George William Russell (10 April 1867 – 17 July 1935) who wrote under the pseudonym AE was an Irish writer, editor, critic, poet and painter. He was a member of the Dublin Lodge of the Theosophical Society for some time and a friend of the poet WB Yeats. He was also known as an Irish Nationalist and even wrote works on agriculture. So, his talents were spread over a wide range of subjects! At the time he had a profound effect on Irish culture, but nowadays this seems to have been largely forgotten.
The pseudonym “AE” came into being when, as he was painting a visionary scene, he heard a whispered voice saying, “AEON.” Shortly afterwards in the National Library, someone had left a book open on a desk. Russell looked at it casually in passing and the word Aeon leapt out at him. On looking at it more carefully, he discovered that Aeon was the Gnostic name for the first created being and shortly afterwards he used it to sign a manuscript. From then on, he used it in his spiritual writings.
Probably his most famous written work is the “Candle of Vision” in which he describes the visions that came to him, messages and intuitions that convinced him that “the Golden Age was all about us, and it was we who had been blind to it, but that it had never passed away from the world.” This is reflected in his art work, which shimmer with these visions of a better age.
Even at the tender age of 16 he wrote: “there broke in on me an almost intolerable lustre of light – pure and shining faces, dazzling processions of figures – most ancient, ancient places and peoples and landscapes lovely as the lost Eden”.
Other works he wrote include “Song and its Fountains” and mystical novels such as “The Avatars” as well as many articles for the “Irish Theosophist” and his poems of course.
He is probably least known for the paintings which show the relationship between humanity and nature and contain mystical symbolism. AE wrote:
“We have the universe to roam in in imagination. It is our virtue to be infinitely varied. The worst tyranny is uniformity.”
In his later years he became disillusioned with the way his native Ireland was going and so moved to England, shortly after his wife died in 1932. Despite failing health, he managed a lecture tour of the USA. He died of cancer in Bournemouth in 1935.
AE’s vision is beautifully expressed in these words from the “Candle of Vision”:
“So the lover of Earth obtains his reward, and little by little the veil is lifted of an inexhaustible beauty and majesty. It maybe he will be tranced in some spiritual communion, or will find his being overflowing into the being of the elements, or become aware that they are breathing their life into his own. Or Earth may become on an instant all faery to him, and earth and air resound with the music of its invisible people. Or the trees and rocks may waver before his eyes and become transparent, revealing what creatures were hidden from him by the curtain, and he will know as the ancients did of dryad and hamadryad, of genii of wood and mountain. Or earth may suddenly blaze about him with supernatural light in some lonely spot amid the hills, and he will find he stands as the prophet in a place that is holy ground, and he may breathe the intoxicating exhalations as did the sibyls of old. Or his love may hurry him away in dream to share in deeper mysteries, and he may see the palace chambers of nature where the wise ones dwell in secret, looking out over the nations, breathing power into this man’s heart or that man’s brain, on any who appear to their vision to wear the colour of truth. So gradually the earth lover realises the golden world is all about him in imperishable beauty, and he may pass from the vision to the profounder beauty of being, and know an eternal love is within and around him, pressing upon him and sustaining with infinite tenderness his body, his soul and his spirit.”