Kathleen Raine's brilliant little book, Blake and Antiquity was organized into a series of myths, to be reviewed here with much appreciation to the first and second authors.
Cave of the Nymphs
Cupid and Psyche
Myth of the Kore
The Little Girl
Visions of the Daughters of Albion
Vision of the Last Judgment
Thel, one of the Immortals (in the vales of Har) is attracted to the life below (as we all were). After hearing the encouragement of the Lilly of the valley, the little cloud, the helpless worm, and the clod of clay she ventures down:
This poem may also be considered a commentary on Innocence and Experience: the vales of Har represent Innocence while the northern bar leads to Experience. Descent from Eden leads to Experience, and when fully experienced, one may return to his (eternal) origin. Thel chose not to go through that journey, so it doesn't express Blake's myth except to act as a preamble.
Three things stand out prominently in this wonderful picture:
On the right is the cave of the nymphs who conduct innocent souls by the northern gate down into mortal life.
Below the cave spread across the bottom is the Sea of Time and Space.
On the upper left you see a representation of the Heavenly Realm.
Homer wrote about the Cave of the Nymphs in the 13th book of the Odyssey:
Blake loved the looms and used them repeatedly in his prophecies; in his larger prophecies he described the "nymphs" as vicious wicked women; in fact there are pages of these wicked women.
(The feminine of course connotes the earthly (under the moon), and the masculine heavenly (under the sun) (As offensive as this may be to many readers, I don't know any help for it. It might be considered the guideline that men used in their subjugation of women. Blake wasn't responsible; he adopted all the ancient symbols, including this one.)
Blake's picture portrays the two realms, connected by two passsages, sometimes called gates or bars or stairs. The picture shows them as stairs. The prominent gate on the right, called the northern bar, is especially rich in symbols that Blake used over and over as he wrote, etched, drew and painted.
Immediately to the left of the northern gate is the southern gate of 'return' where worthy mortals ascend into the higher realm of immortality.
In the upper part of the picture the nymphs prepare souls for the descent into the "sea of time and space". The northern gate is filled with a stream, the current moving downward into the sea.
Blake shows two souls scheduled for mortal life; each possesses a tub or pail which the nymphs prepared for them containing spiritual truth and power for the hazardous journey into the world.
At the bottom of the cave one of these 'women' lies in the water blissfully asleep; her tub is turned on its side, all the spiritual things spilled and replaced by the water of mortal life.
The other woman has carefully protected her pail and against the opposition of the nymphs turned decisively back toward the higher realm; following Heraclitus she may be said to be a dry soul. (This scene evokes Jesus' story of the wise and foolish virgins. The dry soul also suggests Thel, who crossed the northern bar, but drew back in horror at the miry clay ahead. The two imaginary humans represent the choices that each of us make every moment: to go the heavenly way or the worldly way, the two ways that that Jesus spoke of ).
In the symbolic language water denotes matter, the inferior, the worldly. Souls in the higher realm are attracted by the moisture. 'Time and space' is a sea where mortal creatures suffer adventures that may be creative or destructive.
Similar and closely related to dry and moist souls are those awake and those sleeping (this runs like a current throughout the Bible and through Blake as well.)
But emerging from the sea we find Odysseus, the hero of Homer's Odyssey on the near shore; with his back to the shore he is putting something in the water: in accordance with Leucothea's instructions he is returning her (magic) girdle which she had lent him so he could swim ashore. In the distance Leucothea appears getting her girdle and dissolving "in a spiral of radiant cloud" (Blake and Antiquity page 6).
Behind Odysseus stands his protector goddess, Athena pointing him to the courts above.
(The return of Odysseus to his home closely parallels Elijah's ascent on the fiery chariot into Heaven, and of course the Ascension of Our Lord. The thing to remember is that rather than material events these are metaphors. Our metaphors are spacious and temporal; not so in Eternity.)
The upper left of the picture shows God upon a chariot, driven by the four zoas and surrounded by the immortals. God appears to be a right sleepy god; the import is that it's the inner God who goes to sleep when the soul finds the couch of death and awakens to mortal life (Blake and Antiquity page 15). Raine quotes
"05 My Eternal Man set in Repose
06 The Female from his darkness rose"
The Gates of Paradise
Once you've grasped the whole of this story you may notice how closely it parallels the primary Bible myth of Creation, Fall and eventual Redemption. It's the old, old story, and in the end there's only one story. (Jesus gave us an abbreviated version of it with The Prodigal Son.)
In her discussion of Blake's use of Cupid and Psyche Raine refers us to a passage in Night ii of The Four Zoas:
In this passage Luvah has (more or less) created Vala, and then (for an unknown reason here) found himself shut off from her and she from him.
Cupid provides a magnificent house for Psyche, and Luvah does the same thing for Vala, just as Solomon had done (your house is traditionally a symbol of your body). Cupid, Luvah, Solomon build houses for Psyche, Vala, and the Shulamite respectively. They made a house for them, just as God makes a house for us all.
My Luvah here hath placd me in a Sweet & pleasant Land
And given me fruits & pleasant waters & warm hills & cool valleys
Here will I build myself a house & here Ill call on his name
Here Ill return when I am weary & take my pleasant rest
So spoke the Sinless Soul and laid her head on the downy fleece
Of a curld Ram who stretchd himself in sleep beside his mistress
And soft sleep fell upon her eyelids in the silent noon of day
Then Luvah passed by & saw the sinless Soul
And said Let a pleasant house arise to be the dwelling place
Of this immortal Spirit growing in lower Paradise
He spoke & pillars were builded & walls as white as ivory
The grass she slept upon was pavd with pavement as of pearl. Beneath her rose a downy bed & a cieling coverd all
(Night 9 of 4Z 128:20-33; quoted by Raine on page 26)
The pleasant house has the symbolic meaning of the Beloved's (that's us!) body. In the Song of Solomon we have this duet:
Shulamite: I am a wall, and my breasts are like towers. Thus I have become in his eyes like one bringing contentment. Song of Solomon 8:9-10
With a rhapsodic verse from Solomon re his "beloved" in Blake and Tradition (but not Blake and Antiquity) Raine makes for us an extremely significant revelation:
(4Z is a notebook; Jerusalem is a magnificent (and very long!) poem.)
Here is a simple version of Persephone's story. We are told that Blake became interested in the Eleusinian Mysteries in about 1790.
I suppose the original and oldest story of Persephone may have been from thepen of Homer.
Demeter(Kore) was the goddess of agriculture and marriage. Her daughter was Persephone (Prosepine). This fair maiden plucked a special flower and had the fortune to be abducted by Pluto to be queen of his Underworld. Demeter appealed to Zeus about this outrage; as a consequence Persephone was granted dual citizenship in the Underworld and the World with the freedom to move from one to the other twice a year.
The natural "species" of this myth is the natural arrangement of the yearly sequence of seasons. Persephone spent winter in Hades and the warmer months in the World. The metaphysical points toward the dual nature of man: made in the image of God, but made of clay.
Psychologically we have the angelic impulse and the devilish one. (They generally alternate more frequently than twice a year.) The literal "species" is kind of self evident: a girl raped and kidnapped-- all too common in 2007. Whether she's ever recovered is problematic.
(This little lesson in the species of myths illustrates something that will become more and more obvious if you continue reading Blake: what his words mean superficially is often (or usually) far from his most significant intention.)
In the early centuries of the Christian era a close relationship existed between the "followers of Jesus" and "those of Persephone". They had much in common-- particularly salvation, which (at least ritually) was achieved in remarkably similar fashions.
In Lyca (The Little Girl Lost), we see Vala in microcosm (as Persephone). Two poems in Songs of Experience tell her story, a lovely miniature statement of the myth in all the large myths already described here described. Blake spent the next 30 years expanding, enlarging, journaling, commenting on, etc. the basic myth which we've called his 'system', namely the descent of the soul (humankind) into the world (matter) and it's return to Eternity:
The are many ways to interpret the two "Little Girl" poems in Songs of Experience. Following Raine I have focused on the neoPlatonic viewpoint:
That the earth from sleep
(Grave the sentence deep)
Shall arise, and seek
For her Maker meek;
And the desert wild [this mortal world]
Become a garden mild.
Where the summer's prime
Never fades away,
Lovely Lyca lay.Seven summers old
Lovely Lyca told.
She had wandered long,
Hearing wild birds' song.
'Sweet sleep, come to me,
Underneath this tree; [the Elm of Hades]
Do father, mother, weep? [like Demeter wept.]
Where can Lyca sleep?
'Lost in desert wild
Is your little child.
How can Lyca sleep
If her mother weep?
'If her heart does ache,
Then let Lyca wake;
If my mother sleep,
Lyca shall not weep.
'Frowning, frowning night,
O'er this desert bright
Let thy moon arise,
While I close my eyes.'
Sleeping Lyca lay,
While the beasts of prey,
Come from caverns deep,
Viewed the maid asleep.
The kingly lion stood, [lion=Pluto, king of the underworld]
And the virgin viewed:
Then he gambolled round
O'er the hallowed ground.
Leopards, tigers, play
Round her as she lay;
While the lion old
Bowed his mane of gold,
And her bosom lick,
And upon her neck,
From his eyes of flame,
Ruby tears there came; [Why was the lion sorrowful? Did he mourn the descent of the soul?]
While the lioness [the lioness?]
Loosed her slender dress,
And naked they conveyed
To caves the sleeping maid.
Lyca's parents go
Over valleys deep,
While the deserts weep.Tired and woe-begone,
Hoarse with making moan,
Arm in arm, seven days
They traced the desert ways.
Seven nights they sleep
Among shadows deep,
And dream they see their child
Starved in desert wild.
Pale through pathless ways
The fancied image strays,
Famished, weeping, weak,
With hollow piteous shriek.
Rising from unrest,
The trembling woman pressed
With feet of weary woe;
She could no further go.
In his arms he bore
Her, armed with sorrow sore;
Till before their way
A couching lion lay.
Turning back was vain:
Soon his heavy mane
Bore them to the ground,
Then he stalked around,
Smelling to his prey;
But their fears allay
When he licks their hands,
And silent by them stands.
They look upon his eyes,
Filled with deep surprise;
And wondering behold
A spirit armed in gold.
On his head a crown,
On his shoulders down
Flowed his golden hair.
Gone was all their care.
'Follow me,' he said;
'Weep not for the maid;
In my palace deep,
Lyca lies asleep.'
Then they followed
Where the vision led,
And saw their sleeping child
Among tigers wild.
To this day they dwell
In a lonely dell,
Nor fear the wolvish howl
Nor the lion's growl.
Are not these the places of religion, the rewards of continence?
Those 'heavenly' moments he could best (or only) describe in the symbolic terms of the ages, a language that has been largely forgotten since the Enlightenment by our materialistic culture, which despises anything other than the 'hard reality' of dollars and cents.
Here are a few of the esoteric symbols: The sun is the symbol of God and Eternity.
The moon is the symbol of mortality, the realm of the world.
Lyca is the earth. The little girl symbolizes the world. She is also a type for Leutha (sexuality), and Eve. The little girl heard the "wild bird's song" (look at Plate 6. Lyca here is in the form of an adult woman with a lover (which is what it means to hear the wild bird's song). She immediately desires sleep.
Blake means something other than what we mean by natural sleep; he means in fact the descent of an immortal soul into the fallen world. Coming from the South (land of the Immortals) Lyca hears the wild bird's song, and sleeps.
Kathleen Raine, near the end of her long and productive life published a little book called Golgoonza. It contains a very good treatment of Blake's Job. On page 127 she wrote, "It is clear that the figure of Albion is to a great extent derived from the Book of Job.
There are many good presentations of Blake's Job on the web. The most helpful one might be in a work emanating from Boston College.
This one has a frame with the King James Version of the Bible pointed to by Blake in his magnificent production. Remarkably the text spread around Blake's pictures appear to have almost verbatim copies of various parts of the Bible Book of Job.
Here is the initial picture of another of the Job series. Click on the Next to see the successive pictures one by one. Here is the last picture. These pictures, like most of Blake's pictorial art are largely diagrammatic, designed to convey spiritual meaning.
Summary of Job from Raines Golgonooza