier version of this article stated the angel was the Archangel Michael, but someone on a Golden Dawn forum caught the mistake.]

Archangel Michael from the Golden Dawn notebook of William Butler Yeats

And a beautiful gallery of pages from a Golden Dawn notebook from Yeats’s uncle, George Pollexfen, can be found on Flckr, too.

The full story of Yeats and his involvement with magic and the Golden Dawn is covered in a number of books and online, but seeing these magical tools and drawings—carefully constructed and painted by the great poet himself—really brings the tradition alive.

  1. Demon est Deus Inversus
    I’m finding that the Biblical concept of “evil” is rooted in the binary nature of star systems. If you draw two side-by-side suns with counter-clockwise arcs around them, it is immediately obvious that the planets of each system are retrograde (opposite) with respect to each other. Binary systems have inherent conflict. Judging from our limited survey of planetary systems thus far, “evil” does not often result in something “good.”

    It’s also interesting that the swastika is a sun symbol, and some swastikas are drawn with rotation in one direction and some in the other.

    1. bad signs
      Hitler took a symbol of Earth and karmic balance and turned it around, thus taking a symbol for good and literally making it evil by making it turn the wrong way. However, both directions were used by ancients.
      The symbol dates back over 10,000 years, but nowadays it’s always a symbol for hate even if that wasn’t its initial purpose. So bad that the damn spam wall on this site keeps automkicking my comment here.

      1. well…….
        What is really fascinating to me is how the North American indians, specifically the various tribes of the plains, were using the swastika symbol on their teepees when the white folks first met them. It was also used later on as a decoration on their horses.

        Makes you wonder about how far back the ancient peoples first came in contact with each other, and how long it continued.

    1. Pentacle
      [quote=kamarling]I think that Star of David is a hexagram, not a pentacle. Just saying :)[/quote]

      Although the etymology is certainly connected to the pentagram, ‘Pentacle’ has become a generic term for a magical talisman or amulet. The hexagram is a fairly common element in pentacles.

      1. Also…….
        If you examine the Star of David, you will see that it can be separated into two triangles. One, with it’s peak at the top, and another with it’s peak at the bottom.

        It is noted that this represents God with his love outstrecthed to the people, and the people, with their love outstretched to God. “As Above, So Below.” It’s one of several “truths” hidden within the symbol itself. Layers of truths. Symbols within symbols. Wheels within wheels. All parts of the various layers of the Great Mystery teachings.

    2. Pentacle
      Greg is correct—the Pentacle is one of the elemental weapons in the Golden Dawn. The Earth Pentacle (as shown in the article) has a hexagram painted on it. Pentacles are also one of the suits of the Tarot, particularly in the Waite-Smith deck and its many clones.

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