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The Candle of Vision

By by AE (George William Russell)

The Celtic Imagination

OTHER names might be used in this Celtic cosmogenesis and the Dagda stand for Lir, Boan for Dana, Fintan for Mananan, and others again might be interchangeable with these. Even as the generations follow one another in time, each looking upon the same unchanging nature as the ancestors but naming it by other names, so in antiquity races were invaded by others who came with a cosmogony the same in all essentials, but for differences of language and name, as that of the people invaded. After centuries there comes a blending of cultures and a subsidence into legend, bringing about a bewildering mosaic of mythology. The unity of primeval vision is broken up in the prism of literature. Deities grow in number in the popular imagination and coexist there, who in truth, if their spiritual ancestry was known, were but varying names for one divine being.

There are several mythologies in Irish legend the figures of which are made contemporary with each other by the later poets, and while it might be of interest to scholars to disentangle these and relate each deity to its proper cycle, only the vision of the universe which underlay them all is of real importance. That spiritual Overworld our Gaelic ancestors beheld was in essentials the same as the Overworld revealed in the sacred books; and in the wonder tales of the Gael we find a great secular corroboration of sacred literature and of half-sacred philosophy such as Plato utters through the lips of Socrates. Earth, Mid-world, Heaven-world and the great deep of deity they knew as they are expounded in the Upanishads. We can discern the same vision in the Apostle whose beginning of things was in the fulness of being out of which arose the Christos or divine imagination, in which, as it went forth on its cyclic labours, life or the Holy Breath was born, or became in it, and these again shine and work in the darkness of earth. And when St. Paul speaks of a third heaven we divine he had risen to the world of the Christos and was there initiated into mysteries of which it was not lawful to speak. In the sacred books there is a profounder life than there is in secular literature where there is vision indeed, but in the sacred books there is the being. The mind in retrospect, meditation and aspiration needs guidance; and this spiritual architecture of Earth-world, with Mid-world, Heaven-world and God-world rising above it, made my own vision so far as it went intelligible to me, for my disconnected glimpses of supernature seemed to find a place in that architecture of the heavens. In earlier pages I described my first visions of other planes, and the beings there, how some were shining and how others were a lordlier folk lit up from within as if a sun was hidden in the heart; and in my retrospect of vision I find all I saw falling into two categories which I think correspond to the Mid-world and World of Immortal Youth of the ancestors. My vision into the highest of these spheres was rare, and only once did consciousness for a moment follow vision and I seemed myself to be in the world I contemplated. At other times I was like one who cannot enter the gardens of a palace, but who gazes distantly through gates on their beauty, and sees people of a higher order than himself moving in a world enchanting to his eyes. I did see in some sphere interpenetrated with this beings in an ecstasy of radiance, colour and sound, lovers who seemed enraptured with their happiness, as they tell in old story of lovers on the plains of Moy Mell, and to me they seemed like some who had lived in Earth in ancient days and who now were in the happy world. And I saw, without being able to explain to myself their relation to that exalted humanity, beings such as the ancient poets described, a divine folk who I think never were human but were those spoken of as the Sidhe. I did not see enough to enable me to speak with any certainty about their life, and I do not know that it would serve any useful purpose to detail visions which remain bewildering to myself. Into the lowest of these two spheres I saw with more frequency, but was able to understand but little of what I saw. I will tell one or two visions out of many. I was drawn to meditate beside a deep pool amid woods. It was a place charged with psychic life, and was regarded with some awe by the people who lived near. As I gazed into the dark waters consciousness seemed to sink beneath them and I found myself in another world. It was more luminous than this, and I found one there who seemed like an elemental king. He was seated on a throne, and I saw that a lustrous air rose up as from a fountain beneath the seat and his breathing of it gave him power. The figure was of a brilliant blue and gold opalescence, and the breast. as with many of the higher beings, was shining, and a golden light seemed to pervade the whole body and to shine through its silvery blueness. The tribe he ruled were smaller than himself, and these I saw descending on the right of the throne, their shining dimmed to a kind of greyness, and each one as it came before the throne bent forward and pressed its lips upon the heart of the king, and in an instant at the touch it became flushed with life and it shot up plumed and radiant, and there was a continuous descent on one side of grey elementals and on the other side a continuous ascent of radiant figures, and I know not what it meant. And at another time I saw one of these lesser beings flying as a messenger out of the heart of one greater, and I saw a return to the heart and the vanishing of the lesser in the greater, and I know not what it meant. And at another time I was astonished, for I saw rising out of deep water seven shining and silvery figures, and three on one side and three on another side and one beneath) they held uplifted hands on the hilt of a gigantic sword of quivering flame, and they waved that mighty sword in air and sank again beneath the waters. And after that seven others rose up and they held a great spear, and it they pointed skywards and sank below; and after that arose two carrying a cauldron, and, when they had vanished, one solitary figure arose and it held in its hands a great and glittering stone; and why these beautiful beings should bring forth the four precious symbols of the Tuatha de Danaan I do not know, for that Mid-world, as Usheen travelling to Tirnanoge saw, is full of strange and beautiful forms appearing and vanishing ever about the mystic adventurer, and there are to be seen many beings such as the bards told of: beings riding like Lir or Mananan upon winged steeds, or surrounded like Angus Oge with many-coloured birds, and why these images of beauty and mystery should be there I do not know, but they entered into the imagination of poets in the past and have entered into the imagination of others who are still living. I can only surmise that they were given the names of Mananan, Angus, Dana or Lir because they were mouthpieces of the bodiless deities and perhaps sitting on high thrones represented these at the Druidic mysteries, and when the mortal came to be made immortal they spoke to him each out of their peculiar wisdom. In myself as in others I know they awakened ecstasy. To one who lay on the mound which is called the Brugh on the Boyne a form like that the bards speak of Angus appeared, and it cried: "Can you not see me? Can you not hear me? I come from the Land of Immortal Youth." And I, though I could not be certain of speech, found the wild words flying up to my brain interpreting my own vision of the god, and it seemed to be crying to me: "Oh, see our sun is dawning for us, ever dawning, with ever youthful and triumphant voices. Your sun is but a smoky shadow: ours the ruddy and eternal glow. Your fire is far away, but ours within our hearts is ever living and through wood and wave is ever dawning on adoring eyes. My birds from purple fiery plumage shed the light of lights. Their kisses wake the love that never dies and leads through death to me. My love shall be in thine when love is sacrifice." I do not believe that either to myself or my friend were such words spoken, but the whole being is lifted up in vision and overmastered, and the words that came flying upward in consciousness perhaps represent our sudden harmony with a life which is beyond ourselves, we in our words interpreting the life of the spirit. Some interpret the spirit with sadness and some with joy, but in this country I think it will always cry out its wild and wondrous story of immortal youth and will lead its votaries to a heaven where they will be drunken with beauty. What is all this? Poetry or fantasy? It has visited thousands in all ages and lands, and from such visions have come all that is most beautiful in poetry or art. These forms inhabited Shelley's luminous cloudland, and they were the models in the Pheidian heart, and they have been with artist, poet and musician since the beginning of the world, and they will be with us until we grow into their beauty and learn from them how to fulfil human destiny, accomplishing our labour which is to make this world into the likeness of the Kingdom of Light.



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