Monday, November 15, 2010

Natural Religion

After the Biblical Fall the Old Testament drama unfolds as a protracted struggle between two Gods. In every age the majority of Mankind have worshipped Mother Earth, Matter or the recurring cycle of vegetative life. She has many names; in the Bible one of the most common is Astarte. In our day "Astarte" exacts an acceptance of things as they are, an attempt to flow with the stream of Nature. The Bible called this "whoring after other gods".
Blake called it Natural Religion or Druidism. He meant by Natural Religion the worship of the principle of fallen life; those most conformed and faithful to it become the rulers of this world. Natural Religion involves choosing to remain at the level of the material, which Blake called vegetative life.
The believer in Natural Religion closes his mind to the reality of spiritual development; he turns his back upon the Spirit. Unable to endure the tension of struggling and waiting for spiritual evolution he erects a golden calf. He either acquiesces in or actively contributes to the brutishness and horror of a life that "lives upon death".
The Bible and Blake's poetry alike are filled with gory images of this ultimate horror, which comes from identifying life with the merely natural. T.S.Eliot said in The Sacred Wood that Blake's poetry is unpleasant, as all great poetry is unpleasant. It is "unpleasant" basically because Blake, like the Bible, insists on calling a spade a spade. Nowhere is Blake closer to the Bible than in his constant reiteration of the ultimate horror of unredeemed life, celebrated in page after page of minute particulars.
Blake and the Bible both insistently remind us that Nature is fallen , and that one flows with this fallen Nature to one's destruction. Abraham and Moses knew a higher God: he was above Nature; he was Spirit. He called men to rise above the natural and to become sons of a God opposed to everything Astarte stood for, to live by the laws, not of earth, but of heaven.
The children of Abraham tried to put this God first, but rarely with notable success. Instead at every opportunity they turned away from Jehovah "under every green tree", back to Nature. This inevitably led back to Captivity in the iron furnaces of Egypt/Babylon/Rome, etc. The biblical cycle discussed above thus relates to the alternating dominance of Jehovah and Astarte. Blake's myth recreates this biblical story, but with one vital difference.
Vala and her fellow females--Tirzah, Rahab, the Daughters of Albion--represent the various forms of Astarte, the Earth Goddess. Urizen represents Jehovah, the Sky God. But in 'The Four Zoas' both are fallen. Blake claims that the Hebrew consciousness of God is flawed at best. Secular materialists had reached this conclusion long before, but it was a startling and revolutionary idea for a man like Blake, embedded in the biblical faith and firmly attached to the life of the Spirit.
Blake had made as serious a commitment to the Eternal as anyone could, and now at the mid point of his life he saw an Eternal without a God worthy of worship. It was a dark night of the soul indeed!
This honest and painful confrontation with what was for Blake an existential reality has made him into the pariah of the orthodox. The black book has no place for any criticism of the Hebrew consciousness of God; he is perfect from first to last, and everything the Bible says about him is perfect (inerrant!) as well. The superstitious awe which has been called bibliolatry forbids any questions of Abraham's God or Moses' God.
Although when we read without blinders, we can see their consciousness of God changing before our eyes. Note Abraham bargaining with God for the survival of his nephew in Sodom and Moses simply defying God if he refuses to forgive the worshipers of the golden calf. In the spirit of these two revealing passages Blake in his own recreation of the biblical story dramatically portrayed an evolving God consciousness, which the black book simply cannot permit. It was Blake's willingness to let the old die that made him notably ready for the new birth. The dark night of the soul had intensified until it became the Sickness unto Death."
(The above taken from Chapter Six of the Blake Primer.)


Susan J. said...

the thing about masculine & feminine imagery for God, or that-which-is-fallen, or whatever, is that obviously in actual existence both masculine and feminine are right here side-by-side, each useless without the other. I think Larry's Monday post and Ellie's Tuesday post complement one another very well; one who tries to hide or deny or devalue either masculine or feminine is automatically hiding or denying or devaluing part of self, and reality....

Susan J. said...

thanks so much for your very thought-provoking posts! sorry I don't make it online more often....

Larry said...

Thanks, Susan; your comments are always very welcome.

Masculine and feminine refers to human beings in the world, but also to psychological principles. Each of us has a masculine and a feminine dimension.

Blake dealt with the prinicples interminably, some times with more coherence than other times.