Friday, November 30, 2012

Church 6

Blake suffered intensely from the subtle forms of economic oppression and
railed against them. His anger sparked the most searching critique of the
restrictive structures of society and of the psychic attributes associated with
those structures.

Wesley lacked Blake's prophetic mind, but he had a concern for souls that led
his converts first to an elevation of character and soon to an elevation of
economic station. In the simplest natural terms Wesley's converts replaced
drinking and gambling with praying and singing hymns--and became
prosperous, just as the Quakers had done in earlier generations.

Wesley held extremely conservative political views, but unlike most Tories he
loved the poor. He devoted his life to helping them raise their circumstances, all 
of course a byproduct of his concern for their souls! While Blake denounced and 
railed against the social evils of the day, Wesley picked up one by one the fallen 
members of the underclass and instilled in them a means of lifting themselves 
up into the middle class.

He taught them for example to "gain all you can, save all you can, give all you
can". The admonition won sufficient adherents to make a tremendous 
contribution to the humanitarian movement. Blake wrote about the prisons of  
the mind; Wesley systematically visited real prisons his entire life and organized 
helping institutions to address the needs of prisoners and to ameliorate their distress.

Wesley had a life changing message and organizational genius as well. Through
his religious message and his Methodist societies he contributed significantly to
the relief of economic distress and oppression. In contrast Blake's message was
virtually incomprehensible to the kinds of people most responsive to Wesley's. 
In fact it is incomprehensible to most people today because it requires a level of  consciousness impossible for the materially minded.

Wesley and Blake may have been the two greatest men produced by England in
the 18th Century. The work of Wesley and his fellow evangelists had immediate
and far reaching consequences in the life of the world. For example his
preachers exercised a great civilizing influence on the American frontier. The
Methodist Church today represents the best of the American way, theologically
and socially enlightened beyond the generality of the population.

Blake's work in contrast was far ahead of his time. It had no immediate visible 
influence, yet it offers the best hope of the future for the English speaking world 
to break out of the strait jacket of dead materialism. The present age needs a 
spiritual revival as desperately as did Wesley's.

But the Wesleyan style of revival has less to offer the modern mind than it did
to the 18th Century underclass. The Blakean vision has a great deal to offer to
the best minds of this century, the relatively few minds capable of an individual
form of spiritual creativity. The mind of Blake offers the strongest possible
protection against the mindless conformity that threatens the human race.

Although Blake did have a copy of a Wesleyan hymnbook, we lack evidence of
direct first hand experience with a Methodist group. Most certainly he would
have found the discipline distasteful. But Methodism was one of the rare forms
of English religious life that Blake had good words for.

In the prose introduction to Chapter Three of 'Jerusalem' he defended
Methodists and Monks against what he deemed to be the hypocritical attacks
of Voltaire and the other philosophies. He named Wesley and Whitefield as the
two witnesses of Revelation 11.3 , the archetypal image of the rejected and
despised prophet of God (cf Milton 22:61; Erdman 118). He grouped Whitefield
with St. Teresa and other gentle souls "who guide the great Wine press of

(Erdman 403-4)

Thursday, November 29, 2012


The appreciation which Milton Klonsky had for William Blake was for his visionary skills. Klonsky sees that Blake acts as the conduit for the transmission of his visionary experience to his audience through his poetry and graphic images. Blake does not distance himself from the work he produces. He both inserts himself into his poetry and pictures and invites his readers and viewers to participate in the whole artistic, imaginative, visionary process. For Blake it must be so for: "The whole Business of Man Is The Arts & All Things Common." Laocoon, (E 273)
Vision of Last Judgment, (E 560)
"If the Spectator could Enter into these Images in his
Imagination approaching them on the Fiery Chariot of his
Contemplative Thought if he could Enter into Noahs Rainbow or
into his bosom or could make a Friend & Companion of one of these
Images of wonder which always intreats him to leave mortal things
as he must know then would he arise from his Grave then would he
meet the Lord in the Air & then he would be happy   General
Knowledge is Remote Knowledge it is in Particulars that Wisdom
consists & Happiness too.  Both in Art & in Life General Masses
are as Much Art as a Pasteboard Man is Human Every Man has Eyes
Nose & Mouth this Every Idiot knows but he who enters into &
discriminates most minutely the Manners & Intentions  the
Characters in all their branches is the
alone Wise or Sensible Man & on this discrimination All Art is
founded.  I intreat then that the Spectator will attend to the
Hands & Feet to the Lineaments of the Countenances they are all
descriptive of Character & not a line is drawn without intention
& that most discriminate & particular  much less an
Insignificant Blur or Mark>" 
Quoting from Minlton Klonsky's William Blake, The Seer and His Visions on page 27:
"Any work of the imagination, such as a poem or a picture, must necessarily be composed of mind-stuff, but Blake saw the larger creation as well, this very world as no different in kind. The acts that made up the world of the prophets, in the Bible and in the world, spoke through them as thoughts, miming the voice of God.

Side by side with his pantheon of 'Giant Forms' in the prophetic books, Blake also introduced a set of historical personae, such as Milton and Newton and Bacon and Locke, and, even under their proper names, a sub-cast of minor characters whose sole importance was that they once played a part in his own life. All of them act and react with one another, unite with or annihilate one another, shift identities and become one another like the phantoms of a dream, yet a dream within a larger dream, his own expanded into the 6,000-year-old dream of Albion. Mundane events in his own life become symbolic of cosmic events in eternity. Blake himself may appear among his own creations, as in Vala, when he and Catherine, apothesized as Los and Enitharmon, are glimpsed in a domestic scene at work together:

Four Zoas, Night VII, PAGE 98 [90],(E 369)
'And first he drew a line upon the walls of shining heaven    
And Enitharmon tincturd it with beams of blushing love'
Or in Milton, when he becomes Palamabron (one of the many sons of the fourfold Los) and resumes his quarrel with a quondam benefactor, William Hayley, there cast as Satan, whom Blake regarded as 'corporeal friend' but 'spiritual enemy':
Milton, Plate 7,(E 100)
"Then Palamabron reddening like the Moon in an eclipse,        
Spoke saying, You know Satans mildness and his self-imposition,
Seeming a brother, being a tyrant, even thinking himself a brother
While he is murdering the just;"
By his envisioning himself in this way, as the blake-smith and poet Los, we can thus see Blake as he saw himself thro' his own eyes."

Library Of Congress

Plate 76 

Continuing on page 28 Klonsky states:
"...Blake as an engraver also combined 'upper and lowers,' relief and intaglio, on copper plates that were etched and then printed in black and white. But which, relief or intaglio, was black, which white? He could, and did engrave them either way, sometimes using black line in relief, etching away the whites, as in the designs for Songs of Innocence, and sometimes using white line on black in the quicksilvery illustrations for Jerusalem. But the choice, in either case, was as much mystical as aesthetic. For Blake not only believed but also lived and enacted his ideas, reaffirming them within and without in each line he engraved."

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Church 5


All historians agree that the most vital spiritual movement in 18th Century 
England came with the Methodist Revival. John Wesley, born and nurtured
  in the bosom of the Church, reacted against the peurility of the
established way. At the age of 35, after much strugglewith various forms of
religious unreality, he found a newlevel of truth; at Aldersgate "his heart was
strangely warmed".

Soon he followed his fellow Methodist, George Whitefield, to Bristol where
he began field preaching. (This happened some two decades before Blake's
birth.) For the next fifty years Wesley averaged two sermons a day and led
thousands, primarily from the underclass, into a heartfelt experience of grace.

Wesley remained until his death an Anglican priest, but after his heart warming
experience he rapidly lost standing in conventional religious circles, and one by
one the doors of England's churches closed against his enthusiasm. In response
he claimed the world as his parish and proceeded to organize his converts in
Methodist Societies. They became after his death the second largest English

Many historians believe that the Methodist Revival prevented a social and
political revolution in England. The Methodists filled the vacuum of spiritual
authority manifested by the dead formalism of the established Church and the
lukewarmness of the ageing dissenting groups.

Blake and Wesley had a great deal in common. Each combined high intelligence
and spiritual vision with an uncompromising temperament. These qualities led
both men to a spiritual struggle continuing into middle life and reaching its
climax in what I have called a Moment of Grace.

Wesley described his as a heart warming experience. Afterward his preaching
led to a similar experience in the lives of thousands. It became in fact the
normative religious experience of the spiritually vital segment of the English
population, both in and out of the established Church. The resemblance to the
experience of George Fox is both obvious and remarkable. (The same could be
said of Paul and Augustine.)

The poem which Blake wrote in October of 1800 to his friend, Butts, certainly
describes what we may call a heartwarming experience. Always an individualist
Blake had too critical a mind to identify himself consciously with the Methodists 
(who founded a new denomination),but without question his Moment of Grace 
owed much to the Methodist movement.

In the most fundamental spiritual progression of their lives Wesley and Blake
were twins. Uncompromising individuals they both refused the easy spiritual
path of the majority of their fellows and struggled alone until the light came.
Each achieved a breakthrough to an outstanding level of spiritual creativity.

Quite close in background and basic values, the two men were miles apart in
the style of their response. Both of Wesley's grandfathers had been
non-Conforming ministers. His father had returned to the established Church
and served the Anglican parish of Epworth; John helped him with it for several
years. Wesley knew the Church as an insider; he believed in the established
procedures, and remained a part of them. But with his heart warming
experience he won the freedom to break the rules when the Spirit so directed.

Two instances deserve special attention:
First, his irregular preaching was in defiance of the Church's rules; like Luther
he 'could do no other'. Second, when the American Revolution caused a
shortage of Anglican priests in America, Wesley decided that he, as a presbyter,
had authority to ordain ministers for his American societies. This more than
anything else led to the creation of the Methodist Church.

In spite of these infractions Wesley believed in and belonged to the Anglican
Church. He had made free with some of its rules, but he was rigid about the
rules which he imposed upon his converts. And right there of course he and
Blake parted company. Blake just didn't believe in rules; he thought they all
came from the devil. He admired Wesley's spirit and held his rules in contempt.

Blake and Wesley each had an an acute social conscience; they were both
friends of the common man, but in different ways. Wesley wanted to improve
men's lot using religious means. Blake felt that men were victimized by tyranny,
and he wanted it stopped. Neither of them shared the conventional genteel
attitude that the lower classes, ordained by God to their station, should be
encouraged to remain docile and expect their reward in the hereafter. They
believed rather that men have the freedom to rise to whatever level their gifts
and character may allow.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012


June Singer offers us the insights of a Jungian psychoanalyst in her book The Unholy Bible, Blake, Jung and the Collective Unconscious. She recognises Blake's willingness to delve into the darker, more rejected aspects of the relationship of God and man. She explores the dissension man experiences internally as his psychological components struggle to gain dominance within the divided fallen individual. Singer believes that Blake demonstrated methods of bringing unconscious material into consciousness in order to integrate warring aspects into a cohesive whole.

Page 5

"But Blake's entire work might have been forgotten in the years after his death were it not for one poem in Songs of Experience in which the striking image achieved immediate popularity. Almost every English schoolchild knows it by heart, yet its implications stir the most sophisticated to ponder the mystery of the ultimate creative power."

The Tyger

Page 6
"The lasting and overwhelming response to this poem acknowledges the recognition of a central concept in Blake's work. This is the need to become aware of the other side of God, the side not accepted either by social agreement or by orthodox religious practice. Blake says that while he who made the Lamb is worshipped and praised  in all the churches, he who fashioned the Tyger to pierce the darkness of the tangled forest with his perceptive eye, is also God. God of the Lamb is worshipped at prescribed interval, but God of the Tyger is held in fear by day and night, for none may escape him when be pursues. Blake
wrote as though he felt that enough had been said about the symbol of gentleness which is traditionally associated with Jesus. He was more concerned with the fierce and the frightful which threatens innocence and light. And it follows that such a man would address himself boldly also to the darker area of man's life, which is hidden in shadow and must be invaded and explored if man is to approach any degree of self-awareness."   

Yale Center for British Art 
Book of Urizen
Plate 5, copy C
Page 9
 "Always there have been those who could experience these forces as tremendous powers which might threaten to overwhelm them at certain times and at other times infuse them with a creative urge which would drive them to produce original ideas, works of art or new scientific concepts. Blake was fascinated by this extra dimension of psychic life and he felt impelled to write how it manifested in him. Without the detachment of the modern psychologist, he wrote of his own experience more as a participant than as an observer and yet the raw material of the inner drama is all there...Our position enables us to take a step away from Blake and to consider his writing as descriptive of the psychological processes that were going on in him. This is not to imply that those processes are basically different in kind from those which are going on in every man. It is only that, acting on his naive conviction that what he wrote was dictated by an unseen voice and that his paintings were no more the reproductions of what the inner eye had already perceived, Blake threw a brilliant light into a realm that for most men is sheathed in the darkness of disbelief."         

Monday, November 26, 2012

Glad Day

Blake made a drawing of this picture in 1780 and engraved it in 1800. What 

meaning it might have had to Blake requires some understanding of it in 
terms of these two dates. 

In 1780 Blake was 23. The American Revolution was near its conclusion. 

 The Gordon Riots occurred in England; Blake was said to have been 
swept up into the foreground of the assault on Newgate Prison.   He also 
made a drawing which came to be called Glad Day.

Twenty years later, when Blake was 43, he  engraved the drawing that he had
made in 1780:The picture resembles the 
"Vitruvian Man".

Note his spikey 

Immediately behind 
appears to be 
the radiant Sun.

The stance 
suggests triumph and

Blake's mind had 
tremendously in the interim. At 43 
he had seen a lot and learned a lot.

This post is highly dependent upon page 7ff of David Erdmans' Blake Prophet 
Against Empire. (He printed the picture on the facing page of p.182.)

Another source for the post is the big William Blake edited by Robin 

Here it's called Albion Rose:
"When shall the Man of future times become as in days of old"
(The Four Zoas; Erdman 389)

In Blake's myth Albion fell and broke into the four zoas. He lay on 
a Rock while the 4Z's traversed the Circle of Destiny; at the End Point
Albion Rose. Plates 96 and 97 of Jerusalem describe at length Albion's awakening.

Woe and Joy is an earlier post  with an indication that Blake associated this 
image with his emergence back into the light after a long period of obscured 
vision. At the bottom is an inscription:

"Albion rose from where he labourd at the Mill with Slaves  Giving himself 
for the Nations he danc'd the dance of Eternal Death".

The contrast in  this inscription is between laboring as a slave and giving 
oneself freely to the Nations in this paradoxical life/death of experience.

Sunday, November 25, 2012


Michael Bedard in his biography of Blake for young people, sees the cycle of Blake's life following a path begun in the security of a happy childhood, and sustained by his confidence in divine guidance. Blake himself in The School Boy, one of the Songs of Experience, argues that the pleasures of a unrestricted childhood provide the foundation for weathering the storms of later life. The ability to hold on to the truth which is the heritage of the stage Blake called innocence provided the fortitude for him to continue his work through the darkest times.  
From page 144 of William Blake The Gates of Paradise by Michael Bedard:

"As in art, so in life. Blake's heart went out to the poor and the oppressed, those for whom life was an endless struggle. His own life had its share of bitter disappointment and heartbreak. He came to believe that struggle was the very essence of life, and his work is full of it. What separates Blake's story from many others is that he was sustained throughout his struggle by vision, a vision of unity and harmony and joy that he had tasted in his own life and saw in the the lives of children and the is lowly of the earth. If his life may be said to describe a pattern, it is the very pattern he saw operating in and through all things: a state of initial bliss, followed by a fall into darkness and strife, and then finally, a restoration to unity and peace.

It is the refrain of all his poetry and the sustaining vision of his life. In Songs of Innocence, he celebrated the vision of joy. In Songs of Experience and many of the books that followed, he sang of division, constraint, and darkness. Yet even in times of trouble, he kept the divine vision. He had known bliss, known darkness and strife. In the final years of his life, he would experience a return to the world of light, to the joys of friendship and creative fellowship, and the visionary company of children."

Songs of Innocence & of Experience, Song 53, (E 31)
Songs of Innocence and of Experience
Plate 53
The School Boy 

"I love to rise in a summer morn,
When the birds sing on every tree;
The distant huntsman winds his horn,
And the sky-lark sings with me.
O! what sweet company. 

But to go to school in a summer morn,
O! it drives all joy away;
Under a cruel eye outworn,
The little ones spend the day,
In sighing and dismay.

Ah! then at times I drooping sit,
And spend many an anxious hour.
Nor in my book can I take delight,
Nor sit in learnings bower,
Worn thro' with the dreary shower. 
How can the bird that is born for joy,
Sit in a cage and sing.
How can a child when fears annoy,
But droop his tender wing,
And forget his youthful spring.

O! father & mother, if buds are nip'd,
And blossoms blown away,
And if the tender plants are strip'd
Of their joy in the springing day,
By sorrow and cares dismay, 

How shall the summer arise in joy.
Or the summer fruits appear,
Or how shall we gather what griefs destroy
Or bless the mellowing year,
When the blasts of winter appear." 

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Church 4

                              Blake and Quakers

Blake undoubtedly knew something of the power embodied in the Quaker movement. After 
The Moment of Grace the Quaker term 'self-annihilation' became a key construct of his 
theology. We could relate other Blakean expressions to the Quaker language. 
Although Blake preferred to engrave his human forms nude, when he did represent man 
clothed, the traditional Quaker garb appeared as a symbol of the good and faithful man. 
Study of Blake's works and his biographers has revealed no formal connection with the 
Quaker community. Nevertheless many of Blake's values  clearly resemble those of the 


The proliferation of radical believers brought forth by the Puritan Revolution included a 
group called Ranters who had descended from the the 16th Century Familists of Holland. 
The direct guidance of the Holy Spirit freed the Ranters from most or all legal  restraints, 
and they were given to extreme statements (and demonstrations!) of their freedom. The 
Society of Friends grew out of this fertile soil. 

In the 17th Century George Fox, an idealistic young man, explored the wide variety of 
religious options present in the Commonwealth. From a strictly scriptural view point he 
found something lacking in each of them. For example Jesus had insisted that there should 
be no preeminence among the faithful ("Call no man father"). Fox found an unchristian 
preeminence in every religious group which he observed. 

After several years of spiritual travail Fox came into an experience of grace. Thereafter he 
enjoyed the direct and continuous presence of the Holy Spirit guiding his words and actions; 
he recognized no other control. The ultimate anti- authoritarian, Fox began going to what he 
called the steeple houses, where he proceeded to denounce the preeminent in each of 
them. Naturally he won a lot of trouble for his pains. He saw the inside of many jails (like 
Paul had done), but he started something that's still going on. Modern Quakers still try to be 
the church together without preeminence. Fox and his friends refused to doff their hats and 
discarded all titles of honor in favor of the familiar 'thee'. Both of these postures were
solid blows aimed at the demise of hierarchical society in favor of the brotherhood of man. 

Through the centuries the idea of the inner light in a man's heart has caused various 
excesses, but Fox's heart was good and the Holy Spirit led him to gather numbers of people 
around the most admirable moral and social values. The strong anti-authoritarianism of the 
Friends incurred wrath and persecution from many directions; still they multiplied, 
witnessing to their spiritual power. By the late 18th Century they had become numerous, 
prosperous and respectable, and no doubt more conformed to the world than Fox's
generation had been. 

The Friends were anti-sacramentarian; they did not practice Baptism or Holy Communion, 
the two Protestant sacraments. In 'Vision of the Last Judgment'  Blake put an apostle on 
each side of Jesus representing respectively Baptism and the Lord's Supper, but he 
proceeded to define them as follows: "All Life consists of these Two, Throwing off Error and 
Knaves from our company continually, & Receivng Truth or Wise men into our company 

He also said "The outward Ceremony is Antichrist." And in the famous lines of "My Spectre
he identified the bread and wine with forgiving and being forgiven, without which we can 
only commune unworthily. 

As already noted Fox and his disciples had no use for priests. Blake used priests 
repeatedly as objects of derision. In his "French Revolution" for example the archbishop 
attempts to speak but finds that he can only hiss. In 'America' Blake has the "Priests in 
rustling scales Rush into reptile coverts". Other examples could be given to show that Blake 
generally thought of priests as serpents though he did not apply this evaluation to the poor 
and powerless priests of the people. 

The Quakers have always been noted for their refusal to participate in war. Blake's similar 
perspective on war is treated elsewhere. Throughout the 18th Century the Quakers 
vigorously opposed the slave trade, which had become a profitable element of England's 
commercial life. Unlike much of the establishment they had enough integrity to see clearly 
the spiritual implications of human bondage. They formed the first abolitionist society in 
England and disowned any Friend involved in the slave trade. John Woolman, perhaps the 
outstanding Quaker of the century, devoted his life to achieving the abolition of slavery. 
Blake was no Woolman, but one of his earliest prophetic works, 'Visions of the Daughters of 
Albion', is among other things a spirited outcry against slavery. 

The Quaker oriented reader who becomes familiar with Blake will find other significant 
correspondences. (Look at the Pendle Hill document Woolman and Blake.) Of all the 
religious groups in existence today the Quakers in their theology most nearly approximate 
the thought forms and theology of William Blake. Borrowing a phrase from Northrup Frye 
the Quakers and Blake both understood "the central form of Christianity as a vision rather 
than as a doctrine or ritual".

Friday, November 23, 2012


Kathleen Raine's studies of William Blake and his sources in the literature of the perennial philosophy were key to unlocking many of the symbols which abound in Blake's work. But her commitment to the thought of Blake did not end with presenting links in Blake to the traditional literature which was excluded by orthodox interpreters, she became with Blake a builder of Golgonnoza. She realised that his message of psychological/spiritual development should not be buried or hidden but was meant to be put to use in transforming individual psyches and the outer world which reflects inner realities.    

On page 4 of Golgonooza City of Imagination Raine calls Blake 'a patriot of the inner worlds' who wages the Mental Fight unceasing:

"Uncomprehended though he was, Blake was not, like Yeats, an esotericist. He addressed his prophetic message 'to the Public' and whether he would be understood he did not stop to question - his vision was, to him, clear beyond all doubt. He was a patriot of the inner worlds, of the England of the Imagination whose 'golden builders' he saw at work in the creation of Golgonooza the city within the brain (golgos, skull), 'the spiritual fourfold London Eternal'. He saw his nation 'sunk in deadly sleep', victim of 'deadly dreams' of a materialism whose effects in all aspects of national life were destructive and sorrowful, wars, exploitation of human labour, sexual hypocrisy, a 'cruel' morality of condemnation and punitive laws, the denial and oppression of the soul's winged life."

Yale Center for British Art
Blake's Water-Colours for the  
The Poems of Thomas Gray
Milton, Plate 1, (E 95)
    "And did those feet in ancient time,
     Walk upon Englands mountains green:
     And was the holy Lamb of God,
     On Englands pleasant pastures seen!

     And did the Countenance Divine,             
     Shine forth upon our clouded hills?
     And was Jerusalem builded here,
     Among these dark Satanic Mills?

     Bring me my Bow of burning gold:
     Bring me my Arrows of desire:                     
     Bring me my Spear: O clouds unfold!
     Bring me my Chariot of fire!

     I will not cease from Mental Fight,
     Nor shall my Sword sleep in my hand:
     Till we have built Jerusalem,                     
     In Englands green & pleasant Land."
Milton, Plate 12,(E 155) 
"And they builded Golgonooza: terrible eternal labour!

What are those golden builders doing? where was the burying-place
Of soft Ethinthus? near Tyburns fatal Tree? is that
Mild Zions hills most ancient promontory; near mournful
Ever weeping Paddington? is that Calvary and Golgotha?
Becoming a building of pity and compassion? Lo!
The stones are pity, and the bricks, well wrought affections:    
Enameld with love & kindness, & the tiles engraven gold
Labour of merciful hands: the beams & rafters are forgiveness:
The mortar & cement of the work, tears of honesty: the nails,
And the screws & iron braces, are well wrought blandishments,
And well contrived words, firm fixing, never forgotten,         
Always comforting the remembrance: the floors, humility,
The cielings, devotion: the hearths, thanksgiving:
Prepare the furniture O Lambeth in thy pitying looms!
The curtains, woven tears & sighs, wrought into lovely forms
For comfort. there the secret furniture of Jerusalems chamber    
Is wrought: Lambeth! the Bride the Lambs Wife loveth thee:
Thou art one with her & knowest not of self in thy supreme joy.

Go on, builders in hope: tho Jerusalem wanders far away,
Without the gate of Los: among the dark Satanic wheels."

 Raine's understanding of Blake's efforts to foster the spiritual attributes underlying the city in which imagination dwells is expanded on page 107:
"The sole object of all the labours of Golgonnza, 'ever building ever falling', is to provide an earthly habitation for Jerusalem. It is ever in secrecy and obscurity, in human love, in every sense of that word, that foundations of the city are laid...Blake perfectly and eloquently expresses all he felt about what a human city is, in its inner essence, as a building of human souls each individually, and all collectively labouring to embody a vision whose realization will be only when all is done 'on earth as it is in heaven', according to the archetype of the human Imagination. Blake never presented the building of Jerusalem as the work of a few men or outstanding genius or 'originality', but rather of all the city's inhabitants, the 'golden builders.'"

First Corinthians 3

[9] For we are labourers together with God: ye are God's husbandry, ye are God's building.
[10] According to the grace of God which is given unto me, as a wise masterbuilder, I have laid the foundation, and another buildeth thereon. But let every man take heed how he buildeth thereupon.
[11] For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ.

Video of Kathleen Raine on the imagination.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Church 3

                        The Contemporary Scene

Shortly after the publication of Paine's Age of Reason with its deist
critique of the Bible, a certain Bishop Watson replied with an 
"An Apology for the Bible in a Series of Letters addressed to Thomas 
Paine". George III commented that he wasn't aware the Bible needed 
an apology. Blake noted in his Annotations to Watson's Apology "that 
Paine has not attacked Christianity; Watson has defended Antichrist". 
On the back of the title page Blake wrote: "To defend the Bible in this
year 1798 would cost a man his life. The Beast and the Whore rule
without control".

The Beast and the Whore, two of the more flamboyant images of
Revelation, in Blake's vernacular symbolized respectively the State
and the Church. 

                                    A State Church

England has always had a State Church. Although many fat books
have been written about it, the English Reformation primarily
signified Henry VIII's declaration of independence from the papacy.
Through the Middle Ages religious and temporal authority had
existed side by side in continuous alliance and usually with a
minimum of tension. At the high point of papal authority in 1077 a
Holy Roman Emperor waited for three days in the snow outside the
door until Pope Gregory VII saw fit to receive him. The Pope
considered the kings and princes of Europe his spiritual children. 

Henry VIII was a child who grew up. When the Pope denied him
permission to put away his wife in favor of a later romantic interest,
Henry declared himself in effect the pope of the English Church and
gave himself the necessary dispensation. That was the major event
of the English Reformation; thereafter the ultimate authority of the
Church of England resided with the Crown. 

By Blake's standards a State Church is the ultimate abomination.
He was aware that in the second century at least one Emperor had
attempted to enforce the worship of his person as God throughout
the Roman Empire, resulting in considerable persecution of those
Jews and Christians who refused. Much of the New Testament
addressed the problem. In 312 A.D. Constantine took over the
Church and made it an arm of the State. That's the way Blake saw it
in the 18th Century. 

In America we take for granted the separation of Church and State
as a constitutional principle. This limits the sort of power that
corrupted Henry VIII. In England many people feel comfortable with
a State Church, but traditions of freedom have limited its power. A
large proportion of the population exist in religious groups outside of
the State Church, and probably an even larger proportion have no
significant religious attachment. 

Even in Blake's day the tradition of dissent was an accepted part of
the established order. True, the State Church operated Oxford and
Cambridge for its own purposes, primarily preparing clergymen. But
dissenting academies had arisen to provide a form of education in
many ways superior to that of the established universities,
especially in the new areas of science and industry. Dissenters
largely carried out the Industrial Revolution. 

The 17th Century had witnessed an explosion of dissent in which
the head of State and Church had lost his own head. But the
Restoration in 1660 reinstated the former arrangements. The
Commonwealth struggle had led to a general disgust with religious
controversy. Enthusiasm came to be despised and feared by clergy
and laity alike. Conventional 18th Century religion had little to do
with the feelings. It was rather an intellectual and political matter. 

One of Blake's four zoas, Urizen aptly portrays the God of the
majority of Anglicans during Blake's age. The State Church existed
as a facade or symbol of order and authority, but with limited power,
temporal or spiritual. 

The State Church, like the Jewish Sanhedrin, represented a
minority of the people, the conservative establishment types, the
squirearchy, the people who for centuries had controlled society.
Frequently the landowner's younger son became the priest, though
his character may have been dissolute. Politics dictated clerical
appointments. Pluralism was common, the same man being
appointed to a number of church positions. He would hire a curate
to look after each parish's affairs, often at a tenth of the income
which the parish provided him. 

The bishops served primarily as political officials; they spent most of
their time in London sitting in the House of Lords, where they
generally provided a faithful voting block for the Crown. Tithes were
the law of the land and enforced much as the income tax is today,
much of the proceeds going to the clergy. It was a convenient
arrangement, but it could not last; there was too much dissent, too
much growth, too much creativity. Change was overtaking all
England's institutions, and the Church was no exception. The
religious changes had been quietly gathering force for centuries. 

Side by side with Henry VIII's Reformation had existed a grass
roots movement which we may call the Radical Reformation. It was
made up of less worldly types than Henry, people who took their
religion more seriously. One such group departed England in 1619
aboard the Mayflower. Their descendants became the Established
Church in New England and spun off dissents from their dissent,
like that of Roger Williams. 

William Penn brought shiploads of other irregulars to found a new
colony. The Pilgrims, the Baptists, the Quakers of necessity learned
to coexist--with one another, with other Eurpoean religious groups,
and with the Cavaliers of Virginia, who were solidly Anglican. All
cooperated in throwing off the yoke of the mother country. In this
melting pot religious groups learned to compete in an ecclesiastical
form of free enterprise. It represented quite an improvement over
the religious wars that had decimated Europe in previous centuries. 

The same fluid climate existed in the mother country. Every group
that immigrated contained members who remained behind and
found a place in English society. The State Church, with its large
and unwieldy ecclesiastical bureaucracy, existed alongside an
infrastructure of non-Conformist groups. What these groups lacked
in political clout they made up for in creativity, character, industry,
and commercial acumen. Each group has a fascinating story. In the
next post we look at two of them which had a specific relationship to
the mind of William Blake

Wednesday, November 21, 2012


British Museum
Small Book of Designs
To George Wingfield Digby, Blake's message is incorporated in the symbolic style of creation which permeates his art and poetry. Without the language of symbols Blake's message could not be communicated because it originates in the depths of man's psyche. Blake intends for his reader to respond in his own imagination to the message generated by Blake's imagination.

Quote from Page 6 of Digby's
Symbol and Image in William Blake:

"But the purpose of this form of communication is not to make explicit statements. It is to evoke and direct attention to psychological events and states of consciousness by means other than that of the intellectual concept, which is rooted in dualism. Here, the meaning lies implicit in the symbol-image, as it does in any true work of art. Moreover, the pictorial image and the poetic image conveyed by the written word are complementary to one another; in different media they make evocative statements indicative of common meaning.

Now the image or symbol is not an inferior means of expression, nor is it largely subjective or arbitrary, as is far too generally regarded by art critics, art historians, and literary critics. On the contrary, the power of apprehending archetypal symbols and images springs from one of man's most precious faculties, his intuitive faculty. It is on this faculty, above all, that he must rely for perceiving the truth about actual living experience; man can never know the truth about himself, nor find in his relationships with the world that truth or reality which transcends them, unless he develops his power of intuition. The intuitive imagination, which works through symbols, is the very essence of art.

But because the image or symbol speaks not only to man's conscious, thinking side, but also to his unconscious, it is a difficult language. Many people shrink from it with misgiving and fear. Others are so attracted and overwhelmed by it that relationships with other forms of cognition are abandoned, and so a vital balance and sense of discrimination is lost. This language of archetypal symbols and images enlists and stirs both sides of man's nature; and because it speaks to the whole man with the many different voices of his complex being, it has to be experienced to be understood.

The implication of this is that we must first and foremost try to see and feel the living principles about which Blake is speaking in his art. This means that the image or symbol must be taken inside oneself and understood intuitively, for it is only in that way it comes to life. The aim of Blake's art is to open the inner world to all those who care to look. He has extraordinary things to show, because he himself saw so far, and so clearly; also because he could bear to look equally on the ugly, the pretty, the deformed and on the free and beautiful." 


Gates of Paradise, Frontispiece, (E 260)
"The Suns Light when he unfolds it
Depends on the Organ that beholds it"

Jerusalem, Plate 5, (E 147)
"Jerusalem is scatterd abroad like a cloud of smoke thro' non-entity:
Moab & Ammon & Amalek & Canaan & Egypt & Aram
Recieve her little-ones for sacrifices and the delights of cruelty   

Trembling I sit day and night, my friends are astonish'd at me.
Yet they forgive my wanderings, I rest not from my great task!
To open the Eternal Worlds, to open the immortal Eyes
Of Man inwards into the Worlds of Thought: into Eternity
Ever expanding in the Bosom of God. the Human Imagination        
O Saviour pour upon me thy Spirit of meekness & love:
Annihilate the Selfhood in me, be thou all my life!
Guide thou my hand which trembles exceedingly upon the rock of ages,
While I write of the building of Golgonooza, & of the terrors of Entuthon:
Of Hand & Hyle & Coban, of Kwantok, Peachey, Brereton, Slayd & Hutton:
Of the terrible sons & daughters of Albion. and their Generations."  
Thomas Cahill in Sailing the Wine Dark Sea demonstrates his method of using his intuition to gain access to the living past he wants to communicate:
"I tell you these things now because my methods of approaching the past have scarcely changed since childhood and adolescence. I assemble what pieces there are, contrast and compare, and try to remain in their presence till I can begin to see and hear what living men saw and heard and loved, till from these scraps and fragments living men and women begin to emerge and live and move again - and then I try to communicate these sensations to my reader...For me the historian's principle task should be to raise the dead to life."  

The technique of remaining in the presence of Blake's characters and ideas (or taking them into ourselves as Digby says) may yield a wealth of rewards.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Church 2


       The Church Fathers congregated in Rome, but Gnosticism had its center
in Alexandria, a marketplace of competing religious and philosophical ideas.
There in the third century a man named Plotinus gave birth to
 Neo-platonism, an amalgam of the best of Greek thought with the ethical
teachings of Christ.

Extremely eclectic, drawing on currents of thought from Rome to India,
Plotinus's teachings became the religion of some of the later Roman Emperors.

       During the fourth century the religion of Neo-platonism disappeared as a
rival of the Church. However it deeply influenced the shape of Christian
theology, most notably through the mind of St. Augustine. Augustine in his
spiritual journey passed through a Neo-platonic stage, which left its mark upon
his Christian life and writing. Augustine occupies an anomalous position in the
history of the Church: he is both a Church Father of impeccable reputation and
the spiritual forebear of many theologians whose Neo-platonic bent put them on
the fringe of orthodoxy:

       Erigena, Duns Scotus, William of Ockham, Meister Eckhart are a few of
these Neo-platonic Christians. Some of these thinkers succeeded in remaining
within the umbrella of the authorized tradition; some were partially or totally
cast out. Among them they preserved to theology a breadth and a poetic
dimension that burst open the priestly cocoon with the 15th Century
Renaissance and the 16th Century Reformation.

                          The Middle Ages

       Through the Middle Ages the successors of the Church Fathers, most
notably the authorities at Rome, maintained a fairly firm grip on the shape of
theological and intellectual activity. They presided over an age of stability with a
gradual leavening of creative change. They aborted many changes in the name
of orthodoxy; the aborted change usually went underground to reappear at a
more open time and place. The openness most often proved momentary. Creative
truth struggled against rigid institutional necessities.

       In spite of all the Church periodically gave birth to men and women who,
from the platform of the orthodox tradition, were elevated to a direct vision of
God. Most of the creative change in the Church originated with such types. The
 Church rather uniformly discouraged mystical visions of God unless they
conformed in full detail to the orthodoxy of the moment. God refused such
limitations; the entire period witnessed recurring visions of great diversity. Many
of these prophetically judged the priestly position. A long volume could be
written about the many prophetic visions which in one way or another resemble
that of our poet.

       The Church was broad enough to include and even honor many of these free spirits,
but the works which followed them in the hands of their more militant
disciples generally fell into ill repute. The early Franciscan movement is a case
in point. St. Francis preached to his little sisters the birds; he shared the
stigmata of Christ and suggested that to share Christ's poverty might be fitting
for his disciples, an extremely radical idea which an extremely wealthy pope
indulged. But many of Francis' disciples faced persecution of various sorts.

       Roughly contemporary with Francis another monk named Joachim of Flora
rediscovered for the nth time the dominance of the Spirit over the letter.
Preaching what he called the Everlasting Gospel Joachim proposed to dispense
with the corrupt and worldly political structures of the establishment and move
into a New Age, the era of the Holy Spirit. The New Age would replace the age
of the Church; it would be an age of freedom with everyone led directly by the
Spirit. Jeremiah had foretold this. Even Moses had said, "would to God that all
the Lord's people were prophets". For the creative poet the New Age
represented freedom at its best, exactly what Jesus had come to bring us. For
most of the priests it represented antinomianism at its worst.

       The Everlasting Gospel and the New Age came down the centuries through
the various subterranean channels of the heterodox tradition. Swedenborg
announced its advent in 1757, which happened to be the year of Blake's birth;
Blake noted this with obvious delight in 'The Marriage of Heaven and Hell'.
Years later, in the autumn of his life, Blake filled his spiritual journal with a
fragmentary poem called 'The Everlasting Gospel'. It was his systematic attempt
to set forth in the most direct terms possible his precise view of Christianity and
its founder. He probably never concluded the project to his full satisfaction.


                              The Reformation

       To many of us the Protestant Reformation represents a breaking free from
the oppression of ecclesiastical tyranny. Unfortunately the tyrannies of Luther
and Calvin soon replaced those of the Pope, and the conflicts among the various
orthodoxies brought about in the 16th and 17th Centuries perhaps the most
satanic bloodletting the church has ever experienced.

       The Protestant authorities in general were no less rigid theologically than
the Romans from whom they had separated. When a German cobbler named
Jacob Boehme started talking directly to God, his pastor had him exiled.
However the Lord got Boehme's ear and proceeded to talk to him about
Oneness, about the emanations coming from the One, the dark side and the light
side. The Lord graced Boehme with a fantastically vivid and voluminous
imagination; his visions resembled in many ways those of the Christian Gnostics
and of Plotinus. They also owed much to the alchemical doctor, Paracelsus.

       Boehme went a long way beyond the orthodoxy of either Catholic or
Protestant authorities, but a sweetness of spirit pervaded his mind reminiscent
of St. Francis and of other simple souls who have walked with God. Cast out by
his church, Boehme still won the respect and support of many serious thinkers,
products of the liberating currents of Renaissance and Reformation. His friends
published his work widely, and it endured the test of time. Almost two hundred
years later, in the late 18th Century, it appeared in an English translation
attributed to William Law.

       This work became one of Blake's primary sources. He seized on Boehme's
visions with delight; he recognized in Boehme a creative servant of God who
held the imagination as highly as he did himself. Speaking of a series of
anthropomorphic metaphysical designs which appeared in Law's Boehme he told
Crabb Robinson that "Michaelangelo could not have done better". Much of the
Neo-platonic flavor of Blake's work came down to him through Boehme, his
most immediate fountain for the heterodox tradition.

       For a great many peasants in Germany the Reformation meant little more
than a change of masters; nothing really happened. They had been accustomed
to doing what they were told by the Pope's priests; now they did what they were
told by Luther's priests. Likewise Geneva afforded no real relief from the
pervasive spiritual repression, what Blake referred to as the "mind forg'd
manacles". Soon after he won power, Calvin had a child beheaded for striking
his father; he executed a man named Servetus for denying the Trinity. He and his
contemporaries inaugurated a new round of bloodthirstiness decimating the
population of Europe, all in the name of Christ! Blake observed all this without
the usual conventional blindness and concluded that the Reformation arose
through envy of power--a plague on both houses!

       But some of the devout did go further than their masters. Some peasants
 decided that a believer should be baptized after the age of consent; he should
even elect his own priest. The Holy Spirit swept across Europe with the Radical 
Reformation. Free churches arose here and there and were stamped out with
great vigor by Catholics and (right wing) Protestants alike. The Romans had
never shown such brutality. It was a century to to be thankful you were not born

       In their efforts to escape extermination the free churchmen wandered
across the face of Europe. They found refuge in a few islands of political sanity
amidst the general theological madness: Switzerland, Bohemia, Holland.
Another of these islands was England. The non-Conformist tradition in England
swelled to a climax in the 17th Century. The Puritans came to power about 1642
and six years later went so far as to behead a king.

       During the Civil War the anabaptists and radicals-- Levellers, Diggers,
Ranters, Quakers, Muggletonians, Fifth Monarchists, etc. etc.--came within an
inch of taking over England. For a few years censorship collapsed, and free
thought had open season. Every conceivable idea about God and man had its
day. The Levellers even questioned the idea of private property. Their religious
and social theories were so radical that Cromwell and his confederates found it
necessary, for the protection of their middle class values, to return the Crown to
the son of the man whom they had beheaded. John Milton had warned them that
they would do this unless they learned to control their greed.

       The anabaptists and Milton both exercised an overwhelming influence on
the mind of William Blake; call them his spiritual grandparents. Milton shared
much of the radical theology of the left wing. Even before the Civil War he had
expressed his strong anti-priestly bent: "The hungry sheep look up and are not
fed". Milton believed that the Church had become hopelessly corrupted by


       We can summarize this "Blakean vision of Christianity" with the conclusion
that Blake thought of the institutional church as one of the powers of the world,
under the dominion of the God of this World. He described it with the colorful
though not original phrase, "the Synagogue of Satan". Bear in mind that in
Blake's eternal vision differences of time and space had little meaning; he made
no distinction between the Sadduccees of the Sanhedrin who had condemned
Jesus and the Anglican bishops of his own day, one of whom condemned his
friend, Tom Paine.