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Blind Boy Apollo
and the All-White Astronauts

New Age "Asiatic" thought ... is establishing itself as the
hegemonic ideology of global capitalism. (Zizek)

Friday, November 25

celtic revival / occult revival

The following, from Modernism and the Celtic Revival, demonstrates the close ties that existed between "the Celtic" and the occult at the end of the 19th century. That association continues in the most recent Celtic revival toward the end of the 20th (they seem to have occurred with some frequency for roughly the last thousand years), which constitutes part of the amorphous mix-and-match catechism of the New Age.
The occult revival of the 1890s served as a creative outlet for Anglo-Irish intellectuals and artists -- Bram Stoker's Dracula, for example, comprises "seven years of Yeats-style research into folklore, myth, armchair anthropology, medieval history, magic -- particularly diabolism" -- whose sense of deracination could not be assuaged by the discourse of unity that had emerged in the United Irishman movement in 1798 and that had lost its credibility among many nationalists after the fall of Parnell. Yeats would prove to be no exception.

In "Irish Fairies, Ghosts, Witches, etc.," an essay written in 1889 for a theosophical magazine, Yeats justified his recourse to an occult philosophy that to many seemed eccentric with respect to Irish folk culture:

  • When reading Irish folk-lore, or listening to Irish peasants telling their tales of magic and fairyism and witchcraft, more and more is one convinced that some clue there must be. Even if it is all dreaming, why have they dreamed this particular dream? Clearly the occultist should have his say as well as the folklorist. The history of a belief is not enough, one would gladly hear about its cause.

For Yeats, occultism is the best way to understand the cause and origin of folklore and the "universal mind" of which "the fairies are the lesser spiritual moods" and "wherein every mood is a soul and every thought a body." Irish writers who were urged to mine Irish folklore for poetic material were also urged to explore the occult since, as Phillip Marcus puts it, all "point toward the same conclusion: the spiritual, the visionary, the occult are fit subjects of concern for Irish writers because they are essentially related to the true Celtic nature." Marcus's conclusions were anticipated by Evans-Wentz's claim that the Irish peasant's "mystic" consciousness made possible a belief in the existence of a "discarnate" consciousness that could "exhibit itself in various individual aspects as fairies."

source: Modernism and the Celtic Revival, Gregory Castle, Cambridge University Press, 2001, p 59. [read the entire book online]

And here's another, similar passage from Primitivism, Science, and the Irish Revival by Sinead Garrigan Mattar (p. 43).

The revival of folk and native mythological traditions at the fin de siècle coincided with a surge of interest in occultism, confirming for Yeats that folklore contained radical truths leading back to the roots of time and encouraging an interest in comparativism. Inspired by his Theosophical mentors, he wrote in 1889 that 'Tradition is always the same. The earliest poet of India and the Irish peasant in his hovel nod to each other across the ages, and are in perfect agreement.' Moreover, occult philosophy, in the shape of Theosophy, confronted evolutionary theory in a manner that appealed to his own anti-scientism, claiming it o be a lamentably small portion of a spiritual truth. Evolution actually occurred on the spiritual plane: whilst matter degenerated, the soul spiralled to eternity, and an ape was a degenerate man. Madame Blavatsky (described by Yeats as 'a sort of old Irish peasant woman') argued that folklore maintained in small the the esoteric truths that were once part of a world-religion, a revealed truth that might be reclaimed.

celtic voices: women of song