Friday, December 28, 2012

Blake's Source 8

From Sunday, August 15, 2010

The symbolism of alchemy runs through Blake's writings and will be apparent
to those who seek it out. The basic symbolism of alchemy is of transformation.
Although the original object was to produce gold from base metals, the
discipline was later spiritualized to that of becoming transformed oneself by
the processes which were developed in the laboratory for transmuting

This picture from MHH Plate 14 to shows an image of transformation
 by fire:

              Plate 14

Marriage of Heaven and Hell

There is a chapter on
Alchemical Symbolism in
Milton O Percival's book,
William Blake's: Circle of 

William Blake acquaintance
with alchemy was primarily
through Paracelsus and
Boehme whom he
acknowledges as influential in
his thinking. Among the
prominent patterns of thought in
alchemy which are noticed in
Blake are:

The four elements - air, water,
fire and earth, The original state
is unified,

The centrality of reunifying
male and female, Fire as the
liberating and regenerating

That all things are alive and sentient, achieving life through death, Transformation of body into soul.

In the post on Angel & Devil, in the passage  quoted, the Angel at the point of
transformation undergoes mutations of color which are the primary indication
that the crisis has been reached. Color changes were outward manifestations
that hidden change were taking place in the alchemical processes.

MHH plate 22
"The Angel hearing this became almost blue but mastering
 himself he grew yellow, & at last white pink & smiling, and then

Los' work at his furnaces is the work of the alchemist. Here is a quote from
page 212 of Circle of Destiny:

"Los handles the purification of the contraries in the furnaces in accordance
with alchemical tradition. As in alchemy the imperfect triple body (salt,
sulphur, and mercury) has to be broken, and the masculine sulphur and the
feminine mercury freed for purification in the fire, that they may be united in
the one only essence, so must sinful man, his doubting head and cruel heart
selfishly combined into a mortal body, be subjected to trial by fire, that his
divided selves may be reunited in the one man Christ. But, though man himself
is metaphorically the sum of all that is in the furnaces, the forms (or bodies)
which Los continually breaks down should be thought of as forms of
government, of religion, of what you will - forms constructed by a crafty head
or a cruel heart. The intellectual life (the theory, the dogma) of these forms
must be broken down in order that the chastened emotions may be set free for
a new fixation under the guidance of a liberated intelligence. In alchemical
parlance, two must be drawn out of the three and separately purged before the
transforming union can take place."

Blake writes of a world in need of renewal and regeneration. He uses the
symbols of alchemy in presenting his complex myth of breaking down the
destructive systems and opening the way to transformation to the new age.

Jerusalem, Plate 78, (E 233)
"Los with his mace of iron
Walks round: loud his threats, loud his blows fall
On the rocky Spectres, as the Potter breaks the potsherds;
Dashing in pieces Self-righteousnesses: driving them from Albions
Cliffs: dividing them into Male & Female forms in his Furnaces
And on his Anvils: lest they destroy the Feminine Affections
They are broken. Loud howl the Spectres in his iron Furnace
While Los laments at his dire labours, viewing Jerusalem,
Sitting before his Furnaces clothed in sackcloth of hair;"

The furnace of course is an integral part of alchemical processes
and used by Los as his primary tool, shaping out lives.

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